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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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THE FOOD OF CENTRAL VIETNAM, VIETNAM

July 28, 2016

Travelling with kids can be tricky for so many reasons. Meal times can be particularly stressful, kids can be fussy, unfamiliar food can be daunting, and in foreign countries it pays to know what the local specialties are before you go, and where you can find something to please everyone.

The golden rule applies; if a place is busy, it’s most certainly fine to eat there. When Mez and I travelled here before kids we were very adventurous, with kids in tow, we’re far more cautious. Having said this, we have never been sick from food or drink travelling through Vietnam.

Vietnamese food is light, healthy, fresh, bright.
Most importantly, Vietnamese food is DELICIOUS!

Here are a few ‘must try’ dishes…

CAU LAO
Perhaps Hoi An’s most famous dish (legend has it that the noodles can only be made with water from the famous Ba Le well, any other water wont work!) features thick flat noodles with a splash of super rich pork broth (more of a sauce, not a soup) roast pork, fresh herbs and salad leaves, and a topping of crunchy crackling and friend wontons for texture.

Get it at:
The Market Restaurant and Cooking School
3 Nguyen Hoang Street, An Hoi Islet, Hoi An

WHITE ROSE DUMPLINGS
Like Cau Lao, the dough for these dumplings can only be made with water from the well, so these are only available in Hoi An. They are delicate shrimp and pork dumplings, and they pair very well with a cold beer/lemon soda to have pre dinner. Every restaurant in Hoi An seems to serve them!

COM GA
A crowd pleaser, much like it’s Hainanese cousin (Hainanese chicken rice), the Hoi An version of chicken rice is served with shredded chicken, mixed herbs, raw onions, pickled papaya and carrots and a super chickeny savoury broth. The rice itself is cooked in chicken broth. Winner winner, chicken dinner indeed.

Get it at:
Cơm Gà Bà Buội
22 Phan Chu Trinh, Hoi An

BANH MI
Banh mi actually means bread in Vietnamese, but in this case refers to a baguette filled with grilled pork/pork floss/pate/chicken/vietnamese sausage/egg (there are many possible variations!) with pickles, cucumber, chili, soy/chili sauce and herbs. Vietnamese baguettes are much smaller than their French counterparts, and are super crunchy, perhaps as a result of the addition of rice flour to the dough. In Hoi An, the most famous place to get your Banh Mi is at Banh Mi Phuong, a hole in the wall bakery made famous by TV chef Anthony Bourdain. When I went, the queue was 30 people deep! I bought 3 banh mi, and 2 cans of drink for a grand total of $5.40. Bargain!

Get it at:
Banh Mi Phuong
2B Phan Chau Trinh, Hoi An

SEAFOOD BBQ/HOT POT

Danang is right on the coast of the South China Sea, as such, seafood is plentiful and fresh and features heavily in the local cuisine. All along the coast there are pick your own/cook your own type restaurants and the variety of shellfish and seafood in general is incredible. There were many things I had never seen before! Ask how much before you commit! Our favourites were steamed clams with spring onions and peanuts, bbq sun dried squid with chili mayo dipping sauce and lemon white pepper dipping sauce, and huge sweet bbq prawns. The kids loved egg noodles stir fried with veggies and tiny prawns. The alternative is to pick your seafood (from aerated tubs and tanks) and cook it up at your table in a lemongrass, onion and okra hotpot. Served with chili’s in vinegar, rice noodles and veg, really good stuff! People watching at these restaurants is very good. Keep your eyes peeled for street vendors, with their motorcycles laden to the hilt with balloons and toys, our kids were mesmerised!

Get it at:
Ba Thoi 2 (for BBQ)
Duong Hoang Sa, Da Nang

Quan Be Anh (for hotpot)
Hoang Sa, Da Nang

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MARGARET RIVER, WA

April 7, 2016

Arriving in Margaret River was exciting for the Watts family, as it was the very last stop on our epic migration from east coast to west. It was bittersweet in a way too, as it meant our adventure was drawing to a close. We were meeting some friends, and had a whole week to enjoy the region.

The Margaret River region is huge! It takes more than an hour to drive from Busselton at the very northern tip to Augusta at it’s southernmost tip…too vast to cover it all in one week!

Here’s my roundup of stuff to do with kids!

Gnarabup beach, Prevelly.
We spent new years day here after having breakky at the White Elephant Cafe (Yes! They were open on new years day!) This super kid friendly cafe is at the southern end of the beach, and is at the top of the staircase to get down to the sand, could not be easier. The area beneath the cafe is sheltered from strong wind and waves, and features rockpools and rocky outcrops to explore. There’s a pontoon a few metres out for bigger kids to jump off, and a boat ramp in the middle of the beach, should you have a boat.

Gracetown beach, Gracetown.
Gracetown is roughly the mid way point of the Margaret River capes region, north of the Margaret River township, west of Cowaramup and south of Yallingup. The main beach as you enter the township is located on Cowaramup Bay, a brilliant sheltered natural harbour, with a pontoon and a domed island for confident swimmers to swim out to. Easy access straight onto the beach from carpark for parents/pack horses carrying beach gear.

Hamelin Bay.
I was a bit nervous on the drive down from Prevelly (where we were staying) to Hamelin Bay…would there be stingrays? I had talked it up so much, I was going to be in trouble if they were no shows! It’s a 30 minute drive south, towards Augusta on Caves Road. The drive itself is quite beautiful, and at one point passes through a Karri forest that left us speechless, it was surreal, like being on Endor (for those not familiar with Star Wars, Endor is where Ewoks live!). We needn’t have worried, the rays were there; three HUGE smooth rays and a couple of eagle rays too. They are playful and curious and will swim over your feet looking for treats. They are up for pats too, and feel like giant slimy sponges. Of course, they are wild animals so exercise caution. Once you’re done with the rays, there are more rockpools to play in, and Mez and I even had a snorkel (damn it! we’d brought our snorkelling stuff from Sydney, we HAD to use them, if only once!). The car park here fills up very quickly, my advice would be to go as early as you can.

Swimming in Margaret River.
We were fortunate to have a track running from the back of the house we were staying at in Prevelly right down to the actual river that Margaret River is named for…swimming in a river is not like swimming in the ocean! A bit tricky to get in and out of, but refreshing nonetheless. Try it!

Horseriding at Jesters Flat.
Kinga wanted to go horse riding for her birthday, and so we booked the kids in for a ride at Jesters, a 25 minute drive inland from Margaret River town. Once on the ponies, the kids were welcome to stay on for as long as they liked, but there are only so many times you can go round a corral, and their enthusiasm peaked at 30 mins. Boots and helmets are provided. They also offer bush trail rides and sunset rides at Busselton, but nobody wanted to come with me. Sadface.
White Elephant Cafe
Gnarabup Road, Gnarabup
08 9757 1990

Jesters Flat Horseriding
1549 Rosa Brook Rd, Margaret River
08 9757 4562

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