A Weekend Golf Trip: A very fun thing to do with friends!

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The Tenterfield Golf Course turned it on for us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     When I picked up a golf club for the very first time a couple of years ago and swung it enthusiastically this way and that, I had no idea that Golf would offer so much more than mere exercise. Indeed, despite the very high level of frustration that can be engendered by a disobedient little white ball, I’ve discovered that there’s a lot of fun to be had both on and off the course!

This was especially true of my first ever golfing weekend away from home which took place in a month or so ago. A girl’s weekend always has much to recommend it but when that weekend includes shopping, lunching, yarning over nibbles and drinks, dinner, dancing and a game of golf here and there, you know you’re on a winner. And even more so when your companions are the Mullumbimby Saturday Lady Golfers, affectionately known as “The Chooks.”

As the name suggests, this is a group of ladies who don’t take themselves too seriously, who  know how to party and who are always willing to help a friend. Now the Chooks hold by the saying, “What happens on tour, stays on tour,”  so no  stories that might have inspired the director of ‘The Hangover’ will darken this post!

The girls have been collecting all manner of Chooks for good luck . Some are more appealing than others apparently.

 

Betty, our club captain had generously offered Kerrie and I a lift and so on a sunny Friday morning, I found myself heading for Tenterfield, which is about three hours away from home.  Now you wouldn’t want the journey to be too boring, so the Chooks had agreed to meet up for morning tea in Casino.  Travel requires frequent refueling after all!  A  quick  coffee and cake, a bit of a natter and a  wander around the shopping district and we were back in the car ready to climb the Great Dividing Range. Betty and Kerrie were very familiar with the road but I hadn’t traveled on it for over 20 years.  Unlike most of NSW, there had been plenty of rain and and little villages like Tabulum were picture postcard perfect. 

This will be the last time I will be able to drive over the historic Tabulum Bridge, ( it is the longest wooden bridge in the Southern Hemisphere) before it’s demolished for a modern one.

 

It seemed to me that even the bends in the road had been smoothed out and before too long we were approaching our home away from home for the next two nights: Tenterfield.

A beautiful avenue of trees greeted us as we entered the town. 
We stayed at the Bowling Club Motor Inn which is located within easy walking distance of the main street.
Kerrie and I had a lovely view of the bowling greens from our private patio. Our room was a generous size and they also supplied a continental breakfast .

 

There was time on that first afternoon for a leisurely walk through town,  before returning for afternoon drinks and nibbles at the motel.

Despite the threatening storm clouds, the weather did not hinder us in any way. So lucky!

 

A night of dinner and dancing followed. Many of the girls were able to show some very  fancy moves on the dance floor. They are definitely ‘girls who know how to have fun.’  Next morning our championship game awaited at the picture perfect Tenterfield golf course.

A perfect late spring day. Views to the mountains very lovely

 

After our group photo, I was in for a surprise. As this was my first trip, I was presented at the start of play with a tiara  as I was the “virgin” of the group.  I was to wear the tiara throughout the day’s play and abide by some ‘special rules of play’ which would be revealed as the day progressed!

 
I was very lucky to score Michelle, our club president, as my partner for the day.
An unlucky bounce and I was in the car park – special rule for virgins: play every ball where you find it!
Despite one or two little hiccups, it was fun zooming here, zooming there on this lovely course.  And no one lost a ball to the water!

But there can only be one winner and this year it was Nancy who came out on top.

Debbie congratulating Nancy on her success.
And here are the members of the winning team!

 

But the fun didn’t stop there. The following morning after checkout, we all headed to Casino where we would be playing our second round of golf.  Again, another lovely day awaited us. Casino is a more challenging course than Tenterfield and I must confess, my beginner skills were tested! 

Alas all good things come to an end and after lunch and presentations, we headed home. I am already looking forward to next year’s jaunt.

 

 

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TripADeal: 2 for 1 trip to China – a great deal?

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One small section of the Great Wall! Not many made it this far on a very hot day!

Have you ever wondered what those amazing internet travel deals are really like?

Are they merely the ‘Fawlty Towers‘ of travel or are they genuine value for money?

Well  a  few weeks ago, Kenn and I took the plunge and decided to put one to the test. We traveled to China for the first time on a 10 day tour with TripADeal. It seemed too good to be true! The basic tour price was $1999 for two people which included accommodation, breakfasts, tours and direct flights with Qantas and not an airline we had never heard of and which might drop us into the the South China Sea at any moment!  An extension to see the Terracotta Warriors which has always been on my bucket list  was also available for an additional $1000.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained as the saying goes, so Kenn and I contacted our wonderful niece, Amanda Sullivan at Dynamic Travel  who organised everything,  including our visas for us.  And just like that, together with my sister Jenny, her good friend Pauline and about 30 others, Kenn and I found ourselves flying off to the forbidden kingdom.

The  itinerary took us from Beijing down to Xian (to see the warriors) and across to Hangzhou, Suzhou and Shanghai and gave us a taste of some of the wonders of  Imperial China as well as some of the new China’s technological marvels while inviting us to appreciate some of China’s natural beauty and culture.

Beijing

We arrived in Beijing in the evening and were met by our super friendly and helpful guide Frank. Soon our luggage was stowed on our coach and we were on our way to the Schonbrunn Hotel which was a considerable distance from the city centre.

This was an older hotel and I was a little disappointed in our room which had a very smokey smell, something you don’t encounter in Australia. Frank told me later that I could have asked for a room change but at the time I didn’t want to be that ‘difficult person’.  In retrospect, I should have as we spent 3 nights here.

Nevertheless, the bed was reasonably comfortable, the linen nicely pressed and the hot water plentiful.   If space is something that you value when travelling then I would opt for a twin room as I noticed that the rooms Jenny and Pauline shared were much larger than our doubles. Breakfast was included and while western options were a little limited, it was more than satisfactory. Kenn and I enjoyed our morning omelette, resuming our tussle with toaster and exploring the  buffet each day.

Our first day in Beijing saw us visit a pearl factory,  explore Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City,  enjoy dinner in Beijing’s theatre precinct and marvel at  the special effects of a theatrical performance entitled, The Golden Mask Dynasty.

While the pearl factory was interesting, the visit to Tiananmen Square and the forbidden City was the highlight of the day. Despite it being school holidays, (which we didn’t know when we booked) and very hot (high 30s), the square is so huge that the crowds weren’t a problem and the communication headsets enabled us to enjoy Frank’s commentary.

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Jenny, Pauline and myself in Tiananmen  Square.  Behind us is Chairman’s Mao’s tomb.

The forbidden city too was vast. While the pavilions and the emperor’s throne room remain intact, most of the furnishings have been removed so it is difficult to gain a sense of how people lived here when the emperors ruled.

And it is very barren which surprised me. The city is built upon metres of paving bricks to prevent the possibility of underground attacks, surrounded by walls, guard towers and a moat, so there are no gardens. Consequently, the whole area radiates heat! There was however an icecream vendor with a delicious selection of gelati which was very welcome as was our air conditioned coach at the conclusion of our tour.

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Red and gold predominate as these were imperial colours and the decorative features were intricate.  Interestingly, the pavilions are wooden and built in such a way that they withstand earthquakes

This was followed by dinner and the theatrical performance, The Golden Mask Dynasty which was an optional tour but well worth it.

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This show was visually spectacular. They even unleashed a waterfall on stage!

The following day dawned hot and sunny but proved to be one of the highlights of the trip, the visit to the Great Wall.

On the way there, we visited a jade factory.

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Watching the artisans at work was a treat. So many variations of Jade, so many beautiful objects.

Then we drove through the countryside until we reached the Juyong Pass section of the Great Wall.

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The view is  spectacular with the wall  snaking across the hills

This part of the wall dates from the Ming dynasty and if we wanted to, we could climb to Watchtower number 4 from the headquarters below.

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Jenny on the ramparts of the garrison headquarters. Behind her is the first of four watchtowers that we were allowed to climb to.

All I can say is that the Ming soldiers had to be incredibly fit to fulfill their duties. The steps are incredibly steep and quite uneven. The Ming obviously hadn’t heard of  workplace health and safety regulations!

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This is the easiest section to climb!

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Once you reach the first watchtower, the path narrows and becomes even more uneven. Every little bit of shade was like manna from heaven. I’m sure that it exceeded 40 degrees on the wall itself! I only made it to the second guardhouse! The call of an iced tea and an ice cream consumed in air conditioned comfort was too tantalising too resist and I may have been just … just a tad knackered!

But Kenn was not so easily daunted and the final guardhouse and the most spectacular view was waiting for him.

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Imagine how hard this would be in ice and snow … not a job for the fainthearted.

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In the end, it didn’t matter how high or far you climbed, just taking a few steps on a monument so awe inspiring was magical.  And there were little surprises like the temple on the ridge line to savour.

That evening we joined an optional tour to see Bejing’s 700 year old Hutong area by pedicab as well as visiting the three lakes area of the city.

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The Hutong tour was great. We were treated to a performance by one of Bejing’s cricket men  (as in insects not the sport), enjoyed a meal prepared in a traditional way as well as travelling in style in a pedicab. The lake area was lovely and  popular with locals who were enjoying boat rides or just promenading  along the shore.

Our final day in Beijing was also full of fun and exciting experiences.  We visited the Bejing Zoo to see the giant pandas. And we learnt about traditional Chinese medicine at Tongrentang in the city centre, where we had the opportunity to be assessed by a traditional practitioner.  The talk was very persuasive, but I couldn’t get stories of wild animals being hunted to extinction to become products for Chinese medicine out of my mind so couldn’t make myself try some of their products. I was in the minority though! A fantastic lunch at one of Bejing’s best dumpling restaurants followed and then it was time to catch the very fast bullet train to Xian, a journey of about five hours.

Xian

A fabulous experience, the train proved to be very fast, smooth and comfortable even when reaching speeds of 300 kms an hour and it was a real pleasure to travel through such a vast swathe of the countryside.  But there was one little hiccup. We thought that the train would have a great dining car and planned to enjoy dining a la the Orient Express. But alas, the dining car was more like a truck stop with a very limited menu which sold out of food very quickly. Then we noticed that most of the Chinese passengers on board had packed their own obviously aware of the dining car’s limitations.  We wished that we had done the same.

Nevertheless, we arrived safely in Xian. Driving along lamplit, tree lined boulevards I  could have imagined that I was in Paris except for the Chinese signage. Our hotel, the Grand Nobel Hotel was lovely. We were sorry that we didn’t get to spend more time there, but on the following day the Terracotta warriors awaited.

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There was a chance to become a warrior!

And the chance to wallow in the marvels of one of the world’s great archaeological sites.

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The scale of the museum is mind boggling. Only the Chinese would have built a museum over an archaeological site. You can view the warriors in their ranks as they would originally have been placed there, see them in pieces still stuck in the mud and see them in various phases of restoration.

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Every face is unique. For a sum you can even have your own face put on a warrior and shipped home. Makes a change from your everyday buddha or garden gnome.

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The horses too were fascinating. The museum is set in beautiful grounds that would be spectacular in Spring or Autumn.

We also enjoyed a lunch featuring local dishes of Xian before heading to the airport for our evening flight to Hangzhou.

Hangzhou/ Suzhou

Our flight was very pleasant and a couple of hours later we landed in Hangzhou. Can you imagine our consternation when our guide, Thomas told us how happy he was to see us as we had flown directly into the path of a typhoon! However, despite some wet weather, we were soon comfortably settled in another very comfortable hotel.

The next morning saw us exploring a tea plantation for Hangzhou is considered the tea capital of China. It was stunningly beautiful.

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Confucius ushered us into the tea house

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The tea house is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Maybe that’s why the green tea tasted so amazing?

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Even the  goldfish seemed happy

From the tea plantation, we made our way to West Lake an UNESCO world heritage site and was easy to see why.

We walked to the lake through woods fringed by lotus ponds and tea pavilions

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Our cruise boat was charming

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while the lake vistas were stunning.

There were lots of choices for lunch and soon we were on our way to Suzhou.  It took about two hours by bus. Our hotel in Suzhou, the Snowy Sea Hotel was in my opinion the best we experienced on the tour.

The following day, we visited a silk factory and took a tour along one of the many canals in Suzhou.

But the highlight for me was the visit to the famous Lingering Garden, another UNESCO heritage site.

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The house is built around a series of ponds and views of the garden are gained from both within and outside the house

Needless to say I would have loved to have included many more photos but this post is already too long. What is interesting is that this garden is only one of many you can visit in Suzhou. Late that afternoon, we were on the bus again, this time for Shanghai, our last port of call on the tour.

Shanghai

Shanghai is a fabulous city. We enjoyed every moment of our time there. But there was one drawback. Our hotel was pleasant but situated a long way out of the city. This meant that if you wanted to immerse yourself in the city, you needed to take the optional tours as getting to and from the hotel under your own steam might have been a little difficult and expensive.

Consequently, we took the optional tour to see the acrobatic show ‘ERA’ and enjoy dinner in the centre of the city. This show was enjoyable but I really was expecting something better. And to make matters worse, our bus had been delayed by a couple of tardy passengers, something that I imagine happens quite often on tours. But it meant that the dinner I had been looking forward to had to be rushed. Half an hour is not sufficient to savour one’s food in an exotic, expensive restaurant!

The following morning, Kenn and I parted company with Jenny and Pauline and decided to take an optional tour to travel on the fastest train in the world: the Maglev train. I couldn’t believe my eyes when it reached  430kms an hour! It was thrilling. Then we rejoined the tour at the bund. This riverfront promenade is delightful and the heritage buildings built by the Europeans in the 19th century impressive.  Our trip back in time continued at the Shanghai museum. There were so many treasures to see. I loved the pottery including a variety of Tang horses as well as the beautiful Ming furniture in particular.

As for fabulous places to eat, our tour guide, Thomas took us to the French Quarter for lunch where Kenn and I stumbled on a very trendy warehouse eatery. Oh the dilemma of what to choose!

And then it was onto the Yu Garden, a haven of peace in a bustling metropolis.

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Back in the day, they had a thing for limestone creations.  And we noticed the Chinese have a thing for willow trees … not just a pretty china motif.

But the best was yet to come: the Night Cruise on the Huangpu River. If you do only one optional tour, this is the one to choose. The light show rivals that of Singapore and that’s saying something. These shots taken with my phone hopefully give you a taste of what you will see on the cruise.

And then we woke up and it was our last day.  We were free to explore on our own, but TripAdeal organised a fun day for us a very little extra cost. We visited a Buddhist temple,

and an outlet mall which was super fun among other things.

Then it was time to bid China farewell as we caught our night flight home.

Final Thoughts

This tour was good value for money. If I had my time over, I would choose to travel either in Spring or Autumn as August was way too hot and I’m used to heat! Of course the hotels in the two major cities of Beijing and Shanghai were the most basic of those offered on the tour but not unexpected given the price point of the tour. You are on the go all the time on this tour which was a good thing for us but some might like to travel at a gentler pace. The tour guides were really excellent and nothing seemed too much trouble.  Yes I did have a ‘fawlty towers’ moment in Beijing but overall I would have to say, TripADeal is a great deal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vivid at Taronga Zoo

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Turtles swimming above us

 The Vivid Festival is 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 Baskets on 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.

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Titus’ owner helped Genevieve to pat him and say hello and chat. Such a beautiful moment.

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.

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incredible trees

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the lagoon awash with lights

 

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.

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We entered under a canopy of lights with turtles swimming overhead.

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.

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Yes, we are watching you!

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This was definitely a tiger burning bright

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in the forest of the night.

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The sculptures also remind us of endangered creatures

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like this magnificent rhinoceros

 

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While the detailing is  intricate and beautiful, the sense of menace remained

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.

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Nor were the birds and insects ignored.  These are a couple that particularly caught our eye.

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He looks ready for a chat

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They captured the gossamer wings I think but thank goodness we don’t have insects this big!!!

And the way our Australian animals were re-imagined was truly magical.

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Isn’t the little devil cub cute?

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And I love the aboriginal art work here

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The echidnas were animated. Their tongues flicked in and out eating the ants.

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Anyone for a swimming platypus  suspended above a river garden?

And of course the creatures of the sea: from sea horses and turtles to a huge shark that we exited through.

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I decided that this was a girl sea horse: so pretty in pink

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Turtle mania

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At the end, you exit through the belly of a shark

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The exterior view of this giant installation! So impressive. What a final memory.

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 Zoo for 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.

 

 

 

 

Japanese Snow Monkeys

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Hot stone massage anyone?

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Nosawa Onsen was the tour we took with ixsmtravel.com to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park which was about an hour away from Nosawa by bus. Some say travel is more about the journey than the destination and at first I would have had to agree: the view from our windows was breathtaking.

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Thick drifts of snow covered the fields

 

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and rivers quietly flowed watched over by the mountains which surrounded us on all sides

Arriving at the Snow Monkey Park, our bus driver had to park a fair distance from the entrance but not deterred we plodded up the hill to the starting point. We all  thought that the two kilometre walk to the Snow Monkeys would be a walk in the park. But  no-one had warned us about just how slippery the narrow path could be. Although we were all wearing proper hiking boots, we all found ourselves slip sliding away as if we were on an ice rink. And I can’t skate!  So we had to go slowly, very slowly for I could far too easily imagine myself turning into a human toboggan, hurtling down the mountainside.

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 Ben showed his exceptional balance and stamina as he carried Huddy on his shoulders the whole way.

Still inching one’s way along has an up side. There was plenty of time to admire the scenery.

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Snowy forest surrounded us on all sides

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And the light breaking through the treetops was lovely

The narrow path eventually led to the  valley of the Yokoyu-River where steam and boiling water bubble out of small crevices in the frozen ground earning the name ‘Jigokudani’ meaning “Hell’s Valley.” But it didn’t seem too hellish to us!

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You climb up from this point to where the snow monkeys make their home. They are very used to humans. Some blithely padded past us on the way up.

It was worth the effort. We saw monkeys frolicking with their babies, monkeys enjoying a dip in the steamy waters and  monkeys scampering up the mountainside.

And one was keeping watch, checking out the tourists. Examining us as we were examining him.

All too soon, our English speaking guide, who was a delightful girl from Northern Italy, asked us to start making our way back.

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From this vantage point, the path seems to go on forever.

After visiting the Snow Monkeys, the tour took us to the historic village of Shibu Onsen. This was once a village that was frequented by samurai, wandering poets and travellers  who, while bathing in the healing waters of the village’s onsens,  took the opportunity to rest and recuperate. Indeed legend says that good fortune will come to those who bathe in all the town’s onsens.

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If you decide to undertake this quest, you are issued with a special card which you then stamp as you visit each onsen.  

In this village, we were able to get a feel for the ‘old’ Japan. The narrow streets were lined by wooden buildings which were hundreds of years old.

There were  interesting shops to explore. Huddy discovered that he loved Japanese biscuits!

There was even a fountain which reputedly bestows good health and long life on those who drink from it. I couldn’t resist. I had to sip. It was  a little metallic tasting but not unpleasant and you never know …

And of course there was a temple to visit as well. By now it was mid afternoon and the temperature was dropping. The arrival of our bus to carry us home was very welcome.

This was a great day out. Try to make room for it on your next snow holiday to Nosawa Onsen. And remember wear shoes suitable for snow and ice!

Japanese Snow Magic

Sometimes the best holidays are those that happen unexpectedly. Kenn and I had no plans to visit Japan until Melissa and Ben asked us to join them on a family skiing  holiday to Nosawa Onsen, a delightful mountain village a couple of hundred kilometres north of Tokyo.

While I love being in the snow, I wouldn’t say that I have a natural affinity for snow sports. I am the only person I know who when they first attempted to ski, fell off a poma. Like a beached whale, I couldn’t move out of the way.  I watched as fellow beginners bumped over my legs, some actually managing air time! I was on my way to becoming a human ski jump when Kenn took pity on me, leapt off the poma and dragged me out of the way! Despite this inauspicious start and muscles I never knew I had protesting loudly,  I  eventually managed  to gain some basic skills  but that was a very, very long time ago. Would I even be able to don ski boots again? I could see a few lumps and bumps on my feet that mightn’t  like being squished and squashed.  And would I be able to slide down a mountain without killing anyone?  Should I even try?

But even if I didn’t ski, toboggan or snowshoe,  a holiday in the snow appealed.  Kenn and I have never experienced a White Christmas so this was our big chance. And I knew that Chris, Steve Kenn and I  would have a lot of fun in the snow with Hudson, our adorable 18 month old grandson. His idea of a comfortable pace on a sled built for two was likely to coincide with mine. We like keeping pace with snails. And I was sure a wonderful, cultural experience awaited us in the land of the rising sun. So I knitted some beanies, bought some thermals  and threw them together with some snow gear and my trusty Scarpa  hiking boots and  before you could say  ‘konnichiwa’ I was on my way.

It is only an eight hour flight from the Gold Coast to Narita airport but we all wondered how 18 month old Huddy would cope. With Hudson on board, the time passed swiftly. He introduced himself to his fellow passengers as he stretched his legs every now and then and without any fuss settled down for  long naps on Mummy’s lap.

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With my dummy and my ruggy,  I can sleep anywhere!

At Narita, we met up with Ben’s parents, Steve and Chris and after a good night’s sleep made our way to Tokyo station where we caught the bullet train north to Ilyama.

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Mmm, this is not a bad way to travel. Springs leave a bit to be desired.

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Such cool trains!

Relaxing in our seats, we watched as slowly the urban landscape gave way to countryside …  snowy countryside. We were a little concerned when messages flashed across the screen at the front of the train carriage warning of cancelled services due to recent heavy snow but luckily for us, we didn’t have to build an igloo for the night for the trusty Nosawa Onsen bus was waiting for us in Ilyama.

Driving into Nosawa, we realised that when they said a lot of snow had fallen, a lot of snow had fallen.

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There are cars under there somewhere!

Melissa had booked us into ‘Address Nosawa’, delightful one bedroom studios. These were very well appointed and centrally located. As well as having its own onsen, the complex had a well equipped children’s playroom and  helpful, English speaking staff.

We couldn’t wait to get up close and personal with all that snow!  Lissa and Ben grabbed their snowboards and disappeared up the mountain while Kenn and I took Huddy out to explore the village. The powder was so powdery!  Huddy nearly disappeared into a drift when his hand disappeared and he stuck his head in to see where it had gone. He soon had snow flying everywhere, creating his own Huddy snow storm. And Poppy didn’t help him at all!

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Wow Poppy, look at how my hand just disappears. I didn’t know I was so strong!

And the village was so pretty.

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The temples  were covered by drifts of snow and

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colourful buildings nestled among the trees.

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mysterious signs

Even the actual cobbled streets were attractive, shiny black speckles edged with snow.

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Beautiful manhole covers, celebrating the Nagano Olympics dot the streets. They are part of the excellent drainage system that allows the village to function after heavy snowfalls.  Huddy loved to stamp  up and down on every one he spotted.  I’m happy to report that they all withstood the onslaught.

And there was a dumpling man on the corner of our street!

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So delicious

But there was more. Nosawa has a great children’s snow park at the base of the mountain. All of us couldn’t wait to see Huddy have fun. Granddad Steve introduced him to a travelator which took them to the top of a small slope. Perched on Granddad’s lap, Huddy  took to sledding like a pro. We took it in turns to slide with Huddy, rediscovering that inner child that lives within. Then we branched out and tried the tubes which skidded down the slope with more speed and less control than the sleds! Luckily,  there was a safety fence!

 Huddy also  enjoyed being pulled around the park on a crocodile

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Yep, this is pretty cool

and didn’t say no to a ride on a blue horse.

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Hey dad, Mum is trying to catch us. Can you go a little faster?

He posed dutifully when asked.

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Hi guys. Make it snappy.

With Mummy’s help, he climbed into the castle and onto the big slippery dip.

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Thanks Dad for being ready to catch me.

And so much more. Needless to say Hudson really enjoyed his first visit to the snow. But for us, there was also  so much more.

We delighted in the food, trying different restaurants and little eateries for lunch and dinner each day. We found an quirky cafe tucked away towards the top of the village which served delicious soup and made a great cappuccino and orange chocolate cake.

A Byron friend had recommended going to Daimon Soba for a nabeyaki udon. After a couple of tries, we managed to get a table at this very popular eatery and indeed,  the udon was very filling. The tempura prawns also looked and smelt amazing!

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I still can’t identify everything that was in this bowl, but it was an interesting combination of textures and flavours.

And never to be forgotten was our wonderful teppanyaki experience on New Year’s Eve where every mouthful was exquisite and memorable. While dumplings are the street food of choice in Nosawa, we found some other offerings to sample.

Sharing wonderful meals with family … a highlight. There were also lots of quirky and interesting shops to peruse in search of that perfect souvenir.

But the mountain beckoned. Steve and I decided to take the plunge and give skiing a go.  I was still worried about losing control on the mountain, so after I hired some boots and skis and on the recommendation of the Address Nosawa staff,  I booked a private lesson with Remy, a french ski instructor. He was confident that our  unused skills would magically reappear under his guidance!  So filled with visions of ourselves gliding blissfully down the slopes, We caught the gondola up to the top and  a new world opened up.

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It looked so pretty. Soon Steve and I were snowplowing here and there and Remy announced that we were ready for a run. While I knew what my feet were supposed to be doing in order to turn correctly, I found that they were very disobedient. Suddenly, to my dismay,  I found myself hurtling down the slope about to take Remy out! Just in time,  I snowplowed to a halt, caught my breath and under Remy’s watchful eye, pushed off again! More snow plowing! My thighs were on fire! It was a tortuous, slow descent. I felt really bad, having dashed Remy’s hopes but fortified with green tea, I completed another run with Melissa. It felt so exhilarating to be there on the powder, in the silence surrounded by silent, snowy trees.

 I loved being up on the mountain, and persuaded Kenn to catch the gondola with me the following morning.

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The village disappeared as we soared towards the summit. We had a lovely time with our cameras

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In the snowy landscape, I could spot Kenn easily.

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A study in black and white

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The food was great in the restaurant, a perfect place for lunch.

After so much exercise, a soak in the onsen was a luxury I’ll never forget. Nosawa is blessed with mineral rich hot springs and the village is dotted with free public onsens or hot baths which are maintained by local families.

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All the onsens were a little different in style from each other

Now bathing, Japanese style is not for the prudish. While there are separate male and female baths, the baths are communal and you are expected to soak in them in your birthday suit.

As I mentioned earlier, Address Nosawa has its own private onsen. So I thought that I would take the plunge there first. Grabbing my onsen towel ( which is about the size of a small teatowel) I undressed and entered the washing area. Luckily, I had the onsen all to myself! Address Nosawa supplied beautiful Shiseido products for guests to use and so I scrubbed, shampooed and conditioned till I gleamed and then gingerly made my way to the hot bath. While hot, I found it not too hot and soaked all the stresses of the day away. Kenn and I were hooked. An onsen or two a day kept the aches away!

There is so much more that I would like to share: our amazing tour to see the Snow Monkeys and our brief stay in Tokyo, but it will have to wait for another post. If you have managed to read this post to the end, thank you for sharing a little Japanese snow magic with me.

 

Condo Reunion: a blast from the past.

Not so long ago, while enjoying breakfast at the Surf Club in Ballina , Kenn and I finalised the route for a week long trip to the Central West of NSW.

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The cafe at the Surf Club is excellent, very reasonable and as you can see has a fabulous view.

We traveled from Byron Bay to Condobolin via Sydney, Leura, Orange, Cowra and Forbes to help celebrate 150 years of Public Education. While it was a very scenic trip (who doesn’t love the country in springtime),  spending time with family and friends who live over 1000 kms away from us, was the highlight. Catching up and reminiscing  about the good times we’ve  shared, the adventures we’ve  had, the things that have made us happy or sad was great. There was also a special bonus: Kenn was invited to launch his second novel, Snow Chains as part of the celebrations.

And so, a few days before the Long weekend, we set off. The Byron to Sydney leg was a little frustrating. Too much traffic and too many roadworks especially between Ballina and Coffs Harbour. Still, we reached Christian and Kelly’s home in Balgowlah Heights with enough time to play with our adorable grand daughters before bed-time and lend a hand the next morning.  Kelly and Christian were getting ready to take the girls on their first camping trip.  While we would have loved to be able to join them, Christian’s pic of Baby Francesca in their tent filled us in on the fun had by all.

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Just love the simple life: just give me my tent and my keys and I’m happy.

While Kelly and Christian headed off to the South Coast, we headed west to the Blue Mountains, stopping in Leura for lunch. The village was awash with blossoms and that almost spearminty green of new leaves on deciduous trees.

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There seemed to lots and lots of tourists trying to capture that perfect shot.

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The banks of Azaleas were lovely as well. Would have loved to have had the time to visit the Everglades. Maybe next time …

A lovely lunch and we were off to Orange where we caught up with my sister Maryanne. We really enjoyed taking her dogs for a walk through the outskirts of Orange but I will admit to some sisterly pangs of jealousy as I admired the lovely collection of spring bulbs in her garden. Tulips! Need I say more?

All too soon, it was time to head for Woodstock via Canowindra along the Cargo road. Travelling this road as the sun set was beautiful: enough clouds  for the sun to watercolour with shades of pink and mauve while the rolling green hills and vineyards seemed to stretch away forever on either side of the road. Magical!

The next day was full of surprises. Firstly, Jenny and I played 9 holes of golf at Cowra Golf Course. It was less of a game and more of a Jenny Dresser masterclass but such fun. Secondly, I ended up enjoying a long lunch with two of my oldest and dearest friends who just happened to be in Cowra that weekend! Serendipity indeed!

Time to head for Condo. We  stopped off briefly in Forbes to meet the latest addition to Kenn’s side of the family, gurgling, cuddly baby Ava before making our way along the South Forbes road to where Kenn’s great grandfather is buried overlooking the river.

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He was killed in a terrible horse accident in 1892

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James is recorded on the side of the grave marker

This little cemetery is very poignant because it’s also where the Fitzgerald children are buried. It reminds us of how difficult life was in those early pioneering days.

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Those poor parents!

Shaking off the past, we arrived at the Condobolin Library to prepare for the book launch.

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The town looks lovely with all the landscaping! 

The Librarian, Theresa and her team had ensured a great afternoon.  So many familiar faces showered us with  country warmth that we were quite overwhelmed and very touched. Some had already read his first novel, Sugarcane Lane and endorsed the general consensus that it’s a very enjoyable read. It was very affirming for Kenn to hear how enthusiastically they were looking forward to Snow Chains and Castles Perilous.

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All the reviews have been great! So proud of Kenn.

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All proved to be very popular. Thanks Condo for all the love and support.

A lively discussion about writing and publishing ensued followed by a delicious afternoon tea. Nothing beats home made scones, jam and cream! I might have had two …or three…  Alas, Kenn was so popular that he missed out on his favourite treat!  I’ve included a snippet from  the Library’s facebook page, which sums up the event.

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Thank you so much Theresa and Bonnie. This wouldn’t have happened without you.

Book launch finished it was time to put on our dancing shoes. We were attending a dinner to celebrate 50 years since the opening of the High School in Condobolin. Again it was wonderful to reconnect with former colleagues and students. Then the music started.  As soon as I heard Steve Still’s ‘Love the one you’re with’, I was back in the past. A first year out teacher dancing the night away at the Golfie.

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And Kenn was in his element singing along with the band!

The organising committee did an amazing job of the whole weekend. We attended the breakfast at the High School the following morning and it was delicious. I wanted to explore the school where I taught for so many years and which my children attended. It was fun to search through the photos in the various historical displays for our children and their friends. They haven’t changed much! The school has grown since I left, a new wing has been added as well as the largest cola I’ve seen. Some respite from the heat for kids in the playground at last. There’s more landscaping and there’s even a learner car!    It’s evident that kids  get a quality education here. There’s much to be said for a country upbringing and education.

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Looking towards the library in the top quad

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My classroom used to be on the right hand side.

Later on, we visited Eryn and Simon Carey’s place on Melrose Hill. They have established a beautiful, very unique garden featuring a breathtaking view of the western plains, so  immortalised by Banjo Paterson in ‘Clancy of the Overflow’. Like Clancy, we saw ‘ the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended’ and could readily imagine ‘at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.’

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This garden features fascinating art sculptures and whimsical retro features like a vintage bathtub and caravan

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How fitting is this for an Outback garden?  Eryn is an accomplished artist who paints and exhibits as Eryn Mullins.  Well worth checking out. 

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Fell in love with the lions. 

Even though, the garden features natives like ironbark and black wattle, there is a beautiful pond area, a little reminiscent of an English garden.

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the goldfish are flourishing

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Lovely formal entrance to the main part of the garden

There are fascinating rock walls and even a boules court.

 

 

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Such a lot of work

Closer to the house, there is a delightful courtyard area which is full of detail and Eryn’s artistic flair.

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So much to enjoy! 

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There was something about the chook that I loved!

 

We could have lingered for ages. All too soon, it was time for the long trek home. Looking forward to returning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Darwin Delights

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Darwin harbour overlooks the Arafura Sea, a symphony in blue.

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.

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We loved the dog exercise area of the Casuarina Coastal Reserve. The beach just seemed to go for ever and we could see Lee Point in the distance. At the right time of year, turtles hatch here too.

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Reece and Hannibal were having a ball.  Hannibal was very careful in the water. He only wanted to get his feet wet and avoided getting his body fur wet.

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Of course, Hannibal enjoys his creature comforts. The front seat is his domain. Lyndsay, Kenn and I were quite content to be out of the slobber zone in the back seat.

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.

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The cricket match is in progress on the other side of the park.

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.

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The pool has large sails which keep the water temperature at a pleasant temperature all year round.  Not only is the pool pristine, but what a view! We enjoyed a leisurely swim before adjourning to the cafe for refreshment

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Such a lovely view from the cafe as well. The bean bags looked comfy and I noticed that mums and bubs tended to cluster there.

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Breakfast was delicious. Loved my smashed avocado with poached eggs while Kenn’s breakfast tart almost gave me menu envy. The coffee was very good as well.
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.

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Can you believe that we are in a capital city?
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view from the jetty

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.

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Even though it was a public holiday and there were lots of visitors at the Springs, you still felt that you had the place to yourself

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.

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The hot spring side of the river is very shallow so wallowing is the order of the day

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The water on the other side is cold but wonderfully refreshing after soaking in the hot water and I was content to float in the shady coolness.
We loved our hot and cold spa treatment. And relaxing under the tall shady trees for a shade bake.

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Perfect positioning: a few steps either side for hot and cold running water. What more could you ask for?

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.

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It looked heavenly but ….you never know where a croc may lurk!

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.

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This walk was not what I would describe as picturesque! I was watching for snakes as I negotiated my way between the rocks.

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But the view from the top was worth it!

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!

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Apparently he had lived to a ripe old age at the back of the pub!

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.

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the War Memorial

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Looking out to sea
But there is always something new! This time we spotted two young men setting up a stall selling french crepes.

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Just the thing for brunch
And we visited Lameroo Beach accessed via a track which branches from the main Esplanade path.

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The path is shaded by some coastal rainforest
 

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Loved the colours of the rocks which fringed the beach. There was no-one else there and this was in the middle of Darwin City!

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Can never get enough of these colours! 

A visit to Darwin has always included fabulous dinners out. On this trip, our culinary highlight was dinner at the Exotic North Indian Restaurant at 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.

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There’s something magical about dining outdoors with good company and listening to the sound of waves lapping at your feet and looking at yachts silhouetted against the city lights

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.