Billabong Retreat – what an experience

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I was lucky enough to go to the charming and soulful Billabong Retreat in April 2016, looking for a little R&R and short break from Yellow Front Door

Billabong Retreat is just 60 minutes from Sydney CBD but feels a world away. It’s all about peace and tranquility, with the focus on yoga and meditation. It also offers lovely bush views and bush walks (around a billabong of course), a magnesium-rich swimming pool, thoughtful vegetarian home-cooked food, a wellness centre, wonderful roaring fire on the deck, and dedicated staff. You can be as social or as solitary as you like amongst the birdsong and cicadas.

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ACCOMMODATION

My husband and I stayed in a treehouse cabin – a simple but comfortable room with it’s own balcony. I loved the sign on the bathroom suggesting you keep showers to three minutes as they have limited water and gas. This frugality is what makes Billabong so special. There’s no ostentation, wastefulness or over-stated luxury. It’s all about reconnecting with yourself and nature.

YOGA/MEDITATION

Four classes are offered daily – at 7.30am, 9.30am, 3.30pm, 7.30pm. These switch between yoga and meditation, or are a bit of a mixture. The yoga classes are fairly straight-forward, beginner-level, while the meditation sessions actually teach you”how” to meditate, rather than just doing guided meditations.

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WELLNESS CENTRE

Like a day spa, this offers remedial massage, and the best facial I have ever had.

There’s also a relaxing lounge and a large deck with roaring wood fire.

POOL

The natural looking outdoor swimming pool contains magnesium which is great for relaxing muscles and inducing sleep.

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FOOD

A lot of love goes into the simple, organic and locally-sourced vegetarian meals. They are tasty and offer a range of vegetables plus whole grains and lovely sauces like the green tahini sauce. Example meals are chia seed porridge with nuts and seeds for breakfast, a brown rice and asian vegetarian bowl for lunch, and Indian or Mexican for dinner. Dessert might be a cacao and quinoa pudding. There is no alcohol, though I did notice instant coffee along with the huge array of herbal teas.

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The price for two people, for three nights in a treehouse cabin was very reasonable – $1650 including accommodation, food and all activities/classes. There are also deluxe rooms which offer a sitting area and a bath on the balcony.

If you’re looking to re-charge your batteries and don’t want to go far, look no further than Billabong Retreat.

Destination Auckland

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Exotic…edgy…exciting…these may not be the words that spring to mind when thinking of Auckland as a holiday destination, but it actually has a lot to offer, and may well surprise you. A three hour flight (and getting out of Australia) is a fairly compelling reason to go there, but if you need more, try stunning wild scenery, a brilliant cafe culture, great shopping, fabulous vineyards and water everywhere.

As I grew up there I may be a little biased, but I did leave it nearly 20 years ago, and each time I go back to visit I’m more enthralled with this city. It’s quite diverse, incredibly relaxing and the people are ridiculously friendly. Below are pics and tips from my last visit.

First stop: Waiheke Island

Only 30 mins by glorious ferry from downtown Auckland, this little island has seduced people for decades. Originally only inhabited by hippies and alternative people (with long-drop toilets!), Waiheke has become a little gentrified with many Aucklanders having holiday houses there. However, it still has a reasonable permanent population and hasn’t lost any of it’s charm – just gained a few more cool cafes.

You can take the car ferry over from a different part of Auckland, but no need when there are buses to take you all over the island, or do what I did and hire an electric bike from Oneroa village (or non-electric of course if you like steep hills).

The plethora of vineyards is reason enough to visit Waiheke, and there are special buses that take you around, vineyard-hopping. They all offer incredible food, as well as wine tasting of course. Below is our pick that day – Stonyridge Vineyard in Onetangi – la ovely view over olive groves and one of the best platters I’ve ever eaten.

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Did I mention beaches? Think deep green water and huge pohutakawa trees leaning over the sand offering shade. The top beaches are Oneroa, Onetangi, and Palm Beach (all on the northern side of the island).

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Onetangi Beach

 

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At Oneroa Beach they even give you a bucket with everything you need for cooking and cleaning the BBQ – how thoughtful!

Next stop: Titirangi

Set in the bush and full of creative, nature-loving people, Titirangi is only a 25 minute drive from Auckland CBD, but feels a million miles away. It’s surrounded by dense bush and birdsong, and has a buzzing little village with lots of shops and cafes. Our pick that day fro breakfast was Deco Eatery in the historic Lopdell House building. Fairly new, the interior has been transformed, and is a cross between Turkish and Scandinavian – may sound strange but really works! Patterned aqua tiles, oak and marble interact beautifully, and my Turkish breakfast was pretty good too, served out of interesting earthenware and metal platters.

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Sumptuous Food at Deco Eatery and the decor makes you feel like you’re in a cool part of Istanbul

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Loving the tiles, oak and marble at Deco Eatery

After breakfast, duck next door to the contemporary art gallery – Te Uru. There was a wonderful James Cousins exhibition on, plus some beautiful ceramics.

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Last stop: CBD

I didn’t visit the CBD this time so don’t have any pics, but it’s a pretty good place to base yourself as you’re near the ferry and transport links. Not just a soulless CBD, the Britomart area has been rejuvenated and has some great shopping and restaurants. I’ve enjoyed delicious Vietnamese meals at Cafe Hanoi.

There is also a lovely waterfront area stretching along Tamaki Drive to the east and to the Viaduct Harbour to the west. Re-developed in 200 when the America’s Cup Yacht race was hosted in Auckland, The Viaduct, and Beaumont Quarter next to it, offer a huge array of restaurants and bars overlooking the marina. Or you can feel the thrill of sailing on an America’s Cup yacht for the day.

Nearby is Ponsonby Road with it’s cool cafes and bars (SPQR never fails) and Newmarket for great shopping. The Auckland Museum in the Domain has a wonderful Maori cultural show and spine-tingling haka, on daily.

So if you’re visiting New Zealand but are planning to head straight to the South Island, think again. Likewise if you’re planning a long weekend away and love food, wine, scenery and shopping, look at going to Auckland. There are wonderful experiences to be had, almost on your doorstep.

Amsterdam Cool

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Just returned from a brilliant family holiday in Amsterdam – and the 2 degree days didn’t stop us cycling around. It’s such a cool city – striking architecture and beautiful canals are the backdrop to designer shops, cosy bars, soulful cafes. Yes winter is freezing but they make up for it with a stunning display of lights and illuminations installed all along the canals.

TOP PICKS

Accommodation: 

Recommend staying in an apartment rather than a hotel – you really feel like a local. We stayed in one we found on Airbnb – very centrally located and beautifully designed and decorated airbnb.com.au/rooms/8999669

Food/drink

Lots of cool bars and cafes near our location on Herenstraat, and all throughout the Jordaan and Centrum areas.

Shopping

Lots of quirky one-off designer shops in an area called “9 streets” just south of Jordaan

Museums

Highly recommend a visit to the Van Gogh museum – currently there’s a brilliant and interesting exhibition comparing his works with Edvard Munch.

Anne Frank Museum is a must – a calm, thought-provoking place.

Getting around

Make sure you hire bikes – we used Green Bikes but there are plenty of bike hire places.

Deluxe Colour of the Year 2016

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Quite different to Pantone’s colours for 2016 is the Dulux Colour of the Year – Cherished Gold. A continuation of last year’s Dulux colour Copper Blush, Cherished Gold is a warm, earthy tone that will work beautifully with metallics and wood tones.

If you not keen on a huge hit of Cherished Gold on your walls, go for splashes of it in accessories such as cushions. Check out a couple of gorgeous, on-trend cushion options from Yellow Front Door that you can buy online, with free delivery.

Secret Gate Outdoor Cushion

Secret Gate Outdoor Cushion

Danish in Saffron Cushion

Pantone Colour of 2016

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It’s nice to see a change from various tones of white and neutral – Pantone have declared Rose Quartz and Serenity to be their colours for 2016. Rose Quartz is a subtle shade of pale shell pink, while Serenity is a pale mauve/blue.

If you love these colours, but painting your walls is a bit too bold for you, Yellow Front Door has another way of introducing hints of these colours to your wall, through wall art.

Black PlanetChinese Lamps and Mountains are all prints with touches of Rose Quartz, and very affordable at only $50.

Outdoor Spaces and Furniture

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You may have read my blog about our front courtyard renovation back in October. We have finally completely finished it! It needed some furniture and outdoor cushions, and it took a while to find the perfect combination of looks, practicality and comfort (not to forget price too, of course!).

We went for both a dining setting and comfy sofa. It’s not our main dining area, but a nice place to have a cup of coffee and read the paper, leaving the gate open to say hi to passing neighbours (we live on a very friendly street).

We chose a round Tolix dining table, as it’s a small area, and matching Tolix stools for the kids. They’re in galvanised steel so won’t rust. Then we found some vibrant orange Fermob chairs on sale for the adults (aluminium, so again, won’t rust).

The Elan sofa was a bit of a deal from Wintons Teak, as we got a second one for our back garden, and practically got them half price. They’re in super practical black woven synthetic cane and outdoor fabric, but needed brightening up with some Yellow Front Door outdoor cushions.

For the cushions we chose a Trina Turk design “Jax” as felt the colours and the graphic, checkered pattern would go with the encaustic cement tiles (and our yellow front door!).

Once the front garden was complete, we felt we had to jazz up the back garden too as it was lacking functionality and a comfortable spot to sit and read or relax. So, I’m sorry trampoline, but you had to go! This opened up an area for lounging, so we put the second Elan sofa here, plus a couple of Ikea outdoor chairs.

For the cushions in the back garden we went for colourful Trina Turk ones again (I love her style) in “Arches in Bamboo” and “Peacock in Pool”. We mixed them up with a few plain taupe ones to counter-balance the vibrancy of the others.

We also have a gazebo for dining, but always found it to be dark, dirty and oppressive. So we removed the ugly dark bamboo walls, and replaced them with vertical joint boards in fresh white, with a strip of perspex at the top which allows in the light also seals the area so it’s now water-tight.

The problem with tarting up one thing is it makes the other areas look so shabby! So now we need to paint the dining table and buy new chairs and a stunning central pendant light to complete the look.

 

To add some sparkle to your outdoor space, shop our Yellow Front Door outdoor cushions here yellowfrontdoor.com.au/outdoorcushionsonline/

Sculpture by the Sea Sydney 2015

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Due to a husband on crutches, I could only get to the Marks Park area of Sculpture by the Sea this year, but it’s still a stunning part to visit – I love the openness of Marks Park, the views, and the way the sculptures interact with the environment around it.

It’s on for another 10 days so make sure you get down there – preferably early morning during the week. And grab brekky afterwards at the brilliant pop-up cafe “The Grounds”, perfect for a coffee and a bacon and egg brioche.

Yellow Front Door

Sculpture by the Sea

Cushion Creativity

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Cushions are undoubtedly one of the easiest ways to update your interior space, and also help to define a particular style or colour palette.

Here are some simple tips to follow when choosing cushions.

Number

Don’t be stingy with the number of cushions – a sofa with lots of cushions will add visual interest and be much more inviting.

Colour

Cushions usually need to tie in with an existing room. Choose your cushion colours by looking to an existing rug, painting, wall colour or decorative piece. Start with neutrals like grey or beige, charcoal or white, and add a couple of other colours that work in with the scheme.

Black, white, grey and yellow scheme. Cushions by Sian Elin
On the left, the pink in the cushion picks up on the pink in the painting. On the right, the blue goes with the candlesticks. Cushions by Imogen Heath

Pattern

Mix up the patterns – try a stripe, floral, geometric, animal print – and remember to add a few plain, unpatterned ones to to allow the eye to rest. Often cushions from the same designer go together and tell a story, without being too matchy-matchy.

Geometrics with florals. Cushions by Imogen Heath

Texture

For winter, I like to use wool, felt, leather or velvet cushions, in deep or warm colours to add cosiness and warmth. In summer I swap them for light, natural fabrics such as cotton or linen, usually in lighter, brighter colours.

Lambswool cushions by Gabrielle Vary

Mood

If you’re after a more classic, sophisticated or formal look, go for rich fabrics like silk or velvet in jewel-like colours.

Jewel-like colours on silk, by Jonathan Adler

If it’s a more casual, beach vibe you’re after, look to linens or weaves in natural colours like white, tan, pale grey and straw.

Linen cushions for that relaxed feel

Placement 

Choose cushions in a variety of shapes and sizes, placing smaller or lumbar cushions in front of larger square ones. Make sure the insert is approximately 5cm larger than the cover for a fuller look.

Cushions by Lorna Syson

Refresh Often

Trends and styles change often, so keep your cushions updated to stay current and prevent the room looking dated.

Cushions by Sian Elin

Lastly, go with what you love and will make you smile upon entering the room.

Shop a variety of cushions online at Yellow Front Door

Our Garden Renovation

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Back in July, my husband and I decided to embark on a renovation of our front garden – you know that little courtyard you walk through when approaching the front door. It’s now finished, and I’d like to share with you the process, our choices, and some before and after pics.

Our house is a typical Bondi semi-detached house, built in 1940, and the garden is a modest 5 x 4m space. Given it’s era, we had to carefully choose products and plants that remain true to the character of the house while still appealing to my preference for clean, contemporary lines. We live here with our two young children, aged 5 and 7, so it had to be practical, hard-wearing, and stain resistant. The renovation was long overdue (we’d been in the house over four years…and I think the garden was last done in 1977…).

So out with the buckled 1970s bricks and the stained 1990s terracotta tiles. We knocked down a half wall that separated the courtyard from the verandah, and also ripped up the wide garden bed and climbers that were the bane of my existence – nothing thrives there due to the south aspect.

Knocking the wall down was the best thing we did – it really opened up the area, made it feel more spacious, and also made it more usable. We laid charcoal granite pavers and teamed them with encaustic cement tiles. We put back a narrow garden bed to break up the line between the stone pavers and the white fence, and chose hardy easy-care tropical plants.

BEFORE

Verandah before – ugly orange terracotta tiles

Courtyard before – 1970s bricks, very uneven

Wall between to verandah and courtyard made the area feel small, dark and oppressive

The wall came tumbling down! It has really opened up the space and made a MASSIVE difference to the feng sui

AFTER

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View as you walk through the front gate. A yellow front door of course – in Dulux dandelion yellow

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View looking back towards street

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Tangerine outdoor cushion from Yellow Front Door. Hogsten outdoor chair from Ikea

MATERIALS

After much research, we chose charcoal granite pavers for the courtyard in 600x400mm $90 sqm. The dark colour is extremely practical and hides any dirt, marks or stains, and the larger size is pleasing aesthetically while also making the space appear larger. For the verandah we chose black and white encaustic cement tiles, 200x200mm, in a pattern called Fleur Di Lis $120 sqm. They’re a modern take on traditional tessellated tiles, and are much less fiddly to lay.

We got both the pavers and tiles from Teranova in Bronte, who were helpful and well priced.

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Granite pavers in charcoal 600x400mm 

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Fleur Di Lis encaustic cement tiles in black and white 200x200mm

PLANTS

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From left: Guzmania (a Bromeliad), Rhoeo Spathacea

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Purple Cordyline

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From left: Philodendron, Calathea

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From left: Cordyline, Bamboo Palm, Cordyline Purple Prince

Thanks to AJL Gardens for doing a brilliant job with all the construction/paving work and plants – they were very precise when laying the pavers and tiles, and their attention to detail really shows.

FINISHING TOUCHES

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Beautiful tiles with Pukeko bird and Pohutakawa tree – a gift from New Zealand

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We love our letterbox from Milkcan

Vivid Sydney 2015

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Vivid Sydney 2015 was definitely as good as previous years . The light installations and accompanying music are incredible, pure bliss, and Sydney Harbour is really showcased to its full potential. Most of it is visual but some of it is interactive and tactile, and kids will love it just as much as adults.

The mesmerising beauty of the light shows and music is actually really relaxing, best enjoyed by simply wandering around, stopping, sitting and soaking it in. It’s the perfect way to slow down and stop – something we don’t often do in our busy, frenetic lives.

So go ahead, get caught up in the atmosphere and lose yourself www.vividsydney.com

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