The Travels of Mouse: north to the sun #5

Hello again. Today, the report is about the day off I gave the Staff yesterday. I’ll let Mum do the talking…

Mum: We knew at the start of the holiday that there would be a few things where our lord and master would not be able to join us, sadly. Ahem. I have joined an organisation called Mad Paws, which brings together pet sitters and pet, er, owners. This enabled us to find a lovely lady called Vivien in Cairns, one of several people who offer doggy daycare. She has a large and exceptionally dog-friendly house, a big back yard and several doggos in residence, either her own or on long term visits. We booked a day for Mouse and brought along his medical records, his lead, quilt, snacks and some tightly crossed fingers. This is the first visit he’s made without us along, so we hoped he’d be OK. He was, of course. After demonstrating his running skills and seeing off another dog who wanted to boss him about, he settled right down, to the point where she was texting us photos showing him asleep, all through the day.

So, what did we do on our Staff Outing? We wanted to have coffee and cake, to buy cheese and chocolate, to have a good lunch, and to revisit the 900m/3,000ft high Atherton Tableland, one of our favourite areas when in Far North Queensland.

On our upward journey, we travelled south out of Cairns and turning inland at Walsh’s Pyramid, taking the Gillies Range road, 19km of 263 bends offering spectacular views of the valley below. It passes from sea level through dry to wet rainforest on the upward climb and it’s amazing how suddenly the type of vegetation changes. First stop was Lake Eacham, one of the Tablelands’ Crater Lakes. The area is volcanic, and there are several deep, deep lakes in the area. Local legends say they’re bottomless; of course, they aren’t, but being so high up and deep they’re always cold and refreshing for swimming, and blessedly free of crocodiles, unlike the sea-level waterways in the area.

Mungalli Creek biodynamic dairy has been a very enjoyable pitstop on previous journeys. They have a viewing area for the dairy at work, and serve coffee, cakes and light lunches. We had very fond recollections of memorable Devonshire Teas with clotted cream and a particularly squidgy chocolate torte. Sadly, we were disappointed, so much so that we won’t be going back, and I’m not bothering to provide a link. There was no torte, and despite the fact that they make a range of lactose free milk, yoghurt, etc, they didn’t offer lactose free cream so I could have the scones, jam and cream instead. It was perhaps just as well, as the Husband’s scones were dry and hard in the middle and the cream was a bit scanty and aerated to stretch it further. I had a soggy cheesecake of which the less said the better. The one I make myself is distinctly superior. Our coffees were terrible; his was bitter and far too strong, and mine was so weak it was like drinking hot milk. And there was no cheese for sale. We were offered Covid-19 as the reason, but couldn’t see why that would affect cheesemaking. Oh well….

Moving swiftly on, we headed for Gallo Dairyland, another cheese destination. We arrived to find it closed; at present it’s only open for half the week and of course I hadn’t checked, being used to seeing it open every day. I was beginning to feel rather despondent; I’d hoped to buy some of their hand made chocolates as well as cheese, to make up for the cake disappointment. The chocolates are reliably fabulous, and I’ll know to ring and check next time we’re up here.

And then it was time for lunch. Our favourite is the Gateway Hotel in Mareeba; I’ve posted about it before, and despite being much less busy than usual (all the tables are much further spaced, there was no crowd at the bar, etc), the staff are still warm, welcoming and attentive, and the food was, as always, magnificent pub grub.

The beef is locally produced and the steak in front of the Husband was tender and perfectly cooked. I wanted something a bit different, and had a salad of pearl couscous, roasted red capsicum and pumpkin, toasted macadamias and grilled halloumi, dressed with grilled garlicky prawns and a honey mustard dressing. I scoffed the lot, and it was a big plateful!

We took the scenic route home, descending the Kuranda Range, 11.5km of more wiggly road, coming into Cairns from the north this time. After laying in vital supplies (a hot roast chicken, chocolate, etc), we went to fetch His Majesty. He was pleased to see us, but slightly grumpy at having been left out of the fun. However, walkies, belly tickles and rather a lot of chicken scraps later he recovered his normally sunny disposition…

And that will be quite enough of that, thank you, Mum. A little respect if you don’t mind!

Miz Lizzie adventures: Chocolate, steak and the lords of the air

Another beautiful dawn, another lovely day.

When I woke just before first light today, the sky was still black velvet and scattered with huge, brilliant stars, the air was cool and fresh and slightly damp after a light rain, and the birds were starting their tune-up for the coming dawn’s full chorus. I could get to like these dawn starts, but perhaps they’d be a bit less enjoyable at home, when they herald not fun, but the start of another busy day…

Today, we’ve revisited Coffee Works, a boutique coffee blender, roaster and coffee shop, selling both the beans and brewed coffee. They also, and even more importantly, have a chocolaterie! Dark, milk and white chocolates, crusted with coffee beans, flavoured with coffee, peppermint, chilli, lemon myrtle or liqueur, studded with macadamias, fresh coconut, or chunks of crystallised ginger. Giant slabs of rocky road featuring dried cranberries and pistachio, or turkish delight and slivered almonds, or dark chocolate blobbed with orange-flavoured white chocolate… well, you get the idea. There’s nothing Willy Wonka-ish about all this; it’s a  serious operation, the flavours are grown up and sophisticated and the vast majority of ingredients are sources locally, making everything fresh, delicious and very low on the food miles. They employ nearly 20 locals in the shop and roastery alone. The operation also has an unbelievable fairy-grotto of a gift shop featuring every kind of coffee and tea-brewing equipment, beautiful mugs and teapots, as well as quite a few jugs, clocks, mirrors and candle-holders I’d happily give house room to. We managed to make it out of there only a little poorer than before, and with a fair bit of loot of the choccy variety.

Having avoided cake overload on our previous stop, it was time for lunch. We revisited a favourite, the Gateway Hotel in Mareeba, where the steaks are superlative, being local, delicious and tender. A small rest was needed before we could waddle out of the restaurant… (did I mention we also had dessert?). They’ve restored a fairly basic country pub/hotel and turned it into something lovely. I’ve posted about this place before, but I don’t think I’ve shown you the gardens before:

We started to meander slowly home to Miz Lizzie, until I spotted these. Now, I know that opinion on windmills is sharply divided. Some people loathe them, regarding them as a blot on the landscape, dangerous to those who live nearby and not worth the considerable investment they require. Others find them interesting and entirely in the spirit of making use of natural resources.

(I’ll say straight away that I’m not going to enter into any discussions on the subject and reserve the right to express my own opinions on this blog, although I know that many may disagree with them.) Personally, I find them superb, architectural and a fascinating contrast between the rugged, rocky, scrubby terrain in which they sit, and the dragonfly elegance of the blades and tower. I don’t know where the phrase ‘the lords of the air’ comes from, but to me, it exactly describes these structures. The place where these particular windmills have been sited is unsuited to any form of agriculture, is remote from habitation and is subject to almost constant strong wind, being on the western edge of the plateau.There are going to be 53 of them in due course; the towers are up and they are currently in the process of commissioning the heads and blades. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, and I am, here’s an article about the construction.

So that’s been today’s adventure. Not sure what we’re doing tomorrow, but there’s plenty of choice!

 

Miz Lizzie Adventures: Cheeses and Chocolates

And now for the drier half of yesterday’s activities.

The Atherton Tableland is famous for its dairy farming. The climate is cooler than down by the sea, the grass is thick and lush thanks to the plentiful rainfall, and the rolling hills are full of Friesians and Holsteins. I’ve mentioned the Mungalli Creek dairy in a previous post, but this time we went to Gallo’s, drawn irresistibly by the lure of fresh cheese – and chocolate!

gallo-cheesesIt’s a family business, and rather than jumping on the same bandwagon as other local farmers, and selling their milk through supermarket chains, they’ve gone the other way. Their milk is channelled into cheese and yoghurt production, and the added value products seem to be paying off for them, as their large shop and café were bustling, even mid-week. You get offered tastings before you buy, of both cheese and chocolate (oh, the hardship!), the prices are reasonable, and we came away with modest quantities of both. The Husband went for Gallo Volcano, a wax covered block of hard cheese with sun-dried tomato and chilli, and I bought some lactose-free Gallobert, a Camembert-style soft cheese, wonderfully lactic and complex.

gallo-chocolateAfter a bit of chocolate sampling, we also bought a bag of assorted chilli, salt caramel, ginger, hazelnut and orange chocolates. The only difficulty was in restricting ourselves to three of the bonbons each – I’d happily have bought one of everything!

gallo-cheese-factoryOne of the entertaining things there is that you can watch the cheese and chocolate factories at work: there are large viewing windows. The cheese is all about huge vats of steaming curds and whey in gleaming stainless steel, with a large crane gantry for lifting the vats and pouring the contents into cheese baskets or trays. The chocolate factory is a much more hands on and peaceful process, with trays and trays of different chocolate bonbons being hand poured and unmoulded.

Today’s Adventure is still along the gastro-tour lines, as we shall be going to the Nerada Tea Plantation, which produces a significant proportion of Australia’s home grown tea, and very nice it is too. I’m hoping to come away with samples… And our morning tea will be at an old favourite, the café at the Tolga Woodworks gallery, where not only do they do a mean flourless chocolate cake, but also some very beautiful hand crafted wooden art and craft gifts.

Sadly, tomorrow it’s time to pack up and leave Atherton. We’ll be heading home via a night in Townsville again. I need to do a little shopping and laundry before we leave… almost like being at home.

Oh… We ARE at home, thanks to Miz Lizzie 🙂

Right, on with the day. More tonight!

Miz Lizzie Adventures: Townsville to the Tablelands

We didn’t rush things this morning. To put it mildly; in fact, we slid sheepishly out of the campgrounds a mere 30 minutes before we would have been ejected!

Still, we were in good trim, and ready for the next leg of the trip. Despite the regulation enormous holiday breakfast, we were getting peckish by the time we approached Cardwell, a beautiful little town on the Hinchinbrook Channel, directly opposite the looming bulk of Hinchinbrook Island, the largest island on the Great Barrier Reef.  You can see the island to your right for ages as you head north before you arrive in Cardwell and it becomes obvious that it’s an island – it looks just like distant hills. Cardwell was flattened by Tropical Cyclone Yasi in 2011, the wind and waves drove the entire sandy beach up and over the town, huge old trees were uprooted, houses lost or de-roofed. Today, there’s no sign of that. It’s lavishly beautiful and neatly groomed, a wonderful place to stop for a breather, a meal, a walk along the promenade, or a nap in the shade of the surviving trees.

hinchinbrook-from-cardwell

tablelands-waterfallAfter Cardwell we pressed on, and in the early afternoon were making the long, and at times slow, ascent to the Tablelands over 900m/2,950 ft above sea level. There’s a pernicious myth that cars towing caravans/ camping trailers are slow and get in the way. We had no trouble keeping up with the flow of traffic even on the climb, but found ourselves held up by other road users a fair bit!  Large trucks and timid drivers who can’t steer confidently around corners were particularly annoying… At one point we pulled over when the truck in front slowed to a 20kmph/12mph creep. Happily, there was a small but beautiful waterfall for me to admire while we waited for the truck to clear the range.

The campsite is as good as we remembered, and even better than our last visit there as it’s virtually empty!  It’s school term-time so there are no families with noisy and active children to distract us from the peace. Second time round, setting Miz Lizzie up for our stay was a lot smoother and easier. I’ll need to find a new home for a few items which persist in flinging themselves out of cupboards and off shelves as we travel, but for the most part, our belongings were well behaved. One useful lesson; don’t take too many fresh vegetables. While you’re towing the van and the aircon is off, anything that’s not in the rather small fridge gets warm and starts to deteriorate a bit. It’s not a disaster, but good to know. We had produce in a styrene cool box, but it wasn’t enough… Another time, I’ll buy more while I’m away.

beer-time-at-lastFinally, it was beer/ cider o’clock and we could kick back, enjoy the view, the quiet and the sound of the birds in the treetops.

I’ll leave you with a selection of the foliage to be found in this beautiful spot. The campsite/holiday park has been carved out of rainforest and includes a seasonal watercourse and a small disused quarry. The grassy sites are level and closely mowed, the facilities are lovely, but for me, the charm of the place lies in the rainforest that surrounds us, with towering trunks, lush undergrowth and vines reaching for the sky.

campground-rainforestI have a large list of fun things to do around here. We shall wait and see what tomorrow brings and how many of them I get done. Or maybe we’ll just relax, take it easy and revisit some old favourites.

What the heck… I’m on holiday 🙂

 

Loot!

It’s been a lot of driving in a short time, but we’re home from Far North Queensland.

Part of the purpose of the trip was to investigate a couple of sources of potential gifts for our friends in the West Indies.  We want to take something typically Australian with us when we go, but want to avoid clichés, tackiness and a bad case of the ‘what the hell do I do with this?’.  So we went to two outstanding sources of Australian excellence.

The first is Tolga Woodworks, which is a showroom, workshop and cafe all under one roof.  They exhibit the work of wood artists, make decorative household items, and sell wood billets and turning blanks for home woodworkers – all sorts of interesting and unusual timbers. I also need to give honourable mention to the café, where the coffee is outstanding and the GF chocolate hazelnut cake with chocolate ganache and cream had my absolutely undivided attention for a good 20 minutes…  For my friend and her husband we bought a beautiful small burl bloodwood box, the sort of thing in which you keep earrings if you’re female and business cards if you’re male, and a small chopping board made of 6 different woods fitted together in stripes. For ourselves, we bought two tiny square wooden bowls for sea salt and coarse ground pepper, each with its own tiny scoop/ spoon. One is dark wood, for pepper, and the other is light, for salt.

Wooden gifts. What wonderful grain on that box.

Wooden gifts. What wonderful grain on that box.

A close up of the chopping board, and the card that comes with it, detailing the woods used.

A close up of the chopping board,
and the card that comes with it,
detailing the woods used.

iridium,Mount Uncle's dark rum. How nice is that bottle?

Iridium,
Mount Uncle’s
dark rum.
How nice is that bottle?

The second stop was Mount Uncle Distillery. This is a wonderful place, very tranquil and beautiful, surrounded by banana plantations, huge old trees, lush tropical gardens, and the most outstanding café/cellar door for tasting the product. They’ve won gold, silver and bronze medals for their rum, gin and liqueurs, and we wanted to see if any of the rum was good enough to take to Barbados, the earliest home of the golden drop. Sampling was of course mandatory… The Iridium dark rum was sensationally good, tasting and smelling of sunshine, smooth on the palate and developing flavours without harshness or bite.  They’ve got beautiful bottles too, worth keeping once the contents have gone. They’re screenprinted with tropical vegetation at the top and reef fish and coral at the bottom, to represent the flora and fauna of FNQ. Carrying rum to Barbados is a bit like selling snow to Eskimos, but I want to redeem our national reputation. She tried some Bundaberg rum, and used language…. She’s right. It IS like paint stripper. So finding the good stuff was important!

What I can’t adequately communicate in a blog is how divine both of these purchases SMELL! The woods are aromatic and mellow and spicy – and so’s the rum. One smells of warmth, woodshavings and teak oil. The other smells of vanilla and sunshine. C’mon, WordPress, we need a button for aroma.

More soon. I’ll be back on the sewing kick now our trip’s over. The Tree of Life beckons…

The Tablelands

Something to give you a taste… 

The most fantastic experience, a magical dawn balloon flight over the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland. Once in the air, you quickly forget the 3.30am start to get up there in time to catch the dawn thermals… I’ve done this a few times now, but the Husband did it for the first time on our honeymoon. If you ever get the chance, seize it!

Mareeba Dawn

In the cool, dry, dark pre-dawn
A dragon roars quietly,
Flame bursting orange-gold,
Illuminating a yellow crysalis.
Slowly on the high plateau
A gorgeous globe arises,
Glowing, majestic,
Attended by racing satellites.

Tethered below, we wait
As the red-stained sky
Blushes warmly on
The Tableland’s rich red soil.
Silently, we drift upwards,
The land turns its waking face
Up to be kissed by the sun
Throwing aside its misty veils.

Awake in all its variety,
It is stitched, knotted, woven and ribbed
With vegetable richness
On its warm and fertile canvas.
And now the sun shouts triumphantly,
And in our fragile golden bubble
We salute her, a small tribute
Floating, like her, in the cobalt sky.

And for a more visual experience, see below! 

Firing up

Firing up

 

Interior view

Interior view

Tablelands landscape at dawn

Tablelands landscape at dawn

Dawn flight

Dawn flight