Exploring this beautiful part of the world... one weekend at a time.
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Published April 11th 2016
Some Sundays are just perfect for a drive in the country
As the days grow slightly cooler and shorter, we naturally begin to seek weekend adventures away from the coastline. As beautiful as our beaches are all year round, there are some Sundays that are just made for a drive in the country - and so we found ourselves heading west along Cudgen Road with no particular destination in mind.
As you pass through prime farmland you can't help but marvel at how rich the soil is in this area, mere minutes from the ocean. From sweet potato, sugar cane and corn to avocados and macadamias, everything seems to grow with ease. And what better place to sample the region's produce than at The Farm Stall, our first stop for the day. We really didn't get very far did we?
About fifty percent of the stall's fruit and vegetables are sourced locally, with the majority from the farm itself, and the chickens are some of the happiest I've seen. They haven't ventured down the path of organic accreditation but boast minimal spray use and natural organic fertilization with a commitment to further improving their farming practices. In addition to fresh produce, you'll also find a selection of home made jams, chutneys and the like - perfect accompaniments for a picnic later in the day.
Just a little further down the road, in a grove of palm trees, you'll discover the entrance to Kingscliff Nursery. Even if you're not in the market for plants, it's a beautiful place for a peaceful wander amongst an extensive range of native and exotic plants.
Back in the car and heading west again, the road begins to wind upwards. On either side are beautiful homes, leading to thoughts of a romantic tree change lifestyle but keep your eyes on the road as it twists and turns. The land dramatically drops away on either side revealing glimpses of Mount Warning to the south and a vista of cane fields and the Tweed River to the north.
All too soon you'll find yourself turning left onto Tweed Valley Way where you'll need to temporarily change from Sunday drive mode to 100km an hour. But just temporarily. As you pass the chimneys of Condong's sugar mill, turn right on to the appropriately named Cane Road and then left onto Tumbulgum Road. This is the back road into Murwillumbah with sugar cane fields stretching away on either side. Soon enough you'll slow to enter the outskirts of town. Rundown cottages sit alongside others which have undergone million dollar extensions to truly make the most of their river views.
Nicholl Park to your left is the perfect stop if you're keen for a picnic under a canopy of huge camphor laurel trees on the riverbank. Whether you choose one of their picnic tables or lay out a rug on the grass there's plenty of room to move, or just relax and read a book.
Alternatively, Knox Park in the centre of town is another option and is especially great if you have kids. There's a load of picnic facilities and shady trees as well as a pond that's home to fish, swamp hens and a colony of ibis (maybe stay upwind of this one!). You'll also find a skate and scooter precinct catering for all levels of skills as well as a basketball court. But the real heart of the park is the recently upgraded kids playground. Located in and amongst large trees, it offers a shady jungle adventure for kids of all sizes. Featuring two flying fox zip lines and climbing playgrounds, there's loads of little paths between the trees and dinosaur footprints to really fire their imagination. A small creek runs through the centre with a brand new suspension bridge across its span, but the kids seem to prefer the well-worn log bridges, which have been left in place and challenge the kids to test their agility. Is it ok to love a park where kids can get dirty and dare I say, graze a knee?
If you weren't quite organised enough to pack a picnic this morning (very possible for a Sunday) then venture into town for lunch. It can be a very hit and miss affair in Murwillumbah but I have a couple of gems I can share. ju ju's is perfect for breakfast or lunch. It offers a cosy street front location with window and lounge seating to watch the passing foot traffic (always interesting in Murwillumbah). If you prefer a haircut and beard trim with your coffee, then you need to experience the uber-cool Keith Coffee and Barber for great coffee and baked treats.
My pick on this occasion was The Modern Grocer located on Wollumbin Street. These guys just get it right. The food is simple, fresh and well-prepared. You can choose a range of tasty fillings for your preference of a bagel, wrap or sourdough. They also offer a soup and curry of the day as well as other light meals. I can vouch for the Roast Veggie and Pesto Tart which was light and full of flavor. All dishes are around the $12 mark. The accompanying Botero coffee is perfectly and quickly made and the service is friendly.
There's ample time to walk off your lunch with some great stores nearby. As the name suggests, the Bowerbird Emporium is an eclectic mix of shiny things, retro finds and unusual giftware. Venture around the corner and you'll find the Sugarmill Studio, showcasing the work of local artists including textiles, paintings, ceramics and letterpress goods. You might even be tempted to sign up for drawing lessons held in a studio at the rear of the store (these guys are open on Saturday or Sunday by appointment). And just a little further on is Maddison Bea for a beautiful collection of home décor and furniture.
When you're finally ready to continue your drive, why not stop briefly at the Information Centre on the way out of town and find some inspiration for your next trip to the valley? You'll now head north on Tweed Valley Way and then right onto Clothiers Creek Road where the winding road will slow you down enough to enjoy the beautiful scenery. The interchanging views of forests and pastures suddenly give way to the perfectly manicured plantations of Madura Tea Estates. As the only Australian owned and operated tea estate, it's the ideal stop for lovers of tea. They offer guided tours for every Tuesday morning but otherwise, just stop and enjoy the view.
Back on the road and before you know it you'll be crossing the Pacific Highway and then meandering through Paperbark wetlands before arriving at your final destination of Cabarita Beach on the Tweed Coast Road. Now, depending on what time of day it is – the best spot for a quick coffee is Kartel Espresso Bar (to your left on the opposite side). This hole in the wall hangout is a favourite with locals and their op-shop seating arrangement will throw you into an interesting conversation before you know it. They tend to be super quick on the coffee machine so you can choose to continue your chat or extricate yourself politely (but be sure to grab a bag of coffee beans to enjoy at home). They close at 2pm so if you're a little late you can always head towards town and the beach.
So how would you like to finish the day? A Cow and Milk Gelato always goes down well at Coastal Visions Photography and Cafe. Made locally by the very passionate Franz, he uses traditional techniques and local ingredients to create gelato that would taste at home in Europe. The café also serves coffee of course and a range of healthy wraps, sandwiches and light meals, all surrounded by stunning photographic art featuring the coastline around Cabarita. Speaking of which, if you just feel like a cold beverage and an easy meal, accompanied by a beach view then head next door to Cabarita Beach Hotel or across the road to the Cabarita Beach Surf Club.