Leaving the Clarence Valley and Coast was really a sweet sorrow. I loved the slow pace, the warm people, the beaches, rainforest and fantastic food. My last morning was one I’ll never forget as I breakfasted on the river at Iluka watching the little ferry putter towards me as it made its way from Yamba. My vantage point was the brand new Marracas Boathouse Café, a metre or two from the ferry wharf. Opened just a month ago by Marika Stephenson, who hails from Braidwood (near Goulburn), it is a true find. There’s an animal print chaise lounge, comfy cushions, corrugated iron-clad bar and outdoor tables under wide canvas umbrellas. I decided to try something new – scrambled tofu with pesto, which came in as an enormous serve with lots of mushrooms and roasted tomatoes. Fabulous but far too much for me. Marika has the perfect spot on the water and I wish her well though I feel she’ll do amazingly as soon as people know how fantastic it is.
I headed back to grand old Grafton to pick up a new red car and pointed it north in the direction of Rainbow Country – the gorgeous Lismore-Nimbin region.
It acquired its colourful name for the number of real rainbows that arc across the sky and also for the colourful art and people that inhabit this beautiful land. The sign at the Lismore Visitors’ Centre was painted in the rainbow’s seven shades. Behind the centre is the most amazing children’s zone called the Tiny Tots Playground with a miniature (child-size) train and signal box and a railway carriage painted in brilliant hues. When I saw it, I yearned to be a kid again.
The jacaranda and bougainvillea trees were competing for prominence and the air was sweet with the smell of jasmine. Lismore’s shopfronts are equally inviting with their pressed metal awnings and racks of vintage clothes and rows of stylish home wares. But as it was a sleepy Saturday afternoon and all the shops, including the Noah’s Arc Bookstore, were closed. With my passion for all things bright and retro, I figured this was probably a good thing as I would have walked out with a bygone piece or two.
Fortunately the 1928 Mecca Café was opened, so we took a seat in an old-fashioned milk bar booth under the sign that told us of its heritage. My friend’s mushroom and roasted vegie stack was plenty for two and I savoured an iced coffee – a drink I hadn’t ordered for many a decade.
Our destination was the wonderful hinterland region, an area with tiny towns with names like Clunes, Dundoon and Rosebank and populations of just a few hundred. As we headed out on the Bangalow Road, I was struck by the grandeur of Lismore Catholic Cathedral and its Rapunzel-like tower. I’d never seen a Catholic church with a bell tower quite like that before and it called for a photo or two. Attached to it is Trinity College and from certain angles, this early 1830s building looked quite Bavarian.
Eight kilometres down the road we arrived at Bex Hill and a very different Christian ‘church’. The Open Air Cathedral, perched high on Inspiration Point is a non-denominational space, whose pews are fashioned from tree logs and its altar and cross have been hewned from sandstone. It reminded me of the Green Cathedral in the Great Lakes area of the mid-north coast. These open air churches are popular for weddings and other Christian celebrations although I think they may come into their own on the quiet day we experienced when nothing stirred but a gentle breeze in the nearby jacaranda tree. As I gazed over the valley and the macadamia trees beyond, I imagined my own wedding taking place there and wondered what I might wear on such occasion. A hippy frock from Lismore would probably fit the bill.
We ambled down the road to the Bex Hill General Store, a timber shack selling groceries, organic vegetables and take-away curries. I was quite surprised at the cuisine on offer until I realised that the store was owned by an Indian man, who offers a menu that also features pakoras and samosas. We bought three vegetarian dishes and later as we tucked into them while sipping a crisp, white wine, I gasped as the chilli hit almost took my breath away. After a few mouthfuls, I was right into it – delicious but rather spicy!
Heading towards our accommodation in The Channon, the hippiest of hippy little towns, we came across The Channon Gallery, just across the road from the Channon Tavern (aka the pub) and another general store.
There were several people milling outside the gallery as it seemed an opening night was taking place. A charming man called Peter said were welcome to come in and gave us a glass of wine and a name tag. The event was the opening of photographer Colin Beard’s “My Generation” exhibition – a series of black and white photographs of 1960s rock legends including the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who and Aussies Johnny O’Keefe, AC/DC, Olivia Newton-John and a very, very young John Farnham. I wanted to chat to Colin as he had been taking photos of rock stars at the very same time as an acquaintance of mine, photographer Philip Morris, was also working for Go-Set Magazine back in the 60’s and photographing AD/DC. However as it was Colin’s show, he was a very busy man!
From there it was a 4km drive to our digs for the night – the Eternity Springs Arts Farm. This was a real case of déjà vu as I’d stayed at owner Amanda Furze’s arty B&B almost 11 years ago.
Set on 7 hectares (20 acres) of a former dairy farm, this wonderful place has one upmarket cottage on stilts (The Lotus), two small cabins and a series of rooms in the main house with double and twin beds. All up, Amanda can sleep about 24 people and several more if you bring a tent. During a tour of the property Amanda showed us the new additions she’d made in the decade since I’d visited: the main attraction was ‘Heaven’ a wonderful Balinese-style pavilion on the highest point of the property; it’s a place where guests can sit and contemplate the view, meditate, breathe the fresh air and just ‘be’. She’s also created a stone labyrinth, which like a maze, is a puzzle where the aim is to find your way to the centre.
Some people choose to get married in her Heaven, others take a book there and read, and every now and then she holds concerts in the space and the audience picnics on the nearby grassy knoll.
Amanda’s place is an artist’s retreat for those who want to stay and paint, or simply a place to relax in her expanse of wild gardens or fish in her lake.
Bring your own food as there’s no restaurant, however, she’ll whip up fresh eggs on toast and fruit in season for breakfast.
From the balcony of the Lotus Cabin, we feasted in our vegetarian curries. With a glass or two of crisp white wine, it was just like heaven with the frogs croaking in the distance.