Not an apple strudel in sight

The Apple and Grape Harvest Festival in Stanthorpe is a fabulous way to indulge in delicious fresh produce, local wines and other tasty treats. An annual event complete with a street parade, the festival attracts thousands of visitors to the area. Accompanied by good friends and Woolloomooloo the bear I drove the three hours to Stanthorpe to experience the festival and hopefully track down freshly made apple strudel, as a day trip it makes for a long day of driving but there are plenty of opportunities to stop along the way.

We stopped for a caffeine fix and a stroll in the town of Warwick, a regional town west Brisbane and known for its annual Rodeo which is in its 77th year. Some of the buildings are from the early 1900s and provide a pleasant change to the concrete and glass architecture of the Brisbane CBD (Central Business District) and the Gold Coast, I particularly liked the way the light moved across the sandstone church opposite the coffee shop. From Warwick it is only a short trip to the town of Stanthorpe, the landscape changes dramatically from coast to the country and there is livestock aplenty. It has been a dry couple of years, the cows, horses, kangaroos and a few sheep are spotted in dusty paddocks, any splashes of green are vegetable crops or an irrigated field.

Stanthorpe is a small regional town, if you want to experience good, local produce and try some Queensland wines then Stanthorpe is an ideal location. Being the designated driver I opted out of the wine tasting although I did try a little peach cider later in the day at Castle Glen and found it to be quite pleasant. Going to Stanthorpe for me was really about the sweet, crunchy Gala apples, they’re great as a healthy snack and I also enjoy cooking them up and making apple crumble for  dessert. One of my friends was desperately searching for apple strudel, you would think that it would be easy to find during the Apple and Grape Harvest festival in a town with several bakeries and cafes, but no. We settled for grape and berry strudel which was nice and could have been exceptional had they not destroyed the pasty by heating it up in a microwave.

Despite the strudel disappointment we did manage to find a tasty treat in the form of a potato swirly or slinky, a potato sliced to look like a spring, coated in a light batter and deep fried – YUM! The market stalls at the festival sold all sorts of local arts and crafts in addition to local produce, lollies, hats, childrens clothes and anything that could be deep fried or coated in sugar. With only a couple of hours to spare we decided not to find a spot near the wine and food tents and instead chose to explore the countryside and see what we could find, first stop was a local fruit shop where we bought several kilos of apples and other fruit and vegetables, the sweet aroma of the apples on a warm autumn day filled the car. Castle Glen sells wine, liqueurs, beer and ciders that are all made on the premises, the range of colours and bottles are amazing and the owner is only too happy to chat and hand over beverages to taste. They also make a very delicious caramel fudge with a hint of cinnamon that is hard to resist and as my friends try the different varieties of cider I get busy with my iPhone and snap photos of the funky looking bottles.

Not far from Castle Glen is Granite Belt Dairy, home of the Jersey Girls Cafe and producers of good cheese such as Thulimbah, Pepato and Brass Monkey Blue (for those who like blue cheese – I’m not one of them). The cafe has a wonderful menu, we are there for the trio of ice cream and I have the hugest vanilla malt milkshake, all made from rich and creamy Jersey cow milk. Being there is like being back on the farms of my childhood, the cows can only be seen in the distance and a Maremma sheepdog (I think) wanders around and halfheartedly barks at arriving visitors, we could have stayed there for the rest of the afternoon recovering from a milk coma but it was soon time to hit the road.

The drive home was uneventful, but enjoyable. We watched as the sun set over the mountains, stopping to take a few photos and feel the rush of air as a truck zoomed by on the highway. One of my friends took on the role of driver and I was able to sit back and watch the light change as well as keep an eye open for kangaroos or wallabies, they have a tendency to leap out in front of traffic causing major damage to vehicles and fatally wounding themselves. The night sky in the country is the best place for looking at stars, the absence of street lights enables you to see them in all their glory, a beautiful ending to a thoroughly enjoyable day.

The girls go on a road trip

Lighthouse, Port Macquarie
Lighthouse, Port Macquarie

Recently I had to do alot of driving, about 4000km and thankfully I was able to spread it out over several weeks and call on a couple of friends for help. A good chunk of kilometres had to be done during the last few days of March so a girl friend and I went on a road trip to visit our families and then we took the long way home. Why so many kilometres? I have a lease vehicle and for tax purposes I have to do a set amount of kilometres each year, this year wasn’t looking good and rather than pay a hefty tax bill I decided to take a couple of days off to do some driving.

My friend and I grew up in the same, small country town about 500km from where we currently live and we were looking forward to seeing family again but with limited time available it meant a very short stay. The drive south went quickly, we talked most of the way and I am hoping that I didn’t miss any hidden speed cameras. Before we knew it, the trip was over and we were talking about the drives we could do around the area, not to mention the little food stalls and cafes we could stop at to purchase and/or taste fresh local produce. Alas, we didn’t even have much time for that, my Mum had booked me in for yoga and a facial and my Dad was celebrating a birthday so it really didn’t leave time for socialising with friends or going for long, scenic drives.

My camera goes everywhere with me, I thought that this trip would be a great opportunity to take photographs of the local area and some of the small towns we would travel through on the way home. Little did I know that I had left all my memory cards at home, a discovery I would make when the opportunity to take photos of Kangaroos and Wallabies came up, it was dusk and these gorgeous animals were happily feeding on the land surrounding the home of a family friend.

So, even though the photography plan didn’t work out I have included a variety of photos that I have taken in the past when visiting the Mid-North Coast region of New South Wales. I am very happy to say that I did manage to do the required kilometres and see some amazing parts of New South Wales and Queensland that I hadn’t seen before. Both of us were really surprised at how pretty the towns were and we loved rummaging through the little shops that were open, the tourist information centre in Tenterfield sells local art, craft and wines which impressed us greatly although we didn’t purchase any souvenirs to take home. Towns such as Tenterfield, Stanthorpe (home of the most delicious apples) and Warwick are now on our ‘bucket list’ for a girls weekend away in order to explore the areas more thoroughly (including the antique shops and boutiques) and take lots of photos to share with you.

Jelly Bean Art
Jelly Bean Art
Happy, wet dog
Happy, wet dog at the beach
Harrington on the New South Wales coast
View from the pub, Harrington on the New South Wales coast
A Beechwood sunset
A Beechwood sunset
The farm where I grew up
Early morning in Beechwood
My Mum's Frangipani flowers
My Mum's Frangipani flowers
Maxi enjoying the local swimming hole
Maxi enjoying the local swimming hole
Port Macquarie foreshore at night
Port Macquarie foreshore at night
Lights of Port Macquarie
Lights of Port Macquarie
Lighthouse Beach, Port Macquarie
Lighthouse Beach, Port Macquarie

A dog day at the beach

Bundy the dog watching the seagullsHeading to the beach on a beautiful sunny day seemed like a good idea at the time, Bundy could burn off some energy and I could get some Vitamin D and maybe take a few photographs. Byron Bay is a popular spot on the northern coast of New South Wales, once a quiet coastal town it is now booming with resorts, restaurants, boutiques and tourists aplenty. I thought it would be easy enough to find a dog friendly beach away from the centre of town, but I was wrong, after driving around in circles trying to find a specific dog friendly beach all I had come across were nature reserves and ‘no dogs allowed’ signs. Traffic was actually pretty heavy and parking was at a premium, after one too many one-way streets I pulled up outside the Croquet Club, rang my husband and vented about what a shite place Byron Bay is and Bundy had to settle for sniffing the grass and trees near the club car park. Byron Bay isn’t actually a bad place to visit, I just didn’t expect it to be so difficult to find a quiet spot where we could spend quality beach time together.

Rather than give up on the beach idea completely I drove north to Kingscliff thinking that there were dog friendly beaches up that way because we had previously taken our dogs there. It took longer than planned thanks to me unknowingly taking a scenic route that actually had me heading south. Once at Kingscliff parking was a breeze and finally Bundy got to escape the confines of the car. The first beach entry looked promising, but alas a ‘no dogs allowed’ sign was erected and we had to keep walking along the esplanade until we got to a creek that looked good for swimming. Cudgen Creek is a coast waterway that flows alongside the town of Kingscliff, plenty of people swim in the creek and go fishing, Bundy couldn’t do much at all because he had to stay on his lead – this was not an ‘off-leash’ swimming spot. Anyway, at least the little fellow was able to splash around in the water, chase seagulls and do a bit of rock climbing so the day wasn’t a complete waste. Australia seems to have become even more dog-unfriendly in recent years and it really bugs me.

Bundy at the beach

Bundy the dog rock climbing

Driving in Italy

Although I didn’t do the driving on our recent trip to Europe, sitting in the passenger seat armed with a map and a plan for for the day’s adventures meant that I got to navigate. Our car, a little Fiat Panda, came with a GPS (for only 70 euros extra) which I called George. George took some getting used to, I like to have an overall view of the direction we’re heading in so I had one eye on the map and the other on George. I learned a couple of things from George, the taxi driver took us the long way to the rental car office and don’t always trust George’s shortcuts.

In Australia we drive on the left side of the road, In Italy it is the opposite but constantly telling my husband to drive on the right side of the road got a bit confusing because to us the left is the right (correct) side of the road to drive on. ‘Other side’ was the preferred option but thankfully it didn’t take too long for him to get used to. We only hired a car to get around Tuscany, Umbria and make our way down to Sorrento from Assisi, that was plenty enough excitement for me, the trip between Naples and Sorrento was a tad stressful even for a passenger. Country driving meant narrow, winding roads with regular photo stops, near Naples we got caught in a traffic jam as a result of a motorbike accident and in Sorrento you have to be mindful of scooters, cyclists, women with prams and the occasional horse and cart.

The ZTLs (zona traffico limitato) are areas of Italy that you are not allowed to drive in without holding a ZTL pass. Tourists can’t get these passes and are only exempt if your hotel provides all the license and registration details of you and the car to the relevant authorities. Thanks to a misunderstanding with George we almost ended up driving into Siena’s ZTL, I had a massive freak out because I thought we were bound to get a fine sent to us but we found a way out of the area we were in without entering the ZTL. In Assisi we were told by the hotel just to drive through and if we were stopped by police, to tell them where we were staying and all will be good. We didn’t see any police and I’m sitting here hoping that there weren’t any cameras either. Paying for parking was a common occurrence, anywhere from 6 euros for a few hours to 20 euros for a couple of nights. Our accommodation in Siena and Orvieto had free parking, Assisi provided a discount card for parking in the council car park because they didn’t have any parking for guests.

Would we hire a car again? Possibly, it certainly was handy getting to little towns such as Civita de Bagnoreggio and Volterra, public transport is available however it can be slow and not at all regular. Fuel didn’t cost as much as we thought, the Panda was an extremely economical car for the two of us and we probably spent a maximum of 90 euros over the 10 days of driving and that included the filling up of the tank before returning the car in Sorrento. The rest of the time we used public transport to get around, trains between the major cities are fast and easy to use, not to mention cheap.

The Fiat Panda in Siena
The Fiat Panda in Siena