New Year’s Eve. Home and Away, 2014.

As I cast a lazy summer’s eye over the year that was 2014, one thing stands out clearly. We travelled a lot. Overseas trips were interspersed with hard work at home, followed by more travel to recover. Mr T and I made an early New Year’s Resolution to travel less in 2015, but I have noticed some overseas bookings creeping into the 2015 calendar: only because the fares are so ridiculously cheap and because we are irresponsible old gypsies at heart.

Our year away begun in January with two weeks spent in West Java and Sumatra. The highlights of this trip included time spent with my old friend Banardi and his partner, Adam in their house in the mountains near Puncak, West Java. Daily cooking lessons were the highlight of this trip as well as spending time with B’s family. Lake Toba, Sumatra was an exotic side trip and an intriguing foray into Batak culture.

B cooks up ma storm in his Indo kitchen
Banardi ,the barefoot chef ,cooks up a storm in his Indo kitchen
Chinese New Year in Jakarta with B's Family.
Chinese New Year in Jakarta with B’s Family.

Thanks Banardi and Adam, but also our big thanks goes to B’s family, especially Baria and family, Tony and Li Li and all B’s extended family, who made our stay so special.

Side trip to Lake Toba, Sumatra. Our xx by the shore,
Side trip to Lake Toba, Sumatra. Our losmen by the shore.
lake Toba
Lake Toba from our terrace.

After returning to Melbourne, we soon set up camp in our family compound by the sea on the Mornington Peninsula. This annual camp is as old as Methuselah and involves four generations of family members. As we travel between homes, our regular home and our ‘canvas’ trailer by the sea, various family members and guardian angels take care of things left behind at either end. Thankyou for watering our garden and looking after our chooks, and thanks to the ‘guardians’ down by the sea.

Family Play time
Family play time
Gloriuos sunsets of Port Phillip Bay
glorious sunsets of Port Phillip Bay

In May we set off for our annual trip to New Zealand. The North Island is still wonderfully clement in May, and as the prices for hiring a motor home plummet to $30 a day, it’s a mere hop, step and jump to fly to Auckland and then on to the glorious bays of the North. The natural scenery in New Zealand is breathtaking. And the local seafood is pretty tasty too. We have decided that NZ is not to be classed as an overseas trip since we share the same sea and a few relatives¬†as well. Thanks Rachael, Andrew and Renato for monitoring things at home.

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Thats
I’m always keen to hunt for shellfish!

On returning from New Zealand, things turned rather cold in Melbourne and it was just as well we had our holiday booked for Thailand, China and Indonesia. After a few days experiencing Bangkok and its Coup, we headed off to China for a few weeks in Yunnan province and then a further two weeks with our wonderful friends, Tia and Carol in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.¬†The food, the glorious days in ancient walled cities: China stole my heart. Thanks Tia and śĚ圆Ϭ†for the wonderful long drive through the countryside of Sichuan, and Carol and husband for the great trips around Chengdu. Also thanks to Richard and Jo Jo for the great day out at the Panda¬†zoo in Chengdu.

Ma Po Dofu
Ma Po Dofu

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Night market food stall in Kunming.
Night market food stall in Kunming.


On the way back from China home, we called into Indonesia again for a month, this time in Pemuteran in the North coast of Bali, an ideal spot to snorkel, dive and relax. This area is not a major tourist destination- unlike some of the other hotspots in Bali. It is restful, shopping free and remote. We also flew over to the island of Flores, followed by a lazy week back in Sanur. Thanks Helen for being such a relaxing and easy-going travel companion and to Rosalie and Ian for your great company and friendship too.

Balinese culture endures, despite the tourist influx.
Balinese culture endures, despite the tourist influx.

We did stay put for six weeks of Melbourne winter and then headed off to the outback, via South Australia, a rather slow meander through lovely countryside. It’s good to be a toursit in your own country.

Baby emus in the Flinders Ranges
Baby emus in the Flinders Ranges

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA quick five day trip to the Murray River with family in November, saw the cousins get along in the great outdoors.

A bend in the Murray River
A bend in the Murray River

And in December, our annual trip to my favourite beach, Lake Tyers, in Gippsland provided a fitting finale to the year, along with a side trip to Paynesville and Raymond Island to visit the land of our great grandparents. Thanks Kerrie and Bruce for sharing this trip with us.

A Double rainbow. over the fifty mile beach at Lake Tyers, Gippsland, Australia.
A double rainbow arches over the fifty mile beach at Lake Tyers, Gippsland, Australia.
The iviting h=jetty at Fishermans Landing
The inviting jetty at Fishermans Landing. A good spot for a picnic.

And thank you my dear readers if you got through this rather long and indulgent New Year’s Eve¬†Post. I hope you had a great year too. Best wishes for the next one. Capo¬†d’anno.¬†F xx

Take Me to the River

Sitting on the banks of the ancient Murray River, the day is hot and still: I pass the afternoon with a glass of vodka and Passiona on ice, sunning my legs, followed by a dip in the water,  while chatting with my daughter/best friend. Oh Happy Day.

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I’m on a mission to explore the many beaches and banks of the Murray River, camping off the grid where possible. ¬†As the river is 2,508 kilometres in length and runs through three states of Australia, this could be mission¬†impossible. ¬†Earlier Murray river posts can be viewed here and here.

Isolated beach on the Murray River
Isolated beach on the Murray River

This time, we set up camp on a sandy bank between Cobram and Yarrawonga in Victoria, one day after a holiday weekend. We had this glorious beach to ourselves, bar two canoeists heading down stream, and one tourist passenger boat. I’m glad I wasn’t perched on the throne of my river view¬†toilet/shower on that occasion.

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Thanks to Kyle, who should be cloned and packed away in everyone’s tool box, we had hot water on demand, many other unusual and handy camping gadgets, as well as ready help with anything to fix or adjust. His gadgets included a vacuum cleaner, a high pressure hose, an electric fan, radios, mobile phones, tablets and iPads, shower pumps and portable fridges, to name just a few. Solar panels supplied power to the 12 volt battery systems that had already been charged by our vehicles in the trip to the river. An inverter took care of converting 12 volt power from the batteries to 240 volts for those appliances that required mains power.

Our hot water service was fired up each morning and evening. Cold river water is poured into a funnel inserted in the top of the keg which is then heated on the campfire. A short time later, boiling hot water comes from the outlet, providing enough for showers and dishwashing.

Kyle's reprurposed stainless stell keg hot water service.
Kyle’s repurposed stainless steel beer keg hot water service.

Camping trips require good but simple food. Sometimes we cooked on gas or used Kyle’s Dutch ovens, partly buried in a shallow layer of hot coals with more hot coal on the lids enabling roasting, casseroling and baking. ¬†Lunchtime catering on hot days consisted of sandwiches and salads: the kids picked out the bits they liked. The pescatarians ate¬†stuffed peppers with leftover Pesto Mac ( a variation of Mac and Cheese for pesto lovers) as well as curries and salmon burgers.

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The family took the week off, cashing in on Melbourne Cup Day Holiday to take time out in a great month of the year.¬†What did the kids learn?¬†The oldest (10) ¬†learnt about solar energy and sustainability and the basic law of physics, via¬†the water heater service. He observed our camping solar panels in action and asked the pertinent question, “If this is the sunniest spot in Victoria, why aren’t there more solar panels around? This area could produce enough power for the state of Victoria!” ¬†Good question Noah. ¬†A child can see the common sense in solar energy¬†after a camping trip like this.

Are our political leaders slow learners, are their heads buried in the sand or inserted into another orifice of the dirty brown coal industry providers?  At 10 years old, kids ask questions, at 18 they vote. At 50 what will their world be like without a radical change to address climate change?

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The younger ones learnt to use the currents of the river to move downstream (with safety jackets on). They watched the full moon rise each evening. The girls found some instant $1.00 fashion in the op shops of a nearby town. The children had no need for shoes, they were always hungry, and they played and looked after each other. The cards came out, Ollie found a handmade sling shot, Lottie found an off cut of redgum wood which became an oiled cheese board. They skip jumped rocks on the river and dug vast holes in the sand and joined in night-time campfire conversations about dreams.

We wound up with a moonlight ballet concert on the beach, spot lit by one of Kyle’s camping toys, with Daisy doing a great dying swan act on the banks of the river.¬†

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How nice it would be to take a tinny or kayak down the river from Yarrawonga to Cobram.

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Song plants to go with this post, because camping is also about singing:

  • Take Me to the River,¬†Al Green, nicely covered ¬†by Talking Heads.
  • I See the Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival.
  • Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky¬†-you know the one!
  • Oh Happy Day, ¬†18th century gospel song first popularised by Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1969.
  • Love is a Battlefield, Pat Benatar, a good tune to dance to in the wilds.

 



Outback Road Trip via the Fleurieu Peninsula.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore heading off into the outback, another bountiful district led us astray. It first announced its beauty with its flowering fields of canola, quickly followed by unfenced acres of orange groves and distant orchards of pink flowering stone fruit. The Riverland district of South Australia is blessed with good soil and irrigation water from the Murray. There are also more camping opportunities in this district as the bushland surrounding the Murray is a declared reserve, with large sandy banks and steep white cliffs.

Other distractions include historic towns, such as Strathalbyn, with well-preserved stone buildings dating from the 1850s, well-tended parks,  dramatic churches, antique shops and cafes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We obtained more supplies for our illusive outback trip : a large Kent pumpkin and a five kilo string of blood oranges, which juice so colourfully :’vampire’ juice. Roadside farmers’ stalls are numerous¬†and economical. ¬†

Heading down further into the Fleurieu Peninsula, agricultural plenty gave way to other forms of oral fixation in the name of good restaurants.

Highly recommended is the award-winning Victory Hotel overlooking Sellicks beach. The menu here is excellent and the seafood local and fresh. I ordered half a dozen Coffin Bay oysters, which came with red wine jelly, an excellent foil to the salty sea hit. They were so good, I immediately ordered another six. ($25.00 a dozen).

Fresh briny oysters at the Victory Hotel
Fresh briny oysters at the Victory Hotel, Sellicks Beach, Saouth Australia

These were followed by¬†Myponga Beach salt and pepper squid, (e $15/ m$25.50 ) as fresh as a daisy; I was in fishy heaven and would happily have remained at this hotel for a few days to¬†eat my way through the menu. If you are travelling in the district, don’t miss this place.

A tangle of locally caught squid, simply fried. It's all about the freshness here.
A tangle of locally caught squid, simply fried. It’s all about the freshness here.

Nearby in Port Elliott, the Flying Fish Cafe does a roaring trade.  Situated directly on the sandy beach, the views are worth the slight detour. The cafe is divided into two sections, the fish and chippery and the a` la carte restaurant. The fish is fresh and well prepared. It was a Tuesday lunch time and the place was jumping.

The Flying Fish Cafe, Port Elliot, South Australia
The Flying Fish Cafe, Port Elliot, South Australia
Grilled Red Snapper, roasted sweet potatos, cherry tomatoes, balsamic.
Pan fried red snapper, roasted sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, balsamic, around $30.00

We didn’t make it to the nearby Star of Greece Restaurant in Port Willunga, and it’s probably just as well since our slight detour into the Fleurieu was taking much longer than we envisaged.

Due to the temptations offered along the way, the outback was becoming a place of myth and legend.

 

 

Camping, Cuisine and the Murray River


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn his foreword to Steve Strevens’ book, ‘Slow River’, Stefano de Piero attests to his appreciation of the slowness and strength of the Murray River, noting that words like ‘mighty Murray’ are too clich√©d.¬†Stefano continues to quote poet and scholar Paul Kane, who describes the Murray in this way,

“The Murray, a river of work, cutting its way through time and all resistance: here broad and reflecting, there deep and gorgeous in confinement- scoriated limestone valleys of imagination – and stillness too, in swampy backwaters and billabongs, where the traveller, the river’s reader, can paddle about and muse on the curious vicissitudes of Nature’s Muse, who is like a river, only she is her own source of plenishment, whereas the Murray- refreshed by loss- is both less and more.” Paul Kane, 1995.

I have tried on a few adjectives too and I keep coming back to ‘elemental’ and ‘primordial’ to describe this river and its beautiful surrounding bush. Although not many of us are in the¬†position, like Steve, to take a ‘tinnie’ ¬†(a small aluminium boat) down the Murray from source to sea, we can appreciate its wonder and hypnotic attraction by camping along its banks.¬†
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne evening, a posse of around 20 pelicans came bobbing along, appearing as if from nowhere from a nearby fork in the river. For the first 10 minutes, like obedient troupes, they stayed in a neat line as they travelled upstream. Bills up and down in unison, they hugged the banks of the river for some time. Then, as if commanded by an invisible force, they simultaneously spread out in a wide circle, a choreographed show, and the hunt was on. Fishing time! Amidst the white troupe, one small dark cormorant had joined the gang.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHuman daytime activities consist of walking and photography, noting the variety of flora and bird life, and watching the ever-changing moods of this slow river as it passes by. ¬†Other pastimes include reading books about the Murray ( see below), fiddling with the solar panels, and considering whether it’s time for another cup of tea or something stronger. Big decisions. The days are sunny and the nights are frosty in early September so a camp fire is recommended. ¬†From November through to May, camp fires are banned due to the risk of bushfire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt times, a houseboat cruises by. The nearby Lyrup Ferry service operates 24 hours a day: it is a free service and one simply pulls up, presses the red button, and out comes the ferryman to take you and your car over the short stretch of river. Of course, I couldn’t stop singing Chris de Burgh’s,¬†“Don’t pay the ferryman, don’t even fix a price, don’t pay the ferryman, until he gets you to the other side, ah ahh ahhahaah”. ¬†South Australia retains some fine traditions.

Handsome and on call Ferryman at Lyrup.
Handsome and on call Ferryman at Lyrup.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the late afternoon, food is prepared and the fire is lit. Mr T chops onions, garlic and ginger: he is my favourite kitchen hand. Tonight’s feast includes a Keralan fish curry, loaded with fresh curry leaves found in the excellent Indian shop in Mildura. Alongside is an Aloo Gobi stir fry- a simple little cauliflower and potato dish with added Kalonji seeds. I put¬†Kalonji seeds in many things these days, especially flat breads.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next day, a big shared Szechuan soup for lunch with wongbok cabbage, tofu and chilli hits the spot and at night, my favourite, jaffles cooked in the fire. Food tastes so good in the open air.

Szechan soup, tofu, wongbok, chilli, spring onions
Szechuan soup, tofu, wongbok, chilli, spring onions
Jaffles cooked in the fire.
Jaffles cooked in the fire.

Camping by the river is one of the best ways to enjoy the Australian bush, especially in September when you have the place to yourself, along with the birds, and the silence of the slow Murray River. As the night descends, it’s time for a glass of local wine and perhaps a hummed tune, ‘Take me to the River’ ,after the wine has disappeared.



Two excellent books on the Murray River:

Slow River, A journey down the Murray, Steve Strevens, Allen and Unwin 2006

The River. A journey through the Murray- Darling basin, Chris Hammer, Melbourne University Press, 2011



Trentham Estate Restaurant, Mildura

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMildura is situated on the banks of the slow winding Murray river in the far North-West corner of Victoria, Australia. It calls like a sunny siren from its distant post, attracting many travellers in winter and early spring, those who wish to experience big, blue skies and sunny days. The land is flat but very productive, given that 80% of Victoria’s wine grapes come from this area, along with crops of oranges, avocados, and other vegetables. The architecture is modern and bland, with a touch of Spanish Mission here and there. It is an odd town but still very appealing, with broad city streets lined with palm trees and ornamental vines, one famous hotel and some very good art galleries.

We have stopped here for the night on our journey to the outback. First stop is lunch at Trentham Estate winery, then an overnight camp along the banks of the Murray River, followed by a morning visit to the Sunraysia Farmers’ Market.

View from the outdoor tables on the verandah
View from the outdoor tables on the verandah

Lunch at Trentham Estate Restaurant.

I started with a leek and potato soup, which came with some surprising little extras on the side, a dollop of house made tapenade with a touch of lemon zest, some crisps, and small wedges of roasted zucchini. Small, but very satisfying, especially with the tapenade swirled through the soup.

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Mr Tranquillo opted for a main course only, although I knew that he would devour half my dolce. A substantial fish pie, containing Murray Cod, smoked salmon, and prawns, this dish was well executed and I was extremely jealous. I scored a few forkfuls!

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seafood pie, creamy and substantial.
seafood pie, creamy and substantial.

I opted for another entrée, this time a tart of roasted beetroot, creamy fetta and caramelised onion. The puff pastry overwhelmed this dish and I felt that the dish was too dry.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Next came a dessert of quince tarte tatin, served with ice cream and hazlenut. This little treat stole the show, and as predicted, Mr T developed a taste for half.

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The other pleasure to be found¬†at Trentham¬†is the wine tasting room with its glorious view and pleasant staff. We purchased the Nebbiolo. This Italian variety is hard to find in Melbourne. Trentham’s vintage did not disappoint.

Wine tasting room at Trentham Estate.
Wine tasting room at Trentham Estate.

TRENTHAM ESTATE WINERY

Sturt Highway
Trentham Cliffs
NSW 2738
Australia