July 2018: a wonderful time of year in Darwin when the days were endlessly sunny and it wasn’t too hot and humid. When there was nothing much nicer than floating around beside the Arafura Sea in one of Australia’s most scenic swimming pools or savouring fresh barramundi and chips on an evening picnic, as you watched the sun sink in a fiery ball into the sea.
July 2018: and we could finally go to the famous or ‘infamous’ Beer Can Regatta which is held each year on Mindil Beach. We discovered that there was a special protocol which needed to be followed for building and propelling your hand made, beer can vessel.
And as well as the main race, the Battle of Mindil, there were lots of other events to keep those camera phones busy: people watching, kayak races, tug of war, an Iron Person competition, Thong Throwing (only in Australia!) and the Henley on Mindil.
As well as the formal programme, there were lots of entertainment for young and old alike and fabulous stalls to explore at the market.
July 2018: when we were able to witness a fabulous star gazing event, a blood red moon caused by the longest, total eclipse this century and accompanied by Mars, which was at it’s brightest and closest for 15 years.
And most importantly at 11 pm on the 26th July, 2018, our Darwin Dream baby arrived.
After a delay of a week or two, Ilyssia Claire Blackfinally made her way into the world following an emergency Caesaraen section and she was just so beautiful!
It has been one of the joys in life for Kenn and I to witness each of our children welcoming their own little miracles into the world. Words and images can’t really capture that extraordinary depth of feeling as you experience so many firsts.
And even though I can see Reece, her father looking out at me, gazing at her asleep takes me back to when Lyndsay was a wee little baby.
Alas, all too soon it was time to share her with other members of the family and we had to fly home to Byron to prepare for our trip to China. But I wasn’t too sad as I had already booked my return ticket to Darwin for a catch up visit.
Early September, and it was feeling a little like deja vu, as I traveled to Brisbane to catch a flight to Darwin. Lys was now 6 weeks old and Lyndsay was finally able to get out and about.
Ilyssia has already become a cafe aficionado. She enjoys acai berries and matcha tea lattes! She is such a good baby: just feeds, sleeps and gurgles. Lyndsay looked quite rested for a new mum as well. Lys has obviously decided that she’s not a party animal yet. Sleeping for 5 to 6 hours at a stretch through the night, she is being very considerate of her parents.
Luckily for us, four weeks later, Lyndsay had to attend a conference of the Gold Coast and present a paper as part of her PHD and she asked if Kenn and I would like to babysit Ilyssia between sessions. Of course we jumped at the opportunity to spend more time with our Darwin baby. We were staying at Broadbeach, within 5 mins walk from the Crown Casino where the conference was being held. There we went for long walks with Lys along the beachfront.
A couple of times, Lyndsay was able to join us and we would explore further afield. One such place was the Cascade Gardens.Snuggled close to Mum, Lys took in the sights.
Following the conference, Lyndsay and Lys were able to spend a couple of days in Byronand meet her cousin Hudson. Huddy didn’t really want to share his mummy with Ilyssia but did think Lys was very special, especially when she came on a beach walk with him.
Far too soon, it was time for Lyndsay and Ilyssia to fly home but not before Lys had filled our home with smiles.
As with our other wonderfully unique and special grandchildren: Genevieve, Francesca and Hudson, little Ilyssia fills our lives with love and hope, such precious gifts.
This weekend, the wonderful The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSWfinishes. Kenn and I were lucky enough to be able to visit while we were in Sydney for the Vivid Festival a week or so ago. These tapestries are revered as a national treasure in France and it is only the third time the tapestries has left France in 500 years, thanks to a fabulous loan from the collection of the Musée de Cluny – Musée national du Moyen Âge in Paris.
We chose to visit in the early afternoon which allowed us time for a leisurely walk to the ferry along the Middle Harbour and Fairlight foreshores. It’s a short walk from Circular Quay to the Art Gallery and before we knew it, we had purchased tickets and were making our way through the exhibition.
I love how galleries make exhibitions so interactive. There were weaving workshopswhere visitors could begin to understand the incredible skill and complexity of these medieval works of art by trying their hand at weaving as well as an audio visual presentation providing a deeper insight into the history, preservation and interpretations of the tapestries.
But it was of course the tapestries themselves which were so wonderful. Each one was the size of a room and the detail was mind blowing when one considers that these works of art were created by medieval human hands. Not on a computerised industrial loom!
It was possible to sit and view the tapestries from a distance and also get up quite close. They allowed personal photography as well so Kenn and I had fun with our phones. I found the details within the tapestries themselves captivating, from the animals and flowers to the different dresses and jewelry the Lady wears in each tapestry. And who doesn’t love a unicorn?
Having looked our fill, it was time for a late lunch. As we exited, beautiful scents wafted over from somewhere over in the corner and we decided that this would be our lunch destination. No wonder it smelt so good, we found ourselves seated at harbour view table for two in a Matt Moran restaurant!
We finished our visit to the Art Gallery with a quick runaround the free exhibits. I enjoyed this exhibition just as much but in a different way to the exhibition I attended when the Book of Kells came to Australia. Thanks to ‘Game of Thrones’, many now associate medieval times with political intrigue, violence, superstition and fantastical, fire breathing dragons but artistic masterpieces like these tapestries, tell us there was something more, something more poetic and gentle.
I heard on the news the other day, that the travelling King Tut exhibition is coming to Sydney before returning to Egypt. Another world treasure to look forward to! Maybe I’ll see you there.
The Vivid Festivalis on in Sydney and will run until the 16th June. Like so many others, Kenn and I traveled to Sydney last weekend to wonder at the wonderful outdoor lighting sculptures and installations that surround the harbour. Coincidentally, there was also an exhibition of Medieval French Tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn, at the Art Gallery that we’d been wanting to see and best of all, we had some quality time with our beautiful little grand-daughters, Genevieve and Francesca.
Although generally the weather could have been better, we did have one beautiful sunny winter’s day. Kenn and I spent the morning with Genevieve revisiting favourite haunts: the train park down the road, a bushwalk down to Forty Basketson the harbour and the playground at Middle Harbour Reserve. It was such a beautiful day that you just knew something wonderful was going to happen and it did. Opposite the playground at Middle Harbour reserve is a delightful cafe: Forty Beans. It had been a hot and thirsty morning trekking uphill and down dale not to mention the upper arm workout one gets from pushing an enthusiastic 3 year old on the swings. I eyed off an inviting table nestled in the sunshine.
“Genevieve would you like to visit the cafe for some morning tea and a babyccino?”
“That sounds delicious,” she replied.
So hand in hand, Kenn, Genevieve and I walked across and snared our sunshiny table. Drinks ordered, we made ourselves comfy and looked around. There, lying right in front of us, was the loveliest, most gentle Malumute. He was so, so big yet so, so quiet. He had found himself a shady spot and was patiently waiting for his designated human to finish her coffee. We were captivated.
All too soon, it was nap time for Genevieve and ferry time for us.
Following the foreshore path along Fairlight Beach, we reached the ferry with two minutes to spare. Perfect timing I thought. We spent a delightful afternoon at the Art Gallery ( will share soon in my next post) before exploring the Vivid installations around Circular Quay, all of which are free. While the installations on the major buildings are spectacular, I particularly liked the installations in the Botanic Gardens which we accessed from the Opera House gate. You can wander through a light forest, watch a lagoon awash with tiny twinkling lights that resemble thousands of tiny glow worms or see images of some of the world’s most famous floral artworks projected onto easels in an enclosed garden just to mention a few. And all the while, the gentle sounds of the harbour and the twinkling lights of the city surround you.
But the best was yet to come. Christian and Kelly had organised for us to go to Vivid at the Zoo on Saturday night. As the time drew closer I was a little concerned as the weather was looking decidedly dodgy: very cold, rainy and windy. But nothing ventured, nothing gained so rugged up like Eskimos (I was wearing more layers than an onion) and armed with umbrellas, we set off. Much to my relief, the wind dropped and the rain ceased and the wonder of the night unfolded before us.
There is a designated circuit that you follow and it was a surreal experience to wander along familiar paths being delighted by the light sculptures knowing that just beyond the light, in the darkness, the animals were sleeping or maybe watching us. I loved how around each bend there was another surprise: sometimes in the trees, sometimes beside us, sometimes in front of us.
And here and there, as you wander down the path before climbing to the entrance, there are views across the laser-lit harbour to the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Of course this was difficult to capture on a mobile phone but hopefully, this pic gives you an inkling of the vista.
Nor were the birds and insects ignored. These are a couple that particularly caught our eye.
And the way our Australian animals were re-imagined was truly magical.
And of course the creatures of the sea: from sea horses and turtles to a huge shark that we exited through.
Vivid at the Zoo is not free but is well worth the price of admission. I can only show you a snippet of what there is to see and hopefully you might get the opportunity to go and experience Vivid at the Zoofor yourself. And as well as the installations, we loved seeing the look of delight on the faces that surrounded us from little ones to the elderly. There is something very uplifting about being in such a throng of really happy and enchanted people.
There were plenty of public transport options but we decided to drive and there was enough parking at the zoo. If you felt like it, there were plenty of food and drink outlets as well.
I cannot recommend this experience highly enough and can’t wait to go back next year.
PS: A special thank you to Kenn for letting me share his lovely photos with you all.
Visiting ‘The Farm’at Ewingsdale is always a delight. Not only is it a working farm but it features an award winning restaurant where the food is sourced from the local community, much of it being grown in the paddocks that surround the restaurant hub, a bakery, a nursery and organic whole foods market.
Children are really catered for as there is plenty of space to run around and explore, animals to see and a wonderful playground.
But at the moment, there is something really special to see. The people at ‘The Farm’ have created a simple maze through their sunflower fieldwhich is in full bloom.
Huddy was keen for an adventure especially when I promised him a cupcake from the bakery for morning tea! The holiday season has abated so parking wasn’t a hassle and soon with cupcake safely devoured, we set off to explore the maze.
It was so beautiful. I was almost in a Van Gogh painting.
The path winds here and there and then emerges beside the vegetable gardens and the chicken pens.
A run on the lawn and a play on the slippery dip and it was home time.
I hope if you’re able that you’ll be able to tip toe through the sunflowers like we did.
Did you know that Byron Bay now has the world’s first fully solar train? Although the train launched on the 16th December last year, we hadn’t taken a ride until just before Easter, a couple of weeks ago.
As departure times and fares can vary with the season, you can check out current details here The train runs a shuttle service along a three kilometre stretch from North Beach station in Sunrise Beach to the Byron Beach Platform in Byron Bay. Both stations conveniently offer seating, shelter and bicycle racks. There is also ample parking nearby.
North Beach Station
Byron Beach platform
It was a very fun experience which we shared with our Brisbane friend Julie and our grandson, Huddy. Now serendipitously, Huddy, like so many other little boys loves Thomas the Tank engine. So you can imagine how fascinated he was!
We virtually had the train to ourselves and Huddy was lucky enough to be invited by the train driver into his inner sanctum.
And then there were the carriages to explore…
Needless to say, Julie, Kenn and I didn’t feel the need to explore the upholstery like Huddy but we did enjoy the scenic journey. While in Sunrise, I took the opportunity to show Julie around Elements of Byron, our latest 5 star resort and one of my favourite places for coffee and lunch. But Huddy was getting a little restless, so we settled for a late lunch at the Sun Bistroinstead. The Bistro, which is just a few steps away from the North Byron station, offers tasty, economical food and plenty of space for little ones to run around.
The Solar train might only travel a few kilometres but it gives us a glimpse of what the future might hold while preserving some of our railway heritage. Maybe you’ll have time to take a ride next time you’re in the Bay.
Last Wednesday, I joined my friends Annie and Grace for morning coffee at Elements at Byron, our newest 5 star resort. I love going out for coffee. Savouring that first spoonful of chocolate-sprinkled foamy deliciousness atop a cappuccino, endeavouring to avoid a hitler-resque moustache and perhaps sharing a slab of Middle Eastern orange cake or a lemon tart or a white chocolate, raspberry muffin are some of life’s simple pleasures. But while the coffee is important, for me and I’m sure for many others, going out for coffee is more about catching up with friends. And if this catch-up can take place in beautiful surroundings, so much the better.
We had our coffee on the back terrace, overlooking the infinity pool.
Soon we were catching up on each other’s news: Grace regaled us with fascinating snippets about her trip to Portugal where she spent time at an ashram and retreat centre in Monte Sahaja and the shenanigans of her very astute pre-schooler grand-daughter. This little one asked her mother, ‘Mum can you carry me home from the park?’ to which her mother replied. ‘No, you’re a big girl now.’ The little one promptly sat down where she stood, a mutinous look on her face. Mum exasperated, cajoled,’ Tell you what, if you walk home by yourself, you can have an ice-cream when we get home!’ The little one considered, pondered, thought long and hard. Her eyes lit up. ‘How about this, Mum. If you carry me home, I’ll share the ice-cream with you!’ Such consideration! A lawyer in the making?
All too soon, coffee was finished. Grace hadn’t been to Elements before so we showed her around some of the resort. We pointed out where the Writer’s Festival had been held and then followed the path to Belongil Beach. Here you can recline on sun loungers while you take in the beautiful sweep of beach before you.
Nearby, the resort has a sunset lookout. It too was lovely. This is a resort which has really spacious grounds. If you wanted to get away from it all, in 5 star luxury this might be the place for you.
All too soon, it was time to go. Another catch-up, this time, a coffee afternoon was organised. In keeping with the 5 star theme, this catch-up will be at the Byron at Byron. I do love going out for coffee! Hope you do too.
It’s been over a decade since Lyndsay headed north, not north to Alaska but north to Darwin! Taking a position as a choral teacher with the Northern Territory Music School turned out to be her perfect job and so she stayed. Over the years, we’ve traveled to Darwin many times to visit her, discovering and savoring much of what the Northern Territory has to offer along the way. We’ve marveled at waterfalls, gorges, billabongs and ages old rock art. We’ve been up close and personal with way too many crocodiles and luxuriated in hot springs at Mataranka under the dappled light of paperbark and palm trees. We’ve visited museums, learning more about Darwin’s wartime experiences and the horror of Cyclone Tracy, pretended to surf in the wave pool at the Waterfront and so much more.
Quite simply, Darwin is a delightful place to visit especially in July. It is always wonderfully sunny and warm, perfect for outdoor pursuits. On our latest trip, we focused on simple pleasures. Admiring Lyndsay and Reece’s new home in the Northern Suburbs and becoming acquainted with Hannibal, their Siberian husky was paramount. As you know, I love a good beach walk, but it’s always so much more fun with a puppy, especially a big puppy.
Having bought an older home, Lyndsay and Reece have lots of renovation plans and have begun with the landscaping. This involved serious wilderness clearing and fun with a bobcat or two. The result, a stylish productive garden overlooking the park. As I savored my morning coffee on the back deck shaded by the gum trees, I noticed that a cricket match was in progress on the oval in the distance. Not the Australian team in training for its upcoming tour to Bangladesh unfortunately but a local team trying to escape the heat of the day by starting early.
As we were based in the Northern Suburbs, we reacquainted ourselves with the foreshore at Nightcliff. Since our last visit, a new cafe has been built next to the Swimming Pool and has proved very popular with locals and visitors alike.
We walked along the cycle path to the Nightcliff Jetty and all around were vistas of the sea and the foreshore shaped by big tides.
Lyndsay and Reece were also keen to show us one of their favourite wilderness/camping spots, Tjuwaliyn or the Douglas-Daley Hot Springs Park. This proved to be a great 4WD adventure. The park is located about two hours drive south of Darwin and of course our first stop was the Douglas River. Here, fringed by sandy beaches, the river splits into two branches for a couple of hundred metres, forming a series of quiet, crystal clear pools.
In one branch, hot springs heat the water while the water in the other branch is cold. Where the branches come together, the waters mingle. So with a bit of exploration, you can find your perfect temperature.
We loved our hot and cold spa treatment. And relaxing under the tall shady trees for a shade bake.
But the park has more to offer than the hot springs. We also visited Butterfly Gorge,further upstream from the Springs. We initially walked alongside the river to where the it widens into a big pool.
According to Lyndsay and Reece, you can usually walk around a big rocky outcrop to explore deeper into the gorge but alas we couldn’t. We didn’t think that this part of the river was absolutely, 100% crocodile free so were reluctant to wade around to the beach. We retraced our steps and completed the much harder climb to the lookout instead.
Back in the Ranger and the home comforts of Darwin beckoned but Lyndsay and Reece had another experience for us to savour: dinner at the Adelaide River Pub. The annual Rosella festival was on; bush food not birds. Having never tasted rosellas, I ate a few while an oldtimer at the bar shared his mother’s recipe for rosella jelly which he maintained was better than cranberry sauce! It might well be, but it would have been a labour of love. You would have to pick an awful lot of rosellas to have enough petals with which to make sauce.
Only in the territory do you come across unique memorabilia. Taking pride of place in the bar was the buffalo who had such a memorable role in ‘Crocodile Dundee”. It was stuffed of course!
And the meal brought another surprise. The chef was obviously keen to ensure that no-one left his establishment hungry. For example, Kenn’s chicken schnitzel was shaped like a map of Australia and covered his whole plate burying a massive mound of vegetables. While he made some valiant inroads, Kenn had to admit defeat at the Western Australian/ Territory border. Yep, everything’s big in the outback.
Back in Darwin, we continued to reacquaint ourselves with the city centre. The walk along the Esplanade is not to be missed. The gardens and lookout near the war memorial are especially lovely.
But there is always something new! This time we spotted two young men setting up a stall selling french crepes.
And we visited Lameroo Beach accessed via a track which branches from the main Esplanade path.
A visit to Darwin has always included fabulous dinners out. On this trip, our culinary highlight was dinner at the Exotic North Indian Restaurantat Cullen Bay. Seated at a table overlooking the pier, we enjoyed some of the best Indian food I have tasted anywhere. Service was really excellent and the prices reasonable.
All too soon, it was time to catch the dreaded ‘red-eye’ back to Brisbane. This time, following a family dinner at home, we all went to the 8pm session of the Deck Chair Cinema. Luckily, ‘Monsieur Chocolat’was showing, a powerful yet moving French film. It finished with more than enough time to make our farewells and get to the airport. It was a great way to fill in time before a 12.30 flight!
It was wonderful catching up with Lyndsay and Reece and we’re already planning for our next Darwin adventure. Familiar places can be so rewarding to visit.