Airline Review – Go nowhere with JETGO

Unfortunately this post is a tad redundant as JETGO Airlines went into voluntary administration last week! The joys of running a small airline, servicing regional Australia where the margins are slim or non-existent.

However, should they get back on their feet and into the air, I have nothing but positive things to say about JETGO. Continue reading

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Getting the Flavour of Mudgee

I know I am biased, but I love Mudgee.

I have only lived here for 25 years, so I am not quite a local yet, but this town has embraced me from day one.

Mudgee, three-and-a-half hours’ drive north-west of Sydney, has always been a popular weekend escape. Over the past 15 years, the flow of Mudgee-bound traffic has steadily increased, and many people now decide that a weekend is simply not long enough, and they move here permanently.

Like many small towns in rural Australia, the lack of employment opportunities is a constant challenge. However, if you are innovative, have your own business that can tap into broader markets, or are financially self-sustainable, then Mudgee offers lifestyle benefits that are hard to beat. See? I told you I was biased!

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No wonder we couldn’t get a car park! Photo: Amber Hooper

This ‘tree-change’ trend is showcased each year at the annual Flavours of Mudgee Street Festival. As part of the three-week Mudgee Wine Festival, Flavours of Mudgee creates a huge street party, celebrating all the delicious food and wine produced in our region.

Importantly, it also celebrates the diversity of our population through the medium of food. Not only is there your traditional Aussie BBQ, but also Nepalese, Chinese, Texan BBQ, Thai, Spanish, Italian and Venezuelan delights. Added to that are olive oils and olives, chocolate, cordials, fudge, relishes, ice cream, saffron, cheese, pistachios, breads, jams, honey and even native plants and seeds. All made, or grown, by hand and with an eye on quality. Truly a feast for all the senses.

I am a little embarrassed to admit that this year was the first time I had experienced Flavours of Mudgee. It was not from a lack of interest that I hadn’t attended before, more that there was always something more pressing to do or I was away from town. Why is it that we often don’t prioritise the things in our own backyard?

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Market Street Mudgee never looked so good or so busy! Photo: Amber Hooper

The Mudgee CBD was jumping on the day. We had to park our car three blocks away (unheard of in a country town) as the street was so busy. As we strolled around the corner into Market Street, we could see why. Crowds of happy locals and visitors were toasting each other’s health and revelling in the party atmosphere. Estimates were put at around 9 000 people sipping, tasting and dancing along to the music. Not a bad number when you consider the resident population of Mudgee is only 8 500 people. Now that is some party.

It is quite a while since I attended an event that had such a warm and inclusive feel, and I don’t think that feeling had anything to do with the amount of alcohol on offer.

Small children with brightly-painted faces, dragging their colourful balloons behind them, dodged in and out of groups of people. Locals used the opportunity to stop, chat, and to catch up on all the latest news. Even in a country town, time gets away from you and sometimes you have to make a special effort to reconnect with friends.

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Stilt walkers dance through the crowds. Photo: Amber Hooper

Visitors dragged hay bales into a welcoming square formations, sat down, clinked glasses and raised them high to salute their health and the enjoyable weekend.

The Mudgee Wine Festival is held for three weeks each September. Many of the wineries host special music and food events to compliment the tasting and sales of wine. While these are, no doubt, pleasant entertainments, most of these activities take place out at the wineries themselves and outside of the town centre. It could be said that this gives the Wine Festival almost a remote/arms-length feeling, slightly removed from the rest of the community.

In contrast, the Flavours of Mudgee event brought around 27 wine, beer and spirit producers out of their cellar doors and into the main street. No wonder there was a party atmosphere. Not only was this a one-stop-shopping opportunity for visitors, but it also highlighted for local people all the good things on offer in our own backyard that perhaps we don’t make the most of. A good education as well as a taste sensation.

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The golden light of the setting sun on St Mary’s Catholic Church, Church Street Mudgee

I was also pleased to see some of the local retailers breaking out of their normal shop fronts and showcasing their wares al fresco. In the daily rush, sometimes it is easy to pass by a store, thinking that one day I will pop in when I have time. On the Flavours day/night, there was no excuse not to browse.

As the sun began to slip behind the Mudgee hills, the tone of the occasion started to change from family to fiesta. The stilt walkers retired with the dwindling sunlight, to be replaced by local bands playing tunes that just had to be danced to. The street lights came on and the party rocked into the night.

Even if you are not a wine drinker or don’t have the taste buds for fine and fancy food, the Flavours of Mudgee Festival is worth a visit. It is a free event that genuinely celebrates community on a whole range of levels.

It makes me proud to live in Mudgee.

Will I see you there in 2017?

The Basics

What: Flavours of Mudgee Street Festival is a community street party celebrating good food, wine and people. Wine tasting tokens can be purchased for $10 which includes a glass and five x 30ml tastes. Wine is also sold by the glass or bottle. Food can be purchased from a large variety of stalls. Otherwise it is a free event.

Where: At the intersection of Market and Church Streets, Mudgee.

When: From 4p.m. on Saturday 23 September, 2017.

Why: Why not feel the love of a warm and welcoming community as well as escape to the country?

How: Simply turn up – no bookings required although do book your accommodation well in advance as Mudgee is a very popular weekend destination, especially in September.

Who: Myself, and 8 999 of my closest friends.

Related Posts: For information about another fabulous Mudgee event, have a look at my post about Sculptures in the Garden.

Related Blogs: If I have not tempted you to visit Mudgee yet, then have a look at this blog for the best of food, wine and Mudgee landscape: http://www.notquitenigella.com/2014/12/27/mudgee-weekend-guide/.

For beautiful photography of Mudgee landscapes and locales, have a look at Amber Hooper’s work at: http://themudgeeproject.com.au/

“Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?”

How good does it feel to finally tick something off your Bucket List?

For years I had been glued to the TV news coverage of the annual Canowindra International Balloon Challenge. Each time I saw that rainbow of balloons waft across the screen, I said to myself that ‘I must do that one year, I must do that one year, I must…’.

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A colourful rainbow of balloons.

Finally, I decided I had to commit and, since this annual event was around the time of my father’s birthday, I rang my parents to check whether they would care to join me. It appears that they also had the same conversations every year they saw the event on television. So, it was agreed that a weekend in Canowindra amongst the balloons would be the perfect way to celebrate Dad’s 80th birthday in 2014.

Canowindra is a historic little town about 60 km west of Orange in Central West NSW. It is one of those places that has transformed itself from a sleepy agricultural service centre into a food and wine destination. Unlike many larger places though, it has retained its small town, heritage feel which equates to a low-stress and relaxing weekend.

Friday night in Canowindra and the town was jumping. I had booked our accommodation 12 months in advance, and confirmed it multiple times, and it was just as well.

Canowindra was overrun with balloonists, support crews, balloon lovers and thousands of other tourists just like ourselves. The footpaths were bustling and the cafes and pubs overflowing onto the streets. I can only imagine what a positive impact this event must have on the local economy, creating a sense of excitement and energy, if for only one weekend.

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More Balloon Glow

We also booked a table at one of the clubs for dinner and, even with a booking, it was a 60-minute wait for some very average food. But it was hot and filling and just what we needed after a big day of travel and sight-seeing.The two main features of the Balloon Challenge, from a visitor’s perspective, are the Balloon Glow on the Saturday night and the Key Grab on the Sunday morning. That leaves plenty of time for a lazy exploration of the Canowindra streets, the many boutiques, art and craft stores and gourmet food and wine outlets, and the Age of Fishes Museum. Of more interest to the men in our party were the many old Holden cars parked cheek-by-jowl (or bumper to bumper?) behind the dusty glass windows in an old service station on the main street. This collection was unique in Australia apparently due mainly to the pristine condition of many of the models. It was a shame that its opening hours were sporadic and unreliable. The men had to make do with pressing their noses up against the glass and looking longingly. (NB: sadly the collection has now been sold and dispersed).

As the day waned we gathered up our folding chairs, picnic baskets and every skerrick of warm clothing we possessed and, along with a thousand of our closest friends, converged on the local sports ground. This was the home of the Balloon Glow and a party atmosphere was definitely in the making with every known food stall and beverage bar onsite. We really didn’t need our picnic basket at all as we feasted on delicious pulled pork rolls and traditional Country Women’s Association delicacies.

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A balloon skims the top of the trees as it comes into land at the Balloon Glow

With our fold-up chairs as close to the ‘front row’ as was polite, we were transfixed by a handful of balloonists as they manoeuvred their bubbles over the tallest eucalypt trees to land lightly and precisely on the grass. Now that is skill! Other balloons were trailered onto the field in a collapsed state and placed strategically around the ground.

Excitement built as the sun went down and the number of balloons increased. When it was fully dark, the lights went out, the music began, and the balloons worked their magic. Describing the sight as ‘spectacular’, does not do it justice. The balloons, and the flames inside, winked on and off in time with the music, blinking out vibrant colours and magically appearing out of the darkness. Such a simple activity but so striking and memorable. Sadly the music ended, the lights came on, and the crowds beat a hasty retreat in much need of a hot drink and a warm bed.

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Here they come for the Key Grab

The next morning dawned bright and clear, as is the autumnal habit of this region, and we crunched across the frosty paddocks to watch the Key Grab. The idea is that balloons must accurately navigate their path to a central target and attempt to grab a key off the top of a tall pole and/or throw their marker into a small circle. The rewards for such precision are some handy cash prizes.

We could have looked a bit silly – a large crowd of people standing in the middle of an empty paddock at 630a.m. on an icy morning. But as we spotted the balloons pop up on the horizon and make a bee-line towards us, we knew it had been worthwhile. They started out looking like boring black dots but as they zoomed closer, the early sun lit them up like floating rainbows – a riot of colour and vibrancy.

202.JPGThe crowd cheered and ducked for cover as the balloons zeroed in on us and the target, but just as they neared, a gust of wind or a subtle breeze would foil their attempt and send them gently veering off into a neighbouring paddock. Some balloonists managed to throw their weighted markers but the ‘golden’ key remained firmly ensconced on the top of its pole. There is always next year.

As we made our way home, we wondered why it had taken us so long to visit Canowindra and the Balloon Challenge. There is so much we didn’t get to see and do there, including a ride in an actual balloon; hopefully it won’t take the same length of time to tick it off the Bucket List all over again.

 

What have you ticked off your Bucket List lately?

April 2014

218.JPGThe Basics

What: We stayed at the Old Vic Inn in a massive room with 15 foot ceilings. Room rates were $119 per room per night and included a light continental breakfast. The building itself is old and a wee bit tired but the location and atmosphere can’t be beaten. There was a small entrance fee to the Balloon Glow but the Key Drop activity was free.

Where: Canowindra, Central West NSW.

When: Canowindra International Balloon Challenge will be held on 18-25 April 2017.

Why: Do this if you are in need of a fun and interesting weekend away in gorgeous countryside or if you have a weakness for hot air balloons. Book your accommodation early.

190.JPGHow: We drove from Mudgee via Dubbo. Yes, the scenic route!

Who: A family affair, including a birthday boy.

Related Posts: Watch this space. I have my very own balloon ride scheduled for 4 March 2017. Excited!!

Related Blogs: For a unique perspective on the balloon festival, have a read of balloon pilot’s blog: https://nomoreusedto.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/canowindra-balloon-challenge-2012/

A New Newcastle

As a kid, I remember a few trips to Newcastle – a grimy, dark and often raining place that seemed to be trapped in an industrial fug. The city economy, once famous for its ship building and steel works, has since been rationalised into non-existence. I know I am a late bloomer but it was a joy to discover Newcastle on brilliant, sunny Autumn weekend.

Newcastle didn’t automatically pop into my mind as an ideal ‘getaway’ but I have had to revise my estimation. A family commitment meant that we were destined for this coastal city and The Brave Man* decided to make a weekend of it – catching up with friends and generally enjoying what the city had to offer. We were not disappointed.

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For some stunning Newcastle and coastal photography – check out http://www.shannonhartigan.com.au

He did some bargain hunting via Wotif and found the Newcastle Beach Hotel for a discounted $129 per night. Yes, the hotel was a little dated but the rooms were large and comfortable and ours had a great view over the rooftops of the city and harbour area. I suspect the other side of the building had sea views. It was a little off-putting that everything was automated, with push-button entry cards and not a human in sight, but I guess that made for ultimate independence and flexibility. The best part was the location – right at the very top of the CBD on Hunter Street and the shortest sea-breeze walk to the beach and salt-water pools.

Another plus was the ready access to places to eat. I am the first to admit that I am no gourmand. I hate cooking, and all those TV foodie shows drive me to despair. If you are reading this blog hoping for gastronomic insight, then put down your computer/tablet/phone and step away now. I am a food pleb!

Due to the late hour we grabbed a quick Thai meal at Sticky Rice, just around the corner. ‘Quick’ was the operative word as the food seemed to materialise at our table within minutes – steaming hot and tasty. The serving sizes were ambitious but we did not admit defeat.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear and we met up with friends for a brisk walk along the coast. I know I am strange but this is my definition of ‘a rage and a good time’. Our walk followed the coastline from Newcastle Beach right up to Merewether Beach – around 5km. This walk has a number of different names but incorporates The Bathers Way (from Nobbys Beach to Merewether Beach) and the Newcastle Memorial Walk (from Strzelecki Lookout to Bar Beach).

In my book, the walk along the edge of the sea is a ‘must do’ activity – especially if you can manage it at sunrise. To start the day with surfers bobbing in the waves and both seabirds and hang gliders making the most of the thermals – nothing could go wrong. A refreshing sea breeze cooled us as we huffed up the stairs and puffed down the paths. It is a lovely walk but be prepared for an elevated heart rate along the way.

The reward for being so healthy and virtuous was a reviving coffee and muffin at the Merewether Surf Life Saving Club Kiosk. We joined the jumble of dogs, leads and strollers and queued for our coffee, happy to watch the local sun-worshippers and enjoying a laidback Saturday morning vibe. The truly virtuous would have walked the return trip – but not us.

In amongst some family commitments we did manage to wander through the Newcastle CBD. It is pleasing to see so many parts of the city being rejuvenated, with old buildings being repurposed as funky bars and interesting shops. The monthly art and design markets and the Newcastle Writers Festival added to the buzz on the streets.

Dinner at the Green Roof Hotel in Hamilton and their Meatball restaurant was a new experience. You can order anything you like as long as it’s a meatball! El Mexico featured pork meatballs over corn chips and guacamole – interesting but missing something essential somewhere. Am I starting to sound like a foodie yet?

Sunday rolled around, our watches were adjusted to reflect the end of Daylight Saving time, and we tossed our clothes back into the bag. To offset some of the damage done to our waistlines in the previous 24 hours, The Brave Man* donned his neck-to-knees and headed for the sea baths and I stepped out onto the coastal walk again. The water report was ‘fresh and crystal clear’ and there was plenty of local sea life sharing the pool to distract swimmers from completing their laps.

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Source: Estabar

We had a last dose of sociability and caffeine at Estabar as we caught up with more friends. Maybe it was the salt air but everyone was friendly and cruisy. We almost felt like locals too. Estabar, overlooking Newcastle Beach, offered an up close and personal view of the half-marathoners sprinting by as part of the NewRun event. We were suitably impressed but not inspired enough to put down our knife and fork and join in. The 10-kers looked more our style, especially those at the tail-end carrying cans of Coke and enjoying a chat. I am not sure if that is the true intent of the event but it has to be better than sitting on the lounge in front of the TV.

All too soon we were back on the road home to Mudgee. The Hunter Expressway has made a noticeable difference to travel times and we went from the centre of Newcastle – with a stop and an eagle-eye on the speed-limit – in 3.25hrs. Too easy.

Thank you Newcastle for the right mix of activity and interest. We will be back.

April 2016

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!