Hunter Valley and the Sunshine Coast

Day 41 Newcastle

Thursday, March 1, 2018

I once met a girl from Newcastle, Australia. Neither of us could walk at the time. She had a fractured femur and I was post-op after surgery on both feet. I’ve often wished we had kept in touch. The only thing she told me about Newcastle was that it is just up the road from Sydney. Knowing nothing more about the place than this, I signed up for ‘The Hunter Valley Experience,’ a tour of some of the best wineries in the region.

Newcastle was a little disappointing after the excitement of Sydney, but we soon left the town behind and reached pleasant countryside, with rolling slopes and greenery.  As we drove along the gently winding road within Hunter Valley, we saw one winery after another. Most of the wineries have been in the same family for generations. It reminded me of the vineyards in Auckland, where there are many small wineries, family-owned, the vines originally coming from Europe, the vintners developing them in the New World sunshine.

Here in Australia, Mount Pleasant Winery welcomed us into a large tasting room with plenty of chairs arranged in a crescent. We listened, we tasted, and we learned. Apparently, 2014 was the best year ever for Hunter Valley wines. We were offered the Family Collection wines initially, a little more expensive than I expected. The area is well-known for its Semillon, which they suggested was superior to Sauvignon Blanc. Their Tempranilla Touriga was interesting, but my favorite was the Rosehill Shiraz, offered at $50 per bottle. I prefer Shiraz to any other red wine, so I was delighted with this offering.

We were encouraged to cellar the Rosehill for 30 years for it to be at its most exquisitely delicious. None of us in the room had a life expectancy of 30 years but I suppose we could have bought some for our grand-children. I might have done so myself if I lived in Oz.

Next came Hunter Valley Resort which offered us the best-ever wine-tasting experience. Each wine was paired with delicious food so that we drank and nibbled and challenged our taste buds in a highly satisfying manner.

We began with bruschetta of pesto and tomato served with salt and sugar-cured ocean trout with snow pea leaves and sticky ginger dressing. This was accompanied by a crisp and flavorful Semillon.

Chardonnay accompanied a Caesar salad topped with prosciutto and shaved parmesan. This was followed by steaming platters of penne pasta with vine-ripened tomatoes and baby capers accompanied by a velvety Shiraz.  While we were still smacking our lips, we were presented with a roast beef salad with roasted vegetables and a mellow, full-bodied Merlot.

Just when we thought we were leaving, they brought us a selection of beers to taste, each guest receiving three miniature glasses of beer accompanied by crackers and cheese.  Some of the men happily drank my beer but I’m ashamed to say I sampled the cheese and crackers.

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By the time we reached Hope Estate, we were all very mellow. Again, we sampled Semillon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Shiraz. This time I drank only the Shiraz. I was saving myself for the visit to Hunter Valley Cheese – just kidding.

The cheese selection was interesting. This is how to put together your own wine and cheese party: a little fresh cheese, made from curd, similar to goat cheese, some Brie, a 5-year old cheddar (yes, really), and a stinky blue cheese, all accompanied by crackers and quince paste.

Serving cheese with quince or figs as an accompaniment has become extremely popular. At home I frequently serve cheese with apricot preserve, or pepper jelly or something a little spicy. I bought a selection of cheese toppings in this genre when I was in Nova Scotia a few years ago. They went down very well with my Fort Lauderdale friends.

Several people in our tour group, who were staying on for the remainder of the World Cruise, bought cheese and relish to take back to the ship. I suspect they were planning lots of cabin parties.

 

Day 43 – Farewell Queen Elizabeth – Hello Sunshine Coast

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Leaving the ship part-way through a World Cruise is always so sad, because so many people are staying on! I never want to leave but leave I must. Bags were packed last night and disappeared before midnight. I had said my goodbyes and now it was on to the next adventure, renting a car in Brisbane and driving up to Mooloolaba to visit my sister, seven years after our last day together when we drifted from coffee shop to café to restaurant on the Brisbane pier.

I rented a sturdy SUV at Brisbane’s international airport and headed north, following the signs for the Sunshine Coast. A friend had warned me that the highway would have a major fork and I should stay right for Mooloolaba even though it wasn’t featured on any signs.  I had made a hotel reservation over the internet and was worried I would have trouble finding it as Mooloolaba is a very popular area with scads of hotels. As I drove into town, scanning the signs, I stopped at a traffic light and there on my left, just around the corner was Pandanus, my destination, the name emblazoned high and clear on the façade. I found my way to the underground garage, left all my bags in the car and took the elevator to Reception.

Robert was on duty at Reception. He welcomed me by name, escorted me to my palatial accommodations, kindly moved my car to a more convenient space, and brought all my bags up to my suite. I dubbed him Prince Robert from that moment on.

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Five minutes later, the prince returned, but he was not alone. My sister, Sprightly, followed him into the apartment. Unbeknownst to me, Sprightly and her husband, Brightly, had booked into Pandanus in order to maximize our time together. Such a welcome surprise.

The town of Mooloolaba is absolutely delightful, with a row of vibrant cafes along the beachfront. On my previous visit, some fifteen years earlier, Sprightly, Brightly and I had enjoyed breakfast at a different café every morning and I was looking forward to more of the same. That first evening, the three of us dined at the Members Only Yacht Club where we ate fish so fresh I could smell the ocean.

 

Day 44 – Beachfront Cafes

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Pandanus is not so much a hotel as a holiday rental building. The building is high-security with access only to the floor where you live. As a result, I couldn’t reach my sister and she could not reach me. Enter Prince Robert who gave each of us keys to both apartments, so we could come and go with ease between the third and eighth floors.

Sprightly and Brightly were at my door by 8 and we walked the 200 yards to the row of cafes with its enticing aroma of coffee mixed with the fragrance of bacon and eggs and the mouth-watering smell of freshly baked bread and pastries. We were greeted at Sprightly’s favorite café and shown to a table with a splendid view of the water. We breakfasted on coffee and yoghurt and oatmeal and fresh fruit and croissants. Yum! We wandered the shops, mentally chose a cafe for our dining pleasure later in the day, found an ATM so I could get some essential Aussie cash, and went back to Pandanus for a nap.

Well, Brightly may have napped but Sprightly and I went for a walk and drank a bottle of wine and consumed a sandwich and caught up on each other’s life.

 

Day 45 – Food, Food and more Food

Monday, March 5, 2018

We breakfasted at a different café this morning. I ordered pancakes with lemon and although they were good, I couldn’t help thinking of my lemon pancakes at The Original Pancake House at home in Fort Lauderdale, where the pancakes are like crepes, hot, thin and soft and smothered in sugar and lemon and so more-ish I want to go back again the next morning.  Brightly ordered his pancakes served with coulis and ice-cream and I was reminded of 1968 London’s Kentucky Pancake house where I loved their American pancakes served hot and decorated with peaches, cream and ice-cream. Oh, happy days.

As we strolled around the cafes, I noticed several places offering Thai foot massage, so I let Sprightly and Brightly go home for a nap and I enjoyed 60 minutes of pampered bliss.

Mooloolaba is a place to relax and eat and drink – and that’s all I wanted to do, spending time with Sprightly and sipping crisp, chilled wine in the sunshine. I was fascinated by the choice of food offered at these tiny restaurants, most of them open for breakfast and lunch but very few for dinner.  Avocado with eggs for breakfast, Moroccan chicken and couscous for lunch, or lamb tagine with an array of healthy vegetables, fabulous layer cakes like American mile-high carrot cakes or red velvet cake, but usually with an Aussie flair.

Day 46 – What happened to the Sun?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Sprightly and Brightly drove me to one of their favorite hangouts, Sunshine Plaza. The Sunshine Coast did not live up to its name today as the skies poured down their wrath. We were inside the Plaza by then and sitting in Sprightly’s most-favored restaurant. It’s always nice to be welcomed by name and the staff were very effusive towards Sprightly. Clearly, she was a frequent habitue.

Today was my packing day, and I had to pare down, pare down. I reviewed the small print on my ticket to Auckland. Three checked bags were permissible – not so bad after all. I donated all the clothes I had failed to wear in the past 45 days, zipped up my suitcases and hoped for the best.

Prince Robert recommended Pier 33 for our farewell dinner. We went by taxi, so we could all enjoy a drink – drunk driving laws are very strict in Oz – so we gussied up a little and arrived on time for our 6 pm reservation.

I had hoped that we could sit outside, and enjoy the view of hundreds of small boats, speedboats, motor launches and the ubiquitous sailboats. The weather was not kind, and we perforce dined inside, enjoying Aussie wine and Aussie fish. Delish.

Day 47 – Locked In, Locked Out

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

My bags were loaded in my car before 6. I switched on the engine, released the brake and headed for the exit. An enormous metal gate blocked the exit. I was locked in! Pandanus security was such that during overnight hours, one needed a swipe card to exit the garage! I did not have one. I had left my hotel keys in a security deposit as requested and elevator access was now denied. I was beside myself. I strode the garage, hoping someone would leave and I could follow them out. Not a sound. I finally found a security notice with a phone number. I called. They answered. I explained my situation. They hawre unable to help. “Call Prince Robert,” I suggested. That they could do.

And then I heard a car start up.  Coming toward me. I ran toward the car and hailed it. I had met the driver in the elevator the previous day.

“May I follow you out?” I asked.

“Of course. I’ll wait for you.”

As I drove up the exit ramp, there was Prince Robert running toward me, disheveled, looking as if he had just jumped out of bed.

“So sorry,” he said. “I didn’t realize you were leaving this early. Are you going to miss the plane?”

“No problem,” I said. “Thanks for everything.”

No problem on the highway. No problem at the airport. No problem on the plane which landed safely in Auckland. I picked up another rental car and easily found my way to Dramatic’s home.

A huge wooden gate barred the entrance to her property. I was locked out!  Dramatic had installed a new security gate since my last visit.

“I’ll give you the code,” she had told me, but I was sure I wouldn’t need it as I was not arriving until late afternoon.

I parked the car on the street, prepared to wait patiently, when suddenly the gates opened. I ran up the steep driveway before they closed. Dramatic’s daughter, Alluring, had seen me and let me in.

“Bring the car right up,” she said. “There’s plenty of parking space right here.”

I drove up, parked next to Alluring’s SUV and walked into my own little house, right there in Dramatic’s back yard. Lucky me.

Next…  I Feel Like a Foodie

 

 

 

 

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