Heading West

We have made it to Darwin! Yes I realise I am a long way behind in my blog posts but aside from being really busy doing stuff, I haven’t had phone coverage for internet or power to charge my laptop.  But I will catch you up on the highlights in more detail in posts to come soon.

We’ve been on the road for 100 days now.  42 of them since we left Atherton and headed West along the Savannah Way then North up the Stuart Highway.  Far from being monotonous, the landscape of the Savannah Gulf of far North Queensland and the outback of the Top End is ever changing.  From sun bleached grasslands, scrubby bush, red stone cliffs, flat barren plains to tropical National Parks there is always something interesting to watch out the window as we tick over the k’s.

   

We have camped beside rivers, creeks and billabongs; in dry and dusty bush; in National Parks and surrounded by cattle, buffalo, horses, chickens and the odd cranky donkey in many outback stations, but always under a night sky filled with more stars than I ever thought possible.

     

We have swum in creeks and swimming holes as clear as they are cold; soaked off the dirt and dust in toasty warm thermal springs; learned that as long as you leave them alone it’s fine to swim with the “freshies”; paddled a canoe up gorges; hiked to waterfalls; fossicked for gemstones; watched the sun set over the Gulf of Carpentaria; marvelled at natural geological wonders and been amazed by the raw and sometimes harsh natural beauty of the Aussie Outback.

      

We have eaten, drunk, listened to live music and partied in some iconic Aussie pubs.  Not the least of which was the Daly Waters pub. A quirky one of a kind place where every square inch of the walls, ceiling and bar are covered with business cards, hats, shirts, shoes, bras and all manner of paraphernalia people have felt the need to leave behind.  Here we ate beef and barra off the barbie, drank bad house wine and had a loud and boisterous night with two other amazing families on the road with their kids.

We have met many friendly, warm, adventurous, down to earth, wonderful people.  Serveral of whom we became good friends with in spite of the transient nature of relationships on the road.  We have spent many hours chatting and swapping stories with other travellers over camp happy hour and around the campfire.  We met one family in particular at Banka Banka station between the Barkley Roadhouse and Daly Waters, who we clicked with immediately.  We happened to be heading in the same direction so were able to spend 5 fun filled days with them exploring the path North.  Bubba hit it off immediately with their oldest son and they quickly became best buds.  We hardly saw him for those days, disappearing out the van after breakfast, reappearing only for the odd meal.  Poor Jazzy desperately wanted to be one of the big boys and trailed after them.  The boys were great though, often including him in their games.  We have plans to meet up again and I’m sure we will remain friends for many years to come.

We have all had our tired and cranky days but the boys have changed and grown so much since leaving. It has been a joy to watch them flourish in this bush setting.

This is why we packed up and hit the road.

To celebrate reaching Darwin I thought we should have cake.  Well, muffins at least.  These little babies are easy to make and so long as I have some pre-ground sunflower seeds and pepitas, they don’t need power to do so.  You could use store bought almond meal instead, if you tolerate nuts, to make it easier but I quite like the taste the seeds give them. The recipe below is the base recipe and you can go nuts (pardon the pun) with changing up the flavours you add to it.  I have given you a few ideas after the recipe.

So until next time, eat well & live happy.

xMel

MUFFINS

1 cup gf plain flour

1 cup mixed ground sunflower seeds and pepitas

3/4 cup rapadura sugar

2 heaped tsp gf baking powder

1/3 cup olive oil

2 eggs

1 cup UHT coconut milk

1 tsp vanilla essence

Heat up the Weber (or your oven) to approx 170deg.  Line a 12 hole muffin tray with cup cake cases.  Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and use a fork to remove any lumps.  Make a well in the centre and crack eggs into well.  Add oil, vanilla and milk then use a fork to whisk wet ingredients slowly incorporating the dry ingredients until well combined.  Spoon mixture into muffin tray.  Bake for approximately 25-30 mins until tops spring back when lightly touched. (makes 12)

Variations:

Apple & Cinnamon: Add 1 tsp cinnamon to dry ingredients.  Grate 2 pink lady apples and squeeze out the juice.  Add to mixture at the end.

Chocolate: Add 1/4 cup cocoa powder to dry ingredients

Banana: Add 1 tsp cinnamon to dry ingredients and 2 mashed bananas at the end.

 

Free Camping

Since heading into the outback along Queensland’s Savannah Way we have discovered the joys of free camping.  Technically free camping refers to a lack of facilities, ie no showers, water, power and sometimes no toilets rather than no cost although many are free of charge or only ask for a small donation.  Many are located at the outskirts of a town, along rivers, at historical sites or can even be a gravel pit on the side of a major highway.

We love free camps, not only because it keeps the budget down but for the extra space and ability for the kids to run freely without us worrying they will bother the neighbours or be squashed by a four wheel drive. There is also a camaraderie between travellers staying at free and bush camps that we just haven’t felt in caravan parks and have met many lovely, like minded people by camping in them.

We have stayed in quite a few free camps now but hands down our two favourites have been the Cumberland Chimney site 20km west of Georgetown and on the Gregory River.

The Cumberland Chimney is the remains an old brick chimney dating back to the late 1800’s and used in the mining heyday of the area.  There is also a large lagoon that is home to many different species of birdlife.  Actually the whole site is a haven for birdwatchers, we had a flock of red tailed black cockatoos living in the tree right next to our camp, which were beautiful to watch and listen too.  There is a gravel area up top that people like to camp on as it overlooks the water but we bypassed this opting for a flat, grassy, shady spot further away from other vans giving the boys plenty of space to run around.  We were even able to have a camp fire – excellent real estate!  Another bonus of this camp was its proximity to Georgetown, one of our favourite outback country towns.  Georgetown had a great playground, a small but well stocked foodworks, potable water tap, dump point (to dump our porta-pottie at), TerraEstrial – a museum with large collection of gemstones and crystals and just a general friendly feeling about the place.

 

The free camp at Gregory Downs was located on the Gregory River and had no facilities at all.  Being self-sufficient is a must at many free camps and we are so glad that we bought a porta-pottie for this trip – it has definitely been one of the things we couldn’t have managed without.  The section of the Gregory River that runs through this camp is very shallow and fast flowing.  It’s also icy cold but given the temperatures are in the low thirties during the day a wonderful activity here is to float (or ride your boogie board) down the river with the current pushing you along at quite a brisk pace. The four of us had a ball cruising down the river then walking back up the top again for another go.

  

One thing with free camps is that there are, of course, no set sites and no bookings.  It is purely a first in best dressed kind of deal.  Both our favourite camps were really popular for obvious reasons.  We got into the Cumberland Chimney site a bit before midday, which meant we had a good choice of places to pull up but our trip to Gregory Downs was a longer one meaning we arrived at the camp at about 2.30 and managed to squeeze into the last tiny spot – there are definitely some bonuses to having a small camper trailer rather than a huge 20-something foot van!  We watched quite a few vans pull in after us and have to leave again.

I think I am definitely overdue for a recipe so I thought I’d share my savoury mince recipe with you.  Definitely a camping favourite there is something so comforting about a bowl of savoury mince around a campfire.  I love it made with plenty of veg and served with brown rice for a nice boost of fibre and B vitamins.  You can easily mix around the combination of veggies and I often do depending on what I have available to me.  If I was making this at home I’d use a homemade chicken stock in place of the water, which adds extra richness and all the benefits of lovely gut healing meat stock but unfortunately stock is just too hard on the road!  The recipe below makes enough for our dinner and lunch the next day.  I just warm it on the stove in the morning and pop it into the thermo pot to keep it warm for lunch on the go.

So if you are out there on the road or planning a trip we highly recommend you give free camping a go and hopefully we will see you out there! Until then, eat well and live happy.

xMel

SAVOURY MINCE

500g grass fed beef mince

500g pork mince

1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise then diced

1 large carrot, quartered lengthwise then diced

1 brown onion, diced

3-4 celery sticks, sliced thinly

A few good splooshes of gf tamari (actually its probably about a tablespoon but you know what I’m like at measuring!)

2 tsp honey

1/2 tsp herbamare

3 heaped tsp arrowroot

olive oil for cooking

cooked brown rice to serve

Heat olive oil in a deep frypan or flame proof casserole pot over medium heat.  Add onions and sauté for 2-3 mins until they are just softening.  Add mince and cook until browned all over.  Add veggies and enough water to just cover the mince/veg mixture.  Bring to a simmer.  Add tamari and herbamare.  Simmer for approx 20 mins until veggies are soft, stirring occasionally.  If you are cooking it in a fry pan you may need to add a bit more water during cooking time if it starts to dry out.  Add honey and stir.  Place arrowroot in a cup with enough cold water to make a thick liquid then add to mince.  Cook for a further 2-3 minutes, stirring to thicken.  Serve with brown rice.

Exploring the Atherton Tablelands

Heading back into the lush, green rainforest and much cooler temperatures, we based ourselves in the town of Atherton to explore the Tablelands.  We stayed at a fantastic Big4 caravan park, one of the best we’ve stayed in.  Atherton itself is fairly small (although not in comparison to some of the outback towns) but there is so much to see and do around the area.  We easily filled our 8 days there.  Granny and Pa met up with us again part way through our stay after they finished their time further up the coast.

The highlights of our time in the Tablelands were exploring the many waterfalls, particularly in Malanda which has a great informative and interactive display of the geological and social history of the area; a day trip to the Innot hot springs and Bubba’s favourite the crystal caves which is a manmade cave with hundreds of crystal and gemstone specimens set into the walls and ceilings, all the work of one man’s collecting over his lifetime.

  

One of our favourite day trips was out to Granite Gorge on the way to Mareeba.  The gorge is on privately owned land which the owners have converted to a campground and also welcome day visitors.  Just below the office are a series of large flat granite boulders where you can feed a rare species of rock wallaby.  Bubba and the Jazzy Devil had a wonderful time hand feeding the small wallabies who would hop up and hang on to your hand while gobbling down the pellets available from the desk.  There were also two walks that took us scrambling over the granite boulders through the gorge.  The Jazzy Devil put in a fine effort and made almost the whole of the first walk, climbing up rocks and bounding along the rough tracks.  Granny and JD then headed off to the weir for a swim while Bubba, Pa, Matt and I tackled the second walk.  Actually it was more boulder hopping and sliding than walking but we had a great time doing it.  The walk also afforded beautiful views of the rocky gorge and streams winding their way through the granite.

  

There was a woolies and an IGA in Atherton, both of which had a good supply of gluten free foods and UHT rice, coconut & almond milk, particularly the IGA there.  There were also two health food shops that had plenty of organic and gluten free goodies and I even managed to stock up on our Moo Goo shampoo and conditioner which was very exciting.  We managed to get a good steak at the Atherton Hotel and a delicious piece of salmon at the fabulous Yungaburra pub but aside from that restaurants in Atherton and surrounding towns really didn’t cater for gluten free let alone dairy free too.  Our last day in Atherton I spent shopping and cooking and stocking up the van ready for our trek west.  I filled up every available bit of storage space with cartons of non dairy milk, gluten free flours, sunflower seeds, pepitas and other dried goods.  Thank goodness I did too as it turned out it was 20 days before we’d hit our next major supermarket and those small ones in between were pretty light on in food options for us.

We really enjoyed our stay in Atherton and were sad to say goodbye to Granny and Pa but we were excited and raring to go on the next leg of our journey into the unknown across far North Queensland along the Savannah Way.  Those stories will be coming soon!  Until then eat well and live happy.

xMel

Chillagoe

After leaving Cairns we had our first foray into the outback as we headed off along the Wheelbarrow Way to Chillagoe.  We also hit our first patches of proper gravel roads with some minor corrugations.  Terry did us proud though and we made it through with suspension still intact. Thankfully all the eggs were still in tact too!

The drive to Chillagoe was beautiful, as we travelled west the landscape morphed from lush green rainforest into dry scrubby bush. The grass changed to a sun-bleached blond contrasting against the deep ochre red earth and green gum leaves. The black asphalt of the road cuts through the earth stretching on to the horizon.

Chillagoe is a small Queensland town with a relaxed, friendly feel.  The visitor information centre had an amazing display detailing both the geological and early settler history.  Chillagoe also has a rich mining history, with one of its attractions being the old copper smelter that you can visit.

The Chillagoe-Mungana caves are the main drawcard for Chillagoe these days, with quite a few tourists making the trek west to see them. There are three stunning dry limestone caves that have a guided ranger tour through them.  We saw two of the three caves.  The first felt a little like you were in an Indiana Jones movie with a bit of scrambling and ducking and squeezing through some narrow sections.  Bubba loved it and the Jazzy Devil was sure he was going to see Batman and Joker around the next corner, particularly as the guide was telling us about the microbats that live in the caves.  Jazzy put in a stellar effort and climbed and scrambled nearly a kilometre of the tour.  He was totally worn out after that and lucky mummy got to carry him the rest of the way back. The second cave was much shorter but had the most spectacular stalagmites and stalactites.  It was a very pretty cave but unfortunately I didn’t see much of it as the Jazzy Devil was not in a good mood for this one and screamed for most of the tour.  That meant I got to carry him up and down about 300 steps!

Some of the other sites we visited in Chillagoe were Balancing Rock – which is quite literally a giant rock perfectly balanced on the tiniest footprint and needs to be seen to be believed, a small Aboriginal rock art site and the local swimming hole where we could cool off in the afternoon.

 

I had packed plenty of food before leaving Cairns for our 3 nights in Chillagoe and thank goodness I did.  I popped into the general store out of curiosity which I must admit terrified the hell out of me knowing that this was probably all that was going to be available to us on our trek west across the Savannah Way. Aside from a small amount of very expensive fruit and veg there was literally nothing I could buy that would suit our dietary needs.

We absolutely loved our stay in Chillagoe and highly recommend the trip out here if you are ever in far North Queensland.  We left Chillagoe headed back for the rainforest and Atherton to spend some time exploring the Tablelands and to stock up before the next part of our adventures.  That, however, is a story for my next post.  Until then, eat well & live happy.

xMel

Cairns & a Visit From Granny & Pa

Cairns is a lovely city with a definite holiday feel.  It is quite the tourist destination with many Aussie and international visitors.  The Esplanade is well set up to cater for them too. With a beautiful man made lagoon safe for swimming in that we made great use of, many cafes and restaurants and nightmarkets Cairns definitely has a great little buzz about it.

We spent 8 nights at a caravan park a few minutes out of the main tourist area.  The weather was unfortunately terrible and it pretty well rained from the minute we got there til the day we left.  That didn’t stop us though and we packed loads into our days.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day at Tjapukai, an Aboriginal cultural centre, which was tasteful rather than blatantly touristy.  We threw boomerangs and spears and watched a dreamtime story reenactment as well as learning about bush food and weapons.  They catered for gluten free in their restaurant too, which was great.  We also spent time at the Cairns aquarium, Muddy’s playground (a fabulous free waterpark and playground) and splashing in the lagoon despite cold water and cold weather.

We spent a day out at Hartley’s Crocodile farm and another at Kuranda Village in the rainforest, which included a tour on an old army DUK that goes from land to water – a lot of fun for the kids.  A real highlight though was a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef pontoon where we had a ride on the glass bottom boat, semi submersible and best of all went snorkelling with Bubba out along the reef.  We were really lucky and while snorkelling saw a sea turtle!  These guys also catered really well for gluten and dairy free.

One of the best parts of our time in Cairns was a visit from Granny and Pa.  They flew up from Melbourne and spent a few days seeing the sites with us.  They also baby-sat the kids for us so Matt and I got to go out for a grown up dinner – quite the treat!

We were quite spoilt for choice in terms of restaurants catering for dietary requirements.  We headed to Grill’d two nights to give Bubba his fix.  Whilst it is still fast food and not ideal, it is great to be able to let Ben feel “normal” sometimes, something that is becoming more of an issue the more he grows up.  At least they have gluten free buns that don’t contain nasty bread additives that many do and fresh grilled chicken and salad.  Matt and I thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Ochre and although we had a few false starts eventually managed to get delicious gluten free meals.  We also still cooked lots of meals at the van and I made this rice salad that I will share with you below one evening for dinner with Mum and Dad.  Dad loved it and asked for the recipe so this is for you Dad! Unfortunately I did have a photo of it but my phone has packed it in courtesy of the Jazzy Devil and I have lost a few photos in the process so you will have to imagine what this one looks like.  Or better yet, make it and then you will know!

Until next time, eat well & live happy.

xMel

RICE SALAD

1 cup brown rice

red capsicum, cut into small squared

1/2 cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced

1/2 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved

1 avocado, diced

2 cups mixed lettuce leaves

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp apple cider vinegar (or to taste)

sea salt

Cook brown rice and drain excess water.  Add salad veg to a bowl then add warm brown rice.  Mix oil and apple cider vinegar together and season with the sea salt.  Add dressing to salad and toss well.  Serve with your choice of protein.  You can also make it into a meal on its own by adding sunflower seeds, pepitas and some soft goats cheese.

Eating on the Road

When we started planning our trip I spent a lot of time searching the internet for food ideas.  I found recipes and some lists of snacks for in the car (most of which we couldn’t eat anyway) but I still had no idea what people actually ate on a daily basis.  So I thought that I would write a post about just that… what we eat each day.

As you know I am a nutritionist and I would love it if I could say we ate a perfect diet, that the kids munched down on carrot sticks and ate a mountain of veggies every night but I am also a mum and a realist.  I have tried to keep this blog real too, giving you an idea of what it is actually like on the road with two young children and a long list of food intolerances rather than postcard perfect snapshots that don’t reflect reality.

So here it is… the good, the bad and the ugly of what we eat:

The Jazzy Devil is probably the most fussy and in some ways the most difficult.  There isn’t much you can do when a toddler decides he just isn’t going to eat that lovingly made meal.  Forcing the issue usually just makes things worse – a lesson I seem to forget on a regular basis!  The path of least resistance is our best bet at the moment and I just try to get some nutrition in wherever I can.

Jazzy’s breakfasts are:

  • Rice porridge made with rice milk with an egg yolk thrown in at the end of cooking and sweetened with “Heinz” pureed pear and banana
  • My homemade gf bread toasted with peanut butter and banana
  • Pancakes (I’ve been using ‘Bob’s Red Mill’ mix as it is so easy although not so nutritious so this is an occasional one)

Jazzy’s lunches:

  • ‘Vegemite’ sandwich made using my homemade ‘vegemite’ (see below for recipe) and homemade gf bread
  • Penut butter and apricot jam sandwich (I’ve been using St Dalfours jam as it is less refined sugar than some others) with homemade gf bread
  • Good quality gf ham off the bone
  • Hummus
  • Fruit (Bananas, pineapple, apple, tinned mango, small number of grapes)
  • When we are without power and have run out of bread I use the damper scones 

Jazzy’s dinners:

  • Some type of meat cooked on the bbq (chicken, steak or lamb chops) with his veggie mix that I generally make ahead and freeze – he has mashed pumpkin, carrot and apple or pumpkin and sweet potato.  Sometimes I add some gf pasta mixed with butter and a little celtic sea salt
  • Casseroles the rest of us are eating (see Matt and Mel’s dinners below)

Jazzy’s snacks:

Bubba actually eats pretty well these days although it can become quite difficult as he struggles with new foods.  It can take a while for him to accept something new and while, with some coaxing, he will take a bite, it does make it difficult when we are somewhere where his usual meals are just not an option.

Bubba’s breakfasts:

  • Soft boiled eggs with avocado on my homemade gf bread
  • Banana pancakes
  • Rice porridge made with rice milk and sultanas (unfortunately he won’t eat the version Jazzy does).
  • Bacon and eggs
  • Pancakes (I’ve been using ‘Bob’s Red Mill’ mix as it is so easy although not so nutritious so this is an occasional one)

Bubba’s lunches:

  • Jam sandwich on homemade gf bread with homemade raspberry chia jam (see below) (or ‘St Dalfours’ one when I run out), left over meat (chicken, steak, good quality ham off the bone), cucumber sticks and strawberries
  • Bacon and eggs (occasionally if we are at the van for lunch)
  • When we are without power and have run out of bread I use the damper scones

Bubba’s dinners:

  • Generally the same as Matt and Mel’s with the exception of some veg (he won’t eat asparagus) and instead of the salad we have he will have cucumber and tomato and I cook some pasta with butter and celtic sea salt.

Bubba’s snacks:

  • Chocolate cupcakes
  • Banana/apple/orange/pineapple/grapes
  • organic sultanas
  • ‘Meredith Dairy’ sheep yoghurt with pure maple syrup or mashed banana (only when I have it as it is difficult to get hold of)

Matt & Mel’s breakfasts:

  • Gf toast with peanut butter and banana
  • Homemade muesli
  • Banana pancakes
  • Eggs on toast
  • Bacon and eggs
  • Pancakes (I’ve been using ‘Bob’s Red Mill’ mix as it is so easy although not so nutritious so this is an occasional one)

Matt & Mel’s lunches:

  • Gf crackers (either black rice, quinoa ones or the new sunflower seed and fig ones available at supermarkets) with goats cheese, yumi’s dip (this has a preservative in it which I don’t like but I don’t have the time to make my own), veggie sticks (cucumber, carrot and capsicum), olives, avocado
  • Gf wraps (I like the BFree ones with seeds that you can get at Woolies) with chicken, avo and lettuce
  • Gf wraps with ham, avo, lettuce and goats cheese
  • Bacon and egg gf wraps with avo, mayo and beetroot relish (an occasional treat if we are at the van for lunch)

Matt & Mel’s dinners:

  • Meat of some sort cooked on the BBQ (steak, chicken, lamb chops, good quality gf sausages, burgers, fish etc)
  • Meat gets paired with either veg (mashed pumpkin and sweet potato, potatoes fried on the bbq, corn, asparagus, broccolini, roast veg done in the weber, etc) or salad (any mixture of salad veg, rice salad, pasta salad – home made of course, coleslaw, etc)
  • Honey mustard chicken
  • Kid friendly curry
  • A gf pasta dish that has a vegetable based ‘sauce’ unfortunately without tomato as the Jazzy Devil can’t eat it.
  • Savoury mince

We also have some occasional treats along the way which include 70% dark chocolate, ‘fun size’ packet of kettle sea salt chips, the very occasional gf/df sorbet and some dinners and lunches out at cafes or the pub.

So there you have it.  That it pretty much what we eat.  These meals are generally quick to prepare with as many veg and healthy fats as I can manage to squeeze in and most importantly available while on the road!

Hopefully for those out there reading that are travelling or enjoy doing some camping this gives you a few ideas.  Before I go I will leave you with the recipes for my homemade ‘vegemite’ and raspberry chia jam.  Next post I’ll be back to our travels with another recipe for you.  Until then, eat well & live happy.

xMel

HOMEMADE ‘VEGEMITE’

1/2 cup black tahini

4 tbsp gf tamari

2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes

2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well until all combined.  Store in a jar in the fridge.

RASPBERRY & CHIA JAM

Approx 350g frozen raspberries (organic is best because of the high level of pesticides sprayed on them)

2 tbsp honey (or more to taste)

2-3 tbsp chia seeds (depending on how thick you like your jam)

Place raspberries and honey in a small saucepan over a medium heat.  Bring to a simmer then reduce heat to low and simmer for approximately 20 minutes stirring occasionally.  Add chia seeds and mix well.  The jam will thicken as it cools and the chia seeds soak up the liquid.  Store in a jar in the fridge.

 

A Castle in the Rainforest

We are getting much better at the pack up/set up gig which means we have more time on our travel days to squeeze in visiting more amazing places.  Our trip from Townsville to Cairns was no exception.

The morning we packed up and left Townsville we set ourselves a challenge to get out early and actually managed to be on the road by 8.45am including having to pack up the annex.  This was a major achievement for us.  Given we only scraped through leaving Canberra by 11am, we have come a long way!

The reason for wanting to get off early was so we could stop off at Little Crystal Creek along the way.  We were certainly rewarded for our efforts as Little Crystal Creek is simply stunning!  Located in the Paluma Range National Park about an hour and a half from Townsville, poor Terry (the Territory) had to drag us and the van up another very steep, very winding road.  The crystal clear water at Little Crystal Creek cascades over smooth boulders, under the historic bridge and down a waterfall  into a clear, deep pool.  Surrounded by rainforest and giant trees overtaken by strangler vines, it feels like you have stumbled into paradise.  You can swim at Little Crystal Creek but the water was as icy as it was clear and too cold even for our two munchkins.  So instead we admired, restrained the Jazzy devil as he threw rocks into the “biy-bong” (aka billabong) and had our picnic lunch.

   

Saying good bye to this amazing part of Aus we headed on our way to our overnight stop – Paronella Park.  Paronella Park was created by Jose Paronella, following his dream to build a castle in the rainforest that would entertain the public and allow people to spend time together there.  The now moss covered ruins easily look as though they could belong in a Tomb Raider movie.  Misty rainforest envelopes the old buildings, staircases and hidden waterfalls and wandering through the park continues to delight and entertain, still achieving Jose’s dream.

We arrived at Paronella Park late in the afternoon with just enough time to set up and grab some dinner at the Mena Creek Hotel before going on the night tour.  Thank goodness for steak with chips (gf ones of course) and salad, this is our pub staple – simple, tasty and the kids will eat it!  Complete with torches, the night tour gives another beautiful side to the park with the waterfalls and main part of the castle lit up.

The next morning we very pleased with ourselves as we were up and out even before the grey nomads.  Quite an achievement!  Spurred on somewhat by the fact it stared raining and we hadn’t put the bed end flys up as we thought we would risk one night without them.  Wet bed ends equals wet bedding as the canvas folds down to be able to wind the roof down, something we were not keen on!  Having packed up in record time, we were able to go exploring around the park again in daylight, which both Bubba and the Jazzy Devil had a great time doing.

  

We then ventured down the road to the Ma:mu skywalk.  A 1km long track that meanders through beautiful rainforest.  Off to the side of the track are a 10m long cantilever extending out over the treetops and river far below and a treetop walk, which quite literally has you walking up next to the tops of the rainforest giants.  The Jazzy Devil put in a massive effort walking the whole kilometre, which given he had already walked all around Paronella Park that morning was pretty impressive.  Thankfully we had the stroller for the hike back again.

I managed to scratch together some lunch out of the van in the car park (I was definitely due a trip to the supermarket), think bits of leftover cheese, crackers, ham, chicken, nut bars, sultanas and bananas, just enough to fill empty tummies.  We climbed back into the car and made our way to Cairns, our most Northerly stop along the East coast.

This was meant to be a short post as it is only two days worth of travel but as you can see we packed a lot in.  I haven’t put a recipe in as we didn’t really do anything exciting food wise these two days, but don’t worry I have some good ones coming up for you shortly!  Until next time, eat well and live happy.

xMel

Townsville

After leaving Bowen we continued our trek further North to Townsville.  Having decided that we definitely prefer bush camps we opted for another ‘kind-of caravan park come bush camp’ about 30 minutes out of Townsville.  Dry, dusty and full of wallaby poo but surrounded by dense green trees, steep cliffs and a sparkling blue lake we were very happy with our home for the next three nights.  It gave us loads of space and with power and basic hot showers we were nicely set up.  The owner was a friendly man who must have been 90 years in the shade and deaf as a post but still manages to get about and keep the park in order.

Our days in Townsville were definitely busy ones.  Given we were so far out we made the most of each day, took a packed lunch and found loads of things to keep us entertained.  The Reef HQ, the Townsville aquarium, was fantastic with a massive living coral reef tank, plenty of sharks and creatures in a touch tank for the Jazzy Devil to terrorise, it kept us entertained for a couple of hours.  Lunch in the park and a treat gluten and dairy free sorbet was followed by a visit to the museum.  We were seriously lucky and were there during a dinosaur exhibition.  Complete with 4 animatronic dinosaurs and lots of skeletons the kids were wrapt.  I also learned something new… apparently it is now accepted as quite likely that T-Rex had feathers! Yep get your head round that one – it spun mine out!  The museum also had an exhibit on the lesser know Pandora (ship) sent out from England to capture the mutineers from the Bounty.  Unfortunately the Pandora came to a sorry, watery end off the Great Barrier Reef.

  

We weren’t sure whether swimming at the Beach at Townsville was ok or not given the risk of either stingers or crocs so we opted for the far safer water park along The Strand (Townsville’s esplanade).  The kids had a ball running, splashing and sliding around the fantastic, free attraction while poor Matty shivered down the water slides with the Jazzy Devil.  It was sunny but really not as hot as we were expecting!

Continuing with our animal theme we also went on a slightly different tour our second day.  In my research of things to do in Townsville I somehow stumbled across Ebuta Goat Dairy.  Last year they ran some open days at their dairy but because of some serious bad luck earlier this year they weren’t running them at the moment.  I messaged them anyway to see if they would do tours and the lovely Brian offered for us to come out and for a small cost he would show us around.  We arrived a bit after 8am so that we could see the milking.  As this is a small, boutique dairy, who produce raw goat milk, it is a very hands on process.  We were able to watch as the veterinary students Brian takes on washed and prepared the goats udders, attached the milking tube things (sorry very untechnical term there!) and bottled the milk.  Bubba and the Jazzy Devil also got to feed the goats and best of all we got to sample some of the delicious raw goat milk and the goat milk gelato Brian and his wife make!  It was a real treat to have creamy ice-cream for a change, coconut milk ice-cream is great but I forgot just how good ice-cream made with milk is.  You can see and hear, when talking to Brian, just how passionate he is about their goats and the whole dairy process and it really shows in a fantastic product.

So I should clarify for you all that we are cow’s dairy free (with the exception of organic, grass fed butter) but we can tolerate goat and sheep milk products.  The difference is in the protein.  Most cow’s milk (with the exception of some specifically bred cows – think a2 brand milk) has the A1 casein protein.  Goat and sheep milk is the A2 version.  I won’t bore you with the chemistry of it but basically the A2 version is easier to digest.  The A1 version ends up breaking down to a small peptide that can cross through the intestinal lining in some people with “leaky gut” ending up in the blood stream where it’s not meant to be.  This can cause health issues for some people ranging from sinus problems to atopic conditions to behavioural problems.

The other bonus of the goat milk produced by Ebuta Goat Dairy is that it is raw.  This is quite a controversial topic, so by all means do your own research.  Unfortunately in many states the option to drink raw milk is simply not available.  Victoria has banned all raw milk, both cow and goat.  Queensland still allows raw goat milk (but not cow) with very strict guidelines to prevent nasties in the milk.  So why drink raw goat milk?  Raw milk also contains healthy bacteria and can be a source of probiotics in the same way yoghurt is.  The pasteurising process, which heats milk to a high temperature kills all bacteria, good and bad.  The high temperatures also break down some of the vitamins present in the milk, lowering the nutritional content.  Often commercially available milks then need to be fortified with synthetic vitamins.  Raw milk also contains enzymes naturally present in milk which help to break down the protein making it more digestible.  Again, pasteurising denatures these proteins meaning they don’t do their job any more.  So yes there are risks of contamination with bacteria that can make you ill but clean, well run dairy’s minimise this risk.  Testing both internally and externally is done with each batch to ensure safety.

But back to our travels…  We had a great morning with Brian and his goats and I’d highly recommend a trip out there if you ever get the chance.  Thanks Brian!

Unfortunately the rest of that day did not go as well as we discovered somewhere in his foraging in the bushes at one of our bush camps the Jazzy Devil picked up a tick.  That meant spending an hour or so in the doctors surgery waiting to have it liquid nitrogen-ed off, followed by a course of antibiotics and a mad dash by me around Townsville for some Saccharomyces boulardii (a beneficial yeast probiotic that can be taken at the same time as antibiotics).  He’s fine though and continues to scurry around in the bushes so I’m putting money on it’s not the only one he gets!

So I have been promising a recipe and really reading back over this blog it should be a goat milk one but I actually wanted to share with you a very simple, yummy, nourishing breaky or snack – the humble banana pancake.  These have been a saviour for me when we don’t have power and the fridge is looking a little bare.  They are seriously filling thanks to the protein in the eggs and sweet from the banana – perfect combo! By the way I did make a smoothie for our breakfast with the goat milk and it was delicious so I’ll give you that recipe too (I didn’t take a photo though sorry!).

So until next time, eat well and live happy.

xMel

BANANA PANCAKES

2 eggs

1 large ripe banana

(yep thats it for ingredients – told you it was easy!)

Mash the banana really well in a bowl.  Add the eggs and beat together to form a very runny batter.  Heat a frying pan with a little olive oil over medium heat.  Pour in the banana-egg mixture and leave until it is almost cooked through (approx 4-5 mins). Flip pancake and cook for another minute.  Serve with butter and maple syrup.

SMOOTHIE

(per person)

200ml milk/milk alternative of choice (we used raw goat milk of course!)

1 banana

20g protein powder (go for one without lots of additives eg plain sprouted brown rice powder)

1 tsp raw honey

1/4 avocado

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Spotting Platypus

We decided to detour from the coast for our next stop and headed inland from Mackay toward Eungella.  To break our drive we did an overnight in another low cost showground in a tiny town off the highway called St Lawrence.  We set up away from all the other travellers so we needn’t stress about the noise the kids make when much to our horror a couple pull up right beside us, closer than if we were in a caravan park!  Karma really does come back to bite you though as a third van pulled up beside them and out stepped a couple with a young baby.  I’m guessing they will think twice about pulling up so close next time!  The exciting part of St Lawrence was we saw our first “Beware: Crocodiles” sign next to the river down the road from our camp.  They are quite the norm as we head further North but for us Southerners we had to get out and take a pic!  Needless to say we are quite cautious about any body of water now!

Leaving St Lawrence we continued on our way headed for our first camp in a National Park.  Located in the Mackay highlands, Eungella National Park sits in a mountain range that rises approximately 1000m above sea level.  Climbing the steep winding road that takes us from the low lying sugar cane fields into densely vegetated, lush green forrest, we are afforded a stunning view of the valley below.  The temperature seems to drop with each twist and turn as Terry the Territory ever so slowly pulls us up the mountain.  Matty did a stellar job of getting us and Terry up (and more importantly down again) in one piece with our transmission and brakes still in tact!

Eungella National Park is a special spot as you can see platypus in the river.  I was skeptical at first that we would see any of these elusive creatures but to my surprise and pleasure we saw quite a few over our 2 days, playing and splashing in Broken River.  We were camped on an embankment overlooking the river and one afternoon we could even see a platypus swimming by us from our van.

Once the kids got over the horror of no mobile phone reception at all (hence no internet connection for iview or footy scores) we thoroughly enjoyed the serenity of camping in a national park.  The campground had composting toilets, which if the wind blew the wrong way got a bit whiffy, but were very clean.  As far as amenities go that was it though.  So it was boiling water on the stove for bucket washes in the tub and all cooking had to be done on gas again.  We have got the ‘no power thing’ happening pretty well now.  We have a solar panel that charges our battery during the day which we can run the car fridge off as well as for lights and charging mobile phones etc so it is still pretty luxury camping really.  We did learn a lesson about conserving water though.  We have two 80L tanks which we filled with drinking water before leaving Kinka Beach, but after a stop in St Lawrence, two nights at Eungella and knowing potable water wasn’t going to be available at our next stop either we realised pretty quickly that we had to be a bit stingy with the washing and bathing water!

I came far more prepared this leg of the trip with food than our last bush camp and stocked up the fridges in Yeppoon (which had an excellent woolies by the way) with food to last us until we hit a big town again.  Lots of salad, goats cheese, good quality ham, dip and gf crackers and wraps make for easy lunches, whilst various forms meat to throw on the webber with veg or salad are great dinners.  A fire pit was provided at the camp ground so with firewood from the information centre we had a fire crackling the second afternoon.  The fire pit had a grill over the top so some damper rolls were cooked over the coals in true bush camping style.  They tasted pretty good with dinner too!

   

After leaving our beautiful bush camp we headed towards Bowen and back on the coast again.  Our stay in Eungella confirmed for us that we are definitely bush camp people rather than caravan parks so we opted to stay at a station stay about 20 minutes out of Bowen.  Glen Erin Farmstay is on a 700 acre property that runs cattle, a few sheep and some chicken and turkeys.  You couldn’t really see any of the livestock but the kids had a ball running around with the owner Lyn’s dog on the huge green grassy lawn provided for campers to stay on.  It must be a full time job for Lyn keeping it so green as the rest of the landscape is a very dry, dusty brown.

After setting up we ventured into Bowen with a stop off at the Big Mango and some delicious mango sorbet.  Actually it was just pure blended frozen mango but Bowen mangos live up to their reputation and it certainly needed no sugar added.  After the obligatory selfie with one of Australia’s ‘big things’ we headed into town and to Horseshoe Bay.  A stunning tiny bay with clear blue waters surrounded on three sides by coarse sand and large smooth, sandstone coloured rocks and boulders.  It must have been clear we were Victorians as the afternoons get quite cool and all the other people sensibly got out of the water whilst our two munchkins dived straight in!

We treated ourselves to dinner out that night and were very impressed by the service and help with gluten free meals at the Grandview Hotel.  Bubba managed to get a gluten free pizza which he was very excited about and my gf marinara pasta was delicious.  Loaded with local seafood, tomato based sauce and the right hint of chilli it left me licking my lips.  We’d definitely recommend this place if passing through Bowen.

We only had one night at Glen Erin as it was meant just to be a stopover, but we were all sad to leave the next morning.  However, Townsville called and we packed ourselves back up again and on to our next adventure.

I do realise I am a bit behind in giving you a new recipe but we have been seriously busy the past couple of weeks!  I promise I will get onto it though and have one up for you very soon.  In the mean time, eat well and live happy

xMel

A Visit to Nanny & Papa in Yeppoon

Oh dear I have gotten very behind here but we have been busy!

We paid Nanny & Papa a visit in Yeppoon last week.  Yeppoon is located east of Rockhampton at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.  We actually stayed in a caravan park in Kinka Beach about 15 minutes South of Yeppoon as we were aiming for a more ‘family friendly’ caravan park ie not smack in the middle of a sea of grey nomads.  Not that we have anything against the grey nomads, all the ones we’ve met seem lovely but with a 1.5yo monster who makes a huge racket and insists on taking off to neighbouring sites we thought we’d give our older counterparts a bit of a break!  As it happened we ended camped right next to a lovely retired couple who were either deaf or very polite as they assured us they didn’t hear anything and “he’s fine”!

The kids, and us, were very excited to see Nanny and Papa and we were very lucky that on our second day they took us out on their catamaran to the Keppel Islands.  The waters around the Keppels are post card perfect blue with whites sands and craggy green islands rising up out of the water.  We were able to anchor near an almost deserted beach and ride the dingy in for a swim and play on the sand.

We also paid a visit to the Capricorn Caves.  Privately owned caves near Mount Etna National Park, these are dry limestone caves, that is they are actually above ground and only get water when it rains in the wet season.  This makes the stalagmites and stalactites all the more impressive as they only grow when drips of water run down them.  The Cathedral tour we took takes us down through a series of caves into a large opening that has been beautifully lit with tiny candle like lights and now has cathedral type seating in it.  We were played Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in near darkness in a moving experience.  Bubba and I also took the fossil tour which taught us all about the mega fauna of the area dating back 500,000 years ago.

The rest of the time in Yeppoon we spent fishing and playing down at the beach and amazing water park on the foreshore.  The kids had an absolute ball and Bubba declared Yeppoon his favourite stop so far!

I was very spoilt in Yeppoon, hardly having to cook at all.  I think we stressed poor Anne out but she did a fine job catering for us and cooked us many delicious meals so thanks Nanny!

We were also spoiled for choice in places to eat out.  Matty and I got a dinner out on our own as we had babysitters!  We went to “Beaches” restaurant down near the Keppel Harbour and had a yummy dinner served to us by a fantastic young waiter who made sure our dietary requirements were catered for.  We also treated ourselves to lunch out with the kids at “Yogolicious” who specialise in gluten and dairy free.  Matt declared his burger the best he had ever had (which is a big call) and Bubba had apple cake to die for!  The Jazzy Devil ran riot as always and after being given the hairy eyeball once too many times we headed off back to the water park.  We pulled in to “Pumped Juice Bar and Cafe”, who are completely gluten free, on the way back and stocked up on some gluten free pies and sausage rolls for Matt and some other yummy bits and pieces.

We enjoyed Yeppoon so much we ended up extending our stay to five nights, a much needed rest from the pack up and set up routine.  After a lovely break we were ready to move on again headed for the platypus at Eungella National Park.  Don’t worry I will catch you up on that adventure tomorrow. Until then eat well and live happy

xMel

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