Kaikoura

A year ago the ground under Kaikoura decided it had had enough and threw a major tantrum. One of the many results of this was that the Coast Highway from Christchurch to Blenheim, through Kaikoura, was closed in numerous spots, isolating the locals from the rest of NZ for some time. Now, the coast road to Kaikoura from Christchurch is only open from Friday to Monday – and even then with lots of Stop/Go points – but from Kaikoura onwards the road remains closed. Word is that it will open on the 15th December, but no one is holding their breath.

Luckily for us, it is Monday, so it’s up the coast we head. Lucky not only because it is a lovely drive but also lucky as it takes us past Black Estate Winery, which I have earmarked as the perfect lunch spot thanks to Jeremy & Clare’s recommendation. I’m not sure why it is called Black Estate but they have adopted the colour with gusto – from the cellar door and restaurant to the labels.

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We do a spot of tasting first, purely to decide on what wine to have with lunch of course. The wines are proudly organic, and are quite delicious I must say. Pete & I have never been one for Pinot Noir but since coming to NZ we have changed our mind (Daryl Morris are you listening!), and the Black Estate pinots reinforce this. And their Chardonnay and Reisling are also excellent. What to choose??

Settling back at our table we drink in the view across the vineyards to the rolling green patchwork hills beyond. And the food proves to be as delicious as their wine (although I am slightly miffed to find that when I ask for a bit more bread to finish off my duck parfait that I am charged $12 for a serve of ciabatta bread – not a generous act).

Back into the car well fed and wined, and ready to tackle the road. I can tell you that the two manufacturing businesses to be involved with in NZ are making orange road cones, and,  Hi Vis vests. The cones are constant along all the roads we have travelled on – I suspect they are breeding.  And Hi Vis vests have become the fashion de jour, thanks to all the road workers. The occupations for your sons and daughters to be in are engineering, construction, surveying, and road building. The employment levels must be 100% judging by the number of men and women working on road reconstruction alone.

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We are stopped so many times on our journey that we have ample time to chat to the Stop/Go people. One was a young engineering student from India, who seemed somewhat nonplussed to find himself standing in the scorching sun turning a sign backwards and forwards – or, was he confused by the crazy woman chatting to him from the stopped vehicle?! And I don’t know whether it is part of the customer service, boredom or simple friendliness but all of them give a wave as you pass by. Our hands are quite tired by the time we finally reach Kaikoura; I know just how the Queen must feel.

But, lightheartedness aside, the devastation wrought by the earthquake is still so very apparent, and so very frustrating for the locals, especially those who rely on the tourist dollar. The scenery surrounding Kaikoura is simply stunning, but the township itself wears a mixed mantle. Some places are up and running. Some businesses and homes are proudly displaying their brand spanking new premises, but others sit forlornly lopsided, crumbled, and empty. Surrounded by fencing and branded with stickers that say Restricted or No Access. What you want is a Can Be Used sticker.

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Susan, our Airbnb host, tells us a little about the night. The earthquake struck on the night of a super moon, and was fierce from the beginning. They had a guest staying – fortunately she sat up in bed as the large painting above the bed fell off the wall and smashed. Susan was upstairs, her husband downstairs. The house swayed and shook wildly. Bill downstairs watched the massive oven shake violently from side to side as paintings smashed to the floor. Susan clung to the side of the bed as was shaken from side to side. She said she stayed in the same clothes for 3 days because she was too frightened to return upstairs. When she finally changed out of her clothes she discovered her whole left side was black and blue from being buffeted against the side of the bed. They fled from the house into the car. The directive is that you have 3 minutes to get to higher ground in case of a tsunami, so it is go, go, go. Of course, everyone is doing the same thing so the roads are gridlocked. Susan says she still does not feel comfortable sitting in their enclosed verandah upstairs. Perhaps she never will.

But, her B & B is lovely. A charming old weatherboard house set in a beautiful garden. Called Blue Heron House. No herons to be seen but it is a blue colour. The front of the house is devoted to guests. There are 2 bedrooms, with a guest sitting room. Both bedrooms open via French doors onto a wide verandah. And the house is full of beautiful artefacts and textiles gathered over the course of their well travelled lives.

The coastline of Kaikoura is stunning. Blue waters against the backdrop of steep snow capped mountains. Glorious. The beach doesn’t invite us, thanks to the black sand and rocks. But, the water is a beautiful blue, and since the earthquake the seabed is now a meter higher so it is a gentle slope, and warmer due to shallower water.

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We dine at the Pier Hotel, one of the town’s orgininal establishments (although in a different spot to the original – when they moved the pier they also moved the pub!). Nothing to write home about. Half the tables are reserved for the NCITR. We spend the night trying to guess what it stands for. The local paper provides the answer – North Canterbury Infrastructure and Transport Recovery. And NCITR workers are everywhere. The accommodation and food businesses that survived the earthquake are certainly reaping the benefits of reconstruction – almost all the motels are full, and all the restaurants are on the roster to provide the evening meals.  It is wall to wall Hi Vis vests. It is ironic that business is booming for some.

The beautiful weather continues so our walk around the peninsula the next day is under blazing blue skies. But of course we have to have a coffee first. The café recommended in Lonely Planet, a coffee roaster, is no more. Another casualty of the earthquake. Apparently the building’s owner expected them to organise and pay for repairs. So, we settle for Cafe Encounter instead, where a very cheeky sparrow steals my complimentary piece of fudge that was served with the coffee!

Our walk is about 10km in all and allows us to admire the views both up and down the coast. We also get to watch the seals sun themselves on the rocks, play in the water and get out of the way of the stupid tourists, both in the water and on the rocks. Taking tourists to swim with the seals and dolphins is big business here, and some obviously don’t get the Don’t approach, let them come to you message.  There is also a big whale watching business,and there was much relief in town when both the whales and seals returned after the earthquake. We decide watching it all from atop the cliff face is enough for us.

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Descending from the cliff top we come across the Kaikoura Seafood BBQ stall, and we are starving so we put in our order for the seafood platter for 2 and take a seat, not before warned to be VERY mindful of the thieving seagulls. And how right they were, the rats of the air were like stealth bombers. Pete was ready to punch them in the beak.

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The platter was bountiful – whitebait fritter, cray fritter (the Kiwis are fond of fritters), mussels, scallops, prawns and grilled fish. The only problem was that they had cooked the fish to an inch of its life. But, never mind, it was fresh, and beside the waterside, in the sun. So, not to worry.

Then keep walking back into town and a wander around the little village of Kaikoura before having a glass of bubbles at the recently repaired and reopened Kaikoura Boutique Hotel (where the only choice by the glass is  Mumm, wankers!), and returning to our delightful B&B for rest and recuperation.

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We decide on the local Thai for dinner, despite Susan and Bill’s hesitation in recommending it, and are pleasantly surprised. Whilst not what we would class as great, it was flavoursome and the heat level was pretty good. The place was packed with Hi Vis vests, and the sole waitress was skipping around the tables doing her best to charm and placate everyone. And, she succeeded. We bumped into her the next day and she thanked us for our patience, bless her.

Next day we wave Susan & Bill goodbye (not before Bill has a chance to tell Pete about a 3 month ride he should do from Canada to Mexico!!!) and tackle the inland route to Murchison, stopping at Hamner Springs for lunch.

It turns out to be a slow and nail biting journey due to the constant roadworks. Closer to Kaikoura this can be explained by the earthquake, but further away it would seem the damage to the road is being done by the significantly increased traffic. Since the closure of the coast road from Blenheim to Christchurch all cars and trucks have to come via the inland route. Apparently the road was not made for this level, and weight of traffic. So, there is a never ending job of filling holes and resurfacing, resulting in almost constant loose gravel covering the newly sealed road surfaces. But, this does not slow the trucks down, and our hire car is continually sprayed with gravel. How we managed to get the car back to Picton with an intact windscreen is a minor miracle.

We spend the night in Murchison, at the Murchison Lodge, which a week ago was taken over by its eager young owners, Phillip and Daphne. Phillip is from Switzerland, Daphne from Germany and owning and running this B & B is their next big adventure in life. They have quite a task in front of them as there are 5 rooms and large grounds, and they are doing it all themselves – cleaning, gardening, making breakfast, welcoming guests. Good luck to them.

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We dine at the Lazy Cow pizza joint behind the Backpackers Hostel, where you can design your own pizza and bring in your own alcohol from the pub over the road. Everyone is sitting out in the garden as it’s 26 degrees at 7pm, amazing. We get chatting to the other tables and end up having a very social evening. A charming way to end our road tour.

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Off to the East Coast

Christchurch is our next destination so it is across to the east coast we go, climbing into the mountains before descending to the Canterbury Plains. There are small patches of snow on the mountain summits, but I struggle to imagine how it would look covered in white.

The changes in the terrain as we head up, up, up, then slowly down, down, down is fascinating. Even the flowers have changed, with wild foxgloves giving way to beautiful wild lupins, and then patches of yellow gorse.

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The thought that men carved through these mountains by sheer physical labour boggles the mind; and vestiges of the old Cart track can be glimpsed.

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Lord of the Rings has been a bonanza for tourism operators throughout this land, with every opportunity to exploit the link grabbed with gusto, as we discover as we arrive at Otira.

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Descending from Arthur’s Pass the hills change character again, becoming an interesting montage of dirt, gravel and hardy grasses and the occasional rocky outcrop.

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As we approach Christchurch the land is completely flat, our hill climb but a memory. But not for long, as we are actually staying in Governors Bay, so must climb the rim of the crater that surrounds the bay. The whole area is in fact a series of (hopefully) extinct volcanoes, with the various craters merging together like honeycomb. It is a crazy cyclist’s dream as there are an endless number of steep hills to climb, with gradients that would break many a heart. The local car hoons and motorbike riders are also in their element as they attack the curves and steep ascents and descents with gusto, and noise.

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Before Governors Bay we stop off in Lyttelton, a township that suffered badly in the 2011 earthquake, which was centred just outside the township. The port seems to be back in full swing, as containers line the wharf and trucks beetle back and forth, and London Street is definitely open for business, with new funky cafes and shops, but it has been a hard struggle back, and many properties are still waiting to be repaired.

The road from Lyttleton snakes around the bayline to Governors Bay. Sitting pride of place is the Governors Bay Hotel (  http://www.governorsbayhotel.co.nz/)  owned by friends of ours from Elwood Primary days, Jeremy & Clare. They have turned what was once a down at heel hotel into a thriving gastro pub, catering to very happy locals and tourists alike. As we arrive on a hot Friday afternoon, the locals are gathering, eager to end their week on the lawns, enjoying the Bay breeze and the bay views. Clare and Jeremy dispense drinks and food with a welcoming smile for all; making all the hard work look effortless.

The hotel has 7 rooms upstairs, 4 of which open out, through French doors, onto the upstairs verandah and the views across the bay to Quail Island. The pub does a pretty good accommodation trade, and the verandah can often resemble the United Nations, with a variety of accents holding forth.

We join the crowd on the deck, and soak up the warmth, the views, the wine and the excellent food. Joined eventually by the exhausted mine hosts, ready to share a cleansing glass or two.

Next day is devoted to exploring Christchurch, which is still a building site. But slowly, a new city is emerging from the horror of the 2010/2011 earthquakes. And one day it will be lovely again as they seem to have planned in a lot of open space, and inner city living.

As always my eye is taken by the street art; many walls have been given over to large street murals.

We visit the temporary cathedral, and the White Chair memorial to those who lost their lives. And, the remains of the old Cathedral, where a lively Korean Festival is taking place.

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Lunch is at Madame Woo, providing some much needed Asian food for Himself.

Then a visit to The Tannery complex and a mooch around the shops before heading back to the Governor for drinks, and dinner, on the deck.

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Sunday we devote ourselves to exploring the Banks Peninsula, setting out to circumnavigate it in a clockwise direction. As you travel around the coastline you get wonderful views of the crater walls, and the various bays that cluster around the coast.

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Our first stop is Diamond Head, where we discover, to our joy not one but two coffee places to choose from. We choose the one on the left, that may or may not be called Preserved , a Café come home brewery come Cooking school. It has a deck and seats out the back that provide grand stand viewing over the sports oval behind it.  Clare tells us later that she used to watch her sons play sport from the comfort of the cafe. The coffee is made by a biker looking guy who tears himself away from his home brew making, and would you believe it turns out to be the best coffee I’ve had in NZ thus far. He is thrilled when I tell him so.

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We carry on, sticking to the coast road, which turns out to be a winding one lane dirt road until we get to Pigeon Bay. Luckily we only came across one other car, and it was in a spot that he was able to edge across, allowing us to squeeze past ( do hope the rental agreement didn’t mention staying on bitumen only – there’s been a lot of dirt roads on this trip!).

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Pigeon Bay is quite the hive of activity – turns out there is a bitumen road into it from the other side of the peninsula. There is a junior boat race in full swing, and we spy a sign advertising high teas outside the village hall. How can one pass that up? So, we slam on the brakes and hop out. Have we made a booking we are asked. Well, no – who would have thought that one needed to, but it turns out that Deb puts on a highly sought after high tea in the hall on the first Sunday of the month. But, our lack of booking doesn’t prove to be an obstacle as Deb rustles up a table for us, although apologises for the lack of flowers on it.

We get talking to some of the fellow guests. One couple are local farmers, bemoaning the lack of rain. He agrees to stop wishing for rain until the 13th December, which is the day we leave! The other pair work at the nearby luxury accommodation, and since Googling it, do I mean LUXURY (check out Annandale Luxury Villas), and one of them is from Melbourne and used to work at Zartowa, Elwood’s very first café. How’s that for coincidence!

The high tea is a delight, and Himself is in heaven with the clotted cream.

Happily full, and with just a little bit of a sugar rush, we head off for Akaroa, a small French settlement, and major tourist attraction, on the peninsula. The cruise ships that used to dock at Lyttleton pre earthquake have defected to Akaroa, so at times it can be absolutely heaving with tourists.

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We wander up the street as far as the lighthouse, before heading back to the car and the return journey.

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That evening we dine, with Jeremy & Clare, at their son’s bar, Civil & Naval, in Lyttelton. Louis has been one of the pioneers of the revitalised Lyttelton, and the bar is abuzz with customers. The staff are all young and groovy; the vibe is laid back. There are almost more dogs than people, as all the locals seem to bring their dog with them, and one of the staff also has a dog. Add into the mix a resident cat and things can get quite rowdy!

The menu is small and designed around sharing, and everything we try is delicious. An excellent way to end our Christchurch sojourn, even if it does make me feel ancient to think that I last saw Louis as a small boy and here he is running a very successful establishment.

 

West Coast, NZ

As we leave Nelson the grey clouds are gathering – we are moving further south just at the right time. For the first hour the scenery is pretty ordinary as we travel through large swathes of pine forests, and pass trucks hauling the timber away. Things change when we get to Big Bush Pass and finally enter areas of native forest.

Apparently both the Maori and the Europeans had a field day felling the native forests, until finally even the Government became alarmed. After 15 months of negotiation, the Tasman Accord was signed in 1989, whereby the forestry companies agreed to no more logging of native timber on Crown land and the preservation of some 30,000 hectares of native forest. Thank heavens, as the native forests are a delight with their wide variety of trees, hence colours and textures. Now the drive gets more interesting.

Not native but lovely nonetheless are the wild foxgloves that can be seen everywhere, mainly purple, occasionally white. Must be a very strong plant as it is literally everywhere, probably technically a weed, but a very decorative one.

We arrive in Murchison, hanging out for a coffee. At first glance it appears a township we could easily dismiss but there is a quirky humour on display, starting with the pie van and its sign (mind you, the owner and baker is a Yorkshireman). We can’t resist the sign, so settle on the picnic table with a bacon & egg pie.

Then the sign in the award winning butcher shop takes my fancy. Convenient, and timely given the new law just passed in Victoria!

Then there is the plaque commemorating the irate farmer who blew himself up:

And, the ladies loo sign:

We will be back in Murchison on our return to Picton so shall check out more of the town’s delights then but now it is on towards the coast. Just out of Murchison we come to the Buller Gorge Suspension Bridge – apparently the longest swing bridge in New Zealand – so in we go. Lord knows why, as I’m terrified of heights, even more so when the surface is moving back and forth. But, I bravely go forth. I do decline however the invitation to return by zip line!

After this excitement we travel towards the coast, turning south just before Westport, however the No Fuel for 90kms sign has us turning back to Westport to stock up, given we only had enough fuel in the tank for 90kms.

Our next stop is Punakaiki to see the famous ‘pancake rocks’ – rock formations that resemble layer upon layer of crepes. Geologists are unsure how the formations were made, but they certainly draw the crowds, and we must admit they are pretty impressive. As is the subtropical forest lining the coast.

The day is marching on so we scamper past the outskirts of Greymouth, heading for our home for the next two nights, Hokitika. Not a lot is happening in Hokitika when we arrive around 6pm. It’s like any quiet country town – wide, empty streets, with nondescript houses neatly lined up on either side of the road.

Our Airbnb cottage, Fantail Cottage – full of fantail bird decorations, but no sign of the actual bird – is cosy albeit a bit twee, sitting on the outskirts of town but still an easy 3 blocks from the centre.

We dump our gear and walk into town in search of food. After a quick look at the beach we order a pizza at Fat Pipi Pizza, which we take to the West Coast Wine Bar which allows, in fact encourages, BYO food. We are the only customers, apart from one other couple who leave before we do.

We get off to a slow start next morning. A late breakfast in the cottage then into town for a coffee and a wander around. Both Lonely Planet and our landlady recommend Ramble & Ritual for our coffee so it’s where we head. And wouldn’t you know it but our coffee is made by an English lass. I swear there are no Kiwis actually in NZ! The coffee is okay but I think their beans are not really to our taste, quite unusual flavour but a charming little spot.

Hokitaki is a fascinating town, dotted by grand buildings that hint of a very different past. Turns out that it was the epicentre of the gold rush, and became a major, but very dangerous, port, welcoming prospectors from all around the world. In turn, business followed. Apparently in its heyday 80 hotels lined Revell St alone.

Time for sightseeing further afield so we hop in the car and head out of town to visit Hokitika Gorge. In the distance we can see the snow capped mountains.

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On the way we pass the memorial erected to commemorate the site of New Zealand’s first mass murder committed by yet another psycho farmer. The memorial is dedicated to the police, both official and voluntary, who died. The gun barrel in the middle is aimed at the farmhouse site where the massacre occurred. I did however love the mention of Graham suffering an irrational conniption.

The glorious turquoise water of Hokitika Gorge is certainly worth the drive out. Really takes you by surprise as you come out of the tropical forest that surrounds the Gorge. Something to do with limestone I gather. And, another swing bridge – yeah!

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Leaving the Gorge is slightly delayed by the young tourist who managed to get his van stuck down a culvert and needed towing out by a local farmer. An entertaining diversion for us but not for the very embarrassed young man.

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We returned back to Hokitaki via Lake Kaniere and a quick visit to Dorothy Falls, displaying a completely different colour of lovely, pristine water.

A late but yummy lunch back at Ramble & Ritual before a final walk along the old quay and beachfront, learning more about the town from the information boards dotted along the river’s edge. We bump into various locals along the way, all of whom love a bit of a chat. Hokitika is, all in all, quite charming.

We end our night in Hokitika with a walk to the glow worm dell just outside of town. It is like a magical cave, but you will have to take my word for it as the glow is not strong enough to be captured by the IPhone camera.

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South Island Bound

The weather gods smile upon us as we board the Interislander ferry from Wellington, bound for Picton on the South Island – the water is flat and calm. Hallelujah, as Cook Strait can be like a very agitated washing machine more often than not. People of all ages and nationalities cram aboard, eager to nab a seat with a view. Down below, the queue of camper vans inch slowly forward – what is it about New Zealand and RVs??

We settle ourselves in for 3 and a half hour voyage, sharing our table with a lonely Kiwi who is heading over to the South Island for 3 months touring around in the van he brought back from Europe. Heading towards the Heads we are briefly joined by a small pod of dolphins, frolicking in the ferry’s bow waves.

Once across the Strait we manoeuvre through the sounds, with beautiful views to right and left. Everyone is out on deck, jostling for the perfect photograph.

Before we know it, Picton hoves into sight, and the Interislander settles in beside the Bluebridge ferry that departed Wellington half an hour earlier. We trudge off, wait for our luggage to appear on the carousel, then join the car hire collection queue. Eventually we are all sorted and heading out of Picton towards Nelson in our little silver Toyota Corolla.

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We take the scenic coast road which weaves it’s way along the coast to Nelson. After a stop in Havelock for a not very good coffee and an even worse local mussel pie, and many stops for roadworks, we finally reach Nelson around 4 o’clock. We have booked into Arrow Apartment via Airbnb, and are thrilled to find it is even better than the photos. Just look at our view.

We are reluctant to leave, so stock up on food and wine and eat in for the next two nights. How can you not when that loveliness is spread out before you, and the apartment caters for all your creature comforts. Over the two nights we get to admire the setting sun in all its glory.

The centre of Nelson is an interesting architectural mix, with reminders of both the Wild West and New England, or early Boston. We spend a pleasant hour walking the streets.

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An exploration further up the coastline now calls. We do a circuit, stopping at Waimea Estates Cellar Door for lunch in the garden before circumnavigating Rabbit Island and then on to Mapua before circling back to Nelson. It is lovely countryside, subject to vast tidal fluctuations. The tides are out as we drive through, exposing large areas of marshland. How different it would look when the tides are in.

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Much of the hills are covered in pine plantations; sort of attractive when covered with trees but very unappealing when logged. So sad to think of the native forests that once stood there. Our path through the hills winds back and forth; hairpin curves and a gravel road. Luckily there is no other traffic. We arrive back in Nelson in time to purchase oysters and locally caught fish from the Nelson quay. Back to the apartment, and that wonderful view. Onwards and upwards, or actually downwards, tomorrow.

Windy Wellington

Flying into Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, can be a pretty hair raising affair as the plane skims across the often white capped water, squeezing between the hills surrounding the airstrip suspended in the strait. The slight anxiety was not helped by Pete’s dentist telling him the day before our flight that Wellington is one of the more dangerous airfields for landings due to the vagaries of the crosswinds. But, all’s well. Our only issue now is to front up to Customs with our hiking boots and poles, as all hiking/camping equipment needs to be inspected. My shoes are whisked off to be washed, and we are then cleared to go.

I am always charmed by this city, with its eclectic mix of architecture, and the homes strung around the coastline, all jostling for a Bay view. The lovely gothic wooden homes remind me of San Francisco, but many of the modern buildings are not to my taste. Currently several of the newer CBD buildings are covered in scaffolding, or in some cases, abandoned, thanks to last year’s earthquake, which definitely rattled the rafters.

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We are staying with friends in the Aro Valley, an easy 20 minute walk to the quay area, and just around the corner from buzzing Cuba Street. We celebrate our arrival with a couple of glasses of local wines before heading up the street to Rita , a new eatery in Aro Street that is already packing in the punters.

  • This is the place for the decision challenged as there is almost no choice. You are told what you will be eating, but you can add an extra starter and/or a pasta between entree and main and/or extra vegetables. The basic 3 course meal is $65, then you add the rest. Tonight we have kahawai (which is a New Zealand fish) with the freshest peas I have ever tasted, followed by lamb (and we added in a cos lettuce side) and finished with rum baba for dessert.

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The food is simple, with super fresh produce and beautifully cooked. The only downside is the noise, which is close to deafening. A small space, wooden floors, packed with happy customers. Bursting out into the street brings blessed relief to the ears, but we were certainly well fed.

Fall into bed, it’s been a long day.

We ease into Saturday; venturing forth after a leisurely breakfast. Cuba Street is our first destination, with its vintage shops and cafes. Thought this suit at Hunters and Collectors would be perfect for Pete.

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Time for coffee, so we head into Memphis Belle, where the young man persuades me to try their soy milk with the promise that if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t pay. And he’s right – the first soy outside of Bonsoy that doesn’t overpower the coffee. But, it is all the way from Denmark, or was it Norway – hardly good food miles. We rock along to Bye Bye Miss American pie whilst we sip away.

Wandering the laneways, full of street art, is reminiscent of Melbourne. As are all the cafés- Wellingtonians like their food, and coffee, as much as we do.

We spy an artisan chocolate factory and detour for a quick taste, and of course some buying – purely for emergency hiking supplies of course.

Then its down to the quay for a wander before hopping into the car for an explore of some of the Wellington coastline.

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Shelly Bay, with its views back to the city, and its array of old warehouses, is currently in hot dispute as to its future. Needless to say the developers have their beady eyes on it, but currently artists are happy to call the old sheds home. There is also a bustling seafood cafe, Chocolate Fish, famous for its fish sandwiches. After a poke around a couple of galleries and a chat to one of the charming resident artists, we find a table out of the wind to sample the fare. And, the grilled fish sandwiched between fresh white bread is surprisingly good, but perhaps my hunger helped.

Back into the car for more sightseeing, ending up on top of Mt Victoria for a quick overview of the city. The brisk wind makes this a short visit, but it’s time now to buy dinner supplies. We head into Moore Wilson’s and my heart skips a beat – what a fabulous food store, bursting with an amazing array of goodies. I could stay in there forever. Instead, we load the basket with wines, cheese, salmon and asparagus and head home for a feast.

Sunday has been earmarked for a visit to Te Papa but first we stop for a coffee, this time at Midnight Expresso, and a mosey through the Cuba Street shops.

Te Papa has a very moving exhibition about Gallipoli; the highlight being giant sized but incredibly realistic models of various soldiers, and one nurse, together with their stories. The conditions these men fought in, and the human carnage, is difficult to comprehend, no matter how many times you hear the story. Such a terrible waste of, usually young, lives. How terrified they must have been. Heartbreaking.

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Time for lunch. On a recommendation we seek out Charley Noble, only to find it closed tight. Not open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. Go figure. But, rescue is at hand with, also recommended (thank you Clare), Shed 5. We make ourselves comfortable and watch the constant parade of passing people, whilst we enjoy the wine and food.

A quick pop into the Wellington Museum to check out their artisan’s market – nothing here to make us linger – then on to see the remains of  Plimmer’s Ark, a 150 year old wooden sailing ship that was discovered during the renovations of the Old Bank Arcade.

Followed by a meander through a few more shops as we wend our way back to Aro Street, where we have a cleansing ale at the local brew house, Garage Project. Wellington is awash with coffee shops and craft breweries; both very popular pursuits with locals and tourists alike. The small Garage Project Bar is pumping. We squeeze in and make our choice from the array of beers on offer – White Mischief for him, Petit Mort for me.

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Refreshed, it is a short walk back to ‘home’, and we end our stay with yet another beautiful meal cooked by Rochelle and Dean, washed down with more lovely NZ wines.

The night ends with a very Wellington experience – a 4.5 earthquake rattle, which wakes us with a start in the small hours of the morning. It is the loud noise that startles us more than the movement. Luckily Rochelle had warned us, so we knew what it was. Didn’t last longer than a minute, with some small shudders to follow. Talk about finishing our visit with a bang, but no damage done.

Thankyou Wellington, it’s been grand.

 

 

Getting a Swagger On

Okay, I’m going to jump right in and throw two things at you that will make you go what, where? Swagger Music Festival, and, Wandiligong. There, I’m right aren’t I.

Let me enlighten you. The Swagger Music Festival is a small, community focused festival featuring independent musicians from the local area, and Australia wide. Many are young up & coming performers, others are a bit more established on the music scene. But all are united in their pleasure to be performing in front of the laid back Swagger audience, made up largely of people, both young and old, who work and/or live in the Alpine Valley and its surrounding mountains.

Wandiligong is a little hamlet 6 kms outside of Bright, and home to Swagger and the Festival organiser. It is also part of my family history, as 86 years ago my Mum spent some 6 months living with her cousin there, and attending Year 7 in nearby Bright. She loved it, and always spoke fondly of that time, and her cousin Agnes. Both Agnes and Mum are gone now, but I was keen to go and see Wandi – as it is affectionately known – for myself and what better excuse than to accompany a girlfriend to a music festival.

I did draw the line at camping at the Festival site however, which is how we found ourselves staying in a little old Airbnb cottage called Lord of the Hill, nestled in a lovely old garden.

 

I had told our host we were coming for Swagger, and he had thoughtfully made me a flower garland to wear in my hair. Yes, Swagger is a little bit hippy chiccy, and No, I didn’t wear it. But, it was a kind gesture, as were the jars of garden flowers dotted around the cottage (even though he had forgotten to put water in some of the jars).

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We unpacked our belongings, then took ourselves off to the Wandi Pub for a cleansing ale, and wine, before hitting the Festival. The pub has legendary status in the area, and was voted Best Regional Pub this year by Time Out. It was the original site of Swagger, until the festival grew too big for a beer garden alone, but you can still hear live music there on a Sunday afternoon.

Suitably refreshed we head up the valley to the Festival site, which is set in fields just past the apple orchards, surrounded by hills. The cows have been moved out for the occasion, but a strict no glass policy is adopted to ensure the safety of cows and people alike. Coloured flags and sun shades dot the hill, as do picnic rugs and fold out chairs. We join the early birds and stake out our territory. This will be our spot for the next three days, as we groove along to some very good music.

The music starts at 6 on a Friday night and keeps going until about 1am. We don’t make it until stumps, forced Home largely by the cold – the beautiful clear skies make for wonderful star gazing but bitingly cold air. I end up wearing every piece of clothing I brought with me but am stilled chilled to the bone, so it is a great relief when I climb into my beautiful old double bed and snuggle down into the doona.

Saturday morning dawns bright and sunny, and we wake to birdsong filling the air. On to our bikes and into Bright we go, seeking a coffee and whatever other delights we can find. What we discover is the Bright Saturday market, and we happily wander the stalls, chatting to stall holders and fellow shoppers alike. You can tell a lot about a town by its market, and this one is telling us that Bright is a friendly, welcoming community – a feeling confirmed by a Queensland couple we get chatting to who now call Bright home. After a bit of retail therapy amongst the local shops we hop on the bikes and pedal back to Wandi, admiring the gorgeous flowering dogwoods along the way.

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We have missed the first couple of acts by the time we reach Swagger, but there are still plenty more to come and we stay until around midnight, again in the cold night air and under a sky blazing with stars. Sunday morning is a slow start for many of the festival goers, who may have over imbibed the night before, but the first act is up and playing by 10am. Again, we are blessed with sunshine in which to finish up our festival groove.

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It has been a fun weekend. Good music, a beautiful setting, relaxed and friendly vibe. What’s not to like? We definitely got our Swagger on, and look forward to returning to Wandi another time.

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The Last Hurrah of the Ski Season

You have been able to tell the skiers amongst us by the smiles on the faces and the funny face tans. This has been a bumper snow season, something that has made many hearts beat faster for several months now. Mine is not amongst them, and I was frankly shocked to hear myself suggest to Himself that we return to the mountains for a last hurrah of skiing. He needed no further persuading, always eager to get out there in the fields of white.

My motivation, apart from my love of all things surrounding and apart from the actual act of skiing – the drive up through the beautiful King Valley; the lovely AAC Dinner Plain Lodge; the food & wine consumed; the beauty of the snow covered landscape – was to see if I could conquer the act of stopping. A crucial skill, and one I had yet to master. My strategy of hurling myself backwards onto my arse is not sustainable, particularly at my age. So if I am to continue joining them on the cross country slopes it is a skill I need to acquire.

The drive up was its usual delight, starting with a coffee and wine purchasing at Fowles Winery.  The King Valley was looking more beautiful than usual thanks to the budding of the multitude of blossom trees, the magnificent magnolias and the camellias and rhododendrons. Don’t just think of Bright for the autumn colour – it also revels in Spring glory.

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Bright was our lunch destination this time around, to try out a relative newcomer to the eating scene – Tomahawks  a small shed of a place in Camp Street (just up from the Chinese restaurant on the corner). A funky spot with a small but delectable menu, and staffed with charming young things. We enjoyed our lunch, but should not have indulged in the donut ice cream sandwich with caramel sauce. My guilt stayed with me until the next day, even though I only ate half of this piece of decadence.

There was still snow as far as the eye could see, from Mt Hotham to Dinner Plain. And, as promised by Himself, the snow on the cross country trails was soft and forgiving, so I buckled up for two days of slogging it up and down the trail to Wire Plain. And whilst some small improvements may have been gained, I still found myself backside down in the snow more times than I wanted. It would seem that as soon as any downward momentum is picked up, all rational thought seems to leave my head and panic sets in, making me incapable of sorting out my left from my right  and of achieving any effective inward rolling of the ankle in order to achieve the desired cessation of forward movement. I am left slightly bewildered by the person who ever thought of strapping planks of slippery wood to ones feet and walking up and down hills on them. What was he thinking (as I’m sure it had to be a He).

Thankfully  for my bones and feet (which did not take kindly to the cross country ski boots) our third day dawned wet and windy, and I was allowed a leave pass.  Instead, we climbed into the car and escaped the sleety hail/snow (called sago by those in the know) and travelled down to Omeo and up the Omeo Highway to Anglers Rest and towards Mt Wills. Another lovely, but winding (take note if you are prone to car sickness) valley, following a very full and fast moving river. The wattles were coming into bloom, in all their different hues of yellow.

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The valley was once dotted with gold mines and their accompanying townships, most of them well gone by now, although their names remain on the map. Between Glen Valley and Glen Wills we came across the Glen Wills cemetery, the burial spot for some 97 locals between the years 1894 and 1920. 40 of the 97 were infants. A sobering reminder of the hardships of the pioneering life.

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After a brief look into the famous Blue Duck Inn at Anglers Rest we returned to Omeo, and enjoyed a tasty home cooked lunch at the Homestead House Cafe, opposite the Golden Age Hotel.

Our entertainment was provided by eavesdropping into the Ladies Golf Club Committee meeting, all 3 of them, as they debated the catering for an upcoming event. One of the three was keen to offer the slices and cakes free of charge. Another took quite some persuading, but grudgingly agreed to give it a try. We also know that sausage rolls, meat pies and dim sims will be available for sale. We were tempted to ask when the event was being held as the post game tucker was sounding quite enticing!

We took a brief detour outside of Omeo, lured by the Winery 16kms sign. It sure didn’t look like grape growing country, so we were intrigued.  Turns out there is a very small acreage at Cassillis, but the wine makers are now semi retired. Their tasting shed is closed and they only sell at local markets. However, the chap who has recently bought the grape vines plans to keep growing the grapes for them, and will have the wine available for tasting and sale on Public Holidays and maybe the occasional weekend. He’ll put out a sandwich board on the Great Alpine Road when he is open for business, so unless there is a board don’t take the turn off the road if wine is what you seek.

Next morning the promised snow showers were a fairly wet affair, but our time had come to leave the mountain. Our drive down to Harrietville was a slow one, thanks to the cloud and wet snow fall –  not much to be seen out of the windscreen.

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We rewarded ourselves with a coffee at Sixpence Coffee, a small coffee roasters, cafe and bakery in the backstreets of Bright. Despite the wet and cold day, the little space was packed with people enjoying their lattes and a freshly baked cake or pie.

Then it was onwards to Melbourne. Already my vow to abandon any further attempts at cross country skiing was starting to fade. Like childbirth, you forget the agony and sink into the après ski glow. But hang on, I stopped at one child, so perhaps not the best analogy for me! Will I keep trying to conquer this exasperating sport so I can enjoy all the trappings that go with it? I’ll see how I feel come August next year, and how much of the agony I remember.

 

 

The last hurrah – the three Bs

The clock is ticking as the road trip must eventually come to an end. We have two nights left. Where to go? Pete spots Putty Road linking Singleton and Windsor, bisecting the Wollemi National Park and Yengo National Park. How about we drive down that he says. So, off we go.

The start is less than promising as we battle the traffic beyond Maitland. Rather than veer off to the motorway bypass I had been lured by the romantic sounding townships of  Lochnivar and Greta. Mistake. Then we are confronted by the Rio Tinto open cut mines at Mt Thorley, which stretch either side of Putty Rd as far as the eye can see. Happily, it is not too long before we are engulfed by beautiful eucalyptus and native pine forests. Putty Road is very popular with motorbike riders as it winds its way through the forests, but it is obvious that several did not make it through the bends as attested to by the roadside floral memorials.

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We make it to Windsor unscathed, then have to battle the traffic to link up to the Hume Freeway. We have decided to spend the night at Berrima, a decision based on restaurant choice. Our first B.

I remember when the highway used to go through the centre of Berrima, but now it is bypassed, so we turn off the Hume and head into this historic hamlet. I have booked us into the Berrima Bakehouse Motel which turns out to be a delightful, renovated Motel a short walk from our dining destination for the night, Eschalot.

There is almost no one to be seen on the street of Berrima, and it is freezing cold. In fact, during the night the inverter heater has to go into defrost mode as it freezes on the external part (so ends up sounding something akin to a lorry going past on the highway!).

But, Eschalot is toasty warm, both in temperature and welcome, and we have a delightful evening in this one hat restaurant.

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We breakfast in the General Store Café, a new venture opened by a young Italian couple. We are only the second table there, so I wish them luck as they are very charming, and eager to please.

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After a walk round the township admiring the beautiful sandstone buildings, we hop into the car, heading towards our second B, Beechworth, for our last night of the trip. Lunch is taken at the rustic but excellent Long Track Pantry in Jugiong. I used to love the drive down into the valley surrounding Jugiong on our drives from Canberra to Melbourne, and it is still lovely.

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Onward to Beechworth, through the beautiful countryside, including wind farms, standing proud on the hill side.

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Our arrival into Beechworth got off to a slightly shaky start when I presented myself at the Motel reception. The genial owner could find no record of our booking. No wonder, wrong Motel – we should have been at the other end of  Camp Street. Whoopsies. But, he was very gracious! Our Motel, the Carriageworks, was yet another example of 1970s motel decor – wood panelling galore, but a very effective heater, which was needed as Beechworth was seriously cold.

We had a short walk to 2 hat Provenance. I had booked online and had originally requested 7pm. That time is not available was the automated response – 7.30? So, I booked for 7.30, only to find only one other couple sitting lonely in an empty dining room. Go figure. In the end only 4 couples came to dine that night. The restaurant is in an old bank building, with soaring ceilings, which proves very difficult to heat. I was frozen as we were seated by a window, which didn’t help the enjoyment of the evening. The waiter was pleasant but a bit Lurch like, and each dish was brought to the table by the chef himself, and very seriously introduced, with no other engagement. The food was okay, but the overall experience was stilted, and cold. And our dessert was, to our palate, inedible. We ate only a portion of it and gave our feedback to the waiter, but it was still included on the bill. Not a restaurant I would return to.

The next morning we had to scrape the ice off the windscreen before we could leave. As our neighbour in the next room said: It would freeze the balls off a bull.

We drive on to our third, and final B, Benalla. For the past 3 years, this Victorian township has invited world renowned, and local, street artists to do their best with walls in the township over a three day street art festival. The charming lady at the Tourist Information office arms us with a map of the locations of the art works and off we set, via an excellent brunch at Rustik Café. All and all, a great end to our road trip. Do go and see the Benalla Street Art for yourself.

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And now, it is back to wintery Melbourne. I wonder where to next?

 

The Pacific Highway Shuffle through the Northern Rivers

It was with some sadness that we turned our backs on sunny Kingscliff, but needs must ……. and the Pacific Highway was calling.

But, it is a shuffle along our major highway, for two reasons. One is that the NSW Government has obviously decided it is well past time to make our national highway into more than a two lane track, so we travel slowly through ongoing roadworks from Ballina to Coffs Harbour. There is enough work going on to keep the road building workers of the State fully occupied until retirement I’d say.

The other is that we keep diverting off the main road to check out the various towns and hamlets along the coast. First stop is groovy Brunswick Heads, for a coffee and a walk around the block, where almost every second shop seems to be a café or restaurant.

Back in the car and we shuffle along to Yamba, the twin sister to Iluka across the Clarence River estuary. It is no wonder they call this region The Northern Rivers, as there is water, water everywhere. The rivers are wide and deceptively slow moving. Either side lie flat, fertile flood plains – covered in sugar cane plantations up until about Yamba, then moving into rich pasture land. Houses are on stilts – wise move given their proximity to rivers that obviously like to break their banks. The rivers, estuaries and lakes that criss cross the land must be a fisherperson’s dream – even Pete starts to get visions of life with a ‘tinnie’!

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Not a lot is happening in Yamba, but we admire the flotilla of pelicans, hanging around hoping for tidbits from the fishermen, and the lighthouse, before setting off for our final destination for the day, Nambucca Heads.

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Here we are staying in a lovely Airbnb granny flat beneath Nancy and Ben’s huge work in progress of a house. The flat is simple and stylish, but oh so cold. They have only had it up and running for a couple of months, so hadn’t realised that it would need more than an oil heater to make the large, high ceiling rooms anywhere near warm. Never mind, I just wear my puffer coat inside and out!

Next morning, after breakfast kindly supplied by our hosts, on Ben’s recommendation we walk down to the Wharf Café for a very good coffee, sitting in the sun and enjoying the view.

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This is followed by a walk along the estuary to check out the V-Wall. Visitors and residents alike are encouraged to bring their weatherproof paints, and in some cases, their mosaic tiles, and leave a memory on one of the concrete breakwater blocks. But, no painting over or defacing anybody else’s memento.

Standing guard on the wall is Buddy, the kelpie, border collie & maybe other things cross. Buddy is a fish pointer. His owner tells me that he will happily stand there all day if necessary, looking out for fish. Has he ever fallen in? Yes, indeed but it doesn’t seem to have deterred his enthusiasm for fishing.

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We finish with a hike up to the top of the headland, where we find a tiny pioneer cemetery.

A final look at the sweeping views, then down the hill and into the car.

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Next stop is South West Rocks which we could spy from Nambucca Heads. It is a lovely little seaside town, a few houses, some apartment blocks, a motel or two and a caravan park with magnificent views. We enjoy a sandwich from the bakery, sitting in the sun watching young lads risk life and limb jumping off the rocks – as you do when you’re young and male.

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There seems to be a bit of a POW theme emerging during this trip as we check out the Trial Bay goal, which was used to detain Germans living in Australia and Asia during WWI. The goal has been lovingly restored by volunteers, although I’m sure the prisoners were not so admiring of the beautiful sandstone buildings, or the views. In the distance we see a couple of whales moving up the coast, before climbing into the car once more.

Our last stop, and resting place for the next two nights, is Forster, another seaside town perched between inlet and sea, this time on the Wallis River estuary. The other theme of this road trip is slightly daggy 60s/70s motels, of which there are plenty. You have to love them. This time we are in the Forster Motor Lodge, where the very genial caretaker Gary makes us welcome.

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We start the next day with a whale watching trip with Amaroo Cruises, as I have a burning desire to see these amazing creatures up closer. Although we come across one, the wind is strong, the waters are choppy and we end up unable to stay nearby for long. We do however idle by a large pod of the Wallis estuary dolphins, small but highly active creatures.

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Into the car to explore a little further down. Again, there is water whichever way you look, all surrounded by forests of paperbarks and native conifers. Lovely. We head to Seal Rocks. Beautiful beaches, a couple of houses, and a gorgeous lighthouse (with cottages you can stay in). Windblown but oh, that view. Must store this away for future reference.

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We finish the day with a dash to the oyster seller. Wallis Lake produces something like 60% of the Sydney Rock oyster supply. We indulge in a dozen each, just opened. Delicious.

We have found places we would like to come back to and spend more time. That’s the trouble with a road trip, it just keeps adding to the We will have to come back here list.

 

 

 

Champions in Kingscliff

Kingscliff is a bit like the old Gold Coast – still relatively low rise, with a small set of shops and a thriving bowls club and Surf Life Saving Club. The golden sands of the beach stretch off into the distance, admittedly currently marred by the upgrade and redevelopment that will result in fabulous beach access, and hopefully protect the beach from further ravages by the relentless sea. The vibe is low key and relaxed. And, the sun is shining. What more could you want.

We are Airbnbing here, and this is the true Airbnb experience – genuine people who are keen to meet others and share their beautiful locale. Elizabeth and Steve have Orient by the Sea, which is essentially the downstairs of their two storey town house, in spitting distance of the shops and beach. We have a bedroom, a sitting room, a bathroom and a little kitchenette. We share the front door and entry foyer. You can mix, or not mix. We do both. Our hosts are super friendly and keen to chat and share experiences, but are also aware of letting us have our privacy to do our own thing. That to me is what Airbnb should be all about.

Our focus is on the IRB National Lifesaving Championships, so we spend most of our time standing on the beach. To the initiated, IRB events look chaotic – inflatable rescue boats (IRBs) zooming all about; people in wetsuits running up the beach and flinging themselves into IRBs; people being flung into and out of IRBs; people moving up and down the beach. But, rest assured, it is organised chaos.

 

Movement is constant, as to make things fair, teams move lanes between every event, as there is no controlling the waves and when and where they fall.

Friday the respective state teams compete. There is fierce interstate rivalry, but, at least in Victoria, strong intrastate support. Much to the annoyance of all the other states and their individual teams, the various Victorian teams show strong support for each other, and even have a Victorian chant: We love you because you’re Victorian …… clap, clap, clap, clap.

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The camaraderie is in fact one of the reasons I love watching these championships. The Williamstown crew are a tight knit bunch. It is one for all, and all for one. They suffer for each other, and rejoice in each other’s victories. I am grateful for the care they shower on my highly anxious pre race daughter, cushioning her in their support. As parents we are largely superfluous; we’re not part of the inner circle; we are not the ones they turn to first for the encouraging hug. And, that’s how it should be. I am moved to tears when I see the Team Coach, and chief wrangler, in tears after Abby’s gold medal swim. He has known her since she was 16. They are family.

As always there are dramas – we get disqualified in a couple of events; the rope to start the motor breaks in another so we never get off the beach; a patient isn’t hauled in on the first run in another; and most dramatic of all, a crew member goes flying out of the boat and ends up with a damaged knee. But, despite these obstacles, Williamstown Life Saving Club comes third overall, an excellent achievement.

Our girl and her team win the Gold Medal in her particular event, for the 4th year in a row. The event is called The Tube. Let me talk you through it. The driver and swimmer are on the beach, the starter’s gun goes and they race to the boat. The driver starts the engine, and then the swimmer (Abby) leaps in. They race over the waves towards the patient, who is patiently bobbing about waiting to be rescued. The boat gets to the first can and Abby heaves the rescue Tube into the water, followed by herself. She then swims to the patient, throws the tube at him. He clips the Tube around himself and she then proceeds to swim back to the boat, towing him behind (he is allowed to kick). The boat can’t wait for them at the end of the run – rather must drive off, keep an eye on proceedings and then race back in as the swimmer reaches the end can. The swimmer heaves the patient and then herself back into the boat, and the boat races to the shore. The boat roars up to the sand, the driver leaps out and runs to the finish line. The first driver at the finish line wins. There you have it, the Tube Race. And they won. Hurrah!

The Championships run over three days, so there isn’t much time for anything else. But, we do manage some extra curricular activity. Friday evening as the sun is beginning to set we go walking along the breakwater, and are delighted to see two migrating whales putting on a display of dives and leaps in the middle distance. A thrill to see them.

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Saturday afternoon we get an early mark as racing is called off due to wind and choppy seas. We take the opportunity to visit the Tweed Regional Gallery in nearby Murwillimbah. What a beautiful Gallery it is, making the most of its location in the valley. The current exhibition is an A-Z from the collection – and it is a delight to work out the curator’s thinking behind each choice. And then there is the Margaret Olley Centre attached to the Gallery. They have been blessed by a grant from the Margaret Olley Trust and now house a recreation of Margaret Olley’s home and studio. Plus, a grant from her Trust enables an artist in residence, and a showing of their work. And, on our visit there is an exhibition of Margaret Olley portraits, by herself and others. Wonderful. I am moved to tears by the stories and portraits- there was just something about her face that endears her to you; I feel a connection. All in all, an enchanting experience.

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And of course, nothing is complete without visits to restaurants. We visit two, Fins at the Salt complex in Kingscliff, and Taverna, just a few minutes walk from our accommodation. Fins is jam packed on a Saturday night, and the wait staff are working overtime. They are not helped by an accident in the kitchen involving a knife and stitches, which holds up service. The seafood is delicious, but goodness me, not cheap – with mains around $47, entrees at $26. At those prices I think it is rather rich (excuse the pun) to charge for bread & butter. We decline.

Sunday night at Taverna is Chef’s Table night, which translates to no choice, set meal, $39 a head (dessert and drinks not included). It is a lovely space – white, bright and light. And absolutely packed. Yet the staff manage the tables with grace and efficiency- and the food is delicious. What a bargain. We walk back up the hill very happy campers.

Monday morning the sun is still shining brightly but we must drag ourselves away and begin the journey home. Thank you Kingscliff, we will stay longer next time.