The Need for Tweed
When Tara Robertson went on a “find herself” mission following a divorce in early 2015, she landed in an unexpected place. During the 1,000-mile drive from Melbourne, where she had lived, to Australia’s luxurious Gold Coast, she took a detour to Uki to visit friends who had made a “tree change” from urban living.
“I was blown away at how beautiful it was,” she said.
Less than a year later, Robertson left the Gold Coast and moved to the artsy-but-not-bougie village in the Tweed Valley to help her friends run a local café. She rented a two-bedroom house on stilts, with clear views of Mount Warning.
In recent years, the Tweed has become known as a place that’s “coming alive,” a region that’s attracting more residents and tourists. Along with lush hinterlands and beautiful beaches, the area – in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, south of the Gold Coast and north of Byron Bay – is known for having more “creatives” per capita than any other local government area. For eco-conscious travelers who don’t like to follow the crowds, it’s a dream destination.
Robertson has since relocated to Indianapolis, Indiana, to be close to family. But she still remembers the beauty of the winding roads, the fresh scent of the eucalyptus trees, and the close-knit bohemian village she briefly called home.
“Everyone knew everything about everyone – and that was more of a blessing than this American suburban girl would’ve thought at the outset,” she said.
Here are five ways to experience the art, food, nature, and alternative culture of the Tweed:
Early to rise: Mount Warning It’s the ultimate trophy for morning people – the chance to be the first in Australia to see the sunrise. That, plus panoramic views from the Gold Coast to Byron Bay, are the rewards of making the challenging trek to the top of Mount Warning.
Andrea Mills, 39, has made the climb several times. The 5 ½-mile round trip takes about four hours, including time to eat lunch and catch her breath at the summit.
“The view never disappoints – rolling mountains and valleys that stretch as far as the eyes can see,” said Mills, a social worker who lives on the Gold Coast.
Mount Warning is part of the remnant caldera of the now-gone Tweed Volcano, which erupted 23 million years ago. The Bundjalung people call Mount Warning “Wollumbin,” which means “cloud catcher,” and consider it a sacred site. As such, they ask “the uninitiated” not to climb the mountain.
The National Parks & Wildlife Service asks that people respect those wishes, while also not forbidding visitors to climb the mountain – which about 60,000 people do annually.
If you don’t want to climb, there’s plenty to do in Wollumbin National Park. You can have a picnic in the World Heritage-listed rainforest or spot birds on the ½-mile Lyrebird track – and still enjoy amazing views. Mount Warning is about a 9-mile drive southwest of Murwillumbah.
Boozy and breezy:
Taverna restaurant, Kingscliff Sea breezes are always on the menu at this beachfront Greek diner on Marine Parade, so book early if you want to sip your coconut margarita from a window seat. Kingscliff, a quiet, pretty town on the northern New South Wales coast, has only one main street – but it’s a very lively one.
Tavern’s décor is bright, white and minimalist. And the service is warm and relaxed. “The restaurant is very comfortable, like you’re at someone’s house for dinner,” said Mills, who was a chef for upscale restaurants in Melbourne before she became a social worker.
Traditional dishes, made with regional ingredients, are given creative flair, she said. Think Byron Bay haloumi (a stretched-curd white cheese described as “molten cheese heaven”) or fresh squid with pink peppercorn mayo.
The restaurant was opened by Lia Mason, who is of Greek heritage, and her husband Mark Wilson, along with Lee Middendorf. Lia and Mark tied the knot on the Greek island of Santorini.
Expect more great local food experiences as Destination Tweed 2050 Collective– a group focused on sustainable development and growth of the region – works to make the area Australia’s hottest new farm-to-plate destination.
Play castaway: Fingal Head Beach
Robertson has visited Australia’s most popular beaches, including Surfers Paradise, Bells, and Noosa. On her 38th birthday, friends surprised her with a breakfast picnic at Fingal Head Beach in Port Stephens.
“It was so unexpectedly beautiful and serene,” she said.
The water was crystal clear, the white sands pristine, and the views to Cook Island unspoiled. (Especially from the 1872 lighthouse, known as one of the shortest in New South Wales, at 23 feet.)
The reef surrounding Cook Island, a marine sanctuary, draws divers and snorkelers. It’s home to green and loggerhead turtles and visitors can often spot migrating humpback whales as they pass between Cook Island and Fingal Head. It’s also relaxing to watch the waves hit the rock formations in the Giant Causeway. Best of all: Robertson and her friends didn’t have to share the beach. “Most of the visits I made to Fingal, we had the places to ourselves,” Robertson said. “It was pure magic.”
Sound check: Live, local music
Singer-songwriter Murray Kyle has been involved with the Tweed’s music scene for 15 years and compares its colorful vibe to that of coastal California.
“Lots of artists inspired by social and environmental issues land here,” he said, “and draw on the deep natural beauty as a source of inspiration for their music.” Kyle tours internationally to promote his albums, which he describes as being dedicated to “Earth honoring and deep presence.” But home for him is Uki, the historic village in the foothills of Mount Warning.
He started there by playing in clubs and pubs, and then joined the alternative festival culture because he wanted to “connect more authentically” with audiences.
For live music, he recommends laid-back venues like the Sheoak Shack Gallery Café in Fingal Head and Sphinx Rock Café in Mount Burrell. Music lovers should also consider planning a visit around the Mullum Music Festival, Nov. 14-17 in Mullumbimby, in Byron Shire.
Last year, more than 80 world artists came to mingle with the crowds and perform music as varied as North African desert blues, Irish electro-funk, and Jamaican jazz. One of the festival’s unique features is a street parade.
Husk Distillers, Tumbulgum
A major flood in April 2017 set back construction of Husk’s new distillery on a family-owned farm in the town of Tumbulgum. In June, distiller Paul Messenger his wife, Mandy, and their three daughters opened their long-awaited cellar door, café, and full bar, welcoming the public for “a tipple and a tour.”
Under the warm winter sun, visitors can play lawn games, sip cocktails, and watch cattle grazing in the paddock. They can also go behind the scenes to learn more about how the distillery makes its famous Ink Gin and Australian agricole rum.
The gin gets its dark purple color from the petals of butterfly pea flowers. It turns pink when tonic is added. Husk makes rum seasonally from fresh cane juice grown on the 150-acre farm, set in the green caldera of Mount Warning. “Because we are paddock to bottle, we capture our ‘terroir’ in our rums,” said Harriet Messenger, marketing ahttp://nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/wollumbin- national-parknd sales manager. “The rainfall, soil, climate and geology of our valley is reflected in every harvest, and every rum we produce.”
For general information on where to stay and what to do in The Tweed Valley, contact a AAA Travel agent and visit www.DestinationTweed.com.au.
NEED TO KNOW
Wollumbin National Park/Mount Warning
Mount Warning Road, Mount Warning, New South Wales, Australia,
www.nationalparks. nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/wollumbin- national-park
22 Marine Parade, Kingscliff, New South Wales, Australia,
Fingal Bay Beach
Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia,
Mullum Music Festival, Nov. 14-17
28 Mill St., Mullumbimby, New South Wales, Australia,
Dulguigan Road, North Tumbulbum, New South Wales, Australia,
Amanda Kingsbury is a writer and editor living in Indianapolis, Indiana.