Discovering Australia's hidden gems

Posts tagged ‘travel’


High art and scones in the Tweed Valley

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High art and scones in the Tweed Valley

Margaret Olley, one of Australia’s most prestigious artists, has had her life and work commemorated through the re-creation of her Paddington terrace house at the Tweed Regional Art Gallery.

The Margaret Olley Art Centre (MOAC) is the latest addition to the gallery, who were gifted $1 million by the late artist’s trust estate, with additional funding received from the federal, state, and local governments, as well as independent organisations.


This delightful gallery is available free to the public and showcases a range of exhibitions from local artists, HSC students (Art Express), travelling exhibitions, and a permanent collection.

A private collection of Margaret Olley’s paintings are currently on display until 14th September 2014, while the re-creation of the artist’s home studio will be a permanent exhibition.



Margaret loved to collect items for her still life paintings and leave them in her home permanently. The rooms on display are filled with over 20,000 items that Olley collected over the years for use as subject matter and which still remain today.


She had a long and successful career painting still life and interiors, and continued to paint up until the day she died, passing away at the age of 88 at her home-studio on 26th July 2011.


[Self portrait]

Her life philosophies were reflected in her art, which has been described as   “…celebrating the familiar and the domestic, telling us that simple is better than complicated, that quiet is better than noisy, that what is close at hand is better than that which has to be sought.” [Phillip Bacon, 2011]


The gallery itself is an artistic masterpiece. Designed by Brisbane architect Bud Brannigan, it was officially opened in the picturesque Tweed Valley in 2004.



Brannigan used clever techniques to maximise the scenic location without distracting from the artistic beauty inside.


There are many floor to ceiling windows which give glimpses of rolling hills and valleys dotted with contented grazing cows.


The outdoor café boasts panoramic views of the magical hills of Murwillumbah, located in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, Australia.



And if you like your caffeine with a view, you won’t be disappointed here.


The building also provides outstanding views of Mount Warning, an iconic landmark in this area and a place of cultural and spiritual significance for the Bundjalung Aboriginal people.


This gallery also boosts the most artistic car park I have ever seen!

Viewing exquisite art can be hard work, so we decided to take a lunch break and finish off the gallery in the afternoon. With Mount Warning literally in our sights, we headed on down to a favourite hidden gem of ours – Mavis’s Kitchen.


Mavis’s Kitchen is a quaint restaurant/guesthouse nestled at the base of mystical Mount Warning.


Mount Warning is also traditionally known as Wollumbin, which means ‘cloud catcher’. Here we see it living up to its name! On a clear day, the summit has stunning panoramic views over the entire Tweed valley.



Wollumbin is the central vent, and all that remains of an extinct volcano.  Its proximity to Byron Bay, the most easterly point in Australia, means that it is the first place to catch the morning sun’s rays on the Australian mainland.  Watching the dawn rise from the summit is a popular tourist attraction, however some may choose to honour the cultural traditions of the Bundjalung people who request that the mountain not be climbed.



These delightful gardens made a perfect setting for lunch and we choose a table set amongst the citrus orchards.

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This restaurant also has its own on-site organic garden where a large portion of the produce for the meals is sourced. 


The food and the views were so good that lunch extended to afternoon tea, and I found myself having my second batch of scones for the day! Well, I had to compare and contrast with the Tweed Gallery scones … Mavis wins hands down, it was like eating fluffy white clouds. 🙂


Back to the gallery for round two, and a more thorough inspection of Margaret Olley’s re-created home studio. This morning we did a one hour tour of the entire gallery which was outstanding. You never know what you’re going to get with volunteer tour guides, but our guide today was exceptional and provided a very informative, interesting, and thorough tour.

This afternoon’s return visit proved to be a lot less busy, giving more opportunity to explore the works at our own pace. Several local artists had their work for sale and it was encouraging to see that many of the pieces had already been sold.


Looking at the Olley rooms was like taking a peek into the life of the artist; the replication felt very realistic, and combined with the background knowledge given to us by the tour guide, I felt I could get a sense of who Margaret Olley was, and how she must have felt living and working in this space.



It felt voyeuristic peering through the windows into the cluttered, organised chaos that was Margaret Olley’s domain.

A residence where celebrities, artists, socialites, and heads of state gathered to dine and be uplifted by their gregarious host.

And a home that cradled her to her grave, after birthing magnificent works of art which will continue to be enjoyed by present and future generations for years to come.

© July 2014



2012 Solar Eclipse – A Cosmic Experience

2012 Solar Eclipse – A Cosmic Experience

I wasn’t that excited about the solar eclipse predicted for the morning of November 14,  2012, but since I happened to be in North Queensland, Australia, where eclipse hype was rife, I bought the five dollar viewing glasses and set the alarm clock for some  ungodly hour in preparation for the event.

Cairns waterfront lagoon pool

The town of Cairns in Far North Queensland was the ultimate destination to witness the full eclipse, and a reported 60,000 people were expected to converge on the area to see it, many traveling from all over the world for the spectacle.

We had been staying in Cairns and left just days before the eclipse, content with only getting a partial eclipse at our next destination, eight hours south at the Town of 1770. I doubt we could have stayed in Cairns if we’d wanted to as it was reported to be fully booked, with potential visitors now being channeled four hours south to Townsville.


One place I would have loved to have been was at the Eclipse Festival, a week long camping event being held just south of Cooktown, right near the tip of our vast, beautiful country. The energy of thousands of people gathering at a festival with a cosmic solar eclipse at its epicentre had a lot of appeal.

Even more so, the promise of seven days immersed in yoga, African drumming, live music, and tribal dancing – all my favourite things!

But it was precisely these things (and the fact that we had no camping gear) that led to my decision not to go. Sadly, my feet/leg/knee injuries still have me limping, and I know I wouldn’t have been able to restrain myself from joyfully jumping around, yoga-ing, and tribal dancing myself into a frenzy. Physio says … NO!

So I end up at the much more sedate Town of 1770, pretty as a picture with perfect weather conditions for the show.

                            Early bird keen eclipse watchers

Our viewing platform

We’d already hunted out a great viewing platform but were not the only ones with this idea, as many were already perched on this stunning headland enjoying the early morning sunshine, gold and shimmering atop the vast blue Coral Sea.

                                             Before glasses

                                                     After glasses

As the appointed time came the sky still looked pretty much like it does any other morning, with not a moon in sight, so I decided to put the glasses on.

Amazing! Through the plastic lens of my cardboard glasses my reality had been transformed.

I was now witnessing a black sky with the shadow of the moon almost fully obscuring the blazing sun. All that was visible of this fiery orb was a glowing orange slither in the shape of a crescent moon.

At the peak of the eclipse the morning light dimmed and everything was bathed in a soft, silvery glow. There was a noticeable drop in air temperature, and everything took on a surreal, eerie feel.

I was astounded at how strong the sun still was, given that it was almost completely blocked by the moon. The intense energy contained in this heavenly body is truly mind-blowing. As is the Universe in which we exist, and this cosmic event was just a reminder that humanity is a very small speck in something so much grander.

So the event moved me more than I’d expected. I felt awe at being a part of something so vast, powerful, dynamic, and completely out of our control.

In the Universal scheme of things, we are but an insignificant speck in a moment in time.

But from an humanitarian perspective, we are the Universe, and more. 

The Universe is contained within each and every one of us. We are all made of the same stuff.

So shine on beautiful people – and reach for the stars!

 © Copyright November 2012

Exploring the Foreshore in the Town of 1770.

Having left the bright lights and balmy nights of Cairns behind, we now find ourselves in a little lost oasis which goes by the name of the Town of 1770.

The Town of 1770 – aptly named the Birthplace of Queensland.

Captain Cook’s historic landing on May 24th, 1770 has given this town its namesake and its claim to fame. The Town of 1770 was the second place that Captain James Cook came ashore after his original landing in Botany Bay, and it was the first time any European had ever set foot on Queensland soil.

 This cairn is a monument to the historic landing.  James Cook pulled the Endeavour into the sheltered waters of 1770 in almost the exact spot as we are staying now.

Our vantage point from the observation deck would have given us a good view of the majestic white sails as the tall ship drifted towards the shore over 200 years ago.

That scene is not too hard to imagine as I gaze out over the waters in this place that feels timeless.

I wonder what the Aborigines must have thought when they saw a gigantic part kayak/part bird pull into shore!

Today we leisurely wandered along the 1770 Foreshore, which has a well maintained boardwalk winding through lovely parklands and waterfront picnic areas.

It took a long time to cover a little ground as we continually stopped and snapped pictures of the natural beauty in this area.

The lovely Sooty Oystercatcher

‘Suzy Butler’ in the wild … stalking the unsuspecting Sooty Oystercatcher.

We’re on 1770 time today.

No schedule, no rush, no worries. 🙂

Just being in the moment and enjoying nature’s beauty.

My (newly discovered) passion for nature photography continues to increase, and has been spurred along by the excitement of having one of my photos picked up by a popular international travel blog as their Fan Photo of the Week. They are now using it temporarily as their Facebook Page Cover photo, with my name credited.  Have a peek before it disappears!

[Go to]

The Town of 1770, and its neighbouring seaside village Agnes Water, are far from being fully explored yet. This is the hop off point for the idyllic Lady Musgrave Island which we will be visiting soon, and there’s plans to have a lark on the Larc tour (Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo) as well. This full day tour covers both the land and waterways of Agnes Water & 1770, taking you to otherwise inaccessible areas and providing lots of interesting (we hope!) historical facts.

But for now it’s back to 1770 time … as the sun sets on another day in paradise.

Stayed tuned for more adventures!

© Copyright November 2012

Best Markets EVER at Yungaburra – Atherton Tablelands

Wow! The Yungaburra monthly market takes the prize for the best markets I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to a few). Today this quaint, sleepy little town burst into life as people flocked from near and far to visit the Tableland’s most famous market.  We changed our travel plans especially so we could be here for the markets after hearing good recommendations, and I’m so glad we did.

We arrived at 7.30am to beat the crowds and the heat, but were still there at 11.30am when it was of course very crowded and hot! These outdoor markets are large and offer a good variety of fresh produce, arts/crafts, clothes and the most wonderful home-baked goodies, priced to tempt the most avid health fanatic into buying at least three or four of these delicious looking sweet treats. Somebody should invent the mixed box so all of the tempting tasties can be trialed!

My market experiences over more recent years is that you don’t really get a bargain at the markets anymore. You’ll find things that are unique, handmade and mostly not mass produced, but you will also have to pay a good price for them. I found Yungaburra markets to be the exception. Certainly some of the stalls fell into that category, but overall the stalls had remarkably low prices on high quality, unique goods. The fresh produce was also amazing. Locally grown, usually by the stallholder, the fruit and veg was fresh and healthy, and also well priced.

Only at a country market!

I felt frustrated (and sort of thankful) that I wasn’t able to buy many of the things I desired because we are living on the road and in between homes today. No fridge and no room in the car for extra purchases. I saw many things that would make wonderful gifts, but again, travelling meant that I couldn’t cart them around with me for the next few months, and they would be too fragile/expensive to post back home. So the budget was saved today, only to cause future regret that I didn’t pick up ‘that perfect little something for such and such’ when I was at Yungaburra. And at approximately 3000 kilometres from home it’s a little too far to come back.

Or is it …?

I have truly loved this town. Surrounded by an amazingly diverse range of landscapes, it has an old-style charm with a European flavour, with lovely restaurants and cafes boasting Swiss, Italian, French, and Austrian/Hungarian cuisines.

And a fine Aussie roast dinner at the pub for $10 – delicious! The pub (Lake Eacham Hotel) was another wonderful old federation style building, with a big stately dining room and an open fire. Along with their normal bistro menu they had a different $10 special everyday (and $10 roast any day). The meals were large and a cut above the usual bistro standard. They also had free pool tables which sadly we ran out of time to use. Too many things to do in this perfect little pocket of Australia.

I have a strong feeling I’ll be returning to this charming little town one day. The friendly small town vibe (I dropped in on a casual yoga class and the group invited me to have lunch with them), the picturesque landscapes, the incredible wildlife (I spotted a platypus, tree-kangaroo, emus, rock wallabies and a multitude of lagoon birds all in their natural environment), the lovely locally sourced food, and the accessibility to some of the most amazing natural sights I’ve seen (Milla Milla waterfall, The Crater, the gigantic Curtain Fig tree to name just a few) make Yungaburra and The Atherton Tablelands region a must see if you love nature, food, and old charm hospitality.

Milla Milla Falls

© Copyright October 2012

Croc Alert At Pristine Port Douglas Beach

Croc Alert

At Pristine Port Douglas Beach

So there I was, minding my own business …

on one of the most beautiful and famous beaches in Australia – Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas.

When deafening blasts of the beach siren break my seaside serenity, and I turn my head in unison with dozens of others towards the ocean.

“Everybody get out of the water – immediately!”

The urgent amplified announcement echoed down the beach as worried water dwellers hastily made their way back to shore, and curious beach dwellers made their way to the water’s edge to see what all the commotion was about.

The lifeguard raced down and quickly pulled the red and yellow safe swimming flags out of the sand and inserted a bright red danger flag. Crowds of people made their way towards the ocean like a brand new batch of baby turtles instinctively heading towards the sea, mostly to meet their fate as their short-lived lives are extinguished by predators. What lies in this ocean is one of the very few human predators and we all expect a shark sighting, but no, not up here in the tropics, it was the mighty croc!

I gather with the crowd and stand in awe as I see him, less than 10 metres off shore, bobbing up and down on the waves like a long brown log, but this was no ‘logadile’, this was the real deal!

The excitement on the beach was palpable as we followed the croc’s southerly progress en masse, feeling safe on our sandy shores.

Croc sighted in Daintree River

Now you don’t expect to see a crocodile in the middle of the ocean. Creeks, rivers, estuaries and anywhere with a nice muddy feel and a few mangroves is where the croc likes to hang out. But apparently they use the ocean like a highway to travel from river to river, so whilst he probably had a destination in mind rather than lunch, they are opportunistic creatures who wouldn’t say no to a  snack that happened to be swimming right in front of them.

After finally losing sight of the croc we spoke to the lifeguard who spotted him. He told us it was a 3.5 metre salt water crocodile and they only spotted him when he was on the edge of the flagged area. He said it’s unusual to see them this time of year, but in summertime it can be a common thing!

My partner and I had previously had many conversations about safe swimming in Far North Queensland, as you’re generally told that crocs only live in the rivers, but we never felt 100% comfortable in the water. We’d always said that the only beach we felt really comfortable at was Four Mile Beach because it is such a popular and crowded swimming beach. In fact this time last year we were in Port Douglas and swimming in that exact spot. Ignorance was bliss.

Sadly, my blissful ignorance has now been banished and there will be no more peaceful floating in these tropical waters.

But that won’t stop my enjoyment of these wonderful places. The vistas from Far North Queensland’s beaches are nothing less than spectacular. Fringed with swaying coconut palms and often surrounded by mountain ranges, tropical islands, or lush rainforest, it is a magical way to spend a day lazing on the sand with a book, a friend, or your thoughts.

Four Mile Port beach at Port Douglas is perfectly equipped with deluxe deck chairs and umbrellas for hire, so you can comfortably spend the entire day there. During holiday season you can also catch a morning yoga  class on the beach, the ideal way to start your day. This beach is extremely popular but because of its expansive width and length it never feels overcrowded.

Mission Beach

However, if you like your tropical beaches a little more secluded, there are many picture perfect spots to choose from.

So if you’re coming to Far North Queensland, enjoy all that this paradise has to offer but remember, we share this beautiful area with its local wildlife. Be croc aware – ‘cause they’re there!

© Copyright September 2012

Gypsy Gems – My Inspiration!

Gypsy Gems – My Inspiration!

I want this!

The van, the lifestyle, the soundtrack!

The idealism of the hippie movement – oh, where have all the hippies gone?!

We found a couple of them on Magnetic Island, Far North Queensland.

My eyes lit up as we drove into the bush car park and I spotted the magnificent Gypsy Gems – the embodiment of a free and joyful life on the road.

This very cool little van was decorated with colourful seashells that glittered in the sun, and boasted its own solar panels.

It was painted with soulful phrases and beautiful murals depicting nature, peace and joy.

I had to have a photograph of this ‘magic bus’- my inspiration.  As I got closer I could see there was still somebody inside, and I could hear the sublime sounds of Led Zeppelin floating through the open window. This was indeed Heaven on wheels!

I went back to the car to put on my hiking boots and grab the snorkelling gear when the owner of the bus walked by on his way to Florence Bay to rendezvous with his wife for a mid-morning snorkel. We got to chatting and I found that his story was as inspirational as his vehicle.

They are a couple from northern NSW who had long wanted to travel but were tied down by a small property and its encumbrances. They eventually decided to hit the road anyway and camped for about a year, but found it financially unsustainable having to pay for campsites. So they came home, picked up Gypsy Gems for a good price, did her up, and away they went.

Eighteen months later they’re still on the road and loving every minute of it

Gypsy Gems quickly paid for herself and now the key to their extended travel is ‘free camping,’ which is aided by the solar panels on the roof making them more self-sufficient.

At first they were worried about the maintenance required on their property back home, but now they “don’t care if everything falls apart!” The owner was glowing with exuberance as he happily said “we’ve got no kids, no debt, and no money – but we’ve got this!” and he waved his arms around enthusiastically at the beautiful nature surrounding us on this stunning North Queensland tropical island.

Arthur Bay – best snorkeling spot on Magnetic Island

They fell in love with Magnetic Island (as you do) and have stayed for six weeks. This is the beautiful flexibility that comes with having your home on your back.

We asked for his top tips on other  pieces of paradise in Oz (Tasmania seems to rate highly on most people’s lists), and his permission to get ‘snap happy’ with his van.

He described how he’d met people who have taken 4 years to get from Perth to Brisbane, and others who had taken 4 weeks to travel around Australia. He was definitely an advocate of ‘slow travel’ and I tend to agree.

I love hearing other traveller’s stories and often find them completely inspirational; the prioritising of values, and the lifestyle choices people make.  It’s not the first story I’ve heard about people setting off on a trip which turns into a lifestyle.

The travel bug doth bite!

And I think I’ve been bitten … !

© September 2012

Crikey – It’s a Cassowary on the Beach!

Crikey – It’s a Cassowary on the Beach!

Just when I think my recent wildlife experiences can’t possibly be exceeded, there she is, in all her majestic beauty, the finest specimen of a wild cassowary I have ever seen, (and I’m lucky enough to have spotted a few now). Only this time, she’s strutting along the sandy shores of Etty Bay beach, which in itself is a shining diamond of nature. What a day folks!

It’s hard to describe the awe and appreciation at seeing this prehistoric looking endangered species walking along one of the most picturesque beaches in Queensland, foraging and feeding on roots and berries underneath the rainforest trees bordering the beach.

I followed her along the sand, at a respectful distance, for around 15-20 minutes as she unhurriedly went about her business. At times I bravely approached to within 2 – 3 metres of this imposing piece of creation, until she would look me in the eye with a look that said “that’s close enough, thank you”, at which point I backed away slowly (as all the warning signs tell you to do, right after the part about not approaching a cassowary …), and admired her from a distance.

The lustrous sheen of her thick black feathers and the bright, iridescent blues and reds around her head showed a healthy, well-built bird. The helmet, her crowning glory, was extra-large and in mint condition. A wonderful evolutionary tool to scare potential predators, and curious nature-loving tourists, into respecting this bird’s personal space!

And what a space this bird inhabits!

Etty Bay – promise to keep it a secret if I tell you how perfect it is?

The glimpses of aqua blue waters through the trees alerted us as we descended the mountain, then as we rounded the corner into Etty Bay we knew we had found something special.

Book-ended by dense green forest, the beachfront is interspersed with coconut palms and larger tropical shade trees. The northern end of the beach has wonderful formations of jagged black rocks which form secluded little coves, the perfect sitting spot to escape the fresh south-easterly wind that’s blowing.

And finally people, finally … a body of water that doesn’t turn your blood into red icicles when you submerge yourself in it! Yes, the ocean is warm here. Well, relative to what it’s been like everywhere else on this trip. I’d estimate the water temperature was around 24 degrees, which in my language equates to ‘do-able’!

But of course there’s a catch, in that you might end up being the catch of a passing crocodile. “But wait!” you say. “What a croc! Crocs don’t live in the ocean.” You’re quite right my friend, they don’t, but wait until you ready my post Croc Alert at Port Douglas Beach, coming soon to a computer screen near you … You’ll never feel safe swimming in any FNQ beach again.

But back to the beauty …

The warm waters (for paddling …), soft, tree-lined, picturesque sandy shores, and interesting rock formations rate this beach very highly for me.  And not the least of this can be attributed to the little town of Etty Bay itself. If you can even call it a town, it’s really only a small beachfront van park with attached kiosk and a surf lifesaving club.

Whilst I have visited many stunning beaches in Queensland they are often back-dropped by high-rises or other retail/commercial development. But it’s the undeveloped beauty of Etty Bay which sets it apart from the rest. And the resident cassowaries of course, who are, by the way, not the only magnificent prehistoric looking residents in town.

Check out this guy! Isn’t he beautiful?  The waddling gait of the goanna is a joyful thing to watch. I love these creatures (again, from a respectful distance). We followed this guy for a while trying to snap some decent pictures until he found his way home to a hollow in the beachfront tree trunk, where he scaled the inside. I watched the tip of his tail disappear from sight as he settled in for the evening. Seems we both scored a room with a view tonight. Which brings me to the next part of this story …

View from our balcony

Upon arrival, we immediately realised we’d made a terrible mistake in pre-booking accommodation at the Innisfail Motel for the night, our plans being to continue southbound tomorrow heading for Townsville. But the first thing we saw as we drove in (apart from the spectacular beach view) was the perfect little cabin only metres from the beach, which happened to be available, and, below budget! It seemed too good to be true, and doubly frustrating to be committed elsewhere. But such was the appeal of this beachside wonderland that we sheepishly phoned the motel to plead for a late cancellation, which to their credit, they granted graciously. Yippee!

Feeling secure with our prime piece of real estate, we then set off to fully explore the beach, which is when we encountered the amazing wildlife.

Still on an elevated high from our initial Etty Bay experiences, we felt reluctant to give up our prime piece of real estate and impulsively booked an extra two nights. The manager invited us to have ‘happy hour by the beach’ with everybody tomorrow night; it’s going to be a special occasion happy hour – a Hawaiian themed sausage sizzle! Now how could you turn down an invitation like that?

Mareeba Wetlands

Perhaps we’ll also be dining with a cassowary? And why not, this morning we had breakfast amongst wild emus at Mareeba. Another stately bird with a far less threatening demeanour than ‘Queen Cassowary’. The emus are highly curious creatures and come close to check you out. They have a much friendlier, if not as impressive, face than the cassowary. But Breakfast with Wild Emus is a whole other post yet to be written!

 Sunrise at Etty Bay. Seriously – how can we leave this place?!

But as each new day dawns, who knows what new, awe-inspiring things we’ll discover in this wonderful land of Oz!

Stay tuned to find out …!

© September 2012