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Merry Christmas – enjoy the holidays!

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Hi all,

 

We’d like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year… and what a year it’s been!

 

We started 2015 in Cairns, where we stayed until May, working and biding our time until we had to fly home for two weddings.

 

Australia Day 2015 Cairns

 

Once we were on the road again, our task was fairly simple – explore the east coast of Australia.  After a magical visit at Paronella Park, we passed through Townsville and Mackay before heading inland to the beautiful Lake Elphinstone.

 

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We cruised through the Central Highlands before returning to the coast. We ate beef in Rockhampton, drank rum in Bundaberg, then caught a ferry to Fraser Island. We gave the Troopy a 4WD workout at Landcruiser Mountain Park and watched the rain clouds come in on the Sunshine Coast.

 

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We spent about three weeks in Brisbane because Dave needed some medical attention, but it was great to spend time with friends in that beautiful city.  As we approached the Gold Coast, the dark clouds returned and by the time we got to the Best Of All Lookouts, we couldn’t see a thing!

 

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We crossed the border into New South Wales and bee-lined straight to Byron Bay for a few days in the easternmost town of Australia. We were lucky to get a few days of sun but the drizzle returned as we made our way to Coffs Harbour.  Finally, with some sun, we got to enjoy the beautiful coastline from Port Macquarie to Newcastle.

 

 

We enjoyed a tipple in the Hunter Valley before spending a week on the Central Coast, helping out a family with their household duties while Juz scored some work with a school holiday program in Gosford.

 

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Arriving in Sydney was a little surreal. It’s the biggest city in Australia and we spent a lot of time walking around the city getting exhausted. We also have a few friends in Sydney so it was great to catch up and spend time with them.

 

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We headed inland to the Blue Mountains and Central West just in time for a freakish cold front to sweep through the area. We had the pleasure of experiencing subzero temperatures and snow, as well as seeing the Dish in Parkes and exotic animals at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.

 

 

With a few more friendly visits in Kiama and Milton, and a stop at the Big Merino in Goulburn, we finally visited our country’s capital. We called in at the War Memorial and National Mint and even saw our old travel buddies Tom and Bella.

 

 

Once we returned to the coast, the wet weather reappeared and we reached the Victorian border within a day or two. From then on, there was no point stuffing around – we were 4 hours from home.  On Sunday the 2nd of August, we rolled in unannounced and enjoyed a hot shower and warm bed.

 

Since our return to Melbourne, we’ve been busy.  We got jobs, reconnected with friends, and started making plans for the future.

 

We’re going to take a few weeks off to enjoy the silly season and spend time with our family and friends. We’ll see you all in the new year with more posts about the last leg of our lap around Australia, as well as our run down of Tassie later in the year.

 

Thanks for all your support,

 

Dave & Juz

 

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City Profile : Newcastle

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We had an awesome time in Newcastle.  The city had a lot to offer in terms of scenery, museums and history, and there were plenty of yummy things to eat and drink.  We got to experience a range of conditions from brilliantly sunny to miserably cold and wet, and looking for all the funky street art around town was fun.

 

We also got to share our dorm at the Newcastle Beach YHA with the most excellent and generous bloke, Blake, who shared his honey bourbon with us and started an incredible night of storytelling that left us feeling a little seedy in the morning.  Unfortunately, he had gone by the time we woke up, but we will never forget him and we officially dedicate our $100 Day in Sydney to him.

 

Fast Facts

  • Newcastle is Australia’s second oldest city, the second most populated area in NSW and is the biggest city in the Hunter Region.
  • People from Newcastle are called Novocastrians.
  • It’s the largest coal exporting harbour in the world.
  • Lots of famous people come from Newcastle – some include former Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins, the band Silverchair, and one hit wonder Yahoo Serious, who has disappeared from the face of the earth after that terribly quirky film Young Einstein, which was also filmed in Newcastle.

 

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History

Originally called Malubimba by the traditional owners, the Newcastle region was first discovered in 1797 by an English naval officer who was out looking for some runaway convicts who had stolen a ship from Sydney Cove.  He sailed into the Hunter River and after a bit of exploration, he reported back about a place with a deep water port and abundant coal.  In 1799, Newcastle recorded its first export of coal when 50 tonnes of the black stuff was shipped to Bengal via Sydney in the vessel ‘The Hunter’.

 

Unfortunately, Newcastle didn’t always have such a great reputation.  It used to be a penal colony where all the dangerous criminals were sent to work in the coal mines.  It was an awful place where harsh punishment was dished out frequently and conditions were terrible.  Newcastle remained a penal colony until 1823 when farming was introduced to the area.  Military rule was replaced with a free pioneer settlement.

 

Things to See & Do

It’s an absolute pleasure to walk around Newcastle.  It has such a great mixture of new and old.  Search for colourful street art while you admire the heritage buildings, and everything is within walking distance or on the free bus loop.

 

 

Civic Park has a beautiful fountain and is sandwiched between the Newcastle Art Gallery and City Hall. Nearby is Darby Street, a bustling little precinct with cafes and restaurants.  A short walk away is Queens Wharf along the Hunter River, as well as Hunter Street Mall.

 

Lock Up Cultural Centre

An old police station and prison that has been turned into an art gallery.  Wander through the cells of the heritage building while you browse the art, keeping in mind that the venue’s original use ceased in 1982.

 

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Christ Church Cathedral

If you enjoy a church, then by all means visit this one.  There is plenty to see – pretty stained glass windows, custom embroidered prayer cushions, beautiful architecture, and there’s even a hole in the floor where you can view the foundation stone.

 

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Newcastle Museum

One of the best museums we’ve visited on our journey.  There’s an eye-popping giant illuminated earth overhead as you enter an awesome interactive science display.  Play with magnets, lift cars and create tornadoes while you learn stuff!

 

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There’s also a great display on the history of the area where we learnt about the devastating 1989 earthquake that rocked Newcastle, and the industry exhibition gave insight into the regions coal mining and BHP steel production works.

 

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Coastal Highlights

There is plenty to see along the coast.  If you start from Nobby’s Lighthouse and Breakwall, which seems to be a popular exercise spot amongst the locals, and head south along the east coast, you’ll walk past a few landmarks.

 

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Fort Scratchly sits atop the hill and overlooks Nobby’s Beach – it was a commanding post built in 1882 to protect the city again Russian attack.  However, the guns weren’t used until WW2 when Japanese submarines fired on Newcastle.

 

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Further down is Newcastle Ocean Baths, a historic site that opened in 1922.  It has a beautiful art deco façade and the pools overlook the ocean.  The day we walked past, we were lucky to see a whale not far from the shore.

 

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The Obelisk

With origins dating back to 1819, the obelisk started out as a windmill that ground flour.  Its position not only allowed the windmill to catch the wind and grind flour at great speeds, it also became a landmark for sailors along the coast.  In 1847, the windmill was sold and sailors were pissed off because their marker was missing, so in 1850, the local government erected the Obelisk.

 

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Over the years, the Obelisk has been damaged by lightning strikes, and an explosion caused by a gas leak ignited by two girls playing with fireworks.  These days, it’s a great place to get a panoramic view of the city.

 

Bogey Hole

Despite seeming quite dangerous, Bogie Hole is a popular swimming spot amongst the locals.  It’s one of Australia’s oldest ocean sea baths, carved out by convicts in 1820.  It used to be known as the Commandant’s Baths but colloquially became known as Bogey Hole from a native word for ‘to bathe’.

 

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Food & Drink

Foghorn Brewery

Serving directly from the tank to the tap, the Foghorn Brewery produces a great selection of craft beers in a big warehouse-style space.  Dave enjoyed the Sligo Extra Stout with its rich coffee and chocolate flavours and balanced bitterness while Juz liked the big 7% Belgio Blonde, which was ridiculously drinkable with fruit and yeast characteristics.

 

http://www.foghornbrewhouse.com.au/

 

Harry’s Café De Wheels

This historic Novocastrian icon started back in the 1930s as Harry’s, with humble ‘pies ‘n’ peas’ that were popular with sailors, soldiers, taxi drivers and policemen.  The café operated until 1938 when Harry was sent to the war, where he earned his nickname, Tiger (hence the signature dish of a pie topped with potatoes, peas and gravy).  When he returned to Newcastle, he reopened his café and renamed it Harry’s Café de Wheels because council regulation required mobile food vans to move at least 12 inches a day.  Over the years, many celebrities have visited Harry’s – Brooke Shields, Frank Sinatra, Russell Crowe, Elton John, Anthony Bourdain, even Colonel Sanders!

 

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We stumbled across Harry’s during a massive walk around the city to shake off our hangover from the night before. The timing was perfectly aligned with lunchtime so we stopped for a Pie & Peas, as well as a Hot Dog de Wheels, complete with mushy peas, chilli con carne, garlic onions and stripes of cheese sauce and chilli sauce.  Neither fancy nor gourmet, but totally delicious.

 

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http://www.harryscafedewheels.com.au/

 

The Grand Hotel

For a cheap lunch, you can’t go past the Grand Hotel.  Dave scored the $10 chicken schnitzel with chips and salad while Juz paid a little extra for the New York sandwich with fries – tangy and juicy with just enough chips.  Both were absolutely delicious and satisfied our midday hunger.

 

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While we were there, one of the bartenders came out and told us about his motorcycle trip around Australia.  It’s always great to hear about other people’s travels, but we were amazed that he did the whole lot in only two months!

 

Good Brother Espresso Shop

A cute little café that makes a great coffee, and even offers blankets to customers sitting outside during winter.  How nice!

 

Information & Accommodation

Free public transport is available in Newcastle.  Catch any blue and white State Transit bus within the inner city zone between 7:30am and 6pm for FREE!  For more information, visit the City of Newcastle website.

 

For friendly accommodation that is centrally located, book yourself in at the Newcastle Beach YHA.  It’s located on Pacific Street within an historic building, complete with a grand wooden staircase and chesterfield couches.  For more information, check out their website.

 

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Big Things : The Big Mosquito, Hexham NSW

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The Big Mosquito was built in 1993 and is nicknamed Ozzie the Mozzie.  It is located outside the Hexham Bowls Club and is modelled after a local mosquito called the Hexham Grey.  The original Ozzie disappeared in 2010 and was never recovered.  The replacement Ozzie was put up around two months later, new and improved with eyes that light up at night.

 

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Drink : The Hunter Valley

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The Hunter Valley Wine Region is located around 60km inland from Newcastle, with Pokolbin at the centre.  It’s the hottest wine region in Australia and despite the plethora of vineyards and wineries, the area contributes only 3% of the total wine production of Australia.  The area had established vines by 1823 and flourished as a wine region from then onwards.

 

The two predominant varieties that are grown in the area are Semillon and Shiraz.  Semillon wines are white, crisp and acidic with some citrus, apple and subtle spice and they get better with age.  As the wine oxidises, it changes to a deep yellow colour and develops creamy apricot flavours.  Due to the climate of the area, the Shiraz wines are a little different – they almost resemble a Pinot Noir.  Shiraz wines used to be known as Hunter River Burgundy but because of France’s copyright on region names (like Champagne), they are back to being Shiraz.

 

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Wineries

Saddler’s Creek

The first winery on our Hunter Valley adventure, it was a great way to get to know the varieties of the region.  We tried a young crisp Semillon and compared it to an older Semillon with a distinctly more mature and delicious flavour.  Our host was great to chat to and knew a lot about the region.

 

Lindemans

One of the oldest wineries in the region, Lindemans have been around since 1843.  Their cellar door is quite impressive both on the outside and inside, and their entire selection was fantastic.  We particularly liked the 2013 Shiraz Reserve 1300 because it wasn’t as dry as most of the other Shiraz wines, and it was full of raspberry and dark cherry flavours.

 

Tulloch

We had a great tasting session here – the guy who hosted us really knew his stuff – but instead of focusing on Semillon wines, we explored Verdelho.  We learnt that Tulloch was the first to use the variety to make a table wine instead of a sweet dessert wine.  We dabbled with the reds before getting into the fortified wines.  The Limited Release Crème De Vin was absolutely delicious, full of ripe apricot and honey.

 

Piggs Peake Winery

All of the wines are named after something to do with pigs.  The Hogshead Chardonnay was lovely, the Suckling Pig Shiraz was sweet and fruity, and the Little Pig Verdelho Swines Only dessert wine was to die for, but when we were presented with a Shiraz named Kevin, our questioning glances were answered with one sultry word… “Bacon”.

 

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Pepper Tree Wines

This is a fairly young winery, having been established in 1991, and their cellar door operates out of a renovated barn that is simply charming.  They do a wonderful NV Tipsy Muscat that is supposed to come with its very own ‘tipsy’ bottle, but they had sold out that day so we missed out on the novelty.

 

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McGuigans

These guys are fairly well known but because they were right next to a cheese factory, we figured we’d check them out.  Their cellar door is huge and they have won several international awards for winemaker of the year.  Our favourite was the 2007 Bin 9000 Semillon – a gold medal winner that deserves its awards – and the NV Personal Reserve Muscat that had amazing nutty butterscotch and caramelised fig flavours that would not give up.

 

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Peterson House

Offering something a little different to the typical Hunter Valley range, Peterson House likes to add bubbles.  We tried most of what they had, each one better than the one before.  Their best seller, Pink Blush, was a great bubbly with floral and candied orange tones but what we loved was the Sparkling Botrytis Semillon and Sparkling Fortified Shiraz.

 

Breweries

Hunter Beer Co.

What was supposed to be a quiet session with a paddle in the corner turned into an incredible tasting extravaganza when one of the brewers came over for a chat.  Not only did we try the four beers on the paddle, but he also brought over samples of his zesty Ginger Beer, sweet Barley Wine, and the Slaked Magpie, which ended up being Dave’s favourite because it was like drinking a chocolate milkshake.

 

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He also told us a great story about how Hefeweizen beers existed in Germany before bananas, so when bananas finally arrived, everyone thought they tasted like beer!

 

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Lovedale Brewery

Located at the heart of the Crown Plaza Resort, the Lovedale Brewery offers a paddle of four beers for $9, which is pretty cheap.  We got the Lager, Pale Ale, Rye IPA and Porter, and while the Rye IPA was a pleasant surprise with deliciously sweet aromas and a toffee flavour, the crisp and refreshing lager was the clear winner.

 

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Matilda Bay Brewhouse

We broke all the rules at the Brewhouse, choosing our own selection of beers to taste instead of choosing one of their pre-selected paddle options.  While Juz favoured the Small Batch Bright Ale, Dave enjoyed the IGP (Itchy Green Pants).

 

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Hunter Distillery

With a massive range of spirits and flavours, there is something for everyone here, but our favourite by far was the honey vodka – it was like having honey on toast. The drinking vessels were very cool too.

 

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Food

The Hunter Cheese Factory

This was one of our favourite cheese tasting experiences.  We got a platter for $6.95 to share and it included five cheeses varying from a soft fromage to a creamy blue vein.  We loved the Sicilian style feta for its great savoury balance, as well as the Branxton blue brie for the rich earthy and mushroom flavours.

 

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Binnorie Dairy

The cheese tasting was free, fast and without any fuss, and before we knew it, we walked out with a tub of herb and garlic fromage frais.  This was an easy choice, but if we had more room in our fridge, we would have taken a jar of their labna and marinated goat fetta too.

 

Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop

Stocking local and imported cheeses, this was our only chance to sample some Hunter Belle cheese, made with Murray’s Beer.  The cheeses were odd – they had a strange yeasty flavour – but they were still good.  We also got to try some St Agur, a decadent blue cheese from France that costs around $100 a kilo.

 

Hunter Valley Chocolate Company

While we didn’t really taste any chocolate, there was a counter offering fudge tastings.  There was a massive range of flavours, but we loved the Australiana with lemon myrtle and macadamia, as well as the salted peanut caramel.

 

Hunter Valley Cookies

Located at the Village Shops near the Gardens, this little cookie shop makes huge cookies, and even has an interesting and eclectic collection of cookie jars.  We sampled the gluten free Florentine, which was a big, fat disc of chewy deliciousness.

 

While we were in the Village, we checked out the Tunnel of Beer in the Garden Cellars.  The selection of local and international beers was huge and it’s definitely worth having a look.

 

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Hotel Cessnock

Set in a swanky old building, the Hotel Cessnock has a few cheap lunch specials.  After doing a few wineries in the morning, we stopped for some lunch.  Dave got the rump steak and chips for $11 while Juz splashed out on a chicken schnitzel burger and chips for $12.  Both were tasty and adequately portioned to keep us going for the rest of the day.

 

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Information & Accommodation

Self-drive tours of the Hunter Valley are fine, but you will need a designated driver.  There are so many wine tours available for the area, it would be a shame not to take advantage of someone else driving you and your friends around.  Accommodation and wine tour bookings are available at the Hunter Valley YHA.

 

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If you don’t need the comfort of a tidy kitchen and warm bed, there is a rest area north of the region about 5km west of Branxton.  It can be a little noisy there though because it’s between the highway and the railway that transports all the coal to Newcastle for export. We didn’t mind because we had friendly neighbours JK and Oona to keep us company!

 

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The Hunter Valley YHA

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The Hunter Valley YHA is located in the heart of the wine country and is the perfect place to stay while you taste the region.  The purpose built hostel is set in a quiet location and is surrounded by beautiful countryside.  The onsite vineyard yields grapes that are sent to local winemakers for bottling.  The resulting wine is available for purchase at the hostel.

 

We spent only one night at the Hunter Valley YHA.  It was a great way to get settled in the area and with the winter chill settling in, having a warm meal and a warm bed was priceless.

 

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Facilities

The hostel sleeps 48 guests, and each room opens out onto a veranda that wraps around the whole building.  During the winter, extra blankets are provided to keep you toasty and warm.

 

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Recent renovations have brought new life to the kitchen, bathrooms and lounge area, with plush faux leather couches, new tables and a brand new conduction stove.  Outside is a BBQ area that overlooks the vineyard, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see a cute bunny or two grazing on the grass.

 

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The adjacent shed houses the laundry, which costs $3 per load for washing and another $3 to dry.  There’s a clothes line as well if you have the time.  There is also a swimming pool with hammocks for the warmer months. While you’re at the Hunter Valley YHA, book yourself in for a wine tour.  Alternatively, get a big group together and rent out the entire hostel!

 

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Things Nearby

Within 1km

  • The Hunter Beer Co. – only 700m away, enjoy a night out drinking craft beer. Next door is the Potters Hotel and Brickworks Brasserie that pours Hunter Beer Co. brews and has a nice menu.

 

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Surrounding Attractions

  • Cessnock – only 2.7km away, this is the closest town to the hostel and has supermarkets, cafes and various other services that you may require. Hotel Cessnock does a great cheap lunch deal if you’re hungry.
  • Wineries – the closest cluster of wineries is around 3.5km away to the west.
  • Kurri Kurri – 15km to the east is Kurri Kurri, a cute little town with one of Australia’s newest big things, the Big Kookaburra.
  • Newcastle – the closest city to the Hunter Valley, Newcastle is only 1 hour away.

 

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The Essentials

The Hunter Valley YHA is located at 100 Wine Country Drive in Nulkaba.  Reception is open from 8am to midday, then from 5pm to 8pm.

 

To make an enquiry, call 02 4991 3278 or email huntervalley@yha.com.au.  Alternatively, you can visit their website.

 

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Big Things : The Big Kookaburra, Kurri Kurri NSW

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Possibly one of the newest big things, this 4.5 metre sculpture of a kookaburra was erected in 2009 to celebrate Hydro Aluminium’s 40th year in the area.  Hydro Aluminium is a Norwegian company that has projects in more than 50 countries.  The aluminium plant is nearby but Hydro decided to close it in 2012.

 

The kookaburra is a symbol that has been used by the community for many years. The sculpture stands in Rotary Park in the centre of town.  We love kookaburras and we were really pleased to stumble across this well built and beautifully painted Big Kookaburra – it’s definitely one of our favourite big things.
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