Category: Sydney

Sydney to Brisbane in 7 days

The Aussie road trip

The Australian road trip is the dream of most gap year travellers.  Bondi in a camper with a surfboard attached. Living it large in Byron. As the DH and I are not surfers, there had been shark attacks in Byron Bay, and we are ‘mature’ in years if not in our heads, we were looking for a different sort of road trip. One that involved food, good food. And we were not disappointed. And, again as happens to us frequently, almost all the best places we found were by happenstance rather than by planning.

It was my idea to road trip from NSW to Queensland. How to do it took up many days of research, where to stop and what to see.

I asked my Aussie friends whether camper or car would be best. The Phoebe hippy in me screamed camper. The organised Monica said calmly, car. The Australians all said, fly.

I looked at pre arranged tours. These seemed to fall into two categories, living it large at party locations or upmarket hotels and wine tasting. We have champagne tastes but beer budgets, and did not want to party in Byron.

The Pacific Highway

Also known as The Legendary Pacific Coast is a 1000 km drive (more if like us you wander off the main highway) that many an Aussie will do in a day or two. We had a week. I booked three two night stays at Port Stephens, Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay. This would give us time to see a bit more than just the tick list and well we are British, we measure distance in hours not miles or km. Just ask Bill Bryson.

“If you mention in the pub that you intend to drive from, say, Surrey to Cornwall, a distance that most Americans would happily go to get a taco, your companions will puff their cheeks, look knowingly at each other, and blow out air as if to say, ‘Well, now that’s a bit of a tall order,’

Notes from a Small Island

And lots of Australians do make this road trip. Not so many English 50 somethings, they mostly take a tour it seems. And it being late October we hit the school half term ‘spring break’ with Sydneysiders making the most of the warmer weather, hotel prices were increasing and camp sites were filling up. And the roads were busy.

Choose your car wisely

Choose big and powerful. We didn’t want a SUV so we got a Toyota Camry. If you have driven in Australia you know you don’t want anything they call small or compact. The highway is busy, the speed limit (target) is 100km/ph and it can be a free for all.

Take driving breaks

Our Aussie friends reminded us. Tiredness kills they said. We are English we said. No journey in the UK is longer than 3 hours unless you are on the M25 on a Friday night or the M5 to Cornwall on Bank Holiday weekend. We heeded their advice nonetheless. And those driving breaks paid off with us discovering some hidden gems just off the highway.

Sydney to Port Stephens

Lakeside Cafe Murrays Beach

This is the first of  my ‘just off the highway’ recommendations. We had navigated our way out of the city of Sydney and through the suburbs. Lunch was on our mind. How we stumbled upon this, I don’t recall. I saw a sign to the lake I think. It is based in a popular lakeside and low key resort where Sydneysiders have weekend homes. This is a perfect place to take a driving break – it is not far from the highway, 15 minutes tops,  yet tranquil. After lunch we took a much needed lakeside walk. If you are doing this drive, add this stop to your itinerary. After shaking off Sydney it is ideally placed for a much needed ‘we survived Sydney traffic’ break.

Port Stephens

I chose Port Stephens as destination as it had a reputation for great beaches. And Nelson Bay as it had dolphin watching tours. Tip one. Don’t stay in central Nelson Bay. Tip 2. Don’t stay in Marina Resort. Find out why, here in my review.  Others said about it that you get what you pay for – so we were dreading the other hotels as we had paid about the same for all of them. Learning point here is no you don’t. Because the other two hotels we paid the same for were outstanding. More of them later.

Nelson Bay

Nelson Bay itself is a tired seaside town. Sometime in the 70’s someone thought they would modernise it. And spoil it. It has a marina, tick. For a small town it has a huge supermarket, pubs and drive in bottle shops. This is where families from Newcastle come for a cheap self catering holiday.

Drive a few kilometres either way out of Nelson Bay and everything improves. And you totally get why this is a holiday destination. The scenery, the food, the people. The beaches.  I can only liken it to classic British resorts that have had their heyday and still think a pier and greasy chips with fairground attractions is all you need. It is the Newquay of Cornwall whose neighbours, St Ives, Padstow and Rock, offer so much more for the holiday maker. If I were an Australian I would be a Melburnian. And I expect coffee and craft beer and avo smash. Nelson Bay doesn’t do that.

Or rather it does. Except you need to drive out of town to find these amazing places.

The Nelson Bay Heritage Lighthouse and Reserve is a few minutes drive out of town. Go for the views, go for the museum.

Go for brunch at The Inner Light Tearooms. What a find. The staff were lovely as was the food. The coffee wouldn’t pass muster with a Melburnian but the views make up for it.

Soldiers Point

Drive the other direction out of town toward Soldiers Point and to the marina. Find The Boatshed cafe, on a pontoon, serving amazing food from a tiny kitchen. I can only vouch for the cakes. It was getting choppy so keeping the coffee in the cup was a challenge. But worth it.

Stockton Bay Sand Dunes

Wow. Just Wow. We spotted these from the road as we drove into Nelson Bay and had to visit. No wonder this is a film location – the sand hills are perfect desert locations. I regret now not taking one of the four wheel drive tours on offer. The wind was getting up, surfers were being directed to leave the sea and the tours were on hold for a while. Autumn in NSW. Find out more about the beach and tours here.

Port Stephens to Coffs Harbour

But first brunch.

We left early without breakfast. We negotiated our way back to The Pacific Highway with hopes of finding somewhere along the way – nowhere was open. Back on the highway I spotted a sign to a service station taking us back onto the original Pacific Highway at Karuah. As we pulled in we noticed a cafe opposite and made the best decision ever to have brunch at Four One Six Cafe

Newly opened and owned by a husband and wife team, the eggs served here are free range and from their own chickens. These are foodies, they know food, they love people to love their food and they know where to eat. After brunch, we decided to order something for lunch on the road. Just a sandwich. Ha! it came wrapped in a box with wild flowers to decorate it. And, knowing where we were headed,  plenty of advice of where to eat in Byron Bay.

This is no ordinary roadside cafe. This is the foodies roadside cafe. Go. Visit Port Stephens beaches, avoid the highway and take the old road.

From Port Stephens to Coffs Harbour

The drive was a pleasure. It was like taking the B road that no one knows of in Cornwall. With wooden bridges over rivers reminiscent of Madison County. In my mind at least. To be away from the manic drivers, the trucks and the mayhem made this one of my favourite drives of the trip.

Seal Rocks Lighthouse

The official name for this lighthouse is Sugarloaf Point Light. We made  a big detour to visit this lighthouse. It was worth it. The drive takes you through lush green woodland and then along narrow roads to the car park below the lighthouse. A ten to figteen minute walk through woodland and you reach the lighthouse. As you walk through the trees you can hear the sea, but not see it.

And then, this.

I was particularly delighted to see that the original lamp which is still there was made by Chance Brothers, in Smethwick, where I live. Near Birmingham.

There is also accommodation here – noted for our next visit to Australia. Imagine waking up to this every day.

Reluctantly we had to press on, as we had accommodation booked in Coffs Harbour.

But first lunch.

Port Macquarie

We stopped off at one of the many beaches in this seaside town to eat the packed lunch made by Four One Six.

Port Macquarie reminded me of an English seaside town built in the Victorian era. But with sunshine. We found a spot to eat our lunch, on Flynns Beach  and, if it hadn’t been for the sun, we could have been in St Ives. Surfers, sea, a cafe. And an amazing lunch.

I can’t tell you much more about the town as we only stopped for lunch. I liked it better than Nelson Bay – a lot more. All too soon it was back on the road to get to our accommodation on Day three of the road trip.

Coffs Harbour

It was approaching dusk when we arrived. Fortunately we had good directions for our hotel – as it would have been difficult to find. It was just off the main and very busy highway heading out of the town and after our last hotel, I did not have high hopes. We had paid the same room rate, it was out of town, I was prepared for the worst.

I had to check we were at the right place. Opal Cove Resort, yup right place. Swanky reception area, efficient and helpful staff, such a contrast to the last place. Which absolutely goes against the  ‘you get what you pay for ‘ rule of thumb. It had mixed review on Booking.com – but after the last dump this was swanky. Yes it was showing its age a bit – we were still low season, so the pool area was not really in use, but the rooms were comfortable and clean. The bed had a proper mattress, without lumps, this was an upgrade I was happy with.

opal cove resort

I am guessing our room was cheap because our view was the car park and not the sea. We sneaked a peak at a sea view room – same lay out but with a view. The chambermaid (who let us take the peak) said that although the views were great, the room gets very warm so people close the curtains. Chatting to her, she told us how much she loved her job and said ‘look at my office’. I was to hear that phrase often on this trip.

Same went for the waitress in the restaurant. Loved her job. Reception staff said the same. The hotel had recently been taken over and I don’t know what the management were doing, but they were getting it right. Happy staff = happy customers.

With the hotel being so far out of town, and no other restaurants or hotels near by you are kind of forced to eat in. The cynical me thought that would mean inflated prices and mediocre food. I was wrong on both counts.

The Big Banana

Australia has big things. Big prawns, Big Apples, Coffs Harbour has The Big Banana. So we had to go visit and have a photo taken there. On site there is also an Opal Museum and a toboggan run, this is one big holiday town.  There is also a tourist information office, and if there is only one reason other than that photo to visit The Big Banana, the tourist office is it. We had one day in Coffs Harbour so we wanted to see as much as possible and this is the place to start.

Big Banana

Turns out there is a lot to do here, which is why it is a popular holiday resort. The town itself was very ordinary, modern shops, lots of traffic, not a charming town – but practical- providing accommodation and services for people visiting the area. From the Big Banana to National Parks to a cartoon gallery in a bunker, Coffs Harbour has it all.

The Forest Sky Pier

The Forest Sky Pier was where the tourist office suggested we go as we only had a short time in Coffs Harbour. A ten minute drive off The Pacific Highway above Coffs Harbour through banana plantations, and it is free. If you have more time, there is a circular drive and a number of hikes. Magnificent views of Coffs Harbour.

Sky Pier

We also went for a walk along the huge concrete breakers, protecting Coffs Harbour and to watch the surfers.

Coffs Harbour offers lots to do for the holidaymaker – definitely a lot to do and see for all ages. The town itself has no ‘heart’ it is purely functional. That doesn’t make it a place not to visit though. It is just not what I imagined it would be like.

Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay

Ulmarra – stepping back in time

Driving northwards, over wooden bridges astrid the Clarence River and the strong sweet smell of sugar production was unmissable. We stopped off at Ulmarra. No reason why we chose to stop here – a sign for a pub, the river? I don’t recall. It seems we have an instinct to find the gems just off the highway.

Ulmarra is steeped in history. A hotel, a river, antique shops and a cafe. According to the Clarence Tourism website:

A visit to Ulmarra is like stepping back in time as the village remains one of the finest examples of a 19th Century riverport in Australia. The entire village is classified by the National Trust.

And it has a book shop.

Ulmarra Bookshop

But no ordinary book shop, this was Ulmarra Books and Collectibles.

For those of you know of Hay on Wye, in the UK, and its book shops, this bookshop is reminiscent of what Booths Books was like before it got a make over. A health and safety nightmare and a book lovers dream. We were only there to browse. We did not have room for books. I was getting rid of books at home.

And then Mr Sleeve Notes found this.

A few days earlier we had had the perfect experience of a late Sunday lunch at Doyles, Sydney. Which is probably the best fish and chip shop in the world.

Reader, I bought the book.

And if anything can make a town even more perfect than a good book shop, it is a good cafe. And Ulmarra has one of those too.

J’s cafe

Homemade, organic, home grown, vegan, vegetarian and bloody good coffee. Just heard it was for sale. If it is still there and you are passing, go visit. Food is good, lots of cool surfing photos and a garden.

Ulmarra is the perfect stop off. It is quiet, has historical significance and has coffee and books. And just off  the Pacific Highway. No detour required. There was no tourists there. A few people waiting for the bus, and us. I guess most Aussies speed by intent on getting to Byron Bay and all its attractions, claim they have no history and remain oblivious to it as they pursue the sun and the surf. And that is a mistake.

Byron Bay

Our last stop over on the road to Brisbane and we chose Byron Bay. A major holiday destination. The town centre is busy and full of tourist shops and people in swimwear. They are here for the sun and the surf. Scratch the surface of Byron and there is so much more than surf and sun. And I am not talking about the sharks.

Ramada Ballina

And another great hotel – rooftop pool, good views, free parking and within walking distance of everything you needed, shops, cafes and restaurants. Comfortable rooms – you know you are in a chain. A laundry room neatly tucked in between every two rooms. This is a conference hotel, and it the sort of hotel that would make people want to attend your conference.

Ballina is a functional town, post office, pharmacy, supermarkets, K Mart selling Christmas trees in September. The Thursday Tea Tree Oil Plantation is just outside the town which the only place Idid some shopping. Loved it there – out of the bustle of Byron, yet 5 minutes away by car – if you don’t stop to take in the view and whale watch.

Harvest NewryBar

Where to start?

Probably the best food I have eaten in my life. Seriously good food.

Foraged and seasonal food. Pretty food. Tasty food. OMG food. Every mouthful was a delight. This is casual fine dining at its best. Go eat there. Just go.

We were lucky to get a table as we had not booked. When the server came over it was obvious he was from the West Midlands (where we live) by his accent – Dudley. He was a teacher on a sabbatical. I don’t think he wanted to go back. Waiter in one of the best places to eat in Byron/Australia or teacher at a secondary school in Dudley? I know what I would choose. Anyway, who would have thought, all the way to Byron and we meet someone from Dudley.

The proprietors of Four One Six told us to eat here. Thankyou. Thankyou. Thankyou.

Harvest have a deli next door, a bakery and fine food.

And when we were there they were hosting a wedding, which was fun to watch.

I did not want to leave. This is a place for a long lunch and a cab home.

Can you tell I loved it?

Yup. Best food ever. The bar was set very high.

The Farm

The Farm was another recommendation from the people at Four One Six.

This is what their website says.

The Farm is principally a working farm, we house a collection of micro-businesses all sharing in a common goal. We invite you to come and visit us and see for yourself how a farm operates, supports the environment and contributes to a healthier lifestyle.

Our motto ‘Grow, Feed, Educate’ inspires all that we do, here and for the community at large. We believe that it is first hand experience of seeing how food is grown and produced that makes the eating of it so much more pleasurable. From this simple pleasure sprouts a curiosity and desire to learn more.

Three Blue Ducks on The Farm offers a different style of food from Harvest, more rustic, hearty. There is also a BBQ, a cafe, bakery, bar, shop and the farm. Due to another wedding (Spring Holiday weekend)  service ended early that day. We were never rushed and enjoyed seeing them set up for the wedding and the arrival of the bride.

Food was outstanding. Another hit. Loved it.

Whale watching

Another stand out highlight was whale watching on the hill above the bay. We were joined on the bench by a guy in his late 70’s. He was originally from Yorkshire, still had the accent, had a great chat with him about how he had come out here and his life – a magic moment – and the whales gave us a great show.

It was tough leaving here. I could have stayed for longer. But we had hotel booked in Brisbane and had to leave.

The next part of the trip was manic – highways, roadworks and lots of traffic. This stretch of the highway is the gateway to The Gold Coast. And everybody was heading there for the holiday weekend. For about 3 seconds we considered heading there to see what was the big attraction. Beaches, sunshine and lots of people. We changed our mind and headed straight to Brisbane, negotiating complicated road systems to get to the airport to drop off the car and catch the shuttle bus to Brisbane.

Our road trip was over. time to kick back for a few days, take some trips and let someone else do the driving.

 

 

 

 

 

Housesitting in Melbourne and other travel plans

Housesitting is the lifestyle plan for me and Phil, my husband, going forward

Eventually we will sign up with an agency, probably Trusted Housesitters. We have not needed to as yet as we were fortunate enough to land our first housesitting assignment through a uni friend.

I hadn’t seen my old uni friend for over 20 years and as part of the round the world trip Phil and I  did in 2011/2 the plan was to go visit her in Melbourne. Our dates clashed with her planned visit to England, which was disappointing as I was looking forward to seeing her again. Then she mentioned that all they needed to organise was a house and dog sitter and I proposed that we could be those sitters. Surprisingly she said yes, having only met my husband at our wedding. I had never met hers. However they entrusted us to look after Mac and Poppy while they were away.

And so it was in November 2011 we got to Melbourne and panicked when questioned by passport control about where we were staying in Melbourne.

‘I don’t know.’

Having since watched Border Control I now realise this was not a good answer to give.

‘My friend is meeting us’

I had realised by then to say ‘a friend I have not seen in over 25 years and just recently got back in touch with through Facebook’ would not have been a good idea.

‘Do you have a phone number for her?’

‘No, I don’t and I don’t have a phone that will work in this country yet.’

‘What if she doesn’t meet you?’

‘She will.’

I don’t think they checked if we were met, but I guess they could see that we had a flight booked out of the country so we reckoned they did not consider there was a big risk of us overstaying our visa. We were let into Australia. Also as it was incredibly busy in the arrivals hall, I think they just needed to get us out of there.

My friend was there at the gate.

And I got to spend two weeks with her as she had to change her dates due to some big music awards thing (Aria is pretty big) she had to attend. It was great because it gave us the opportunity to reconnect, and she and her husband got to show off their city. And we got to see Dolly Parton in concert, for free.

The next time we went in 2015 I had the addresses, emails, phone numbers all ready if I got questioned. Although we had no idea where we were staying in Sydney.  As one of our hosts was a barrister I reckoned she would get us out of the airport if detained.

‘Don’t mention housesitting, I have heard they have a dim view on housesitting.’

I must have said this to Phil a dozen times.

The arrivals hall was empty and we were made to use the retina recognition machines (always a challenge to those of us who wear specs) and sailed through border control in a matter of minutes.

Up until that moment I was convinced we would get the same questions, especially as I had a different visa than I had in 2011. But that is another story. I really must stop watching Border Control.

And now Phil and I are going back for the third housesit at the same house with the same dogs and I am getting all panicky about the visas again. This time it is because we will be in Australia for just under 3 months, the maximum time the e visa allows us to stay.

The reason for the longer stay is that we have two house sits booked now, both in Melbourne, with a gap between them.

Travel plans

The plan was to zoom in, get over jet lag, dump excess luggage in Melbourne and then fly to Darwin, travel over land to Alice and see Uluru. In 2 days, since beginning to write this post, plans have changed. We will now be arriving in Melbourne the day before the sit begins.

This is because Carole King is playing in Hyde Park, London. To make the most of the three-month visa restriction I have had to change our plans. Do you see how complicated and random my life is? Fortunately nothing was booked.

I have three itineraries in front of me and numerous tabs open on the desktop.  Australian Border Control, Viator, Tripadvisor,  tour companies to help decide on tours we can make in-between and after sits. I want to use an Australian based company to tour with, not some big multinational company based in Canada. It is hard to tell with some of them and if you book via Viator I have yet to find out if you can see who the tour operator is.

There are other things to consider.

Do we drive from Sydney to Brisbane? Wait, didn’t I just say we were going to Darwin, Uluru and Alice? Yes I did. That is still the plan between house sits.

We have to go to Sydney as Yum Cha is a must with our friends there.  I wanted to go to Tassie to but no time to fit it in and it will be cold in August. Darwin and Brisbane will be warmer, although the tour operators warn that temperatures drop at night in the NT. I am taking thermals.

So far the itinerary looks like this

10 July Birmingham to Melbourne via Dubai

13 July arrive Melbourne

14 July house sit until  22 August

23 August fly to Darwin

24 August 10 day Kakadu to Uluru tour

3 September fly from Alice Springs to Melbourne

4 to 21 September house sit in Melbourne

22 September fly to Sydney

22 to 25 stay at Rocks YHA Sydney – may do a Bridge climb, will go for Yum Cha

26 September drive to Brisbane using this itinerary

1 or 5 October  Five day Fraser and Lady Musgrave Island tour (dates to be confirmed by operator) the trip gets great reviews although it is expensive

11 October fly Brisbane to New Zealand (tbk) or home or……..

With just two days left on the visa.

I am panicking that something will go wrong and we will overstay the visa and be banned from entering Australia for 3 years (Border Control again).

The other issue I have is packing. What to pack and what in? I still have my back pack but my back is not good. On tours you need to take minimum, yet in Melbourne we will be city slickers and need at least one good outfit. My Dubarry boots with a dress sufficed for Melbourne casual dining but those boots will not be suitable for hiking around Uluru and scuba diving at Lady Musgrave Island. They will not fit in a back pack.

And if we go to New Zealand, do we get a camper van again? We had a love hate relationship with our camper in 2011. Do we fly into Christchurch and see more of the South Island? Will it be too cold? It is often cheaper to hire cars and campers in Christchurch if going to Auckland as the companies want the main stock on the North Island.

After New Zealand I would quite like to visit The Cook Islands. Those Dubarry boots will be of no use there either. Men don’t have these problems.

Oh, did I mention we have a friend working in LA ? We would like to go see him too, and maybe drive to Las Vegas, maybe San Francisco and we always said we wished we had spent more time in Pismo Beach.

Maybe one big road trip across America?

Decisions, decisions.

And then there is the insurance to sort out….. our annual policy will not suffice. The to do list is getting longer.

Where do you think we could go?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eating my way around Melbourne – the one about the Aussie burger

My first Aussie burger set the benchmark for all burgers, Aussie or otherwise.

Kermonds

In December 2011, on a trip along the Great Ocean Road, we stopped off at Kermonds in Warrnambool. This burger was simply the best I had ever had, so juicy and full of things I had never seen on a burger bun before. In England a burger with cheese and a fried onion was thought of as exotic, up until quite recently. I can actually remember at getting quite excited at my first trip to McDonalds in the 70’s. Indeed, I recall it was the father of the person who we were housesitting for, who was responsible for introducing me to my first Big Mac in Milton Keynes.

Kermonds have had a burger bar in Warrnambool since 1949. And not much has changed. It was almost if I had walked onto a set of Happy Days. A few years ago some would have called it old fashioned. Now of course it is ‘vintage’. Fortunately, no burger entrepreneur came along to improve and modernise, so Kermonds has remained much the same for 66 years.

Also after a long day on the road, I was hungry and tired. This place offered much needed tea, freshly cooked burgers and it was just so cool. It wasn’t just the burger that was good, it was the whole retro experience that makes the burger experience so memorable.

I am pretty sure that is still the best burger I have ever had, but a girl has got to keep tasting them, just to make sure. In the UK The Meatshack burgers are still my favourite. They are a pop up burger stall, and can be found at The Digbeth Dining Club and other events around Birmingham.

On occasions I have missed out as I was not willing to queue for them (is any burger worth a 40 minute line?) but I still rate them very highly. Meatshack describe their burgers as ‘dripping filthy goodness’, and they are not wrong. There are Brummies who would argue that The Original Patty Men make the best burgers, I have yet to try one, so Meatshack is the one for me.

Yet I digress. This is all about Burgers in Melbourne. And one in Sydney. More about that later.

Huxtabuger

Visiting Huxtaburger was on the to do list, and although both Phil and I liked the burgers we had (Bills and Theo, eggs, bacon, beetroot and pineapple were involved) we didn’t like the location. This branch is in a food court off Collins Street, it was too small and absolutely rammed. It was only later we realised we were meant to go to the one on Smith Street in Collingwood. We had plans to go there, but time was our enemy. And other burgers needed to be tasted. Of course, the burger would have tasted the same, but as the Kermonds visit demonstrates, the surroundings adds to the overall burger experience.

Easey’s

Given that the location is therefore important to the burger taste sensation, Phil and I were looking forward to visiting Easey’s.

Hidden in a back street of Collingwood so many people had said this was a must visit. Collingwood is a hipsters paradise, full of vintage furniture and coffee shops. Which is why we like the area. Phil and I are far to old to be hipsters, but if we were 30 Phil would grow a beard and I would yearn for Ercol. Instead we pretend to despise hipsters for thinking that typewriters are cooler than an ipad and vinyl is so much better than a CD. The truth being that actually we wish we had kept our typewriter and are smug that we have not disposed of the vinyl. Yes, we are that couple in While We’re Young. An older version of them, obviously. Anyway, when someone decided to put three train carriages on a roof of an office block no one thought it was an odd thing to do.

I nearly didn’t eat at Easey’s. The sweary Rap music was too loud. Yes, I sound like my mother! A dad brought his daughter to eat in the train and her face as she emerged from the lift was one of pure excitement. All I could think was that dad would squirm at the lyrics. I also thought the young staff judged us to not be hip enough to eat there, and it was implied that we should have reserved a table (for a burger joint) so we were given the tiny table that faced the lift. I wanted the drivers seat. We then amused ourselves with pressing the button and taking reflection selfies. Old we may be but we can still be childish.

We ordered the Easey Cheesey, Chicken Salt Chips and a dip. The chips were the star. The burger, not so much. Coffee served in a paper cup and the burger in a bag. Afterwards, when the sound system broke, I managed to have a conversation with the guy running Zone 1 (there are 4 Zones, the train is number 4).

The staff turned out to be not too hip to talk to oldies after all. I discovered that the best burger experience was to build your own. I also discovered that it is not just me that hates the music but this was an area the owner would not move on. It was all part of the Hip Hop Culture he was creating. And that the kids loved the PAC MAN games in Zone 2 where there was no music. Hmm, I think the kids would rather have a burger in the train, and that the day time customers (families, and suits) were different to the clientele (hipsters) after dark. It needed 70’s rock not sweary rap. All in all I was underwhelmed by the experience. The burgers were overpriced, undercooked and music just horrible. The owner claims to be a burger king.

Easey’s Burgers was birthed from one man’s mission to consume every burger he possibly can. The man known as Jimmy Burgers has spent the past three years eating burgers everyday. During this time his eaten over 3,000 burgers, released a book ‘The Burger Book – Victoria’ which has sold nearly 10,000 copies; taken social media by storm with a combined network of close to 35,000 and most recently is working on a short film series based on his burger adventures.

 

The upside? The views are good. And there is great graffiti on Easey Street.

The area is definitely worth a visit, but if I were going for a burger there are better options. Huxtaburger on Smith Street is just up the road and I would also check out Meatballs and Sons on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy next time.

Organic and free range meat. And their balls are gluten free. (That’s what they say on their website). They also say this.

Imagine a restaurant that invites you to know the butcher by name, the grower by the soil on their hands, the chef by his grin as he pinches herbs from the store’s garden, and the wait staff by the granny smith apple they gave you as a parting gift, last time you were here.

Too good to be true? We don’t think so. Simple. Delicious. Goodness all ‘round.

Lentil as Anything

Neither Phil nor I are vegetarians, yet we still love the food and the philosophy at Lentil as Anything.

We are Lentil as Anything, a not-for-profit organisation that relies solely on the generosity of patrons, partners and volunteers. At Lentil as Anything, we believe in the power of humanity to create stupendous change. At our core are our Lentil as Anything vegetarian restaurants, where guests contribute what they feel their meal and experience is worth, according to their own financial ability.

And they make a pretty fine lentil burger.

We ate here a lot. It was a handy place to visit with the dogs after a walk in the Botanic Garden. We are biased as we volunteered at Lentil in 2011. And this burger, despite being meat free, was as good as if not better than many of the meat laden burgers we tasted Down Under.

Coin Laundry

The other place we regularly ate at was Coin Laundry. Dog friendly, just up the road from the dog park, it was our choice for brunch and was where I discovered smashed avocado. This is their Wagyu beef burger. We really like it here, good coffee, friendly staff and sociable company, many of them also dog walking. And dog people are friendly people.

Bunyip

The breakfast burger.  We had planned a visit to the Iron Houses, and discovered that South Melbourne on a sunny Sunday was the place to be for brunch. The cafes I had pinned on Pinterest were so trendy you had to line up for them. That wasn’t going to happen, so we meandered on towards the market and discovered Bunyip just opposite the market.

When I saw the menu, there was never any doubt what Phil would choose. And this café also encourages customers to buy a suspended coffee, which is another good reason to visit there.

Riverland

On our last visit to Melbourne Riverland became a favourite place to cool down with a beer. Despite it being in the middle of winter it was still warm enough for hardy Poms to take off their coats and eat and drink alfresco.

At $13 Australian dollars (£7.50) for a pint, we decided that even with a strong pound, that it was pricey. And Riverland is better in the summer.

The Pink Elephant

The Pink Elephant

Phil also had a Wagyu burger on our first night, at the Pink Elephant. But being jet lagged and all that, no photos. Officially it is called The Windsor Castle and the interior may have you thinking you have gone back to the 1970’s, but for good, solid pub food and well priced beer, it is worth a visit.

The Burger Project

The Burger Project. In windy World Square. Sydney. I had to include this one as it was rather special, if not in Melbourne. And of course I had The Aussie.

Fast food, slow food values, provenance, community, sustainability. You can see why I like the Burger Project.

Burger Project proudly supports local charities and encourages you to continue the responsibility. We believe giving back is paramount and will continue to fundraise through our restaurants, to that end we commit a portion of our turnover to those that need it.

The burgers were very good and for central Sydney, amazingly good value. Not having the hip hop edginess of being in a train on a roof in Collingwood obviously means affordable food. And a better taste in music. Phil said that they were playing the same music that our favourite B&B played on a Sunday morning, and when he remembers what that was, I will update this post.

Update, Phil has remembered. Sunrise, by Norah Jones.

Anyway, we liked the music. Similar to the music style of Sabor y Cultara in LA  it was laid back relaxing music. A place where families, students, suits and hipsters and oldies like me could relax and dive in to a burger and not worry that the kids will ask what the F and MF words mean.

Newsflash

Headline news while we were down under (the press were almost as outraged about this as they are about mislaying some ashes)  American Chef, David Chang said the Aussie burgers were the worst in the world. Has he been to McDonalds? Seems he has:

As for what makes an ideal burger, Chang puts the following on his checklist: ” …bun, cheese, burger. Sometimes bacon. Ketchup on the side, so I can control it. Pickles—yes! Obviously. And the cheese thing has to be very clear: American cheese only.

We need pineapple and beetroot on a burger. And bacon and egg. With smashed avocado on the side please. And fries with chicken salt.

If you are in Melbourne and like burgers here are some more for you to try. 33 Epic burgers. I have mentioned 2 of them and 1 of them was not epic. Or awesome. But you may disagree.

 

From St Kilda to Kings Cross

Back in 2011, in Melbourne, I started using song titles for my blog posts. I had some crazy idea that it would be cool to do this. It lasted a very short time. In one post Talking St Kilda Blues, I mentioned that I had found another song about St Kilda but I would save it for another post. And finally, over three years later, here it is.

In that post back in 2011, I had planned to use it for when I blogged about Sydney. Yet I never wrote a post about Sydney, or anywhere else in Australia, after we had left our house sit in Melbourne. This was mainly because the internet was too expensive in Australia. And I was having too much fun exploring the city, I didn’t have time. It was only recently that I realised had not written anything about Sydney apart from how great the hostel was.

Phil and I loved St Kilda. We volunteered at Lentil as Anything there, and on our last day spent some time wandering around the iconic Luna Park.

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We then made our way along the beach for a pot at another iconic spot, The Esplanade, aka the Espy.

The Epsy

And watched the sunset.

I want to see the sun go down from St Kilda Esplanade
Where the beach needs reconstruction, where the palm trees have it hard
I’d give you all of Sydney Harbour (all that land, all that water)
For that one sweet promenade

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St Kilda from the Epsy

And like in the song, as we found out on the day trip to Manly, it rained in Sydney, a lot.

Have you ever seen Kings Cross when the rain is falling soft?
I came in on the evening bus, from Oxford Street I cut across
And if the rain don’t fall too hard everything shines just like a postcard
Everything goes on just the same

Rain clouds over the Opera House

I was told by Melburnians that while Sydney had the wow factor, Melbourne offered liveability factor. And I cannot disagree. Sydney is wow.

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I am hoping that the friends I will be staying with in Sydney this July will work hard to make me love their city. It won’t be difficult. Of course, I expect rain.

Didn’t we have a lovely day, the day we went to Manly?

Summer in Sydney. This was in January 2012.

Rain in Sydney, from YHA Room

It rained in every city Phil and I visited. Even in Perth. In Perth we had a cyclone, on Australia Day. In Melbourne on Christmas Day we had hailstones the size of your fist.

Me and the trusty kagool

The Kagool came in handy.

Do you reckon we may get sun when we go back in June this year?

We only had a few days in Sydney and had been told a great and cheap way to see the harbour was to take the ferry to Manly.

So we did.

Manly from the pub balcony

It was sunny and warm and we found  great pub for lunch.

Lunch

Hung out at the beach for a while.

I like Manly and if I were to live in Sydney it would be somewhere I would consider. If I won the lottery.

I actually have no idea where we are staying on our next visit. We have friends there, they said we can stay with them. I do not know where they live. Maybe I ought to ask them?

On our last visit we were questioned about where we were staying in Melbourne by immigration. I told them that we were staying with a friend. I was asked the address. I told them that I didn’t know. Did I have a phone number for them? Err, no. I told them she was meeting me, and they said that perhaps next time it may be a good idea to have at least an address.

Having watched Border Control recently I reckon we were lucky to have not been taken to a room for questioning. Luckily the airport was so busy, and we didn’t look like drug runners. We just looked tired and old, so they let us in. And I didn’t mention that she was an old uni friend, who I had not seen for over 25 years and that we were house sitting for them.  Phew.

Note to self, have addresses of where we will be staying in Australia with passports. Another thing to add to the growing to do list.

Three months to go! Can you tell I am excited?

 

 

Hostels: the good, the bad and the downright ugly

I had read a post on OIK Strategy with tips about hostels by @About London Laura. I found that standards in hostels (in Australia at least) can vary. I was travelling with my husband and we did some trip with groups (who chose the hostels) and some independent travel, where we got to choose where we stayed.

Until this trip with I hadn’t stayed in a hostel for over 40 years. As we were going on a RTW backpacking trip hostels were part of the deal if we were to afford to see more of this wonderful country.

The Good

This is possibly the best hostel in the world ever. Sydney Harbour YHA. It nestles in-between five star hotels and this was the view from our bedroom window.

IMG_7291This was our private double room.
IMG_7244The ensuite.
IMG_7243 On the terrace.IMG_7252 IMG_7255 Just at the front of the hostel and we can see the Sydney Harbour Bridge.IMG_7261 Barbeque night at Sydney Harbour YHAIMG_7293 I cannot see why anyone would check into a hotel in Sydney when you could stay here. There were all ages at this hostel. Families, backpackers and flashpackers. It is most definitely not a party hostel. Except at New Years Eve of course. Can you imagine the views on NYE?

The kitchens were well equipped. A team of hardworking cleaners ensured that everywhere was spotless.

This was a really good hostel. Previously we had stayed, as part of a tour group, in some absolutely dire ones. And had experienced the dreaded mixed dorm.

The Bad or not so good (yet compared to the next one it was 5*).

After a comfortable house sit in Melbourne we headed off along The Great Ocean Road to Adelaide. We were quite a big group and the guide, Pete, admitted at the end that he had concerns about the dynamics. As it was we all really got on. Never a cross moment. Mixed ages, fitness levels and nationalities. 3 days on the road.

Our first hostel was Warrnambool Beach Backpackers. Tour guide Pete advised us not to head into town where there was a carnival on as it would be full of Bogans. I am not making any judgements here, this is what Pete said. Fortunately the town has one redeeming feature. Kermonds. The burgers here are amazing.

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Yup we really got dug into probably the best burgers in Australia.

Bellies full we checked in to a packed hostel and scrambled to find beds. I tried to get in a small dorm but a group of younger girls got their first declaring it to be a female only dorm. (They obviously had more experience in grabbing the best rooms and I learned from that and kept close to them at the next hostel.

Phil and I nabbed, with another couple, 4 bunks in a mixed dorm of 8 beds, which at first didn’t seem to be too bad. We had lockers with keys and were only here one night. There was a group of boy scouts in another dorm who went to bed early. We thought we would get a good nights sleep. However we then realised that we were the entrance room to a much larger dorm full of young men who had joined the bogans at the carnival. Result, no sleep. At all.

Pete the tour guide put me in charge of getting breakfast ready. He clearly recognised my inner Monica. This meant that I was up early and had a shower in the shared facilities before the hordes formed a queue in the corridor. Good move.

It was clean, it was ok for a hostel, but large mixed dorms with smelly farty young men isn’t for me. One to avoid if you like privacy.

The downright ugly.

The next hostel was Ned’s Beds at Halls Gap.

Addendum 2016 * I have been informed that this hostel is now under new management. I visited in 2011 and this post is based on my experience then. Not now. I would advise all travellers to research all accommodation before booking (I need to take my own advice as I just checked out of the worst accommodation ever) and check if things have improved/management changed.

Possibly the worst hostel ever.

The owner had an all night orgy in his jacuzzi.

I got bitten by bed bugs.

One good thing was that I was in an all girls dorm. As I said, I kept close to those girls that had got the best room last time.

Pete did a good BBQ after the grill had been cleaned with beer and newspaper beforehand.

Pete cooking

The group we were travelling with were great.

A great group

Watching the kangaroos and the attempt to play football with them was a bonus as was the Halls Gap ice cream parlour.

Watching the kangeroos

If a tour company lists this hostel on an itinerary, don’t use the tour company. No really, don’t. It is a horrible hostel and only the fact that the location is great, our tour guide was excellent and the group we were travelling with were good, stopped it from being an experience that wrecked the trip.

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Halls Gap has better hostels and is worth visiting for many reasons, one being to climb the Grampians. Well worth the effort!

We stayed in other hostels and some hotels. In some cases hotels were cheaper. It is worth doing the research.

 

 

 

Au Revoir St Kilda

A while back I posted a blog about St Kilda and linked it to a song. I promised a second song with a reference to this beautiful suburb of Melbourne. From St Kilda to Kings Cross is it. I chose this as this is the last day we spend in St Kilda before moving on from Melbourne to other Australian cities, including Sydney. Where Kings Cross is.

We did our last shift at Lentil as Anything today. I am very sad to leave there.

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The staff and customers are so lovely. Today we were exceptionally busy as the holidays are in full swing. Customers today included a backpacker down to his last dollar, until the banks open in the UK. He is eating there for free, but promises to help as a volunteer and pay as he can, when he can. Then we had a family, dad Aussie, mom Japanese with two delightful, bi lingual children. They put $60 into the magic box. This illustrated to me perfectly the philosophy behind Lentil.

I’ll miss them.

After along shift we headed off to see Luna Park then off to the Espy.

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For a pot. And these views.

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Goodbye St Kilda. I’ll miss you. But Adelaide, Sydney and Perth are waiting for me.

We’ll say a proper goodbye to Melbourne on New Years Eve, when the city turns to gold.