Mullimbimby Madness and Laughing
Story and photos by John Blanchette
was 6:00 a.m. June 1, the first day of winter. The evening rain that
had moved in off the South Pacific ceased and the sun dawned. I was
sleeping in the rain forest near Byron Bay when a choir rose to meet
the day and the new season.
The plaintiff song of the Butcherbirds, the squawking
of the red bellied Rosella Parrots and cockatoos in the shedding gum
trees, the childlike crying of the Green Catbird, cackling of the Bush
Turkeys, melodious tunes of black and white magpies, thrushes, and yellow
beaked mynahs as they fed on the nectar of the bottle brush were all
disturbed by the lunatic cacophony of the plump and amusing Laughing
Kookaburras. I woke to winter with a smile.
The strangely formed menagerie of land-bound hoppers,
burrowers, birds, eucalyptus munchers and mixed breed creatures were
dumb, satisfied to leave the morning air to the high-flying vocalists
and unable or unwilling to join the chorus.
I was in New South Wales in the land down under and
flora, fauna, time and season were out of joint. Lying on the southeast
coast of Australia, the state enjoys a Mediterranean climate (ranging
between 40 and 75 degrees in winter), the countrys largest population
(7 million of a total 30 million) and fosters sophisticated and alternative
Its capital is Sydney, the oldest and most beautiful
city in the country (although Melbournians will dispute this claim,
I dont think they have an argument). Situated on one of the worlds
great harbors, its shore is adorned by a massive bridge that gates and
spans the seaway entrance and the revolutionary architecture of the
Opera House sails onto the water edge, ringed by pristine city buildings
and million dollar homes.
Sydney Opera House sails into the harbor.
It was the countries first colony, established January
26, 1788 when the fleet commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip landed in
Sydney Harbour with about 750 convicts and 250 officials and their families
to settle and claim the continent for Great Britain.
Following the Revolutionary War the U.S. had rejected
British prisoner settlement in the south, so now it was off to the land
that Captain Cook had discovered with its unwanted cargo. As in American
history, the indigenous population would suffer deeply from this incursion,
but that is always the cost of exploration and settlement. The event
is commemorated every year as Australia Day and celebrated
in the blistering heat of January 26, most heavily in the convict
city of Sydney.
I arrived in Sydney on the countries signature airline,
Qantas, which has non-stop direct flights from Los Angeles and San
Francisco that take about fifteen hours. You cross the international
dateline and lose a day, reason enough to extend your visit.
I booked my tour through Virtuoso, which specially selects
hotels, restaurants and attractions for its clients. They have a working
relationship with the Australian Tourism Office and receive special
amenities and offers, which they pass along to travelers.
Some Virtuoso hotel recommendations in Sydney include
the InterContinental, Four Seasons, Park Hyatt and The Observatory.
All have great spas, pools and restaurants, but The Observatory has
the top Sommelier in Australia, Christian, who matched and explained
some beautiful Australian wines with my dinner. The best meal I had
was prepared by the two Michelin star chef Hugh Whitehouse at Darleys
Restaurant in Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort and Spa.
In Sydney I got a behind-the-scenes tour of the Opera
House and dined in the employee restaurant. English artist/musician
Brian Eno had just installed his evening light show, which flashed numerous
images on the outside sails of the Opera House, and he filmed the event
for future use.
I sped around Sydney Harbour on Sea Sydney Cruises 52-foot
motor yacht, had lunch in a quiet bay aboard ship, docked at the enormous
Taronga Zoo and met koalas, emus, kangaroos, Tasmanian Devils and most
of the other odd creatures that inhabit this lost world of the animal
phylum. There are more peculiar and lethal animals in Australia than
Left: Munching Koala Bear at lunch; Right: Curious
Red Kangaroos wander freely throughout the country
The day I arrived in Sydney I had breakfast and lunch
in Bondi Beach, the great surfing Mecca, and met two young American
women who were waitressing at Nicks and Trio Café on one-year
work visas. Its a government program for 18-30 year old students
to take a Gap year from college and experience life in Australia
and be able to make a little money (very little, Australians usually
Travelers on a shorter timetable should also know that
they need to purchase a three-month visa from the Australian government
for $25 before entering the country.
Australians love their coffee and drink it more than
tea. Some coffee shop terms to know if you want to succeed as an Australian
barista on the work visa program: Long black is espresso
with water, flat white espresso with frothy milk.
For Sydneysiders the wine country means Hunter Valley,
a two-hour journey to the north. Grab a copy of the Hunter Valley Wine
Country Visitor Guide from the Tourist Center to check out some of the
140 vineyards, primarily producing Shiraz and Semillon. Be wary if you
are imbibing in wine country. Australians drive on the left side of
Some I visited were Audrey Wilkinson, Hungerford Hill,
Lindemans, which also has vineyards in the Barossa, McGuigan Cellars,
Wyndham Estate, which introduced Shiraz to Australia back in the late
1800s, and my favorite Pepper Tree Estate. On the vineyard grounds are
Roberts Restaurant, The Convent guesthouse and Tower Lodge.
Hunter Valley vineyards in the winter month of June
For a glass of beer in wine country visit the Bluetongue
Brewery and try their tasting. My favorite beer in Australia was Coopers,
nice and hoppy. For local cheese sample across the street at Binnoire
Dairy. In the Hunter Valley I stayed on the expansive grounds of Peppers
Guest House, on which wild kangaroos also resided and Internet usage
Blue Mountains get their hue from the eucalyptus
trees. Acrophobes turn blue on lookout ledge.
On my journey north to the Hunter Valley, I passed through
bush country to visit the World Heritage Site of the Blue Mountains.
These intriguing formations gain their color from vapors rising off
the eucalyptus forest. There are spectacular views from the lookout
ledge, but this is not the best place for an acrophobe, the stone platform
plunges straight down over 1,000 feet.
Byron Bay, population 9,000, was my favorite area in
New South Wales. The most easterly town in Australia, it lies two hours
north of Sydney by plane at the edge of a rain forest. Its a surfers
paradise and artist colony. Many of the artists workplaces are
also shops. Make sure to visit the local glassworks and travel into
the hills to meditate and renew at the alternative lifestyle Crystal
In the 60s and 70s the counterculture cultivated high-test
Mullimbimby Madness in these hills and theres a little
bit of that culture still around. Lots of lively pubs and restaurants
in Byron Bay keep the town rocking. The best restaurant is Dish and
Paul Hogan opened the towns largest bar. On occasion youll
also see a celebrity like Paul, Gweneth Paltrow, Russell Crowe and Olivia
Newton John, who own homes in the area.
Beautiful Byron Bay is a surfers paradise
and alternative lifestyle destination
I stayed at the Byron at Byron Resort and Spa, built
inside the coastal rainforest. They offer several spa treatments and
have a lovely pool and restaurant, where I had dinner with the town
Mayor and proprietors Lyn and John Parche my final night. This is a
spectacular property that you must see and hear, especially as I did,
at 6 a.m. when the morning choir begins, no matter the season.
For information on travel accommodations, special events,
sightseeing, dining options, bargain hunting, etc., www.australia.com,
Island, New Zealand; New
Zealand No Worries