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The Ultimate Road Trip

I’ve always enjoyed road trips and weekends away. Nothing fancy, nothing planned, just a packed bag, pillows, a great playlist, and the road.

I moved to Queensland four years ago, from the Central West of NSW. The summers were hot and the winters were freezing, but worst of all, I was too far from the coast. Growing up in Sydney I spent every weekend in summer at the beach. We holidayed at either Forster or Vincentia, and it was blissful weeks of swimming, sunburn, and the occasional heat stroke— the eighties weren’t known for slip, slop, slap. When I left home I moved to Byron Bay and just about lived in the water. I have tried to stay as close to the coast as possible my whole life, so the seven years I spent in the Central West were very difficult.

There was a lot to love about the Central West— beautiful countryside, four distinct seasons, a laid back lifestyle and country hospitality, but no beach. A trip to the beach had to be planned, and involved hours of driving. I loved road trips to other towns for lunch or a few nights away, but as the years went by with only a handful of trips to the beach, I felt myself declining. I had enjoyed my time working as a writer for a tourism magazine, and later as the writer and editor for a small newspaper, but I needed the ocean. I look back at this part of my life with some sadness— I felt lost and very alone, and I knew that I had to make some drastic changes.

I packed my car with as much as I could fit in, quit my job, and started the long drive up to Queensland. I had no job to go to, but I had savings and would be staying with a friend until I could find a place to live. I had applied for a few jobs prior to leaving, and surprisingly, two of them called to offer me interviews as I was driving up. When I had left the Central West it was freezing. I was rugged up in a coat, jeans and boots, but I had a change of clothes ready. I drove for nine hours straight, stopping only long enough to buy coffee and use the restrooms. I was too scared to stop in case I changed my mind. I had planned to stop at Goondiwindi for the night; a small, pretty town on the Queensland side of the border. I knew I was getting closer when I had to pull over to let an emu cross the road in The Pilliga, and it was then I started to relax. I waved goodbye to the black dog who had been menacing me for the last six months, I turned the music up, took off my coat, and unwound the windows. Warm air filled my car and I finally felt alive. I had forgotten what it felt like to actually be doing something I wanted— travelling, having adventures, exploring new places. Everything was unknown, and if I knew then what I know now, I wonder if I’d have made the same decision. I’m really not sure.

I pulled into a hotel in Goondwindi and was happy they had a small, air-conditioned room available for the night. I removed my winter clothing, slipped into a cool dress, and went for a walk through town. I was exhausted from the driving, but incredibly happy, and I smiled as I ate Chinese takeaway in my room. Goondiwindi is one of my most favourite little towns. It’s so picturesque, with quaint stores, friendly locals, and surrounded by a breathtaking Australian landscape. The main street is very pretty, and rising early the next morning, I ran through the empty streets, towards the Macintyre River. Lined with gum trees the Macintyre Riverwalk is three kilometres of a walking track, or in my case, a running track, along the river. I enjoyed the humidity as I had felt like I had been cold for so long in the Central West. After a shower and a light breakfast in a cafe, I packed my car again and headed towards Brisbane. I only had four more hours to drive, and I’d finally reach my destination; I was so excited! 

It’s been four years, almost to the day since I arrived in Brisbane. Yes, I achieved what I wanted— I rented a small apartment by the water and every morning I would take a run along the beach running track, before work. I swam most days, soaked up the sun, and ate great food in little cafes by the beach. I’ve made great friends and had incredible experiences as I’ve explored Queensland and other countries. I still love road trips, and despite some very trying moments I’ve had since I moved away, it will still go down as one of the most important road trips I’ve ever taken.

Some of the Australian countryside I zoomed past
Macintyre River

Beautiful morning sky in the Central West of NSW
Miles and miles of bright yellow canola fields outside of Cowra NSW
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Home Away From Home

I had read the classical Australian novel, All The Rivers Run, by Nancy Cato, several times as a young teen. Whilst it was a wonderful, historical love story, it was the vivid descriptions of life on the Murray that captivated my imagination. For years I had wanted to visit Echuca, but I imagined it to be a run down old town and never bothered. Years later I finally had the chance to visit, so I took it. 

I drove from the Central West in NSW down to the NSW/Victoria border to visit the historical town of Echuca. Echuca is on the Murray River, and for many years paddlesteamers cruised the mighty Murray delivering food and supplies. It’s become a great tourist stop, with fancy stores, restaurants, galleries, and paddle steamer cruises on offer. The town is incredibly pretty— a lot of detail has gone into its upkeep, and the river itself has parks and beautiful grounds to attract tourists. 

Unfortunately, the weekend I was due to visit Echuca was also a long weekend. As a result, all of the hotels were fully booked. That forced me to choose a town on the NSW side of the border, and I stumbled across a pretty looking B&B. Hmmm … but I like my privacy, so what should I do? There was no choice, nothing else nice was available so I booked a room at Langford House B&B in Tocumwal, about 120 km from Echuca. 

Langford House is stunning. So much care has gone into the property and the hosts were generous and welcoming. The room I booked was enormous, with a private bathroom and a fireplace. Upon arrival I was ushered out to the courtyard where refreshments were served by the pool. With a glass of wine in hand and the long drive behind me, I found it really enjoyable to sit and chat with the other guests. What I imagined would be awkward was actually really pleasant. A middle-aged couple visiting from Europe were lovely to talk to, and we all had a great laugh. 

I walked to the local pub for dinner at the recommendation of my hosts, and then curled up on the lounge with a book until I was too tired to read anymore. I was surprised that I had the lounge room to myself, and found that I missed the company of the other guests. That was very unexpected! 

The next morning after a run through town, then showering and changing, I made my way into the kitchen. I thought I’d be preparing my own breakfast but instead, I was greeted by my hosts who made me coffee and had me sit comfortably in the kitchen whilst they cooked me breakfast. We all chatted while the gourmet breakfast comprised of local produce was being cooked, and I loved how much a part of the household they made me feel. 

Echuca was also surprising in the fact that it was so beautifully maintained, and not run down like I’d been expecting. I walked along the river, bought little trinkets in the stores, visited a gallery, and had a delicious lunch in a cafe. I didn’t take a ride on a paddlesteamer, but I did catch the markets near the river and I gleefully watched as the paddlesteamers tried to recreate their old travels to delighted tourists. After a full day I headed home, relaxed and happy. 

Since that visit to Langford House B&B back in 2016, I’ve become quite the fan of Bed and Breakfasts. I’ve visited quite a few since that time, and I’ve found that there is no awkwardness in staying in someone else’s home, and instead, I open myself to meeting amazing people from all over the world. I am definitely an introvert, but there’s something special about meeting new people over breakfast or afternoon tea in a B&B. B&B’s are generally much more affordable than a hotel, you get to learn more about the area through people who actually live there, and you have home comforts you just wouldn’t get at a hotel. Added to that, every B&B I’ve stayed in goes to great lengths to provide really good, local foods, and the bedrooms are painstakingly maintained and furnished. My stay in Langford House enhanced my visit to Echuca as the owners gave me so much local information. I knew where to go, what to avoid, and how to find hidden gems. 

If you’ve never stayed in a Bed and Breakfast, can I encourage you to give it a go? Pick a historic style house in a quaint town, and have a truly local experience. Not only will you be treated like royalty, but you might just make friends for life! 

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Simple Pleasures

Do you ever just stop in a moment, and realise that you feel utterly joyful? You know, that feeling of your heart being so full, it could overflow? I do, and it happens at the most unusual times. 

I love catching the ferry on the Brisbane River. I stand at the front, waiting until I catch my first glimpse of the city, and I feel as though I could burst with joy. I feel the same way when I’m at Eagle Street Pier at night, gazing awestruck, at the brightly lit up Story Bridge. It happens when I’m in the Art Gallery in Brisbane City, or floating on my back in the ocean— that incredible sense of fullness and contentment, and I love it. Simple pleasures. 

When we look back on our travel adventures it’s impossible to remember every detail, but I remember slices. In Hong Kong it was eating Mrs Fields choc-chip cookies while waiting for the ferry at Victoria Harbour. In Singapore it was eating the most incredible stir fry at Newton Circus. In Tahiti it was swimming in waters as blue as the sky. In Alaska it was drinking hot cocoa in the lobby of the Copper River Wilderness Lodge during Christmas in August, and the reindeer hot-dog at the food truck in Anchorage. In Malaysia it was a great pair of Italian leather shoes in China Town. In Egypt it was a picture hanging over a fireplace, and in Canada, it was two little kids laughing at my Australian accent. There are many, many more of these travel moments. Too many to record here in fact, but each memory holds powerful emotions. 

Travelling leaves each of us with more than just tacky souvenirs and a thousand photos. It provides us with wonderful memories that can ignite strong emotions and recollections that break through the mundane everyday. A dreary day at work can be picked up by the sweet memory of swimming under a waterfall in Byron Bay, or the bright pink flowers on Sentosa Island. So whether it’s a ferry ride into the city, or a bad coffee in an American diner, get out of the house and travel. Your well-being depends on it. 

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Spaghetti in Hong Kong

I had previously travelled to Hong Kong for a few short days, but as I wanted to explore a bit more, I decided to book for two weeks. I stayed at an average priced hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui and arrived at night. After a long, refreshing sleep, I decided to spend my first day exploring. I headed off with a backpack and map, and the moment I hit the street I reeled from the noise and the sheer volume of people. They were everywhere. Cars honking, people pushing past, and so many new sights and sounds I felt momentarily disoriented. 

I crossed the road, which was a terrifying experience in itself, to visit the 7-Eleven store. I needed coffee and supplies, and headed to Nathan Road to do some shopping. I bought all sorts of bits and pieces, including souvenirs, shoes and clothes, and just enjoyed looking around. After hours of walking around carrying bags of goodies, I was pretty hungry. Hong Kong has so much great food, and I was looking forward to having a few Chinese banquets, and trying some of the little eateries and street food— egg waffles, curry fish balls, and the decadent egg tarts of course. But as I headed back towards my hotel, looking for food, what did I stumble across? None other than The Spaghetti House. Needless to say, I love spaghetti, so I was in. 

It probably seems stupid to make a beeline for a pasta restaurant when Hong Kong has so many great places to eat, but I wanted spaghetti, and I was going to have spaghetti! The menu was large, and although I initially planned to have spaghetti bolognaise, I changed my mind when I saw a bowl of spaghetti topped with a chicken schnitzel, Napoli sauce and cheese. Pretty much a spaghetti parmigiana (or spag parmy if you’re Australian). 

That meal started a life long love affair with spaghetti parmigiana, which I have since managed to recreate at home. The pasta was cooked perfectly and the chicken schnitzel topped with the Napoli and cheese was juicy and delicious. I actually couldn’t believe how good the combination was. I wanted to run through the streets waving banners and pom-poms, but instead, I went back at least five times. I still managed to try some fab street food and Chinese banquets, but I must admit, I was so hooked on the spaghetti parmi that even whilst eating other food, my heart was at The Spaghetti House.

Hong Kong lights at night
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Dreaming Of Alaska

I flew into Anchorage at the end of summer; mid-August, with a suitcase of summer clothes. Hailing from sunny Queensland, I couldn’t imagine needing a jacket. Yes, naive, but too late once I’d arrived.

It was instantly apparent I’d freeze, and as I headed toward Eagle River where I’d be staying in a cozy house on Fire Lake, the auburn leaves confirmed that fall was settling in. My friend, and guide, who has lived in Alaska for over thirty years, was resplendent in singlet top and cropped pants. I shivered just looking at her, wrapping my scarf tighter around my neck, begging for a jacket.

I’ve been watching the Hallmark Channel for years, with a secret love for American feel-good movies. You know the type; all-American families spending summer at the lake, bonding over shared traumas and joys. I found myself in a Hallmark movie.

Early each morning I woke to the sound of a small sea-plane starting its motor and bouncing the way along the surface of the water. I’m told it’s not easy for the planes to take off on Fire Lake. The water is so smooth and clear it’s like a mirror, making the lift off difficult. I could see every shade of green and amber from the trees reflected in the waters, the colours so bright it’s hard to tell where the shore ends and the water begins. Late afternoon the fog sets in, wrapping the mountains above in a misty veil. It’s overcast a lot at this time of year, and it rains on and off most days.

My hosts shared the best local Alaska had to offer, so naturally, freshly caught halibut and salmon were on the menu. I hadn’t tried halibut before, but was warned it’s a must in Alaska. The fish was topped with mayonnaise, garlic and lemon pepper, wrapped in foil and cooked on the barbeque. It was delicious; subtle and mild, taking on the flavour of its marinade. It reminded me of chicken, but doesn’t everything we haven’t tried before?

I wanted to do what the locals do, so I shopped at Walmart and Fred Meyer, ogling at the range of firearms on display, and the sheer variety of groceries. I couldn’t help but fill my trolley each and every time I went to a store, buying into the materialism that we all like to pretend we are immune to. There were so many different flavours in Oreos, Pop Tarts and breakfast cereals (which look more like confectionary than breakfast), and I spent hours in each store. Rainy afternoons were spent in a cosy coffee shop, drinking a flat white and chatting with friends in front of a fire.

We did all of the touristy things you’d expect— road trips to Valdez, the Alaska Zoo, visiting the bears at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre at Girdwood, weed shops and cozy lunches in Talkeetna, shooting practice at the side-of-the-road gun range, and a night at the Princess Lodge in Copper River. Each day grew colder, but we filled every moment with more memories, and I delighted in watching the trees change colour day by day. In Australia the changing seasons are so much more gradual, so I was astonished by how quickly summer moved into fall.

The timing of the trip to Alaska was perfect, as the Alaska State Fair was on. We spent a day eating loads of local foods, checking out all the stalls and exhibits, and we even managed to catch the pig racing event. I was constantly overwhelmed by the size and beauty of the snow-capped mountains everywhere we went. One minute I was sipping on a cool juice and eating curly fries, and then I’d catch a glimpse of the majestic mountain backdrop and be reminded of where I was. I probably looked like a crazy tourist taking photos of gas stations and apartment complexes, but I was actually snapping pictures of the incredible mountains in the background. Coming from sunny Queensland, I could not get enough of the snow capped mountains and glaciers everywhere we went. Queensland is beautiful, and one of my most favourite places on earth, but the starkness of Alaska is really special. There is an eeriness to it— I felt unnerved, but nature has a way of doing that to me. Even the plane trip from Vancouver to Anchorage is incredible as we flew over the Canadian Rockies, and I gasped as I looked down on the glaciers set high in the mountains. A beauty so startlingly different from the tropical coastlines and reefs of Queensland.

There was just so much to love about Alaska, and I think that staying with locals, and seeing the world through their eyes enhanced it. They know the best places to eat, drink, and visit. The vacation went far too quickly, and before I knew it I was on my way back to Australia. Alaska is a place I regularly dream of, and if I thought I could manage the cold, I’d move there. However, I now have the added bonus of my daughter living there as she married an Alaskan. I keep planning my trip back, making lists of all the wonderful places I didn’t get to see, and all the places I want to revisit. Now to wait until the borders reopen …

A frosty lunch in Talkeetna

Stunning glaciers flying over the Canadian Rockies

Those snow capped mountains!
A fall snapshot at Eagle River
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Uncle Bobo’s— Hawaiian BBQ

I’ve always tried to make it a habit when I travel, to eat where the locals eat. Whether it’s food stalls, markets, or hole in the wall eateries, I’m there. However, I am not a fan of food poisoning, so I always check reviews and ask for recommendations, and make a list of where I want to go. Travel Vlogs are also a great place to get local recommendations.

I stayed in an AirBnB house in Ka’a’awa in Hawaii, and as there were not a lot of places around to eat, we took most of our own food. A five minute walk from the house took us to a petrol station, post-office, and a little cafe called Uncle Bobo’s. Very unassuming looking, but the menu looked promising, and very reasonably priced.

Uncle Bobo’s specialises in BBQ, and they make all of their own sauces. I was really hungry, so I ordered a basket of hand cut fries and a huge salad with juicy chicken pieces and their special BBQ sauce. The meal was utterly delicious— the chips are actually made in house, and the salad was just so fresh. There were five of us eating that day, and considering everything is made to order, the wait time was not at all unreasonable. We sat outside at a table in the shade, chatting and admiring the ocean view just across the road. Huge palm trees and the salty air added to the experience. 

There’s nothing really fancy about Uncle Bobo’s, and that’s part of the reason I liked it so much. A few of us returned a few times over the next week, and the meals were just as good each time. There is an authenticity to the little diner that I appreciated. A husband and wife working together, doing something they love, and providing consistently great food at a reasonable price. I had a lot of really great food experiences in Hawaii, but Uncle Bobo’s has stuck with me. In fact, every time I think about my last trip to Hawaii I think of Uncle Bobo’s. The simplicity of great local food, incredible views, and those vacation vibes— what’s not memorable about that?

BBQ Chicken Salad at Uncle Bobo’s
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Loving Local

I had planned to spend the month of September in Alaska, but COVID happened, the Australian borders closed, and that took international travel off the table. So what’s a frustrated traveller with a bad dose of travel fever to do? Travel locally. 

So where to go? It had to be in Queensland as even though I could leave the state, coming back in would mean a mandatory fourteen day quarantine at my expense, and I didn’t have the time, nor the will for that. Next, I knew I wanted to drive as I like my own pillows, and I had to lug my laptop, a pile of books and my essential oil collection (necessary for my relaxation), but I didn’t want to spend days driving and reduce my relaxation time. I didn’t want to stay in a resort and all that entails, or skimp and stay in gloomy but budget accommodation, so Airbnb seemed my best option. Once I had worked out how far I wanted to drive and what kind of destination I wanted, I did a search on available Airbnb accommodation, and it was easy from there— I wanted water views, fresh air, a family-sized apartment with a good kitchen so I’d have plenty of room to cook and spread out, and something a little luxurious and pretty.  Within minutes I’d found the perfect destination and accommodation— Hervey Bay. 

I packed my car and headed up north in torrential rain— not a great start for someone who’s not a confident driver, but I was on vacay so I didn’t have to rush. The drive up to Hervey Bay took over four hours as the rain was so bad I had to keep pulling over, but I arrived safely. I located my accommodation, but before checking in I had to eat and have a coffee! I was reluctant to stop for long on the drive up as the weather was awful, so by the time I arrived in Hervey Bay I was famished. A gorgeous little cafe opposite the beach in Urangan made me the best coconut prawn salad I’ve ever had, and the coffee was so good I had two. I went for a short walk on the beach to stretch my legs, and just to connect with the earth for a while.

My accommodation did not disappoint! I’d splurged on a gorgeous two-bedroom apartment with water views from every room (even the bathroom). It was the perfect place to sit and write, or just relax, with so many little luxuries for me to enjoy, including a long balcony overlooking the water. It was a lot fancier than home, so I relished it, despite the rain! I actually found the rain enhanced my break. It meant I had to plan my outings carefully, but sitting in an apartment overlooking the water, snuggly inside (it was the end of winter), was incredibly relaxing. It was too cool to be sitting on the beach anyway, so I sipped coffee, wrote, and unwound from the busyness of everyday life.

Some people don’t enjoy doing things alone, but I’m not one of them. I am happy to travel alone, dine alone, do all the touristy things alone, and just explore! Each morning was started with coffee and a long walk, then back to the apartment for breakfast, some writing, and then an outing. I shopped, walked through the Botanic Gardens, took tonnes of photos, checked out different beaches, went for scenic drives, and ate great food at local restaurants. I cooked a few meals in my apartment so I didn’t have to go out every night, and even that is fun when you’re on holidays. I took long walks along the beach, stayed up late and slept in every morning. It was blissful— the best I’d felt in a long time. 

The day before I was due to leave I realised I just wasn’t ready to go, so I managed to book a couple of extra nights. It was more than just the relaxation, it was the realisation that once the borders reopened I would be immigrating to America, and this was possibly my last little trip before I go. There are many other places in Australia I haven’t visited, but the call of other cultures is very strong; I simply can’t wait to go. But while I’m here I want to experience everything I can, and make the most of this beautiful country.

Urangan Pier QLD
Coconut Prawn Salad— delicious!
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A fork of bliss

There’s nothing extraordinary about being someone who loves to eat— most of us do. I love food, but I can’t eat unless I’m hungry. I flew from Honolulu to LAX late in the afternoon, and American Airlines didn’t provide a meal. By the time the plane pulled in at LAX, I had an hour before my connecting flight, and I was starved. I’d never been to LAX and it was almost midnight when I arrived. I ran through the empty maze of tunnels from one terminal to the next, growing hungrier by the minute, but nervous about finding the right gate. With a little help I finally arrived at the gate, and had forty-five minutes till I could board. Perfect! Just enough time to source some food, or so I thought. So close to midnight, many food places had closed, but there was a bistro style cafeteria brightly lit up and smelling great. I selected a dry looking beef casserole with brownish coloured mashed potatoes, as most of the hot food had been sold, and I didn’t fancy a gutful of curry right before a six-hour flight. I sat down with my food and a bottle of water, warily eyeing off the people around me. I was nervous. Small time Aussie girl in Los Angeles airport alone, at midnight, and I was feeling a bit anxious. I couldn’t tell if those around me were male or female. Everything was different; clothes, style, accents, body language. I was exhausted and emotional. 

With the first mouthful of my dinner, everything changed. That was no dried out beef casserole and dodgy mash; that was bliss on a fork. The casserole was rich and meaty, and the potatoes were thick and buttery. I groaned at how delicious the combination was. I wanted to call out to someone, “You must try this casserole!”, but it wasn’t the right crowd. No one at LAX cared about how much the white, middle-aged, average woman was enjoying her dinner. Once I polished that off and boarded my flight, I remembered that I was in America, and food in America is good. 

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Cowboys and Hash Browns

The first time I saw a real life American cowboy was in Waffle House, Charlotte, North Carolina. Jim picked me up from the airport after a gruelling night of flying, and I’m pretty sure my first word was, coffee.

He drove his pick-up truck into the car park, led me inside my first Waffle House, and we slid into a booth. Ah … so this is what American diners are like, I thought. The menu was plastic coated and extensive, and although Jim was ravenous, I couldn’t bear the thought of food. The cheery waitress with bright red lipstick and big hair greeted us, and poured me a large mug of steaming hot coffee. It smelt delicious, but the first mouthful made me gag. It was horrid— bitter and strong. I was having a whine about it to Jim who sipped his coffee happily, when in walked a cowboy. He must have been about 70. He was wearing blue jeans, a checked flannel shirt, a vest, boots, and a large cowboy hat. He had a thick grey mustache, and as he confidently greeted the girls by name, and sat in what was obviously his regular spot, I couldn’t help but stare. In fact I did more than stare; I was downright creepy and took a photo of him as I wanted to keep a record of my first official cowboy sighting.

My head was filled with wild stories about his cowboy life and whilst I still complained about the coffee, I had to admit that the caffeine was doing its job, and that was good enough. Jim ordered scrambled eggs, toast and hash potatoes, and encouraged me to eat something. Oh no, I can’t—it’s way too early for me. As usual, my preconceived idea about how Jim’s breakfast would be, was wrong. I pictured hash browns McDonalds in Australia style, and I am not a fan. Greasy pockets of gross. Jim’s breakfast arrived and it was a breakfast of champions. He politely asked if I wanted to share. Just a taste I said, but those hash potatoes were something else! They were shredded potatoes made into a pancake style shape, and fried till crispy on the outside, and they were soft and creamy on the inside. The eggs were light and fluffy, and I marvelled. As I ate Jim’s breakfast, (isn’t that what girls do?), while he watched on hungrily, I kept my eye on the old cowboy. He sat comfortably eating his breakfast, stopping occasionally to chat to the girls as they refilled his coffee. It felt a little like I was in a movie scene. 

It was an unusual experience. I was sitting across from my love, sharing breakfast, and despite his American accent which I barely even notice anymore, it all felt as though we could have been in a fast food cafe in Australia. But every time I looked up at the cowboy sitting at the counter, and took another mouthful of the delicious hash potatoes, I was reminded that I was in North Carolina, and it was amazing!

Continue reading “Cowboys and Hash Browns”
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In A While Crocodile

I flew up to Cairns, Far Northern Queensland, in winter, and was accosted by the heat to such an extent that I had to shed off layers of clothing at the closest public bathrooms— it was overwhelming. When I had left rural NSW, it was 3 degrees celsius with a windchill that felt like minus ten. In Cairns it felt like I was in a kiln.

The rich and famous spend their days at Port Douglas, about fifty minutes north of the airport. I on the other hand, am neither rich, nor famous, so I hired a tiny little three cylinder car that threatened to black out everytime the air conditioning went on, and I stayed at Palm Cove. Palm Cove is beautiful, and it’s also pricey, but I think it has more character than Port Douglas, without the price tag. My accommodation was budgetish, so a few streets away from the beachfront, and only a short walk in the stifling humidity. I was not there to swim; there are crocodiles and stingers in the water in Far Northern Queensland, and while the winter keeps the stingers at bay, it does nothing to deter the crocs. The beach at Palm Cove has a small area netted off for swimming which is designed to keep the crocs out, but last time I checked, crocodiles have legs and are more than capable of walking along the beach (which they do at night), and entering the netted area. In fact it’s the perfect way for them to be guaranteed a quick and easy meal— wait until the tourists trustingly enter the netted area and wham! Breakfast, lunch and dinner all in one. As is my way, I became fascinated with the crocs.

The reason for my trip was to see the Daintree Rainforest— the oldest subtropical rainforest in the world, reputed to be older than the Amazon. Despite the heat and the small motor, that tiny little car faithfully puttered along for many hundreds of kilometres. From Cairns, it is almost a 300 kilometre round trip through the Daintree, to Cape Tribulation. Cape Tribulation is within the Daintree National Park, and is where the sealed road ends, with further travel requiring a 4WD. I left early in the morning and made my way up through some of the most incredible coastline I have ever seen. White sandy beaches, mesmerising blue waters, all empty of course, because crocs and stingers. I should explain stingers to you, just in case you’re not Australian and are not familiar with them. The correct name for them is Irukandji Jellyfish, and they are one of the deadliest creatures in the world. You can survive a sting if you are treated correctly and quickly, but they are usually fatal. It is reported that after being stung the symptoms can include cramping, nausea and a feeling of impending doom. Um, probably because there is impending doom is my guess? You are advised to NOT enter the water from November through to March without a stinger suit, but my advice is better, just stay out of the water full stop! Crocs AND stingers? How about, NO!

As I drove up the coast I would occasionally pull over to some of the empty beaches, and there were always signs warning you to stay out of the water. Even small waterways and canals have the warning— if there’s water, there may be crocs. As is human nature, people don’t always listen and they have been killed by the crocs. I must admit, it’s such a temptation. It is so stifling hot, and the water so blue and beautiful; what could it hurt to take just a quick dip? I didn’t want to find out so I stayed on shore.

There was so much to see and do on the way up the coast. Hartley’s Crocodile Farm was so wonderful I also went back the following day, and then a quick stop at the Mossman Gorge. My plan was to drive up to Cape Tribulation, through the Daintree Rainforest, and then return to Palm Cove for the night. It was a huge undertaking, but achievable.

Once you reach the Daintree River there is a ferry you drive your car onto, to cross to the other side and drive up to Cape Tribulation. While waiting for the ferry there are signs warning you to stay in your car because of the crocodiles, and I sat eagerly, hoping to catch a glimpse or two of killers. Nothing. 

Words cannot express the magnificence of the Daintree. It was like being in a different world. I drove through the canopy and it was gloomy and overcast, with ancient ferns and palms hanging over the road. I unwound my window so I could hear the sounds of the frogs and birds, most of them native to this part of the world. I felt so alone and vulnerable there; nothing around but pure rainforest wilderness, and the foliage was thick and green like a jungle. As I slowly turned a corner I was forced to break hard, an elusive, and rare creature slowly crossed the road in front of me— it was a cassowary! Cassowaries are incredibly beautiful, prehistoric looking birds that can be quite deadly when disturbed. They are the third tallest, second heaviest, and most dangerous birds in the world, and are rarely seen in the wild. I was mesmerised by the sight, but also desperately trying to find my camera. I managed to get a few photos of the blue-headed, long eye-lashed creature heading back to the bush, and incredibly, saw another smaller one not far from it. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

I made a number of stops along the way, and then finally reached Cape Tribulation, and despite all of the crocodile and cassowary warnings, I just had to take a walk along the beach. It was so utterly remote, it was unnerving. An older couple sat on beach chairs near the entrance to the beach, feeding the greedy bush turkeys, and once I turned the corner, stood on the sand and looked at the endless stretch of coastline in front of me, I felt such a pang of aloneness, it scared me. There I was, looking out to the Great Barrier Reef in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and so far from anywhere familiar. I took photos, walked for a while, watched out cautiously for crocodiles, and then quietly made my way back to the car. It was a haunting experience.

The humidity was in the eighties so when I saw a sign for The Daintree Icecream Company, I couldn’t get my car down the long driveway quickly enough. The driveway was tree-lined, but not any old trees— each one was a different, exotic, tropical fruit tree. Many I had never heard of. Soon enough I sat in the shade eating two tropical fruit flavoured scoops of icecream, and admiring the tea bushes. 

By the time I reached Port Douglas I was ravenous, so Mocka’s Pies was a sight for sore eyes. They had row upon row of pies to choose from, but for me it was a no-brainer— I had the crocodile pie! It seemed so fitting; they eat us and we eat them— the perfect life cycle! I know this sounds cliched, but it’s true— the delicious crocodile pie tasted like slightly fishy chicken in a light mornay style gravy. It was a real treat and the only way my day could have improved any more would have been if I could have bought a pair of crocodile skin shoes.  

I have done a lot of travelling in my life, but my trip through the Daintree is up there as one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. The sheer remoteness, the beauty, and the incredible landscapes have stayed alive in my memory. Whenever I even think about Far North Queensland I picture myself on the beach at Cape Tribulation, feeling so alone and so small, yet so incredibly joyful to have experienced such an incredible part of the world.

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Wanna taco bout it?

Back in the eighties tacos made a sudden appearance in my home. Not good tacos mind you, but tacos all the same. I hated them.

My mother was always keen to try something new, so she’d pull these hard, bland corn shells out of a box and stuff them with spaghetti mince, salad, grated cheese and sour cream. The problem was the taco shell. It was hard and flavourless, thick and cardboard tasting. It made me gag. So even though tacos kept evolving in Australia, becoming more and more authentic, I was scarred from my youth.

Taco Bill was the first Mexican restaurant to open in Australia in 1967, by a Californian named Bill Chillcote. The first was opened on the Gold Coast in Queensland before I was born, but even though they established many more restaurants, I had never heard of them as a child. I was too in love with the Sunday roast and spaghetti bolognaise. Eventually my palate developed a taste for nachos and enchiladas, but that took time. I could not lose the image of the cardboard shells I grew up with, so tacos were off the menu indefinitely.

In my thirties and forties I started eating tacos again. The shells had become lighter and tastier, and guacamole was a thing; a very good thing. I found a new appreciation for Mexican food and it eventually became one of my favourite style of foods, albeit Australian Mexican. Little did I know that a farewell dinner at El Camino Cantina Tex Mex was about to change my life.

El Camino Cantina had an all you can eat tacos special for $10, the catch being that you had to order a $20 frozen margarita, and everyone at the table had to have the same deal. No problem— the huge strawberry margarita was delicious and I ordered a plate of cheeseburger tacos. I wasn’t expecting much. What happened next was the stuff of movies— a huge platter of soft shell tacos filled with minced beef, a bit of salsa, and drizzled with a blue cheese sauce. I expected the shells to be chewy and tough, but they melted in my mouth. I ate about six of those things, possibly more. I ate too fast to count, and thus began my love of tacos.

In North Carolina Jim took me to his favourite Mexican restaurant; Chile Verde. The menu was enormous. I was keen to try the tacos but Jim kept pointing out a range of different things that are delicious so I decided to just order a variety and try them all. Can I tell you that Australian Mexican and American Mexican food are really different! Great different. Everything I tried was utterly delicious. The tacos came with beans and rice but my plan was to give that a miss as my experience with Mexican beans and rice is that they are dry and flavourless. Wrong again— utterly delicious. So much flavour and not slightly dry. The complementary basket of tortilla chips were hot and crisp and I ordered an extra serve of queso, sour cream, and salsa. The waiter looked confused and informed me that my meal came with queso and sour cream, but I always know best. Not. In Australia, when you order a condiment or dipping sauce, you’re lucky to get a tablespoon on the side. Normally you have to order two or three serves as you just don’t get enough. The queso came in a soup bowl as did the sour cream, and I poured it and dipped it liberally over everything. I was eating it with a spoon straight from the bowl and I still couldn’t finish it. The tacos were good, with hot, fluffy shells, and Jim’s Chile Verde had so much flavour it was amazing. I ate till I was stuffed, and I couldn’t finish it all. Despite everything I ordered (Jim ordered one thing and I ordered the rest) the meal was under $25 USD. I couldn’t believe it. The beans and rice were undoubtedly the best I’ve had, and I can’t wait to go back there and just get those— well, with a serve of tortilla chips, queso and sour cream of course!

I had made the mistake of assuming that food is the same all around the world. As though the Chinese food here is the same in China, or Europe, or Africa. It’s simply not true.These foods are adapted to suit the local palate, so each country will have their own variation. I now am obsessed with American Mexican food. It is entirely different from what I’m used to and I can understand why Taco Tuesdays are a thing. In fact Taco Everyday should be a thing.

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Choosing Cheese Tarts

When I flew down to Sydney for a long weekend about four years ago, I discovered a little Japanese cheese tart shop in an arcade in George Street. I’d never tried one before but as I love eggy, sweet, custardy cheese tarts, I bought one. It was luscious. Unfortunately I was on my way to the airport and had a mountain of bags and parcels from all the shopping I’d done, so I didn’t have the opportunity to buy more. 

Fast forward four years and I’m still talking about the cheese tart. I love that it was subtle and mildly sweet, and so decadent. When it comes to desserts, if it’s not melted chocolate, it has to be a sweet cheese tart or cheesecake. Actually I’m lying. It just has to contain sugar and I love it. I had gone back to Sydney a couple of months ago but I couldn’t find the arcade again, and I was only there for a day. 

Last week I was in Brisbane city doing some shopping in Queen Street, and on the way out of an arcade I was confronted with a cheese tart store. I stopped dead in my tracks. I had to check that I hadn’t time travelled back to Sydney as this cheese tart store was new. My loving daughter was delighted as she’s put up with my moaning about the cheese tarts for four long years. She grabbed all of the shopping bags from me and physically pushed me into the store. “Buy a whole box of them”, she insisted. I bought two tarts. They were still warm. 

The first bite was a reliving of the Sydney experience. Blissful. It’s funny that food memories can be so powerful. I saved the second one for the next day, and even cold, it was delicious. The downside is that I was so excited I cannot remember which arcade it was in. I’m now going to have to hop on the river cat and get back to Queen Street soon, and pop into every arcade until I find it. It’s worth it!

If you want to enjoy this experience but don’t have a Cheese Tart store near you, here’s a copy cat recipe for you to try at home.

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Savage Singapore

I decided to go to Singapore on a whim. A friend had just booked a trip to Singapore with her husband, and couldn’t stop raving about the amazing deal they’d scored. She was right— it was a bargain, so I hopped online and booked a two-week vacation in Singapore, knowing very little about the country.

It was September when I arrived, and it was stifling hot, even at night. It was late, so a shuttle bus took me straight to my hotel, and I went straight to sleep. I’d booked a bus tour for the first half of the day, as I like to see as much as I can of the local area, and learn about the best places to go. We had a fun tour-guide, a small Singaporean man who not only showed us around China Town, Little India and some great hawker stands, but he warned us of some more unusual laws we would need to be careful of. Some of these are pretty awesome in my opinion!

One:

Chewing gum is illegal and it carries heavy fines and the possibility of a jail sentence. Not only can you not chew gum, but you cannot buy it or sell it. Even if you do manage to get some on the black market, do not even think about spitting it out— that is considered even more serious than chewing it. However, nicotine gum and sugar-free gum can be purchased from pharmacies, but be very careful about where you dispose of it!

Two:

Leaving a public toilet unflushed carries a fine of $150. Officials will randomly check that toilets are flushed and if you’re caught out, you will be fined. I for one hate being faced with someone’s dinner in the bottom of the bowl, because they were too lazy to flush. Seriously— how hard is it to press the button on top to remove your waste? The fine should be heavier in my opinion. 

Three:

It’s illegal to urinate in an elevator, which to me, is 101. Why would you need to urinate in an elevator? Unless of course you’re stuck in one for a couple of hours, but that’s not the point of this law. Many lifts in Singapore are fitted with devices to detect urine, and once urine is detected, an alarm goes off and the elevator doors will remain closed until police arrive. That’s serious stuff.

Four:

It is considered indecency to be seen by another person, walking around your house naked. If reported and prosecuted, you can fail jail time and a fine of $2,000 as you are considered a public nuisance. You can forget about no-pants Fridays in Singapore.

Five:

Littering is a serious offence which can attract fines of $300 for a first offence of a candy wrapper or the like, but throwing a drink can or bottle will have you in very hot water. Singapore is one of the cleanest countries on earth, and in order to keep it this way, they take littering very seriously. People caught throwing a drink can are considered defiant and have to appear in court. Punishment normally involves a Corrective Work Order in which offenders have to wear a fluoro green vest and clean up trash. Public shaming works wonders!

Six:

Penalties for vandalism, including spray painting, and affixing placards or banners without owner’s consent, both for public and private property come in the form of fines, jail and public flogging with a cane. This includes damaging and stealing property as well. 

Caning is widely accepted as a form of discipline in Singapore and canes are sold in grocery stores for 50c. Discipline is important in Singapore, as is corporate punishment, so if that’s something you disagree with, then stay away. These laws don’t just apply to the locals, they apply to visitors and tourists as well. Singapore is a beautiful, clean, and safe country to visit. I went out every evening on foot, dining at hawker stands, like Newtown Circus, and wandered around the night markets. The people were friendly and helpful, and couldn’t do enough to make my visit special.

Even though these Singaporean laws sound amusing and in some cases, harsh, they are not difficult to obey, unless urinating in elevators is a hobby of yours. Every country has some laws that seem unusual and unnecessary to visitors, but it’s another one of the joys of travelling. The important thing to remember here is to do your homework before you visit another country (unlike me who went in totally clueless), and be prepared.