Exploring Sydney- Darling Square

Sydney’s latest urban neighbourhood!

As sad as we were to see the Entertainment Centre being pulled down, but now that the re-vitalization of Darling Harbour is almost complete – I guess I have to admit that our Sydney Overlords probably got it right this time! Very appreciative that Sydney-siders now have this brand-spanking new public space to enjoy!

The old Entertainment Centre site used to be the far extremity of our ‘full-circuit’ (the full circle we used to walk around Darling Harbour after a particularly heavy Saturday lunch – the Entertainment Centre being the far south, while the Pyrmont footbridge was the far north of the loop), so we were particularly aware of the Entertainment Centre’s demise as our circuit was cut short by all the years of construction. And as we watched the Centre of dreams being flattened to rubble, we watched the gradual upward rise of 1 Darling North, Darling One, 3 Urbanest Darling Square, and 4 Urbanest Tower. And the most eye catching of the 5 new buildings – what my wife dubbed ‘The Bee-hive’ when it first started to take shape – is ‘The Exchange’.

On Thursday 1 August 2019, The Exchange first opened its doors to the public to little fanfare; the first we noticed that the empty stalls were now trading was last Saturday (ten days after they opened up). We had taken our first sneek peek , and this Saturday we came back for a proper look and taste test.

Steam Mill Lane has now been around for more than a year, but on the far side of the Exchange, closer to Chinatown, is the latest Melbourne-like laneway – Little Hay Street.

Made up of a mixture of retail stores and restaurants, the trendy and the hip have made their residence –  walking past you can’t help notice the distinct buzzing sound of someone getting ink done at ’13 Feet’. And fingers crossed that it was only the direction of today’s blowing winds, but the new laneway was a bit of a chilly wind-tunnel.

And after checking out all that could be seen from the outside, we went on in to The Exchange to see what we could eat! Maker’s Dozen refers to the ground floor food court and mezzanine level of The Exchange (there are 6 levels – occupied by Darling Square Library, reception/admin, and a childcare centre on the upper levels).

The first thing you notice that makes the Makers Dozen stand out from the neighbouring food courts down this way (Dixon Street food court or Eating World), is the rough bumpy cobbled tiles underfoot, and the some-what blaring music coming out of speakers set high overhead. And the overall vibe of the place, is one of activity with a touristy vibe to it? I felt this same vibe at Boston’s Faneuil Hall? The options in the food court were Pastries, fusion Asian (Viet, Japanese or Chinese), Sri Lankan, or Poke. And 2 beverage outlets – one alcoholic and the other non-alcoholic to quench your thirst. And after we had decided that we’ll keep coming back to the Maker’s to try all 12 options – it made our decision easier to make! Today we were in the mood for Baos, so we lined up at Mr Bao Buns for his fluffy sweet buns! Mmmmmm.

They have 5 savoury Gua Baos on offer- Chicken, beef, pork, mushroom, and tofu ($6.50) each, and again being lazy and not bothering to expend too much effort deciding, we just ordered one of each. And a sugarcane drink ($6.00) to wash it all down with.

After making your orders and payment, you stand off to the side and wait for your name to be called (if you so choose, you can stand closer and watch your food being freshly handmade!) And once you receive your food, you go look for seating (either inside or outside). We elected the inside seating area.

The plan was to share each bao i.e. I eat half and when I’ve reached the half way point, we swap. But probably easier in theory than in practice, as the baos were bursting open with all the fresh filling and the toppings were balancing  vicariously on top.

We started off with the non-meat options first, I had the mushroom (sautéed mushroom, fresh lettuce, pickled ginger, rocket, with a lime-y tasting Aïoli?); while I took a bite from my wife’s Tofu (deep fried tofu cube, pickled ginger, and pink cabbage).

On our second round of baos, we tucked into the meats – I had the beef (Korean Bulgogi balancing on a bed of shredded Kimchi, lettuce and other herbs); while my wife had the pork (crispy pork belly, +an extra piece of crackling, coriander and thinly sliced cucumber, with the hoisin sauce you’d usually find with duck pancakes).

And after two baos, my wife felt full-ish, while I was still wanting. And with one bao left, we properly split this one- the chicken was a Japanese karaage (a piece of fried chicken smeared with a tasty mayo, balancing on a bed of fresh greens).

And the sugarcane drink was sweet and refreshing, I think a squirt of condensed milk (?) was added to give it some extra sweetness that cloudied the water.

The stand out for us with Mr Bao was how fresh all the ingredients were! Every veg was crisp and flavoursome, and the toppings were generous and cooked perfectly! The actual bao? One word, PERFECT! Pillow-like, sweet and a joy to eat – says my teeth. Maybe a bit hard to get full on, but we’d definitely be back to Mr Baos, perhaps for entrees before tucking into another store’s main-sized meal.

Getting here:  you can drop in on Darling Square anytime. It’s so centrally located – a stone’s throw from Chinatown, before or after an event at the ICC, or take the kids there during an outing at the Powerhouse Museum! Or purely make a trip out – walk here from Central station via the ‘Goods line’.

Get on down here, before every man and his dog makes a bee-line to the bee-hive shaped Maker’s.  

The Exchange, 1 Little Pier Street, Haymarket

Weekend trading hours 7am – 11pm

Exploring- Kogarah

14 Km South of Sydney CBD…… But boy did it feel further than that!

I’m born and bred in Sydney but I’ve never, ever set foot in Kogarah before. Never! But this Saturday I had it in my mind to explore what is out there, largely due to Pino’s Dolce Vita Fine Foods!

It was last week, my wife and I were watching Channel 7’s Sunrise, and as their Weather segment gets out-and-about, their weather person was broadcasting live from Pino’s Dolce Vita – an  Italian Deli located in Kogarah; interviewing the patriarch and founder Pino’s, Tomini Foresti. And as they crossed over to the 45 President Ave store every half hour, for the next week I just couldn’t stop thinking about paying the Italian deli a visit at our latest opportunity!

So come noon time today, we headed out on our day-trip to explore Kogarah!

Getting there – by train on a good day, it is probably a half hour direct train trip from Town Hall? But weekend track work….. made the trip much longer than that, which included an initial detour to Museum station (trains were not departing from Town Hall), which kick-started the first leg to Wolli Creek where we had to change trains and endure a 14 minute wait, before the final leg from Wolli Creek to Kogarah train station.

I don’t know what I was expecting but after a short walk from the station and around a corner, it was already residential- the short commercial strip consisted of the usual suburban restaurants and small businesses.

Then it was a 1.1Km (15 minute) walk from the station to Pino’s Dolce Vita, located on a pretty busy stretch of road.

As soon as the doors were pushed open, the sounds of many happy chatting people came rushing out, along with the toasty warm air. To your right is the deli and butcher portion of the single structure store (I’ve read that they sell over 100 different types of sausages, and many unique cheeses), and to your left was the café and patisserie. At first it didn’t seem like there were going to be any available seats for us, and I had that horrible sinking feeling….. After all this way!? But when we were approached and asked how many were in our party, fortunately there were still two tables out back which were vacant for us! Woohoo! Of recent times I’ve stopped my obsession with reporting back to you a blow-by-blow of a restaurant’s tables and chairs and table setting……but for Pino’s Dolce Vita, I do have to pause and tell you all about their chairs! They were made from heavy wood, and stretched taut across its beams was a thick hide of leather, like dining furniture found at someone’s home, which all added to the homely vibe.

We studied the menus and there were daily lunch specials, pastas, sandwiches/burgers, salads and items cooked for you from the butcher.

I couldn’t go past the Gnocchi beef ragu ($26.00) and my wife ordered the Italian steak sandwich ($24), and a large flat white coffee ($4.50).

As we waited for our food, the last and final table behind us was filled and it was a packed house in the newly re-opened Pino’s Dolce Vita Deli, after a devastating fire in 2016 which saw a Kogarah (and Sydney) institution closed for over 2 years (only re-opening in Dec 2018) – and the reason why Sunrise had featured them. With so many diners (who seemed to all know each other by name), who needed a music playlist? From our back-seats, we were still able to hear what was going on in the kitchen, and had a line of sight to the deli/butcher.

In a few minutes the coffee arrived, and we were speculating, how strong would the coffee be? And it was real nice and strong, borderline needing sugar, but we did resist from adding the white crystals.

But there was a bit of a wait for our food to arrive. Hey! They were super busy and we were waiting (or soon to be) waiting all day long, so what was the difference? But when our food did arrive, we were so ready to tuck in!

My Gnocchi was served on a rectangular plate, and starting my spoon and fork from right to left, I carefully pierced each gnocchi one at a time, savouring each mouthful of food! I’d never had fresh hand-made gnocchi before, and each pillow-soft ball of potato/flour almost dissolved in the mouth without much need to chew. It was coated in the flavoursome ragu sauce, although the stewed beef was a little sparse, with shreds of meat when I was hoping for chunks. Though there were squares of parmesan cheese scattered across the plate, and getting a square with the gnocchi?- Heavenly! But as the gnocchi was only a single layer across my plate (not piled on), I had to eat slowly to make my meal last.

While my wife’s Italian steak sandwich was a different story! It was filling to the 9s! Shaped like a short baguette, inside its crispy outer shell were oven-baked capsicums, fried onions, slow cooked potatoes, fried tomatoes, and a melty cheese! And under all of that, was an entire piece of steak, fresh from the butcher side of the store! The medium-rare chargrilled steak was probably half a centimetre thick, and was so tender and flavourful that I couldn’t recall having a steak this good in recent times. It was that good! My wife granted me a couple of bites and I was having bad cases of food-envy. Haaha.

So as I was leaning back in my chair, finished with my yummy but oh so moreish gnocchi, all I heard was my wife still crunching into her sandwich. *Drool*.

When we were done with our meals, we did a little circuit of their store, checking out the packaged goods and the fresh items they had on offer. And we couldn’t pass-up on the cannoli, the large were all sold out by then ($4 each) so we had to settle on the small ($2 each). We bid farewell to Pino’s Dolce Vita and rounded out back to a small park, where we found a park bench on which we sat and had our cannolis in the sun.

Then it was retracing our steps back to the train station; we had intended to explore more of Kogarah, but there isn’t all that much out there to see or do (especially compared to Da City). So we waited 17 mins for our return train to Wolli Creek, ran for our connecting train (as we had missed the connecting train the first time by 10 secs), but looked rather sheepish when the train sat there for several more minutes, waiting for the slowest and the most leisurely of connectors to stroll on-board.

Summary:

There isn’t much to see in Kogarah, but if you want to try an Aussie-Italian institution, with great coffee, fresh and unique deli meats, cheeses, awesome café food, pastries and a friendly homely atmosphere? The visit alone to Pino’s Dolce Vita is worth your while! If you’re time poor, we’d probably advise to drive there? But if it’s a nice day and you’re not in a hurry, you can still definitely get there by public transport.

Pino’s Dolce Vita- Saturday 20 July

https://www.pinosdolcevita.com.au/

PH: (02) 9587 4818

45 President Avenue, Kogarah

Tues-Fri (Café/Kitchen) 8am – 4pm

Tues-Fri (Deli/Butcher) 8am – 5pm

Sat-Sun (Café/Kitchen) 7am – 3pm

Sat-Sun (Deli/Butcher) 7am – 3pm

Mon- Closed

Exploring Sydney- ‘I’m Free Walking Tours’

It’s fun being a tourist in your own city! I have to admit it gave me a great sense of pride, and I’m sure it’s this same sense of pride which motivates young people to become a ‘I’m Free Walking Tour’ guide – tours departing from Town Hall Square twice a day at 10.30am and 2.30pm, rain, hail, or shine.

Today we joined our first Sydney City walking tour, as my wife’s uncle was visiting from the States and what better way to see Sydney – but by foot! On this somewhat warm winter’s afternoon, at 2.15pm we found the guides in their light green ‘I’m free’ T-shirts, and we hung about until 2.35pm when the group was adequately large enough to set out walking.

The tours are in theory free, but in practice you’re encourage to pay what you deem the tour is worth to you at the conclusion of the 2 hour 30 minute walk. Once you arrive at the meeting point, you’re provided with a free colour map which marks out the stops along the way, and on the flip side there are handy tips which would enhance any tourist’s stay in Sydney.

At the time when we set-out, our tour group ended up being around 30 people in size. First we walked past the Town Hall – then into the QVB – before snaking our way down to Pitt Street Mall – and then onto Hyde park.

Then from the Park we walked to Macquarie Street and checked out the old Rum Hospital – before crossing back over to Martin Place where we  followed the mall down to George Street – ducking down some alleyways – to pop-up back on Pitt Street where we walked to the Gateway precinct for the half-point toilet break (it was 4pm by then).

We continued on to Circular Quay via Customs House, then Cadman’s cottage – and following the guide’s expert footsteps, we got to see the Harbour Bridge and Opera House from a vantage point which we’ve never seen our iconic landmarks from before (a lookout in the Overseas Passanger Terminal). And the tour ends in the Rocks, the time being 5pm by this stage.

And if you enjoy the Sydney City walking tour, at 6pm departing from Cadman’s Cottage every night (for an hour) you can join The Rocks walking tour offered by the same company.

The highlights:

One. The guide – he had an absolute passion for his city and an enthusiasm in re-telling all of his historic tales of Sydney. I learnt a number of stories which I was previously unaware of, and had a better sense of the limits of old Sydney township, i.e. that where the Town Hall sits today, was actually the Western outer limit of Old Sydney Town. Which emphasizes to me, how much we’ve grown as a city/nation in the past 200 odd years.

Two. Discovering unknown parts of our city- another highlight was walking down Angels Place, and experiencing the “Forgotten Songs” art installation for the first time. I was completely unaware of this place’s existence! It’s quite tranquil and relaxing, hearing all of those bird songs, I’d imagine it would be a nice way to de-stress if things are getting a bit too much at work.

Three. Random facts- And along with the handful of random facts which we learnt, the most handy random fact we learnt was that Opal card fares are capped at $2.70 for unlimited travel on Sundays! This is a random fact we ought to have known, but didn’t.

Four. Smiles- And it was a joy to hear my wife’s uncle laugh at some of the guide’s better antidotes; and seeing him enjoy himself as he saw our famous Sydney landmarks for the very first time.

Ideal time:

If you’re just a Sydney-sider who wants to better understand your city, you have the luxury to pick the perfect time to take this walking tour. As you know Sydney, it could either be too hot or too cold to be walking around for 150 minutes. Autumn or spring would be my best guess for the ideal time to take the tour. Or in the winter months it wasn’t that bad, just make sure you have a nice warm jacket and comfortable shoes. I personally think it’ll be a bit unpleasant to do the tour in the summer months.

In the end, the walking tour should be re-named as:

“I’m Actually Not Free Walking Tours”

As it’s not really free, at the beginning of the tour they hint that other similar tours which last half the length of their’s cost $30 pp, but don’t be influenced by this. In the end just give the guide how much you think the experience was worth to you. Before the  tour we had in mind just giving the guide $10, but after the tour we felt that it was worth more than that and we  ended up giving our guide $20 (which seemed like the going rate as each representative from their respective groups came forward and handed him $20).

If you’d like to learn more about the Sydney ‘I’m Free Walking Tours’, click HERE!

Exploring Sydney- Akuna Bay/Frenchs Forest

It was time again for another cruise with the car club, and we were pretty eager to see how the baby Beamer was going to handle after its recent steroidal enhancements! Mwahaha! This time the club were meeting north of the bridge in the evening for a cruise around Akuna Bay, a 20 minute loop which takes cars in & out of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

If you’ve never been to Akuna Bay in the evening, the 4 things you really really need are: a good night’s rest (the previous night); a healthy dose of carrots (to enhance your night vision); your GPS (as it’s easy to miss some crucial turns); and high high beams (as it’s literally pitch black out there). But it was a whole lot of fun though! Although you’re cruising at low speeds due to the constant curves, undulations, and several hair-pin turns- but it’s the longest curvy run we’ve ever driven through in NSW (puts Macquarie Pass and Galston Gorge to shame!). During the day time the loop is dotted with cyclists and motor cyclists, but at night it’s definitely a lower risk of running into cyclists (literally and figuratively), and that’s a very good thing for both driver and rider! And you know you’re out of the city limits when you look skywards and you can see brilliant bright stars! So cruisers and star gazers alike, Akuna Bay is ideal for both enthusiasts. *Nods*.

And after a few loops, we were hungry and it was time to push on to the second half of these meets, the dining and socialising part!

Austrian Club

20 Grattan Cres, Frenchs Forest NSW 2086 (13Km North of Sydney CBD)

And that’s right! No typo there! We went to the Austrian Club! Located in an out of way ex-Scout hall in leafy Frenchs Forest. What we do like about cultural societies, is that they’re pretty much run by a small team of faithfuls, and on this night it seemed that the Austrian Club had organised a special event (Tiroler Abend) – with a live Oom-pah band and a whole lot of people! (Last year when we came, there were only 3 tables of diners in a hall which could seat over 200). So that was a nice unexpected surprise, but the $15pp cover-charge was less of a pleasant surprise though. Even without the festivities, walking into the Austrian Club already feels like you’re transported to another era and another place! But insert ST Raphael’s Folk Dance Group, and it was like being transported to a beer hall in Salzburg, right down to the Dirndl that the ladies were adorned in (cultural dress).

In terms of food, the menu was abbreviated down to their crowd favourites, Schnitzels, Pork Knuckles (which were sold out), Roast Pork, and I ordered the Austrian-style Goulash- $25, and a 1/2 litre glass of Austrian beer! And boy! Talk about tummy warming hearty food! A Goulash is a stew which in reality was like a thick soup, or a runny gravy sauce (depends if you say tomato or tomato). Swimming in the brown liquid was melted onions, chunks of stewed beef, discs of carrots, and 3 huge bread dumplings! No wonder people in sub-freezing climates are able to get through their bitter long winters, with tummy-warming food like that! The highlight was breaking up the squishy dumplings (they were as large as intact peaches), and working them into the saucy gravy before you popped it and a chunky piece of beef into your mouth! The entire meal was consumed with a metal soup spoon, and although it was a little salty and overwhelming at times, that was a minor problem which a swig of Austrian beer easily solved! And after we had dinner tucked away, we just enjoyed taking in all the dancing (there were a few slap-reddened thighs) and music (featuring a piano accordion). During lulls in the noise we were able to have table conversations with our dining companions about cars; and when the dessert menu went around half of us found second-wind and got stuck into the Austrian desserts (Apple or Berry Strudels). And from all accounts, they were a notch above what you’d usually get elsewhere.

Recommendations:

If you have a bit of a sporty car, taking it around Akuna Bay Loop is one of those things you ought to have on a bucket list of things to do! The loop is like our very own version of the famed Nürburgring, the Nürburgring of the South! For directions, just Google the key words “Akuna Bay Loop”.

The Austrian Club can easily be a destination stop for groups, families, or couples on a day out! The Club is only open on Friday evenings, Saturday evenings, and all day Sundays. Check-out their events page if you want to coincide your visit with one of their special functions. Or if you’re just craving a good Austrian/Bavarian meal, and you don’t want one of those easier to access commercialised experiences,  check-out the Austrian club! It’s prima authentisch! (For those who have forgotten their Grade 8 German, that means “Super Authentic” in German!)

Exploring Springwood

Springwood is a Sydney suburb located on the foothills of the Blue Mountains- 73Km West of the Sydney CBD. You can get to Springwood by train via the Blue Mountains line (1hr 18 mins), $10-$15 using your Opal card, or you can get there by car (57 mins according to Google maps) but it definitely feels longer and ends up being longer (it actually took 1hr 10 mins).

On this glorious autumn’s day, we headed West to a friend’s home located in Springwood for a gathering over lunch. Since having the car modified, I’ve been looking forward to any opportunity to take it out for a bit of a drive, and this was going to be its longest trip to stretch its legs! I think if you’re not used to doing long car commutes, getting to Springwood may feel like a trek, and although traffic wasn’t bad and the M4 has become a much better run as part of Westconnex works, it still felt like a long car trip to get there. But boy! The car drives so much better after the ECU flash!

And when we arrived in Springwood and got out of the car for the first time – “Ah! Breathe in that fresh air!” It’s definitely nice to get out of Sydney, the climate is cooler and the air is definitely crisper up there (Springwood being located 371m above sea level).

At our friend’s home we had a real nice lunch spread, each person/family bringing a dish each, and I think this is a sign of the changing times- 3-4 years ago when we last organised a similar catch-up most of us brought meat which could be cooked on the BBQ, but with the universal shift in people’s dietary habits, today we had a selection of 4-5 different salads and roast veggies, and everyone was happier and healthier because of it!

After lunch we ventured down to the Foundation Day celebrations – an annual street market which shuts down the main commercial strip in Springwood (Macquarie Road) to motorised traffic, turning the town centre into a festive atmosphere! For a good 20 min stroll in either direction, you’d find yourself in the midst of the markets- lining both sides of Macquarie Road were stalls selling trinkets; stalls promoting local interest groups; stalls cooking up fragrant food to feed the masses; and 3 stages were set up for live music acts to entertain the crowds (each stage set up far enough apart to be out-of-ear-shot of each other.

And after soaking up enough rays and atmosphere, we headed back to our friend’s home for dessert and coffees, before we eventually had to head back down the mountain, back to life, back to reality in the big-smoke.

If you would like to check out Springwood and Foundation Day for next year, do it now! Grab your phone and schedule in a reminder into your Google calendar for early March- to alert your future self to look-up the date of the 2020 Springwood Foundation Day celebrations. Foundation Day is usually held between early March and late April- methinks the variation of dates is dependent on where Easter lands each year. I highly recommend Springwood, it’s definitely worth your while to head part-way up the mountain to experience another part of Sydney! And time your visit to coincide with the Foundation Day celebrations- it was all very festive and full of community atmosphere!

Exploring- Picton

A perfect weekend escape for Sydney-siders who want a change of pace after a busy week of go, go, and go of the Sydney rat-race.

Picton is a town located 91Km South-West of Sydney CBD via the Hume Motorway, the most common way to get out  to the sprawling expanses of P-town is by car (roughly an hour and 10 minute drive using the Hume Motorway). But for us, we used a more circuitous route today to get to Picton.

Aside from my interests of Food & Drink, audio entertainment, and exploring our fair city, an enduring interest of mine are cars. Not all shapes and sizes, not all makes and models, not all vehicles 4 wheeled or two-ed, but specifically…sports cars! So to meet other like-minded individuals, naturally my mate and I are involved with a sports car club and today was the first gathering for 2019- a cruise from Penrith to Picton for Go Karts, before a nice pub lunch at the historic George IV Inn.

What I personally love about this sports car club, is the fact that the start and end of each cruise is book-ended by food & drink! *Thumbs-up*. To jump-start the morning, the club met-up at the once bustling Krispy Kreme Sydney HQ store located in Penrith. Remember those days of late night drives with mates to Penrith KK? At the time, the one and only KK store which was open for like 24 hours a day (at least it felt like it) serving up their glazed melt-in-your-mouth original donuts. Mmmm. Remember lining-up for upwards of 45 minutes at midnight, shuffling past the glass wall where you could see the donuts being made, smelling all the sweet aromas of melting sugar…….. OMG! And when you finally reached the head of the line, ordering 1 or 2 boxes of the 12 original donuts, and another box or 2 of the assorted mixed donuts, justifying your purchases because your roommates/parents/siblings/grandparents would need to eat as well! Right? Do you remember those days? When we were more innocent, when we knew that donuts were probably bad for us, but we’d still consumed them. Well, that was all before we decided that we were too healthy for soft-drinks, fast-food, full sugar bubble tea, and of course too healthy for the Krispy  Kreme donut. Boo! So as unbelievable as this sounds, but that original Krispy Kreme store in Penrith is still trading, but it’s a far cry from what it used to be, today there were only a few patrons- a couple of mum’s catching-up over coffee (pretty sure no donuts in front of them) and then a group of guys with their sports cars rocked-up. Haaha. But as our fellow car club members rolled in, after saying our ‘hi, how ya doin’, they too went next door for a more healthy breakfast option- McDonalds. *Shrugs*.

But after hanging-out at a long table for more than a dozen, with our Krispy Kreme coffees and giving adequate time for those who always rock-up late – in a convoy of 9 sports cars we headed off on a 60 minute south-bound cruise to Picton, where we had a date with an open air track, an unlimited speed limit, but with a kart that didn’t go beyond 70km/h.

62 Km down Silverdale Road connects the West to the South-West, (on paved, not the smoothest of roads), which at points reached speeds which you’d never dream to reach in Sydney suburbia; we had a chance to stretch our sports cars legs, allow our engines to breathe in the fresh country air and clear their  throaty exhausts. We cruised past bushland, farms, and with only 1 speed bump, and 2 roundabouts along the way to encourage us to slow down, all too soon we had reached Picton, the outer limits of sprawling Sydney.

A characteristic of this particular sports car club, is the fact that a number of members are keen Go Karters! So when the opportunity arises, we incorporate a car cruise in-line with track and Go Kart availability.

Picton Karting Track- 200 Picton Road Illawarra

We elected ‘Arrive and Drive’, where you just show-up and you and your group are assigned to the next available group of people who are going out on track. Today’s wait was only 20 mins long and after paying $70 for 2x 15 minute sessions (+$10 License fee which is valid for 12 months) we were on-track and pushing the little Go karts as hard as they could go on little 6 inch tyres- the chassis, engine, human combo  reaching up-to 70Km/h on the back straight.

After expending enough adrenaline to leave us worn-out, muscles aching, sweaty and hungry, we came in after our cool down lap and compared lap times. The quickness of a Karter is dependent on the inter-play between 3 variables – the height/weight of the individual; the set-up and maintenance history of the kart; and the Driver’s natural feel for manoeuvring a 4 wheeled vehicle around curves and corners.  So understandably lap-times were varied and reflected these critical attributes, the fast will always be fast, while the slower guys will ……. Well, putting it nicely, could benefit from more practice laps and the jettison of any excess weight? Jks Jks. But everyone enjoyed themselves regardless of their standings, and with the need for speed and excitement met, the next need to be met on Maslow’s pyramid of needs, was drink and food! In that order!

George IV Inn- 180 Argyle Street, Picton

And heading back to the town’s centre, we located the historical George IV Inn-  and parked our pride and joys in a spacious car park (parking is hard to come by along the main drag of Picton), but this lot was a short short walk from the Inn. The big George is a rambling single story estate, said to be one of the oldest hotels in Australia (built in 1819- Wow! It’s 200 years old this year!); but it definitely didn’t look its age- methinks an extensive renovation occurred recently as everything looked and felt new, the place was gloriously cool, AC blowing out strong to keep diners comfortable (rainy in Sydney today, but sunny with some clouds and top of 23 in Picton). The Bistro had an extensive menu, with the usual pub favourites, but on-top of those staples, there was an extensive grill menu, a more gourmet listing, Chef’s recommendations, and a list of pizzas. I think since we’ve started this blog, we still haven’t had pizzas, so craving something cheesy, I ordered the ‘Big George Pizza’, while the others ordered all different sorts of stuff, from steaks to seafood pastas, vegetarian dishes to burgers. And way before putting in our food orders, we grabbed our drinks (as I had mentioned it was higher on the priority list than the food), so as we chatted with the guys and their partners (sports cars and go karts isn’t just a dude’s thing, but    many guys bring their significant others), we sipped on our refreshing IPAs (surprisingly bitter though).

When the food arrived (all at the same time- pretty impressive considering there were 10 of us with food with wide ranging cook-times), we all tucked in, and my Big George wasn’t just big by name, it was BIG! It had 3 types of meat on it from spicy salami to grilled chicken pieces, with a nice thick, yet thin pizza crust. And you know when it’s just the right thickness when the centre of the pizza isn’t all limp and soggy, but soft while still able to keep its pointy tip when picked-up. And since we had an early start and had skipped breakfast- oh yeah! The pizza hit the spot! But like I said, it was a Big boy, so after 2 slices I was already offering to others to take a slice if they wanted; and after 4 slices I was done, really done  (and there were still another 4 slices left!). So for $24 (not bad for country-town pub prices) I was filled and I even had pizza to go (fed us tonight as well!).

And after chatting for another 30 mins, sadly all good things must come to an end and we said our farewells in the car park (dudes checking out each other’s rides), and we made the trek back to Sydney- up the Hume Motorway and didn’t stop at a single traffic light until we reached Zetland! Which is 50 mins into a 70 min drive, not a bad run hey?

This time we didn’t get much of a chance to check-out all that Picton has to offer, but if you came out here with the family, there is so much to see and do! Picton is a well preserved historic town. There is a 29 stop self-guided walking tour which can guide your visit; pick-up a map from the Wollondilly Visitor Information Centre (look for the old Post Office with the clock-tower).  Allow the self-guided tour to take you on a stroll to the original Picton Court House (built in 1864); Post Office with historic clock tower (1892); Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Building (1885); St Marks Anglican Church (1857); and of course the historic George IV Inn (1819), to name a few stops along the way.

If you’re an active soul, you’ll love the Picton Botanical Gardens with 9Km of cycling and walking tracks through the landscape gardens- giving visitors a brilliant view of the surrounding vistas and there is an amusing bottlebrush maze for the kids to get lost in.

And if your kids love Thomas and trains in general, a bit further out from Picton is Trainworks, located in Thirlmere. Claiming to be the oldest and the largest train museum, (yes you read right, the oldest and the largest!) it boasts of many historic trains, and it marries the old with the new- the exhibits come to life with 3D holograms of people who used to work on the trains, telling their story and explaining the workings of the locomotives. Pretty cool hey!? Open 7 days a week, 9am – 5pm on the weekends.

For more information about the area and things to see and do in Picton visit this great web-site!

And of course there is Picton’s main street, including a variety of gift shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs and clubs. For a listing of all the things to see and do in the Wollondilly shire, check out this link:

Can you spend an entire day in Picton and surrounds? Heck yeah! There is so much to see and do! You could stay the night and spend an entire weekend out here! Or alternatively, come back on several different weekend day trips, for kids who fall asleep as soon as they get into the car, the 70 min car trip is idyllic!! I can’t recommend more highly the virtues of the W-shire!! Like most outdoor heavy destinations, visiting either in early autumn or late spring would be ideal. And if you’re into cars like me, replicating our cruise from Penrith to Picton via Silverdale Rd is also an idea which you can add to your list of potential weekend activities. Not to mention, as it’s becoming more and more popular to have ‘Walking’ meetings with colleagues, a ‘Driving’ catch-up with mates is pretty cool as well! In each of our hour-long point to point stretches from CBD to Penrith; Penrith to Picton; Picton back to the city, the time passed so quickly as my mate and I chatted all the way.

P.S. Apologies for the lack of photos, today was a spousal free-day, so unfortunately my wife’s photography prowess wasn’t on hand to add colour to this otherwise drab post.