French Paradise in the Pacific

Relaxing over a cocktail, Escapade Island’s bungalows in silhouette across the water, as a giant orange sun stretches across the horizon, setting within minutes… Sound like paradise?  It was a reality for us during our family holiday in New Caledonia.

Overwater bungalows are the island’s signature trademark, the jewel in the crown of this Pacific resort. As children are not allowed to stay in them, we were happily accommodated onshore, but loved watching and photographing these picturesque thatched huts, as the sunset turned pink, then orange, then flaming red across the clear waters of this world heritage-listed lagoon.

Escapade Island Ilot Maitre is a 20 minute ferry ride from Noumea’s port. Easy to get to, it’s a slice of French paradise in the Pacific, just three hours flight from Australia.  Although, Noumea’s low-rise skyline is still visible, Escapade Island is resort-life, with the impression of being in the middle of nowhere.

The island is small and it will only take you about 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other. But there is more than enough to do for families.

Family fun on Escapade Island - Ilot Maitre, New Caledonia
Family fun on Escapade Island – Ilot Maitre, New Caledonia

Sea turtles are visible to the eye in the lagoon which has been UNESCO World Heritage-listed lagoon since 2008. We took the chance to introduce the kids to snorkelling for the first time.  Snorkelling gear is available for hire from the beach kiosk, along with pedalos and jetskis. The kids were able to wade in the shallows and peer more closely at the sea turtles as they got used to the strange sensation of breathing through a tube.

A pedalo ride came free for the children with our accommodation booking and we spent a lovely hour meandering around the bay.

Two pools linked by a water cascade flank the restaurant’s outdoor area, fringed with picture postcard palm trees and overlooking the lagoon. Crisply blue, against the lagoon’s aqua shades, the pool’s water was a little chilly in October but the tropical vibe and poolside ambience were just too enticing to resist jumping in.

Ordering cool drinks from the pool bar was a great novelty for the kids (as well as parents!) We spent much of our time relaxing on deckchairs, watching the children swimming or swimming ourselves.


Striped sea snakes in beige and black are often found sunning themselves across the resort’s footpaths but there were none to be seen in the lagoon when we were there. A tourism symbol for New Caledonia, they are known as sea kraits or  ‘tricot rayé (stripy sweater) and although venomous they apparently rarely bite – and only if disturbed.

My kids adored the buffet breakfast and dinner and fondly recall the wonders of its delicacies, praising the way in which they could serve themselves to as much as they wanted. The attentive restaurant staff speak French and English, there is a wide variety of European and Asian foods and a skilled sommelier on hand to advise on an array of international wines.

The beach kiosk also serves some light snacks, if you feel like a break from the full buffet meal. We also brought a few supplies from the mainland that we kept in our fridge, pantry such as cheese, instant noodles, crackers, Nutella and bread.


There is free ferry transport back to the mainland several times a day for guests, so if you can muster the energy to leave paradise even temporarily, you can always go into Noumea to stock up on supplies.

Our bungalow was cute, with everything we needed. However, as we chose a single-room hut for the family to save on costs, that meant little privacy for parents.  The room included a double bed and two singles, bathroom and a living area section of the room which contained lounge chairs, a TV and fridge but no cooking facilities.

Tourists visiting Escapade Island Ilot Maitre are a mixture of different nationalities – French, Australian, New Zealand, English and Japanese. Some stay for several nights or longer but many simply make the day trip over from the mainland for picnics, snorkelling or to use the resort’s pool which requires a special pass.

Escapade Island is so easy to get to that you could even manage a day trip there during your onshore cruise ship stop – a more affordable, accessible alternative to some of New Caledonia’s more far-flung islands.


Back To Nature – Sydney’s Farm Gate Trail

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If you want to escape city life and are seeking a nature experience, the Hawkesbury Harvest Trail, an hour from Sydney’s CBD, can provide a much-needed breath of fresh air.

It’s also an alternative route to the Blue Mountains which offers some interesting diversions along the way, as opposed to speeding through the suburbs along the main Great Western Highway.

We like to take this ‘back road’ to the Blue Mountains, known as the Bells Line of Road, which is lined with orchards and farms – apples, mandarins, oranges, nectarines and nuts…where you can either pick-your-own produce or simply buy direct from the farm gate. You can meet the farmers who actually grow these fruit and vegetables. And who can resist picking up a baked apple pie fresh from the oven for dessert or a cleansing cider to wash it all down?

The Hawkesbury River region has long been Sydney’s fertile food bowl – for the Dharug Aboriginal people, who called it Deerubbin – and for early settlers who moved there not long after the First Fleet arrived in 1788, in the quest to make the new colony self-sufficient.

These days, many city-dwellers give little thought as to where their food comes from – other than the supermarket shelf. But that is starting to change and there’s growing interest in seeking out fresh, locally-grown seasonal fruit and vegetables.  For me, pottering around this farm gate trail helps me to reconnect with nature.



 CAR – If you drive your own or hire a car, you can meander your way through the farms and orchards yourself. The Hawkesbury Harvest website has a map and an app to help you find the way.

BUS TOURS – There are also various bus tours available which either provide a recommended itinerary or help you to design a personalized tour, based around seasonal availability of fruits. You can find details at Hawkesbury Harvest Tours

WHAT’S TO EAT – Take your pick from apples, oranges, nectarines, plums, passionfruit, tomatoes, nuts…It’s refreshing to buy produce straight from farming families, rather than from the supermarket.

Some farms and orchards allow you to pick your own produce. They will then weigh it and you’ll pay at a set rate per kilogram.  Other farms simply sell their produce from the farm gate.

Most farms and orchards highly recommend that you contact them before visiting to check on the seasonal availability of certain fruit and vegetables.

Following is an outline of some of the orchards and farms below, for a full list, visit Hawkesbury Harvest

Bilpin Fruit Bowl landmark


Bilipin Fruit Bowl

We often like to stop at the Bilpin Fruit Bowl, a well-known landmark, with its enormous bowl of fruit out the front. It is owned and run by Simon & Margaret Tadrosse and their four children. You can either Pick Your Own or buy from the shop. The Tadrosses have been running the Bilpin Fruit Bowl for 30 years and the whole family is involved. Their three daughters run the shop full time, making all the apple pies, cakes, slices, scones, while their son works on the farm.

Their orchard is massive, consisting of around 10,000 fruit trees, that’s 5000 Stone Fruit and 5000 Apple trees.

We always pick up a freshly baked apple pie on our way through which is usually in Autumn or Winter – but I hear that in Summer they also sell peach pies. And when they’re in season, cherry and raspberry pies are also available.

Other orchards offering Pick Your Own (although you should call to check availability first) include:

Shields Orchard which sells a wide range of apples Pink Ladies, Sundowners, Jonathons & Granny Smith apples are among the varieties available here from February to mid May.

Schoefields Orchard which offers Pick Your Own Navel OrangesThis is another a beautiful farm which is 70 years old and has been managed by the one family all this time.


If it’s nuts you’re after, the Farm Gate Trail continues up the mountains to Nutwood Farm at Mount Irvine. It is 20 hectares of farmland, just on the edge of Wollangambee National Park. It sells fresh chestnuts and walnuts. You can Pick Your Own here too. Make sure you wear heavy-soled shoes and bring some gloves if you can. Other nutty place are Kookootonga Nut Farm and Campanella Cottages. Nuts are usually only available around March and April.

For all these farms and orchards, check the website and call or email before you visit to check on seasonal availability. For more details, see Hawkesbury Harvest Pick-Your-Own

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If you’re less active – or you’ve already been fruit picking your way around Australia, perhaps a straight up sale at the farm gate is what you’re after.

On one of our recent trips, we came across Enniskillen Orchard. It is basically a shed and a roadside stall, nestled on a hillside overlooking the breathtaking Grose Valley. I relaxed over a coffee in its aromatic herb garden before buying some fruit and vegetables.

You can read more about the sheer range of farm gate produce available from the farm gate along this fertile region at Hawkesbury Harvest Farm Gate Trails


In addition to a myriad of fresh produce for sale at the farm gate, these days there’s also a new and delicious development in the area that I only noticed on my most recent trip. Several producers are selling locally-made apple cider – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. As a fan of the growing range of overseas alcoholic ciders on offer in Australia, I was quite excited to try the unique Bilpin Blush, made from crisp, pink lady apples, fresh from Bilpin itself. Hillbilly Cider is another range of brews worth trying.


Make sure you consult the map and plan your trip well before heading off. There are so many farm gate locations to choose from on the Hawkesbury Harvest Trail that you won’t possibly be able to visit them all in one day.

That’s the beauty of it – many, many day trips and weekends away lie ahead of you, as you explore this fertile and fascinating region, rich in history and agricultural and gourmet delights.

Themed herb garden

Childhood Holidays in the Country

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I always knew we were getting close to my grandparents’ house in Maclean in northern New South Wales by the changing vegetation outside our car window.

Long stretches of the Pacific Highway would whizz past before we finally caught sight of rows of banana plantations, sweeping up the hillsides of Coffs Harbour.

Several hours up the road, bananas gave way to the purple of jacarandas which embraced the streets of Grafton and were, in turn, replaced by swaying fields of sugar cane. Cane fields were the most exotic because it meant we had travelled the furthest north we ever went from Sydney. It also meant we were nearly there.

Trundling alongside the Clarence River, we finally reached Maclean, known as the ‘Scottish Town in Australia’. That’s due to the large number of Scottish immigrants who settled there in the late 19th century, building the Free Presbyterian Church in 1867.

These days there is a large cairn of rocks gathered from around Scotland and Australia in the local park, street signs with Gaelic translations, power poles in the tartan of local clans and Scottish cuisine, such as haggis, available at the local pub.

As a child in the 1970s, I didn’t question all the Scottish-ness in this sleepy Australian riverside town. One of our visits coincided with the Easter Highland Gathering, held for over a century. When we heard the bagpipes start up in the main street, we ran down the hill from my grandparents’ house to watch the parade go by. The band led the way, the pipers in their bearskin and Glengarry hats, followed by the drum corps, then tartan-clad dancers executing highland flings on top of floats. All the townsfolk of Maclean turned out to watch, most of whom my grandparents knew by name.

After the parade, we gathered for the Highland Games which featured intriguingly-named contests such as Putting the Stone, Caber Toss, Hammers and Log Wrestle.

Maclean is also the southern gateway of Australia’s sugar industry and one time our grandfather took us on a tour of Harwood Island Sugar Mill, the oldest continuous working mill in Australia, crushing cane since 1874. I remember being fascinated by the towering hills of white, brown and raw sugar and by the bamboo-like sticks of cane the workers gave us which we gnawed at like pandas.

Some nights, spot fires of burning cane would light up the countryside’s quiet darkness. The stench would make us fear an approaching bushfire…but these were benevolent fires, delivering a bounty to local cane farmers. These days, pre-harvest burning in the area has been almost completely phased out and replaced by green harvesting.

My grandmother’s house was busy with craft and baking. Tea cosies, dolls clothes, crocheted handkerchiefs and Lady Flo’s pumpkin scones – made for us or the local fete. At the Rotary Fair, I would watch my grandfather run the chocolate wheel, dishing out whole chooks to the winners.

By day, we would climb over the back fence to play with the older children who lived there, running out some of our energy on their tennis court or we would pop in to explore the church next door which was always left unlocked. Often our parents would drive us to the beaches of Yamba and Brooms Head or take our car over on the punt across the Clarence River to visit the little township of Lawrence.

Leisurely childhood country holidays, spent fishing from a boat with my grandfather who taught me the beauty of sitting quietly or amid the swirl of kaftans, frocks and cocktails of large country parties, with my grandparents entertaining guests all day and into the night.



Finding special places

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Growing up in Australia, my family had a special holiday place. It was my grandparents’ home on the far north coast of New South Wales. Sugar-cane country by the Clarence River, not far from the coast. The main thing that made it special was the fact that  my grandparents were there at the end of our long journey from Sydney, waiting with hugs and lots of baked goodies in the freezer.

In recent years, my parents discovered a colourful weatherboard shack off the beaten track on New South Wales south coast. It has now become my ‘special place’ for an escape. We pile into the car and barrel down the highway to a life that is more carefree and less cluttered with belongings and routines than our home life.

We switch off our mobile phones and devices, plonk ourselves in hammocks with books, take walks and swims on the beach, kayak on the lake, ride bikes, play tennis, potter around village markets and break out our ukuleles and guitars.

It’s a chance to get really off the grid, out of touch with the outside world and re-connect with life outside the social media bubble. Energised and refreshed, we head back to reality, ready to tackle it all head on once again.

Travelrscape is about the journey to find special places in Australia and the world. They might mean something to you for just a moment – or maybe forever. They’re places perhaps not found in tourist brochures but they’re places where people are going about their daily lives in places with a story to tell.  Travelrscape will capture a sense of these moments, people and places.

Share your adventures with us.