Saturday, July 11, 2015

Snakes, rats, and crocs - oh my!

My kids have been visiting, so I haven't been online much.
I'll probably post about what we've been up to later, as we've really been 'in the moment', just enjoying the time together.
While they've been home, we've been reliving old times, including looking at photos and remembering happy times and funny moments.
So we kind of did this post together, reminiscing about the time I took them to what is now the city where they spend most of their time, Darwin.
On that occasion, I was invited by Tigerair Australia to experience the airline's inaugural Brisbane-Darwin flight, and as the children's father was living in Darwin, I asked if the kids could come too.
I posted about the flight here, and a little more here.
While the kids spent most of the time with their Dad and I did my thing with Tigerair and NT Tourism, I did get an afternoon off, which I was lucky enough to spend with the kids.
We spent some time exploring my hotel, the Novotel Darwin Atrium, before heading off to Crocosaurus Cove.

At Brisbane Airport, before leaving on Tigerair's first flight from Brisbane to Darwin. I have to say a huge thank you to Tigerair for starting this service, because it has reduced the cost of flights between Brisbane and Darwin considerably. A huge bonus now the kids live there.

The kids' first time being first to board a plane! As guests of Tigerair on that occasion, we were treated as VIPs. It was very special! 

And the flight landed on time. Of all the times we have flown Tigerair - and that is often, and at our own expense -we have only ever been delayed once. In fact, occasionally, there is a tailwind, and the flight lands early. 

My king-sized bed at the Novotel Darwin Atrium. I love my pets, but it was such a treat to get a huge bed to myself. (Yep, usually I sleep with animals). The mattress and pillows were so comfy and the room temperature was perfect. And unlike many hotels, the Novotel Darwin Atrium always provides loads of pillows. With my arthritis, I need loads of cuddle pillows, and they have never been stingy about their pillows there. 

There was plenty of room to spread out, with a small lounge and another TV, and all the important workstation for laptop and internet access. (So important when you are on a work trip, and especially when you are required to write blog posts and update on social media.)

A welcome gift. I've stayed as a non-VIP, at my own expense, and didn't receive this little extra (nor such a spacious room) so I guess this isn't standard ... 


My favourite feature of the room was the window seat. I actually spent a lot of time there, watching the world go by

Every moment of every day, the scene was different. It was a great spot to practise my Mindfulness. 

Just another day in paradise 

Fitting in some work before duty called on the first morning ...

The kids loved the window seat too. Novotel and Accor hotels are very kid-friendly and usually feature a movie theme. During that stay it was a Muppet theme, and one of the other girls on the trip was lucky enough to score a Kermit toy in her room, which gave her loads of bonuses. She loaned him to us for the afternoon. 

Kermit enjoyed the view too

Chilling out

Checking out the hotel

It was tough deciding what to order for lunch ...

Fuelling up ahead of our visit to Crocosaurus Cove, which is just around the corner from the Novotel Atrium 

I started to overcome my fear of reptiles at Crocosaurus Cove

And even willingly climbed into the Cage Of Death with Chopper 

Face to face with the wildlife. Apologies for the photo quality, but it gives you an idea of how awesome the experience is

Feeding time at the zoo - kind of. A snake eating a rat! You can imagine what a hit that was with the kids. 

And seconds after I took this photo, a crocodile did a poo. Another highlight of our visit! You can't buy experiences like these ...

A glorious Darwin sunset. Taken during a walk in the park opposite my hotel.

And if you want to see it in action, here's a little video of the snake enjoying some lunch. Apologies if you are eating yours ...

Have you been to Darwin? What's your favourite feature in a hotel? And did you know that crocodiles poo?

***Tigerair flew the kids and I on their inaugural Brisbane-Darwin flight in April 2014 for social media purposes. I was put up at the Novotel Darwin Atrium on that occasion. Crocosaurus Cove gave us free entry, although it was a whistlestop tour. I am revisiting the experience for purely nostalgic reasons here and have received no compensation for this post.  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Closing Time

Despite much fighting and frantic effort, our only private hospital, The South Burnett Private Hospital, closed yesterday.
One of the enrolled nurses, Racheal Collier, a local woman and mum, was one of many dedicated health employees to work her last shift. The hospital has been her second home for nearly seven years.
She put together this slideshow as a tribute to the tireless workers who are now without jobs. The people and faces behind The South Burnett Private Hospital.
This is a decision that has not only made life harder for thousands of South Burnett residents, who now have to travel for the treatment they need, but has put caring people like Racheal and the people in this video, out of work.
I defy you to watch it and not give a damn.
These are the faces of rural health in Australia.
These people deserve jobs. And we deserve this hospital.
(Almost Wordless Wednesday. I couldn't help myself...)
You can watch the video here

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Nuts about Kingaroy

It's been a weird week in the town where I live.
For those who aren't playing at home, I live in a country town called Kingaroy, in the South Burnett.
We moved here originally as a bit of a tree change. Life is generally cheaper, quieter and slower paced than in the city, and it's easy to fall in love with the rolling farmland, quaint towns and constantly-changing scenery and seasons.
But as anyone who has lived on the land or in small country towns knows, life can be tough. In fact, it can be brutal.
It's a time when many businesses are for sale or closing down, and some of our most talented people have to travel to the cities and coast for work opportunities. Nothing new there. But it doesn't make it hurt any less.
It's well-known that farmers regularly struggle to make ends meet as they provide food, produce and drink for Australia and overseas. But what's lesser known is that business people battle to make a living as well. Even when their products and service are very, very good, and deserve to succeed very, very much.
This week, our local Target and Foodworks shut their doors. Our region's only private hospital is still slated to close at the end of the month, although the South Burnett Regional Council mayor Wayne Kratzmann is moving heaven and earth to stop that from happening.
It's heartbreaking to see people losing their jobs and homes. Having to move away from the area they love. Away from friends, family, schools.
The people here are incredibly innovative and are always finding ways to make an income. From the dairy farmers turned winemakers. Those who take in paying guests at romantic cottages and family-oriented farmstays. Those who have turned to making organic cheese, olive oil, or growing macadamia nuts or avocados instead of traditional crops.

Dusty Hill Vineyard (above) and (below) an example of the delicious food on offer: Seafood Bisque

There are restaurateurs doing innovative things with food, and thinking up extra ways to get bottoms on seats and tummies filled. All conscious that their customers are often struggling themselves and can only pay a certain amount to dine out.

A vegetable fritatta from Magpies takeaway, Kingaroy. Made from scratch and with love. They also make the best pies - Barkers Creek pork belly and apple sauce; Corned beef and white sauce; Chicken, Camembert and Asparagus anyone? 

And of course, the town is rightfully known for peanuts.
In fact, when I was a kid, the newsagent in the main street sold postcards that said things like "Kingaroy: The Peanut Capital Of Australia", and 'Home of Australia's best nuts'. Oh how we laughed.
But I'd like to wish that these days, Kingaroy is known for much more than nuts. (Not that there is anything wrong with that!)

We do macadamia nuts as well 

So it was fitting, that this week Triple J's Breakfast With Matt and Alex producers chose Kingaroy as the subject for their Bonus Weather town.
Matt and Alex and the team choose an Aussie town to appear in the weather update. It's called a bonus town, because it's a town that usually doesn't get a lot of coverage in the mainstream media.
I tried for a chat with Matt and Alex - but have been told maybe next week - and I tried for a chat with indie artist Lupa J, but I've so far had no luck.
Lupa J, who is only 17 and studying year 12, did an awesome job by researching Kingaroy, a town she'd never heard of, on the internet, before writing her song.
She based her song on tourism websites, and although she is obviously an awesome talent and did an amazing job, I'm wondering why the tourism websites she found were so out of date.
Because Lupa J, discovered that Kingaroy was the peanut capital of Australia and latched on to that as her theme song.
She sings Kingaroy's 'twin peanut silos grace the sky'. (There are actually three.) Of our Peanut Festival. (Sadly, there has not been a peanut festival since 2009.) She gets the number of people who live here wrong, and of course, sings that we're famous for our peanuts.
Well I guess that's true.
And I'm not dissing Lupa J. She did her research. She based it on the facts available online. She wrote a cool song and treated our town with respect. (And our nuts!)
Triple J accompaned their social media and the soundwave upload with a photo taken at one of the last peanut festivals. I love that photo and I'm pretty sure the KingaRoyals who heard the song or who looked it up online enjoyed it too.
It's had lots of positive feedback on social media and given our town a little extra attention.
You can listen to the song and see the photo here. 
I think Lupa J rocks. And I think locals would be happy to take on KingaRoyals (the name of the song) as their anthem. If only it was a little more accurate. And again - not her fault.
But I think it's an interesting social media experiment into the efficacy of the knowledge of our brand and the user-friendly, up to date (or lack of), information that's available.
The fact that many travellers these days research a destination via the internet means this is disturbing. The lack of businesses with instagram or twitter accounts, or their own websites, or who fail to update and respond to questions on their facebook accounts, is astonishing. Would-be visitors need to know that there is so much to do in this region - from hiking in the Bunya Mountains, to enjoying lunch at an Irish Tavern in a vineyard, to learning how to make vegan cheese.
I guess my questions are: Why aren't we known for more than our nuts? (Ahem) Why are so many tourism and official pages so out of date? Is it time to bring the peanut festival back? (And I know the arguments about cost, public liability and insurance, but if other regional areas do it, why can't we?)

We do have Australia's best nuts - and the nicest peanut paste. This range is from Taste South Burnett 

And the tastiest nuts and widest range of flavours you will ever taste come from The Peanut Van

I interviewed celebrity chef Miguel Maestre when South Burnett producers took over Brisbane's Eat Street Markets recently, and he pointed out that tourists, foodies, and the media, love quirky festivals
We have great wine, history, olive oil, cheese, farmstays and markets. We are on the doorstep of the beautiful Bunya Mountains.
Let's get all that out there, and let's make our town proud.
Our attractions shouldn't be secret. Our websites should not be out of date. There should be current information, readily available online.
Because while some businesses are sadly closing, others are doing their best to hang in there, be innovative and put this town on the map.
And they deserve all the support they can get.
In the meantime? Go the KingaRoyals.

We also should be known for our fudge. Taste South Burnett's own handmade fudge, made with love 

And sausages ... Well the country does love a carnivore. But these days there are plenty of veggie products too

And don't forget the wine ... the South Burnett produces some amazing wine 

Whipbird Chapel, one of the many unique venues for breakfast, lunch, fresh juice, and more

A nearby hotel, The Wondai. Not your typical country pub

We really do have a Peanut Man, and sometimes he does the rounds of the local shopping mall handing out sweets with his peanut helpers. Only in Kingaroy ... 

Have you been to Kingaroy or the South Burnett? Did you hear the KingaRoyals song? Would you visit if there was a peanut festival here? And how do you like your nuts? 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: The cat, dog and mouse game

It's mouse season in the South Burnett. Here, Lucy and Hannah Kitteh work together to catch a mouse - only for the prize to end up in the mouth of Kit Kat! Or maybe that was their plan all along? 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Better than Byron?

There is a reason why Australia is famous for her beaches. 

And there are places in Australia where I think winter is the very best time to spend time on the beach.

It's not as hot, or as crowded. Prices for accommodation are cheaper, and if you're a fan of the tropics, you're safe from stingers. 

One of my favourite spots this time of year is the northern New South Wales Tweed Coast. 

Even in the middle of winter, the sun shines and you can have the most beautiful beaches to yourself. 

I've ridden along the coastlines with the kids, and in days before kids, I've hiked from beach to beach.

Just a few years ago, I remember relaxing on a boat in the middle of the Tweed River while the kids fished and caught crabs, and thinking I was in heaven.

It was winter. The morning had been chilly, but during the day, it was hot enough to wear T-Shirts and shorts, the kids were in swimmers (and later swam at our resort), and yep, despite sunscreen, I still got some colour.

On that occasion, we stayed at the Big4 North Star Holiday Resort & Caravan Park, at Hastings Point. We were walking distance from surf and river beaches, and there was a huge water play area and swimming pool for the kids where they made instant friends.

More recently, I took some time to get away from the stresses of life with a friend. Since we were looking forward to grown-up time, we checked in to the highly recommended Peppers Salt Resort &  Spa, near Kingscliff.

It's a long drive from country Queensland, so it was lovely to walk into our apartment, where the lights were already on and the room temperature was perfect.

And this was waiting for us! 

There was a comfortable king-size bed with loads of pillows and extra blankets and pillows in the cupboard. The blind between the bathroom could be lifted or drawn for privacy - or otherwise. 

You could watch TV from the huge spa bath, built for two - but only if the blind was up. Luckily, we were friends! 

The bathroom had a roomy shower as well as a separate toilet. There were glass doors separating the ensuite from the main bedroom. It was all very trendy, but I'm glad I wasn't on a first weekend away with a lover, as it wasn't exactly soundproof! 

The apartment came with free movies and wi-fi which meant it was cosy when the night got chilly,  It also meant I had something to do when my early-to-bed friend fell asleep early each night, and then woke with the sun while the insomniac (me) slept in each morning. (Note, we could have drawn the floor-to-ceiling blinds in the apartment to keep the sun out, but we liked the view. And didn't want to sleep the weekend away). 

The only problem was a 5am alarm that had us both shooting upright out of bed each morning. Apparently the alarm had been set by the apartment's previous occupants. The issue was meant to have been fixed, but the alarm went off again the very next morning. 

Luckily, each day I was comfy enough to get back to sleep while my friend caught up on the previous night's movie.

I mentioned it on check-out because I didn't want the slumber of the next guests to be so rudely interrupted. I would have felt sorry for someone with a baby or someone on a romantic break. 

We'd been upgraded to a two-bedroom apartment, with a loft-style bedroom with king single beds, another TV, and roomy ensuite upstairs. As always, I really wish the kids could have come. They would have loved it! 

The view of the downstairs area from the loft bedroom. The lounge was so comfy you could sleep on it, so we could easily have slept another two. Seriously, I could have moved in there. (That's my junk on the right hand side. And yes we both took our laptops, although we tried very hard not to use them).

All the comforts of home... 

Salt Village has loads of restaurants to choose from, plus Peppers has some great dining options as well. I'm told it can be quiet on a weeknight off season, but on this weekend, the village was buzzing. 

 We had a really delicious Thai meal the first night, and the next evening concocted something from goodies we bought at markets that day.

A fully equipped kitchen, with a decent sized fridge. So you could easily spend a week or more there and save money by cooking. There was a washer and dryer as well. 

The roomy apartment.

The next morning, we explored the beach. Watch out for stingers and sharks! #Straya

The water was actually not too chilly - even in winter. 

We had the beach to ourselves. Paradise. 

Only in Australia

Then it was time to explore. But only after a heart-starting coffee first. 

Nearby Brunswick Heads Markets are colourful and well worth a visit. 

Some of the local scenery 

The iconic Hotel Brunswick ... a fabulous spot for a drink or a pub lunch in the sun 

And beautiful Brunswick Heads. Byron Bay is still gorgeous, but the lesser known Brunswick Heads is even better I think. Sssh! Don't tell anyone!

Another almost deserted beach ... and you can walk to Byron Bay if you are so inclined.

 Our busy day took in an overpriced lunch at busy Byron Bay that had us thinking wistfully of the relaxed Brunswick Heads hotel or the Fishermen's Co-op, where you can buy the tastiest seafood fresh from the trawler. 

Wine Time featured champagne and strawberries from Brunswick Heads Market. Dinner was thrown together from goodies purchased during the day and the previous night's leftovers, with local fudge for dessert. 

We could have gone out but the couch was so comfortable and the apartment so warm and inviting, it was relaxing just to stay in and enjoy a few movies.

Oh, and coming from the South Burnett, where we are nearly always in drought,  I enjoyed a big bubbly spa bath each night. Bliss. 

I'm sure that's why I slept in again on Sunday morning, and had to be woken in time for breakfast.

And here I know I have forgotten to upload some photos, because I always take photos of delicious food.

Peppers does a particularly nice breakfast buffet, with a selection of hot and cold dishes.

 We had to wait for a short time each morning for seating, even though they didn't seem particularly busy.

 On the second morning, I had a quick chat to the waitress and she explained the policy was so that guests still enjoyed a pleasant dining experience with plenty of fresh selections. Unlike some hotel and resort buffets, where you get what I call the 'pig-at-a-trough' experience. So I forgave them for that, because breakfast really was pleasant for a buffet, and we didn't feel any pressure to move on quickly either, as we shared the newspaper and chatted over coffee. Okay, and one more serve of fruit, just to be healthy! 

We didn't get to use the pools, spa, tennis court, gym, or bikes - although the kids and I have ridden from Kingscliff to various beaches; and kayaked and stand-up paddle boarded on our previous visit to the region.

Next time I return to the Tweed, I'd really like to take the kids to Peppers, because I think they would love the upstairs bedroom, the super big spa bath, and a bit more of a grown-up experience to the region.

I still think Byron Bay is one of the best spots in the world. It's just that I prefer to share my nature, beauty and food with a few less people.

Peppers Resort & Spa near Kingscliff really has it all. Including the gorgeous beach. 

What's your holiday style? Do you mind sharing a hot spot? Or keeping a secret to yourself? 

Brunswick Heads