Tag Archives: Hunter Valley

An Australian Road Trip…All roads Don’t Lead to Wollombi.

Yesterday, I had to drive my daughter to GATS Camp at Point Wollstonecroft about an hour’s drive North of Sydney on Lake Macquarie. This was Mummy’s cue for adventure. So, I ensured our son had his key and my only specification was, that I didn’t get home before sunset.

At the same time, I also had a few ideas. I was going to start off by exploring some of the coastal beaches around Lake Macquarie, but I really had it in mind to get to Wollombi where my Great Great Grandfather, William Henry Gardiner, married his second wife, Jane Lynch. Thanks to Google, I’d already been to Wollombi online and found out it was one of those preserved country villages which had gone into a 100 year slumber thanks to a bypass. Being a lover of historic anything, I’ve been trying to get there for awhile and thanks to the mushy geographical soup in my head, had the strange idea that just because I was heading North, Wollombi would somehow be “on the way home”.

It wasn’t.

That’s how my road trip of a life time began. Well, it was actually more of a once in a lifetime road trip. That’s because when it came to travelling from Lake Macquarie to Wollombi, I bypassed the A to B route and detoured via just about every letter of the alphabet. Not that I was lost. Indeed, I knew exactly where I was and where I was going and blame whoever it was who designed the NSW road network, for my convoluted route. So, before I leave on my next great road trip, you can be sure I’ll be reciting this traditional Gaelic blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Anyway, before we leave on this road trip of a lifetime, I’d better provide some  coordinates. After all, my stats tell me that most of my readers aren’t Australian and to be quite honest with you, most Australians won’t be able to pinpoint Wollombi on the map either.That is, unless they cheat and use GPS. I’m a firm believer in using actual paper maps and when you’re travelling,those huge foldout monstrosities, which almost take up the windscreen (goodness knows how many fatal accidents they’ve caused!). Nothing else will do. No matter how lost I get, I refuse to sell out, or I’ll never find my way out of bed. My sense of direction is not allowed to get any worse!!

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Wollombi is a small village in the Hunter Region of New South Wales, Australia. It is within the Cessnock City Council LGA, situated 29 kilometres (18 mi) southwest of Cessnock and 128 km (80 mi) north of Sydney. To the south is the village of Laguna, to the east, the village of Millfield and to the north, the village of Broke. To be quite honest, Wollombi is very isolated, but that’s part of its charm and how it’s become a time capsule of sorts.

However, back in the day, Wollombi was at least somewhat central. In 1836 the Great Northern Road was finished. Built by convict labour, it joined Windsor to Wollombi, and at Wollembi forked off to either Singleton or Maitland. It spanned the 200 kms from Sydney to Newcastle and took on average 9 days for a traveler to get to Newcastle. Consequently, it was mainly used as a stock route.

Anyway, we haven’t got to Wollombi yet. We’re still at Lake Macquarie.

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Looking North towards Swansea from Caves Beach.

It was an absolutely beautiful day, with deep blue skies and water was a dazzling diamond carpet of blue. I headed North and followed a sign to Caves Beach and pulled over. I could almost inhale the ocean and feel life’s burdens blow out to sea. The fisherman and a couple of walkers, looked like stick figures below and the windswept coastline stretched for eternity and I could truly spread my wings and soar and keep soaring. There was no ground beneath my feet.

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Illawarra Flame Tree at Pelican near Swansea, NSW.

I did wonder whether I should just stick to the coast, and head inland to Wollombi another time. However, the day was my own and I made no set plans.Indeed, lured down a side street by the enigmatic Illawarra Flame Trees in full bloom, I chucked a left into Pelican, which seemed to be little bigger than its sign beside the road.

I kept heading North, looking for a road to reconnect me with the Motorway. Wollombi was still on the cards and I was also looking for signs to Cessnock and the Hunter Valley. I know exactly where they are driving North. However, missed the lot heading South and found myself exiting at Morriset, turning right and going on the windiest road through Mandalong and Dooralong expecting to connect up with the inland road, which runs like a peripheral artery somewhere through here connecting up with Wollombi somehow. I knew it was there because I have been on it before. AND, I actually did consult the map before I left, not that I did a very good job of it.

 

Yet, just because you know there’s a great road system out there somewhere, doesn’t mean you’re find it.

By this stage, things were becoming DESPERATE!! Even finding a person to give me directions was hard enough, let alone find somewhere to buy food and dare I mention the unmentionable…a toilet or even a camouflaging clump of trees. There was nothing until I finally stumbled across a bonsai nursery. That seemed quite appropriate for someone going on an epic adventure. Having downloaded my troubles, I perked up as I cast myself as Gulliver on his journeys through Lilliput.

Thankfully, the guys at the nursery directed me out of my geographical quagmire over Bumble Bee Hill and then right, then right, then right. OMG!!! Although I didn’t believe in GPS, I was relieved to have my mobile phone. By this stage, I was already starting to picture the search party looking for my last known whereabouts. Indeed, I probably should’ve left my card.

Above: I stumbled across a gourmet oasis and stopped for lunch at Jerry’s Gourmet Kitchen & Cafe, Kulnurra.

At this point, I should tell you that I’m not the most confident driver and that I don’t usually go on such long road trips.Indeed, I live on a Peninsula and have what I call “Peninsularitis”. Some days, even the ten minute drive into Woy Woy is too much, and that complicated gourmet dinner, becomes chicken schnitzel out of the freezer.

Moreover, while part of me loves this whole serendipity thing of just driving with the wind without any particular destination in mind, I also get a bit edgy on unfamiliar roads, especially after doing a loop the loop through the wilderness. After all, this is Australia and the outback’s only a stone throw away. (Ssh, Australians! Don’t ruin a good story!)

It doesn’t take much once you leave an Australia city and the main roads to feel like you’re off the beaten track. I was so close to so-called civilization. Yet, I was driving through farms, and was definitely “out in the country”. Indeed, even the road signs had changed. There were now multiple wombat warning signs. Yes, I had made it into Wombat Country.

By this stage, I’ve almost made it to Wollombi and I can start to relax. Unwind. Yes! I am actually going to get there and this journey of 1000 goat-trailing miles, is finally going to end and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t have a big sign set up in my honour: “Welcome to Wollombi, Rowena”. I sure deserved it.

Stay tuned. In my next post, I’ll take you on a walking tour of town.

Have you been on any road trips recently? Please share.

xx Rowena

 

 

A Spectacular Performance -Weekend Coffee Share: November 29.

This week, you’re invited on a virtual cafe crawl as we catch the train from Woy Woy to Sydney. Have breakfast in Glebe then drive two hour’s North via the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Hunter Valley and then back down to Parramatta in Western Sydney and back home again. I assure you with this grueling schedule, you will require every single coffee and no doubt a few nature stops along the way.

The last week has been truly incredible.

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Before we get onto my daughter’s performance at School Spectacular, I just wanted to touch on a bit of a shadow which hung over things last week.

You see, my daughter was concerned about being caught up in a terrorist attack while she was in Sydney. Of course, being a kid, she didn’t express her concerns so succinctly. She simply asked where she could buy herself her own armour after seeing Police with bullet-proof vests on TV. I had a chat with her about it all, advising her on a few things she could do if she was in an emergency, which I outlined in this post: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/a-conversation-no-parent-should-have/

I have to admit that even though I knew the chances of her getting caught up in a terrorist attack were very unlikely, there was that remote possibility and there’s definitely that sense that trouble’s brewing at the moment but we don’t have that crystal ball.

Anyway, off she went and on Friday morning, I caught the train down to Sydney with our son and the rest of the local kids. It was only a four carriage train and it was packed, mostly with kids. As we were about to head over the Hawkesbury River Bridge, the lady next to me turns to me and says: “The guy next to me asked me to mind his bags while he went to the toilet but he hasn’t come back and he’s been awhile. I’ve got to get off. I can’t remember what he looked like. He might have been tanned but what does a terrorist look like anyway?”

Now, let me just put you right into my shoes. Here I am on a train packed with school kids including my son, my friends’ kids, friends of friends kids and the teachers who are like family to me and suddenly I’m in charge of potentially deadly situation. I’ve heard the announcement countless times while waiting on train platforms. If you see unattended luggage, please report it to station staff. This was exactly what they were talking about. At the same time, I looked at the large bag of Christmas presents, all beautifully wrapped in Christmas paper, wondering how they could possibly blow anyone up? How could Christmas presents ever be considered dangerous, even deadly? I noticed the intercom for the guard nearby and gave him 10 minutes to return. I was hoping that he’d been eating plenty of fibre and it wasn’t going to be a legitimate (but very extended) call of nature and I’d just caused pointless stress.

This was a lot to take onboard, especially after my chat with my daughter. I certainly didn’t expect to be thrown in the dead end like this. It was all supposed to be over-active imagination and now I’d somehow become embroiled in a plot, which was way too big for this little black duck.

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Illustrator Sarah Davis

Of course, the fact that I’d been to a three hour writing workshop with Australian Illustrator, Sarah Davies the day before, didn’t do much to appease my imagination. Suddenly, I’d become the reluctant hero but what if I made a mistake? It was a huge responsibility!!

Fortunately, the man returned and calm was restored. I could get back to reading my book. I was in the Quiet Carriage while the kids were in what could only be described as “the loud carriages”.

This was the second false alarm I’ve had recently. You might recall that the day before the Paris attacks, we had four Army Black Hawk helicopters flying just above the rooftops of our quiet beach-side town. They were circling around doing lap after lap after lap and while I wasn’t thinking about terrorists, having a very dangerous criminal on the loose wasn’t desirable either. But…that was also a false alarm.

However, we made it to Sydney rather uneventfully in the end and I was able to meet up with Miss before her grand performance.

 

Miss Spectacular

Miss Spectacular

Our daughter performed with her school choir at School Spectacular, an absolutely huge extravaganza held at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. They were part of a huge mass choir, a sea of white shirts made up of 1500 kids singing 30 songs and doing actions. They did 4 performances over two days and had a pretty intensive rehearsal schedule as well. I am surprised any of them were still upright by the end.

Finale- School Spectacular, Sydney Entertainment Centre.

Finale- School Spectacular, Sydney Entertainment Centre.

As we live in Greater Sydney and about 90 minutes away, Miss ended up staying across the road for almost a week with her friend’s grandmother. They were staying nearby 53 levels above the ground with the most incredible views of Sydney. She was so blessed and having her there made things so much easier for me with juggling transport.

Here I am enjoying the view from where Miss was staying.

Here I am enjoying the view from where Miss was staying.

While Miss was living the high life, I booked Geoff and I into the cheapest accommodation I could find which wasn’t above a pub. It wasn’t too bad but when we checked it out on Google Earth, we did notice some kind of Chinese massage parlor next door and Mum did warn me to make sure Geoff didn’t disappear during the night. The place had a pretty dodgy metal fire escape out the back and while comfortable,could well have been the sort of place a fugitive would hide out. Needless to say, there were no views from our hotel room. Indeed, I’m not even sure there was a window.

Hotel Carpark.

Hotel Carpark.

Saturday morning, we headed off to Glebe for breakfast. We had intended to have breakfast at Glebe Markets, where I used to hang out several lifetimes ago but we couldn’t find parking and after weaving out way through a series of dead end and one way streets, we found ourselves sitting at the first cafe we could find on St Johns Road and refueled with coffees, an almond croissant and omelette.

Rebel Red Shoes.

Rebel Red Shoes.

I should also point out that I was wearing really dodgy shoes and could barely walk. After breaking my foot last December, I’ve virtually spent the year in joggers but as we were going to my cousin’s wedding, I just couldn’t resist wearing my fave red shoes. They have wedge heels and being flat on the bottom, I can sort of walk in them but it’s definitely a case of “Ricketty Ro” and much of the time, I have to hold onto Geoff’s arm for dear life.

While I have nothing approaching a shoe fetish and wear sensible shoes almost all the time, sometimes I just want to step out there and feel a bit pretty, elegant, frivolous and NOT a matron or person living with  disability. Be myself. If you haven’t worked out the obvious by now. I am not a sensible person so why should I wear sensible shoes?

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Driving Across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

 

Moving right along, we’re having our next coffee in Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Valley. Kurri Kurri is a coal-mining town on the gateway into the Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s most famous wine-producing regions. Like many regional towns looking to put themselves on the tourist map, the town has rebadged itself as “The Town of Murals”. Fifty murals, each with a hidden kookaburra, have been painted around town: http://www.kurrikurri.com/kurri-kurri-murals-project/

More Coffee...Kurri Kurri Tourist Information Centre.

More Coffee…Kurri Kurri Tourist Information Centre.

After over compensating for Sydney traffic congestion, we arrived at Kurri Kurri 2 hours before the wedding. Needing another caffeine hit (make that a strong one, please!) we stopped off at the Visitor’s Information Centre for great coffee and Caramel Slice before driving our town checking out the murals.

Red Bus Mural, Kurri Kurri.

Red Bus Mural, Kurri Kurri.

Next stop, was my cousin’s wedding. This was so exciting that my trigger-happy camera finger went into overdrive and I’m surprised I haven’t developed some form of RSI. The wedding and reception were beautifully intimate and included personal wishes from the groom’s grandparents, which just added a certain magic.

We drove home last night and had my uncle to stay. Made him pancakes for breakfast and must’ve totally exhausted myself as I didn’t photograph his visit at all.

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Drove down to Sydney to pick up the kids and head off to the Muscular Dystrophy NSW Annual Christmas Party, which is so generously put on by the staff at the Commonwealth Bank in Parramatta. This is a real extravaganza and the kids loved playing on the slot car rack and enjoyed the arrival of Santa and their presents. I was particularly thrilled to meet up with other members…friends I’ve made at an Adventure Camp I’ve attended. This is my community.

Mister with Santa

Mister with Santa

Right now, I’m ready to hang up my red shoes. “There’s no place like home” and a deep sleep!

I hope you’ve enjoyed our coffee and I look forward to topping up the caffeine levels when I pop over your way.

This has been part of the Weekend Coffee Share. Here’s the linky: http://www.inlinkz.com/new/view.php?id=585846

Love & Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Bilbo and Lady have made an an appearance at the Weekly Pet Share November Round-up. It’s a great post! https://hopethehappyhugger.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/weekly-pet-share-november-round-up/

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Jazz in the Vines

It already seems like a lifetime ago. The weekend before last, Geoff and I escaped for a weekend away in the Hunter Valley about two hours North-west of Sydney. The Hunter Valley is wine country and we were staying at Cypress Lakes with Muscular Dystrophy NSW to attend Jazz in the Vines. We had an absolutely awesome time and really enjoyed living the high life.

Geoff took Friday off work and we went on a detour to Morpeth “on the way” to pick up the tea cosies which I’d bought on my last visit. We also had to restock our supplies of coconut ice, peanut brittle and fudge from Campbell’s and we enjoyed a lovely lunch.

We settled into our hotel and I had a short, long bath if that makes any sense. It was so relaxing and I could have stayed there for the night but we were off to the group dinner in the hotel restaurant. The food was magnificent even if I can’t quite remember what it was…a fish, a chicken dish perhaps. I don’t think I’ll ever get a job as a food critic.

Breakfast was included with our package and my excuse for eating so much was not having to buy lunch. I was good and started the day with yogurt, muesli and fruit but it soon went downhill and I was devouring the hash browns. There’s nothing like hash browns on a hotel buffet breakfast. They didn’t have pancakes on Saturday but they did on Sunday morning.  They were only fair…not the best I’ve had.

After breakfast, we all boarded the bus out to the Tyrell’s estate for Jazz in the Vines. Jazz in the Vines was celebrating its 20th Anniversary with an impressive line up of talent. We had special seating in the tent. I was just leaving the toilet when I heard Tom Burlinson (of Man From Snowy River – the movie fame) singing New York New York. I rushed down the front with my camera in tow like a woman possessed and captured a few new memories. I remember a band called Paris Dumper doing New York New York at the Nagg’s Head in Glebe too many lifetimes ago. We all used to do the Can Can back then when we could LOL!

Lisa Hunt was the final performer and she was fabulous. My favourite song was Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia. It was amazing. It was so good that I tried recording it on my mobile phone. I’ve never done that before but it was really, really good. Unfortunately, the recording sounds dreadful. Not worth keeping. I was down the front in what I guess you’d call the mosh pit and it was awesome being amongst it all. Looking at all the crazy and outlandish outfits and trying to dodge the many wine bottles which were rolling around in the grass. They did look rather deadly.

Jazz in the Vines wasn’t all just about wine. The Hunter Valley Cheese Company had a stand and we bought ourselves a cheese platter for lunch. Yum. Made plans to visit the factory on Sunday to continue my adventures of a cheesy.

As much as we loved Jazz in the Vines, perhaps the real entertainment was on the bus on the way home. There was a very interesting character…a bloke wearing a black afro wig. Geoff tells me an old lady on the bus asked if she could feel his wig. I missed that bit and all I saw was this bloke putting his wig on ton this old woman’s head. Then shoved it under her armpit and that wasn’t all. Then he was doing back flips in the aisle. I should be thankful. At least he kept his gear on although I’m surprised the bus driver didn’t throw him off. Kids have been busted on the school bus for much less.  This was all on a crowded bus. He kept saying that he came from Newport Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Geoff asked me how I’d feel if he was saying he was from our area. Hmm. Glad he wasn’t. We have dubbed him “the Ambassador for Newport”. He did a very impressive job…unforgettable at least!

I should also add that this bloke ended up sitting next to Geoff…what a contrast! I don’t think Geoff knew which way to look.

We had dinner back at the hotel. Again, it was fabulous and I do remember consuming a rather decadent chocolate pudding!

Sunday morning, I felt like a stuffed chook after yet another buffet breakfast. It was goodbye to all the Muscular Dystrophy crew and we were off to tour the vineyards after stopping off for a few photos along the way. I just had to photograph the roses and the vines together and I just might have photographed my teacup out there. Who would do something crazy like that??

We aren’t big wine drinkers and to be honest, I was more interested in the cheese. We went to the Hunter Valley Cheese Company for a tasting and a tour. This place is definitely worth a visit even if cheese is just a little naughty. http://www.huntervalleycheese.com.au/index.html

We bought some of the Hunter Gold Washed Rind Cheese and they had some kind of Irish cheddar which came in green wax. We didn’t buy some but I wish we had. It tasted great but also looked rather quirky with its green skin and I love quirky!! Might have to go back!

Our next stop was McGuigan’s next door where we entered the weird and wonderful world of wine.

As far as I’m concerned, wine comes in a bottle and most of it is undrinkable. I prefer very sweet, fruity wines and I’m usually offered Chardonnay which is very dry. I drink a wine and I either like it or I don’t and I almost burst out laughing when I hear people rave on about their wines:

“A kaleidoscope of flavours; ginger, apricots, honeycomb and toffee brittle. The palate is intensely rich however the acidity is a supreme counterfoil”

It sounds like something from a candy store!

You won’t get any of that fancy wine talk from me.

I didn’t even try to pretend that I knew what they were talking about. I didn’t need to show off although I was wishing I’d listened just a little more to all Dad’s wine talk. He is a wine connoisseur with a serious cellar. When we were kids, my brother used to do a very good send up of Dad sniffing his wine and pronouncing it a “jolly good year”. If it wasn’t, it was poured down the sink…no matter where it came from!

As for me, I don’t know a good year from a bad year. We bought a bottle of Merlot and a dessert wine…a Traminer. I have trouble writing about food and describing it. I have no chance of describing the wine other than to say that I could drink it. I am not much of a wine drinker and prefer sweet, fruity ones. I might as well stick to lemonade!

Next we drove round to Constables Vineyard http://www.constablevineyards.com.au/gardens/sculptures, mainly to see the sculpture garden, however, we did buy another dessert wine. This one sounds like it could transmit a deadly disease..a Botrytus Semillon. I wasn’t far wrong. With this Botrytus stuff,  the vine is exposed to the “noble rot” of Botrytis cinerea which is a necrotrophic fungus. In other words, it’s a parasite. It consumes the water content of the fruit, concentrating the sugar present in its pulp. When attacked by Botrytis cinerea, the grapes shrivel and the acid and sugar levels are intensified.

All day Sunday, I had this sense of living on borrowed time. You know how it is when you are having a great holiday and you know you’re about to come crashing back to reality.

All too soon, we were at the station meeting up with my mother and the kids and I also had violin practice. Not good having to rush of to rehearsal after not touching the thing for a few days and right before the concert. Should have been practicing all day and being prepared.

Thank you Muscular Dystrophy for a fabulous weekend away.

xx Ro