Sometimes a little peace and quiet is just what the mind and body needs.
Last weekend I took off for a famil of the South Coast, hosted by Tourism Wollongong and Eurobodalla Coast Tourism. It had been ages since I'd headed down the coast, nothing but distant memories of family holidays from childhood - fish and chips at the beach, digging sandcastles and peeling sticky limbs from the melting vinyl of the car backseat.
This time I was in the driver's seat, alternating with Nemo in a zippy Corolla supplied by Hertz. Getting out of Sydney is always half the journey, but we made it to Wollongong in good time, arriving at Nan Tien Temple by lunch.
Great Hero Hall, the main shrine at Nan Tien Temple
This was my second visit to Nan Tien Temple - the last time I was here was over ten years ago. Dazzling blue skies and cheek-warming sunshine greeted our arrival. It's amazing how much you notice the sound of silence, an ear-piercing nothingness broken only by the gentle rustle of leaves in the breeze.
Nan Tien - which means "Southern Paradise" - is the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere. We were led on a brief tour around the temple grounds by spokesperson Rachel Seath, checking out the motel-style public accommodation at the Pilgrim Lodge, before taking in the humbling beauty of the main and front shrines.
Carp in the lotus pond
Having a tour guide explain Buddhist philosophies in an approachable way only increases our sense of calm and peace as we wander the grounds. A volunteer at the art gallery is more than happy to explain the meaning behind the current display of portraits, her face lighting up with genuine delight.
The museum features an jaw-dropping display of Chinese calligraphy, painstakingly scribed on grains of rice and etched on strands of human hair. We squint at them through a special magnifying glass - the calligraphy was all done using only the human eye, we're told.
Lotus tea $6.50 teapot
We have lunch at the Dew Drop Inn Tea House, simple and quaint, and urged to try the lotus tea. A lotus flower slowly unfurls in the glass teapot as it brews, and the flavour reminds me of chrysanthemum tea with a somewhat buttery nutty backnote.
Homemade steamed dumplings $8.50
Only vegetarian fare is served on the temple grounds. We sample the steamed dumplings - beautifully pleated and filled with bok choy and pickled vegetables - and a hearty plate of soy fillet rolled in seaweed served with carrots, broccoli, cabbage and seaweed.
Soy fillet served with seasonal vegetables and rice $12
Vegetarian nuggets $7
I'm secretly pleased when we're recommended to try the vegetarian nuggets, gnarled deep-fried dumplings that are salty and sweet.
Vegetarian drumsticks $8
The vegetarian drumsticks win for cuteness though, the deep-fried crumb coating hiding curls of soft bean curd wrapped around the end of a paddle pop stick.
Inside the vegetarian drumsticks
The seven-tiered pagoda
As the sun blazes overhead, we're both looking forward to our next pit-stop, Five Islands Brewery in Wollongong.
Five Islands Brewing Company
Dapto Draught, Longboard Pale Ale and Peach
Five Islands Brewery was the first brewery in the Illawarra region, established in 2001 and quickly proving so popular that the brewing vats had to be moved to a larger location.
Longboard Pale Ale, Halloween Ale and Rust Amber Ale
We make our way through all seven of their locally brewed beers, all of which are made without additives or preservatives. Halloween Ale is my clear favourite, a smooth brew that is faint with honey roasted Jap pumpkin and nutmeg.
We also try the Dapto Draught and Longboard Pale Ale (their two biggest selling beers), and continue on to the Barbeerian Wit (a Belgian wheat beer made with orange peel and coriander), Peach beer (not as sweet as you'd think), Rust amber ale (rather addictive with caramel and toffee notes) and the Bulli Black dark ale (a huge hit with Chinese tourists, they've noticed).
Tea'se Me Tea Emporium
Did someone say Devonshire tea?
Oh yes, that was me.
Loose leaf teas
Nemo feels like settling back in a coffee shop for the afternoon, and rather than head to a random cafe, I use the power of google to hunt down something more interesting.
This is how we end up at Tea'se me Tea Emporium, a few more blocks north than I'd first calculated, but walkable nonetheless.
Devonshire tea $6.50
Two scones with jam and cream and coffee or tea
The cosy cafe is desserted, but this means we get dibs on the lounge in the corner. The Devonshire Tea is a generous serve of two scones with tea or coffee, the packet jam and aerosol cream compensated by our choice of tea from the entire range that lines the wooden shelves against the wall.
Choc chip chai tea
The variety of teas is staggering, ranging from Dragon Well Chinese green tea and Monk Pear, to Japanese lime and Australian black mint teas. I opt for crazy, and find the choc chip chai surprisingly good - aromatic without being too sweet.
Date scone and blueberry scone
Less than three hours later we are having dinner at the The Lagoon Seafood Restaurant. Just something small, we vow.
Lagoon Seafood Restaurant
Seafood platter $155 for two
The Lagoon Seafood Restaurant offers sweeping views of the beach - its popularity as a wedding reception evidenced by the white chiffon draped outwards from the middle of the ceiling. We notice that main meals here seem to be gargantuan in portion, looking more like share plates than individual serves. Our waitress laughs in agreement, and says "wait until you see the seafood platter!"
The seafood platter for two is a two-tiered affair, a cluster of cold seafood and fruit on top, hot seafood at the bottom. We manage to polish off most of the king prawns, smoked salmon, oysters (raw, Kipatrick and mornay), salt and pepper calamari, scallops, blue swimmer crab, tempura prawns, Moreton Bay bugs and lobster mornay. Tempura barramundi and barbecue octopus defeat us though.
Honey wafers $12.50
Crisp thin wafers layered with strawberry creme fraiche
and fresh strawberries on a vanilla creme anglaise
And yet somehow we find room for dessert. Honey wafers are more like biscuits, the strawberry layered stack topped with a fancy-looking disc of drizzled toffee.
Cheese plate $19.50
Selection of King Island cheeses, served with dried fruits, nuts and crisp lavosh bread
I'd been excited at the prospect of the King Island cheese plate but when I ask for some assistance on the identification of the cheeses in front of us, we're told with a pointed finger, "that's a blue, that's a brie and that one's Jarlsberg".
Our accommodation that night is at the Chifley Wollongong, one of the newest hotels in the city. It's bright and modern, the bedside table set up with an iPod speaker dock.
The jar of Nutella on the breakfast buffet catches my eye the next morning. I'm also intrigued by the gourmet jams on offer - including tomato, passionfruit and apple; strawberry, lime and whisky; and blood orange marmalade.
I try them all.
Juice by Robot-Coupe
The Robot-Coupe juicer is particularly impressive too. It is easy to operate, pulverising fresh celery, apples, carrots and oranges in seconds.
Nemo took advantage of the heated lap pool for a pre-breakfast swim. The water looked dazzling but I opted for the luxury of a sleep-in. We had a long weekend ahead.
> Read the next post: Berry and The Famous Berry Donut Van
Grab Your Fork and guest travelled to Wollongong hosted by Tourism Wollongong.
Famil inclusions: Nan Tien Temple, Five Islands Brewing Company, Lagoon Seafood Restaurant, Chifley Wollongong and Hertz car rental
Personally paid for: Tea'se Me Tea Emporium
Nan Tien Temple
180 Berkeley Road, Unanderra
Tel: +61 (02) 4272 0600
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9am-5pm
Five Islands Brewing Company
WIN Entertainment Centre
Crown Street, Wollongong
Tel: +61 (02) 4220 2854
Opening hours: Monday and Tuesday 12pm-9pm,
Wednesday and Thursday 12pm-10pm, Friday and Saturday 12pm-11pm
Tea'se Me Tea Emporium
163 Keira Street, Wollongong
Tel: +61 (02) 4225 0999
Opening hours: Monday and Tuesday 8am-4pm,
Wednesday to Friday 8am-5pm, Saturday 8am-3pm
Lagoon Seafood Restaurant
Stuart Park, North Wollongong
Tel: +61 (02) 4226 1677
Open 7 days 11.30am-10pm
60-62 Harbour Street, Wollongong
Tel: +61 (02) 4201 2111
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Batemans Bay and the Moruya Country Markets
Bodalla Heritage Fair, Tuross Head and The Big Cheese
The Famous Berry Donut Van and a food tour of Berry
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12/06/2010 03:24:00 am