HOMETOWN TOURIST

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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BANKSTOWN, NSW

June 23, 2016

I gave this post a lot of thought…I realise I may be in the minority thinking that Bankstown is an interesting destination, but hear me out! It actually is! This western Sydney suburb is a 30-45 minute drive from the CBD, but is well worth the drive. What makes ‘Banksy’ special is the Vietnamese population, and the Lebanese population, and how they’ve transformed this suburb into a cross section of life back home.

So on the first day of winter, my friend Lin, daughter Kinga and I jumped into the car, and headed off to ‘Saigon Place’ which is the south end of Chapel Road, a half a kilometre strip which may as well be in Vietnam! All the shop fronts are in Vietnamese; butchers, chemists, green grocers brimming with tropical fruits and herbs and other specialty stores. A few continental deli’s and butchers add to this mix. All around me I hear conversations, not in English, but in Vietnamese!

We’re on a mission, in search of a bowl of warming soup. Not the ubiquitous Pho (beef or chicken noodle soup) but the less famous, yet equally delicious Hu Tieu, a super savoury pork based broth with tapioca noodles, heavily garnished with celery herb leaf. Lin went for the original version, a combination of seafood and shaved pork, I went for straight up seafood. Kinga struggles a bit with the noodles, so she opted for a gingery, chicken congee. Washed down with hot tea, and Vietnamese lemonade; soda water, lemon juice and a heaped tablespoon of sugar that settles at the bottom and needs to be stirred between sips. Heaven.

We were spoilt for choice when it came to desert…there is the option of seasonal fresh fruit, (rambutans, dragon fruit, persimmon and pomelo, all of which the green grocers are happy to peel and chop up for you) or pandan waffles, green and coco-nutty hot off the waffles press, or a hot, strong, sweet Vietnamese coffee (though the coffee shop seemed to be the domain largely of older, smoking men!). We opted for pandan waffles, and enjoyed them sitting in the sun, watching the locals go about their business. Waffles scoffed, we had one last stop before heading home; the famous Lebanese El Bahsa Pastry shop. A bag of sugar almonds for Kinga, a kilo of mixed biscuits for Lin, and a slab of ashta for me. The ashta was a bit of a revelation, it’s milk that is boiled until it becomes thick like cream, crusted with semolina for crunch and texture, garnished with rose water syrup and pistachios…served warm, it’s comforting and very moreish!

A return trip is necessary, to further explore the Lebanese side of Bankstown…who would have thought that it warranted two trips, let alone one!

Do you have a secret food suburb? Please share!

We ate at:

Hu Tieu Thanh Van (for Hu Tieu soup)
327 Chapel Street
Bankstown

El Bahsa & Sons Sweets (for Lebanese pastries)
288 Chapel Road South
Bankstown

Huong Viet (for pandan waffles & sugar cane juice)
43 Bankstown City Plaza
Bankstown

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Belanglo State Forest, NSW

May 12, 2016

School holidays present all manner of challenges for parents…perhaps the biggest challenge of all is how to keep the kids occupied in a healthy fashion, without relying too heavily on technical intervention (foxtel/ipads).

I was keen to find something outdoorsy and a bit unique to keep my two busy for a day, and in my googling, came across a foraging excursion. The timing however didn’t suit, and it was more geared towards adults, so I tracked down the guy in charge of the forage, and asked if he’d be keen to take a private group, made up of our school friends and their folks. He was!

Our professional forager and guide was Brendan Cato, a chef (Seans Panaroma and Bistro Moncur are both on his CV, as well as stints on the super yacht circuit) who switched life in a professional kitchen for an approach more in tune with the environment, cooking seasonal, locally sourced, sustainable and organic pop-ups as The Farmed Table.

We meet bright and early on a beautiful autumns morning at the entrance to Belanglo, under the ominous sign, that asks that you “please be careful”. Poor Belanglo gets a bad rap because of it’s ‘shady’ history… (sadly famous for Ivan Milat and the Backpacker murders)

It is a planted forest, primarily of pines, but has native bush interspersed, with random rocky outcrops and termite mounds jutting out in the midst of the perfect pine rows. Light struggles to filter down through the huge trees, the effect is eerie yet beautiful, and is perfect for funghi growth in amongst the needles. Brendan leads our convoy to his secret spots, and instructs us which mushrooms are safe to pick, and which to leave alone. (We were after Pine mushrooms and slippery jacks.)

The kids loved it! There are tree stumps to climb and hide behind, pretty speckled red mushrooms to poke and prod, but leave alone (red = poisonous!), wombat burrows, and when we find bones, the kids lose it! Not human remains…what we imagine to be wallaby skeletons. We let them keep some for show and tell once school starts again. Gross. (but also SO cool at the same time!)

After a few hours collecting at several locations, Brendan returns to base and sets up a campfire. We present our findings, which he sorts, discarding the dodgy ones, and gets the older kids to clean them for him to cook up. They go into a hot pan with olive oil/butter and garlic. The smell is PHENOMENAL! He pours us a glass of local red as a reward for our efforts, and offers us a snack of humous he has knocked up the night before whilst we wait, then presents the mushrooms to us on bread he baked that morning! There is nothing quite like eating something that was growing in the ground not even a half hour before…DELICIOUS!

The season for Pine & Slippery Jacks is short, perhaps 5 weeks or so in late April- early June. In the interest of safety, you MUST only forage with someone knowledgeable in funghi! There are many mushies that look safe, and indeed delicious, but can send you straight to hospital, or worse!

It’s good to be aware that some of the roads in the forest are best suited to larger vehicles, as they uneven and steep in parts; my low profile hatchback was not super impressed by this!

Belanglo is a 90 minute drive south of Sydney, just south of Berrima.

Brendan Cato can be reached on facebook at
https://www.facebook.com/thefarmedtable
or via Instagram https://www.instagram.com/brendancato/

Thank you to Jessie, Ginie, Sohani and Lin not only for loaning me your beautiful kids, but also for taking beautiful pics x

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THE ROYAL NATIONAL PARK, NSW

March 31, 2016

Living in a big urban city such as Sydney, it’s easy to get swept up in everyday routine, and to forget about all the wonderful things there are to do on your doorstep. I’ve lived here for sixteen years now, and for years as we’ve returned from holidays and flown over the Royal National Park, I’ve commented that ‘one day’ I’d really love to get down there, and see those beaches for myself. So this Easter long weekend, we became ‘home town tourists’ and did the 11km walk from Wattamolla to Big Marley beach.

Established in 1879, The Royal National Park is the second oldest national park in the world (Yellowstone in USA is the first), its purpose to be a dedicated area specifically for rest and recreation. At the time of its establishment, it was observed that the park should be ‘a sanctuary for the pale-faced Sydneyites fleeing the pollution – physical, mental and social – of that closely-packed city.’ Such foresight! If only they could see Sydney now!

It’s just over an hours drive from central Sydney to the park…We set out from the Wattamolla Lagoon (park your car here) and headed north, over the dam, past Deer Pools, through the bush, popping out at the cliffs (breathtaking!), finishing at Big Marley. I’m so taken with the bush, the smells and all those poddy wildflowers; banksia, hakea, flowering gums and the rest; native fuchsia, tiny purple fringe lilies, grass trees. It’s so good to be immersed in nature.

DO:

Take plenty of water.

Apply sunscreen and wear a hat.

Leave early if at all possible. It was pretty quiet when we arrived at 10am to start our walk, but it was chockers when we got back at 2pm. So busy that the road into the Wattamolla carpark was closed, and people were parking on the main road and walking 2 kms down to the water!

Reward yourself with a swim…Wattamolla beach is perfect!

Read up before you go. The track has subtle markers, but I only saw 2 maps with routes on the actual track. (I’ve included some useful links below)

Wear proper footwear. We spotted a young man who had done the 10km walk in flip flops.

Be sensible near the cliffs. There are no barriers, and it’s a long way down.

DONT:

Take off your wedding band to apply sunscreen, forget to put ring back on, pack up and continue your walk, SANS WEDDING BAND! (true story! We had to leg it back to where we’d stopped for lunch, the whole time praying that a magpie/bowerbird hadn’t spotted it and absconded with it! Luckily, it was exactly where I’d left it. Phew!)

Hike in denim cut offs. Denim rubs! Ouch.

Attempt to swim at Little Marley beach (too much seaweed!) or Big Marley beach neither beach is patrolled, and both have rips.

Royal National Park Visitor Centre
2 Lady Carrington Drive, Audley, Royal National Park, NSW

Park entry fees:
$12 per vehicle per day. Seasonal ticket booths at Bonnie Vale, Wattamolla and Garie Beach are cash only, as there is no power or mobile connection.

Royal National National Park is open 7am to 8.30pm but may have to close at times due to poor weather or fire danger.

WILD WALKS

NATIONAL PARKS

POSTCARD SYDNEY

EVERY TRAIL

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Wet’ n’ Wild, Sydney

March 3, 2016

This week, we celebrated a bit of a milestone event in the Watts household; Kinga no longer swims with floaties! To commemorate this, coinciding with the last weekend of summer, we surprised the kids with a trip out to Wet’n’Wild!

Whoa nelly!
This place is HUGE.

It was so much cleaner than I anticipated (I had imagined floating bandaids, sunscreen slicks & other peoples hair sticking to me! Gross!) and whilst busy, it was not crazy busy. It also seemed very safe, with people leaving their belongs on sun loungers or in cabanas and going off to enjoy the park. We found a spot near the kids area, and left our towels & sunscreen there safely for hours. (we stashed our valuables in a locker)

We LOVED the wave pool the most…and the best part about it is that the water is so nice & clear that you can see your kids in the waves, and yank them up and above the water should they need a breather. Lot’s of space, and no waiting in queues for this attraction. The little kids area was another big hit, with attractions and slides for little folk of all ages, with lots of shaded areas, and access to lockers, change rooms and bathrooms close by.

We had to wait 45 minutes for the river ride, whilst park management scrambled to find extra life guards, and in the end they were not able to open up the entire river as a result of staff shortages. Not cool. The river was overcrowded then, and we bailed. The worst wait was the boys last slide of the day…just under 1 hour for a slide that lasts 45 seconds at best (in fairness someone had injured themselves, so park protocol had to be followed, however we felt better systems needed to be in place to get things moving again.)
DO…

Book ahead online! This eliminates the need to queue on arrival; you scan your tickets on your phone, and walk on in. (We queued for 20 minutes, then bought our tickets online, in the queue!) We paid $300 for a family of 4, which on the day did not represent good value for money. For better options, check online, ahead of time!

On arrival suss out which slides have what height restrictions, and plan your day accordingly. Because Kinga is under 110cm she was unable to go on most of the big rides, so I spent most of the day with her, whilst Mez and Wolfie were able to hit the slides together.

Bring snacks…food and drink is expensive in the park. You are allowed to bring ‘small’ quantities of food and bottled water.

Go early, first thing to be first on all the rides…or after 3:30 for cut price admission.

Identify a meeting point, for parents who have to split up to take kids on different rides, or for kids should they get lost.

Bring hats, sunscreen, rashies…(if you forget sunscreen, there are pump bottles at the entrance to all change rooms/bathrooms, and you can buy sunscreen at the wet’n’wild shop too.)

Go with friends! The more the merrier! I think it’d be great to hire a cabana too, and share it among a group.
So, whilst some wait times seemed interminable, the kids seemed to not notice/care and had a ball… And I’ve just seen online that for the final month of the season (March) they have a monthly pass for just $69!!! March Madness! Who wants in?!
The low down…

$64 for children under 110cm
$79 for general admission (over 110cm)
$59 for ‘twilight admission’ (entry after 3:30pm)
$10+ for small locker

Wet’n’Wild Sydney
427 Reservoir Rd
Prospect, NSW 2148

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