From a tour of a fruit farm to snorkelling with turtles, take in these experiences that make a trip to New South Wales unforgettable

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Below is a more expansive version of the piece I wrote for Mint Lounge

“We get a lot of Indian families during Diwali,” says Andrew Wood, our ebullient tour guide at Tropical Fruit World in the Tweed Coast of Australia’s New South Wales.

It doesn’t surprise me–you can haul your parents to Australia, and they may refuse to even peek into bars or restaurants that serve beef or pork, but no multi-generational family would have a problem with something as wholesome as fruit.

Spread over 200 acres, and growing 500 species of exotic fruit, Tropical Fruit World offers 2.5 hour tours by boat or train.

Children can hold birthday parties here and see their kangaroos and emus.

It all ends with a fruit tasting session. As we careen over the hilly landscape on a golf buggy, Wood points out several from India including mango, banana, papaya, jackfruit and even a moringa.

More interesting are the exotics from other countries. There is the Mexican black sapote, aptly called the “chocolate pudding” fruit. It tastes like its name but you can feel virtuous while eating it– it is a fruit after all.

There is the “miracle fruit” or Synsepalum dulcificum, which makes everything you eat afterwards taste sweet– so you can eat a bittergourd and feel like you are eating a cookie.

Pride of place goes to the avocado. Over a dozen varieties of this nutritionally dense fruit grow here and are used to make the cosmetics and oils that they sell in their shop, alongside papaya seed salt (prompting me to think that I ought to chew those black seeds inside our Indian ‘naati’ papayas), and packaged dry Casimiroa or “sleep producing” leaves from the white sapote family of South America.

The fruit tasting at Tropical Fruit World in New South Wales, Australia

At the end of the tour, we stand on the edge of the property to take in the sunset. In front of us and down below is the Tweed Valley, which was formed when Mount Warning or Wollumbin as it was traditionally called, erupted some 25 million years ago. The caldera or cauldron-like crater is now verdant green and planted with hectares of sugarcane.

The Tweed Coast, an hour north of Sydney from the air

Behind us, on the other side of the ridge that we are standing on, lies the Pacific Ocean some miles away. The area, which is called Tweed Coast is a little known part of Australia that has nothing to do with English tweed or wool of any kind.

It gets its name from the Tweed range of mountains that lie on the Western side of Australia in between Sydney and Brisbane, and the Tweed river that flows through it.

To get here, you take an hour-long flight from Sydney to Ballina, which I have just done. I wish I had brought my family.

I am staying at Peppers, an Australian resort chain. With spacious suites that include a washer-dryer, stove, utensils and a dishwasher, this would make perfect sense for an Indian family that travels with pre-cooked packaged MTR food.

The pristine Salt Beach is walking distance, the service is unfussy and there are two heated pools, all of which make it a good base to explore the area.

I hadn’t heard of the Tweed Coast till I got here. To my surprise, I find that there’s lots to do.


Over the next three days, I snorkel with turtles, watch whales, visit a rum distillery, swim in the ocean, and get in some spa treatments as well.

India Madness and Fatehpur Sikhri

What would make an Australian couple recreate the Jodha Bai Palace of Fatehpur Sikhri in Terranora, New South Wales?

If you listen to Cliff Peiffer, it is sheer India madness combined with an India-Australia love story.

Cliff and Susan Peiffer and their four children own the Jodha Bai retreat where a group of us have come for dinner. With jaali-work, red sandstone, courtyards and turrets, it is an exact replica of what Cliff and his Anglo-Indian wife, Susan saw during a 2010 trip to India.

Now, many of us see awe-inspiring architecture. Chris decided to duplicate it. He imported 300 tonnes of red sandstone from India and began the painstaking process of building the Jodha Bai Retreat. Seven years later, they are putting finishing touches while welcoming guests to stay in their home. There are two suites, both occupied, when we visit. Thankfully the guests let us peek into the room while they enjoy the hot tub outside with a fantastic view of the night sky and stars– a telescope would be handy.

Chris Peiffer welcoming guests at Jodha Bai Retreat, New South Wales, Australia
Dinner is an expansive charcuterie board– not Indian food. There are olives, bread, hummus, cheese, and barbecued meat. Cliff loves Australian wine and pours us several glasses of his favourite varietals. We sit in the “living room” talking about India, Akbar, Jodha Bai, architecture and a certain madness that gets people to do unbelievable things all for the sake of “crazy stupid love.”
Snorkeling with a green turtle at the Cook Island Aquatic Reserve

Snorkeling with the turtles

Snorkeling is an underrated pleasure in India where coastal cities abound but we don’t enjoy the ocean’s pleasures.

Australians are water babies. They swim, surf and snorkel.

The next morning, we are up early. Watersports Guru (no India connection) takes tourists out into the ocean to Cook Island, itself shaped like a turtle.

A short drive from our Kingscliff hotel, we set off along the Tweed River that gives the area its name.

As we sit in the boat, we spot dolphins cresting the waves in groups. What is it about these marine mammals that give humans so much pleasure? In the distance, we see the skyscrapers lining Australia’s Gold Coast— the name of a city, not a coastline. It is the country’s theme park capital and a big holiday destination.

Soon, we are at the Cook Island Aquatic Reserve. We jump into the cold but thankfully not frigid water, wearing wet suits, flippers and snorkeling masks.

As soon as we start swimming, we spot the giant green turtles that let us come close enough to touch without paying us any heed. They are magnificent reptiles that bring to mind the big lumbering grace of elephants. They float in the water swaying with the ocean currents. The loggerhead turtles are more shy and stay close to the corals that lie several feet below. There are hundreds of yellow, blue, red and green fish.

Half an hour later, we are back on the boat because the skipper has spotted whales.

To our delight, we see three or four whales—

one cresting the waves, another flipping its tail, and best of all, a baby whale learning to “breach” or launch most of its body above the water line. We fall silent as we watch it flip a few times before it leaves us.

For us landlubbers, whales are largely unknown. The depths they inhabit, the songs they sing make them mammoth, magnificent and mysterious.

Lunch is at Halcyon House, a 21-room boutique hotel owned by two sisters from Brisbane.  With a fine wine list, interesting cocktails, a terrific spa and a view of the Coral sea, Halcyon House lives up to its name.  The tight flavourful menu includes Wagyu cheeseburger, prawns, rock oysters and roasted artichoke.  There are four cupboards full of locally sourced gins. The cocktails are excellent, the service unhurried.

Colour-changing gin and craft rum

After sampling the gins at Halcyon House and hearing much about Ink Gin, famous in this part of the world, I decide it’s time for a trip to a distillery.

A trip to Husk Distillers in Tumbulgum (I love these musical names) provides answers about the deep purple-coloured gin. The gin is coloured deep purple. The source of the colour? A common flower that is found in many Indian gardens.  We call it shankha pushpa or butterfly pea flower.

Our tour guide demonstrates by dropping a few dried flowers into water. Shake or stir and you get a deep indigo colour.  Add tonic water and it transforms to pink. “Ours is the world’s first and only colour-changing gin,” says our tour guide at the distillery. 

This flower is a key botanical in Ink Gin along with juniper berries, locally grown lemon myrtle leaves, Tasmanian pepper berry and other ingredients.

More elaborate is Husk Distiller’s Australian spiced rum.  Having grown up on Old Monk, rum to me is about nostalgia rather than taste. 

The rum here, with the rather unfortunate name, Bam Bam, is a revelation.  

How do they do it? Well, our guide grabs a machete and shows us. We walk across to a sugarcane field near the distillery and chop off a stalk of sugarcane. Then, we squeeze it in a machine into juice– something that we all do in India. Then comes the fermentation in giant vats, distillation in a giant 6000 litre copper pot still so that the spirits and flavours are extracted, and finally, maturation in their oak barrels. What comes out is gold, or rather, a golden coloured liquid. 

Deep and rich with botanicals– native ginger, golden berry, roasted wattleseed, orange peel, vanilla and cinnamon–  it tasted good with just two cubes of ice.  

Storytelling on a boat with breakfast

As Indians, we are used to traditional welcomes with garlands and dances. It’s not very different here, too.  At Tweed Escapes, a local operator that organizes boat trips with a twist, we were welcomed onto a boat by the Tweed River with smoke and a traditional aboriginal dance of the Bundjalung Nation by young bare-chested boys with yellow mud smeared on their bodies. How similar ancient cultures are.  

Michael Simmons, the owner, was on hand to point out birds and sights along the Tweed River. He works with local businesses to put together activities on a boat.  This time, he collaborated with Blue Ginger Picnics, where owner Tania Usher puts together sumptuous picnics with locally sourced ingredients.  We sat cross-legged and chewed on locally sourced bread, croissants, jams, olive oil, dips and chips while local storyteller Franck Rasna told us stories about the indigenous Australians and how they lived before their land was colonised and their slow and sustained efforts to promote their way of life to the general public and visiting tourists.

He recounted folk tales of how the birds got their colours, and showed us local plants used for health and healing. Before we knew it, two hours flew by and it was time to disembark.

A boutique experience 

Routinely listed as one of the top Australian boutique hotels, Raes on Wategos Beach lies in the Byron Bay area.  Its namesake restaurant gets booked out months in advance and after tasting the food, I can see why.  We choose a tasting menu with paired wine. Every course is Chef Jason Saxby’s ode to Australia’s fresh produce, seafood and meat.  He goes the whole hog using flowers, leaves and fermentation techniques: witness their Yellowfin tuna crudo, prosciutto dashi jelly, onion, capers, mustard leaves.  We watch the sea just outside the hotel, eat and drink paired Australian wines.  Three hours pass.

A swim right after would have been judicious but we go to the Byron Bay lighthouse instead.  It is an amazing setting– at the tip of a cliff with water all around.  In a distance, whales make their annual migration to their breeding grounds.  It is an idyllic location in a rich and splendid area. 

A swim right after would have been judicious but we go to the Byron Bay lighthouse instead.  It is an amazing setting– at the tip of a cliff with water all around.  In a distance, whales make their annual migration to their breeding grounds.  It is an idyllic location and makes me wonder again why I have not heard of this place or visited it before.

This season, most Indians think of cricket when they think of Australia.  But my trip to the Tweed Coast showed me a quieter side of this vast continent– sparkling seas, boutique restaurants, excellent produce, and a friendly people that made distant America pale by comparison. 

Most striking of all were the Aboriginal influences obvious everywhere I visited, bringing up a shared and connected past when all of us inhabited what was then Gondwanaland.

I wonder again why I have not heard of this place or visited it before.

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