June 30, 2014

Old and New South Wales 2: Sydney

The following weekend it was Sydney's turn; a trip prompted by reading about Milonga at the Opera House and my friend working in the city for three days beforehand. I flew down from Brisbane on Friday arvo.

When you've visited a place many times and you have hundreds of pictures already, the emphasis has to be on the detail – colour, architecture, strange juxtaposition, a new angle – rather than the familiar.

On Saturday morning we headed off to The Rocks for a quiet breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien: most Sydneysiders were watching the Socceroos lose 2-3 to the Netherlands in their first group match of the World Cup. It was grey and a bit rainy.
Part of the city's public art programme, the bird cages suspended above Angel Place (off George Street) commemorate the native birds displaced by development. Forgotten Songs is supposed to include their calls, but I couldn't hear anything. Perhaps rain stopped play.

The Bridge, the House and the Botanic Gardens always provide photographic inspiration. And by then the sun was shining, although it was chilly enough for a hot chocolate at Guylian. Milonga, a tango-inspired Sadler's Wells London production choreographed by Belgian-Moroccan Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, involved a cast of ten tango dancers from Buenos Aires, two contemporary dancers and a tango band of five musicians. The choreography was intriguing and complex, and the footwork so deft the dancers became a mesmeric blur.
Dragon's Blood Tree
Bunya Pine
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
After tea in Lion Gate Lodge, we continued out of the Gardens to Woolloomooloo and Kings Cross on our way to Darlinghurst, where I'd decided we should eat Italian. We didn't like the look of the place when we got there, however, and moved on to Surry Hills, to Mille Vini in Crown Street for an aperitif and then Bodega Tapas Bar in Commonwealth Street. With a certain feeling of déjà vu, we got caught up with Swans fans departing Sydney Cricket Ground, happy having beaten Adelaide. Bodega didn't disappoint. You can't book if you're fewer than 5 ('leaving our tables of 4 or less free for walk-ins'), so get there at 5.30 for opening at 6, and observe Australians' queuing (and parking) habits while you wait.
The 'inner-city village' of Paddington is often on our agenda. If you've never wandered around the Victorian backstreets north of Oxford Street, you've missed a trick. On Sunday, we got off the bus we'd caught on Elizabeth Street just beyond Paddington's town hall and turned up William Street, which has small, individual shops to tempt you with high-end chocolates, Marant or Kenzo designs and rather bizarre French fashion jewellery. To give you an idea: I loved a grey cashmere sweater with random blue stars. It wasn't even a label I was familiar with yet it would have set me back almost as much as it did to buy two flights for our next destination, Melbourne at the end of July.

We wandered almost as far as Woollahra in the east, back in the opposite direction to Five Ways for a coffee, before lunch at the London Hotel, on William Street once more.
 And, finally, this, right on Oxford Street. Can't believe I'd never noticed it before.
This post was last edited on 1 July 2014

June 24, 2014

Old and New South Wales 1: Byron Bay and hinterland

There was a public holiday two weekends back. It still bemuses me that Australians take a holiday for Queenie's birthday but I never got one in all those years in the Old Country. We rang the changes for yet another trip to Byron: new (to us) accommodation and travelling down on Friday evening. The latter soon proved to be a time-costly mistake: two incidents blocked the highway, necessitating detours off route and a two and a half hour journey time.

It seemed a bit odd driving in on Ewingsdale in the dark, but there was no queue. Drinking in the Bay had to wait until after breakfast the next morning. Rain had been forecast.
 Byron was Byron, as always.
It was quiet as holiday weekends go. We hadn't booked at the Italian at the Pacific on Friday evening, but got a table easily, and my not-overly-creamy mushroom pasta was excellent. Unlike our experience at breakfast on Sunday. We'd run for an hour along Broken Head beach – again, in unexpected sunshine – and were ravenous. We waited 20 minutes even for fruit juice and much longer for bacon and eggs at the Bay Leaf on Marvel Street, which had been recommended. You're not supposed to complain of course, especially in Byron, and when we did there was no apology, merely an excuse – 'It's the Queen's birthday'. The bacon was perfectly crispy but my egg yolks were an oddly citrussy yellow, and I didn't like the flavour of the lukewarm coffee. The next morning we returned to long-favourite Twisted Sista. Sometimes it's not worth ringing the changes. 

On our way to Fishheads on Saturday evening in heavy rain, we diverted into The Eatery on Jonson instead. I'm sure I ate in a restaurant in the same spot, many years ago on a gals' trip to Byron, possibly my first visit ever. Dinner the next evening was at another old favourite, St Elmo. The food was as tasty as ever (especially the Cordero Asado and Pincho de Panceta), but our order went awol from the kitchen, resulting in another long wait.

Each day started well, weather-wise, with cloud building and often showers by late arvo. This pattern, combined with a low sun at this time of year, created wonderful light.
From Wategos (immediately above), we watched whales heading north far out in the Bay. The thrill never loses its potency. I've just heard that Migaloo, Australia's most famous Humpback*, passed by Byron at 2 pm yesterday, so he must be off the southeast Queensland coast by now. This is a whale with his own Facebook page, by the way; and he follows me on Twitter.

On holiday Monday we headed inland to the Nightcap National Park in the beautiful Byron Bay hinterland. The Nightcap Range receives more rainfall than anywhere else in the state, and the subtropical and warm temperate forests are thick and moist and lush. The National Park is one of 50 reserves in northeast New South Wales and southeast Queensland that make up the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves of Australia World Heritage area.

We took the Casino road as far as Stony Creek Road. We stopped for coffee at the charming little township of Federal, 17 km from Byron. It's quaint and more than a little alternative. and gave the first hint of the community solidarity we were to see throughout the region.
Between Federal and Nightcap were beautiful grasses, an equally impressive butterfly and corrugation worth walking back along a steep and winding road.  
We turned off the Dunoon road at Repentance Creek, and continued on Upper Coopers Creek Road as far as signs for Minyon Falls. Everything about the Falls was spectacular, including the idiocy of a young woman who climbed the fence and posed with dog right on the edge. I like looking down on tree tops, so I quickly averted my gaze.
Unlike most visitors, we carried on up Minyon Drive beyond the Falls in thick forest, and looped back along Nightcap Range Road to the Dunoon Road. We drove through several communities who had declared themselves coal seam gas free. This is where the CSG Free Northern Rivers movement first began – in The Channon.
There is a much longer history of protest in the region, however. Timbergetters were lured from the 1830s onwards by the rainforest's Red Cedars in what is now the Whian Whian State Conservation Area (within the southeastern section of the Nightcap National Park). By the late 1970s the extent of logging in the Nightcap Range gave rise to protests by the Terania Native Forests Action Group. In 1983 the National Park was declared, and extended in 1999. Whian Whian SCA was created in 2003. Our walk to Protester Falls on Terania Creek was therefore something of a pilgrimage, especially in the light of the Bentley protectors' courage only a few weeks before (see The Bentley Effect, May 2014).

At The Channon we followed Terania Creek Road. The contrast between the normal world and the forest of the Nightcap was marked. 
It's less than a 3-kilometre walk to the Falls and back from Terania Creek Picnic Area. Bangalow Palms and buttress roots impressed. At the base of the falls the temperature drops. Swimming is not allowed in the Creek's pools which are home to the endangered Fleay's Barred Frog. I wish I could believe everyone heeded the signs, even on the hottest day.
And then it was time to head home, via Nimbin to the Kyogle Road to Murwillumbah and the Pacific Highway. We couldn't resist a short stop in Nimbin, which, we discovered, has a cockerel population, and where we discussed with a local over tea his theory that we are all born of Mother Earth. Mt Warning loomed and we found more stunning grass along the way…
* http://migaloo.com.au/migaloo-history-educational-facts/
This post was last edited on 25 June 2014