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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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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