A recent weekend away started with a quick drive to Newcastle airport followed by a mid morning ‘holiday’ beer at the bar before a short flight to Brisvegas. We were then on our way for the short drive to the Sunshine Coast hinterland paradise that is Maleny and Montville for the weekend.
If the romance is a bit stressed at the moment or you just want to take your better half for a well-deserved weekend away, then you will be hard pressed to find a lovelier location than these two neighbouring towns.
Maleny is located just north of Brisbane in the hinterland behind the Sunshine Coast high up on the southern edge of the Blackall Range with dramatic views across to the Coast and to the Glass House Mountains.
In the 1980s the place attracted sculptors, painters, craftspeople and potters who provided the local galleries with their works. Soon cafes, coffee lounges and restaurants complemented the galleries and craft shops. It’s been booming ever since.
It’s a little bit hippy but don’t let that put you off.
Today the town is permanently busy on weekends with day-trippers and the reasons are simple. This is beautiful part of the world with plenty to see, eat and do. There’s an abundance of boutique accommodation and chic eateries. The views are sensational with the mountains and valleys to the west and the broad coastal plain and Pacific Ocean to the east. The area is dotted with gracious gardens and small national parks of rainforest, many with dramatic and beautiful waterfalls.
Just as beautiful, nearby Montville, first settled in 1887, has grown into a thriving village with a wonderful array of quality art galleries, stylish cafes and restaurants, gift shops and beautiful fashion stores set in the picturesque surroundings of a shady tree-lined street with more incredible views all the way down to the coast.
Some might say Montville is the creative soul of the region.
History and architecture buffs will marvel at the fine buildings which run along and around Main Street, Montville and across the range. Lovers of nature will be at home among the parks & gardens, walking the rolling hills, exploring the lake, national parks, rainforests and waterfalls.
Both of these terrific little towns will take your breath away and resolve any anger management issues you may be experiencing. As the old ad for Queensland used to say…Beautiful one day. Perfect the next. Not a truer word have I ever heard.
Strap your backside into a plane seat and get up there for a weekend.
Stunning Sri Lanka
Though we are all still stuck within our borders, itâ€™s never too early to start dreaming about a holiday. This month we bring you a place that is probably not on your bucket list. Until you read this.
Iâ€™ve driven in crazy traffic in many countries but our first morning in Sri Lanka made me glad we had taken the easy option and arranged for a driver and van to take us from the airport to the historic north of the country, home to ancient kingdoms and some of the worldâ€™s holiest Buddhist sites. Our driver Rohan had the worldâ€™s calmest temperament, which was needed to cope with the constant squeeze of traffic into our lane, swarming motorbikes and the odd elephant crossing the road.
Our first stop was the 2,400 year old city of Anuradhapura, the location of many beautiful and significant Buddhist stupas and the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, a sacred fig tree planted in 288 BC which is reputed to be from a branch of the historical Sri Maha Bodhi in India under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment, and the oldest living tree in the world with a known planting date.
Following beautiful Anuradhapura, we travelled to the Dambulla Cave Temple complex which contains around 160 statues of Buddha, Hindu gods, and Sri Lankan kings, and from there we visited Sigiriya, site of a 1500-year-old fortress on top of a rocky outcrop that dominates the landscape. Climbing the steps to the top and seeing the stunning views was a major highlight.
Breaking up the historic part of our holiday, we took an open jeep tour through Minneriya National Park to see dozens of elephants, water buffaloes, and monkeys along with many birds before discovering the fantastic ruins and temples of the enormous 1,000 year old city of Polonnaruwa.
After three amazing days of exploring the amazing historic northern cities, we felt we deserved a couple of days lazing by the beach with cocktails in hand so we headed to the east coast village of Pasikudah, whose beautiful beach is seeing a growing number of 5 star resorts at very reasonable prices.
Our next stop was down the coast to pretty Arugam Bay, a famous surf town which was filled with an incongruous mixture of young European surfer backpackers in bikinis or shorts drinking beers and conservative Muslims fasting through Ramadan.
From here we left the coast to head up to Ella, a bustling tourist hill-town renowned for hiking trails such as Little Adamâ€™s Peak and local teas or juices, and home to one of the friendliest B&Bâ€™s we have ever stayed in. Ella is also the starting point of the famous Ella-Kandy train, the countryâ€™s most scenic train route which heads through picturesque tea plantations and waterfalls to Sri Lankaâ€™s second biggest city Kandy, our last stop before home.
Sri Lanka is one of the best holidays weâ€™ve ever had, with a mesmerising diversity of cultures, history, landscapes, and extraordinarily friendly people and I canâ€™t recommend it enough for your first international trip once the borders open. Our 3yo ginger daughter was like the second coming of the Buddha, with hundreds of requests for selfies from locals obsessed with her hair.
It was fascinating to the see the changes in religion, language and culture as we travelled throughout different parts of the country, as the country is predominantly Catholic in the west, Buddhist in the north, Muslim in the south east, and Hindu in the south. Because of this, if you are visiting it is important to remember some of the rules around religious sites, such as not taking photos with or turning your back on statues of the Buddha and wearing appropriate clothing in temples and mosques, but that is a small price to pay for visiting such a beautiful and unique island.
A taste of Tokyo
Though travel restrictions have put a hold on holidaying, we can still experience the beautiful and amazing parts of our world through stories.
Itâ€™s 2am and Iâ€™m playing drums in a deserted and tiny back-street bar in the shady Yakuza-controlled, red-light district of Kabukicho and I think I may have had one whisky too many. It all started so well when the hotel receptionist told us that our free upgrade allowed us to visit the Executive Lounge which had an open bar for two hours each night. We were on a kid-free Tokyo long weekend prior to work meetings so the offer of free booze was definitely hitting the target market.
We were staying in the lively Shinjuku district in the inner-western part of the sprawling city so after cramming in as much free booze as we could we wobbled nearby to the atmospheric Piss Alley which is a 200m long stretch of tiny bars generally serving yakitori skewers, beer and whisky highballs.
After another couple of hours of generous whisky pours we followed the crowds and neon lights to Kabukicho, where you can find anything from amusement arcades to robot cabaret shows to love hotels. After wandering around and taking in the sights we made our way to Hammond Orgasm, an 80s rock bar recommended by a friend due to the lovely hosts and excellent music. As I discovered, they also have a drum kit set up in the bar and displayed typical Japanese hospitality in allowing this drunk tourist to play. Before long my wifeâ€™s pained expression told me it was time to leave and we headed back to the hotel as snow started to fall.Â
The next morning we decide on a morning run to clear the hangovers and head to the beautiful Yoyogi Park. The serenity was a huge change to the previous nightâ€™s neon overload however the peace was quickly shattered by the arrival of thousands of decoratively dressed locals carrying shrines and giant drums set on long wooden poles across their shoulders marching through the park to the amazing Meiji Shrine within. We later discover that this was the annual National Foundation Day parade which celebrates the ascension of the first Japanese emperor in 660BC by marching to Emperor Meijiâ€™s shrine and we were very lucky to accidentally stumble across such an amazing spectacle.
Over the next couple of days we visited other spectacular temples and shrines such as Senso-ji and neighbouring Asakusa, explored historical sites such as Hamarikyu Gardens and Imperial Palace, walked the fashionable districts of Shibuya, Harajuku and Ginza, and ate as much Japanese food as was humanly possible. Japanese restaurants take a very simple approach of focusing on a limited menu and making everything on it perfect and I am drooling just thinking about them whilst I write this.
Having visited Tokyo several times for work and holiday, it is the extremes that I love the most. There arenâ€™t many places where you can walk 5 minutes away from bustling tourist sites down streets so deserted and immaculately clean you can hear your shoes squeaking, then go to work in an office with extraordinarily hard-working and friendly colleagues who are passed out drunk on the train 3 hours later. The weather ranges from snow to typhoon and each district has its own distinct personality. From Akihabara the colourful centre of anime, manga and gaming culture to black trouser/white shirt business districts like Shinagawa or traditional villages like Ueno.
No matter how many times I visit there is always more to see in Tokyo and it will be one of the first places I go back to once the borders re-open.
Hit the Road
As restrictions ease itâ€™s time for that long awaited getaway. With international and some interstate travel still out of the question why not pack up the car and head out on a road trip. Here are a few of our favourite NSW drives.
The Grand Pacific Drive
This is a great drive for when you donâ€™t have a lot of time off work. The Grand Pacific Drive starts at the Royal National Park just south of Sydney and takes you through 140km of dazzling rainforests and picturesque seaside villages while you take in the mesmerising coastline of NSW.
Traversing the iconic 665 metre Sea Cliff Bridge, The Grand Pacific Drive then makes its way into Wollongong, where youâ€™ll find an abundance of things to do, see and eat.
Then on to the beautiful Kiama region and its famous blowhole. Stop and stretch your legs on a beautiful coastal walk or rainforest trail. Youâ€™ll find many wonderful attractions and activities, such as Australiaâ€™s highest zip-line and kayaking on the Kangaroo River.
Hunter to Broken Hill
Depending on where in the Hunter youâ€™re starting from, a trip to Broken Hill is around 1100km. Stops along the way include Dunedoo, Dubbo, Nyngan, Cobar and Wilcannia.
A trip inland is a great way to see Australiaâ€™s heritage. At Dubbo you can visit the Old Dubbo Gaol which has Australiaâ€™s largest collection of hangmanâ€™s knots or check out the iconic Royal Flying Doctors.
Cobar has a rich mining heritage which you can learn about at the Great Cobar Heritage Centre. The area also boasts amazing Aboriginal rock art and plenty of colonial buildings.
Finish up in the unofficial capital of Outback NSW, Broken Hill which was Australiaâ€™s first heritage listed city.
Discover NSW at your own pace on the legendary Pacific Coast Drive. From Sydney to Tweed Heads, itâ€™s over 800km with plenty to see along the way. The Central Coast and Port Stephens regions are known for wonderful beaches and beautiful sheltered bays but in the colder months there is still an abundance of things to do.
Pitch a tent at one of South West Rocks campgrounds before exploring the historic ruins of Trial Bay Gaol on the cliffs above the sea or take in the views at Smoky Cape Lighthouse.
When you hit Coffs Harbour, take a side trip along the Waterfall Way to Armidale. Drive through lush rainforest and woodland to enjoy the lofty lookout platforms at Ebor Falls, unpack a picnic at the dramatic Dangar Falls or visit Dorrigo Rainforest Centre to discover ancient World Heritage wilderness.
When you finish at Tweed Heads you have better worked up an appetite because this town is becoming known as a culinary centre, serving up some of the regionâ€™s best fresh produce.
Tourist Drive 33
The perfect drive for a day trip, Tourist Drive 33 originally linked Sydney to the Hunter Valley. Much of the drive is along the original Great North Road which was built by convicts between 1826 and 1836 to provide an overland route from Sydney to Newcastle.
A popular route for motorbike riders and day trippers, Tourist Drive 33 showcases some of the most stunning countryside in NSW and steps back in time as you meander through the convict stone walls, bridges and culverts still in use today.
There are plenty of little townships to stop in along your journey including Peats Ridge, Kulnura, Laguna and Wollombi. Grab a bite to eat from a charming country pub or a quirky local cafÃ© before quenching your thirst at one of the many boutique cellar doors.
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