Aussie outback cafe sells world’s most costly coffee

Would you believe a certain coffee at this Australian outback cafe can set you back about $50 a cup?

 It’s the Hervey Range Heritage Tea Room, high in the mountains north of Townsville in the so-called ‘dry tropics’ of Far-North Queensland.

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As well as the peaceful bushland location at Thornton’s Gap on the top of Harvey’s Range, the tea rooms actually have two big claims to fame. 

Firstly, they are known as the only place in Queensland to sell Kopi Luwak coffee – hailed as the world’s most expensive coffee. 

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Apparently, the coffee beans are collected from Indonesian jungles after being eaten and defecated by Asian palm civets, a small mammal that looks rather like a cat.

At the Heritage tea rooms, the coffee can be sampled for about 50 Australian dollars a cup.

Secondly, the tea rooms are also said to be in North Queensland’s oldest building – constructed of split logs in about 1865 and formerly known as the Eureka Hotel.

Construction of the hotel atop the ranges occurred just one year after Townsville was established as a seaside township

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The site is located on the old Georgetown Road, which was formerly the main route from the port of Townsville to the goldfields and pastoral areas to the west and north.

Nearby is the old Hervey Range Road, now known as Page Road and one of the few surviving examples of a roadway dating from early European settlement in the region

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On a recent review tour of Far-North Queensland, we relaxed in the peaceful gardens surrounding the heritage-isted building; played giant chess and card games; ate scones and cream; and downed an everyday garden variety latte.

Far-North Queensland travel

A dream continues deep in the woods

Love is a great foundation for grand plans.

An astonishing example of this can be found deep in the tropics of far north-eastern Australia.

There, sunlight filters down on a dream: a fairytale forest castle created more than 80 years ago by a Spaniard for his beloved. 

And, as we wandered through this unexpected delight, we quickly understood the romantic dream behind such an extroadinary creation.

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Jose Pedro Enrique Paronella was a romantic man – a dreamer in a harsh, no-nonsense land.

He arrived at Innisfail, Queensland, in 1913 and began work in the sugar industry while planning a special life with the fiancee he had left back in Catalonia.

It was while buying and selling cane farms that Jose discovered his dreamland – a beautiful tropical forest alongside the spectacular, cascading Mena Creek waterfall.

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Jose had never forgotten the grand castles of his boyhood land and the gem of an idea was taking root when he returned to his fiancee after 11 years. Finding that she had married another, he proposed to her younger sister, Margarita, and returned to Australia to buy his piece of forest paradise.

Their incredible dream was to build a castle. And they did – on 13 tropical acres a fantasyland gradually rose amid the tall trees, tangled vines, creepers and ferns.

Neither Jose nor Margarita were afraid of hard work. Their fingerprints in the concrete foundations remain as testament to their astonishing labour of love. 

No task, no matter how difficult, seemed to faze Jose.  Described as an ”engineer, architect, builder and everything else in one”, he threw himself into every challenge.

“People smile and say ‘Paronella, he is mad. To work so hard and to spend so much money this way! Why does he not sit down and rest’.  That is not my way”

Excerpt from ‘Spaniard’s Dream Realised’ – Brisbane Sunday Mail

The first section of the dream was a grand 47-step concrete staircase to shift building materials between the upper and lower levels of the site. 

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Gradually, the castle and its stunning surrounds took shape, including a grand ballroom and movie theatre designed to provide entertainment for the public.  

There were also tennis courts, tunnels, bridges, fountains, a museum; pavilion with turret-topped balconies, refreshment rooms and changing cubicles for swimmers.

All this was wrapped in an amazing area of gardens and more than 7,000 trees, including an avenue of Kauri pines that now tower like Cathedral spires.

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The backdrop of Mena Creek Falls  was used for North Queensland’s first hydro electric plant, providing power to the entire site – and a tunnel was burrowed through a hill to give access to minature waterfalls.

Despite setbacks, the dream of Paronella Park  continued – even after Jose’s death in 1948. 

In 1967,  Margarita passed away, leaving their son and daughter-in-law as custodians of the remarkable dream.

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Flood, fire and the area’s tropical cyclones also wreaked havoc on the castle and the vision was almost lost when new owners stepped in during the 1990’s and started a number of restoration projects, while carefully staying true to the park’s history.

Today, the site is officially listed as an important part of Australian heritage.

However, we defy first-time visitors not to catch their breath when they see the truly extroardinary sight of a Spanish castle partly hidden in a tropical forest in one of the most beautiful parts of our planet.

In this helter skelter world, the dream and the romance live on – and there’s something particularly reassuring about that.

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Paronella Park can be found at Mena Creek, Queensland, Australia, 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Cairns.

As explained on its website, visitors can take a 45-minute guided walk through the highlights of the park; try a self-guided botanical walk; or see the delights of the site by night, when the waterfalls are lit.

There is also a Paronella caravan and camping park; a suspension bridge above the Mena Falls; a museum in Jose’s cottage; an arts and crafts shop and a tea house that features scones and home-made tropical jam.

The park is also a stunning backdrop for weddings and other special occasions.

Far-North Queensland Romance travel

The new Darling Harbour

Things are certainly changing at one of Australia’s best known tourism destinations, the Darling Harbour Entertainment  Precinct in Sydney.

The New South Wales government is investing $AUD 3.4 billion in the transformation of Darling Harbour, including the construction of an International Convention Centre at Cockle Bay.

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Photo courtesy Property NSW ‘Tenant News’

This work will include a series of marine structures such as a new Cockle Bay boardwalk that will run from the convention centre wharf to the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Construction of the boardwalk, which will include three floating pontoons, is expected to finish in early 2018. The convention centre wharf is designed to sharply boost the use of water transport within Darling Harbour.

An iconic new Sydney landmark

Meanwhile, another key  part of the revamp of Darling Harbour has received government planning approval and is set to deliver Sydney an iconic new landmark.

The Darling Exchange has been described as an “urban village” and will contain a host of mixed facilities including a new City of Sydney Library; a child care centre; rooftop restaurant; high quality residential facilities; and a creative and technology hub.

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Photo courtesy Property NSW ‘Tenant News’

When finished, the exchange could house up to 4,200 residents and two-and-a-half-thousand workers.

 

 

 

Sydney

Aussie autumn

Australian summers are famous, conjuring up well known images of lifesavers on Sydney’s Bondi Beach and an outdoors and water wonderland.

But the land ‘down under’ also boasts plenty of magic as it moves toward the cooler months in the middle of the year.

There is a stunning quality to autumn in Australia, when the leaves change colour from green to yellow, orange and varying shades of red.

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Autumn there lasts from March to June and is a beautiful time to experience the diversity for which Australia is famous

We haven’t done a pictorial for a while, so here is a brief look at some of the autumn colours in our backyard at Newcastle, on the country’s east coast:

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Photo posts

Windsor, Australia: contrasts

Finding a greater contrast would be difficult.

Drive one direction and it feels like you’ve entered a time warp, whirling back to the early 1800’s.

Head the other way and you’re soon in a futuristic landscape of sweeping concrete and steel.

Welcome to the Windsor district of eastern Australia, an area that offers a snapshot of colonial times, with many grand examples of 19th century British architecture.

At the same time, the area also features Australia’s biggest public transport project, the sleek, multi-billion dollar Sydney Metro NorthWest rail link.

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Sydney Metro

Courtesy Plenary Group

This stark contrast between the old and the new, is a reminder that, although Windsor is a wonderful link to Australia’s colonial past, it is also on the edge of the Sydney beltway – a bustling, modern commuter channel.

But it was the Windsor of the 1800’s that we came to find.

Our ancestors were humble farmers in the area when it was Australia’s third city, a settlement established to provide fresh produce for the fledgling penal colony of Sydney.

Many of their graves can be found in the pioneer cemetery at nearby Wilberforce, which stands in the shadow of Australia’s oldest church, dating to 1809.

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Sue’s ancestors, in particular, hold a special and prominent place in the local community, descending from Australia’s first group of free settlers.

Thomas and Jane Rose and their four children – originally from rural Dorset in England – had arrived in the colony in 1793 and started farming in the Windsor area about 1802.

‘Rose Cottage’, their house at Wilberforce, built in 1811, remains the oldest slab timber dwelling on its original site in Australia.

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After exploring the pioneer cemetery, we headed for one of Windsor’s best known landmarks, the Macquarie Arms hotel, which claims to be the oldest pub in mainland Australia.

Sitting high above the Hawkesbury River, the pub certainly has an olde worlde feel, complete with resident ghosts – or perhaps that should be ‘spirits’.

First licensed in 1815 and operated continuously ever since, apart from the period between 1840-1874, the Macquarie Arms was built by convicts who are said to have constructed tunnels between the building and the river for secretly transporting illegal rum.

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Courtesy Macquarie Arms Hotel and Gary Bell Pub Sketches.

Whether it is really the oldest pub on the Australian mainland seems to depend on who you ask. Apparently, colonial Sydney was brimming with ‘sly grog’ shops and hotels from about 1800 onwards.

One thing is for certain: the old pub is just one of many colonial buildings in Windsor still in use.

These include the local court house, designed by famous colonial architect Sir Francis Greenway and built in 1822; several historic churches; Windsor post office; and any number of grand Victorian mansions.

And, to prove that the area was indeed a land of opportunity, there’s Thompson Square which was named after a convict pioneer who went on to become a magistrate at law.

Next on our list was a visit to Rose Cottage which is truly a priceless piece of Australian heritage, followed by a tour of the adjoining Australiana Pioneer Village which strives to promote the area’s history.

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The village combines historic buildings and demonstrations of traditional crafts.

Both these attractions are maintained by hard-working groups of volunteers.

Windsor is on the north-western outskirts of Sydney, about 56 kilometres from the city centre.

Aussie stories Sydney

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

legendary pacific coast

Review: Australian National Botanic Gardens

Of all the attractions at Canberra – Australia’s bush capital – the National Botanic Gardens are among the best established and fastest growing.

Dating back to the 1940’s, the 35 hectares of gardens are said to feature about one-third of all Australian native plants.

Located minutes from the hustle and bustle of Canberra city centre , the gardens offer a breathtaking array of native plants in a spectacular bushland setting.

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On the lower slopes of Black Mountain, Canberra, the attraction contains more than 6,300 species and describes itself as a “living laboratory on plant classification, ecology and horticulture”.

At the same time, the gardens are a tourist attraction in their own right, providing a unrivalled display of colour.

There’s an informative visitors centre; free guided walks; a bookshop; eco spa; outdoor cafe; and a 45 minute guided shuttle bus called Flora Explorer.

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Numerous walks – some catering exclusively for children – are held through the site. For example, the Aboriginal Plant Use Trail, takes visitors on a trip of discovery through the plants that were used by Australia’s indigenous peoples.

The garden itself contains an area of rainforest; grassy woodlands; a rock garden; Eucalypt lawn and a section that specialises in plants of the Sydney Region.

Another feature is the ‘Red Centre Garden, which allows you to experience the unique landscape, colours and plants of Central Australia.

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The gardens also cultivate plants that are said to be threatened in the wild: thereby protecting against extinction.

This attraction started humbly in the years after World War II, when a range of Eucalypt trees were planted on the site. In 1949, during a visit by international foresters, a celebration oak tree and more gum trees were planted to mark the official start of the botanic garden project.

Development continued apace until the 1960’s, when buildings were constructed for the Herbarium and administration, and a nursery was established.

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By 1967, the gardens were opened to the public, with interpretive signs placed along the paths to complement the extensive labelling of plants.

In October 1970, the gardens were officially declared open by the Australian Prime Minister.

Australian National Botanic Gardens are in Canberra Australia. The gardens are said to be the only place in the world you’ll see such diversity of Australian native plants in one location.

Canberra