Lush headlands and sparkling beaches get star billing but this coastal region may soon be better known for its topnotch gourmet credentials, writes Alison Boleyn.
The Tweed is many things to many – and very different sorts of – people. The region on the Far North Coast of NSW sure has its hippie side, with an artistic heart that beats strongest in the villages. It also has a rich Aboriginal history – cloud-wrapped Wollumbin (Mount Warning) is a sacred site for the Bundjalung people. And of course there are the Tweed’s 37 kilometres of beautiful beaches and headlands, just over an hour from the Gold Coast. But perhaps most exciting of all is the area’s emergence as a paddock-to-plate dining sensation. The Tweed sits in the fertile crater of an extinct volcano and driving through the World Heritage-listed rainforest and the sugarcane fields, you come across producers of everything from finger limes and goat’s cheese to organic ginger beer. It’s an exciting time to visit, not only for standout coastal restaurants such as Fins, Osteria and Paper Daisy at Halcyon House but also for the farmers’ markets, roadside stalls and smaller dining jewels emerging to confidently and creatively showcase their valley’s rich bounty.
You can hear the birds singing but you have to still yourself to see them, tucked away as you are in 50 hectares of rainforest at Mistere Spa and Retreat. Few in the Tweed Valley know about this elegant accommodation in Urliup, about 10 minutes from Murwillumbah and 45 from Mullumbimby, perhaps because it’s still evolving (two cabins, a house and a paved road are in the planning). Right now there are three one-bedroom villas featuring earthy tones, timber and huge windows to take in views of the lagoon, waterfalls, gardens and forest. Walking trails wind through the owner’s sculpture collection. The villas have all the comforts – a terrific kitchen on the deck, 50-inch flatscreen TV, fireplace, freestanding spa bath and rainfall shower – but despite their openness to nature, each one is utterly private, with no sense of building works or, indeed, other inhabitants. This is a secluded and stunning getaway for two or a hinterland retreat for one.
◖ When Peter Clarke trucked a classic old Queenslander – his late aunt’s home – from Labrador, on the Gold Coast, into the village of Uki, he and partner Charlie Ebell brought something wonderful to the bottom of Wollumbin. On its wide verandahs, Mavis’s Kitchen serves organic food sourced locally or from the kitchen garden below, like the raw honey from the restaurant’s own hives. For breakfast, order the creamy, comforting duck omelette.
◖ The long lunch reigns at Potager, where the house specialty is chef Gareth Leslie’s Peruvian sudado de pescado (fish stew), today flavoured with coral trout, barramundi, clams, prawns and calamari. Looking over the Carool hills and out to the Pacific, the tiny restaurant seats 50, tops, so book. “We’ll never make it bigger than this,” says Leslie’s partner and co-owner, Peter Burr. “We like it.”
◖ Pretty by day, the mint-green and whitewashed Taverna is frankly gorgeous at night, candlelit and soundtracked by Kingscliff Beach’s waves. Chef Lia Wilson’s food is a sophisticated take on Greek: haloumi served with bush honey and rosemary; fried squid with seaweed, sesame, pink-peppercorn mayo and lime. On Sunday nights, for just shy of $40, you can sample the restaurant’s classics and new menu items.
◖ The Margaret Olley Art Centre at the Tweed Regional Gallery in Murwillumbah re-creates the late artist’s Sydney home studio in all its cluttered, bohemian glory. Curators reassembled about 20,000 possessions: a tumble of dried and silk flowers, kilims, squeezed paint tubes, plastic eyeballs, lolly wrappers, a carved Hindu temple rat and a mirror that Olley never allowed her cleaner to touch, so in love was she with its patina.
◖ Around July, Husk Distillers in Tumbulgum opens its cellar door, where you can taste Australia’s first rhum agricole and gins infused with juniper, lemon myrtle and coriander. It was founder Paul Messenger’s “ridiculous, crazy idea” to create the world’s first colour-changing gin by using butterfly pea flowers, the pH-sensitive legume with which his family business rotates its sugar cane.
◖ The region’s beaches stretch from Tweed Heads to Wooyung. At Cabarita (which is home to photogenic Halcyon House) you’ll find squeaky white sand, rock pools, excellent surfing and humpback whales (June to September), while Fingal Head, with its dramatic headland of hexagonal columns, might transport you to the near-empty, pandanus-backed beaches of your childhood. ￼
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