Recently, Kenn and I finally redeemed a Red Balloon experience voucher that our favourite Darwinites: Lyndsay and Reece had gifted us for Christmas. Luckily for me, the experience didn’t involve throwing myself out of a plane at 20,000 feet, bungee jumping off a bridge or hang gliding around the lighthouse at Byron Bay: the stuff of heart attacks or death by misadventure for as you would know if you’re a regular reader, I’m not the most coordinated of people. Instead a beautiful, peaceful river cruise on the beautiful Tweed River which flows into the Pacific Ocean just south of the NSW and Queensland border awaited us.
There were a few different cruises available to choose from but Lyndsay and Reece had selected Tweed Eco Cruises for us. Based at the Tweed Marina, 2 River Terrace Tweed Heads, they were only about an hour away from Byron Bay, and easy to find. There was ample off street parking. The Marina itself was very picturesque.
Right on time, we chugged away through the Terranora Inlet. We chose to sit on the upper deck on comfy deckchairs to enjoy the open air and the breeze. The passengers were mainly tourists, many from overseas and varied in age from a little four year old girl to a couple of very elderly ladies.
As we passed through the Inlet on our way to the main branch of the river, the captain provided just the right amount of commentary on the early history of the river and current developments.
Passing the reserve, we found ourselves on the main part of the river heading towards the river mouth at Fingal Head and then we turned around and went upstream towards Tumbulgum, a quaint riverside village. The views were lovely. Sugarcane fields and tea tree plantations surrounded us and we passed an amazing floating island.
Just before we arrived at Tumbulgum, we witnessed a bird of prey feeding from the back of the boat.
Tumbulgum awaited. We had an hour to explore the village and enjoy a welcome drink at the pub while the crew prepared our lunch.
Time was up in Tumbulgum and lunch awaited. As we retraced our steps along the river, we enjoyed a tasty seafood buffet. The salads were fresh and plentiful and the seafood generous: three or four oysters, at least half a dozen king prawns and large pieces of crab together with a complementary glass of wine as the crew had had some trouble with the barbecue. Those who had chosen the barbecue option were not disappointed either. Their steak looked wonderful and they had prawns as well.
Our cruise had taken about four and a half hours and we were home in plenty of time for dinner. While this was not as exciting as cruising and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef or as historically significant as the Gordon River Cruise in Tasmania, this was a very pleasant experience, one that I would share with visitors to our home in the future as it’s so accessible. Do you have a favourite?
Most visitors to Byron Bay love the walk that takes them up to the Bay’s iconic lighthouse and down to the Australia’s most easterly point. It offers those who are willing to tackle the steps to the top, lovely beach and coastal rainforest vistas. And leaning on the fence at the point, you can gaze out over a seemingly limitless Pacific ocean or peruse the bottom of the cliff where turtles and dolphins like to hang out. And because it is so lovely, there are always lots of people to share the moment with you.
But if you hanker for a little bit of shady solitude or want to imagine yourself castaway on your own private, pristine little cove then meandering along the Three Sisters’ walk at Broken Head just to the south of the centre of Byron Bay might be for you. It certainly suited our daughter Lyndsay who together with baby Ilyssia was visiting us from Darwin.
“Jingi Walla” you are welcomed to the track, which begins to the right of the Broken Head carpark, by the traditional owners and joint custodians of the Broken Head Nature Reserve, the Bundjalung people of Byron Bay. The track is only 1.6 kms return and follows the clifftop to a lookout over Kings Beach.
As well as the Three Sisters Walk, Broken Head has a beautiful beach which is patrolled in school holidays. Across the dunes from the beach is a large grassy play area complete with undercover picnic tables and barbecues. There is also an amenities block and basic supplies such as an essential ice cream or two, can be obtained from the kiosk in the adjoining Holiday Park.
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!
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.
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.
There was time on that first afternoon for a leisurely walk through town, before returning for afternoon drinks and nibbles at the motel.
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.
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!
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.
Inspired by Craig Reucassel’s TV documentary series, ‘War on Waste‘, I decided to set myself a personal challenge: to make something for myself to wear this summer. Instead of buying a few new t’shirts or tops for summer, I would try and knit a couple. This could be my small contribution towards stemming the tide of super cheap fast fashion that is so easy to become addicted to, but is so bad for the environment. After all, when you craft something, watch it grow and evolve over a period of time, you have a vested interest in it. You are less likely to consign it to a Vinnies bag after donning it a couple of times!
But even though I was full of good greeny intentions, I had a few inner misgivings as knitting something for summer would be a first for me. I wondered if this project, which I could visualise so tantalisingly in my mind, would feel good on. Would it be too hot or scratchy or itchy against the skin? And perhaps most importantly of all, would it fit well or would I be wasting my time knitting up a shapeless garment that even a charity shop would reject?
But I would never know if I didn’t try.
Perusing my favourite knitting website, Loveknitting, I was surprised by the range of summer yarns and patterns that are available. After much deliberation I chose cotton blend yarns in DK or 8ply and found two patterns that I thought were simple enough for my first efforts. (I know my limitations – my fingers definitely do not move at the speed of light and I did want to finish this project before Christmas!)
I thought it might look good in white so chose a cotton silk blend by King Cole, called Finesse.
And my second choice was Sirdar pattern 7280.
I knitted up the Amalfiyarn first. I think Sirdar have been very clever with the marketing of this yarn because as I knitted away, memories of our stay on the beautiful Amalfi coast hovered over my needles. While I found I had to pay attention to the pattern for the first couple of pattern repeats, it was very easy to follow and much to my surprise, I was soon finished. I am very happy with the result.
Could my second top be as good? I cast on my stitches and was soon making progress.
The pattern was really easy and soon I had finished.
My tops have brightened up my summer wardrobe. They were very cost effective. Yarn and patterns set me back about $50 Australian. So not much more than cheap fashion! I really like them and will be careful to follow the washing instructions given for the yarns, hopefully ensuring several years of wear.
And while it shouldn’t matter what others think, it does give you a lovely feeling when a stranger stops you and asks, “Where did you get your top?”
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.
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.
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 Squareand 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.
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.
This was followed by dinner and the theatrical performance, The Golden Mask Dynastywhich was an optional tour but well worth it.
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.
Then we drove through the countryside until we reached the Juyong Passsection of the Great Wall.
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.
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!
But Kenn was not so easily daunted and the final guardhouse and the most spectacular view was waiting for him.
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.
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 dumplingrestaurants followed and then it was time to catch the very fast bullet train to Xian, a journey of about five hours.
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.
And the chance to wallow in the marvels of one of the world’s great archaeological sites.
We also enjoyed a lunch featuring local dishes of Xian before heading to the airport for our evening flight to Hangzhou.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Two years ago, our family and friends were celebrating Lyndsay and Reece’s wedding at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. Although it didn’t snow, it was cold. So cold that everyone was rugged up in beautiful coats and jackets, hats and beanies and interesting scarves that flowed this way and that, while we enjoyed exhilarating walks that ensured that blood still flowed to our extremities.
Coming from Byron, my cold weather garb was particularly uninspiring: of course I had purchased a lovely outfit for the wedding itself, after all I was the mother of the bride! But everything else I had was comprised of items designed to brave the New Zealand wilderness on walking treks. Practical, yes! Stylish, well only if you’e modelling the yeti look! I cast an admiring eye over the stylish casual attire and accessories everyone else was wearing. Before this, I hadn’t really noticed that infinity scarves or cowls had become a fashion accessory. My sisters, Jenny and Maryanne looked particularly good in theirs so I resolved on my return home to give knitting one a go.
It’s only taken two years to follow through and I can’t even use the excuse that I didn’t have the materials on hand. Nestled in my stash were two skeins of very special, hand dyed, hand spun wool that Lyndsay had brought back from her travels in Montanaa few years ago and I had found a free pattern on Ravelry that would be perfect for the job. Still better late than never as they say.
I knitted the cowl on a circular needle.
What was interesting about this pattern was the edging: it formed a very natural roll on the finished cowl while the lacy middle section made for an interesting textual contrast.
The pattern does suggest you use a stretchy bind off. I had never used one before, so I consulted You tube to find out how to do it. As you can see from the photo above, it gives your cowl an elliptical shape ensuring that it sits better when you wrap it around your head.
I was so pleased with the finished scarf, that I decided to knit one as part of a birthday gift for my sister Jenny. I knew that she already had a couple of chunky cowls in her wardrobe so decided to try something different. I settled on 2ply Silk Mohair. I wanted something unique, so I sourced the yarn from Lara Downs, an independent Australian Merino Wool and Fine Mohair grower in Victoria. Pam has a wonderful Etsy shop and luckily for me, she had just enough left of a beautiful rosy pink silk mohair yarn for me to purchase. Very quickly this beautiful yarn arrived. It was super soft and had a beautiful sheen but was so, so fine. For the first time, I felt just a little daunted. I had never tried to knit cobwebs before!
Luckily, you knit this yarn on quite big needles. I used 5mm straight needles. You have to be careful because it is very apparent as you knit, that if you were to drop a stitch, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to retrieve it! Even unraveling the knitting would be well nigh impossible.
If I was to knit another in such a fine yarn, I think I would purchase Addispecialist lace needles which have a very sharp point to make the job a little easier.
Of course I am still knitting little bits of this and that for the grandchildren. I finished a little vest for Lyndsay and Reece’s new baby which is due to arrive at any moment.
Most projects are still on ongoing but I have finished a jumper for Huddy in the same yarn. Bamboo Cotton is designed for the European summer but is perfect for winter in the Bay.
The jumper fits Huddy with plenty of room and I think suits his colouring much better than brown and yellow don’t you think?
Having actually knitted something for myself that worked, I’m thinking about knitting a top or cardigan for summer. Loveknitting has a great sale on for July and I’ve started collecting ideas. There are so many fabulous yarn with interesting combinations of natural fibres such as linen, cotton or silk to choose from. And I have found some easy patterns as well. If I actually follow through, I’ll let you know how it turns out.
A friend sent me an affirmation the other day and I thought I’d share it with you. ” Love, creativity and dedication. That’s what goes into handmade!” The human touch means so much don’t you think?