As a ‘unwind treat’ for (me and) my post HSC, arty eighteen year old daughter, I took us on a mid-week short break to the Tweed Valley. I’m sure daughter thought “Gourmet Adventure Package” meant good food but not much else to excite her. She was wrong.
Kym from Mt Warning Tours was waiting for us at the Gold Coast Airport. While acquainting us with the region and learning more about our interests, he delivered us to a tasty little cafe in Murwillumbah called Keith. Daughter enjoyed a substantial sausage roll and milk shake while I, a luscious salted caramel tart. I hear the Portuguese Tarts are to die for too.
To our surprise and delight we discovered Murwillumbah is the creative and cultural hub of the Tweed Valley. Upon learning that daughter was arty, Kym called Andy Reimainis, working artist at Caldera Wildscapes Art Gallery and Studio for an impromptu visit to the 20 meter Green Cauldron Panorama painting. While normally closed on a Tuesday, Andy was happy to indulge us and share his story.
A year in the making, incorporating the talents of about eight artists, this geographically accurate masterpiece is a highly detailed painting of the view from the summit of Wollumbin Mount Warning with some of the fauna and flora of the region. Andy invited us to add some tiny ‘y’ shaped tree trunks into the painting for posterity. We dutifully obliged.
In addition to Andy’s works, talented young artist in residence, Amanda Burns of Mandalee Arts offers an affordable range of cards and artworks in a variety of media for sale. They make the perfect souvenir or gift from the Tweed. I purchased a decaled-edged watercolour of a Rainbow Lorikeet for my grandson’s bedroom. All Amanda’s animals have great personality – to wit this sweet little joey amongst gum leaves.
Juju’s was our next stop for a delicious lunch. The chef sources fresh local fruit, veg and produce. The service is quick and friendly, protein is perfectly cooked, all is simply presented and bursting with freshness. We enjoyed Duck Spring Rolls, Prawn Tempura and Stuffed Zucchini Flowers each with matched spicy salads.
We were then driven to our luxury hinterland Chalet accommodation in Uki for the night Karissa and Peter Ball reside here and run the six fairytale ecOasis Resort Chalets deep in the hinterland forest. We were welcomed like old friends and shown some of the other chalets which each have their own character. We were lucky to have the spa chalet, half way down the valley, aptly named ‘Spa.’
The views of Mount Warning and the sunsets are positively inspirational. You can literally hear your cortisol levels dropping. If you like your solitude and nature 360 degrees, but with every creature comfort – ecOasis will do just fine. Karissa does all the catering herself in her neat little kitchen. She had prepared a ‘snack’ of cheese, fruits and crackers for us on arrival. Around 5:30pm Peter delivered Karissa’s hearty slow cooked chicken and chickpea curry for dinner. Country folk sure love to feed people!
A glorious night’s sleep was had, waking to bird song and sunlight filtering through the trees. Daughter had dibs on the spa bedroom, so I contented myself with a high pressure hot shower over looking the bush and bird-life. Breakfast is plentiful self-cater supplies of bread, butter, spreads, bacon, eggs, baked beans, milk, juice and coffee beans ready to grind fresh. I needed to spend a week here to really blow the city cobwebs away.
After breakfast, we were picked up by Milton, a retired school principal. A very pleasant 40 minute drive and discussion ensued where we ‘set the world to rights.’ We were delivered to Tumbulgum and an outstanding morning tea at the 120 year old, fully restored House of Gabriel. The gift shop and gardens were the perfect place to while-away the time until our Tweed River and Rainforest Seafood BBQ Lunch Cruise was ready to depart.
The chef at The House of Gabriel is keen to show-off the wood fired oven in which he cooks the best pizzas in the region every Friday night between 5pm and 8pm. His latest toy is a Texan-style BBQ cooker. (I’ll be back to try his brisket.) House of Gabriel serves high teas and offers catering and functions. There are plans afoot for a rework of the garden area into an indoor/outdoor area to cater better for weddings and functions.
What really gives a more complete sense of the uniqueness of the Tweed River Valley and the Mount Warning Caldera geology and biome is the Tweed River and Rainforest Seafood BBQ Lunch Cruise. Nicknamed, The Green Cauldron, it is the only land-bound natural erosion caldera in the southern hemisphere with Mount Warning the remnant plug of a once mighty shield volcano.
Michael Simmons, owner, skipper and guide for the 3 hour cruise offers a narration spanning: volcanology, geology, botany, sociology, anthropology, ornithology, river morphology, history, biology, ecology and biodiversity. His ability to identify bird and plant species at a distance is astounding. What Michael doesn’t know about the natural or man-made environment and history of the Tweed Valley isn’t worth knowing. Every Earth and Environmental Science high school student in Australia should do this tour!!!
Karissa from ecOasis catered for our grazing seafood BBQ on board and there was plenty of wine flowing for those who desired it, soft drink and complimentary bottled water. Every dish was wholesome, generous, well prepared and loaded with fresh local seafood. The four grazing dishes were perfectly timed within our 3 hour cruise.
On our return from the cruise we strolled across the road to The House of Gabriel where we were treated to Husk Plantation’s Ink Gin with Tonic Water. Ink Gin is distilled with 13 organic botanicals. A post distillation floral infusion with an exotic blue flower petal imparts its distinctive purple hue. As you add tonic water it turns a pale pink. Husk Distillers are known for their Paddock to Bottle philosophy and the resultant Pure Cane and Spiced Bam Bam Agricole Rums. The Husk Distillery will be open for visitors in early 2019.
We enjoyed exploring the gallery’s six exhibition spaces and world class collection of portraits representing Australians from all walks of life. Daughter was particularly taken with the interactive multi-media drawing activity at the entrance to the Margaret Olley Art Centre, which she could retrieve when she got home (results below).
I I loved the recreation of areas of Olley’s famous home studio which features original architectural elements such as windows and doors, relocated from Olley’s home studio at 48 Duxford Street, Paddington, Sydney. The interiors are filled with over 20,000 items Olley collected over many years as subject matter for her paintings.
The kitchen was an amazing time capsule of spices, herbs, ingredients, pots and utensils used over her life.
Just before they closed for the day, we treated ourselves to a little ‘snack’ at the Gallery cafe – rosewater meringue with vanilla bean cream, fresh strawberries and lavish coulis.
Enroute to the Gold Coast Airport Michael showed us the world’s second longest, legal graffiti street-art wall installation. The murals are located along the concrete flood mitigation wall on the western side of the Tweed River bank and run for about 2 kms. As you enter Murwillumbah over the bridge, the river-side of the 2 meter high levee flood wall features the street art of local and international street artists. The Treasures of the Tweed which celebrates the biodiversity of the caldera flanks the township side.
For me, nature, food and art are the perfect trilogy for relaxation and inspiration and the Tweed Valley has them in spades. Check out the upcoming events in the Tweed which can be found here.
Michael tells me there are 2 coffee plantations, 3 cheese makers, a Bay Bug Aquaculture Farm, a character who owns a finger lime farm, a number of other excellent restaurants and of course Tropical Fruit World, all in the Tweed and surrounds.
I am in the throes of planning a small group Culinary Tourism Study Tour to the Tweed in the 3rd or 4th quarter of 2019. If you would like to find our more or join me and other passionate food culture groupies, send me an email or call me on 0415676238.