Playing in the Sand – D’Encastreaux National Park

We knew when we left home it was roughly 3500km to Albany but really we had no idea just how far it was! So given we were all the way over here, the lure of the Margaret River region proved too great and we rearranged our plans and headed further west.

We spent a couple of fun days in the Manjimup and Pemberton areas enjoying the beautiful produce and stunningly tall Karri tree forests. The rough stuff was calling us though and we made our way into the D’Encastreaux National Park.

Our first foray into the park was as a day trip to the Yeagarup and Callcup dune systems. This area is not for the faint of heart nor light of foot – these dunes take some serious revs to get up and over! The Yeagarup dunes are a 10 km long system of moving sand dunes making these the longest in the southern hemisphere. We were blown away to discover that they actually encroach on the Karri forests they rise up out of at a rate of 4m per year! This kind of gives you some idea of the wind in the area too!

The first challenge saw us get up and over the steep and very soft rise up to the top of the dunes rewarding us with stunning views across the white, wind-rippled landscape. From here we followed the white markers along the shifting track down to a very wild and woolly beach. The boys thought it was hilarious as we bumped our way along the track – far from being smooth there were some serious ruts and holes and given just how soft the sand was and how steep some of the rises were there is no slowing down or easing your way through them. Matty and the Prado smashed it though and we had a lot of fun!

By a stroke of luck, the time and day meant we scored a very low tide and we were able to cross over the Warren River inlet without getting the tires wet. By all accounts if the tide is too far in or the river is raging, it is impossible to cross meaning you miss out on the challenge of driving up Callcup dune. This infamous dune has 3 sections to make it up – the first relatively short but steep climb up from the beach then two more VERY long, VERY soft climbs. We were pretty proud as Matty made it up first go – not something achieved by everyone!

The next day we packed up the camper and headed back into D’Encastreaux to spend a couple of nights at Black Point in the national park and check out some more of the impressive natural landmarks and 4×4 tracks. The majority of this park can really only be accessed with a high-clearance 4×4 and you definitely wouldn’t be towing a caravan in here. But this is the reason we traded in the Swan in for the Robbo!

We were on a role with our luck and it turned out the Black Point track, which is only accessible during the drier months, was only just reopened the day before. Bumping our way along it was easy to see why this track is closed over winter – there were some pretty impressive bog-holes that some unfortunate vehicles had become fairly well stuck in at some past occasion. Another seriously fun track, it even had a water crossing or two for us to wade through, one of which turned out to be a bit deeper than we expected thanks to a nice big rut midway. Car and camper made it through unscathed however and we set up camp amongst the beautiful peppermint trees at the Black Point campground. The first night, there was only one or two others somewhere off in the distance making for a pretty awesome spot to stay.

During our stay we spent some time down at Black Point beach where some 100 million years ago, flowing lava was cooled by the sea leaving stunning black basalt rock ‘stepping stones’ and columns. We scrambled our way over some of the rocks but the tide beat us from getting too far and we made a very steep ascent over a sand dune to get back to the car!

We also, of course, had to visit Jasper Lake and Jasper Beach. Jazzy did think it was pretty cool that was where we were going. Jasper Lake looked beautiful but sadly we were beaten by the march flies which were relentless and biting so we gobbled down our lunch in the car then headed back for Jasper Beach. We had a great time splashing in the waves and meandering along the beach checking out the big chunks of coral and sea sponge washed up on the sand.

So I did promise you another recipe this time and I thought I’d share one of my favourite one-pots. I love a good one-pot as apart from anything, it saves on washing up and whilst we have about 240L of water at full capacity we do have to be a bit stingy with it. Anyway this lamb biriyani recipe originally came from a woolies magazine but I have of course tinkered with it (quite a bit). I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Until next time, eat well & live happy

xMel

Lamb Biriyani

  • 500g lamb mince
  • 1 large brown onion, finely diced,
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
  • 3cm piece ginger, finely grated
  • 1.5 cups brown basmati rice
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp ground caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1.5 cups brown basmati rice
  • 60g organic sultanas
  • 4 cups water (or homemade chicken stock)
  • 1.5 tsp herbamare (vege salt)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 120g baby spinach leaves
  • approx 2/3 cup natural yoghurt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/3 continental cucumber, peeled and grated
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • fresh coriander
  • olive oil

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy based pot over med-high heat. Add onion, garlic and ginger and saute for 2-3 mins until starting to soften. Add mince and brown. Add spices and saute for a further minute until fragrant. Add rice and sultanas and saute for 1-2 mins. Add water (or stock) and herbamare. Stir, cover and bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered for approx 35 mins, stirring occasionally to prevent rice from sticking. Approx 10 mins before cooking is finished, add the peas. When done, all the water should be absorbed and rice should be tender. Add the spinach leaves and gently mix through. Meanwhile, combine yoghurt, cumin, cucumber and lemon juice in a small bowl. Serve rice with a big spoonful of the yoghurt mixture (raita) and fresh coriander leaves.

Hanging With Friends in Albany

The pack up at Cocklebiddy has to rate as the worst ever of all our travels! Overnight the winds picked up to gale-force. Cocklebiddy consists of a petrol station, a roadhouse and a large, flat, open, red-dust-coating parking lot. Let me tell you an outside kitchen and trying to pack up canvas do not go well in a location like that with those kinds of winds!

We were high-tailing it on to Albany though as we were going to stay with our very good friends we met last year at Banka Banka station in the NT. En-route we passed through Balladonia which has a lovely little museum and skylab relic, camped at Fraser Range station and spent a couple of nights in Esperance.

Arriving in Albany after a massive drive from Esperance, we were warmly greeted by our gorgeous friends. Clint and Loz were amazing hosts and our four boys had a brilliant 5 days playing together. Albany has a population of approximately 35,000 and a rich World War I history, being the departure point for the ANZAC troops heading to the battlefields. We spent our first morning exploring the old forte and the ANZAC centre which allows you to follow along with the story of one of 35 soldiers’ lives the centre has researched.

We also explored a number of beaches and national park sights including The Gap and Natural Bridge. Raging surf crashes against the weathed, smooth cliff edge showing the raw power and beauty of the coastline. One large section of rock has been weathered right through creating a bridge over the sea.

One beach in particular we went to rates as arguably the best beach we have been to anywhere on all of our travels. A small horseshoe bay, protected by the surrounding rocks, with stunning turquoise water and pure white sand, it is simply like swimming in paradise!

A day trip out to Denmark was a heap of fun with a tree-top walk among the towering tingle trees, where the boys could follow along the forest detective trail and solve the clues. We couldn’t resist some amazing artisan chocolates… think finger lime and mango gel coated in dark Ecuadorian chocolate and blue cheese and marscapone filled bites of heaven! Our day trip wouldn’t have been complete without checking out some more beaches and the kids (and big kids) had a ball splashing and swimming in the renowned beaches around Denmark.

Loz, by the way, is an amazing cook and we (particularly me) were very spoiled having her cook delicious food for us. Loz and her family eat much the same as we do, wholefood, cooked from scratch and with love 🙂 We were also very happy to find out there was a 100% gluten free cafe in Albany so of course we had to sample their wares (which got a thumbs up all round).

It was really sad to say goodbye to our mates but we had an amazing 5 days with them and hopefully we can repay their hospitality down in Melb one day soon (hint hint if you guys are reading Loz & Clint!!).

Originally we had planned to head back East after Albany but the call of the South-West corner of WA was too great and we are now in the Margaret River region but that is a story for another day! One of my fav, easy camping recipes to come next time too 🙂

Until then, eat well & live happy

xMel

Eyre Bird Observatory & Twilight Cove

After pulling up and spending the night at the roadhouse at Cocklebiddy, we packed up the boot of the Prado with our overnight stuff and headed off for our next detour off the bitumen. 

The Eyre Bird Observatory is located around 50km from Cocklebiddy and has been set up by Bird Life Australia to collect data on the birdlife and other fauna of the area. The original old telegraph repeater station, built in 1877, has been converted into accomodation for the volunteer caretakers and visitors.

The EBO is located in the Nuytsland Nature Reserve, not far from Twilight Cove. About 35km of the trip in is on a gravel, rocky track that turns to sand and is 4wd only – definitely not the most difficult driving we’ve done, but lots of fun all the same! There were fires that ripped through the area some years ago and the black of the trees and fresh green regrowth contrast against the white sand making for stunning scenery.

On arrival, the warm, friendly caretakers, Danie & Delene, greeted us and showed us around. I have to say it felt a lot like going on school camp as we settled ourselves into our room & enjoyed the lunch put on for us and the other guests staying.  You can really feel the isolation here. The EBO is completely off grid, being totally reliant on solar power & tank water.
Quite dense bush grows around the old Observatory building, with the white sand dunes rising above the beach in the distance. There is, of course, abundant bird life in this beautiful, tranquil setting. That is, until the Jazzy Devil arrives in all his thundering glory… really sorry to those two twitchers who arrived just after us!! We did get to spot a few different bird species though, my favourite were definitely the Major Mitchell cockies.

We spent a fantastic afternoon driving over one of the dunes to the beach then following one of the marked walking trails. We also climbed our way up to the top of a pure white, rippled, sand dune. The sun started to dip, casting a golden glow over the gently rolling dunes and the boys had a ball rolling back down, making for a definite highlight of our trip.

I had brought food along but I definitely hadn’t needed to as Delene did a stellar job catering for us, gluten & dairy free and all – with very limited supplies too.

The next morning, after waiting for low tide, we got our adventure boots on and headed off along the beach for Twilight Cove. The track follows the beach for about the first 13km then heads slightly inland along a tight, winding, rocky, sandy track. Definitely a LOT of fun! Although the Prado now has a few bush pin-stripes to show for it. The track pops back out at the beach again and we pulled up at Twilight Cove which could only be described as a little piece of heaven. We had the whole pure white beach to ourselves, in fact, I think this beach sees very few visitors. It was a scorching hot day, but we found a little shade in the overhanging rocks and splashed in the crystal clear, turquoise water.

We also got to spot quite a lot of wildlife on our way. We were quite excited to see a dolphin playing in the waves, a sea eagle and a dugite – thankfully we were in the car when we saw this one! Matt also came face to face with a rather large roo when he was checking out a track and I’m not sure who got the bigger fright!

On our way home we had planned to head back via an inland track but we just could not find which dune to cross to get to the start of it. We ended up following along the beach as the tide was quite low, however things got a bit hairy as we hit some very sharp limestone outcrops. Stuck between the thick piles of seaweed (seriously, this stuff would swallow your car), the salt water and the rocks we crawled along, trying not to get bogged or destroy the car on a ‘diff-buster’ (a rock just high enough to smash your diff if you go over it the wrong way!). We were actually going quite well until a very large boulder right on the edge of the water blocked our path entirely and we had to backtrack. Time was ticking on and we had to be mindful of the tide so we ended up coming back the way we came via the EBO but it certainly made for an adventurous day! I don’t have any good photos of the track for you, partly because they just don’t do it justice but mostly because we were concentrating too hard on making our way along the track!

Looking forward to filling you in on more of our adventures

xMel

Making our way to the Border

We left Port Augusta making our way across the top of the Eyre Peninsula towards Ceduna.  As we headed west, even though we were on the black-top, it felt like coming home to see the rich red dirt of the Aussie outback.  The red landscape is broken up by the silvery green-blue of the scraggly saltbush that covers the ground, stretching as far as the eye can see.

We are trying, where possible, to keep the driving days short as the 500 odd km drives on the first couple of days really tired all of us out, not just the kids.  We decided to camp overnight at Tcharkuldu Rock about 5km’s out of Minnipa.  This place reminded me of a smaller version of Karlu Karlu (Devil’s Marbles).  A large rocky outcrop, littered with orchre coloured, round boulders, rises up from the surrounding grassland and beautiful old gums.  Some of the boulders have been weathered and cracked to produce holes right through them.  The views over the expansive wheat fields of the area are spectacular (although somewhat scary as Matty put it… “we are looking at a sea of gluten!!”).

We headed off again the next day towards Coorabie and a station stay at Coorabie Farm.  Stations are a favourite of ours to stay on and this one definitely didn’t disappoint.  With super friendly caretakers and lovely shady camp spots we really enjoyed our couple of nights here.  We spent the next day exploring the beaches close by including Mexican Hatt beach, aptly named for the giant triangular rocky island poking up from the water just out of the cove which, (if you squint) does in fact look a bit like a sombrero.  The white sands and turquoise waters made for a brilliant morning running and splashing in the waves.  We then followed the 4wd tracks along the cliff face around another couple of stunning bays to Fowlers bay where we managed to get a good coffee and Ben through a line in.  He actually managed to catch a flatty that he devoured for dinner!

As we continued to follow the Eyre highway along the Great Australian Bight the trees gave way to  low scrubby brushes and we crossed the Nullarbor Plain.  We did of course stop at the Nullarbor Roadhouse and take the obligatory tourist photo – I’m not really sure why a yellow and black sign post showing camels, wombats and roos crossing has become such an iconic feature of the Nullarbor but there you have it, we have joined the club! 

I have heard the term “Nullar-boring” used to describe crossing the Nullarbor and I expect it would be if you stuck just to the black top, but as always we are up for a good detour so about 1km down the road from the Nullarbor Roadhouse we took the bumpy dirt track down to the Murrawijinie caves.  It isn’t a designated 4wd only track but the corrugations and rocks would give standard suspension a good workout and rattle your bones!  The first cave you can only peer down into and the second was a bit beyond the kids capability but the third we were able to scramble down into the dark, cool, cavernous opening, where we could walk over the soft bat guano flooring and hear tiny swallow chicks chirping in the nests clinging to the cave roof.  There are a few indigenous hand-print paintings on the walls, of who know how many thousand years old.  Unfortunately not much is known about the significance of the caves.  Given the temperature is a good 10deg cooler down there I bet they would have provided some refuge from the scortching summer temperatures.

We overnighted at one of the roadside lookouts over the cliffs of the Bight and made it through a VERY windy night!  The next morning we crossed over the border into WA and can now say we have been to all mainland states and territories (sorry Tassie, hopefully we’ll get to you soon).  

There is a quarantine checkpoint at the border and cars and caravans are checked for any fresh fruit and veg and honey which all has to be handed over.  We were allowed to take over peeled onions, sweet potato, corn, packaged salads, pineapple, and tinned, dried, cooked or frozen fruit and veg.  There is heaps of very useful info for travellers on the WA dept of agriculture website which I had checked out previously so I knew what I could and couldn’t take with us and had planned accordingly.  As we are still a number of days off reaching shops to restock (some other Nullarbor detours planned) I had to make sure I could fill bellies with more than just refined junk so some forward planning was needed.  Dinner after crossing the border was and easy yet tasty and nutrition chicken bbq’d on the Weber, fried sweet potato and onions, corn and sauerkraut (it would have been coleslaw but sadly it went off!).

So until next time, eat well & live happy

xMel

And we are off… again!

A little over 12 months since we arrived home from our last amazing adventure and we are back on the road again. Sadly not for as long as last time but we definitely aren’t complaining about 7 weeks of exploring the Nullarbor and the beaches along the south coast of Australia.

As you can see in the pic above this time we are kitted out a little differently… our car and camper have had a bit of an outback makeover! We are now driving a Prado – yes we said goodbye to Terry and hello to off-road driving. We also decided we were very likely going to break the poor old Swan so traded her in for our fully off road MDC Robson “Robbo” XTT. We are now ready and raring to dust it up on some awesome 4wd tracks and beaches – bring it on!

This afternoon I am sitting, typing, in a beautiful bush campground on a sheep station in the foothills of the Flinders Ranges, a little out of Port Augusta. We arrived yesterday evening after 2 big days of driving and one very wet night in Keith Showgrounds in the middle of a huge thunderstorm and torrential rain. But the sky is now blue, the kooka’s are laughing, a lovely gentle breeze is blowing and the flies are out in force! Life is good (except maybe for the flies!).

So healthy, nutritious food will be interesting this trip given we’ll have to hand over almost all fresh fruit and veg as we cross the border into WA and we’ll have long stretches where we won’t have access to shops. But we are now equipped with 2 batteries, a great solar set-up and some freezer space so as always I am up for the challenge!

To kick things off I thought I’d share my healthy camp nachos recipe. Lots of people go nachos while camping but a bag of Doritos and a jar of salsa sends shivers down my spine. So here is an alternative that tastes great and still has a good veg hit. These could easily be done in a camp fire but as we are now in fire danger season the BBQ does a great job.

Eat well & Live happy

xMel

Healthy Camp Nachos

  • 1 bag organic plain corn chips (I like Woollies macro brand)
  • approx 250g good quality cheese, grated
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1 continental cucumber, quartered lengthwise and finely sliced
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 2 avocados
  • 1/2 lemon
  • sea salt
  • extra virgin olive oil

Heat up BBQ to approx 200deg with a convection tray and trivet in place. Line a baking tin with baking paper. Pour in corn chips and sprinkle grated cheese over the top. Place in BBQ for approx 10 mins until cheese is nicely melted and corn chips hot. Meanwhile combine diced tomato, cucumber and onion in a bowl and dress with a little sea salt and extra virgin olive oil. Mash avocados in a bowl with a pinch of sea salt and juice of the 1/2 lemon and combine well. Once corn chips/cheese is ready remove from bbq and scatter combined veg over the top and spread avocado mixture over this. Dig in with your fingers 🙂 (Serves approx 4)

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.

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