On my first evening, high in the folds of the Tweed Volcano, two enormous wedge-tailed eagles hunt for food metres above where I eat outside, bathed in the last colours of sunset. An omen, surely, for a long weekend of my own hunting and gathering in NSW's forgotten far north-eastern corner. But given that Hollywood star Zac Efron shunned Byron Bay for 129 hectares of the Tweed Shire (at $2 million) in December, who knows how long this secret will last?
For now, at least, you can still travel throughout the Tweed Coast without the crowds south in Byron Bay, or north on the Gold Coast. And the best way to experience what the region offers is to spend a long weekend with the Tweed's best food producers, farmers and chefs on a recently conceived food event. The Tweed Artisan Food Weekend is held in the Tweed's hinterland, on its rivers and right by the Pacific (there are 37 kilometres of coast, with barely anyone on the beaches).
One of Australia's most celebrated chefs, Christine Manfield, liked the area's food offerings so much, she moved there. You can meet Manfield, who's an ambassador for the event, on a tour and at the opening parties.
"The coast and hinterland … has such abundance and biodiversity, it's a hidden gem," she says. "Having such brilliant regenerative farmers, artisan producers and forward-thinking chefs on our back doorstep cemented our commitment to the region."
Celebrity chef Steven Snow, whose restaurant, Fins, is one of Australia's most-awarded regional restaurants, also moved here, in his case from Byron.
Snow is designing a multi-course menu for Snowy's Seafood BBQ White Party, the event finale. It'll be served on a long table at Plantation House, high on a ridge overlooking the Tweed's tallest mountains.
There are dining options spread across both the region and the weekend. For dinner, try pasture-fed pork cooked over a fire at Mavis's Kitchen, situated in a stately 100-year-old Queenslander. From your seat, take in the view of Mt Warning-Wollumbin, this hemisphere's largest shield volcano, set within a World Heritage-listed national park (one of three in the Tweed).
There are vastly underrated restaurants tucked away throughout the region. Take Potager, set in the green hills behind Tweed Heads, which looks over the world-famous beaches of the southern Gold Coast, but feels a thousand kilometres away.
Here, chickens with names like Oprah and Stedman wander through the vegie gardens of a country cottage barely visible from the road, its front wall covered in succulents. This year, you will be able to eat a locally sourced lunch while chatting to the producers of the ingredients in your meal.
The weekend also offers sightseeing and appreciation of the region's Indigenous culture. Last time, I set out on the Tweed River for a Dreaming Culture Cruise (this year, it's the Minjungbal Cultural Experience on Water) in which local Indigenous chefs prepared a dinner of cured kangaroo with pepperberry and lemon myrtle as we rode the river's hairpin bends.
Surrounded by the mountains of the hinterland, the caldera of this ancient volcano, Gary Kafoa explained how his ancestors had lived off these waters for thousands of years. The only other noise came from black cockatoos and kookaburras as we cruised against the backdrop of the setting sun.
Zac Efron probably has a similar view from his property. But for now, at least, you don't have to be famous to enjoy the treats of the Tweed. Just get in quick, before the Hemsworths arrive.
The Tweed Artisan Food Weekend is on from March 11-14, 2021.