A Perfect Weekend at the Mudgee Readers Festival

Mudgee Library

Hotel Review - Perfect Boutique Stay at the Mudgee Homestead Guest House

Mudgee Readers Festival 2017

I was lucky enough to be invited to be an expert reader at the Mudgee Readers Festival in August.  It was a gorgeously mild weekend for winter, and I had a great time running some readers advisory training for Midwestern-Regional Council staff at Mudgee Library, doing one-on-one Bibliotherapy Sessions with readers (where we workshopped for each reader what they might like to read next), and facilitating a panel discussion about Better Living Through Books.

Mudgee is one of my favourite towns in Australia, and I can’t deny the fact that I spent pretty much the entire festival coming up with schemes for how I could move there.  It was great to meet some of the Mudgee locals at the opening night festivities, during the Bibliotherapy Sessions on Saturday and at Rant, a fantastic storytelling event held at the Mudgee Brewing Company on Saturday night.

There was also time to squeeze in some tastings at several of Mudgee’s vineyards, and a gorgeous dinner at Pipeclay Pumphouse on Friday night.  As always, when we go to Mudgee, we stayed with Sean and Karen at the Mudgee Homestead Guesthouse.

I can’t wait to head back to Mudgee for the festival next year!

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Travel Diary: A Winter Weekend in Noosa

The Perfect

The Perfect Australian Destination: Noosa

The Perfect Australian Destination: Noosa

I couldn’t have asked for a better winter getaway from Sydney during July than a weekend in Noosa.  While I have been to Noosa before in summer, it was so much more enjoyable being there during winter, and making the most of the blue skies, warm sunshine and beautiful sparkling water.

It was whale watching season, as the humpback whales migrate north up Australia’s East Coast, and we were lucky enough to see a whale off Sunshine beach while having a drink at Sunshine Beach Surf Club.  I can’t say I didn’t spend a decent part of the remainder of the weekend standing on the balcony of the house we were staying at with a pair of binoculars to my face, watching for more whales.

I was also really impressed with the relaxation options and the shopping.  We found a very affordable spa package at Noosa Springs, which included time in their excellent hydrotherapy baths  (think marble columns, greek statues, and a different jet for every part of your body), sauna, steam room and blast shower, as well as quite possibly the best facial I have ever had, using German botanical products that were carefully chosen for my skin type.  Peregian Beach was my favourite shopping destination, with some gorgeous homewares stores and stylish boho fashion boutiques, as well as a very well curated vintage store selling floaty dresses, blouses and vintage denim.

But my favourite part of the whole weekend was the easy walk we did from Sunshine Beach to Main Beach around Noosa Heads, through the National Park.  The sea was such a magnificent colour, a deep green blue that soothed my soul after a difficult couple of months.  The light sparkling on water was incredibly magical and I just had such a sense of wellbeing on this 2-hour walk. Some of the walk is under bush canopy, but a lot of it is out in the open and I was glad I had good sun protection.  There are also plenty of opportunities for a quick swim on the walk. And the best bit is that because you finish at the eat streets of Main Beach, it’s the perfect excuse for a late lunch and an afternoon drink.

I’m definitely heading back to Noose every winter from now on, it was a perfect weekend.

Stayed at: With Family in Sunshine Beach
Ate at: Betty’s Burgers, Ricky’s, Bistro C
Explored: Relaxation at Noosa Springs Spa, Noosa National Park
Region Highlights: Peregian, Sunshine Beach, Main Beach

Girl in Christchurch

The Tannery Best Shopping ChristchurchBill Sutton Christchurch Art Gallery Canterbury LandscapeNew Regent Street Best Shopping ChristchurchBill Hammond Christchurch Art GalleryDemolished Building Post Earthquake Christchurch

Christchurch is one of the main airports from which to enter New Zealand’s South Island, and because Christchurch is in the centre of the island’s east coast, it offers easy access to Kaikoura, Able Tasman, Marlborough and Nelson to the north, Mount Cook, Mackenzie Country, The Southern Alps and the West Coast to the west, and Queenstown, Central Otago, Costal Otago, Southland and the Southern West Coast (including Fiordland and Milford Sound) to the south.

Historically, Christchurch is a very English city, with beautiful parklands along the Avon River, but the city is currently experiencing significant change after a devastating earthquake 6 years ago. This makes Christchurch a really interesting, dynamic city to visit, as there are new developments constantly, and the 21st century is currently butting up against the older parts of the city that are being preserved.  Two of my favourite new (old) places to visit this trip were The Tannery in Woolston, which is a new shopping and eating precinct in a beautifully preserved old arcade and New Regent Street in the CBD, which is full of cafes and quirky little shops, very near Cathedral Square.  I miss old haunts I used to visit like the Arts Centre, but am fascinated by my old memories of Christchurch and the palimpsest of new developments that have been overlaid over the old routes and ways I used to navigate the city.  I know it’s been very hard for people who live in Christchurch, but she is a wonderfully resilient city and I know it is going to be a very interesting city to visit for years to come.

Surrounding the city on all sides are the gorgeous Port and Cashmere Hills, and it is an amazing feeling being in a city where you can see magnificent and rugged nature looming just beyond the skylines of buildings.  This is something I associate very much with New Zealand, and it always makes me feel like I am home.

Stayed: With friends in St Albans
Ate at: The Caffeine Laboratory, Tanner Street Bakery, The Thai Container
Explored: The Tannery, Christchurch Art Gallery, Crate Escape (an Escape Room in a Shipping Container!)
City Highlights: CBD, Woolston, Lyttelton

Girl in the Hunter Valley

Hunter Valley Vineyard Tour Wedding at Circa 1876 Hunter Valley Halls Road Walk Hunter Valley New South Wales

For somewhere that is less than 2 hours drive from Sydney, we don’t go to the Hunter Valley nearly enough. We were lucky to be invited to a gorgeous wedding at Circa 1876 between Christmas and New Years, however, and stayed at the Convent next door – a gorgeous boutique hotel that has now topped my list of affordable but luxurious places to stay in NSW.

The wedding itself was gorgeous, one of the nicest and most heartfelt weddings I have had the privilege of attending, and it was a great opportunity to explore the Circa 1876 vegetable garden that the restaurant uses to supply some of the produce for their dishes. The vegetable garden is large and varied, with lots of herbs, trussed tomatoes, globe artichokes and feathery fennel.

With only 48 hours to play in the Hunter (and temperatures above 40 degrees centigrade) we had a very laid-back day visiting vineyards after the wedding. We picked up the makings of a picnic lunch from Binnorie Dairy (which we enjoyed from our private balcony looking over the Convent gardens), and went for an afternoon swim in the hotel pool before hitting a few more vineyards in the early evening.  One of the best vineyards we visited was Petersons, where ‘John the Pom’ treated us to a special tasting in the private members room.

Stayed at: The Convent
Ate at: Restaurant Cuvee, Peterson House, Circa 1876, Binnoire Dairy
Explored: Hunter Valley Vineyards
Region Highlights: Broke, Pokolbin, Lovedale, Wollombi, Wollemi

How to Live Like A Traveler (Even When You Are Home)

How to live like a traveler (even when you are at home)
It can be really tough when you get that itch to travel, but circumstances prevent you from traveling too far or for very long.  A big year at work and our first year of having a mortgage to pay off mean that there hasn’t been much scope for overseas trips in the last 12 months, but I have developed some strategies to help keep myself sane and grounded when all I really want to do is take flight.  Here are some of the ways I help myself find that exhilarating and/or comforting feeling that travel always brings into my life.

Centre Yourself

Many mornings when I have to get up, shower and go to work, I try to visualise the excellent life place I was in when I was travelling solo for six months, back in 2013.  The physical place that represents my adventure mindset that I always end up returning is Whistler in Canada, because I was there in summer and the landscape, hiking and people I met were amazing.  I felt so free and grounded there.  Most mornings when I am in the shower, shampooing my hair etc, I imagine I am back in the shower of my dorm at the Whistler Hi Hostel.  This helps me start the day with the same peace and sense of wonder that I have when I am travelling.  Every day is an opportunity to recapture the person I was that summer.

Prepare Your Body for Future Travel

Traveling requires endurance, and we are often far more active when traveling than when at home.  Lately I experimented with being as active and adventurous in Sydney as I am when traveling, and found it really lifted my spirits.  I bought new active wear that I love so much I would wear it all day if I could, and started getting up at 6am at least 3 mornings a week to take the dog for a 7 km walk around Sydney Harbour near our house in Balmain.  I also started cycling 10 km to rock climbing twice a week and going for drives to the beach on weekends for an early morning swim.  Not only do I feel much more fit, strong and capable, I feel encouraged by the fact that I am living the same active life that I would be if I were off on a long adventure. Let’s just say that I have already started my training regime for a life of future travel.

Downsize Your Possessions

After having been home for a while, most of us tend to start to accumulate possessions again. While I love having shelves full of books, an ice cream maker, and at least three big fluffy petticoats for wearing under vintage dresses, I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that I have.  I often lie in bed at night doing an audit of my wardrobe, working out what would make the cut if I were to head off traveling, and what would stay behind.  I’m making a point at the moment of selling or getting rid of a lot of possessions that I just really don’t need in my life any more, and whenever I buy anything new I think about whether this is something that will help me in the future if I decide to live a more transient life.

Make the Most of Your Weekends

Even when you work full time, there are weekends (especially long weekends) when you can get out of the city and go somewhere different.  Even though it has been a very busy year without any overseas trips (NZ doesn’t count), I have been lucky enough to go on several short trips in the last year, including to Queenstown, Noosa, Melbourne, Mudgee, Brisbane, Tasmania, and the Hunter Valley.  Even if you can’t jump on a plane or drive for three hours, there are still plenty of ways to explore your own backyard.  Check out national parks near your home, cheap rental properties near the beach for the weekend, special excursions like walks or kayaking trips.  I especially like We Are Explorers, an Australian community of adventurers who curate awesome microadventures that you can go on close to home.

Travel in Your Own City

Even if we spend much of our time dreaming of far-off or exotic locations, most of us are actually not that great at spending time alone.  If you are thinking about traveling in the future, or just want to capture that magic travel feeling, try wandering your own city.  Pick a suburb you have never been to before and visit for the day, go to museums alone, take solo ferry journeys, take a book to a restaurant or cafe with good atmosphere and eat out alone, visit bookstores and art galleries.  Exploring your own city is a great way to revisit that sense of wonder you carry with you when you travel and gives you a chance to see your own home with fresh eyes.

Travel in Your Own Mind

Even if you can’t leave your home any time soon, there is no reason why you can’t expand your own experiences.  Read world literature, watch foreign films, and cook meals from other cultures.  Food is one of the most amazing things about traveling, and is something we savour and remember long after we have moved on to our next destination.  A great way to live like you are travelling is to eat food from the places you would like to go (or have been).  We love French and German Rieslings and have been thinking about going to Alsace for a long time.  We planned to spend a month in France in 2017, with part of that time spend in Alsace, but unfortunately (due to a number of circumstances) it looks like we may not make it in the next 12 moths.  But last night, to help myself imagine myself there, I cooked Coq au Riesling, and it was delicious.  You would be surprised how many ways there are to travel to a place you have never been, even when you are in your own living room.

Melbourne Day Trip: Macedon Ranges, VIC

Granite Hills Winery, Macedon Ranges

Just an hour from Melbourne, The Macedon Ranges offer a perfect out of town day trip.  Even in rainy September, this hilly rural area was on fine display with daffodils blooming everywhere as the towns and vineyards en route celebrated the coming of spring.

If you are planning on wine tasting, aim for a Friday or Saturday when more vineyards are open. On the Thursday we set out, there were 7 easily identifiable vineyards open for tastings, but they were spread out over a wide area and we had to plan our route.  Granite Hills in Baynton was our pick of the bunch with a smart cellar door, a welcoming host and an impressive range of fragrant and complex cool climate wines.

After hitting a few vineyards we stopped in trendy Kyneton for a late lunch.  The main drag Piper Street is full of edgy and interesting artisan clothing, antique, homeware and culinary stores housed in historic shopfronts (vintage homewares store Kabinett was particularly awesome). Right in the middle  of Piper Street is historic pub The Royal George Hotel, revisioned five years ago as a low key hipster mecca, complete with taxidermy, peeling wallpaper, a large range of craft beers.  The chilled out modern folk on the stereo on the day we were dining included Blitzen Trapper, Bright Eyes and Dana Falconberry.

It would be easy enough to head on from Kyneton to Daylesford and make a proper weekend of it, but as we had to return our rental car by 6pm, we headed off from Kyneton at about 4pm for an easy 60 minute drive back to the Melbourne CBD.  I’ve already started looking for Airbnb properties to rent for a weekend in the future, though.

Ate: Red Duck Curry and Mornington IPA at The Royal George Hotel
Explored: Macedon Vineyards, including Hanging Rock and Granite Hills
Region Highlights: Kyneton, Daylesford