On the road again…

So, we’ve been on a road trip. From the Sunshine Coast to Eucumbene – and back again.

In total, we’ve covered over 3600kms and played about the same number of songs – okay, that last stat is an exaggeration, but regional radio stations tend to have limited range. We’ve also seen at least that many kangaroos – and that is no exaggeration.

Our road trip “guidelines” (if you can call them that) are easy:

  • we stop every 2 hours – the whole stop, revive, survive thing… more often if there’s somewhere interesting.
  • where possible we stop in a town with a nice park and somewhere to walk around
  • We always start the day with a full thermos of hot water and tea and coffee making supplies – coffee in regional towns is often a disappointment
  • Where possible we pack sandwiches for lunch and carry supplies for breakfast

If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you would have seen my daily photos, but here’s how it went.

Sunshine Coast – Narrabri 655kms

After an early start, we took the hinterland route via Beerwah, Kilcoy, and Esk, stopping at Toowoomba for a lookout and morning tea.

The area around Toowoomba is rich agricultural country – the Darling Downs. It’s also largely a floodplain, albeit one that’s currently drought affected. We pulled in at Milmerran for a sausage roll – one of our aims for this trip was to decide on the best…this was not it – but it was far from the worst (spoiler alert – that was at Cooma).

Milmerran is mostly known for its annual camp oven festival and damper throwing contest. We didn’t see evidence of either of these events. At present Milmerran is also the centre of a protest against the proposed route of a new inland rail track across the floodplains. We certainly saw evidence of that.

Another couple of hundred kilometres down the road was Goondiwindi – our scheduled lunch break.

For the useless book of knowledge: Goondiwindi is mostly famous for a champion racehorse in the late 60’s – 70s – Gunsynd, the Goondiwindi grey – who actually never set hoof in the town. The syndicate which owned him, however, was from Goondiwindi and not only was a song written about Gunsynd, there’s a statue in town (and plenty of motels and other businesses) dedicated to him.

For even more trivia, Goondiwindi comes from the aboriginal words goondi indicating droppings or dung and windi indicating duck, Of course, there’s probably more to it than that, but we’ll leave it there.

The 200 odd kms from Goondiwindi to Narrabri (via Moree) is heartbreakingly dry. There’s also evidence of cotton everywhere– in the roadside plants, the paddocks, and the processing gins.

We reached Narrabri mid-afternoon – just as the football was finishing. In case you’re interested, Narrabri beat Inverell. A lovely town, Narrabri was given the honour of being Australia’s Sportiest Town by Channel 9 – on account of the number of sportspeople who have come from the town. Another one for the useless book of knowledge. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.

Where we stayed: Midtown Motel Narrabri

Where we ate: Narrabri RSL…as an aside, they do a mean schnitty….

Narrabri RSL

Narrabri to Cootamundra 582kms

The first hour of today’s drive – to Coonabarabran – is dead boring. Miles and miles of not a lot. It’s also seriously dry. For those of us in the city or in areas unaffected by the drought, it’s an eye-opener. There’s not much stock around, and very little feed in the paddocks for those with stock.

Coonabarabran is home to Australia’s largest telescope and observatory – or “optical astronomical research facility”. It’s also the centre of the world’s largest virtual solar system drive. There are 5 drives with the planets spaced out (get it?) to scale along each route. We stopped at Neptune in Gilgandra for morning tea.

at Gilgandra

Next stop was The Dish just north of Parkes – or the CSIRO Parkes Observatory to give it its full name. I vaguely remember coming here back in the 70s. These days it has an impressive – and interesting – visitor’s centre and an over-priced café, but it’s still in the middle of a sheep paddock.

If you’ve seen the movie, The Dish, you’d know that this observatory was instrumental in beaming pictures to the world of the moon landing back in 1969. And yes, those pictures were coming to the world from a dish in the middle of a sheep paddock. Well worth the stop.

Parkes, our lunch stop, is also famous for its annual Elvis festival in February. Add that to your calendar.

The country from here is beautiful – rolling hills, a little more feed in the paddocks,  and cute as a button lambs. It’s dry, but it’s a huge difference from what we saw just a few hundred kilometres up the road.

Between Forbes and Grenfell we left the highway and found an alternate route in order to dirty up the RAV a tad.

Overnight is at Cootamundra where the temperature got well below freezing.

Oh, before I forget, Cootamundra is famous for being the birthplace of Sir Donald Bradman. It also has a wattle festival – held when the wattle is out…which I suppose is now-ish.

Where we stayed: Heritage Motel (next to the Country Club)

Where we ate: Cootamundra Services Club – the cutlets were amazingly good.

Cootamundra to Tumbarumba 155kms

After a frosty start – a cold minus 4C – we set off for Tumbarumba.

Where do I start to tell you about Tumba? Firstly, it’s where my family is from. There have been members of the Lyons family in this town since (at least) the 1880’s – not that many years after the town was established. My grandmother’s family (the Doughtys) was also here from (at least) the 1880s. Our family history is tied into the history of the town.

Both my grandparents were born here, lived here and died here. My father and his seven siblings were born here, as were a good number of my cousins. I still have family here and consider this town to be where my roots are. Yet I haven’t been down to visit for way too long.

Looking up at Sugar Pine Walk

First stop was out of town at the Sugar Pine Walk in the Bago State Forest at Laurel Hill. If you hashtag #sugarpinewalk in Instagram, you’ll see how popular this spot is for weddings and photo shoots.

Next up we stopped in at the historical society for a look-see. My grandmother’s parents have their portraits hanging there. I also found photos of one of my aunts, my father, and another uncle in the annual calendar. What really interested me was the story of the Southern Cloud – a plane that went missing for 30 years and was found in the bush outside Tumba.

Before spending the afternoon catching up with family, we had lunch at The Nest. This is new since I was last in town and is doing amazing things with local produce. They hold regular markets and food events. There’s even a cinema here. Things have certainly changed since when I saw Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo at the Memorial Hall!

I had my favourite meal of the entire road trip here – pasta with chestnuts, cauliflower, garlic, chorizo and olive oil. Simple and perfect with a glass of local wine.

Tumbarumba is famous for cool climate wines, blueberries, the Tumbarumba Rodeo (on New Years Day every year), Tumba Fest (in February), for having an entire rugby league team comprising entirely of the members of one family – the Goldspinks. There’s been a song written about Tumba (ironically by a Kiwi but covered by Hoodoo Guru), and it’s even mentioned in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake…no, I have no idea why either, nor have I read it. Mostly though, it’s important because it’s where my family comes from.

Before I forget, the winning sausage roll for the trip came from Tumbarumba Bakery.

Where we stayed: The Club Motel

Where we ate: The Elms at Tumbarumba Motel

Tumbarumba to Canberra 290kms

It always feels so comfortable being back in Canberra – yes, even in the middle of winter. We’d scheduled two nights to allow us to catch up with hubby’s family and some friends – although we did, as we always do, ran out of time and didn’t get to see everyone.

In between, we found some time to spend an hour or so at the art gallery. It was the perfect way to clear the head after a heap of running around and visiting – as great as it was to run around and visit.

Where we stayed:  Mercure Canberra. This was a bit of a trip down memory lane as I last stayed there the night before our wedding – and had all the before church type of photos taken in the lovely gardens there. Of course, back then it was Olim’s Hotel at Ainslie.

Where we ate: The stand-out was Walt & Burley on the Kingston Foreshore. Since when did that get so interesting?

Next time…Eucumbene and part 2

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.

Clancy of the Campfire…

We’re about to head out on a road trip. Our destination is a locality called Eucumbene – in the south of NSW near the Snowy Mountains. It’s about a 40-minute drive from Cooma and the same from Jindabyne and in the winter that means it’s cold.

We’re meeting my brother and his family down there. When we lived in Sydney it was something that we did annually, but from South East Queensland it’s more of an expedition. We’ve decided to turn that expedition into an adventure and see some of New South Wales that neither of us has seen in years. On the way down we’ll be stopping in:

  • Narrabri
  • Cootamundra
  • Tumbarumba – to visit some of my father’s family
  • Canberra – to catch up with hubby’s mother and some friends

On the way back? We haven’t quite decided yet. Parkes, Forbes, Cowra, Dubbo are definitely on the list in some way.

We’ll be in Eucumbene for a long weekend, staying in what used to be worker’s cabins from the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme. We sleep in sleeping bags so, in a way, it feels like camping – or at least glamping – so that’s what we call it.  My brother, however, is made of tougher stuff and sleeps outside in his swag.

the swag

Although we have a kitchen inside, we cook outside. There’s a bathroom inside as well as an outside dunny with no door and a view to the bush and any passing kangaroo. We have a television for DVDs – there’s no TV reception -and aside from one point just outside the kitchen window, there’s no mobile reception.

During the day we take drives up the mountain to find snow for the kids to play in, rivers for the 4 wheel drives to do their thing in, and country to explore. We take walks with the kids to look for kangaroos, practice our whip cracking skills, pop popcorn and toast marshmallows on the fire.

the popcorn maker

Mostly though, it’s about the campfire and the cooking. Other than breakfast, everything needs to be cooked outside – even when it’s snowing. One year it was sheeting down, and we still managed to turn out excellent meals but didn’t need to walk back and forth to the fridge for our beers.

Each year we look forward to this weekend possibly more than any other thing we do. Here are some of the reasons why:

It’s an excuse to wear a real flannelette shirt…

The flanny I’m talking about is the outdoor flanny. Even if there’s no snow, it’s cold enough for beanies and gloves and lumberjackets and flannelette.

It’s a reason to visit a boating, camping and fishing type of store… 

We wander the aisles and fantasise about loading up an old landrover and heading out into the middle of nowhere with all of our super camping accessories. Of course, we rarely buy anything and would probably never do the real roughing it thing – I like a flushing toilet and a comfy bed too much – but it’s fun to dream.

Last time I picked up this enamel mug that I now drink my wine out of. I’m all class.

You get to use a jaffle iron…

Sure, you can have your electric sandwich makers, but I’m talking a real, heavy, takes ages to cook (and even longer for the contents to cool) jaffle iron. A good jaffle should:

  • be comprised of leftovers or pantry staples
  • should be able to be eaten in one hand, leaving the other free for a beer
  • need no faffing about with garnishes and pretty bits on the plate.
spag bol jaffle

This year I’m doing a variation on the jaffle with a Kiwi classic – the cheese roll. Watch this space.

Cooking in a camp oven is a challenge…

The theory is that anything you can cook in a normal oven, you can cook in one of these cast iron babies – in theory. That’s it in the pic below. The reality is different. We’ve had some roaring successes and some serious failures. I still recall the night our slow cooked beef (containing 2 bottles of very drinkable red wine) boiled dry in 20 minutes. Now we know it has something to do with the boiling qualities of alcohol, but back then? No idea – and with Jindy and Cooma so far away dinner that night was cheese and bikkies for us and 2 minute noodles for the kids.

The thing with a camp oven is that it doesn’t go on the fire as such – the temperature is controlled by it’s proximity to the fire and the coals above and below it. Yes, it’s technical. As a result, the boys spend a lot of time digging the pit for the camp oven, and much more time tending the fire.

Each year we have a culinary challenge that the bulk of our weekend is centred around. One year it was curries, another year it was the lunchtime pizza challenge and the jaffle challenge. This time around each family must plan and produce a 3-course meal prepared and cooked entirely outside. Thankfully none of us is competitive…much!

So far we’ve already produced one cookbook – Clancy of the Campfire: The Spirit of the Snowies– and anything from this year will go into a part 2. Who knows, one day we could be on the shelves in camping stores…

It’s so quiet out there…

The bush has its own noise, but it’s a different noise. It’s also more effective for the removal of stress than anything else I know – except perhaps the ocean.

There’s the wind through the trees, the rustle of leaves, the sound of a roo bounding around through the scrub, a cow somewhere nearby. The birds sound different too. Out there the magpies warble and the kookaburras really laugh. There’s the occasional flash of colour as the red or blue breast of a wren darts between branches. Even the snow that falls so softly, has all sorts of cracks and creaks associated with the melt.

if you look closely you can see a couple of roos…

As for the stars… don’t even get me started on how beautiful the stars are at night.

Do you camp? Or glamp? Any favourite jaffle or camp oven recipes you’d like to share?

This post has been adapted from one that appeared previously on my old website – and anyways…

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.