Entries from November 2015

CABARITA BEACH

November 22, 2015

HALYCON, adjective. denoting a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful.

It’s been a long time between drinks for my two girlfriends Sophie and I, with four kids & a busy travel work schedule between us, not to mention one living interstate, it’s not often that we’re ever in the same place at the same time… this was how we came to agree that we needed some face time, and that said face time should be in a fab beach location. There has been no escaping Halcyon House since its launch, it is easily the most featured Australian travel destination in the press, and on social media this year! It was decided that we would meet there.

Cabarita beach is a geographically blessed spot on the far north NSW coast, an easy 20 min drive down the M1 from Coolangatta airport. Halcyon House is right at the end of the turn off from the highway, and it’s as beautiful in real life as it is in all the pictures we’ve seen. Everything is white, with blue accents. Everything feels very bespoke, and very special, not uniform like most hotels. Attention to detail is clearly paramount, and apparently no two rooms are alike!

There is much to do here; go for long walks along the beach, or up to Norries headland (where we spot a lone whale!), or you can take one of the hotels bikes and go for a cruise… Of course, while there’s no shortage of activities, it’s very easy to do nothing at all here! Once we’ve done our walks, and explored a bit by bike, we are more than happy to set up camp on the blue & white striped day bed for the afternoon. A prawn sambo, an Aperol Spritz, and a magazine and we are three very happy campers. There is talk about maybe jumping in the car and heading 40 minutes south to Byron, but we can’t bear to leave, even for an hour or two.

Paper Daisy is the hotels in-house restaurant, the food is a combination of modern Australian and reworked classics, and with the exception of one meal out at Fleet (in nearby Brunswick Heads, make sure you order the smoked mullet dip; it appears in front of us like a hedgehog, potato crisps and crispy fish skin sticking out like spines. It is rich & luxe and quickly disappears!), we are super happy to eat all our meals here. I LOVE breakfasts, big fancy ones with the works, and breakfast here does not disappoint. Fresh juice (changed daily) with very innovative, indulgent yet healthy options, and great coffee! I really love the ‘Soft eggs with grains, ham, cheese & mushroom’ almost a breakfast risotto… We love the prawn sandwich (served on sweet, soft brioche slices, accompanied by teeny tiny kipfler potato crisps) so much that we eat it three times! And the smoked oysters at dinner…! I only wish I’d had them again!

There is a wonderful feeling of being immersed in nature here; we watch bush turkeys ambling past, and huge black cockatoos fly over head screeching, as well as the roar of ever crashing waves…We are struck by how super green it is, how everything here thrives, from the sugar cane plantations that line the highway, to the Pandanus that are endemic to this coastline. A friend of mine would call it ‘nature froth’ and I’d have to agree. It’s great to be out of a big city.

For the most part, the beaches are pretty choppy, the waves are pretty big, maybe more suited to surfing. For families with smaller kids, and folks who are scared of waves (like me!!), there is a smaller more sheltered beach at the base of Norries headland. Cabarita Beach itself is patrolled by surf life savers, monitoring swimmers and ensuring they stay between the red flags.

And so Halcyon House is the perfect name for such a special place, where indeed we had an idyllic, happy and peaceful weekend!

HALCYON HOUSE
21 Cypress Crescent,
Cabarita Beach NSW 2488

FLEET
2/16 The Terrace, Brunswick Heads, NSW
(02) 6685 1363

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VIETNAM

November 5, 2015

Family holiday disasters? We’ve had a few! Wolfie hospitalised in Venice for acute food poisoning at 3 months… The great street food tour of Langkawi, during the month of Ramadan (EVERYTHING was closed!)…the gastro/hand foot & mouth disease/severe morning sickness in Fiji… I was determined to plan, and execute our best Watts family holiday yet.

The requirements were simple; our destination needed to be hot, the food needed to appeal to all, safety was of course of utmost importance, and transport there and on the ground needed to be safe & fast.

Mez and I had been to Vietnam before, pre-kids, and LOVED it. Perhaps it was time to give it a go with the kids in tow. I researched (Weather, rainfall, monsoon patterns etc!) and I researched… and then I researched some more. Finally I booked it, and we were away!

We had a two week break, and split our time between Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An and Danang..

Ho Chi Minh City is a dynamic and modern city, and had changed a lot since we’d last visited. Traffic was greatly improved, but motorbikes & scooters still rule, and the first thing we heard upon waking, and the last thing at night was the beeping of horns! We played games of ‘spot the scooter transporting the most humans’ and ‘spot the scooter transporting the most random load’ …There are many museums, cultural and historical places of interest to visit in HCMC, but our kids are a bit young, we’re not there yet. We used the city as a place to acclimatise and then jump off to the central coast. Having come from the middle of winter in Sydney to the humidity of HCMC, we all need to adjust and get our bearings. A couple of days poolside in HCMC was perfect before our journey further north.

The flight to Danang is only an hour, and there are multiple flights a day. Upon arrival in Danang, we headed straight to Hoi An, a thirty minute drive inland to the very pretty Anantara Resort. The soft peach of the colonial buildings is very much like staying at a mini Raffles! The old town of Hoi An is seriously photogenic; bougainvilleas tumbling down the yellow shopfronts, fruits & flowers of every shape & colour overflowing onto the footpath at the town market, and the quaint traditional fishing boats chugging along the river. We were lucky to have arrived on the right day of the lunar calendar to witness the full moon lantern festival, and we lit ours, and released them down the Thu Bon river along with our wishes for happiness, luck & love! Hoi An has hundreds of restaurants…we were spoilt for choice! We made a wonderful discovery of “Com Ga”, (a dish similar to Hainanese Chicken Rice), rice cooked in chicken broth, served with shredded chicken, vietnamese mint, loads of onions and sometimes a green papaya & carrot pickle, served with the loveliest chicken broth…we ate it EVERYDAY! We had 4 perfect, lazy days of swimming and eating and doing little else… Good times!

We left the Thu Bon river behind, for a sea change…back to Danang to the Hyatt Regency, seriously one of the largest hotels I think I have EVER stayed at! This hotel caters brilliantly to families, with dedicated kids pools & a waterslide, a kids club, a rock climbing wall and most importantly, family friendly accommodation. We had a ground floor two bedroom apartment with kitchen and two bathrooms, a balcony and access straight out the front to all amenities. The space and privacy after interconnecting rooms was great! This property is right on Non Nuoc beach, dotted with traditional basket boats & jumbo jellyfish, with the famous Marble Mountains just across the road. In the heat of the day, the kids disappeared to the kids club, to paint and draw, and glue, and play with other kids whilst we snoozed and read…perfect! Once cabin fever set in (i can’t help it, I need to be getting the most out of every trip!) we jumped in a cab and headed inland, to Ba Na Hills, a well known Vietnamese amusement park, an easy 45 minute drive away. This park is truly unique, for several reasons. Firstly, it boasts the longest continuous cable car in the world, we were in the cable car for 17 minutes!!! The resort is also a replica of an original French retreat from 1919, and it’s so European in it’s styling it’s freaky, you could really be in France! The price of entry covers everything except for food, and there is so much to do; a luge, a three level amusement arcade with games & rides & an indoor playground, cellars, and cafes, mazes, a funicular, more cable cars (different ones!) and religious landmarks…we ran out of time! Being on the coast, seafood is spanking fresh, and a short cab ride from the hotel is a strip of restaurants, with fishtanks and seafood on display that I had never seen before, let alone eaten before! BBQ clams with peanuts and shallots were the highlight, washed down with icy cold Bia Saigon! The Han Markets in Danang deserve an honourable mention too, if you’re into that sort of thing…really very interesting displays of dried squid and prawns, and the fresh seafood section in particular was beautiful, as was the fresh fruit piled high into pyramids!

And then, it was all over! Time to go home.

I read not one, but two books, worked on my tan, caught up on some zzz’s, the kids made friends, swam all day everyday, and enjoyed a kids club experience! We ate incredible food, day in and day out, and enjoyed several icy cold beers! The kids are already asking if we can go back next year…! The verdict: Vietnam was VIETNAMAZING!!!!!
Trip Notes:

We stayed at:
Intercontinental Asiana Saigon

Anantara Resort Hoi An

Hyatt Regency Danang

We flew internationally & domestically with Vietnam Airlines. Utilitarian, but good!

Where we ate:

Com Ga Ba Buoi
22 Phan Chu Trinh
Hoi An

Ba Le Well
45/11 Tran Hung Dao
Hoi An

Ba Thoi 2
My Khe Beach
Danang

Ba Na Hills Amusement Park

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ALBURY

November 5, 2015

“Toyota would like us to drive their new car for the radio” Mez said to me. “It’d be during school holidays, we’ll start in Albury, and end in Brisbane. It’ll be great!” Albury to Brisbane. That’s 1377km’s in 5 days…driving from Albury to Canberra, to the Central Coast, on to Coffs Harbour, finishing up in Brisbane. The car in question was the ‘all new’ Camry…I’m pretty sure we had one of these as a kid, and I don’t remember ours being this spacious, and ours certainly wasn’t a hybrid! It is so quiet that a few times I panic that I’ve broken it…It takes some getting used to, but otherwise it’s a pretty sweet ride.

Anyone who knows our little family knows that road trips are very much our thing, and that at least once a year we drive from Sydney to Adelaide, and back again, plotting a different course each time to see new places along the way. We have been very lucky over the years, with random opportunities like this popping up every now & then, and the chance to drive a new car isn’t presented all too often, so we jumped onboard!

Albury is a very nice country town, and is usually the place to stop if you’re driving up or down the Hume Highway from Melbourne to Sydney or vice versa. The streets are wide, and no one seems to be in hurry to get anywhere. Everywhere we eat, we over order, as country folk are generous, and portions are HUGE! Worth remembering when ordering for little people…We had a few hours to kill before meeting up with Mez’s team, so we headed to Oddies Creek Playground, which is one of the best adventure playgrounds around. It has a 30 metre flying fox, a sandpit, musical play areas, slides, swings…the lot really. And plenty of seating & grass for parents to observe their kids/ check their social media accounts…

We end up staying in a pretty remote caravan park 30 minutes down the road, on Lake Hume in Bowna …and we arrive at the perfect time to feed the farm animals! At 4pm every day the park manager heads up to the farm yard at the back of the property to feed alpacas (or are they llamas? I get the two confused!) ponies, sheep, deer, goats, geese, chooks & a roo or two too. Everyone gets a turn, everyone is happy. Keep your eyes peeled for a pair of ostriches that are free range on the property too. The park has excellent facilities for kids…loads of space, a jumping pillow, a water play area and pool, a playground, a bmx bike track and even a flying fox. The cabins are clean, spacious, and overlook the pool. Happy kids, and happy mum and dad!

The Albury to Brisbane road-trip…to be continued!

We stayed at Great Aussie Caravan Park
14 Hore Road, Bowna NSW 2644
http://greataussieholidaypark.com.au

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