Category Archives: Further afield

Me Time

I’m a New Year’s Resolution kind of girl. I get excited about fresh challenges and the chance to put my best foot forward. So, as this year draws to a close, I’ve chosen two goals for 2017. One will be revealed in due course (once I’ve got my head around the finer detail); the other is me time.

Some people are better than others at making room for “me time’ in their busy lives. I’ll admit that I’ve struggled to carve out those moments of freedom since becoming a mum – there always seems to be something more important to do. And that’s where I’ve been wrong. By allowing child care, household chores, and work to take precedence nearly all the time, my sense of self has definitely suffered. And I’m sure I’m not alone here.

So, recently, I’ve started to do things for me, like join a local writers’ group, or simply sit in a café and drink from a real cup rather than race away to my next destination; I’ve even ducked into a nail salon a couple of times for a pedicure, just for the sake of it. I relish these moments of me time. They help me feel good about myself. And my girls love to hear that Mummy has done something exciting and different, especially if it involves bright pink toe nails!

This month, though, I surpassed myself with an unprecedented 24 hours away from home. It all started with an invitation to a work Christmas party. In Sydney. Daddy Ickle encouraged me to go, and even suggested I spend the afternoon shopping for last minute goodies in the CBD. What a great idea, I thought. Then I thought a bit more. What if I do all my Christmas shopping another day? What if I spend the night in Sydney? So I did – both.

[View from my hotel window – 33rd floor. If you look closely enough (with a magnifying glass), you might spot the beautiful Christmas tree outside Town Hall.]

Free as a bird, I checked into my hotel and headed out into the Sydney drizzle. I skated along the paving slabs on George Street, slick with rain, dodging the chaos of umbrellas and people all the way to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Down at the harbour, ferries were zipping in and out of Circular Quay, and a mammoth cruise ship honked loudly as it farewelled the city.

I toured the MCA Collection, Today Tomorrow Yesterday, an exhibition of contemporary art by Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. The standout for me was Fiona Hall’s Manuhiri (Travellers), a driftwood installation mounted on a black background. Another highlight was Minyma Punu Kungkarangkalpa (Seven Sisters Tree Women) by Tjanpi Desert Weavers: this dance-like installation was created with rustic materials, including native grasses, wire and aviary mesh. But the real treat was having the time to explore the works at my own pace, and even read the accompanying exhibition notes as I went.

What about the party, I hear you ask? Well, that takes us to Grandma’s Bar on Clarence Street.Would you have ventured through this door? (It was open on Friday night – I returned on Saturday to take the photo.) I hovered outside, double-checked the address on my phone and then headed down into Sydney’s subterranean bar world. Grandma certainly has a weird and wonderful taste in decor (wacky wallpaper for one), but she serves up some mean cocktails. Dinner followed at Lotus in the Galeries, where I sampled some of the most delicious Chinese food I have ever tasted: jade prawn dumplings, native crystal ice plant, crispy skin duck pancakes…in the company of a beautiful team and some stubborn origami butterflies.

And, afterwards, it was just a short stagger back to my hotel for bed. At 12.30 am. Way to go! What adventures will 2017 have in store, I wonder.

Winnererremy Bay Park

20161023_090231Not so long ago, the Winnererremy Bay foreshore was a storage area for waterway operators, cluttered with mooring blocks, piles and sundry building materials. Infested with weeds, it was also used by local equestrians as a horse-training arena.

Hard to picture that now as you look over the manicured park, dotted with shrubs and trees, a sparkling Pittwater as your backdrop. The area is now home to the Flying Fox playground, rated as one of the best in Sydney. Most people I know refer to the whole park as the Flying Fox park. Well, try saying Winnererremy in a hurry, or texting it to a friend…20161023_084841The Flying Fox is our preferred place to play down Sydney-way, although the Apex Park playground opposite Mona Vale beach comes a close second. Why do we like it so much? For starters, we can walk/scoot/bike there from the in-laws. It’s a flat run most of the way, so Ickle flies along. The playground itself is fully fenced, on soft-fall, and bursting with colour. And the setting is simply beautiful.20161023_093441Ickle loves the giant basket swing, spinning see-saw and pirate ship. She’s not so keen on the flying fox (yes, there is one!), but has had her eye on the spider’s web for months. One day, she’ll make it to the top and I’ll be a gibbering wreck waiting for her to come down. Meanwhile, Mivvy likes to hang out in the tots’ corner. With a mini slide, spring rockers, swings and a ship built for tinies, this spot in the shade ticks all the boxes.20161023_09014220161023_09144220161023_092059There’s plenty of fun to be had outside the railings too. Like examining the sculptures planted along the dry creek bed just outside the gates. Or scooting on the track that loops around the park. Or mucking around in the sand and dabbling toes in the salt water down on the foreshore. Or pretending to be civilised over a flat white and babyccinos in the Flying Fox café.20161023_093728Nope – never a dull moment at Winnerreremy, even when the weather is, well, dull. Which it was on our most recent visit. Still, it did give us the run of the place, until the sun came out and the hordes arrived.

Those Magnificent Flying Machines

P1040011Where we live the skies are full of birds: kookaburras, cockatoos, rainbow lorikeets, ducks, seagulls, and the occasional pelican, to name but a few. But we don’t often hear the roar of a motor overhead. Perhaps this is why Ickle and Mivvy have developed a fascination with flying machines.

We scan the horizon to spot aeroplanes before they disappear from view. And we jump up and down and wave like crazy when the local helicopter zips in and out. Much in the same way that, on Tuesdays, we race out of the front door to greet the rubbish truck as it rolls down our street. Mivvy has recently announced that she would like to fly. (She would also like to catch her shadow and touch the moon.)

So, on our holiday in the UK, Daddy Ickle and I took both girls on a family expedition to the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Ilchester, Somerset. I haven’t visited this destination for as long as I can remember. Housed in a huge hangar is an equally huge collection of naval aircraft, from the early days of flight through to the current day. Exhibits include beautiful old biplanes, a range of flying machines from WWII, helicopters, and – this one truly takes your breath away – the first British-built Concorde.P1030982Opportunities abound for hands-on/interactive experiences. Ickle dressed up in naval gear (a radical departure from her usual princess get-up); we dived into a life raft. I braved the simulated helicopter ride through to Hall 3, where I found myself on board the fleet carrier, HMS Ark Royal, alone in the semi-darkness. So what did it feel like to be an naval officer on watch? Um. A bit disorientating. In fact, I struggled to find my way back to Daddy Ickle and the littlies.P1030997P1040004We stopped at The SwordFish Restaurant, actually more of a classic canteen (think bacon, eggs, pies and chips) for a quick snack, before heading to the museum’s adventure playground. Despite the weather (yup, we copped a lot of rain during our stay), the girls scrambled up cargo nets, conquered balance beams, and steered a model ship into harbour. Mini naval cadets in the making. Magnificent.

Another Stuffy Stately Home

P1030919The rain was tipping down; I was feeling slightly apprehensive about the day ahead. I had arranged to meet friends at Barrington Court, a National Trust property tucked away in the Somerset countryside in the UK. The main draw hadn’t been the Tudor manor house, but a special nature day they were holding in the grounds. I figured the girls, big and small, could run around in the fresh air and let off steam.

Doom and gloom, I thought, as I looked at the raindrops scurrying across the car windscreen. We will have to go *inside*. Ickle and Mivvy will run amok amongst the antique furniture and furnishings with us in hot pursuit. We’ll be whispered about in loud voices by visiting coach parties of stately home enthusiasts. No, this was not good at all.

And then, as we drew into the car park, the rain decided to stop. So we squelched across the lawns to look at the wildlife specimens on display (a hedgehog’s spiny pelt, a grass snake, various animal bones…and so on). Then the girls tried their hand at some classic English games – skittles and quoits.P1030885P1030908P1030917 And we all admired the beautiful gardens and giant koi. It was fun, and way better than I had hoped – not even the teeniest bit stuffy.P1030873P1030878We did summon up the courage to venture into the old stately home, which incidentally has been empty of all furniture and furnishings since 1991. The remaining architecture and fittings are beautifully impressive and well worth a visit. And so is the *surprise* in the Long Gallery: a feathered friend who has only recently taken up roost in the rafters. Want to know more? You’ll have to visit Barrington Court to find out!

A Classic Country Fair

P1030807“Look, Mummy, it’s the Australian flag!” exclaimed Ickle as we approached the castle grounds.

Erm, not quite. We happened to be in deepest Dorset, in the UK, heading to the Sherborne Castle Country Fair. Billed as “One of the South West’s premier one day events”, we were expecting big things.

Despite having spent the best part of my youf in Sherborne, I don’t recall having been to the Country Fair. Set in grounds landscaped by Capability Brown, no less, the event attracts masses of people: 17,000 through the gates in 2015. Every man and his dog was there this year. Many of them sporting tweed ensembles (the men that is); the ladies had opted for hats that wouldn’t have looked out of place at Royal Ascot or Flemington.

The programme was jam-packed with livestock displays, gymnastics routines, dragon boat racing, horseback falconry shows, car stunts, and so much more. Everywhere we went, something was going on.

P1030824The girls loved the traditional Punch & Judy show. They sat on straw bales and yelled “Judy” at the tops of their little voices as Mr Punch fed the baby into the sausage machine.

P1030828Ickle and her daddy braved the helter skelter.

P1030830And I had a peek at the ferret racing, which had drawn quite a crowd.

All-in-all, it was a colourful, lively and classic English country fair.

The Other Side of the World

UK 2016-001Why has it been so quiet on Icklegen of late?

Because we have been on the other side of the world. Obviously. Light years away from computer technology and the blogosphere.

Well, not exactly. The UK may be a long way to go (an exhausting 24-hour flight away to be precise, and let’s not forget the ensuing jet lag), but we were still *connected*. Just not that active online.

But very active elsewhere. We had family and friends to see, a very special wedding to attend, and places to explore. It wasn’t a whirlwind four weeks – we tried to pace ourselves, honest! – but we created some wonderful memories to carry with us until our next visit.

Rather than reduce these to a few lines each, I am going to treat you to a few individual posts over the next couple of weeks. Or sooner if I find the time to tap away on my trusty keyboard. Although given that it’s the end of July already, that might be a little ambitious…

Here’s a taste of what’s to come:P1030824Punch & Judy, ferret racing, and so much more at a classic country fair.P1030879The discovery that visiting an English stately home and gardens isn’t so dull after all.P1040011Getting up close with some pretty amazing flying machines.

Byron Bay Farmstay

Ask any self-respecting traveller for a list of top places to visit in Australia and the chances are that Byron Bay will be on there somewhere. The town’s popularity as a tourist destination dates back to the 1960s when it was discovered by surfers, and it hasn’t looked back since. Still renowned for its laid-back, hippy vibe, Byron attracts phenomenal numbers of visitors every year: an estimated 1.7 million of them each year, which for a little town of some 5,000 permanent residents is pretty damn impressive.P1010918P1010926

We opted to bypass the town in our accommodation search, choosing to focus on the Byron Bay Hinterland. This beautiful area of rolling hills, rainforest and scattered villages is within easy reach of the main centre, but far enough away to avoid the masses. And after some searching (and it took a while, even in the off-peak season) we had a real find: Murojum Farm. Perched in the hills with the ocean glistening in the distance, just 15 minutes’ drive from Byron and Bangalow, this family-friendly farm comprises the owners’ beautiful homestead and three self-cater cottages for rent.P1010920

James’s cottage, our home for three nights, was simply but comfortably furnished, although I wouldn’t give it top marks for cooking facilities. Two hobs, a microwave and a kettle were somewhat limiting, especially after the gourmet kitchen we enjoyed in Iluka. It did, however, more than make up for this by being within a hop, skip and jump of the most fabulous swimming pool.IMG_4972

And for Icklegen, there was also the sheer excitement of being on a working farm. Twice a day, Trevor, or his son, Murray, would ring an old-fashioned bell from their veranda – our signal to help them with the animals, if we so wished. And oh, didn’t we! Icklegen got into the swing of things very fast, and we were  pulling on our boots before the bell for the rest of our stay.IMG_4905

As an introduction to real-life farm animals, it couldn’t have been better. Murojum is not a huge operation, with just a handful of cows, goats, sheep, and hens in residence. And Trevor and Murray couldn’t have been more willing to show us around and let us assist them. Icklegen had the opportunity to milk a cow (twice), feed the goats, sheep and hens, hold a baby chick, and collect eggs. And she loved every minute of it.P1010922P1010935


















So there didn’t seem much need to venture very far. We did visit the small organic market in lovely Bangalow one morning. And one grey, rainy day Ickle and I made a whistlestop tour of Byron’s iconic lighthouse and then braved the crowds in town. And yes, it did seem a funky kinda place dotted with quirky cafés and boutiques, but 25 minutes to find a parking space with a toddler in the back is no fun. And there were no cows to milk, or hens to chase, so we hot-footed it back to the farm.IMG_4960


Beachwood Café


This gem of a café is located in Yamba, a resort town on the Clarence River just opposite Iluka, the fishing village I raved about in my previous post. It’s not on the main drag, but tucked neatly away up a side street. Don’t you get a bit of a thrill from discovering something, well, just a little bit off the beaten track? And we really did stumble on this one purely by chance.P1010912

Yamba, though, was a deliberate choice. In fact, this is where I originally envisaged us staying on our road trip up the coast. Ages ago, I read that Yamba had ranked first in the 100 Best Towns in Australia, and thought “There must be something in this.” Then Cowrie Cottage in Iluka, on the other side of the river, popped up in one of my accommodation searches and I opted to stay there instead. Especially since there is a regular ferry service on the Clarence between the two locations. And the possibility of spotting dolphins on the way.P1010899

Daddy Ickle had the privilege of seeing those magnificent mammals frolic in the bow waves on our ferry trip across the river; I saw a few – way in the distance – on our return. Ickle, alas, missed out on this occasion, but actually all she wanted to do that morning was run free. It was a pretty quick journey, thank goodness, as there’s not much room for toddler antics on a small, old-fashioned ferry.P1010908P1010905

We had a gentle stroll to the beach on arrival in Yamba, but really the main reason for our trip was to find a nice café for lunch. Nothing too fancy, but not too basic either. After all, it’s not every day that Mummy Ickle turns 40. Yup, that defining moment of middle-agedom happened in Yamba, and Beachwood Café was waiting for us to celebrate in style.P1010914

We were greeted at the door and seated by a lady who later turned out to be the owner and chef, as well as front of house and author of a couple of cookbooks (the ultimate multi-tasker). Originally from Turkey, her tiny café immediately transports you to another world. There were old-fashioned roses on every table, and herbs and vegetables growing on the bank opposite. The menu is based on fresh local produce and changes every day.

I opted for slow-roast lamb, which arrived on a bed of mixed salad and leaves, with a generous smear of baba ganoush hidden underneath, whilst Daddy Ickle went for the zucchini fritters and salad. And Ickle picked and chose from each plate at will and, more importantly, sipped on her chocolate milk. The desserts were divine – oh to have been able to sample them all! After much deliberation, we selected meringue with cream and sour cherries, and Turkish dumplings with caramelised figs and cream, both drizzled with rose petal sauce and sprinkled with pistachio nuts. Feast your eyes on this!P1010916


Ah, Iluka

What a wonderful few days we spent in Iluka, a small village at the mouth of the Clarence River, just a couple of hours south of Byron Bay.P1010862

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what made this time so special, as Iluka itself didn’t immediately inspire me. The landscape is flatter than flat, and the gloomy weather meant that each day we were greeted with a dull palette of greys and faded yellows. And yet, there is so much more to this location than meets the eye.P1010891

First, Iluka is relatively unspoilt. Yes, there is a caravan park and signs for holiday rentals are dotted around, but it is still very much a fishing village. Real commercial trawlers venture out all year round returning with their catch, much of which is provided to the local fishermen’s co-operative. When we visited, there were fresh prawns, whiting, mullet, homemade fishcakes and Balmain Bugs*. And recreational fishing is a popular activity too.P1010871P1010867

There are local beaches for surfing and swimming, although some of these can only be accessed by 4WD; littlies can always go for a dip in the dedicated area by the riverside near the local playground. The village is surrounded by national park and boasts the largest remaining expanse of seaside rainforest in NSW (World Heritage-listed in 1986). There is so much to do…or so little.P1010858

Iluka is a great place to wind down away from the rat race, but still comfortably close to civilisation. Our holiday cottage was within easy walking distance of the shops, the river, and pretty much everything else. It did help that the wonderful Cowrie Cottage was a particularly welcoming and well-equipped place to stay, complete with enclosed garden and play equipment for Icklegen (and it was a bargain at the price, I might add).

We did venture a bit further afield on my birthday, but that’s another story to look forward to in due course. In the meantime, farewell Iluka, ’til next time.

*The Balmain Bug (now there’s a great name) is a type of lobster native to Australian waters.

Nambucca Heads

I mentioned in my last post that I would be writing about our holiday in a series of instalments, rather than one giant missive. So here, people, is the first of these, starting at stop number one: Nambucca Heads.P1010835

At 4.5 hours’ journey time from home, I did wonder whether Icklegen would last the distance (or me, for that matter). I needn’t have worried. She dropped off to sleep shortly after departure and snoozed for an impressively long time. We then had a decent snack and leg stretch at a playground en route, and the last part of the journey was made bearable by Daddy Ickle’s inspired idea to load some episodes of Peppa Pig onto his iPad for our backseat babe.P1010819

Nambucca Heads is located just off the Pacific Highway. In fact, it used to be on the main road north, but has been spared the traffic thanks to a bypass. What a relief that must have been for the locals and the tourists. Once a bustling port, it is now a quiet little place, or at least it is in the low season.P1010837P1010844

‘Nambucca’ derives from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘entrance to the waters’, and it couldn’t be more appropriate. The view of the river estuary from the higher slopes is spectacular and two of the town’s must-see attractions are defined by their relationship with water. The first of these, the V-Wall, runs parallel to the Nambucca River as it enters the sea. The wall is a graffiti artist’s dream: hundreds of boulders providing the perfect canvas for works of art and declarations of peace and love. Icklegen loved it. She danced along the concrete path and clambered on the rocks to have a closer look at the varying designs and bright colours.P1010840

‘The River’ mosaic outside the police station on Bowra Street is also well worth a look. Old china plates, tea cups, tiles and pottery have found new life as a plethora of water-dwelling creatures in this artwork depicting a river winding its way to the sea. Oh, and just down the high street from here, there’s a great little bakery Wild Terra where you’ll find beautiful bread loaves and French-style pastries for sale. Mmmm!

We enjoyed strolling along the boardwalks along the water’s edge, too.P1010832

Much as we appreciated our 3-day stay, I’m not sure we would return to Nambucca for a holiday, although it’s a lovely and very convenient place to stop when you just can’t face any more travel time on the Pacific Highway.