Indulge winter on the Australian east coast with a weekend road trip to remember, with wildlife, wine, Whale Ale and everything indulgent.
Photo-journalist Elle Green has the details:
My trip began on a Friday with a smooth check-in at Q Station in North Head, Manly. Sitting on 30 acres in the Sydney Harbour National Park with sensational views of the harbor, the hotel was formerly the North Head Quarantine Station for over 150 years from 1828, and in recent times has been beautifully refurbished into a contemporary accommodation property.
I was very impressed with my cozy room; a modern merge of cream and chocolate brown the small studio had tall ceilings, a dark timber and black leather bed head hugging the inviting queen bed dressed in soft white linens, a stand up shower and bath, flat screen TV and a sunset view out to sea. What's not to love?
Wildlife was calling, however, and I spent the afternoon on a mini trek into the National Park just a five minute drive north east of Q Station with the lovely Geoff Ross, coordinator of the Marina Fauna Programs in New South Wales.
A great man full of wonderful stories about whales and everything else fauna, it was a peaceful hike where Geoff pointed out a variety of birds (including a cute little Honeyeater) while we continuously eye-searched the deep waters for whale tails. Unfortunately we were not able to see any whales breeching, but I did witness a pod of seals basking in the sunset - a glorious moment that had Geoff and I both squealing with delight. The park protects a number of islands and foreshore areas around the harbour, and offers sprawling ocean views.
When my stomach signalled it was time to rustle up some dinner, I headed down the track to Boilerhouse Restaurant situated on the waterfront at Q Station. Keeping within the renovated heritage buildings on site, the restaurant inside boasts floor to ceiling exposed brick walls with glass and wrought iron mezzanine overlooking the open plan kitchen below.
Quenching my thirst from all the walking, I started off with a glass of Duchess Cuvee from South East Australia which soon evaporated from my glass. As my entree of coffee and vanilla cured kingfish with a baby herb salad hit the table I chose the 2011 La Villa Pinto Grigio, from Veneto Italy - a beautiful drop I stuck with throughout the other courses.
Kun Rahadian, Director of Sales and Marketing for Q Station, describes Boilerhouse as a "multicultural ship on land" that boasts seasonal cuisine of the highest grade. My main didn't fall short, a scotch fillet served with escahlots, beetroot butter and a red wine jus which left my mouth, and waistline, bursting with warmth and flavour. I almost couldn't stomach the idea of dessert, but who could resist an apple and basil panna cotta, rose petal fairy floss and berries? Not me...
The lodges are quite a stretch from each other, but noise does travel and as Q Station is also renowned for its Ghost tours I couldn't help but wonder if the strange sounds I could hear going on outside where from ghosts wielding chains or real live guests drinking wine on their decks?
Filled to the brim with cultural, natural and culinary satisfaction, I left Manly driving the latest model Subaru Forester and headed two hours north to Port Stephens.
Murray's Craft Brewing Co.
No trip to this region is complete without popping into Murray's Craft Brewing Co. Since opening in 2009, Murray's collection of ever-impressive crafted beers have been gaining nods from beer fans around the country, in particular their famed Whale Ale.
The Brewery sits on 35 acres of vineyards and eucalyptus trees with a restaurant serving in and outdoors to locals tourists travelling through. Over my 'pub meal' of Fish'n'Chips with pea mash, my taste buds were treated with small nips of Murray's full range: the Angry Man Pale Ale (delightful and my second-favorite after the Whale Ale), Wild Thing (a very heavy stout-like beer 'vegemitey' in taste) and the Angry Man Brown Ale.
Tomaree Coastal Track
Ready for a walk to fade out all the ales, I next met with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Laurence Penman and area manager Andrew Bond for a hike along the Tomaree Coastal Track.
Wrapping around the coastline and giving way to spectacular ocean views, the challenging track soon delved deep into the thick of the Aussie bush lands and in wanting to take photographs of the teaming natural beauty blessed by the soft light I soon fell well behind the guys.
The Landmark, Nelson Bay
Exhausted, I was ready to park the car and my feet for the night at The Landmark in Nelson Bay. With a few hours until dinner I revelled under the suds of a bubbling spa bath then set back with a cup of tea on the balcony taking in the ocean view. The self-contained studio with a spacious open-plan lounge room and mini kitchen loaded with all the necessary cooking utensils imaginable. The cream and forest-green hued bedroom was situated at the back of the apartment boasting a large queen bed, and light-pine toned built-ins.
An outdoor pool and Japanese steam room beckoned, but this would have to wait until the next morning. My grumbling stomach had to take priority.
Dinner was a three-course affair at Sandpipers in Nelson Bay, a short walk from The Landmark and almost hidden on the main shopping strip that is peacefully quiet at night. Fine dining at its locally best, Sandpipers attracts return diners from Sydney and for good reason. The seafood-focussed menu with standouts being the freshly shucked oysters and the Fish of the Day - salmon served on prawn and potato colcannon with baby spinach and lemon and fennel-seed butter sauce.
With a full belly, I headed down for a nightcap at Mavericks on the Bay, a busy restaurant by day and bustling pub by night. It was a delight to see locals scatteredly dancing to songs like “Dancing Queen” sung by a lady on her guitar. I got so wrapped up in the atmosphere that before long, I was having a boogie with the crowd.
Breakfast was a warm buffet at The Landmark's AJ's Restaurant before gearing up for the prime of my coastal tour, a Whale Watching Boat Cruise on the Tamboi Queen. The boat’s Captain, Jared chartered our group on a three-hour journey out to sea past all the outer islands that make up Pt. Stephens. The weather was close to perfection bar the strong wind (best to rug up), and with great patience and enthusiasm I was treated with ongoing performances from Humpback whales, dolphins, basking seals and a look at some stunning natural caves.
Tomaree Head Summit
Still rocking from the boat tour, I took a short break over a long black from the local Ethica cafe, and psyched myself up for my final expedition: a steep hike up to the Tomaree Head Summit. Rising 161m above sea level, once you've reached the top you it's easy to see why the summit is Pt. Stephens' number one icon, with a breathtaking view over the spit of Shoal Bay and beyond the Tasman Sea.
An incredible weekend that felt like a week, it was such a joy to experience so many things in my home of New South Wales that I didn't know existed. If you're pondering a whale-season road trip, take my advice and hit the road from Manly to Pt. Stephens making sure to check out everything along the way.
-The writer travelled as a guest of New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service
About Elle Green
Elle Green is a travel, fashion and portrait photographer hailing from a farm in South Australia and now residing in Sydney between travels. Elle's style is personal and true to life and she enjoys shooting what goes on around her just as much as setting up a shot in studio.
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