Thomas the Tank and B1 and B2 live it up at Huddy’s 2nd birthday party

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‘I’ve got my boiler steaming so come aboard Huddy and I’ll  take you on an adventure,’ whistled Thomas

Hudson turned two on the 16th June and it was time to party. Where has the baby boy gone? Almost surreptitiously Huddy has morphed into an adventurous little boy who has mastered the art of making his desires known (can say ‘No’ in many different languages) and who can put on a turn of speed that forces his grandparents into embarrassing public displays of sprinting. (When I was 13 and participating in the school athletics carnival,  I recall my mother remarking that I ran like a duck and that I should retire from sprint events while the going was good!  Sadly,  I haven’t improved with time. My inner duck has not learnt to fly.)

Like many children, he loves the outdoors, especially finding ‘buff flys’ and birds and picking unsuspecting flowers ‘for Mummy’.  And like most little boys I know, Huddy loves Thomas the Tank engine and the Bananas in Pyjamas, B1 and B2. I must admit to having developed more than a passing regard for them as well. After all, every afternoon after bathtime, they deliver a peaceful half hour or so before Huddy goes home.

Not suprisingly, Thomas and B1 and B2 provided the theme for Huddy’s birthday brunch. It was amazing to see how with just cardboard, masking tape, paint, stripey pyjamas, some imagination and  a smidgen  of time,  a memorable birthday celebration was created that amused and delighted the birthday boy and his guests.

In secret, Ben wrangled cardboard into a tank engine while Melissa slapped on paint and attached  essential accessories such as smoke balloons and a driving wheel complete with sound effects.  Huddy couldn’t believe his eyes when on the party morning, he walked out of his bedroom and saw that Thomas had come to play at his house!

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‘There’s room for two in my cab’ tooted Thomas.

Soon the guests were assembled and the party fun began. A delightful brunch was served complete with Byron Bay coffee.

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While the adults devoured the croissant bar and the cheese platter, the children loved the coconut fruit yogurt pots and the fruit platter. They were such good sharers as well!

 

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Huddy  was almost too busy to eat. After all who wants to eat when you can race with new firetrucks  with my friend Harley?

After brunch, there was a knock at the door. Huddy ran over to the stairs and couldn’t believe his eyes: B1 and B2 were there.

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Are you thinking what I’m thinking B1?  I think I am, B2! It’s chase Huddy time!

B1 and B2 sang, danced, fell over and played games for the children.

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‘It’s bubble. bubble, bubble time B1.’ ‘ That’s right B2. Listen everyone, we have prizes for anyone who can catch a bubble and bring it to us, that’s right isn’t B1?’ ‘Yes that’s right B2!’                    Sadly no bubbles were caught.

They were hilarious. This animation which Google photos created from a video gives you an idea of their performance.

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As you can see, they had a captivated audience.  Even Ninja the dog got into the act.  What a lovely surprise for all. Thank you B1 ( Kenn) and B2 (Helen Jarvis) for your wonderful shenanigans. 

Soon it was time for the Bananas to make their departure to the refrain of

‘Bananas in pyjamas are going down the stairs / Bananas in pyjamas are going down in pairs  / Cause on birthdays, they all  like to escape unawares’ ( apologies to the ABC)

And then it was time for cake, presents and home time.

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This was very tasty, but the cake was so long, Melissa had to use a snowboard  as a cake stand.
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So many thoughtful gifts! Huddy really enjoyed opening his presents. 
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There’s always something special about a party box. 

We had a lovely time and no child dissolved into tears. Always a plus.  With the little ones all headed for an afternoon nap,  and Kenn divested of his B1 costume, we made the most of the beautiful day and walked up to the Lighthouse for some whale spotting. And they were there, just off the point, jumping  and flashing their tails around. Always a special moment. It was a great way to finish a special day. Happy Birthday, Huddy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medieval Magic at the Art Gallery of NSW

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This weekend, the wonderful The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW finishes.  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.

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Welcoming visitors with music!

 I love how galleries make exhibitions so interactive. There were weaving workshops where 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!

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The colours were so rich and the detail so intricate.

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?

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And how cute is this little dog, not to mention the detail on her skirt. I can’t believe that this was actually woven!
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And the unicorns had different expressions on each tapestry.  And the little animals that were dotted here and there like the bunnies were so cute!

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!

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Service and food were exemplary.  The menu is based on his dishes made famous from Aria. An unexpected bonus to an already wonderful afternoon.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Sunflower Magic at ‘The Farm’, Byron Bay

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A touch of the South of France in Byron Bay

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.

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A very relaxed vibe permeates the Farm

Children are really catered for as there is plenty of space to run around and explore, animals to see and a wonderful playground.

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The slippery dip is quite steep, so those with younger children would have to be careful.

But at the moment, there is something really special to see. The people at ‘The Farm’ have created a simple maze through their sunflower field which is in full bloom.

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The bees were in heaven

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.

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The path was particularly muddy, so Huddy decided he would like an elevated view of the sunflowers

It was so beautiful. I was almost in a Van Gogh painting.

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I love the pollen on the leaves, looks like gold dust.

The path winds here and there and then emerges beside the vegetable gardens and the chicken pens.

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had fun trying to identify some of the veggies
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Very fat, happy chooks
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There were some baby chickens which Huddy particularly liked. I thought they were super cute too.

A run on the lawn and a play on the slippery dip and it was home time.

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A lovely view of the Byron Hinterland from the lawn

I hope if you’re able that you’ll be able to tip toe through the sunflowers like we did.

 

 

A Hole in One: Not an impossible dream!

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Sister Act : Jenny and I on our respective Par 3’s at Cowra and Mullumbimby Golf Courses.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I thought  that landing a hole in one was an impossible dream. Something only achieved by golf whisperers,  players who can actually play the game with some finesse and seem able to coax, caress and cajole their clubs and balls  into behaving beautifully, fulfilling  golfing desires. Players like my sister, Jenny who after many years of playing A grade and representative golf,  landed her first hole in one last year at Cowra Golf Club. Teeing off on the 5th, a Par 3 with her trusty nine iron, Jenny saw her ball sail toward the pin. However, it was only when she and her group walked down to the hole, that she could celebrate.  Her ball was lying there, nestled in the cup! Although she has won many events over the years,  she told me that this hole in one was the most special.

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Cowra Golf Course is a beautiful country course in the Central West of NSW.  With lush fairways and  challenging bunkers, there are one or two hills that will give you a cardio workout.  I had a wonderful time playing there with Jenny while  hooning around in her golf buggy. You might like to check out our adventures here.

 

But I thought wrong! Even a relative newcomer to golf such as myself, who  has enjoyed many mishaps on her golfing journey and who steps up to the ball, swings and hopes for the best, can land a hole in one. 

My special moment happened a couple of weeks ago at Mullumbimby Golf Club.

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Beautiful Mullumbimby, a country paradise.

There I was competing in our monthly medal round, hoping against hope that my score wouldn’t blow out too embarrassingly, when the unbelievable happened. It was the 12th hole.  A par 3. The hole is bordered by water on both sides and as I stepped up with my driver,  I remember having a few, stern,  silent words to my pretty blue flowered ball. “Don’t even think about going for a dip in the pond! I know you like to swim but  this isn’t the time for fraternising with the geese. You don’t want to get dirty, I only bought you yesterday … Just fly up in the air and you’ll see how soft and lovely the grass is on the green.”

Maybe my ball listened,  maybe I followed through properly or Lady Luck intervened … I don’t know.  All I know is,  I watched as my ball sailed to the left, curved around and landed softly just before the hole and rolled in.  Picking up my ball from the cup, I actually felt a bit guilty. I know how many really good players are out there who haven’t been rewarded with a hole in one and here was I with one. It didn’t seem fair somehow.

That guilty feeling didn’t stop me from being absolutely thrilled when I was presented with my first sporting trophy since I was the 16 years girls swimming champion at school, something I achieved through participation not skill.

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I think the flowers did it!

What has been particularly heartwarming has been my fellow lady golfers’ reactions. They were genuinely thrilled for me. But that’s golf isn’t it? It’s the comraderie as well as the personal challenge that keep us coming back.  And persevering.   And truly, if I was able to sink a hole in one, there’s hope for all golfers out there.

 

 

Riding Byron Bay’s Solar Train

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.

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Solar panels look so cool on the old red ‘rattler’ train that I remember riding when I was young.

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.

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!

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Look Poppy, I have my ticket. Can’t we get on the train NOW?
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Poppy, that red wheel is asking me to turn it.
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Yep, one hand is all you need!

We virtually had the train to ourselves and Huddy was lucky enough to be invited by the train driver into his inner sanctum.

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Be careful, there are birds out there!
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Keep the train on the tracks, please. Maybe we should slow down for the curves?

And then  there were the carriages to explore…

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Do I really have to sit still?
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I can see much better standing up!

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 Bistro instead. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

O’Reilly’s Rainforest Magic

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Moran’s Falls, Lamington National Park

This Easter, Kenn and I spent a couple of days at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in the Lamington National Park.  You’ll find this wonderful national park and resort  in the Gold Coast Hinterland.   Just a couple of hours away from Byron Bay,  O’Reilly’s  is  one of our favourite places to visit and chill out. As we have been making the trek up the mountain since our children were very young, this piece of World Heritage listed rainforest holds many special memories.  Who could ever forget Christian’s look of amazement at his first bird feeding session? He carefully measured out the bird seed he had purchased from the cafe onto his hands and  before he could catch his breath, he was covered in rosellas. They were perched up and down his arms, on his palms, on his shoulders and even on his head.  They tickled and they nibbled as they made themselves comfortable. This was all so cool until he realised that the bird on his head had left a deposit on his brand new hat! Ah what fun!

This time, we were meeting up with our daughter Lyndsay, who was down from Darwin and her Finnish  exchange student Lila.  We booked directly with O’Reilly’s. They had a great autumn special which included accommodation in a mountain view room, daily buffet breakfast, morning and afternoon tea, a 4WD tour through the rainforest and welcome drinks. A bargain!  You can check out their webpage here  We arrived around Midday and luckily our room was ready and a lovely afternoon walk beckoned.

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View from our balcony
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Our room was lovely. So peaceful and quiet. The timber finishes really complemented the natural surroundings.

Lyndsay and Lila had arrived a day before us and decided to walk the Tooloona Creek circuit. We had walked this track awhile back. If you’re interested in seeing more of this track,  See previous post here  

 We definitely didn’t have time to walk 20kms this time,  so decided to walk along the Border Track until we caught up with them on their way home.  This involved a gentle uphill climb to the Antarctic Beech Forest.

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These trees are relics from Gondwana times. Only the trees not Kenn!

As the track winds between mossy and ferny boulders, I always feel as if I’m in a Tolkien novel and Gandalf  is going to come round the bend.

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About five kms along the track, we met up with Lyndsay and Lila and returned to the resort in time for afternoon tea and a dip in the sauna and hot tub.

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Thoroughly relaxed, we enjoyed a wonderful sunset with pre-dinner drinks in the Rainforest Bar.

The next day dawned cloudy and showery. Grabbing our rain jackets, we met Lila who was joining us on 4WD tour.  A little bit of misty weather can enhance your outdoor experience if you let it. The tour took us on roads we had never traversed.

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This was a fun way to see more of the area

And our guide was very informative.

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This is glow in the dark fungus! Only glows for two or three days apparently. 

Highlights included the short walk to Moran’s Falls and the visit to Luke’s farm.

 

After lunch, Kenn and I walked down to Elabana Falls. This time we didn’t make it past Picnic Rock as there was so much water and every time I put my hand down to balance myself on the slippery rocks to cross over, the leeches attacked! And I hate leeches. Despite the leeches, it felt great to stretch our legs and we didn’t get very wet as the canopy of the rainforest acted as a natural umbrella.

There really is so much to see and do at O’Reilly’s. Usually, we spend our time on completing one of the big day treks but this time we got to explore two of the short walks for the first time. They were to Mick’s tower and the Wishing Tree.

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The track winds down a fern encrusted gully
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to Mick’s tower, where the intrepid can climb five platforms to the top for a view of the canopy
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And then onto the Wishing Tree where you can sit on a log and make a wish in the hollow of the tree.

But all good things must come to an end and all too soon we were winding our way down the mountain again. Instead of taking the highway home, we decided to show Lila Natural Bridge which is part of the Springbrook National Park.  The road from Nerang to Murwillumbah is beautiful. Much to our surprise, much has changed at Natural Bridge since we last visited several years ago.  While the rock pool and cavern are as lovely as ever, you can no longer swim there. To compensate, a new circuit has been built that follows the creek and explores more of the surroundings.

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The water was thundering down
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Just beautiful! 
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This was a quaint cafe just a couple of kms from Natural Bridge. Very enjoyable lunch.

By late afternoon, we were home and taking Lila for her first lighthouse walk. We are so lucky to be able to journey from the forest to the sea in a matter of hours. I hope if you haven’t already experienced the deep serenity of the Australian rainforest, that you get the opportunity very, very soon.

 

An Alien stole my ball at Murwillumbah!

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View from the deck of Murwillumbah Golf Club. Beautiful Mount Warning in the distance shrouded by misty clouds.

Back in February, I saw the flyer on the clubhouse wall for an Open Day at Murwillumbah to benefit Breast Cancer. My curiosity was piqued.  Ages ago, it seems, Annie and I had been told how beautiful this course was and consequently had it on our list of courses we’d like to play.  So this seemed a perfect opportunity.

Although we had never been to an Open Day, we figured it couldn’t be too damaging to our self esteem, as it was a Single Stableford event. When one’s handicap is still languishing in the 40s and it’s the rainy season, single stableford provides a measure of comfort when you just know there are going to be a few (and possibly more than a few) mishaps out on the course.  And it was for such a good cause!  And dressed in a fabulous pink rosy skirt and  pink shirt courtesy of my lovely sister, Jenny, I could even fulfill the dress code in style.

So early Thursday morning, Annie and I set off  for Murwillumbah.  It was showery but we reassured each other that we could see glimpses of blue sky to the north. But as we climbed the Burringbar Range, the blue sky disappeared and showers reappeared. Thank goodness we had decided to use a buggy and just for extra protection we stashed our brollies in the cart for extra protection from the elements.

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My little frog was in his  element.

There were over 100 ladies participating despite the weather, We found we were to play  with two lovely ladies from Murwillumbah, who showed us the ropes and soon we were hitting off the tenth. It was a Par 3. Terrific, I thought.

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Unfortunately, you had to thread the needle between two bunkers.  The one on the left welcomed in me with open arms.  This was a  deep, deep bunker, so I took evasive action and hit out the side, only to roll into the bunker on the right.  Alas, my first wipe of the day beckoned.

But all was not lost. The course was lovely to play and there was some run.

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While there was water, it didn’t pose a threat unless you hit wildly off course and the view to the mountains was spectacular.
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This part of the course is relatively flat and next time, I would love to walk it. 
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And the Tweed River borders a couple of holes.
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But as you can see, the fairway is lovely and wide!

Soon, we were tackling the front nine. This was more hilly and had some tricky but interesting holes. And it’s also where an alien stole my ball!

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We found ourselves hitting down the slope and then up the slope to the greens

How did an alien steal your ball, you might ask? Well I  hit  a great drive and second shot ( for me that is)  on a long Par 4.  I had 7 shots for par, so full of anticipation, I closely watched  my third shot fall just short, on the edge of the green. Dash it, I muttered to the ball, you could have gone just a little bit further!  Confidently, I walked over to the ball, only to discover it belonged to one of the Murwillumbah ladies! My ball had vanished! We looked in the bunkers, we looked over the back of the green, we looked behind and we looked in the hole! No ball!  Obviously, taken by aliens! What to do?  The Murwillumbah ladies were seasoned golfers of over 40 years experience. Sadly they informed me, it was a wipe.

But the game must go on and the course held more lovely surprises. At one point we drove from one hole to the next through a lovely patch of rainforest.

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This shot doesn’t do this part of the course justice. It was so much more beautiful than this, but I was just snapping away with my phone.

And all too soon, we were shaking hands on the 9th. It was time to scan our scorecards and while we didn’t win, we didn’t disgrace ourselves either.  Lunch beckoned in the clubhouse where our new friends invited us to join them.  Lots of stories, lots of laughter,  the most amazing raffle and  presentations. And it was home time.

As we drove away, the rain started again. We couldn’t believe that we had been lucky enough to enjoy such a wonderful day of golf. Murwillumbah, we will be back!

 

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.