NSW Northern Beaches

Lockdown in VIctoria has been long and at times frustrating, but we made it out at last! November 2021 saw us crossing the border into NSW and heading up to the beautiful Northern Beaches.

Leaving Melbourne on a wet and foggy morning with my new friend sourdough starter in the van (he needs constant feeding and can’t be left behind) the GPS decided it would be nice to hit the Hume Hwy via Kinglake and the Melba Hwy. A much nicer start to the journey than the dreadful ring road at peak hour.

Benalla

Coffee, wee and walk at our first stop in Benalla. I was thrilled to finally see the completed mural I had spent a weekend working on in 1983 as a pottery student at RMIT. I was proud to think my hands helped to make some of these terracotta tiles.

Some lovely murals decorated the town. Make sure you go for a walk and look around.

Goulbourn

A long tiring drive but due to the rain this year it is very green and pretty. Storms around us delivered some interesting clouds.

Governors Hill Big4 is very tight park. It’s a bit shabby and quite noisy, but the bathrooms are all renovated and super fresh and clean. It’s an overnight stop we have used before, but not sure we will again. The little insect band played country music until quite late in the night. If we had a site closer to them i may well have taken a shovel to them.

Bonny Hill

Setting up through a tropical strength deluge was not fun but i have a good man who let me sit in the car while he battled on. We woke in the morning to sun, humidity and 29 C by 11am. A shower in the immaculate amenities set things right for the rest of the day.

Follow a clear path through a tunnel of vegetation to a beautiful beach that brought joy to my heart.

Kempsey

We stopped at Kempsey looking for a coffee and bakery, but after a walk through the beautiful park and picturesque riverside, enjoying the Jacaranda’s in full bloom, walking through the purple snow dropping with every puff of wind and marvelling at the pops of seed pods bursting open, we decided to move on and look for food elsewhere.

Nambucca Heads

33 C and humid in Nambucca Heads. We were finally thawing out. By now we were starving and settled on the Wharf Street Cafe. An inauspicious facade but it was quite nice and comfortable inside. Set on the river, it had ceiling fans swirling a nice breeze and the staff were really lovely. The food sounded promising but was average unfortunately. We shared Bruschetta, not great, Squid, which was not bad, and Buffalo WIngs, pretty good. The local beers were average, and we went for sweets. I had a Rose macaroon, acceptable but disappointing as i thought it was rosewater, but wasn’t. Coffee’s were good. we ran out of time for walk which was a shame. So, back on to the Pacific Hwy…which i do not like….

Skennars Head

We arrived in Skennars Head with a temperature of 34 C. First time we had felt hot for months and months. The Big4 park is still as comfortable and clean as it was last time we visited pre COVID. The grassy sites are lush, trimmed and spacious. The palm tree cast nice shade over site. Staff are extremely helpful. The low flying planes are great for enthusiasts but are bit invasive if you want a quiet space. Mind you, they are infrequent and don’t seem to fly at night, so it is not too hard to deal with the occasional boomer passing overhead. Friendly frogs in the bathroom!

Sharpes Beach

Just a short drive towards Ballina, Sharpes Beach is indeed beautiful at low tide. There is a walking track from the park, to Boulder Beach and along a well defined path. Surfers hit the waves at high tide. Car Parks are limited during busy periods but the bach is never crowded. Very lovely.

Lennox Head

Lennox Head has a smart little village style street with a choice of eateries. We were lucky to be there on a day when ight rescued sea turtles were being released. It was extremely moving and wonderful to see these incredible creatures who had been cared for restored to health and able to find their way back out to sea. The protected area where they were released is also a great pool for swimming. Naturally protected by rocks from the surf, we had a lovely swim here.

Whites Beach

Whites Beach was quite a journey to get to. Crazy steep steps down to the beach did me in for the next two days. Quite a few of the rocks i clambered down and then UP were deeper than my legs were long enough, so lots of scrambling. Hard work but oh so worth it. This is an incredibly beautiful coastline with a magnificent beach of fine sand and water exceptionally clear. A large cave offers shade to park yourself and there are other small caves and coves to explore at low tide. I wouldn’t risk being caught out during a high tide. The waves here are ferocious and only dedicated surfers were out in the water. The young men we saw bolted up and down the treacherous steps with boards under their arms and bare feet. I was envious of their ease with the quite scary steep track. This is not a swimming beach. The waves were majestic and i couldn’t stop looking at their immensity.

Boulder Beach

A short walk from the park to boulder beach gives access to a great walk that does either left or right along the stunning verdant cliff tops. It’s not called Boulder Beach without reason! This time we took the right hand walk back towards Sharpes Beach. The views are quite unlike most Australian Beaches with the lush green cliffs more reminiscent of the UK coastline. We also saw Dolphins frolicking in the water below. Easy walking and very peaceful.

Bangalow

I’d never been to Bangalow and have to admit i was expecting a pretty rain foresty type drive into a secluded hippy town. Unfortunately the GPS took us straight onto the horrible Hwy which quite killed my romantic vision of our drive. The town was very busy. Parking was virtually non existent. We found a park eventually and went for a walk up and down both sides of the main street. Eateries were not prolific surprisingly, nor particularly enticing. There are lots of pretty shops to have a poke about in for dust collecting items or pale linen women’s wear. Not much available for the boys. We opted to buy some cakes from Butcher Baker, which has a brilliant selection of bakery products. I had a nice chat with wonderful baker who served me and threw some extra cakes in, much to our delight as they were delicious. The custard filled donuts were crunchy on the outside, light and fluffy inside and the custard creamy and satiny and generously filled. Perfect. The pastry on the Raspberry Almond tarts, and pear tarts with delicious. Soft without being soggy or too crumbly. And the cheesecake, yes i am ashamed to say how many cakes we sampled, but have NO regrets, the cheesecake pastry was again wonderful and the filling creamy, not to sweet and i am salivating just writing about these fine sweets. Yummo.

Ulmarra

It was time to head home and back to work. Not happy but a necessary evil. Getting off the ugly Hwy for a break, we stumbled on a town we had never heard of, Ulmarra. And what a joy it was. This is a place i highly recommend. The Clarence Cafe at the rear of the Ulmarra Hotel is bliss. I was sad we were there too early to order lunch but the cakes and coffee made up for it. Cakes are well up on the yummy stakes. My cannoli, although quite solid, was beautifully presented and the ricotta filling light and fluffy. He who always orders sticky date pud exclaimed effusively that it was the best he had ever eaten. The coffee on par with any fine establishments in Melbourne, if not better than many! My iced coffee tasted like proper coffee, and it was not smothered in fizzy spray can cream. The modern menu offered grilled whole sardines with ciabatta and sashimi. Reading the chalkboard i vowed to return for a lunch or dinner.

The beer garden was large, green and lovely. Set along the riverside the tables were well spaced out. The environment conveyed a feeling of peace and allowed you to sit and relax. To my distress, there were at least half a dozen water dragons who shared my idea that this was a nice spot to chill. They were draped on virtually every table or bench around the garden. Occasionally one would propel itself off the tables and land in the grass, scurrying away to stop and stare at something only they could see. This is a great place. Make the effort to find it.

After an overnight at Lake Macquarie Big4, which was not my most favourite place i have stopped at, we stopped at Marulan for lunch. The Marulan Cafe made our sandwiches fresh, and were happy to substitute the chicken, which they were out of, with roast beef at my request. Nice to get a pot of tea. The sandwiches were quite substantial and fresh. Good one to remember for a quick stop and feed.

Humula

Finding a quiet campsite off the beaten track is one of the best parts of travelling. Humula is a tiny town that boast the smallest licensed club in NSW. Unfortunately it is only open Wednesdays and Fridays, manned by volunteers, and we arrived on a Saturday. There are four powered camp sites on the grass and few more on what looks like it was once a tennis court covered in mulch. There are no shops, we didn’t see any people, and it was super quiet. The amenities are newly renovated and super clean and there are complimentary bathroom products in the ladies. The shower looked like it had never been used. This is a perfect spot for an overnight stop. Even though it was 25kms off the beaten track, it was worth the extra km’s at only $14 a night.

Glenrowan

Last stop for lunch before the final part of the drive home. A tidy little town that is as expected set up for tourism. I was a bit surprised that the giant Ned Kelly menacingly pointing a gun looked rather the modern man about town. After a walk up and down the street we settled on lunch at the Glenrowan Hotel, thinking this was the best choice for a Glenrowan experience. Hmmmm. Disappointing. It falls just below average or acceptable. Service was good, the food was not. The ‘Kelly Draught’ is not worth trying. Don’t waste your money unless you like yellow liquid with no personality. I have no idea how old the coleslaw in my burger was but it should have been binned the day before. In their favour, the chips were good. The pizza edible if lacking any actual flavour. Shame, as it is a comfortable hotel with good choice of spaces to sit and chill. Just to let you know if you are looking for a good lunch choose another town, the Glenrowan Bakery was so disappointing we did a walk in, walk out. The choice of bakery products was very limited and looked quite unappetising. I was sad, as i really wanted to include a Glenrowan vanilla slice in my blog ‘The Great Vanilla Slice’ but they looked so plastic i couldn’t bring myself to try one. My recommendation is find another town for lunch.

Moama, The Murray and Barmah.

The Murray is truly a wondrous river. The calm yet strong and steady flow pulls you down to the depths of it’s green water, filling your mind with images of what may be lurking below…

We spent a chilled out week at Morning Glory Camp Ground. Don’t let the name put you off, i was a bit dubious, but it is an excellent place to chill away from the busy caravan parks in Echuca and Moama, with the Barmah National Park only a short drive away. There are plenty of shady riverside sites and lots of grassy sites back away from the river and trees if you don’t want overhanging branches. It is a very pretty, clean, grassy camp ground with lots of sites, but not so many powered sites. Mid week during school term found us in a virtually empty park. It was awesome.

The changing colours of the Murray throughout the day are beautiful. I couldn’t stop looking at it…and taking photos…

The birdlife is crazy. The dawn and dusk are heralded by a cacophony, or symphony, depending on your personal thoughts on birds. It is loud and it goes on and on an on. So funny. Lots of squabbling. But beware if you do choose to camp under the trees. We had to wash poo off our car every morning.

Morning Glory is a space for people who want to steep themselves in serenity, away from shops, cafes and bars. A place to sit still. BYO booze and nibbles.The amenities are basic but super clean. The camp kitchen is however not terribly inviting. Functional, but not a place to sit and chill. There is an awesome pool and kiddies water play area, place far enough from the campsites that any noise from exuberance splashers is diffused.

Be warned! The pool and cabins at the rear of the resort are riddled with ants. I happened to walk through the middle of them while walking and my feet were instantly a crawling mess. i have kick off my runners, pull off my socks and run. Very scary. Luckily Hubby had Blundstones on and they couldn’t attach to the leather.

The BBQ looks rusty and a bit past it, but with a bit of a clean it cooked like a dream. We used it every night, and no one else went near it. Give it a go, you won’t be disappointed in the results.

While on the subject of food, Suttons Bakery in Moama is right next to the Woolworths, about a 30 minute easy drive. They have a good range of cakes and breads and my review of the vanilla slice is in my blog The Great Vanilla Slices.

Just a short drive is the Barmah National Park. There are a variety of walks, some are short with colour coded guided information, and others are longer and marked with arrows. It is a beautiful area, with lots of water ways, historical areas and natural beauty. Intensely green and pretty, it is easy access and well marked parking. Lots of birds and due to the wet, mushrooms were sprouting everywhere. Fascinating. They were also in the grass at Morning Glory.

So pretty. A boat give tours on the water for those who like a bit of being toured about.

The Muster Yards are only one part of the self guided walks. There are many interesting facts about the area that are worth reading about.

The awesome trees are just plain awesome. Some are quite sculptural if you look hard.

Morning Glory has a variety of campsites, with and without power, water and amenities. There is lots of good signage. They also have their own sandy beach entry.

The Levy Bank Walk was a particularly nice part of the 5km circuit walk.

We decided to make a day trip into Echuca. The town has been tidied up and was super busy, people spilled in and out of cafes and various shops. The Old Port, is quite upgraded and not at all as i remembered it as a child. Very touristy, but we walked around and had a look, found the old Thong Tree, and decided we preferred to return to the peace of Morning Glory.

Beechworth Bakery is always busy and has a very large range of bakery goods, sweet and savoury, to choose from. Of course, we had to try the Vanilla Slice and add it to my Great Vanilla Slice blog.

So many things to delight us. From little creatures, to sweet delights, colours, and creatures. We scuttled back to our campsite, away from people, and chilled happily the whole week.

A fire at the end of the day while the sun sets and the river turns golden is indeed joyous.

The Great Vanilla Slice

One of the best things about travelling is bakeries! And in bakeries, there is almost always, a vanilla slice. I’ve been sampling quite a few, and have decided to put them all together as a reminder to myself of where i have eaten vanilla slices, and to let other travellers know what is on offer in vanilla slice heaven. Some are amazing, some are not so memorable. I will update and add these delicious creamy delights as I find and devour them. Yummm…

Suttons Bakery, Moama

Beechworth Bakery, Echuca

The Loaf and Lounge Camperdown. Nice place for lunch. The vanilla slice had nice flakey pastry, although a little burnt and slightly bitter. The custard is super yellow and a little gluggy at first bite but actually worked well with the biscuit. The pink icing was a little strong in flavour, but much as the individual components were not 100%, they worked together and melded into a satisfactory sweet. Just don’t eat the bits separately.

Portland Visitors Centre Cafe. An unexpected delight. I have no idea where they are baked but the vanilla slice was really good, (as was the citrus tart). Creamy, smooth, light in texture and flavour, although the biscuit was a little undercooked. Worth a stop to sit and enjoy the view of the harbour while enjoying a vanilla slice and a rather sculptural coffee.

Andy’s Bakery Millicent. These vanilla slices looked perfect. I was excited. But what a let down. The custard had a vaguely curdled texture, quite gluggy, and little taste. There was a slight chemical aftertaste i have never experienced in a vanilla slice before. The biscuit was average. So sad. Note: The donuts were awesome.

Robe Bakery Kingston SA. They might look a bit sloppy, but they are possibly one of the nicest vanilla slice i have ever had the pleasure of eating. The biscuit was crunchy and flakey, the custard light in texture and taste. The only thing that lets it down is the addition of cream. Totally unnecessary, as was the chocolate splats on top. These only detracted from the otherwise delicious custard.

Beaufort Country Bakery. Smaller in size than most vanilla slices, this little delight was smothered in icing sugar that made eating it in the car somewhat tricky. The custard was smooth, not too sickly sweet and the pastry satisfactory. All in all, a nice treat.

Littles at Kingston by the Sea. Coconut sprinkled vanilla slice is a first for me, but it works. Easy to cut for sharing, the custard was very nice. Smooth and silky. The biscuit however was a little undercooked and soggy. shame.

Village Bakehouse Port Fairy. One of two bakeries in Port Fairy, the vanilla slice promised joy, but although assured they were baked daily, the pasty was a little soggy and i found the custard a bit gluggy. We shared the one piece and both felt half was more than enough.

Cobbs Bakery Port Fairy. One of two bakeries in Port Fairy, the vanilla slice is of the pink iced variety. Always dubious of the little pinkies delivering, the custard was creamy and light in texture, and although the pastry was hard to cut through, it has a rather nice taste. The thick pink icing fortunately was not sickly. Good job.

Stoneground Bakehouse Hurstbridge. Situated in a village style street, they have a good range of cakes, biscuits, breads and pastries at reasonable prices. The vanilla slice is of the more traditional Aussie style. The filling is smooth and silky but lack interest in flavour and has a slight chemical taste. The icing is a little sweet and sickly for my taste but hubby loved it. The biscuit not too soggy and cuts well. Although it holds together well, looks okay, it is not on my recommendation list.

The Malley Bakery, Ouyen. Cakes here are good. We have stopped a couple of times on the way to somewhere. Creamy smooth texture, and the icing is actually not sickening, even though it gives the appearance of sticky over sweetness. Definitely recommend the vanilla slice if you are passing though.

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Paul The Pieman, Inverloch. This is a great bakery. Their cakes are amongst the best i have eaten, and i have eaten a lot of them! Variety is brilliant. Their vanilla slice is rich and creamy. A true dessert, rather than a cuppa at morning tea.

Flinders Fish and Chips, Flinders. The Flinders Fish and Chips shop boasts the Guinness World of Records biggest vanilla slice 2012. And yes, it’s huge. At $11 a serve, it would easily feed four people. Two of us had a good go at it and couldn’t finish it. It is big, but it’s not the best in taste and texture. It’s a once only buy and try for me.

Pastry King Cafe Bakery, Daylesford. This was a shop that promised a superior sweet. Their bakery fare looked good, and was priced on the high side. We bought a selection to share and tasted. The vanilla slice was nice, a little super charged in presentation, but not extraordinary. It looked better than it tasted. Disappointed. Staff were a little discourteous to customers. Next time i will try some of the other bakeries.

Marysville Country Bakery, Marysville. This is a large bakery with heaps of choice. They don’t call their vanilla slice, a vanilla slice. They call it a ‘granny vanilla slice’. When i asked why, i was met with a confused look and the answer was, ‘that’s what we call them.’ We rushed back to our accomodation to give it a taste test with a glass of wine, as you do, and were a little disappointed in the grainy texture and hard to cut pastry. The taste was good, but degree of difficulty eating and texture left us not wanting to go back for more.

Bay Bakery Cafe – Jurien Bay WA. A busy little bakery in a little shopping strip, two versions of vanilla slice were on offer. Labelled Vanilla Slice, was a pink iced number that looked like a traditional no frills vanilla slice, but unfortunately the biscuit tasted a little burnt, or perhaps bitter is more accurate. The custard was somewhat gelatinous and lacking in richness, a little watery in taste. But i loved the pink icing reminiscent of grandma’s and country bakeries. The alternate was labelled Custard Slice. The pastry was much better, but the custard was grainy, disappointingly feeling like a packet mix fail. Both looked good, but let down in the taste and texture.

Wild Grains Bakehouse – Healesville Victoria This vanilla slice was a modest little surprise. Creamy and smooth, light in texture. The biscuit was a little hard to eat with a fork, but hubby sorted it by picking it up and taking bites without cutlery. The icing was as sticky and pink as you would expect a vanilla slice. Reasonably priced. I recommend you give these a try.