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

IMG_3812

IMG_3929

IMG_3936

IMG_3956

IMG_3962

IMG_3969

IMG_3971

IMG_3996

IMG_4006

IMG_4022

IMG_4060

IMG_4061

IMG_4084

IMG_4106

IMG_4109

HOI AN, VIETNAM

July 21, 2016

(A photo essay)

Hoi An is a beautiful small town in Central Vietnam wedged between the coast and the Thu Bon River. What makes it so special is it’s UNESCO listing as a world heritage site; among the heritage architecture stand Chinese temples and pagodas, a Japanese bridge, wooden shop houses, French colonial homes and an old canal system. These ancient buildings line the picturesque streets, having somehow managed to avoid the ravages of war.

Hoi An Old Town is a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of other large Vietnamese cities, as it’s small enough to explore by foot, and most of it’s narrow streets are pedestrian/scooter/pushbikes only, no cars!

Mez and I have been to Hoi An three times now, and a more comprehensive guide to the town can be found here.

We jumped on the complimentary pushbikes on offer at our hotel and headed off for a ride after breakfast, before it got too hot.

This is what we saw…

IMG_4323

IMG_4294

IMG_4284

IMG_4241

IMG_4184

IMG_4179

IMG_4130

IMG_4088

IMG_4183

IMG_4171

IMG_4317

IMG_4177

IMG_4190

IMG_4087

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

FullSizeRender-2

FullSizeRender-1

IMG_3667

IMG_3666

FullSizeRender-3

FullSizeRender-6

FullSizeRender-5

FullSizeRender-4

IMG_3362

20TH BIENNALE OF SYDNEY, COCKATOO ISLAND

May 26, 2016

I really REALLY love Cockatoo Island. For starters it’s a beautiful open space which is free to enjoy. It’s on the harbour. It’s steeped in history. It’s kid friendly. I love the smell of old industry; oil, brake dust and old machinery. You can ‘glamp’ here (and one day, I hope to get around to doing it, and stop talking about doing it!)

Boy oh boy did we have an absolute SHOCKER here last Sunday.

The island is one of seven ‘embassies of thought’ (main festival sites) of the 20th Biennale of Sydney. The biennale is an international festival of contemporary art which is held every 2 years, running from the 18th March til the 5th of June…you still have a couple of weeks to get to it, if like me, you are not an early adopter!

Here are a few pointers to ensure you have a great time…

DO bring your own food. There are several food outlets dotted around the island, but they are expensive, and inconsistent. We were RAPT to spot a dumpling bar in the big old sheds, but $90 later, with dumplings that had been served to us frozen…we were not happy Jan! Needless to say these were returned and we were promptly refunded, but at lunch time on a weekend we expected more. Disappointing to say the least.

DO check the ferry timetables. I did, on both the Transport NSW website, and the Cockatoo island website. More than twice to be extra sure. And when it came time for us to leave the island, ferry services were only running city bound, leaving us stranded. I can’t imagine who thought it was a good idea to have fewer ferry services on a sunny Sunday, but whoever that person is, you owe me $115 for a 2 minute water taxi up river.

DO listen to the volunteers! They’re there to help! Some exhibits are interactive, and others are delicate and are not to be touched. I’m sorry I got tangled up in William Forsythe’s ‘Nowhere and Everywhere at the same time, no. 2’. Those pendulums!!!! Very tricky.

Go early! And go during the week if you can! As ever when attempting/attending festivals, the later in the day it is, the longer the queues. Queues for interactive exhibits, queues for food, queues for loos, queues for ferries…

DO go!
Don’t miss out!
It is a great day out, all things considered…Biennale or no Biennale!
For more info…
https://www.biennaleofsydney.com.au/20bos/
http://www.cockatooisland.gov.au

IMG_3135

IMG_3140

IMG_3145

IMG_3147

IMG_3149

IMG_3152

IMG_3156

IMG_3170

IMG_3182

IMG_3188

IMG_3189

IMG_3121

IMG_3198

IMG_3207

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

IMG_2830

IMG_2718

IMG_2723

IMG_2725

IMG_2728

IMG_2739

IMG_2746

IMG_2747

IMG_2753

IMG_2768

IMG_2769

IMG_2774

IMG_2775

IMG_2781

IMG_2799

IMG_2801

13015571_10154174004757079_3980277417616271702_n

IMG_2824

IMG_2825

IMG_2826

IMG_2828

IMG_2848

THE INDIAN PACIFIC, WA, SA, & NSW

April 28, 2016

Just like that, our five weeks driving came to an end.
We had seen so much of this beautiful, vast country, crossing 4 state lines and 4 time zones, stopping at near private beaches and lakes, pausing to climb ancient trees, and playing wildlife spotters in the desert.

I often think that the best part of a trip or a journey is coming home, and certainly no trip is complete until you’re home, back to your point of origin. For us, driving home was not an option (no more driving! please!), and flying home whilst very practical seemed like an anti-climax after all our adventures.

The solution: rail!

Mez and I have always loved train travel, and together we’ve ‘trained’ through Japan, France, Italy…in fact, the first time we met was as a result of my travelling from Melbourne to Sydney on the interstate express. There is something so romantic about train travel; time slows down somehow, you can walk about, share a meal, watch the world go by.

The journey from Perth East takes 3 and a bit days, and 3 nights, though magically once on board, time has an elastic quality. I was content to stare at the ever changing scenery for hours on end, never losing interest. There was so much to see, I didn’t want to miss out on any of it; kangaroos, wedge tail eagles & their gigantic nests, camels, emus, grass tree forests, a million rabbits, an airstrip, abandoned towns…endless ochre earth.

Phone reception is limited, and with no internet or tv, it’s a media black out, instead I read a book. The gentle rocking of the train is very soothing, and with nothing to concern myself with, I feel the most relaxed I have felt in a long time!

We have two cabins, side by side, and it’s decided that we will time share the kids. They can come and go between cabins as they please, and it seems that all the younger families have been allocated cabins in this car, so there is a fun vibe, and little chance of disturbing our neighbours.

The cabins are beautiful. They are vintage, without being old…they have a sense of old fashioned glamour about them. It’s easy to imagine early travellers on this same journey, though theirs taking 75 plus hours and requiring more than 4 changes of train! I can’t enough of all the details, all the wood finishes! For a moment, I am living in my own Wes Anderson ‘Darjeeling Limited’ fantasy! I have anticipated this old fashioned travel vibe, and have packed nice clothes to wear at meals times…I miss those days of dressing up to travel!

At dinner time, the banquette is flipped and transformed into a perfectly turned down bunk, with another popping out above, and in the morning when we return from breakfast, the transformation is reversed, and bunks disappear, and the banquette returns.

Meals and beverages are included in the fare, as well as a complement of Australian wines, and basic spirits. The food is excellent. 3 courses at lunch and dinner, showcasing the best local produce, and every effort made to impress junior diners too. We have a dessert at each sitting, as well as cheese, because it would be rude not to! The highlight at meal times (aside from the actual meal) is dining in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant cart, with all its curlicues and ornate details, all of us piling into a booth and enjoying a changed perspective of the passing landscape.

There are four included whistle stop tours; Kalgoorlie open cut super pit gold mine (sadly cancelled due to delayed departure in Perth), a self walk tour of Cook (a near abandoned desert township), Adelaide (We went straight to the Central Markets!) and Broken Hill. The Broken Hill stop is particularly special for our family; we excuse ourselves from the scheduled tours (Desert Art or Mining History) and head to Mez’s mums childhood home… There are no longer any family members living there, but it’s a poignant moment nonetheless.

This experience really is bucket list worthy, and now that I’ve done west to east, I’m thinking of getting onboard The Ghan, starting in Adelaide and heading north to Darwin, or the other way round.

Uniquely Australian, no doubt about it.
We travelled courtesy of Great Southern Rail

_DSC0470

FullSizeRender_1

FullSizeRender

IMG_0287

IMG_0289

IMG_0567

IMG_0571

IMG_0574

IMG_0577

IMG_0587

IMG_0607

IMG_0623

IMG_0630

IMG_0644

IMG_0649

IMG_0305

IMG_0658

IMG_0665

IMG_0763

IMG_0700

IMG_0704

IMG_0751

 

IMG_0766

IMG_0732

MELBOURNE, VICTORIA

April 21, 2016

To be fair, this post should be called ‘an arvo in Melbourne’…

I spend a bit of time in Melbourne, visiting family, but it’s been years since I actually spent any time in the city proper. My friend Sophie moved from Sydney to Melbourne a few years ago, and so when I am able to, we catch up, but it’s usually on her side of town…St Kilda way, and my mother in laws is northeast of town, as such, the city and all it’s offerings is largely avoided.

This time, Soph and I were keen to catch the Andy Warhol|Ai Weiwei exhibition before it closed. We decided to meet at popular Melbourne lunch spot Chin Chin, then stroll down the hill and across the river to the National Gallery of Victoria.

Chin Chin cranks! It’s super busy, and we snag the last two seats at the bar, surveying the kitchen, watching the assembly line; it barely stops. We have a killer kingfish sashimi, laab, pineapple fried brown rice, betel leaves and a barramundi and pork salad. Good food, and even better people watching from our elevated vantage point.

Full as, we stagger down the hill, stopping briefly at Hosier Lane to check out all the legal graffiti.

Then on to the NGV.

The gallery is busy, the exhibition is chockers, and it’s easy to see why. The Warhol stuff is recognisable, and evocative of the time, almost as if Warhol had his own social network, photographing everything, everyone. It’s relatable, accessible, and most importantly it’s fun! Everyone is snapping away on their smart phones, and it’s encouraged! The Ai Weiwei side of things is big and brash, and interactive! Selfies with the foil balloon installations are pretty much mandatory, and indeed some of the other pieces are selfies themselves of sorts. I wish I’d brought the kids along with me, as there is a brilliant dedicated kids area, with multiple photo booths, a drawing corner, and a room full of Brillo and Heinz boxes to stack and play in. There’s a running cat theme through the room, as it transpires Ai Weiwei is somewhat of a crazy cat man! SO much fun!

A great afternoon, thanks Melbourne.
I’ll be seeing you soon.

we ate at

CHIN CHIN
125 FLINDERS LANE,
MELBOURNE 03 8663 2000

we went to
NGV International
180 St Kilda Road Melbourne
ANDY WARHOL | AI WEIWEI
Adults $26
Concession $22.50
Child $10
(General entry is free)

IMG_2528

IMG_2575

IMG_2582

IMG_2610

IMG_2611

IMG_2612

IMG_2615

IMG_2642

IMG_2679

IMG_2686

IMG_2655

IMG_2653

IMG_2652

IMG_2603

MARGARET RIVER, WA, PART TWO

April 14, 2016

I mentioned in my previous post on Margaret River, that the region is huge, and that there is much for small folk to enjoy…
I think it’s only fair that I touch on a few things that for grown ups to enjoy too!

With it’s unique climate, the region is a foodies paradise, and prides itself on top notch dairy, seafood, and of course wine! There are 215 vineyards in the region, with over 95 cellar doors, ranging from farm style to architecturally elaborate, with many offering on site cafes and restaurants.

Here’s where we went during our week in Margs…

WILLS DOMAIN

I hadn’t heard of Wills Domain before, but our friends who we were staying with had been recommended this restaurant by a local winemaker friend…set in amongst rolling hills carpeted in bushy vines, flanked on one side by huge gums, and on the other by grass trees, the view alone is worth the 30 minute drive from Prevelly. Add in beautifully executed mod aus food, and ripper red wines, and you’ll be happy to eat, drink and lose yourself in the view for the afternoon.

VASSE FELIX

We had been to Vasse 4 or 5 years ago, and in the years since they’ve had a face lift. The cellar door and restaurant pavilion is beautiful, with vines and manicured gardens visible at each turn. We were fortunate to have had a fancy wine tasting organised for us…followed by lunch; D E L I C I O U S!!!! You can also have a cheese & charcuterie board/ploughmans lunch on giant beanbags on the lawn downstairs, perfect if you have small mobile types in tow.

VOYAGER ESTATE

The grounds of Voyager are incredible! Rose gardens, perfectly trimmed bushes, row upon row of perfect grapes, immaculate lawns! It is almost worth visiting for the grounds alone…however, the wines are excellent also! And there is so much variety that there is sure to be something to please everyone in your party. We were particularly impressed with their blanc de blancs; bubbly perfection! The restaurant here was on our hit list, but sadly we ran out of time. All the more reason to return!

SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS TAPHOUSE & KITCHEN

At the very edge of Margaret River town, next door to the famous bakery, is Swings and Roundabouts Taphouse & Kitchen, and offshoot of the vineyard and cellar of the same name. The food here is rustic, with an emphasis on locally sourced and sustainable produce. Serves are super generous, all the better to share! And share we did! Pizzas, imaginative salads, and tapas styled dishes…we practically rolled out of there we were so stuffed!
34 DEGREES BLUE SEAFOOD

An honourable mention must go to the chaps at 34 Degrees Blue, who not only have the best selection of local seafood going, but are happy to share their local knowledge on where to get all your other food needs met too (10 Kinsella Road, Margaret River 08 9758 8900)

It’s not all about food & wine…Mez played golf the whole way across from Sydney; in Port Lincoln, across the Nullarbor (doing the Nullarbor Links), in Esperance and Denmark, and in Margaret River too, at the Margaret River Golf Club. Naturally after the desert course, he was very impressed with the beautiful grounds at Margs, and amused by the local mob of Roos who had obviously seen it all before and were largely unperturbed by Mez and Benny and their efforts!
He had this to say about it:
“Margaret river golf course is an absolute must! It’s a private course but welcomes visitors and Jon and the staff are beyond friendly! Ripping bloke! The course is in mint condition, lush fairways blur into greens on some holes. Few bunkers but plenty of water hazards particularly on the front 9. The back 9 is harder to play because it is sloped in many parts which hurts if you error your tee shot, so if you only play 9, go for the front. Heaps of roos, but that ads something to what is already one of the best country courses in the state. Most importantly, it’s easy to get on. We played N.Y.E with 2 days notice.” Thanks Mez!
MARGARET RIVER GOLF CLUB
599 Wallcliffe Rd, Margaret River 08 9757 3163

WILLS DOMAIN
cnr Abbey Farm rd and Brash rd, Yallingup 08 97552327

VASSE FELIX
Caves rd and Tom Cullity dr, Cowaramup 08 9756 5000

VOYAGER ESTATE
41 Stevens Road, Margaret River 08 9757 6354

SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS TAPHOUSE & KITCHEN
85 Bussell Highway, Margaret River 08 97587155

IMG_0193

IMG_0208

IMG_0222

IMG_0258

IMG_0440

IMG_0482

IMG_0488

IMG_0504

IMG_0510

IMG_2405

IMG_2408

IMG_9846

FullSizeRender-2

IMG_9863

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

IMG_0171

IMG_0944

IMG_0141

IMG_0154

IMG_0292

IMG_0316

IMG_0414

IMG_0378

IMG_0526

IMG_0138

IMG_0061

IMG_0064

IMG_0070

IMG_0087

IMG_0103

IMG_0111

IMG_0137

IMG_9867

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

IMG_1972

IMG_1974

IMG_1977

IMG_1987

IMG_1967

IMG_1918

IMG_1920

IMG_1927

IMG_1943

IMG_1946

IMG_1949

IMG_1955

IMG_1958

IMG_1916

Copyright © 2018 THE WINDOW SEAT. Theme by Maiden Sites