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.
Visiting ‘The Farm’at Ewingsdale is always a delight. Not only is it a working farm but it features an award winning restaurant where the food is sourced from the local community, much of it being grown in the paddocks that surround the restaurant hub, a bakery, a nursery and organic whole foods market.
Children are really catered for as there is plenty of space to run around and explore, animals to see and a wonderful playground.
But at the moment, there is something really special to see. The people at ‘The Farm’ have created a simple maze through their sunflower fieldwhich is in full bloom.
Huddy was keen for an adventure especially when I promised him a cupcake from the bakery for morning tea! The holiday season has abated so parking wasn’t a hassle and soon with cupcake safely devoured, we set off to explore the maze.
It was so beautiful. I was almost in a Van Gogh painting.
The path winds here and there and then emerges beside the vegetable gardens and the chicken pens.
A run on the lawn and a play on the slippery dip and it was home time.
I hope if you’re able that you’ll be able to tip toe through the sunflowers like we did.
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.
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.
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.
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!
And the village was so pretty.
Even the actual cobbled streets were attractive, shiny black speckles edged with snow.
And there was a dumpling man on the corner of our street!
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
and didn’t say no to a ride on a blue horse.
He posed dutifully when asked.
With Mummy’s help, he climbed into the castle and onto the big slippery dip.
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!
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.
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.
The village disappeared as we soared towards the summit. We had a lovely time with our cameras
In the snowy landscape, I could spot Kenn easily.
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.
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 Nosawasupplied 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.
Last Sunday, hoping to celebrate and share some of their cultural traditions, the local Japanese community hosted the inaugural ‘Japan’ festival on the Byron Bay beachfront. We knew that parking would be difficult so parked close to Clarkes Beach, just a short walk away from the festival.
There were lots of stalls to explore, outside on the beachfront and inside the Surf Club. I was drawn to the beautiful clothing, pottery and jewelery.
All around were members of the Japanese community and their families having fun. The children in particular, looked adorable.
And while a variety of alternative therapies are always a feature of markets in our area, it was interesting to see a Japanese perspective. I was particularly intrigued by the Singing Bowltent. It seemed a little similar to the Acutonics therapy that my sister Maryanne has trained in and which is gaining a devoted following.
And inside the surf club, there were lots of cultural activities on show. Part of the club had been turned into a tea house for the afternoon where still and silent, an appreciative audience enjoyed the tranquility and harmony of the ‘tea ceremony’.
There was origami jewellery, a calligraphy workshop, a landscape artist and Japanese board games to enjoy to name just a few of the activities on offer.
And then there were the food stalls! I will confess, it was the thought of a yummy plate of gyoza ( japanese dumplings), piping hot pork buns and yakitori that had initially enticed me to the festival. Food in hand, Kenn and I found a lovely shady spot under a nearby Pandanus palm and enjoyed every morsel and a wonderful beach view.
But for me, the highlight of the festival were the performances. Firstly a small group of Japanese children who live locally and attend a Japanese language and culture class once a week sang and danced for us.
A musical duet featuring Japanese instruments followed.
And the final performance was a Japanese drumming group from the Gold Coast. They treated us to three, terrific compositions utilising the drums in different ways. Their energy and enjoyment was infectious. For the first time in my life, I wanted to be a drummer!
The festival was a great success. I’m already looking forward to next year’s. Maybe I’ll see you there.
It’s been over a decade since Lyndsay headed north, not north to Alaska but north to Darwin! Taking a position as a choral teacher with the Northern Territory Music School turned out to be her perfect job and so she stayed. Over the years, we’ve traveled to Darwin many times to visit her, discovering and savoring much of what the Northern Territory has to offer along the way. We’ve marveled at waterfalls, gorges, billabongs and ages old rock art. We’ve been up close and personal with way too many crocodiles and luxuriated in hot springs at Mataranka under the dappled light of paperbark and palm trees. We’ve visited museums, learning more about Darwin’s wartime experiences and the horror of Cyclone Tracy, pretended to surf in the wave pool at the Waterfront and so much more.
Quite simply, Darwin is a delightful place to visit especially in July. It is always wonderfully sunny and warm, perfect for outdoor pursuits. On our latest trip, we focused on simple pleasures. Admiring Lyndsay and Reece’s new home in the Northern Suburbs and becoming acquainted with Hannibal, their Siberian husky was paramount. As you know, I love a good beach walk, but it’s always so much more fun with a puppy, especially a big puppy.
Having bought an older home, Lyndsay and Reece have lots of renovation plans and have begun with the landscaping. This involved serious wilderness clearing and fun with a bobcat or two. The result, a stylish productive garden overlooking the park. As I savored my morning coffee on the back deck shaded by the gum trees, I noticed that a cricket match was in progress on the oval in the distance. Not the Australian team in training for its upcoming tour to Bangladesh unfortunately but a local team trying to escape the heat of the day by starting early.
As we were based in the Northern Suburbs, we reacquainted ourselves with the foreshore at Nightcliff. Since our last visit, a new cafe has been built next to the Swimming Pool and has proved very popular with locals and visitors alike.
We walked along the cycle path to the Nightcliff Jetty and all around were vistas of the sea and the foreshore shaped by big tides.
Lyndsay and Reece were also keen to show us one of their favourite wilderness/camping spots, Tjuwaliyn or the Douglas-Daley Hot Springs Park. This proved to be a great 4WD adventure. The park is located about two hours drive south of Darwin and of course our first stop was the Douglas River. Here, fringed by sandy beaches, the river splits into two branches for a couple of hundred metres, forming a series of quiet, crystal clear pools.
In one branch, hot springs heat the water while the water in the other branch is cold. Where the branches come together, the waters mingle. So with a bit of exploration, you can find your perfect temperature.
We loved our hot and cold spa treatment. And relaxing under the tall shady trees for a shade bake.
But the park has more to offer than the hot springs. We also visited Butterfly Gorge,further upstream from the Springs. We initially walked alongside the river to where the it widens into a big pool.
According to Lyndsay and Reece, you can usually walk around a big rocky outcrop to explore deeper into the gorge but alas we couldn’t. We didn’t think that this part of the river was absolutely, 100% crocodile free so were reluctant to wade around to the beach. We retraced our steps and completed the much harder climb to the lookout instead.
Back in the Ranger and the home comforts of Darwin beckoned but Lyndsay and Reece had another experience for us to savour: dinner at the Adelaide River Pub. The annual Rosella festival was on; bush food not birds. Having never tasted rosellas, I ate a few while an oldtimer at the bar shared his mother’s recipe for rosella jelly which he maintained was better than cranberry sauce! It might well be, but it would have been a labour of love. You would have to pick an awful lot of rosellas to have enough petals with which to make sauce.
Only in the territory do you come across unique memorabilia. Taking pride of place in the bar was the buffalo who had such a memorable role in ‘Crocodile Dundee”. It was stuffed of course!
And the meal brought another surprise. The chef was obviously keen to ensure that no-one left his establishment hungry. For example, Kenn’s chicken schnitzel was shaped like a map of Australia and covered his whole plate burying a massive mound of vegetables. While he made some valiant inroads, Kenn had to admit defeat at the Western Australian/ Territory border. Yep, everything’s big in the outback.
Back in Darwin, we continued to reacquaint ourselves with the city centre. The walk along the Esplanade is not to be missed. The gardens and lookout near the war memorial are especially lovely.
But there is always something new! This time we spotted two young men setting up a stall selling french crepes.
And we visited Lameroo Beach accessed via a track which branches from the main Esplanade path.
A visit to Darwin has always included fabulous dinners out. On this trip, our culinary highlight was dinner at the Exotic North Indian Restaurantat Cullen Bay. Seated at a table overlooking the pier, we enjoyed some of the best Indian food I have tasted anywhere. Service was really excellent and the prices reasonable.
All too soon, it was time to catch the dreaded ‘red-eye’ back to Brisbane. This time, following a family dinner at home, we all went to the 8pm session of the Deck Chair Cinema. Luckily, ‘Monsieur Chocolat’was showing, a powerful yet moving French film. It finished with more than enough time to make our farewells and get to the airport. It was a great way to fill in time before a 12.30 flight!
It was wonderful catching up with Lyndsay and Reece and we’re already planning for our next Darwin adventure. Familiar places can be so rewarding to visit.
Sometimes, when you least expect it, something wonderful happens. My friend Annie decided to celebrate a special birthday in Singapore and invited us along. We were delighted to accept and looked forward to a week of fun filled days as we explored this jewel of the East.
Flying out of the Gold Coast airport to Singapore on Scoot Airlines, the new budget offering from Singapore Airlines, was so much better than we expected: the new dreamliner was reasonably comfortable, the service good and best of all, we arrived at a civilised time in the afternoon. A celebratory drink and delightful dinner was enjoyed by all at our hotel, the Pan-Pacific at Marina Bay.
A brief foray into the immediate surroundings brought unexpected delights, including an indoor aquarium constructed entirely from balloons.
But it was time for birthday shenanigans. Taking full advantage of the beautiful weather, we lazily drifted about the pool and reclined on day beds sipping champagne, while we nibbled the first of two birthday cakes (courtesy of the hotel).
celebration day 2
Soon we were celebrating by the pool.
We were resting, preparing ourselves for the birthday feast: the seafood buffet at the Edge Restaurant in the Pan Pacific.
Lobster, prawns, chilli crab, sashimi, prawns, oysters. salmon … what to choose? We took it very slowly, pacing ourselves, savouring each morsel, each of us designing our own perfect combination. A special feature of the buffet were the live food stations. You could just go and request a particular seafood speciality and they would cook it to order and bring it out to you. Magical.
After such a meal, it was time to explore Marina Bay. Singapore’s skyline is amazing and a photographer’s paradise.
It was lovely to see how children are catered for in these open public places. While we were in Singapore, an inflatable Art Zoo, a kind of floating, giant, jumping castle was installed beside the helix bridge and the kids and their parents had a ball.
We enjoyed walking around the bay to the Merlion park where we found a cafe that was actually open for breakfast.
The views across the bay in the morning light were wonderful.
It was time to venture further afield. Becoming real tourists, we boarded the wacky duck, a remodelled WWII amphibious vehicle to explore Singapore’s landmarks by sea and by land. It was great to view familiar sights from the water but we made the mistake of sitting down the back and much of the commentary couldn’t be heard over the roar of the engines.
And in the evening dusk, as torchlight beckoned and the fire dancers performed, we met some of the residents of the Night Zoo.
Mastering the MRT, we wandered through the crowded alleyways of Chinatown. I was looking for toddler pyjamas. I remembered how adorable Christian had looked in his pale green, Chinese pyjamas and how much he loved them, so wanted to find something similar for Genevieve and Hudson. I bargained hard! And super cute silk pyjamas found their way into my bag. Looking back though, I don’t know who came out on top; the shopkeeper or me … a number of other items suddenly seemed essential … and the shopkeeper was smiling as she took my money.
We couldn’t resist the novelty of the Gourmet Bus either.
This was an indulgent way to see more of the city including a quick taste of the Gardens by the Bay where the dinosaurs, who were visiting for the school holidays, said ‘hello’.
We returned later that afternoon, to explore the two giant glasshouses and watch the light and sound show in the Super Tree grove. The Flower Dome features plants from temperate, alpine and desert regions of the world. It was cherry blossom time and the bottom floor of the glasshouse was awash in blossom.
I particularly liked the English garden where favourite characters hung out.
And here and there were sculptures created out of natural materials and a 2000 year old olive tree!
But the Cloud Forest was even more spectacular and far less crowded. Here, the Singaporeans have created a mountain complete with waterfall, inside a gigantic glasshouse that you can meander down.
It gives a whole new meaning to a vertical garden! You walk around the base of the mountain, pass a garden constructed out of lego to a lift which takes you to the summit of the mountain. There you can gaze back over the gardens towards Marina Bay.
There was so much to see as we walked down.
A reflection pool complete with dragonfly,
an amazing array of plants,
framing all sorts …
a crystal cavern
and a secret garden.
But the best was yet to come. We found ourselves a spot in the Super tree Grove to watch the free light and sound show. It was wonderful.
Sentosa Island was our destination for the following day. We caught a taxi to the island and used the free public transport to get around.
The luge was on the agenda. I remembered my previous encounter with the luge in Queenstown, New Zealand. Driving my sled in a suitably safe manner, I was shocked when an overtaking six year old told me, not too politely, to shift it. This time I was determined to find my inner formula I driver. And I did … on the third and final run!
Then it was time for a dip in the South China Sea before a delightful lunch overlooking the sea, complete with Singapore slings. A cable car ride to Mount Faber followed. A delightful way to see the city.
It was time to say goodbye to the birthday party for a day or so. Kenn and I were lucky enough to spend a couple of nights with our nephew, Ben, his lovely wife Deanna and beautiful baby Lewis. Has it been your experience, that where ever you go in the world, you run into someone from your past? This time, we shared a lovely evening with Kenn’s Aunty Norma and his cousins, Pat and Lynn who hail from Condobolin and Parkes in the Central West of NSW. They were visiting Pat’s son Raymond who coincidentally lives in the same complex as Ben and Deanna. It’s definitely a small world. It had been over 20 years since last we’d yarned but it seemed like yesterday. Family is like that. Guided by Deanna, we explored the beautiful Singapore river like an expat: Robertson Quay, Clarke Quay and Orchard Road. Beautiful by day and by night.
All too soon, our final day arrived. We visited some of the colonial buildings: the Art Gallery, Raffles, the Museum and Canning Park where we had farewell drinks.
Canning Park was very interesting. We didn’t have time to see the battlebox … maybe next time.
What is your favourite memory of Singapore, the lion city?
Too often, Singapore is seen as a stopover destination – a place to spend a few hours on the way from Australia to Europe. But I think that you need more. After a week, there was so much we didn’t see or experience. On our next trip perhaps?
Whistler was the first stop on our road trip through the Canadian Rockies and proved to be one of the highlights of our trip. It had it all: mountains for as far as you could see, metres of snow, tranquil lakes hidden in woods so dark and deep, I thought I was in a Robert Frost poem and a charming, accessible, snow globe village. My daughter, Melissa and her husband Ben spent a year in Whistler, as many young Aussies do, and to this day it holds a special place in their hearts. I now appreciate why they found it so difficult to come home!
On a cloudy, grey day, with our luggage in tow, we made our way from the Sylvia Hotel in the West Endto the airport where we picked up our car. Using the excellent bus and train system, it was surprisingly easy and cost only a few dollars. Having said that though, a taxi would have only cost us around 25 dollars. We chose the former because we had time and wanted to pretend we were young backpackers if only for a few hours.
The drive from the airport into the city and over the Lions Gate Bridge to the North Shore was not too difficult. Our car didn’t come with sat nav and we chose not to upgrade. Kenn was confident that he still had excellent map reading skills and sure enough we soon found ourselves zooming over the bridge and onto the Sea to Sky highway. We had scarcely travelled 30 kms and the weather started to clear. The highway skirts the coast with wonderful views over the ocean and then climbs firstly to Squamishand finally to Whistler. The drive was breathtaking, so much so that I forgot to take photos. I just wanted to look and look some more.
The Summit Hotel and Spa
We stayed at the Summit Hotel and Spa located on Main St close to the Marketplace and the Town Plaza, a great location as it turned out. Initially, I chose this property because I found an incredible special on booking.com and after checking with Melissa re location and facilities, booked. In fact it was so good, that when we went to check in at reception, the girls had never seen a booking so cheap! Was I a forger? A cheat? The back records had to checked to verify my booking.com reservation confirmation. A few anxious moments … and then smiles all round.
We certainly couldn’t fault our apartment. It featured a separate bedroom, a living room complete with kitchenette and gas fireplace, a luxurious bathroom and a delightful balcony overlooking the pool and hot tub with views to Blackcomb mountain. A perfect home away from home for four nights! Leaving our unpacking for later, we spent a wonderful afternoon exploring the village and getting our bearings. Just around the corner from the Summit we discovered an Aussie pie shop (peakedpies.com) which had an amazing variety of gourmet pies at reasonable prices. Just the thing for a late lunch.
The next day dawned cloudy, cool and overcast but rain was not predicted so we decided to walk the Lost Lake loop. This was on Melissa’s must do list. It was an easy 5 to 10 km walk. Initially we walked through woods, dark and deep until we reached the lake.
Crossing a wooden bridge over a bubbling stream,
we came to a pontoon.
Here we had to stop . There’s just something about wooden walkways that invite one to explore…
This would be a perfect spot for yoga, I thought. I could visualise myself attempting downward dog listening to the water lapping the deck, drifting into a zen like state. But my vision was shattered when Melissa told me that this is a favourite swimming spot for the nudist community. I couldn’t believe anyone would actually enjoy swimming here. I had dipped a toe into the water and even if I had a thermal wetsuit on, I wouldn’t dive in let alone clothed only in my birthday suit! Bits would freeze off I’m sure.
We resumed our walk and every turn of the track seemed to give us yet another vista of peacefulness. We returned by taking the track to the upper village along a delightful covered bridge.
Lost in the mist
What lurks in the bushes?
The symmetry of the roof makes for an interesting photo opportunity.
It was time to tick off another item on Melissa’s must do list. Eat a zog dog and poutine. Essential Canadian fare! I can’t report that we found them super delicious. A Zog dog is a saucy hot dog and poutine is basically hot chips with gravy and cheese curds. They were a bit salty and stodgy, perhaps best consumed on a cold winter’s day after a run down the mountain. Then, I imagine they would really hit the spot. We wandered back to the Summit where we enjoyed an hour or so in the hot tub and sauna before indulging in a great value for money dinner at the Spaghetti Factory.
It was packed but it was no hardship to sip a cocktail or two while we waited for a table.
The Peak to Peak Gondola
This has to be the best gondola ride on the planet. The sheer scale of the Peak to Peak Gondola is breathtaking. We scored a beautiful day and made the most of it. First of all, we rode the gondola up Whistler mountain.
Up you go, up some more and when you think you have reached the summit, you go up, up and up! Below, the village dwindles away.
As the summit, we grabbed a bite to eat and then explored a little before climbing aboard the Peak to Peak gondola.
We found the Olympic Inunshuk and of course took a photo in front of the Olympic Rings.
Going across to Blackcomb mountain on the gondola allows you unparalleled mountain and valley views. We were lucky enough to catch the glass bottom gondola as well. It’s a long way over as you can see in these photos.
Once we reached Blackcomb, we watched the skiers and snow boarders flying down the mountain. Skiing in late Spring! We could have caught the gondola back to Whistler mountain and then down to the village but decided to catch the Blackcomb chairliftdown the mountain instead. And we saw bears! Playing in the flowers! What a day!
Walking on top of the world.
The following morning was also wonderfully sunny, so we caught the Whistler gondola up the mountain again to walk the only Alpine track that was open. It took us to Little Whistler Peak. Although we have walked to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko in Australia, this was very different. There was so much snow and ice and we were so much higher. The air felt so clean, so good that you just wanted to drink it all in.
The walk follows a service road and climbs very steadily to the peak. As you round bends in the road and look behind you, wonderful vistas open up.
Soon, we found ourselves walking between walls of ice that seemed to get higher and higher as we climbed.
And there were ice sculptures!
All too soon, we were at the end of the walk, feeling at one with the world.This was such a lovely thing to do. Descending on the gondola, we were captivated by the mountain bikers taking on the mountain. This was not an activity that I wanted to pursue but what an adrenaline rush for the riders!
These were some of the highlights of our Whistler stay. Of course there was so much more: museums, cafes and restaurants, bike rides and of course hot tubbing our aches and pains away under the stars, just to list a few.
While Whistler comes into its glory in the winter, it’s a wonderful destination that offers so much all year round to visitors of all ages. We were sad to go.
After we completed the Queen Charlotte Walk in early December, Kenn and I visited Akaroa near Christchurch, before catching our flight home. Friends had said it was a ‘must see’ and they were so right. Cruising along in our little Yaris hire car, our first surprise unfolded as we drove down, and I mean down and down some more. Akaroa is situated on the edge of a beautiful harbour, a harbour which was once the centre of a volcano. We realised we were driving down the sides of a caldera and the views were magnificent.
Akaroa is charming. Originally settled by the French, it is so ooh la la! The french influences are everywhere: from names, french blue lamp posts and public seating, to the tricolour flying in the breeze. A word or two of my schoolgirl french returned to assist in translation.
There are flowers everywhere. From beautiful cottage gardens surrounding delightful BnB’s
to fences and shop fronts garlanded with hanging baskets.
We took leisurely walks along the foreshore to the little lighthouse and various points of interest sampling the coffee and friands in one establishment and the coffee and croissants in another. We indulged ourselves over breakfast, lunch and dinner. A highlight for me besides the Sunday morning chocolate crepes served by our motel, was the fish. It was superb. There must be something in the water in New Zealand that we don’t have because fish always seems to taste better there than here. I noticed a Cooking School but alas no classes were running while we were there. I would have loved to take a unique recipe home and know how it should taste and be cooked.
All however was not lost. I found something lovely to take home while souvenir shopping. I was on a bit of a mission. Before departure, Melissa and Ben had shared the happy news that they were expecting a honeymoon baby. Our second grand child was on the way! What special something could I buy the baby? It was while I was buying a cute woolly sheep for the nursery that I spied some special baby wool. It was relatively expensive at nearly $14.00 NZ but felt so soft. It was DMC’s 100% Baby, extra fine pure merino wool. Made in Italy, it looks like a 3 ply yarn but knits as a 4 ply. I have never seen it in Australia, so bought two balls of white. Enough to knit a little something. Then Kenn spotted some great buttons and my purchases were complete.
But as every knitter knows, it is one thing to buy wool, another to knit it up. What would I knit with this special wool? A jumper? Maybe booties? Perhaps a little hat? The hat I had knitted Genevieve had been a hit.
In the end, I decided to knit a cardigan in the newborn to three month size. Luckily vintage is in, for I decided to use a pattern from the ’70s that my mother-in-law, Betty had given me. It comes from PatonsPattern book 792, 10 Baby Knits which, to my amazement is still available on ebay. It was easy to knit and the buttons give it a unisex, contemporary finishing touch, don’t you think? By the way, the cardigan took just one ball of wool! I think a hat and maybe some booties will be making an appearance.
So what have I been doing since I finished this project? I’ve started a baby blanket which hopefully will be finished by June. It’s definitely not heritage in any way. An interesting project, it’s something to do after I’ve been for my swim and beach walk or perhaps shared a coffee with friends. It’s a wonderful world out there.
My Tuesday was not behaving itself! I had intended to have of a lovely morning catching up with my fellow golf enthusiasts for a coaching session with Nicky Rickon, a leisurely coffee and perhaps, a few holes of golf at Mullumbimby Golf Club. But sadly, it was not to be. I found myself crawling along Broken Head Road. This was not good. I was going to be very, very late. But my golf clubs were nestled between the odd towel and beach chair in the boot and my feet were wearing socks and sneakers for the first time in months, ready to traverse beckoning fairways, so I detoured. A few holes at Byron would surely satisfy my golfing itch.
Although it was a very warm morning, there was a breeze so it was with some enthusiasm that I paid my money and made my way to the back nine as directed. I hadn’t played for a couple of months and as expected it took me one or two more shots than usual to complete the my first hole. But to compensate for a less than celebratory fairway performance, I did sink a long putt! I hit off the second and missed the water. All good. Then disaster. The Ladies Comp caught up to me. They suggested, nicely, that I hightail it over to the 14th, hit down to the clubhouse and play a few holes on the front nine so that I didn’t get in their way. There was only one problem. I got a trifle lost and ended up on the 13th. Where was the 14th? Obviously, my map reading skills need a little fine tuning. Feeling decidedly hot and bothered, I decided to tee off. Then I heard the sound. The sound of an approaching golf cart. I looked up. The lady golfers had me in their sights. There was nothing for it but to pick up my ball and drag my buggy and myself back to the clubhouse.
I felt that I had already walked nine holes but wasn’t ready to give up just yet. “The front nine might be more challenging but is more scenic,” I’d been reliably informed. As I dragged myself down and up, across and back, I got hotter and hotter. For once, my ball didn’t seek the trees like a ballistic missile. I was stuck in the middle of the fairway. Repeatedly. Melting. In the tropical oasis that is Byron, I felt as if I was trekking across the Sahara … without a camel! Three holes later, I called it a day. I didn’t want the R.I.P sign at the side of the Golf Club driveway to commemorate me.
Lying on the couch under a fan with an ice pack on my neck, Kenn took pity on me. “How about I take you and Annie out for coffee and maybe lunch?” My day suddenly brightened. Taking advantage of our new National Parks parking sticker, we decided that lunch on the newly completed deck at the Lighthouse Cafewould be perfect.
The cafe offers simple pleasures. Coffee, milkshakes, rolls, quiches, gourmet pies and sausage rolls to mention a few and the best ice cream in Byron Bay.
Lunch finished, we lingered a little. Rested a little.
For newcomers to the bay, information about Lighthouse Tours and the National Park can be found in the Lighthouse Keepers House directly behind the cafe.
Refreshed, Annie and I meandered down the track, past the most easterly point of Australia to Wategoes where Kenn kindly picked us up.
Lunch at the Lighthouse Cafe was a lovely and unexpected way to end the morning.