Australia is mainly known for its beaches and tropical paradise destinations. However, it has so much more to offer than just fun in the sun.
I have been living in Sydney for almost two years now and while I love the big city life, I also enjoy exploring the countryside and mountains west of Sydney. There are beautiful country towns in New South Wales and the best part is, it only takes you between two to three hours to get there, making it the perfect weekend getaway.
I spent last weekend at Jenolan Caves, about 175km west of Sydney. The limestone cave formation is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by bushland and lots of wildlife. In fact, I had afternoon tea with a very friendly and cheeky Rosella who took a bite of my piece of cake while a kangaroo was watching the scene. In other words, it’s the complete opposite of the hustle and bustle of the city and very relaxing.
There is only one hotel at Jenolan Caves and it is all you need. Built in the 19th century, it is as charming and old-fashioned as you imagine, with high ceilings and period features including a cozy lounge with a big fireplace and a grand restaurant. This is in fact the only restaurant open for dinner, so be smart and make a reservation as it is booked out almost every night. I learned this the hard way and ended up eating at the bar (which isn’t too bad either).
There are plenty of bush walks to be done, but the main attraction is of course the caves. Eleven caves are open to the public and you’ll have to buy guided tour tickets for all but one cave, which can be explored on a self-guided tour. The guided tours are worth the money, however.
Prepare to be amazed by nature. The Jenolan caves are more than 400 million years old – a number too high to really grasp. But you’ll understand the significance of the caves when you’re standing in the so called Cathedral room of the Lukas cave, where stalactites and stalagmites have grown over thousands of years in shapes that look like church organs, steps and altars.
It does get very cold in winter, but there is central heating at the hotel and it is surprisingly warm inside the caves. Jenolan Caves really is a place of incredible nature and history and a perfect weekend getaway for friends, couples and families alike.
Images via jenolancaves and tripadvisor
Are your BBQ ribs worthy of rock star treatment? Anyone with a passion for meat, music and mingling over fires should head to Port Macquarie for the Blues and BBQ Festival on March 27-28.
This two-day celebration of Australian rituals includes the Australian BBQ Wars, a huge line up of blues bands and the Cutthroat Beard and Moustache Championships.
Teams from across the nation will cook up their best dish in the Vic’s Meat Australian Barbecue Wars, the biggest barbecue competition in Australia, with $10,000 in cash and prizes. There are categories for beef, lamb, pork, chicken, pork ribs and a mystery ingredient, announced a week before the event. Entry is just $150 per team and includes two nights camping, so get your team together and register now!
“The trend in barbecues is ‘low and slow’, cooking meats for up to 16 hours over low temperatures using timber and charcoal. The teams will play with different types of woods to create a unique smoking flavour including apple, cherry, peach, hickory and oak,” says Jay Beaumont, organiser of the BBQ Wars.
A line up of blues bands includes Mia Dyson, Henry Wagons and Chase the Sun, who will play all day at Town Green on March 28. Eat your way around BBQ food trucks from That BBQ Joint, Carlos & Co, Rangers Texas BBQ, Bella BBQ and XS Foods, plus a variety of craft beer including Port Macquarie’s own from Black Duck Brewery.
To take the competition element one step further The Cutthroat Beard and Moustache Championships will celebrate the best clipper action on men’s facial hair.
The festival will take place on the Town Green which is in Port Macquarie’s town centre and alongside the beautiful Hastings River. Attendees can camp or stay at a variety of accommodation within walking distance of all the action.
For more information go to www.bluesandbbq.com.au. Port Macquarie is a 4-hour drive North of Sydney or a 1-hour flight from Sydney and Brisbane with connections to the rest of Australia. Call 1300 303 155 or go on-line at www.portmacquarieinfo.com.au
Are you an adventurous foodie? Perhaps you’re a weekend wine connoisseur? Or maybe you and your partner are simply looking for a relaxing getaway somewhere lacking the traffic, noise and crowds? Well I tick all of the above boxes and was lucky enough to find that central NSW had me covered. And, in particular, a little country town that has managed to keep itself a secret (until now) – Mudgee.
Just three and a half hours drive from Sydney, Mudgee had my essentials sorted – fantastic coffee, delicious food, beautiful boutiques and, of course, wonderful wine (oh, and did I mention the open spaces, not a single traffic light or the weird sound… wait, it was silence).
Not only were the locals lovely and keen to help but it seemed almost all the produce we consumed was locally made – as in it didn’t spend four hours on a truck, four weeks in the freezer or four days on the shelf!
I could possibly write a 10-part series on all the amazing food and wine experiences this region has to offer (or at least a vistors’ guide book) but instead I’ve chosen a few of my personal faves and recommendations from the locals that are a Mudgee must:
- Pipeclay Pumphouse: One of the newest restaurants in the region, Pipeclay Pumphose opened late last year at Robert Stein vineyard (a winery/vineyard/motorcycle museum where the grapes are grown, matured and bottled all onsite). Only using the best locally produced goods, the restaurant has even begun to make their own cured meats but the vibe is far from pretentious and much like attending a family reunion, with a relaxed vibe and feelings of sheer comfort. Caution: You may not what to leave… Ever!
- Zin House/Lowes Wines: What more could you ask for than overlooking a vineyard that makes up part of a 1000-acre biodynamic and organically certified farm while having lunch and a glass of wine? The Zin House at Lowes Wines estate features food by Kim Currie with wine by David Lowe in an architecturally designed, zincalume Zin House. Their specialty if long and lazy weekend lunches consisting of seasonal produce from the farm and local producers.
- Alby & Esthers: Tucked away at the end of an arcade and off the main street of town, this café-come-wine bar is a hidden gem that feels like home the second the walk in the door. Owner Lara serves delicious meals and coffee during the day and then spot transforms into a great place for an evening tipple on weekend nights. Brunch is my favourite meal of the day and the aptly named Brunch Plate ($16) did not disappoint!
- Mudgee Farmers Markets: Held on the third Saturday of every month on the grounds of St Mary’s Catholic Church, you’ll find the best of local produce including cheeses, wines, olive oil, sourdough, sweets and pretty much anything your palette desires.
- Wild Oats Pavillion: Luxury abounds at Wild Oats Pavilion and it has lived up to its reputation of being one of Mudgee’s premier venues. Set in the grounds of the Robert Oatley vineyard (the oldest in the region), Wild Oats is a relaxed and adaptable space that can cater for a couple, a family, a wedding or a business conference, serving the best regional and seasonal produce with complement wines produced on site.
- Roth’s Wine Bar: This amazing little watering hole is quaint and unassuming on the outside but is a hive of activity inside and is certainly a local favourite. Ideal for tasting what the local wineries have to offer (considering the majority of the wine list is made up of local vino), boasts live music on Friday and Saturday nights and a yummy tapas menu for sharing over a bottle (or two).
Thinking of booking right away? Here’s where you’ll find all the info you need: visitcentralnsw.com.au
The top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the most romantic and unique places to take your partner. BridgeClimb is perfect for couples looking for a ?thrill-seeking? experience that will be remembered for a lifetime. PS Did you know that over 750 people have been proposed to at the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge?
Check the BridgeClimb website for more www.bridgeclimb.com/shesaid or phone the BridgeClimb Ticket Hotline: (02) 8274 7770
If you thought that sipping champagne and watching the sun rise with your loved one was the height of romance we?ve got a twist on the old champagne sunrise that will leave you breathless. Imagine soaring in a fabulous hot air balloon, drifting across the sky taking in the sunrise from a vantage point previously reserved for things with wings. Balloon Aloft has been helping us mere mortals take to the sky for over 22 years. For further information, or to book online see the Balloon Aloft web site www.balloonaloft.com or call (02) 4938 1955.
We all know how divine it is to be pampered for an hour to two at a gorgeous day spa. Just think of how decadent a treatment for two would be?
Retreat at the Lyall is a holistic spa experience for men and women offering an extensive range of face and body treatments designed to enliven your senses and leave you totally rejuvenated. A must for any pleasure-seeking couple is the Retreat Rasul treatment for two.
Your scrub, mud and moisturising treatment takes place in the heady vapours of a private steam room ? just you and your partner – nude?(You can have an assisted Rasul with one of the lovely therapists, but three?s probably going to be crowd?).
Contact Retreat at the Lyall 03 98686 8333 for bookings and more information.
Indoor rock climbing ? scale new heights and work up a sweat!
Sexy salsa dance classes ? learn the moves together!
Hiking ? head for the hills and experiences the thrill of the great outdoors. Don?t forget to take a blanket?