Reliving an historic night

Fort Scratchley, located at Newcastle, on Australia’s east coast, is the country’s only coastal fortification to have fired on an enemy naval vessel.

It occurred  more than 75 years ago, when a Japanese submarine shelled the city of Newcastle just after 2am on June 8 1942.


On our tour of the fort and its myriad of tunnels and guns, we heard how the Japanese submarine I-21 rained about 26 shells and eight star shells onto Newcastle.

The submarine targeted key industrial plants such as the State dockyards and BHP steelworks – as well as Fort Scratchley itself.


Luckily, no one was killed in the shelling, but the six inch guns at the fort fired two salvoes at the Japanese submarine before it disappeared.

It was the first time Fort Scratchily had fired in anger since it was established in 1882, in the aftermath the Crimean War, at Flagstaff Hill on the site of Australia’s first coal mine.


But since then, the fort – which is now a fascinating museum – has fired its big guns in salute on many special occasions such as ANZAC Day and the occasional arrival in the port of HMAS Newcastle, the frigate named after the coastal city.

A special ceremonial cannon is fired at exactly 1pm each weekday, except Tuesdays.

Fort Scratchley is a concrete record of the evolution of late 19th and early 20th century coastal defence strategy.

Today, the fort’s Historical Society preserves the military heritage, providing exhibitions and guided tours of the site and its amazing tunnels.

One of the most spectacular vantage points along Australia’s east coast, Fort Scratchley is open each day (except Tuesday) from 10am to 4pm.

Fort Scratchley is at Newcastle, about 104 miles of 167 kilometres north of Sydney.

Main photo of Fort Scratchley by Adam.J.W.C. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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A spectacular light show

It’s become somewhat of a tradition on Australia’s east coast; families travelling to see a spectacular summer light show.

The Christmas Lights Spectacular is held each year at Hunter Valley Gardens, a popular tourist attraction, just west of the New South Wales city of Newcastle.

Eiffel Tower

The show boasts  more than one-and-a-half million lights, divided into sections that, over the years, have included ‘the Eiffel Tower’; ‘Cinderella’s Castle’; ‘Alice in Wonderland’; ‘The North Pole’; ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’;  ‘Nativity Scene’; ‘Waterfall’; and ‘Sunken Garden’.


Some of the more spectacular individual items that have highlighted the annual show include a five metre plane piloted by Santa; a three-metre whale; and a dazzling pegasus.


There has also been a giant beehive and an integrated display of animatronic ‘Mega Creatures’, including  a T-Rex; Stegosaurus; Triceratops and Spinosaurus.


The Christmas lights gives an added sparkle to many of the usual attractions at Hunter Valley Gardens. A waterfall and many of the viewing pavilions, for example, are usually aglow with dancing lights.

roof alight

Nestled in the foothills of the Brokenback Ranges, in the heart of the Hunter vineyards, Hunter Valley Gardens covers more than 60 acres.

The attraction boasts more than eight kilometres of walking paths, allowing visitors  to experience 10 individual feature gardens.

Light tree




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Back in time at Morpeth

It was once a leading Australian river port and the home of Arnott’s biscuits, but now Morpeth mixes tradition with the quaint and sometimes downright quirky.

Morpeth is located on the southern bank of the Hunter River west of the coastal city of Newcastle, in New South Wales – Australia’s most populous state. It is a suburb of the City of Maitland.

Morpeth gallery

Once covered in dense rainforest, the town is steeped in history, with European settlement dating from the early 1800’s. A river port in the 1830’s and 1840’s, Morpeth is now a popular tourist attraction, largely because of its natural scenery and absorbing history.

The town’s tree-lined and stone paved streets boast impressive sandstone buildings; shops offering an typical Australian experience; and an array of riverside picnic spots.

Riverview Cafe

Our road trip to the area coincided with a warm Australian Spring day and were grateful for the shady trees at the Ray Lawler Reserve and the number of cafes offering cool drinks and respite from the sun.

After consuming cooling milkshakes provided by the friendly staff at the Riverview Cafe – which boasts a great view of the Hunter River – we set forth on foot to check out the striking old buildings, shops and parkland.

Muffet Tuffet

Quaintly named businesses like the ‘Muffet Tuffet’; ‘Gourmet or Glutton’; ‘Teddy Bears Downstairs & Grandma’s Featherbed’; ‘Miss Tilly’s Lollies’ and ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’ certainly caught the eye.

However, there are more than 40 stores and galleries in all – including some selling charming collectables and a huge range of clothing. It soon became apparent that we should have set aside more than one afternoon to truly sample the attractions of Morpeth.

We soon realised why the town is a popular stop for tourist buses and overseas visitors keen to get a taste of Australian history with a different.Miss Tilly's

There was free fudge and ginger beer tasting; a shady nook at the Australian Alpaca Barn; Australian arts and crafts at Campbell’s Store Craft Centre; and a bewildering range of lollies and sauces at Miss Tilly’s, before we followed the seasonal sounds to Christmas Lane.

Wow! This place was astonishing.

Christmas Lane 1

After entering the shop, we were swept up in a wonderland of twinkling lights, shimmering ornaments; decorations, trees, dolls, designer Christmas dresses, snowmen, reindeer etc etc

Some of the Grinch-inspired decorations stopped us in our tracks; but Christmas Lane features a series of rooms, with a different theme in each.Grinch Christmas

Back out into the sun, we wandered down to Morpeth’s Heritage Walk to see the restoration of the historic Arnotts Bakehouse.

In the 1860’s, Morphet’s colonial bakery was operated by Arnotts, giving the site an important place in the commercial development of Australia.

Then, we walked further to take a close look at the remarkable Morpeth timber road bridge.

Morphet Bridge

Completed in 1898, this bridge is a rare example of a truss bridge with overhead bracing. It is the oldest such bridge in service within New South Wales – and one of only three remaining in the state.

Unfortunately, time had run out and we had to leave Morpeth without experiencing many of the town’s attractions.

However, we did notice several accommodation facilities in the town – and we are hopeful of returning to do a more comprehensive review of remarkable Morpeth.


How to get there

Morpeth is about 165.2 kilometres – or just over two hours driving – north of Sydney, Australia, via the Pacific Motorway.

It is about 32 kilometres – or 33 minutes – from Newcastle Airport.

See additional information.

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Terrigal, eastern Australia

Way back when, they logged timber and milked cows at Terrigal.

Later, came the construction of humble holiday homes that Australians quaintly referred to as “weekenders”.

Terrigal became an affordable holiday centre popular with families from nearby Sydney, Newcastle and beyond. The name became linked with thoughts of Summer; sunshine; surfing; prawns; and fishing.

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But, as we drove over a hill and into the beachfront town last week, it was obvious the times had certainly changed.

Terrigal is now a ritzy, up-market social centre, where hipsters and well-heeled young progressives mingle on the beachfront, sipping on a seemingly endless flow of Cafe Latte and Chai Tea.

Restaurants and coffee shops seem to jostle for prominence along The Esplanade, the downtown area fringed by a line of impressive Norfolk pines and home to the upscale resort known as Crowne Plaza Terrigal.

However, it also soon became obvious that, as much as Terrigal had become cosmopolitan over the years, the original lure of striking coastline and inspirational scenery, still remained.


The iconic headland called The Skillion – a geological oddity that dominates the beachfront – is still as remarkable as ever.

On the inland side, The Skillion has a flat, grassy area that leads up from the Haven oval to a lookout high above the town.

This can be reached along a walkway that connects the headland to the adjoining beach.


Negotiating the walkway is not difficult and there are regular resting spots with seating.

A steep cliff drops away below The Skillion to the bright blue of the Pacific Ocean.

All around, waves pound onto glistening rock platforms, some crusted with green slime. The awesome force of nature is delightful to see and the sea spray rises like a fine mist.


From Terrigal’s walkways, the views are inspirational. There’s so much blue that the sky and the sea sometimes seemed to merge. And the air was so crisp that is occasionally hit you in the lungs like a short jab to the ribs.

The sand at Terrigal is remarkably white and clean and seems to stretch forever. In fact, the town is located at the southern end of four kilometres of unbroken beach. Naturally, the area is a magnet for surfing, swimming, boating, waterskiing and fishing.

At times, we ventured into downtown Terrigal, where we joined the throngs sipping excellent coffee at Aromas on Sea and catching a meal at the Hogs Breath Cafe (check our comments on Trip Advisor for each of these)

During our time at Terrigal, we also ventured south to the equally picturesque towns of Davistown, Saratoga and Avoca Beach.


After enjoying traditional fish and chips by the surf at Avoca Beach Seafoods (also see our thoughts on Trip Advisor), we wandered to the historic Avoca Beach Picture Theatre and were struck by the colourful arts and craft on sale in the foyer.

At Davistown, we walked along the foreshore at the ferry terminal and had a filling lunch at the Davistown RSL Club (see Trip Advisor)


Terrigal and surrounding area is located between the cities of Sydney and Newcastle, on Australia’s eastern coastline.

It is about 86 minutes from Sydney by car and 93 minutes from Newcastle – and well worth visiting, especially in Spring or Summer.

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Ballina, Australia

We thoroughly recommend a road trip to the Ballina coast and hinterland of eastern Australia.

This part of sub-tropical northern Australia is close to the heart of generations of Aussies, for whom the annual summer beach holiday was something of a rite of passage.

These memories, in many ways, are part of the Australian makeup: reassuring recollections of time spent in tried and tested holiday areas.

Diversifying to remain relevant

And, despite the challenges of modern motorways and cheap overseas flights, the Ballina coast and hinterland has maintained its attraction to visitors by diversifying into an eclectic blend of old and new.

imageBallina’s lure for holidaymakers remains as strong as ever.

The remarkable sunsets go on forever and the area remains blessed with long stretches of pristine beach and charming riverland, ideal for boating, fishing, surfing and other outdoor activities.

But Ballina also recognises that natural beauty and superb climate needs to be accompanied by a vibrant community, diverse economy, high quality facilities – and even a taste for the exotic.

There’s a theory that a key to economic growth lies in attracting creativity. If that’s so, then Ballina coast and hinterland – and in fact, much of the Australia’s legendary Pacific Coast – is way ahead of the game and is showing the rest of the country a thing or two about creativity and cultural diversity.image

A food paradise

For example, Ballina coast and hinterland has gained an enviable reputation as a foodies paradise, with some of the finest local produce imaginable, including plenty of fresh seafood, macadamia nuts, avocados, honey, hydroponically-grown tomatoes, fresh vegetables and even coffee.

Local restaurants and cafes, where possible source their products locally, with an emphasis on freshness and quality.

For example, the cafe at The Macadamia Castle – a popular local tourist attraction – uses colour coding on its menu to show which products are grown in the Ballina area.

Ballina’s seafood is known for its high quality and the town’s Fish Co-op plays an important role in the local economy.image

Arts, crafts, healthcare and leisure

And then there’s the area’s thriving arts and music scenes. From world-class pottery to performing arts and theatre, Ballina Coast and Hinterland oozes cutting edge creativity.

Surrounded by such natural beauty and peacefulness, it’s probably only logical that the area would also become a magnet for those seeking health and wellbeing. The hinterland and surroundings have become well known for retreats and spas, including the famed Gaia facility at Brooklet, part-owned by entertainer, Olivia Newton-John.

This complements the Ballina coast and hinterland’s healthcare industry and strong outdoor flavour, where visitors and residents can get up close and personal with nature on a kayak tour, cycling on a modern network of paths, or trying their hand at Stand Up Paddleboarding on Lake Ainsworth.

Strong community support

All this needs excellent community facilities and assistance, which is where Ballina Shire Council comes in, helping to generate the final ingredients – thriving commerce, social services and a fierce community pride.

And to top it off, today’s sweeping highways can get you to the Ballina Coast and Hinterland in greater safety and with far less stress than ever – well within a day’s travel north from Sydney and just over two hours south of Brisbane.

Thoughts of a retro holiday at Ballina Coast and Hinterland may well tug at the heartstrings, but this fascinating area also offers visitors so much more than just the beach scenes from those faded black and white snapshots.

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Review: Hunter Wetlands Centre, Australia

A wetlands centre at Newcastle, Australia, continues to play an important role in bird conservation.

The Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia has helped reverse a decline in Magpie Geese across the north-eastern areas of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state.

Although black-and-white Magpie Geese are abundant in Australia’s northern regions, they became less common in the south, where habitat reduced. P1010403Keen to tackle the decline, Hunter Wetlands Centre obtained 41 Magpie Geese in 1987 – and increased the flock steadily over the next five years.

The geese at the centre bred for the first time in 1992 and new juveniles can now be seen almost every year as a clear indication of the success of the re-introduction program.

Helping threatened ducks too

The centre also works to conserve threatened Freckled Ducks.P1010411Helping save these vulnerable bird species is just one of  many achievements at Hunter Wetlands Centre, which is set to celebrate three decades of operation in 2015.

Set to celebrate 30 years

In those 30 years, the centre, which is located in the Newcastle suburb of Shortland, has come from a former landfill rubbish site to an internationally recognised wetland education facility.P1010402At one stage, more than 2,200 trees were planted as the site was rehabilitated and landscaped.

Hundreds of bird species

A total of 217 bird species have been recorded at the centre.

This includes 72 typical wetland species, including 67 waterbirds and nine migratory waders.

Honking geese a hit

When we visited the centre, the colonies of Magpie Geese – with their distinctive honking call – were just one of the many fascinating attractions.

P1010409With grandchildren in tow, we headed firstly for the visitor centre, which contains in interpretative display area and a popular cafe.

Live reptile display

The live reptile displays and interactive reptile talks went over a treat – even if we were a little tentative handling the snakes.

Next, it was time to watch the bird feeding and explore the adventure playground before we held our own picnic close to the wetland area and the ever-popular geese.P1010415Plenty to see and do

Hunter Wetlands Centre boasts plenty of activities, including walking trails and guided walking tours; canoe hire and guided tours; Segway tours; a bush tucker garden; bike hire; and special activities in school holidays.

It also stages a popular ‘Breakfast with the Birds’ program each Sunday, as well as night visits to the wetlands area and canoeing with experienced guides.P1010404Love to return

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the centre and hope to return at some stage to review one or more of these innovative activities.

The wetlands centre is also rapidly gaining a reputation for its nursery, which boasts the capacity to produce over 100,000 plants a year.

How to get there

Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia is located at Newcastle, New South Wales. The centre is about 10 minutes from the heart of the city and is about two hours north of Sydney. You can get there by car train and bus.

Check these directions.

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A day in the Hunter vineyards

P1010795Australians generally like to tipple and the country boasts some wonderful wine-growing areas.

One of the most accessible is the Hunter Valley of New South Wales.

Located a couple of hours north of Sydney and close to the big coastal city of Newcastle, the vineyards of the Hunter Valley are ideal for a day-trip, a weekend stay, or a longer visit at one of the area’s many high quality resorts.

As well as great wines, the area has many luxury accommodation options and plenty of excellent restaurants.

Pepper’s Creek Village

Our day started with an early morning visit to Pepper’s Creek Village, a Tuscan-inspired accommodation, food, event and shopping area at Pokolbin, in the heart of the Hunter wine country.

Coffee at the popular Cafe Enzo set the scene.

P1010793It was a warm day and the sunny courtyard – fringed by Peppercorn trees and with a circular pond and fountain at the centre – was easy to take.

With its name for quality, Cafe Enzo can often be busy

However, we arrived at probably the perfect time –  just after breakfast, but before mid-morning.

We lingered over a latte, before rambling through the village and admiring the luxury accommodation offered at the adjoining Yacht Club, which sleeps 10 adults and is perched on the edge of a glistening lake.

The Pepper’s Creek Barrel Room is wonderfully placed for functions and the adjoining rustic chapel is ideal for a wedding among the vines.

Hunter Valley Gardens

Next on the agenda was a short trip to the nearby Hunter Valley Gardens wine village for shopping and a wander through the underground cellar.P1010791

As well as fine wines, the Hunter Valley Gardens cellar door stocks a broad range of boutique beer, which adds an extra dimension to the tasting experience.

Peterson’s Wines

Then, it was on to the adjoining Mount View area for wine tasting and lunch at Peterson’s Wines.

Peterson House is one of the many striking buildings in the Hunter Valley vineyards, again overlooking a lake, with vineyards alongside.

The cellar door is an experience to remember, with its emphasis on sparkling wines and its outstanding range on show for the visitor.

Restaurant CuveeP1010797

After tasting some excellent wines, we adjourned to Restaurant Cuvee.

It didn’t take long to prove that the restaurant’s reputation for fine food and outstanding presentation is well deserved.

The food was flawless, the wine was particularly suitable and the restaurant service was faultless.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and we eventually left Peterson House and headed back into central Pokolbin to finish the day with a visit to McGuigan Wines and the delights of the Hunter Valley Cheese Company.

McGuigan Fine Wines

McGuigan’s is the home of McGuigan Fine Wines and, once again, the tasting was exceptional.

Our one-day visit to the Hunter Valley Wine Country covered only a small part of the area’s outstanding vineyards, luxury shopping and accommodation.P1010809

But, we hope to return and spend a luxury weekend reviewing more of the wineries, restaurants and accommodation of the Hunter Valley wine producing region.

This area has so much to offer.


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