SYDNEY STAYCATION, NSW

August 18, 2018

Americans have such a fun way with words, don’t they?! Take ‘staycation’ for instance… a clever combination of the words stay and vacation…so much more exciting that ‘holiday in the place you live’! And lets face it, sometimes you don’t have time, money or even your act together enough to organize a getaway, so a staycation provides a welcome circuit breaker, and change of scenery without breaking the bank, or requiring much effort! So when Kinga and I were invited to high tea at the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth, we thought, why not have a girls only sleepover in the city?

After checking in to our room (and an obligatory jump on the bed! Not allowed to do it at home…!) we met Kinga’s best friend Miranda and her mum Viola in the Tea Lounge, just off the main lobby for our afternoon tea. The grown ups opt for fragrant jasmine tea (though we agree that next time, a glass of champagne would be more than acceptable!) whilst the girls ask for hot choccies… We were presented with beautiful platters featuring perfect finger sandwiches, macarons, tartlets, jellies, scones and more. There are Archibald entries very cleverly printed onto chocolate for decoration, but these don’t last long; they’re scoffed by our junior tea companions! I can’t go past a finger sandwich, and the chicken truffle mousse ones on offer were sublime. Points too for freshly baked scones…does the jam go on first, or the cream?! No matter! We ate the lot!

Bellies full, we walk through the city and The Domain to the Art Gallery of News South Wales, to check out this years Archibald prize entries. I am so impressed, and grateful to this gallery for their patience when it comes to kids at exhibitions… we did encounter a few hipsters rolling their eyes at the girls (who were very excited, and may or may not have been giggling at artworks that featured nudes!) but for the most part fellow gallery goers were fine with kids enjoying themselves too. My tip is to go in the late afternoon, an hour or so before closing… we did, and were able to see a few other exhibitions too (because galleries with kids means lightening speed art appreciation, to keep up!)

Art attack complete, we walked/cartwheeled through the park, back to the hotel for a quick debrief/bed jumping session before bidding Viola and Miranda farewell. Kinga felt like sushi for dinner, so we popped next door to Sushi Tei for a quick bite. The city was super quiet, or maybe we’re just not used to it, as we’re never in the city at night?! Back in our room, we had a bubble bath then snuggled into bed together to watch some tv…

Big feather pillows? Check! Cuddles with my little lady? Check? Simpsons on the telly (her request, not mine!)? Check! A jam packed staycation, and I can’t wait to do it again!

WE STAYED AT

SOFITEL SYDNEY WENTWORTH
61-101 Phillip Street Sydney, NSW, Australia, 2000

WE ATE AT
The Tea Lounge, Sofitel Sydney Wentworth

$69* per person, inclusive of Dilmah Tea, & a ticket to the Archibald exhibition

*Offer available from 11 May – 31 August. Subject to availability and conditions apply. Ticket to the Archibald exhibition valid until 9 September 2018. (This high tea promotion runs until the 31st of August, after this date, please enquire about the next themed high tea with the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth)

Sushi Tei
1 Chifley Square
Sydney, NSW 2000 Australia

WE VISITED
Art Gallery of NSW

 

SINGAPORE EATS

July 18, 2018

It kinda feels like EVERYONE is in Spain/Greece/France/Portugal at the moment, or at least it looks that way on Instagram! If you are in one of the aforementioned fab locations, you will have to come home at some point, and perhaps you’ll be stopping off in Singapore? Or maybe you’re thinking of Singapore as a destination for the next school holidays? Either way, here are some pointers for eating well in Singapore… food for thought!

HEAD TO AN OUTDOOR FOOD CENTRE

Everyone says Newton Circus food centre is very touristy, but I think the variety is great, and it’s clean, and you’ll never get sick eating anything there…all the stores have pics of what they serve, and price wise, it’s all very competitive. Make sure to try sambal stingray, bbq chicken wings, satay are always a winner with a nice cold tiger beer…and actually all the bbq seafood is tremendous! The Maxwell Road Hawker centre is another winner, and is home to Tian Tian Chicken Rice, voted Singapore’s best.

HEAD TO A SHOPPING CENTRE

Food courts in shopping centres are excellent! Stand outs for me include Food Republic at Vivo City (Near Sentosa), the food court at Marina Bay Sands Casino and shopping complex, and the one in the basement of Ion Orchard Road shopping centre. Grab a table first, then take turns to survey the offerings. These 3 are air-conditioned, and very clean, and are old fashioned in their styling. They have all the crowd pleasers…satay, chicken rice, noodle soups… bring tissues with you, and wet wipes won’t hurt either!

HEAD TO LITTLE INDIA

Little India is my favourite place in the world (and I think only because I haven’t had a chance to make it to India as an adult just yet!) walk around, take in the smells, and the sights, and the colours…we never really eat at the same place, we just follow our noses and see where they take us. Komala Villas from memory is an excellent place to get a Southern Indian Thali platter, and there are loads of places to have a fish head curry, and indeed roti prata…I am NUTS about egg roti myself. The Tekka markets in Little India are incredible. The hawker centre there is very good, and the wet markets are a sensational insight to how locals approach produce, very interesting people watching!

HAVE CHILLI/PEPPER CRAB

Whilst in Singapore you HAVE to try chilli crab or black pepper crab! I love the pepper variation more that the chilli one…but be warned, it’s messy! It’s great at Palm Beach Seafood, right next to the Merlion statue; excellent people watching!
http://www.palmbeachseafood.com
Otherwise, JUMBO has two central locations and is also very good.
https://www.jumboseafood.com.sg/en/home

HAVE SUNDAY BRUNCH

If you’re there on a Sunday, you MUST do a champagne Sunday Brunch…they are a thing of legends in Singapore…it’s a huge deal amongst expats and locals alike. Raffles do one, in the Bar and Billiard room that is extravagant, and opulent, and very special. It is a beautifully curated selection of very special foods offered up with equally special champagne. Perhaps dining al fresco in the company of peacocks is more your thing? Kwee Zeen at the Sofitel Singapore Resort and Spa has you covered. This brunch buffet features more than 20 stations offering specialty foods…the desert station in particular is incredible. My advice is to TASTE EVERYTHING! Don’t die wondering!
Raffles Singapore
Sofitel Singapore Sentosa

EAT BREAKFAST LIKE A LOCAL

Want to eat breakfast like a local whilst in Singapore? Eat Kaya toast! Kaya is jam made from coconut milk, sugar, eggs, scented with Pandan (a fragrant almost vanilla flavour)…and is served spread on thick fluffy white toast over wedges of butter. Traditionally served with googy soft boiled eggs with soy along side a strong cup of coffee, it’s a winning sweet and savoury combination. An easy place to try it is at Ya Kun Kaya Toast, a popular coffee shop chain.
http://www.yakun.com

HAPPY EATING!
#IAMSOHUNGRYAFTERWRITINGTHIS

 

SEAL ROCKS, NSW

May 24, 2018

I’d long known that people who holidayed at Seal Rocks, always returned to Seal Rocks. We had seen the turnoff from the highway a million times…but at under four hours drive from Sydney, it was almost too close to home for us to consider for a stop off on one of our epic cross country drives. As we drove through the bush of Myall Lakes National Park, and popped out at Number One beach, I understood. It’s BEAUTIFUL.

The Reflections holiday park is directly across the road from Number One beach, and we were booked into their brand new cabins. They are easily the best cabins we’ve stayed at.
EVER.

They are beautiful, architect designed to withstand the elements; they are like a tent, and can be opened up in a number of configurations, the minimal design is mindful to sit harmoniously in the surrounds of a national park.
They have a full laundry comprising of washing machines dryer, (so no need to panic that someone might accidentally take your undies off the communal wash line!) iron and ironing board, a dishwasher, a pod coffee machine, a generous fridge with huge freezer… Lovely bedding, double blinds to block out all light, and a really great shower! There are air conditioning units and tv’s in both bedrooms and in the lounge, with Foxtel in the lounge (perfect for family movie night!). Each cabin has a large outdoor dining area and personal bbq opening out onto a communal lawn, and beyond that is the beach!
For large groups or families there is a guest lounge adjacent to the cabins, overlooking the beach on one side, and the brand new playground on the other. Perfect for a family bbq, watching the footy or a movie all together, or sundowners watching dolphins cruise past without having to crowd into one cabin.

A real plus for us was the freedom the kids had to roam…the holiday park is not huge, and is very family friendly. As such we let the kids go ‘free range’, on the condition that they would check in with us every so often to let us know they were ok, and that they were not to head to to the beach without an adult to help them cross the road, and supervise. It was the closest thing to my own childhood (disappearing all day, and reappearing at meal times!) that we’ve experienced yet. The kids really revelled in this new found freedom, and spent their days racing between the playground, the communal lawn, and other peoples cabins. They are asking when we can go back!

Here’s what we got up to…

We beach combed on Number One Beach…Kinga collected an impressive array of shells, cuttlefish bones, twigs, rocks, and assorted miscellanea (none of which was allowed in the car for the drive home!) We spotted, and avoided the tiniest of bluebottles washed ashore, and watched a family of sea eagles fighting and fishing. Whilst we did this, the boys fished from the shore.

We did the walk to Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse… from the holiday park this is an easy 30 mins there and back. Its pretty easy going for the most part, the only tricky bit being the stairs to the top which are super steep. Worth the effort though; we were rewarded with whales breaching and stunning coastal views. Also good to know, there is a public loo en route.

We did the walk to treachery headland… another easy 30 min each way walk, though not as nice, as part of it is on a dirt road, and cars zoom past kicking up clouds of dust. We walked back along lighthouse beach instead of completing the loop, and admired the bravery of the surfers who were game to enter the huge waves.

We also swam, mucked around in rock pools, spotted dolphins, whales and sting rays!

All the details
https://reflectionsholidayparks.com.au/park/seal-rocks/

SINGAPORE

February 13, 2018

BEST!
HOLIDAY!
EVER!!!!

This was our family’s unanimous assessment of our 10 day trip to Singapore last July…

There is a very good chance that if you’re an avid traveller, and you live in Australia, that you have been to Singapore before. Changi Airport is world renowned, and is consistently in the top 3 worldwide hubs for very good reason. There’s also a high likelihood that you’ve never left Changi airport, and have been merely passing through on your way elsewhere. Singapore is so much more than just a stop over…it’s time to change your mindset, because Singapore is a brilliant destination for a perfect family holiday.

Our requirements of a holiday are simple; the destination needs to be hot, the food needs to appeal to all, and safety is as ever, of utmost importance. Transport there and on the ground needs to be safe and fast. Singapore more than satisfies all these requirements! Singapore prides itself on it’s efficiency; no traffic, no queues; no crime, no litter, no fuss, no worries!

Singaporeans are a hard working lot, and when they’re not working, they love to have a good time. As such, the opportunities for play are limitless. Eating is a national pass time, and dining options are unlimited, from cheap eats at hawker stalls/food courts to high end brunches at top hotels. Shopping is crazy good, and not just for fashion…I’ve been known to lose myself in local supermarkets, checking out the insane varieties of imported goods! If the great outdoors or thrill seeking is more your thing, Singapore has got you covered there too…naturally, if you just want to kick back on a pool lounge and read a book, that’s an option too!

Singapore is only tiny, and public transport is cheap, efficient and clean, so getting around is not a hassle, nor is it expensive. For the sake of convenience during this holiday we booked the Sentosa Sofitel Resort for the first half of our stay, and Raffles Singapore for the remainder of our time there. Many of Singapores attractions are on Sentosa Island, so it made sense to be stationed there; courtesy buses run between hotels and attractions and across to the mainland at regular intervals. The Sofitel is lovely, with wild peacocks roaming the grounds, and a complimentary fish foot spa which the kids have to visit several times a day. There is a large centrally located swimming pool, where the kids make friends easily. For families with younger children there is a kids club conveniently (considerately?) located adjacent to the spa! Our interconnecting rooms are gorgeous and spacious, and importantly, just a short walk to the main restaurant where the buffet breakfast is so extensive it snakes around the inside of the restaurant and outside it too! Asian buffets breakfasts are my favourite thing!

Staying at Raffles for the second half of our trip was very special for both Mez and I; for Mez because he’d stayed there with his family as a boy in the 80’s, and for me because as a child living in Singapore as an expat in the 90’s, it’s where my dad often took important visitors from out of town for Sunday brunch, and if I’d been good, I was allowed to tag along. It really evokes a sense of glamour and luxury of a bygone era…to stay there was such a special treat. Even though it’s luxurious it’s not stuffy; we never get a sense that our kids are not welcomed. Quite the contrary, the staff go above and beyond to engage with them. Our room was stunning; we shared a Palm Court Suite, and with a sitting room and large bathroom we were never cramped. The hotel turns 130 this year, and as a birthday present is getting a face lift…it will be partially closed for part of 2018, so even if you can’t stay there, it would be sacrilegious to not stop by for a Singapore Sling! (for info on the renovations check the website)

Here’s what we got up to…

SEA AQUARIUM SENTOSA
Every time we go to Singapore we start our sight seeing here…it’s an exceptional aquarium, and as a bonus it offers a refuge from the humidity until we all acclimatise. Our faves here are the ‘Open Ocean’ exhibit, the jellyfish, and the interactive education corner, where you can have a touch and feel of some resilient specimens. Go early! It gets chockers!

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS SINGAPORE
Our kids have never been tall enough/old enough to go to a proper theme park, so this was a first for us. They loved it! Go early, and you may even be pulled out of the queue to open the park (we were! I think it’s because we were the tallest family lining up?!) It gets very hot very quickly once the sun is up, and there is not much shade whilst walking between attractions; go early and do it all then head back to the hotel pool!

ADVENTURE COVER WATERPARK
What better way to keep cool on a hot day, than spend it floating on an inflatable tube, winding around a waterpark on a ‘river’? That’s my idea of theme park action; the kids have other ideas and want to go on every crazy slide! We do both, and yes, I end up with atomic wedgies more than once. I now know why some women wear boardies at these parks! Remember to be sun smart, and have sunscreen handy, as you still burn when it’s overcast.

NATIONAL GALLERY SINGAPORE
The Yayoi Kusama exhibition was on whilst we were in town, so we booked an early session. The gallery itself is a stunning building and there are many activities set up for kids through out. (This exhibition is on currently at QAGOMA, if you get a chance GO! It’s super fun!)

JURONG BIRDPARK
We loved the birdpark! Geographically, it’s a bit out of the way, but we felt it was worth the 15 minute cab ride from the CBD. For a gold coin donation we fed lorikeets in one of the largest aviaries in the world (yes, we went to Singapore to feed Australian Parrots!) and African penguins too. The Birds of Prey show was particularly entertaining, a must see. Also, they have an Ibis enclosure, and the Ibis are PINK! Buy the ticket that includes the tram pass, very handy for tired, hot little folk.

SINGAPORE ZOO
No matter where we find ourselves on our travels, we always visit the local zoo. Singapore zoo is lush and verdant, the enclosures seem much bigger than average, and the animals are all engaged, happy and healthy. We find it impossible to pick our faves, but breakfast with the Orang Utan is a highlight, as are the white tigers.

Next post: EATING IN SINGAPORE (it really deserves a post of it’s own as there’s MUCH ground to cover!)

The Watts family would like to thank Singapore Tourism Board, Sofitel Sentosa Resort and Raffles Singapore for their assistance in making this holiday our “best ever”.

TRIP NOTES

We slept at:

SENTOSA SOFITEL RESORT

RAFFLES SINGAPORE

We played at:

SEA AQUARIUM SENTOSA

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS SINGAPORE

ADVENTURE COVER WATERPARK

NATIONAL GALLERY SINGAPORE

JURONG BIRDPARK

SINGAPORE ZOO

 

JUGIONG AND GUNDAGAI

June 22, 2017

There is a strong tradition of the road trip in Australia. It’s almost a rite of passage for most Aussie families; we all have a story of being bundled into the family car in the 70’s or 80’s, bickering with siblings the whole way, playing punch buggy and listening to whatever music your parents chose (for me this was Paul McCartney, Frankie Valli and random Brazilian music!) This country is huge after all, and there is so much to see, for a family it makes sense to take your time, and meander to your destination without the pressure of racing to make flights, stopping off and taking in the scenery along the way. The journey, as they say say, is just as important as the destination!

Sydney to Melbourne via the Hume Highway is hardly one of the greats. In fact I’d go so far as to say the the Hume is THE most boring stretch of road in Australia. It’s not all bad; there are beautiful old towns along the way, but sadly the highway bypasses most, and the scenery gets super repetitive after 3 or 4 hours.

An old friend of mine, Carlie, did the tree change from Sydney to Jugiong some years ago, and since then I’ve been Jugiong curious as we’ve zoomed past it on our cross country drives. This time, I decided to stop by, and I get it! I absolutely understand why she’s so taken with this little country town. It’s tiny, but picturesque, friendly, and for a small town it’s got a bit going on. Carlie owns The Curators Collective, a beautiful shop next door to the Sir George Pub. I met Carlie when she was fashion editor at the Sunday Magazine. With more than 10 years of styling under her belt, she was one of those girls who was effortlessly cool…so it follows that her shop in Jugiong reflects this. Everything is carefully considered, from beautiful Panama hats to lush Jac & Jack knits, stunning Nick Leary prints…pop your head in, say hi, I defy you to come out empty handed!

Around the corner, The Sir George Pub recently had a face lift, and is a top spot to stop with the family to stretch your legs and have a feed after a long drive. As well as the restaurant on site, it has a bakery, a nursery, a thriving kitchen garden, a petting farm, a cubby house and a huge lawn for kids to tear around on. Lunch is all about tasting plates and light meals, whilst the dinner menu features heartier fare. There are plans to add accomodation to the pub, but not until next year.

For another visit; the public pool, delightfully retro by all accounts, but closed for the season when we visited in April, and The Long Track Pantry…purveyors of fine regional produce and wine. A good reason to come back!

After having a feed at the pub, and re-merchandising The Curators Collective (thanks Kinga!) we needed a place to bed down for the night. Gundagai is pretty well the half way mark between Sydney and Melbourne, 30 minutes south from Jugiong. Kimo Estate is an easy 10 minutes out of Gundagai town, set on a 7000 acre working sheep and cattle farm. The property has several different accomodation options; the eco hut, set high on a hill with 360 degree views of the Murrimbidgee River flats and surrounding Kimo Valley (perhaps for a couples weekend away?) or a choice of 2 beautifully appointed family cottages (one with 2 bedrooms, another with 3) and the newly refurbished Shearers Quarters (6 bedrooms with a shared mess hall and bathroom). Kimo’s owner Emelia kindly showed me around the entire estate; in addition to the accomm, they also have a beautiful homestead and a cool old barn, where they host weddings and other private functions. We were in ‘Daleys Cottage’, the three bedroom option, and it was perfect. We had a picnic on the deck, taking in an incredible sunset (the light in the country is different somehow? Warmer? Beautiful!) before an early night…and an early start in the morning.

 

WE ATE AT

The Sir George, Jugiong

 

WE SHOPPED AT

The Curators Collective, Jugiong

 

WE SLEPT AT

KIMO ESTATE
For enquiries please phone Emelia on 0421505949 (tell her I sent you!)

 

MORNINGTON PENINSULA, VIC

February 22, 2017

Following the resounding success of the inaugural “Ladies Weekend” to Halcyon House in October 2015, we agreed it should be an annual event (you can read about our Halcyon House trip HERE

For our next “Ladies Weekend” we all faced time constraints, and to maximise time together, we opted for a location that was easily accessible to all…The Mornington Peninsula. It was 15 years since I was down that way, and my memories of it were hazy at best; I remember it taking forever to get there, and once there we were at pubs or house parties. I never really got a good sense of the place. These days, with new roads it takes just over an hour from the city centre…and what a revelation; the combination of coast, bush and vineyards that I find so enchanting in South Australia, just a quick drive from Melbourne!
I enjoyed it SO much more than I expected.

Here’s how we spent our weekend…

WE ATE.

There’s no shortage of excellent food options, for all budgets in Mornington…indeed lots of produce could not be more local with farms aplenty and lots of wineries having their own veg plots, so it’s all spanking fresh, and in season to boot. We arrived in time for brunch on the Friday morning, so headed to Foxeys Hangout, and got stuck into some tapas and a glass of Rose. It’s a very small restaurant, with views looking into a valley with perfect rows of vines…pretty special!

After driving around for an hour or so, taking it all in, we stopped off at Montalto, where we had a glass of perfect sparkling, whilst sitting in the sun in the gardens. The cafe menu looked delicious, but we were still full from Foxeys, and so have added it to the list for next time.

At Polperro the next day we had a sensational Mod Oz lunch, matched with their very special, very buttery Chardonnay. It’s really worth checking Polperro out, it’s such a beautiful spot, with views of vines and bush from every window.

My very favourite of the trip though, was Petit Tracteur, the French Bistro run by the folk at Ten by Tractor. The dining room is in a conservatory, with greenery everywhere, it feels like you could be in a French garden…a glass of Blanc de Blancs with oysters, steak tartare, the most perfect pommes frites…Heaven!

We grabbed some breakfast foods and a quiche and salad from The Red Hill General Store…be warned though; don’t enter the premises if you’re hungry! Everything is very enticing, and before you know it, you’ve bought way more than you can eat, and it’s not cheap! (but it is all DELICIOUS!)

FOXEYS HANGOUT
795 White Hill Road
Red Hill, VIC, 3937
MONTALTO
https://montalto.com.au
33 Shoreham Road
Red Hill South
VIC, 3937

POLPERRO
150 Red Hill Rd,
Red Hill, VIC, 3937

PETIT TRACTEUR
1208 Mornington Flinders Rd
Main Ridge, VIC, 3928

RED HILL GENERAL STORE
141 Shoreham Rd,
Red Hill South, VIC, 3937

WE SPA’D.

We thought it would be a bit of fun to hit up the Peninsula Hot springs, switching between pools, and relaxing in the warm water. To be honest, it was a bit weird. We had been allocated a time slot of 9am, and it was super busy when we got there. Several families (with children of all ages), what seemed to be a hens group, big groups of tourists with selfie sticks and little regard for personal space! Perhaps it’s a cultural thing, feeling self conscious when in a bath (in swimmers!) with strangers? I felt like I was eavesdropping on other peoples conversations, and likewise, they were listening in on mine. STRANGE! I did however, really like the Turkish Hamam, and plunging into the adjacent ice bath, but overall it was not as we anticipated. We later found out that there is a seperate, private bathing area, which you can enter at an additional cost. Maybe next time!

PENINSULA HOT SPRINGS
Springs Lane, Fingal, VIC, 3939

WE WALKED.

But not very far! We had hoped to do the Bushranger Bay walk from Cape Schanck Lighthouse (a 2hr return walk), but running low on time we did the very easy Cape Walk down from the lighthouse, to a pebbly beach below.
Next time, Bushranger!

We stayed at a friends house, but there are plenty of accomodation options at

https://www.stayz.com.au
http://www.visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Mornington-Peninsula/Accommodation
http://www.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org

 

NEWCASTLE, NSW

November 24, 2016

I confess I’ve been to Newcastle many, MANY times… before kids; to see bands and go to parties, staying up late, sleeping in, and hitting the road without actually seeing much of the town. Even with kids in tow we’ve always stayed harbour side, and again, we never really got to know it at all. Last school holidays we found ourselves ‘up the road’ in Gloucester, an hours drive from Newcastle, and decided to do a 2 day pit stop in Newy (as the locals refer to it…) and get to know it a bit better.

We made our base at the Novotel Newcastle Beach (which is across the road from the beach) and when we weren’t eating/sleeping, we were at the beach! We spent an entire morning at the rock pools at Merewether Beach, collecting starfish, sea snails, seaweed, shells… and the whole afternoon at Newcastle beach, at the Ocean baths, where we found a shark egg, swam, spotted whales not even 40m off shore (a local in the know explained the slapping of the tail fluke we observed was likely to be a bull whale scaring off a shark that may have been trying to attack a calf! Exciting stuff!) had an ice cream and played in the sand. Perfect!

The beach esplanades feature wide footpaths, and are scooter/bike friendly, so we spent a bit of time scooting between beaches, and even down to the lighthouse at the end of Nobbys beach to watch a huge tanker come into the harbour. There is a pretty flash new walkway (The Anzac Walk) from the top of Strezlecki lookout all the way down to Merewether beach which is worth checking out too.

The food scene is flourishing in Newy… cafe culture has taken off in a huge way; and it’s not hard to track down an excellent coffee, or a great meal. We had perfect breakfasts at the Merewether Surf House and The Edwards (our all time fave!), authentic pizza at Napoli Centrale, and delicious seafood at Scotties, Newcastle’s original fish & chip joint (which operates a cute kiosk for take aways and courtyard eating, SUPER kid friendly, as well as a more up market restaurant) Spoilt for choice.

Two days was not long enough. We’ve fallen in love with this beautiful, family friendly town…our to do list still has much to be checked off; A visit to Hello Naomi cakes, a swim at the Bogey Hole (which was closed for reno’s whilst we were in town), a walk up Darby street to check out the shops… We’ll be back!

Huge thanks to Sophie and Jes for all their excellent local knowledge and tips! If you don’t already follow them on Instagram, check them out!

WE STAYED AT

Novotel Newcastle Beach
5 King St, Newcastle

WE ATE AT

Scotties Fish Cafe
36 Scott Street
Newcastle East

Merewether Surf House
Henderson Parade, Merewether, Newcastle

The Edwards
148 Parry St, Newcastle West

Napoli Centrale
173 King St, Newcastle

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GLOUCESTER, NSW

October 28, 2016

I always find that once one trip is done and dusted its a good idea to have another one in the works to keep everyone going. A carrot on a stick, of sorts. And so, upon our return from our last trip (to Vietnam), when our good friends asked if we’d come to the country next school holidays, we said YES!

They had found a great property in Gloucester, a 3 hour drive north of Sydney. Gloucester is in dairy and beef cattle country, surrounded by rivers (The Avon, Barrington and Gloucester) and in the shadow of the Barrington Tops national park. It’s a pretty little town, with pretty homes and cottage gardens. The cattle sale yards at the entrance to town are worth checking out, with all sorts of cows to moo at and fences to climb they were of great interest to the kids. For outdoorsy types there’s loads to do, from bushwalking in Barrington Tops, horse riding river side or kayaking on one of the three rivers.

The house we were staying out was near perfect! Set on a hill overlooking the surrounding valleys, with the Bucketts range looming over us in the background, it had a huge fire pit for bonfires at night, and a fenced in lawn for the kids to run free on, and a tire swing too! We were there with 3 other couples and a beautiful baby, and we all had plenty of space. The kitchen was well appointed, and having done a big shop at woolies in town we didn’t need to leave at all over the weekend.

There is a private path behind the property to the lower ridge of the Bucketts range, but failing to find it, we made our own path through grass trees and gums, coming to an abrupt end at a cliff face…time to turn back! Not before spotting a snake, coiled and poised ready to spring on a very wary king parrot guarding it’s nest nearby!

The kids loved running around, nature spotting (we saw a family of kookaburras, wallabies, cows, horses and of course, the highlight; the snake!) so much so that their Ipads barely made an appearance! Big city kids, getting back to basics in the country!

WE STAYED AT:
The Ridge
135 Thunderbolts Way
Gloucester NSW 2422
(02) 6558 4272

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CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL, AUBURN, NSW

August 18, 2016

The Japanese have a word for everything…’Hanami’ loosely translates as ‘flower viewing’ but really means much more than that. It refers to enjoying the transient nature of cherry (sakura) blossoms; these beautiful blossoms can only be enjoyed for a two week period, highlighting the beauty and fragility of life!

The Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan is a huge deal, so much so that the Cherry Blossom ‘Front’ is forecast each year, in previous years by local meteorologists, and now by private agencies. It occurs in late March/early April.

A little closer to home, we can all enjoy the Sydney Cherry Blossom Festival, held annually at the Auburn Botanic Gardens. This year, the festival kicks off on Saturday the 20th of August and runs that weekend, and the following weekend finishing up on the 28th August. It promises Japanese food and cultural experiences such as Ikebana (flower arranging), Origami and Kendo (martial art) demonstrations along with live music.

Despite having lived in Sydney for 17 years, I had never been to the Auburn Botanic Gardens. Kinga and I headed out to check it out before the weekend and were pretty pleased with what we found. The park is super seventies, (which makes sense as it was indeed opened in 1977) and evokes a sense of nostalgia, as it’s so much like parks my folks used to take me to as a kid. It is a top spot, particularly for families with younger kids, and it’s pram and wheelchair accessible.

It features a traditional Japanese garden (where the cherry blossoms are located) a scented garden, a rose garden and an excellent equal access playground. Animals are always a hit with the littlies, and at Auburn there is a retro Aviary (located across the road from the Botanic gardens main entry) and a sweet fauna reserve, featuring plants and animals that were indigenous to the Auburn area prior to its development…native geese (with black and white striped goslings, super CUTE!) wombats, roos and wallabies…even an albino wallaby! At 10am and 2pm on weekends you can watch the keepers feed the animals.

The gardens are free to enter during the week. During the festival it is $5 per person, residents of Cumberland council, children under 16 and cosplay and kimono wearers get in for free!
Auburn Botanic Gardens
Chiswick Road, Auburn
9am -5pm
Saturday 20th & Sunday 21st August
Saturday 27th & Sunday 28th August

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DAYLESFORD & HEPBURN SPRINGS (SPA COUNTRY), VICTORIA

August 11, 2016

I have a soft spot for Daylesford and Hepburn Springs. It was the very first place Mez and I holidayed at when we first started seeing each other, seventeen years ago! My brother-in-law and sister-in-law were married there, at a beautiful Tuscan styled villa…very romantic!

Spa Country is an hour and a half drive north west from Melbourne, located at the foothills of the great dividing range…Mez had been working in Melbourne, and being school holidays we took advantage to visit family, and leave the kids with Mez’s mum (thanks Nanny!) and run away to the country.

Here’s what we packed in to our 48 hours…

WE SPA’D…

On the Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa website I found a deal for lunch, a massage and unlimited access to their ‘sanctuary retreat’. Starting with a light Ploughmans style lunch, we killed some time sampling mineral water straight from the source. There are several pumps set up, and you are welcome to try them all out. We noticed that several ‘grey nomads’ were filling up loads of water bottles; how thrifty! After our final pump, ‘Sulphur Springs’, we head back to the Bathhouse, where we have several hours of free time in the sanctuary retreat before finishing up with our massage. This is a private bathing area, with multiple baths of varying temperatures and mineral compositions, and you’re welcome to move between them as you please. At first I’m concerned that we’ll get bored, but floating around and chatting is so relaxing, time flies. We finish up with an hour massage, and it feels it’s over almost as soon as it’s begun; the mark of a great massage!

Hepburn Bathhouse & Pavilion Café
Mineral Springs Reserve Road
Hepburn Springs

WE ATE…

We ate very well! Local restaurants and cafes really champion their local produce, and with all those minerals in the water it’s no wonder everything tastes so alive. We had breakfast TWICE at Larder, it was that good! An interesting array of breakfast foodstuffs, and perhaps most importantly, excellent coffee. I could have happily spent an afternoon at The Belvedere Social, going through their menu and wine list! A very cool spot in the centre of town, serving the best of local. Dinner at The Farmers Arms is a must; its a beautiful old pub on the road in to Daylesford, the servings huge, the food is hearty and delicious.

The Larder
57A Vincent St, Daylesford

The Belvedere Social
82b Vincent St Daylesford

The Farmers Arms
1 East Street
Daylesford

WE WALKED…

Spa country is surrounded by bush & forest, and it seems such a waste to me that it’s not better known for its walks. We did two, and the whole time we were walking we only came across wallabies and echidnas! Breakneck Gorge to The Blowhole took us a couple of hours, (just over 6kms return) and is an interesting mix of gorges, rocky outcrops and bushland interspersed with prickly pear cacti (leftovers from Swiss Italian migrants who settled in the area from 1850) We also did Breakneck Gorge to Golden Springs (4.5 kms returns) in an hour and a half.

We stayed at:

Breakneck Gorge
booked via DayGet

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