Pokolbin, Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia

Ya, so we’re not getting out much lately…this saving for a wedding malarkey is REALLY cramping our travelling style!!

However we are getting out of Sydney a little bit and just took a Valentine’s trip to the Hunter Valley, 2 hours north of Sydney. More specifically, we spent time in oh so lovely Pokolbin. We stayed at the beautiful Convent Hunter Valley Resort (which used to be Peppers Convent but was recently taken over by the Escarpment Group who run some pretty nice spots in the Blue Mountains). Randomly, this beautiful building used to be  in Coonamble in western New South Wales – they moved it more than 600km! The grounds are beautiful, full of pepper trees, a lovely swimming pool and fairy lights for the evening. Give me a few fairy lights and I’m sorted.

Here’s the Convent Hunter Valley:

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Nestled away up there

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Convent Hunter Valley

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So pretty

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The life!

On arrival we went straight for a dip in the pool as it was 44 degrees celsius. Ridiculously hot!! We then took a little wander (about a 2 minute stroll) to Pepper Tree Wines and had a wine tasting for about an hour. 6 bottles out of the bank account later and we were back to the hotel for the loveliest of naps. I’m so old. There’s exactly zilch better than a day nap.

We took a little wander around here – there’s a fine dining restaurant called Circa 1876 housed in the historic Halls Cottage right next to Pepper Tree Wines. There was a wedding on so unfortunately we couldn’t have dinner here (how rude!) but we had a little mosey around anyway (pre-wedding…we didn’t crash). They grow their own produce, they have hens and lots of little quirky rooms with antiques – it’s trés romantic.

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Just look at that!

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The entrance to Circa 1876

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Circa 1876’s Garden

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A little church on-site

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Circa 1876

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And obviously some church vines

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Pepper Tree Wines

Post nap we required some dessert so took off to sample Sabor in the Hunter. #worththecalories

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Lemon Meringue Pie and Black Forest Gateau

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Suuuper cheap cookies

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Heart Art

So, what DID we do for dinner you ask? We actually ended up having THE BEST DINNER OF OUR ENTIRE LIVES. We ended up booking 2 seats at the chef’s pass at EXP. HOLY CRAP. Part of the Oakvale Winery, EXP. provides you with either a 5 or 8 course tasting menu ($85 or $110 per person plus drinks). I’m generally not that adventurous when it comes to dinner…when you’re hungry you want to eat something you’ll absolutely enjoy right? Not to worry here – we devoured every single morsel put in front of us. Like Savages. There’s very little wait-time between courses. Chef Frank Fawkner is a god damn genius. Ever heard of crab custard? Me neither, but my life will never be the same again now that I’ve tasted it! I don’t think I’ve ever used the word sublime before…but that’s what dessert was – Australian made chocolate mousse (made from Daintree Estates cocoa – from the Daintree rainforest region in Queensland) with the softest honeycomb. Melt in the mouth.

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Ham on Toast

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Chia and Honey Beer

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Heaven

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And a nice romantic moon to end the evening

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Byron Bay, NSW, Australia

Hello!!

We’ve taken a few trips to hippie-haven Byron Bay over the past few years and it’s a nice spot to stroll around. You can easily do it in a day or you could chill here for a week. While the beach is definitely not Australia’s best, there’s plenty of room to get a bit of personal space and the little town is great for wandering around, grabbing coffees, ice-cream and engaging in some light or back-breaking retail therapy.

Obligatory Graffii shot

Obligatory Graffii shot

Byron's Beach

Byron’s Beach

The Farm Byron Bay, is worth a visit, it’s about a 5 minute drive from the town or just off the motorway on your way to town. It’s a working farm with a great restaurant (Three Blue Ducks), boulangerie (Don’t you just love that word, the Bread Social), and also the Produce Store. We had breakfast here and oh God, delicious. So fresh too. They have a lovely sunflower patch (I’m gonna say patch because of what we saw in the Dordogne region of France recently but for kiddies it would be an endless sunflower field), black pigs – happy as larry lounging about in the mud, cattle, chickens…and snakes. There are signs everywhere saying watch your step. Yowsa! If you don’t have a car then you can take the Farm Bus, $15 and you can hop on and off all day and see some local hot-spots.

Where first?

Where first?

Sunflowers

Sunflowers!

Chia Pudding

Amazing Chia Pudding

Coffee was had by himself at the little hole in the wall Barefoot Roasters, you’d have to go looking for this spot, it’s down a little lane and you’ve to sit sipping on the footpath. Quirky little spot.

Byron Bay Lighthouse sits overlooking Byron beach on one side and the absolutely stunning (and much quieter) Tallows Beach. Up here is the most easterly spot of Australia’s mainland – you’re basically looking out at Chile. Kinda cool.

The Bluesfest (music festival) is on here every March and there are markets on all year round. There’s lots of signage all around town promoting yoga classes if you fancy getting all chillaxed and the Cape Byron walking track is a great spot to work up and appetite…so you can go back to the Farm for lunch!

Byron Bay Lighthouse

Byron Bay Lighthouse

Tallows Beach

Tallows Beach

Setting up a life in Australia

Well, here we are again, back in Australia mate. This was definitely not something we considered when we were shipping all of our stuff back to Ireland. We had expected to set up a little closer to home after our stint in South America but alas Australia called…again. It’s definitely easier the second time around but I thought I’d note a few things in case our experiences could help anybody else out there 🙂

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Bank Account

This is obviously one of the first things you’ll need here. We actually set up an account before we even left Ireland back in 2011. The process was simple. There are a few big hitters in terms of banks in Australia and we went with National Australia Bank/NAB, mainly because they offer fee-free banking. We didn’t need a Sydney address to get our cards either. Really helpful. The other main banks here are Commonwealth Bank of Australia/CommBank/CBA and Westpac.

Finding a Home

Sydney is known as the City of Villages and picking a place to live is exceptionally difficult! I came across this City Hobo site, which has an (awesome!) index of all of Sydney’s ‘burbs, and includes an ‘if this suburb was a shoe it would be…’ section. Hilarious…and bloody true! Paddington = Jimmy Choo; Newtown = Converse/Campers; Woolloomooloo (just wanted to type that to be honest) = Puma.

Honestly, finding somewhere to live was an absolute nightmare first time around. We went to loads of estate agencies and it’s seriously like they can’t get you out of their offices fast enough. It’s quite a stressful experience coming to a new country and staying in a hostel waiting to find your ‘home’; they definitely don’t make it easy for you… We actually ended up in our first apartment in Sydney by accident. We went to see an apartment and saw a sign outside the building advertising another open viewing so we went along and ended up being the only people viewing it. Obviously the agency had done just put the sign up outside and hadn’t done a thing online! Thankfully though…one week later it was ours. So we didn’t move until we left Sydney 3 years later… This time around things couldn’t have worked out better. I spotted a place on Domain (a pretty good site but it’s very easy to get sidetracked and start looking at million dollar listings) on a Tuesday, we went to the open-house on Wednesday, applied on Thursday about 1.30pm and got it about 4.30pm – unbelievable! The word delighted doesn’t even come close. We move in this Saturday – soooooo excited 🙂 RealEstate is another great website for finding accommodation. If you’re looking for a share-house then gumtree is the way to go.

Finding a Job

Before looking for a job you’ll need to apply for a Tax File Number/TFN…otherwise you’ll pay waaay higher tax than necessary. Seek is probably the most used job search engine – they also have a pretty useful app. LinkedIn is excellent if you’re looking for a professional role. Indeed and ApplyDirect are also worth checking out. Recruitment agencies definitely have Sydney employers tied up in a bow here – many roles honestly don’t even get openly advertised (I work in HR so I know this is true!) so it’s absolutely worth signing up with agencies. Generally, I find that specialised agencies are better to deal with as they know the roles and businesses they’re dealing with inside out so they’re more likely to do more for you…It’s also important to find a recruiter that you’re comfortable with – they’re working for you as well as the employer.

Some recruitment agencies I’ve had experience with in Sydney are:

General – Chandler Macleod, people2people, Hays, Robert WaltersMichael Page

Administration – OfficeTeam

Construction – Constructive Recruitment

Human Resources/Learning & Development – Tandem Partners, The Next Step

Financial Services – Robert Half

Next: You gotta get out there and do things! Time Out Sydney and What’s On Sydney are pretty good for diary dates 🙂

Sydney’s Best, an A – Z Guide

As we lived in Sydney for over 3 years and I only managed one post (ridiculous) I thought it was about time to share our favourite spots of this oh so beautiful city. Ya so it’s mostly food because apparently that’s what our lives revolve around.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Vivid Sydney Festival

Vivid Sydney Festival

Sydney’s Best…

A

Afternoon Tea. I definitely consider myself a connoisseur of Afternoon Tea. It’s my absolute favourite thing in the world. After shoes, obviously. The Langham in the Rocks area of the city does a pretty good afternoon tea. I also love the Tea Cosy in the same area, an Irish themed tea spot located in a lovely building (with a balcony) and the scones are delicious. They even have lamington (chocolate and coconut sponge cake) scones in celebration of Australia Day (January 26th). The best afternoon tea isn’t actually in the city though, it’s in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, in Lilianfels Resort and Spa. Glass of champagne in hand, fire crackling in the background and live piano music. Perfection in the winter. Yes, Sydney gets a bloody cold winter. Not Ireland cold but definitely scarf and woolly hat cold.

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B

Beach. Obviously need to include a beach in a Sydney post. There’s no situation where Palm Beach doesn’t win this medal and it’s less than an hour from the city. Don’t miss brunch from the Boathouse. Bondi Beach is obviously world famous, and it’s great for people watching but if you’re looking for a city beach then I’d go for Maroubra. It’s way quieter than Bondi so you’ll always get a spot to yourself, although there aren’t many food options at the moment so it’d be a good idea to bring a picnic. It’s up and coming though so there’ll definitely be more foodie options in the next few years. Bookstore. Another B I know but I have to share! Hands down, the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya in the city for choice – they stock everything but it is a little pricey. Berkelouw in Paddington has a nicely curated selection as well as a cafe. Sappho Books (and cafe and wine bar!) in Glebe is a little like Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, a warren like maze of a store brimming with secondhand and rare books.

Palm Beach

Palm Beach

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach

Maroubra Beach

Maroubra Beach

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C

Coffee. No joke, John has actually sampled every single coffee shop in this city. Morning coffee was had and loved from MLC Grind in the MLC Centre in the CBD. Weekend brews were most enjoyed from the tiny Reuben Hills in Surry Hills.

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D

Drinking Spots. My absolute favourite bar is Grandma’s in the city. It’s a tiny basement bar (and well hidden) but the cocktails here will knock off any cobwebs. John loved the Button Bar in Surry Hills and the Barber Shop in the city. The Wild Rover, actually a small bar in Surry Hills and not a crazy college scene Irish bar like the name would suggest, is a pretty nice spot too. Shady Pines Saloon is hilarious and located in Darlinghurst. What you see in movies and expect a bar in the Wild Wild West would have looked like.

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E

Eggs. It’s really easy to find fantastic breakfast spots in Sydney – you’ll find poached eggs with avocado on sourdough toast pretty much any time of the day. Our favourite hang out was Baffi & Mo in Redfern. God, their sweet potato hash browns. Unbelievable. VargaBar Espresso in Newtown used to have the most delicious eggs benedict but they went and changed their menu. Rude. They can still cook an egg though. Surry Hills is your best bet in terms of breakfast in general. Plenty of places to choose from.

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F

French Fries. Although it’s a hotdog spot, Snag Stand has the tastiest fries made with Tasmanian potatoes no less; an Irish girl championing potatoes that aren’t from Ireland? Yes! Also Fish and Chips from Doyles on the Wharf in Watsons Bay is really tasty and is the perfect place to watch a Sydney sunset.

View towards the city from Watsons Bay

View towards the city from Watsons Bay

G

Gelato. Actually this one’s a tie – Gelato Messina (a few locations) or Anita (Chippendale). Both heavenly.

H

Hot Chocolate. I’d probably have to say the mint hot chocolate in the Hyde Park Barracks Cafe but I’ll give Max Brenner second place since you get it in a hug mug. Aw. Hair Salon probably needs a mention here too – Renya Xydis in the city is bliss.

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I

Italian Food. One of the cheapest and tastiest places you could eat in Sydney is Bar Reggio in Darlinghurst. They can do no wrong. No wrong. Jamie’s Italian in the CBD is pretty good – there’s always a queue though. Unless you go on December 26th. Random.

J

Jewellery store. Lovisa. They’re everywhere and super cheap.

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K

Kept Secret. The Golden Age Cinema and Bar in Surry Hills is a tiny cinema, which was the former screening room of Paramount Pictures in the city. Pre-cinema cocktail? Pretty cool spot.

L

Lunch Spot. Most of my beautiful Sydneysider ladies adore Din Tai Fung (plenty of locations but we frequented the one in Pyrmont) but I’m not a dumpling lover so I generally favoured a hole in the wall sushi spot closeby. My actual favourite place to grab a sandwich is in the Met Centre/Wynyard train station in a hole-in-the-wall spot called La Petite Expresso. Fantastic chicken and walnut sandwiches. John’s favourite spot was pretty much anything from the David Jones Foodhall or steak from the Fairmont Restaurant in the Occidental Hotel.

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Not the Food Hall but David Jones in the Spring

Not the Food Hall but David Jones in the Spring

M

Market. I love love love the Flower Market in Flemington. A pain in the ass to get to for sure – and you’ve got to get there early but waaay cheaper than stumping up CBD prices. The Rocks Market probably needs a mention if you’re looking for an Opera House Christmas bauble or any form of souvenir you could possibly dream up. Sydney Fish Market in Pyrmont is also great; this is where you’ll find most of Sydney’s population on Christmas Eve stocking up on prawns for Christmas Day barbecues (the market has a 36 hour marathon (opening hours) to keep up with demand).

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N

New Year’s Eve Spot really depends on how much you want to cash out. Observatory Hill is a fantastic free spot for a view of the fireworks behind the bridge and the suburbs up along the harbour (you can’t see the Opera House from here though). Lawn with the View within the Royal Botanic Gardens is located on a hill just behind the Opera House so you see the Opera House and the front of the Harbour Bridge (the epicentre to be honest). Tickets are close to $300 per person which is ludicrous but this is Sydney. The good thing about a ticketed event is that you don’t have to get there super early but honestly we loved the atmosphere at Observatory Hill and we didn’t get there until about 10pm. The water around Pyrmont would also yield some good free firework watching spots of the Harbour Bridge.

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New Year's Eve view at Observatory Hill

New Year’s Eve view at Observatory Hill

New Year's Eve view at Lawn with the View

New Year’s Eve view at Lawn with the View

O

Oatmeal or Porridge. Served at the always delicious O Organic Produce cafe in Surry Hills. Everything they serve is amazing.

P

Pizza. Ok there’s a little contention over this one. John adores Lucio Pizzeria in Darlinghurst and Pizza Mario in Surry Hills and I’d likely give up my first born for Il Grappolo in Rozelle.

Q

Queen Victoria Building (QBV). The architecture, shopping, those beautiful clocks, Santa. Wonderful.

R

Rainy Day Spot. Time spent in the Art Gallery of New South Wales is time well spent. Free entry, a cafe with lovely scones, a great museum shop and jazz evenings make this the perfect spot to spend a rainy day in Sydney. And that does happen more than you might think!

S

Suburb. No question here – Surry Hills. Where you’ll want to roam every Sunday. Beautiful tree lined streets, fabulous people, shops and cafes. Whilst we’re in Surry Hills, I’ve got another S for Supermarket. Thomas Dux is a great place to find things not readily available elsewhere like CoYo or baking ingredients. They have lovely homemade chocolates and beautiful fresh bouquets too.

T

Tea. The Tea Centre in the Glasshouse Shopping Centre. So. Many. Options. Delicious soups too.

U

Utterly Awesome Experience. The Moonlight Cinema in Centennial Park every summer is a fantastic evening out – black and white movies and a bottle of vino under the stars. Perfection.

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V

View. This isn’t a difficult decision at all. Walk aross the Harbour Bridge and set up shop beneath same. If you take the train you’ll need to get off the train at Milson’s Point. Take a wander around the very residential Kirribilli for views like this:

Wowsers!

Wowsers! Also a good New Year’s Eve spot…

W

Wandering Spot. One of the most beautiful places you can take a stroll in Sydney is within the Royal Botanic Gardens. The Rose Garden is a beautiful place to chill out with a book, watch a wedding (yep) or catch a glimpse of the Opera House. You also cannot go to Sydney and not walk from Bondi to Coogee along the coast. It’s stunning.

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View of the city from the Botanic Gardens

View of the city from the Botanic Gardens

Coogee Baths

Coogee Baths

X

What the hell am I, Scrabble Champion? Nope.

Y

Yogurt Spot. Frozen yogurt spot to be precise. George St. is yogurt avenue. Yogurt everywhere. Yogurtland was my favourite, the perfect post-power-yoga stop off (and they always had discount deals for some reason or other).

Z

Zoo. One of the most spectacular locations on earth. Good for you Taronga Zoo! Bring the credit card though – a $46 admission price ain’t cheap ($23 for kiddies).

Note: You can hop on the 555 bus for free up and down George St., this will take you from Central Station all the way up to Circular Quay/The Rocks area.

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Most useful Travel Apps

Most useful travel apps

Just thought I’d mention some travel applications that we’ve been using to make travelling a little easier. Get them whilst you still have wifi!!

Duolingo – Handy little app to learn Spanish if you have none. Super annoying reminders about how long you’ve spent not looking at it though. It’s a bit of a smart ass of an app to be honest but it gets a job done.

Google Translate – with offline language pack (don’t think the offline pack is available on iPhone but John has it on his android phone). This is so useful when you have no idea how to communicate with a local – just show them the screen!

Maps.me – Google Maps hasn’t been great in South America. Maps.me had come up trumps for us on a number of occasions – it even has a map of within the grounds of Macchu Picchu! You just need to remember to download each country to your phone before you get there. It’s not great at pinpointing your exact location if you don’t have wifi but it’s very detailed.

OneDrive – 15GB of storage for free (more if you pay). We upload all our photos here just in case we lose our camera/camera card. It’s useful to get the space back on the camera card anyway.

Pinterest – I wasn’t going to add this in but it’s useful to search for the country you’re in to see pictures of the places you’d like to visit (also I’m addicted to Pinterest). Same goes for Instagram.

Pocket Expense Personal Finance – We’ve just started to use this to keep account of our budget. Bit late I know but what you gonna do. It’s very simple to use and you can see charts of where your money’s going. You need to play around a little with this when you get it first but it’s very handy once you’re used to it.

Skype – As we have an Australian account for Skype we got an amazing deal of $38 for 12 months with 300 minutes of calls to landlines and mobiles per month. This has been very handy for calling banks when we’ve had issues! (again wifi permitting).

Spotify – You can download your favourite songs to your phone; it’s an easy way to keep up to date with new music or listen to oldies even if you’re in the jungle.

WhatsApp – I use WhatsApp every single day, wifi access permitting, to keep in touch with home.

XE Currency App – Very useful when you have currencies with many zeros…my head isn’t great for maths so I’d have no idea what I was paying for anything if it wasn’t for this current currency exchange guru of an app…and John.