A week-long trip to marvellous Melbourne.

Okay. This post is not going to be for everyone because a) I took no photos of my week in Melbourne b) I saw only the taxman, 3 friends and a few family members c) covers mostly what returning residents to a city as marvellous as Melbourne do, when disinclined to see anyone.

Due to the many verbal sparring sessions I’ve had in leading up to my time away (I’d put it down to hormonal imbalance except one look at me will convince even the least observant person otherwise), I simply wanted and needed some time to myself to recharge my batteries. So I’m very sorry if I didn’t call you while in Melbourne. If it makes you feel any better, very few people even knew I was there.

Anyhow, HRH, Amanda and I took to the skies last Monday night, at the start of Amanda’s second week of school holidays. We arrived at the cock-crowing hour of 6am and by the time we made it to HRH’s bestie’s home in Balwyn, after first being conveyed to an off-site car rental company’s parking bay, then negotiating unfamiliar roads guided only by Google Maps on our half-dead mobile phones, it was close to 8.30am. Thoroughly jet-lagged, we had a quick breakfast with one of our gracious hosts and willed ourselves to catch-up on some much-needed shut eye. If there is anything I can say about flying budget, it’s this: don’t expect to get any sleep, especially if the person behind you is a giant whose knees keep kneading your back, but not in a good way.

I awoke mid-afternoon, showered and settled into a comfortable lump on one of the sofas with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas for company. With HRH glued to his Iphone and Amanda still fast asleep, I remained utterly content in that semi-comatose position until one of hosts returned from work, and then another. We indulged in some chit chat, as old friends who’ve not seen each other in a long time do, then adjourned to the Straits Cafe in Doncaster where I managed to satisfy my long-held craving for fish head noodles. And that marked the end of day one.

On day 2, the 3 of us spent a good hour getting to the taxman’s office (yes, it does take forever to get anywhere in Melbourne) then another 2 hours holed up in his windowless room until our business with him was done. Leaving $2400 poorer (taxman has yet to bill us for his services but that’s the price he quoted beforehand), we made our way to Glen Waverley where we stumbled upon an ol’ haunt, The Grand Tofu, famed for Malaysian hawker fare, which with the on-going construction of the apartments above the railway station, is now housed a stone’s throw from the library along Kingsway. There, in place of the second bowl of fish head noodles I was hoping to eat (I told you I have a craving), had Penang assam laksa with extra “hae koh” (shrimp paste) as my first choice was sold out. HRH had curry noodles with 6 pieces of yong tau fu while Amanda had her regular wanton noodle soup. You can click on any of the highlighted links to see pictures and reviews of the restaurants I frequented.

We returned to our hosts’ home after that to enjoy the last of the sun’s rays. Fine weather such as what we had last Wednesday is so rare in Melbourne that when you do have it, the way to make the most of it is to do absolutely nothing – which is what we did. Changing back into my PJs, I went for a stroll around the garden and sat by the pool contemplating the many people who in one way or another, make up the fabric of my existence. Why do some irritate me more than others? Do I make extraneous allowances for those that don’t, therefore they don’t, or is there simply such a thing as an animal-knowing of incompatibility?

That night, our hosts treated us to a Thai restaurant called Jinda in Richmond where we feasted on crispy pork belly stir fried with chinese kale, green paw paw salad, fish with the traditional namjin sauce, massaman curry and shared two scrumptious desserts at the end. Walking back to their car, we came across a Thai grocer next door. Since none of us had ever been in one, or one completely dedicated to Thai food, we all went for a look see. If you love Thai food and are the lazy sort like I am, you’ll appreciate the wide variety of freshly cooked, boxed, curries, stir fries, snacks and refrigerated desserts on offer. Not only that but I spied quite a number of the road-side snacks I’d bought as a kid in Malaysia, such as fish satay and tamarind candy.

Since we were in Melbourne to essentially decompress, we spent day 3 snoozing until midday, then went to Box Hill’s Ramen King for lunch, followed by a spot of shopping at Chadstone, just to show Amanda “Australia’s biggest shopping mall.” She wasn’t as impressed as HRH and I were, nostalgic at the sight of Chaddy, an old friend that has grown into this sprawling capitalistic behemoth in our absence. We walked around pointing out the new additions to the the building to her, the way proud parents say, “Do you remember when our baby was just this high?”

That evening our host took us to  Tien Dat Vietnamese restaurant in Box Hill where we shared plates of broken rice, vermicelli salad, and crispy stir-fried noodles. As I’d picked up a jar of marinated goat’s cheese and rosemary flavoured Byron Bay-made crackers from Simon Johnson at Chaddy and HRH a 24 piece box of Lindor balls from Sweet As, we decided to have dessert in the quiet of our hosts’ home instead of competing for shouting space with the other diners there.

Day 4 was much like day 3, in that we also slept until midday; I, having risen earlier than the other two, took a break from Cloud Atlas to check out Jeff Mcmullen’s “A Life of Extremes”, which came highly recommended by one of our hosts; part travelogue, part memoir of a life lived out documenting many of this centuries’ worst wars, A Life of Extremes will make even the most restless first world dweller thankful for the relative peace and affluence we enjoy here. It is a read that will open your eyes to what it means to live and be alive like no other. Flipping through it’s pages, I was grateful to my maker not to have been born a South American or African child soldier, or any soldier for that matter, as a horrific death is almost a certainty in many of the encounters cited.

When the other two cared to join me after their shower, we went to Springvale for lunch. HRH and Amanda, hankering after mud crab, had that sea meat Melbourne is so well-known for, braised with noodles at an establishment named Hue Hue, where it’s currently going for $26 per pound. Meanwhile I walked to the neighbouring market and back, where I picked up a roast pork roll and a undiluted glass of freshly pressed sugarcane juice laced with tangy kumquats for a tiny $11. In the evening, we drove over to my brother’s place to sort out some stuff and take him and his wife to dinner.

Endeavouring to show Amanda what Papa and Mama got up to before we had her, back in the days when the two of us called Melbourne home, HRH ferried us to Kansai in Huntingdale, an old favourite, only to find the shop no longer there. So I got my first choice, which was a visit to another old favourite, an unpretentious little Thai place in Springvale called Papaya Pog Pog where we had 2 plates of fragrant crab fried rice, tolerably hot Thai paw paw salad, fermented crab Lao paw paw salad and thai chicken mince salad.

A word of warning: if you like 5 star establishments or silver service, most of the diners in Springvale will not be for you. Spingvale is one of those what-you-see-is-what-you-get type suburbs. Food is cheap for the simple reason that eateries are typically no-frills affairs. Having said that, produce used is fresh and of good quality, which is what I’d prefer to zen-out establishments featuring over-priced “Asian-inspired”, bastardised fare any given day. But that’s just me. You can’t eat the wallpaper anyway.

On day 5 we had to pull ourselves out of bed a little earlier as we had a date with HRH’s cousin, who lives in the same suburb as our hosts’ but 10 minutes by car away. It was good to see that he had relocated from Brisbane to Melbourne successfully and is by all accounts, very happy there. After a cup of tea or two at his place, we all left for Papa Rich, a franchise familiar to all Malaysians, synonymous with upmarket Kopitiam (coffee shop) fare. I suppose that for all our oft-proclaimed desires that society be flat and everyone equal, everyone wishes for a rich Papa, hence the popularity of the chain.

At the urging of HRH’s cousin’s wife, I tried their biryani and ayam masak merak set, which was surprisingly authentic. HRH had their nasi lemak, which he too was only too pleased with to extol the virtues of, and Amanda a couple of sticks of satay and some of my biryani.

After yet more sofa-warming back at our hosts’ home, we were taken to Kenji in Camberwell for one final good feed ahead of our flight back to Perth. There we had so many delectable Japanese dishes that for me to recall them all, I wouldn’t have been paying much attention to the food. After dinner, we went home for tea and one last yakking session because who knows when we’ll get to do this again? My last visit to Melbourne was a year and a half before this. With Amanda in school, we’re restricted to the school holidays when flights are most expensive and reasonably-priced accommodation scarce.

As all good things must come to an end, we enjoyed one last breakfast with our hosts, then  retraced our steps to the car rental company, from which we were spirited away to the Tiger terminal for our flight home. FYI, even flying Tiger cost $1000 + for the 3 of us. But reemerging in Perth, feeling utterly rested and refreshed, I can say it was money very well spent.

 

Best places to eat in Brisbane.

My cousin Peggy, visiting Brisbane from Malaysia, asked me late last week if I have any good eating places to recommend. Off the top of my head, all I could think of was Thai Wi Rat in the Valley, where I used to go often for grilled cat fish (Pla Dook Yang) and while they still had it on the menu, cat fish floss salad (Pla Dook Fu).

Then I remembered Pho Hoang Gia on the corner of Wickham St and Kemp Place, where I went for savoury pancakes filled with seafood and served with raw vegetables (Banh Xeo) and had some of the best beef stew (Bo Kho) and I realised that I have to, just have to, compile a list so as to do  justice to all the fabulous eating places I’ve frequented.

Okay, this list is going to come across as biased since most of these eating places (apart from those in the Valley) are either in the 4101 (where I lived for 3 years) or in Sunnybank (where I shopped most weekends), but I wouldn’t be true to my palate if I excluded them.

Price range is indicated by $ for cheap, $$ moderate and $$$ for please bring more cash. In the order of cuisine, here they are:

Malaysian

1) Malaya Corner – good Hainanese Chicken Rice, fried radish cake (Char Kueh Kak), herbal  pork soup (Bah Kut Teh) and complimentary soup (which you can buy for $2 a bowl, if like me, you like soup). $

2) Dapur Dahlia – best satay in whole of Brisbane and possibly Australia. They run a stall at the West End Riverside market on Saturdays but if you need your fix of authentic Malay food on other days, you can check out their take away shop in Upper Mount Gravatt. $$

3) Singapore Corner – despite the name, they have very good Malaysian food. $

A picture of me in Malaya Corner having Chicken Rice and $2 soup.

A picture of me in Malaya Corner having Chicken Rice and $2 soup.

Chinese

1) Parkland – for yum cha and dinner. You can find gigantic tanks filled with sea critters right out the front. $$

2) Landmark – also for yum cha and dinner. The “sister shop” of Parkland, this is the old favourite of yum cha devotees. $$

3) The shop next to KFC in Sunnybank for Szechuan food. $

4) Little Hong Kong for roast meats, congee and noodles. I also like their complimentary Chinese tea which washes away the oil very well and eases that heavy feeling at the end of a meal. $

5) Bamboo Basket for dumplings, buns and Shanghainese favourites made-to-order. $$

Indian

1) Bombay Dhaba – excellent South Indian thali every Sunday, good North Indian food at all other times. $$

2) Riverside Malaysian Restaurant – fantastic goat curry and South Indian fare. $$

 A picture of me and Amanda at Riverside Malaysian restaurant in Highgate Hill.

A picture of me and Amanda at Riverside Malaysian restaurant in Highgate Hill.

A picture of Masala Chaat at Bombay Dhaba in Brisbane.

A picture of Masala Chaat at Bombay Dhaba in Brisbane.

Korean

1) Madtongsan 1 & 2 – good one-bowl specials and dumplings. Madtongsan 2 has a loyalty card that gives you free dumplings whenever you visit, or so it appeared to me. $

2) Hong Depot – beautifully marbled cuts of wagyu for the BBQ, lunch specials from $10. $$

3) The shop on the first floor of Diana Plaza in the Gabba – specials like Korean steak tartare (Beef Yukke) for 50% less if dining between 5 and 6 pm, Monday to Friday. $$

4) O-Bal-tan – if you like your meats cut into finger-sized chunks, as opposed to sliced. $$

Japanese

1) Sono – everything is delicious and service is exemplary, however be prepared to pay up to $100 per head for dinner, especially if having sake with food. $$$

2) Sakura – Amanda loves the steak tartare (known in Japanese as Beef Yukhoe), HRH and I like the sashimi and the raw squid with fermented soy beans (Ika Nato). $$$

3) Hakataya Ramen – with 2 outlets in Sunnybank and 1 on the Gold Coast, their ramen is number 1 in all of Brisbane. Be sure to go early to avoid long queues. $

 A picture of Ika Natto at Sakura Restaurant in Brisbane.

A picture of Ika Natto at Sakura Restaurant in Brisbane.

Vegetarian

1) Kuan Yin in the Valley – it’s a no-frills diner but the Taiwanese-style vegetarian food is great. $

2) Tea Master in the Valley – also a no-frills, offering Malaysian-style vegetarian food. $

3) The Forest Cafe and Bar – wholesome vegan cuisine, the highlight of which for me is their cheesecake. Biting into it, you won’t know it’s stuffed full of tofu. $

4) SOL Breads – they make yummy soups in winter and have quiches and salads the whole year round. $

 Is it real or is it fake? A picture of vegetarian chicken rice at Tea Master in Fortitude Valley.

Is it real or is it fake? A picture of vegetarian chicken rice at Tea Master in Fortitude Valley.

Vietnamese

1) Viet Hoa – I used to go there so often they even made me porridge when I was sick. They even had a pet name for me, since they couldn’t pronounce or remember Estella – “Malai Mui”. All I can say is their wanton soup is the best in Brisbane, as is the pho, and best of all, they don’t use MSG in their cooking. $

2) Pho Hoang Gia – for Viet pancakes (Banh Xeo) and beef stew (Bo Kho). $

3) Trang Restaurant – pho comes in baby size, regular, large and X-large. X large is enough for 2 adults to share. $

4) Kim Thanh Hot Bread – not theoretically a restaurant, this bakery sells mouth-watering pork and salad rolls. If you are vego, you can ask them to leave out the pork and the pate. $

A picture of Banh Xeo from Pho Hoang Gia in Fortitude Valley.

A picture of Banh Xeo from Pho Hoang Gia in Fortitude Valley.

Indonesian

1) Makanan Indonesia – the beef rendang cooked by the owner’s sister melts in the mouth, and the rice sets are good value, offering you a sample of some of their dishes. I am particularly fond of their sambal gila; made with chilli padi, it is so hot it’ll burn the roof off your mouth. $$

2) This one is in Upper Mount Gravatt, whose name I’ve now forgotten, but served real good fried cat fish with sambal (Pecel Lele). I was recommended there by a Malay friend. $$

 

A picture of the vegetarian set at Makanan Indonesia in Brisbane.

A picture of the vegetarian set at Makanan Indonesia in Brisbane.

Fish & Chips

1) Swampdog – fish is locally caught and the chips are cooked only in canola oil, which makes them the best in Brisbane, however be prepared to pay around $90 for 4. $$$

2) George’s Seafood – now this is the place to go to if you are on a budget. A serve of fish and chips with some calamari will set you back at the most $10. $

Breakfast Fry Ups

1) Roundabout Cafe – opens from very early until midday, serves are huge. $$

2) Five Sisters Cafe – tucked away at the back of a brick house converted into an office on Melbourne St, apart from fry-ups, they make great coffee and shortbread biscuits too. $$

Italian

1) Pasta-al-dente – they’ve been making pasta for over 30 years and it shows in the food they put out. Amanda’s favourite are the spirals with cheeseballs and mine is the Vegetarian lasagne. They also make and sell fresh pasta and sauces on-site. $

 A picture of Vegetarian Lasagne at Pasta Al Dente in South Brisbane.

A picture of Meat Lasagne at Pasta Al Dente in South Brisbane.

French

1) C’est Bon – this award-winning place requires an advance reservation, so if you are keen to try it out, remember to call first. Amanda loves the garlic snails. $$$

South American

1) Granada Cafe Tapas Bar – offers delightful little South American morsels to try but go on Tuesday nights, when they have paella, and you’ll thank me. $$$

2) The Sardine Tin – fabulous ambience at night and also great tapas. The standout dish for me has to be their grilled sardines. $$

3) Red and White Peruvian Restaurant – their marinated raw-fish (Cebiche Pescado) is a must-try. Service is good, size of mains is on the small side. $$

 A picture of seafood paella at Granada Tapas Bar in South Brisbane.

A picture of seafood paella at Granada Tapas Bar in South Brisbane.

High End

1) Aria – I went here after HRH got his FRACS results. Celebrity chef Matt Moran’s baby, Aria offers quality fine dining coupled with five-star service. $$$

2) Alchemy – my vegetarian friends weren’t particularly impressed by their mains, or the level of service (they forgot about our request for more water), but I thought the food was well-presented enough for an establishment of their standing. $$$

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A picture of me and my fellow surgeons’ wives at Aria in Brisbane last May.

Now you probably know why I have to be on a diet half the time. I’ve eaten at many, many, many more places, but these are the ones that stick out in my mind. Bon Apetit!

My personal philosophy: Love Food, Love Life. A picture of signboard I saw in a hawker centre in Penang, Malaysia.

My personal philosophy: Love Food, Love Life. A picture of signboard I saw in a hawker centre in Penang, Malaysia.

Malaysia for non-Malaysians.

There is this list of top 10 most dangerous cities in the world making the rounds on the internet at the moment that has most Malaysians either nodding in agreement or spewing vehement denials. As a veteran fence-sitter, I am neither going to agree that our 6th place is deserved or question the method by which Malaysia was singled out for this dubious honour, but I am going to tell you what I tell ALL my Aussie mates who are keen to visit our wonderful shores. At the end of the day, we, expat Malaysians, or Malaysians living abroad, are our country’s most persuasive argument for visiting a country on such a list. We are friendly, law-abiding people in other people’s land, or are we not?

I always, always, stress this to all my Aussie mates: yes, Malaysia DOES have horrendous crime (more on that later) BUT by and large, the criminals leave tourists (especially white-skinned ones) alone. I cannot speak for Chinese tourists, reportedly asked to pay RM500 in bribes when failing to provide proof of identity, but I can say that most of the white Aussies visiting Malaysia have a lovely stay without incident.

It’s just like taking a trip to Springvale in Melbourne. Most Aussies fear being jumped on by Viet thugs while downing their pho, but I can tell you it is perfectly safe, even after having seen people pass suspicious packages to each other through wound down car windows. If you don’t mess with the gangsters, they certainly have no reason to mess with you.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to the local population in Malaysia. We are courteous only towards outsiders because tourism is a major industry and no one wants to upset the apple cart by scaring off the very people with money to spend.

Basically, the more foreign you look, the safer you will be,” I assure my Aussie mates. “As for your kids, kidnappers and child smugglers don’t want them because they are hard to move around undetected. So you can have a very good, relatively safe, holiday in my country. You can live like a king – no cooking, no cleaning, no dirty laundry – for the entire duration of your stay.”

“Even if you were to holiday there on the cheap, there would still be no cooking, cleaning or laundry either. Our laundromats or dobi as we call them, have attendants, who will take away your soiled singlets and shorts and let you know when you can collect them, clean and pressed.”

If you are personal friends of mine, you’ve probably already heard of my parents being threatened at parang point (I’ve included a nice picture so you know what to look out for) whilst having fish and chips at a bistro in OUG, a suburb outside of the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Or perhaps even heard of my mother’s friend, an 83 year old lady being stabbed to death in her own home because she only had a miserable RM30 on her to give the intruders. Or maybe overheard me discussing the latest robbery where someone was “lucky” to have only been stabbed on the hand because they had RM700 on them. Yes, we have a peculiar definition of luck in Malaysia. To my knowledge, it means you’ve not been stabbed to death.

A picture of a parang, available for sale on-line for Rupiah 250 000.

A picture of a parang, available for sale on-line for Rupiah 250 000.

You have to have a sense of humour about this because every day, if you care to pick up the local papers, you will read about muggings, stabbings, slashings, rapes…If you turn on the TV, you will also see news of some on-going murder investigation or court case, unlike in Australia where the most exciting news for the day is which politician is wearing a blue tie and hence, secretly coveting the top job in the land. Now you understand why the bulk of us Malaysians are not into adrenalin-inducing sports like bungee-jumping, swimming with sharks or leaping from planes. Hell, if we want adrenalin, all we need is to step out our door, although, in many instances, adrenalin also comes to us, in the form of thugs breaking into our homes.

This probably also helps you understand why many of your leftist “feel-good” policies (rights of criminals to a fair trial, support of dole bludgers etc) hold next to no appeal to us. We’re just happy to have our quiet little lives, a small safe place to call home.

As for why you should visit Malaysia when you can obviously go to Singapore, in the same part of the world but one million times safer, I’ll say this: price point, mate. You can get two times the holiday for half the price. I could go on and on about our mouth-watering soups and sambals and kuehs and all manner of cooked delicacies, but if you have typical white taste-buds, you’re not going to be able to distinguish the good from the bad. Moi, for instance, will never order something called “Singapore Noodles”, not because I dislike Singapore – on the contrary, I like Singapore very much – but because no one in Singapore has ever heard of Singapore Noodles. It’s what Butter Chicken is to Indians; it doesn’t exist in India.

The souvenirs are also better in Malaysia; there’s Petaling Street where you can get LVs and Rolexs for the whole family. Although I should warn you against attempting to buy a parang; Malaysian law prohibits the unlicensed owning of weapons and a big, long, sharp knife, is considered one. Better to get a Chinese meat cleaver instead, which is used for chopping BBQ pork, which, in a pinch, might also double up as a weapon. I’m only joking. Just stick to the batiks, which you can procure for a decent price with much haggling at places like Pasar Seni. While you are there, you can also get your fortune told and your portrait painted for a couple of hundred RM.

If shopping is not your thing, take a sojourn to one of our highlands – even the Singaporeans dig this. They are especially enamoured by our Genting (pronounced ghen-ting, not, jen -ting, like the Singaporeans do). Or if stories of gamblers taking their lives by jumping from the hotel bother you, there are always national parks and quaint seaside towns to explore. Just be sure to observe at least the same safety precautions you would at home.

A weekend trip to Margaret River, Lonely Planet’s top 10 regions in the WORLD.

Can you be on a diet and enjoy Margaret River? Sure you can. All weekend long, I drank wine, ate cheese, gorged on chocolate, stuffed my face with gourmet meals and came back 1 kilogram lighter! In fact, if I were to formulate a dieting program, mine would involve a week’s stay in this food and wine lover’s paradise.

Listed as one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 regions in the world to visit for 2010, Margaret River is still as charming today as when Lonely Planet decided to alert the world to its many splendours. There are so many picturesque vineyards, gourmet producers of food, art galleries, heavily-forrested bush-walking trails, bejewelled caves and soft-sandy beaches to chose from that a weekend is simply inadequate to discover everything Margaret River has to offer.

Be that as it may, HRH and I, tagging Amanda along as usual, made up our minds to see as much as we can in the space of 36 hours, allowing for time on the road and a good night’s rest. Our first stop in Margaret River was at the ever-helpful I-site centre, where we were suggested, nay ordered, to sample Clancy’s Fish Pub.

“It’s definitely worth a visit,” said the lovely attendant at the I-site centre. “It’s got some of the best fish around.”

And boy, was she right! The fish was so fresh you could smell the ocean on it even after cooking. The prawns tasted the way real prawns should, instead of like those rubber bullets coming from China.

What a place to sit and eat your fish and chips!

What a place to sit and eat your fish and chips!

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Bright and cheerful furnishings at the Clancy’s Fish Pub in Dunsborough.

In front of us, prawn and crab bisque, closer to the camera is pan-fried line-caught snapper.

In front of us, prawn and crab bisque, closer to the camera is pan-fried line-caught snapper.

Only 3 prawns and 3 TBS of crab but packed full of flavour.

Only 3 prawns and 3 TBS of crab but packed full of flavour.

Heaven in every bite.

Heaven in every bite.

Here's a joke for the Christians.

Here’s a joke for the Christians.

After lunch, which I might add was utterly delicious but not very filling for $80, we stopped by Simmo’s Ice Creamery. There, befuddled at the endless “delicious dilemmas” as Simmo’s puts it, I had a small cone of cherry ice cream, whilst HRH had an adult-sized single scoop cone of pistachio ice cream and Amanda a kid’s size cone of her regular strawberry ice cream. The total for all 3 ice creams? A very affordable $11.80.

How does one choose from so many flavours? Delicious dilemmas alright!

How does one choose from so many flavours? Delicious dilemmas alright!

"All children left unattended will be sold to the circus."

Amanda oblivious to the sign “Children left unattended will be sold to the circus.”

How about a few rounds of golf after all that ice cream?

How about a few rounds of golf after all that ice cream? At Simmo’s you can !

From Simmo’s Ice Creamery we ventured to Yallingup beach where we saw surfer dudes and dudettes suiting up to catch gigantic waves.

Miles and miles of pristine shoreline - a sight that is infinitely better in the flesh.

Miles and miles of pristine shoreline – a sight that is infinitely better in the flesh.

Bad hair due to the strong winds at Yallingup beach. Can't complain other than that.

Bad hair due to strong winds at Yallingup beach. Can’t complain other than that.

After Yallingup beach, our stomachs were growling so loudly we had to swing by Gabriel Chocolate to refuel. Ignoring the House of Cards Winery next door, we made a mad dash to the Cheese Factory to sample some of the finest cheeses and shiraz jelly made in this region before they closed their doors for the day.

A picture of Gabriel's chocolates in Margaret River, Western Australia.

A picture of Gabriel Chocolate in Margaret River, Western Australia.

IMG_5374

Maybe next time. A picture of the House of Cards Winery in Margaret River, Western Australia.

It's worth the $6 I paid. B far the best hot chocolate I've ever had.

It’s worth the $6 I paid. B far the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

It's a good thing she's can burn the calories. There probably 2000 calories in that one drink. It cost me another $6.

It’s a good thing she can burn the calories. There are probably 2000 calories in that one drink. It cost me another $6.

Since Margaret River is very popular on the weekends, with some B & B’s booked for weeks in advance and charging up to $340 per night, not knowing any better until we got there, we booked a quaint two-bedroom cottage in Karridale, a half hour’s drive from Margaret River proper. Our accommodation, Karridale Cottages, costing $165 per night, offered plenty of “country-living” activities for visitors but because we spent the whole day checking out the gourmet food producers in Margaret River’s north and middle, only arrived shortly before bedtime.

See all those trees around us? We could have gone bush-walking!

See all those trees around us? We could have gone bush-walking!

It's an eco-friendly hut made of rammed earth. The water coming out through taps is collected rain-water and the whole place runs on solar energy.

It’s a 2 bedroom, eco-friendly hut made out of rammed earth. The water coming out through taps is collected rain-water and the whole place runs on solar energy.

The next morning we broke our overnight fast with the $33 worth of cheese we bought from the Cheese Factory. It was such a heavy, if satisfactory meal, it lasted us our trip to Cape Leeuwin further south, where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, through the magnificent Booranup Karri Forests and a 45 minute minute down into the bowels of Calgardup Cave and back. By which time we were glad we hadn’t signed up for the $50, 3-cave-deal, at Jewel Cave near Karridale.

Shrouded in mist.

Shrouded in mist. Approaching Cape Leeuwin lighthouse.

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I once saw this in a friend’s travel album on facebook. Seeing it in person brings the rugged beauty of the place to a whole other level.

We're with Mr Cow, enjoying the vistas of the magnificent Cape.

We’re with Mr Cow, enjoying the vistas of the magnificent Cape.

Last few metres. A picture of HRH and Amanda walking towards the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse

Last few metres. A picture of HRH and Amanda walking towards the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse. It costs $5 per person to tour the grounds and $17 per person to ascend the lighthouse.

It feels like standing at the edge of the world. A picture of where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean at Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia.

It feels like standing at the edge of the world. A picture of where the Southern Ocean meets the Indian Ocean at Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia.

Karri trees are some of the tallest, if not the tallest trees in Western Australia. The Booranup Karri Forests at said to be at par with the Amazonian jungle in terms of biodiversity of plant species.

Karri trees are some of the tallest, if not the tallest trees, in Western Australia. The Booranup Karri Forests is said to be at par with the Amazonian jungle in terms of biodiversity of plant species.

It cost us $30 to go visit the Calgardup Cave. At one point, in total darkness and with the ceiling the height of my waist, I was convinced I couldn’t go on without hitting something.

This is one of the more "family friendly" self-guided caves. I recommend it for families with children over the age of 6.

This is one of the more “family friendly” self-guided caves. I recommend it for families with children over the age of 6.

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A the default camera person, I had no photo.

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We’re not supposed to touch even an inch of the cave as the grime on our fingers inhibits future crystal growth.

See what I mean about the ceiling being my waist height?

See what I mean about the ceiling being my waist height?

After all that physical activity, we felt deserving of another Margaret River gourmet experience, so we headed over to Leeuwin estate for a wine-flight and some lunch.

Beaming from all the wine sampled before lunch.

Beaming from all the wine sampled before lunch. Here with more wine as part of my “wine flight.”

 

This deck overlooks perfectly manicured lawns and Karri forests.

This deck overlooks perfectly manicured lawns and Karri forests.

Line caught pink snapper on crushed chorizo sauce.

Line caught pink snapper on crushed chorizo sauce.

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Claypot yabbies with fennel in a bisque.

With our eyes bigger than our stomachs, we went in search of desert after lunch. We found our way to the Berry Farm off Rosa Glen Road where I had a generous serving of plums poached in Merlot, served with Margaret River ice cream, and HRH had berry cheesecake. For once, Amanda preferred riding the flying fox in the playground to food. Well, who came blame her? We ate to within an inch of bursting! But rest assured, we’ll be back to visit Margaret River again. Did I mention I lost 1 kg with all this eating?

Planted in hour of the founder of the Berry Farm.

Planted in honour of the founder of the Berry Farm.

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A picture of the gardens at the Berry Farm in Margaret River, Western Australia.

There was no more alcohol there but I felt drunk all the same.

There was no more alcohol there but I felt drunk all the same.

The cheese was light and fluffy, yet the biscuit base so buttery. I'm sure there were 1 million calories in there but it was worth every bite.

The cheese was light and fluffy, yet the biscuit base so buttery. I’m sure there were 1 million calories in there but it was worth every bite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Various shades of Oz: Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth.

I was at the dentist yesterday, having my twice yearly check-up and clean like a good girl, when, between being X-rayed and scaled, the dentist and I got chatting about the many capital cities of Australia. For those of you who skipped Geography in school, there are 8 capital cities, also known as metropolitan areas, to match the 6 states and 2 territories. You might think they are one and the same, given the deep anglo roots of this country, but having lived in, if not visited, all of them, plus many country towns along the way, I can safely say that each are characters in their own right.

Darwin for instance, is the Hawaiian-shirt wearing clown of the bunch. Sydney is the primped and pedicured, brand-wearing fashionista. Melbourne is the late-twenty-something-year-old connoisseur of cafes and culture in the occasional pea coat. I see them all personified and dressed differently because as a woman, clothes are what I notice. It’s been said that women dress for each other and that is generally true.

The dentist, a terrific-looking blonde from the U.K., who’s only been in Perth slightly longer than I have, was mainly interested in Melbourne and Brisbane.

“What’s there?” I asked, after she asked me to gargle with the minty-flavoured water.

“Work for my partner. He’s in marketing.”

“There’s a lot of black in Melbourne, especially in the city on workdays. You’ll sometimes see shades of olive and grey, towards the end of the week. Somehow the weather makes the typical Melburnian dress more sedately than say, a Queenslander. Few wear red or other really bright colours.”

One of my Brisbane buddies went to Melbourne for a work conference and came back telling me she felt like a flamingo at the Hilton, dressed in red with slivers of pink.

“It’s like the U.K. then,” says the dentist.

“Is that what people over there dress like?”

“Either that or it is the U.K. influence in Melbourne.”

I wouldn’t call it that since many living in Melbourne have never been anywhere near Europe. It must be the grey skies then that convince people to dress in sombre colours.

Queenslanders are all about the shorts - very short shorts, board shorts, knee-length tailored shorts, short skirts and thongs. Their personalities are as loud as the colours they wear. There’s plenty of yellow, red, fuchsia and aquamarine to be seen. In my suburb, the Cultural Precinct, everyone wears semi-structured clothes in a riot of prints. Some have that boho-chic thing going on. My daughter’s best friend’s mother for instance, has a knack for working 3 seemingly clashing prints into a single outfit. I don’t know how she does it, but she does. Until 6 months ago she also used to sport a head full of red dreads. It’s amazing how creative types dress.”

Arriving in Perth, I pulled out my silver-purple, leopard print kaftan-dress with salmon ties to wear and HRH said, “Advertising for Queensland, are you?”

“Queenslanders also drive a lot faster and tend to be a lot more aggro on the road.”

“It’s funny you should say that,” said the dentist, fitting together more equipment to put in my mouth. “I’ve read that Perth drivers are some of the worst in the country.”

“No, that can’t be right,” I said. “Perth drivers are exceedingly courteous. Driving around Nedlands, I’ve found most to only drive at 40 km/ph (which explains why I’ve started driving again). Almost no one horns, and at the roundabout, cars on your right, which you’ve to give way to, seem to hesitate before entering the roundabout.”

I’ve also seen many cars go over the curb in an attempt to get into a side-parking instead of doing a proper parallel park.

“If Queensland is the teenager and Melbourne the late twenty-something, then Perth is most certainly middle-aged. Here in Perth’s Western Suburbs, people tend to be chic, if conservative, dressers. On Amanda’s first day at school I noticed many mothers wearing fitted dresses and their good pearls,” I said, after gargling with the minty water yet again. “In Queensland, I wouldn’t even wear my pearls to dinner, let alone to school.”

A jeweller in Nedlands told me that’s because like most Melbournians, I tend not wear what I own. It turns out there’s still something left of Melbourne in me after so many years of living away. But I’ve since decided to do as Romans so in Rome and give my outfits a final flourish of bling because everyone from school administrators to the lady who owns the consignment store across the road, treats you better when you wear something that temporarily blinds them.

“What about cliques?” asked the dentist while loading green goo into mouth trays. “I’ve heard that Melbournians tend to be cliquish.”

“It is true but it was never a problem for me because I have family and many friends there. You just have to find someone willing to introduce you to his or her circle of friends.”

Or if you’re the kind dentists have trouble shutting up, you just make your own like me.

 

Hello Perth (aka finding a place to stay).

Right. So I’ve gone and done the whole Magic Monkey thing of journeying to the West. What do I do next? I look for a place to stay of course!  Months prior to coming here, HRH and I had already begun surveying the rental market. We knew that we’d be paying an arm and a leg, competing with students of nearby University of Western Australia for a place to stay near enough to HRH’s new workplace. We’d set ourselves a budget, bearing in mind we’d need money for food, furniture and to service our existing mortgages because last I checked, I didn’t have a spare organ to sell.

But browsing the for-rent pages of Perth over the internet is very different to actually being here in person yourself. For one, some, not all, real estate agents will get back to you on your voice-message enquiry about listed properties. Don’t even think about emailing them because as I’ve discovered, email is so last century; no one checks their email anymore. Or if they do, no one responds. You have to be here in Perth, in person, to hound them!

But don’t hound them too much. That’s what I did when I applied for my first property here: I called every hour on the hour because I was DESPERATE to have a lease in order to enrol Amanda into school. I don’t know about elsewhere but schools in Perth’s affluent Western Suburbs only take children in their predetermined Local Intake Area (LIA). So if your place falls outside the boundaries of the LIA, they might take your child on a case-by-case basis but be warned: if enrolments go above the school’s desired number of students, your child will be asked to leave!

When HRH was told this, he said, “That’s fine. If we ever move out of the area, we’d be going back to Brisbane anyway.”

After we failed to get the first property we applied for – a 6 year old minimalist shoebox zoned to a school where my child might get put into a class with students a grade down from her, a split class, as the school has inadequate students for that year to form another class – I decided to go for a much older property in another Western Suburb. I figured mother’s maxim of “old man’s honey and young man’s slave” must also apply to real estate so I applied for a property that looked like a dog’s breakfast in photos. Frankly, it was my third, if not fourth choice.

However, I’m pleased to tell you it was the right choice because for a start, my realtor is approachable and easy-going, instead of one of those manicured, stilettoed and power-suit wearing people who get pissed off just because you haven’t given them a full 24 hours to check with the owner of the property – as though you need a full 24 hours when presented with applicants as good as us: mature, employed, non- smoking, home-owners. This other area I’ve ended up renting in also has significantly more amenities than the first one so the rejection turned  out be a blessing in disguise.

We spent the first 3 days of moving into our new home for the year, getting a DIY degree from IKEA, putting together our sofa, table and 5 dining chairs. I called Telstra on the fourth day to connect our home phone and broadband since we still have an account with them. They gave me a 3-week waiting period for the home phone and a 4-week waiting period for the broadband. When HRH called to ask them if they can speed up either, Telstra said they can’t, not even by a couple of days.

So it’s back to the middle ages for us, with no home phone, no broadband (I’m using the facilities of a cyber cafe), no fridge, no washing machine, no TV…The upside of this is that Amanda’s been doing 6 to 7 pages of the Naplan workbook we bought her for her birthday, daily, instead of dumbing down herself with television like she used to after school in Brisbane. I’ve been reading pages from the Weekend Australian to her, stories meant for a learned audience, about change in the world, coming Australian state and general elections, the odd recipe about vine-ripened tomatoes. We’ve been bonding – the only way a parent and child can - through old-fashioned conversation. I’d say the whole experience of going without technology, due to circumstance in our new home of Perth, has been good, but for having to save 16 $1 coins for the Laundrobar across the street.That gets partially fixed today with the delivery of our new fridge and washing machine from www.appliancesonline.com.au after lunch today. Which reminds me, I really must be home to open the door for the delivery man. Until next time…

5 things you need to know about driving across Australia.

Okay, maybe you are very adventurous. Perchance you are just plain crazy like us and want to see how big, wide, and brown this continent called Australia really is. Here’s 5 things you should know before leaving the house:

1) Petrol stations aren’t everywhere.

In fact, as you go through the outback, you might only see what Aussies call a “servo”, as in service station, every 100 kilmetres or so. Therefore if your fuel light’s a-flashin’, I suggest you get a-pumpin’ at the nearest servo, regardless of the price. The difference in the price of petrol between capital cities and country towns can be as much as 15 cents a litre, but across the Nullabor - actually anywhere from after Port Augusta in South Australia, to 200 km outside of Norseman in Western Australia - petrol can be as dear as $1.97 a litre. That’s in AUD, folks.

2) Car service stations can be found in most small towns.

Still on the car: if you should say hit a kangaroo or get into any car trouble along the way, you can always find a workshop at the small town nearest to you. They typically have a towing facility, although I’d say that if you need towing, you’re probably in no shape to continue with the road trip as a drive like the one we’ve undertaken is arduous.

We drive a Toyota and through the many small towns we’ve been, we’ve always seen a Toyota service station. Places like Toowomba and Port Augusta, obviously the “bigger small towns” have workshops for other brands of vehicles too. Eucla had a mechanis who quite cleverly put a sign saying “NO RAC.” Meaning, your automotive club membership probably doesn’t cover these parts.

3) Food, glorious food.

Now please don’t expect chef-quality tucker while barreling across Australia’s dusty backyard. If you do, you’ll be in for the sort of surprise Weigh Watchers and Jenny Craig charge its members for: as in you’re gonna starve from all those skipped meals.

If you are health and weight conscious like me, and into rice like HRH, the best thing to do to appease your fastidious taste buds is to stock up on fruit at a supermarket before you set off and when passing through any town with a supermarket – some towns only have a petrol pump and a motel. Do please remember to throw away any fruit BEFORE entering South Australia or Western Australia as on-the-spot fines of $200 applies to anyone found transporting fruit into either states.

You may expect restaurant meals to cost between 15 and 50%  more than in Australia’s capital cities. The handful of groceries you can get at places like Eucla are twice what they are in a capital city. The typical truckstop along the way only serves fried food like fish and chips, chiko rolls, and bangers and mash. Once in a way, you will find one that makes salad sandwiches (not salad), but be prepared to pay in the vicinity of $6.90 for two slices of bread with two slices of tomato, some shredded lettuce and a slice of beetroot in the middle.

4) A clean bed is a good bed.

Again, it pays to have reasonable expectations when it comes to somewhere to rest your weary head for the night. Many places claim to be “hotels” but they aren’t hotels in the regular sense of the word. Some are highly liveable serviced apartments, many are clean, tidy motels, many still are just rooms with a bed and a TV.

We paid an average of $150 a night; in every instance we stayed at either the best or second best accomodation available. There were certainly many others on our route who decided that camping was more their style and they saved a tidy bundle in accommodation that way.

5) There is no network between Eucla and Norseman.  

Yup. You might as well forget about being contactable because Telstra doesn’t reach these parts. I dare say it doesn’t cover other parts of outback Australia either. While we were passing through the area, a couple of thousands of kilometres long, we had no signal on our phones; no signal also means no internet. It was good though; being uncontactable is rare in this modern world so we relished just having some time to ourselves.

 

 

Our 9-day road-trip from Brisbane to Perth (Part 4)

Day 8

The day I’ve been dreading has finally arrived. Today we have to put in 8 solid hours of driving before we can stop for the night. Including lunch and toilet breaks, our trip from Eucla to Norseman will take us 10 hours. Yes, 10 hours. If I take over the wheel at any point, which is likely, to give HRH a break, it’ll take us longer.

" I sail lonely as a cloud..."A picture of the landscape leading away from Eucla towards Norseman, Western Australia.

” I sail lonely as a cloud…” A picture of the landscape leading away from Eucla towards Norseman, Western Australia.

As we move further into Western Australia, you can see how arid the land is. You know how people love to joke about eating grass? As in, “I’ll live off grass and sunshine?” Well, you’d better ditch your plans to dine on the green stuff because there is close to none of it around. The only plants that thrive in this part of the world are those that are heat and drought-resistant.

See how short the shrubs are?

See how short the shrubs are? “That’s what happens when plants have no water,” I say to Amanda. 

HRH overtakes road-trains and campervans the way he overtakes cars playing that classic car-racing arcade game. Playing against him, I’ve only ever won once, by a very slight margin. He calls out to Amanda who’s awake for once, “You see that juicy deer in front? Our tiger is going to eat that deer.”

No food for at least another 100 km. A picture of the road from Eucla to Norseman, Western Australia

No food for at least another 100 km. A picture of the road from Eucla to Norseman, Western Australia

“Go tiger, go!” cheers Amanda from the back, well aware that our car is the tiger and every other car in front of us is a deer.

“They should have a Chinese village here,” says HRH to me. “Then we can stop for some Chinese food.”

Can you eat any of this? Sure, if you're a donkey!

Can you eat any of this? Sure, if you’re a donkey!

“Sure,” I reply, somewhat amused. Yesterday, his road-driving-inspired idea was for all suicidal people to be shipped to Mars because if they are intent on ending their lives, they might as well contribute to humanity before doing so. Perhaps, suddenly having a purpose to live might make them change their minds.

“And who do you see as moving to this middle-of-nowhere Chinese village of yours?”

“People from China of course,” he says with a wry smile.

Don't the trees look interesting? As you can see, the top most foliage  of every tree in the area has dried up and fallen off.

Don’t the trees look interesting? As you can see, the top most foliage of every tree over a certain height in the area has dried up and fallen off.

“And why would they want to live in the middle of nowhere, in a country where they can’t speak the local lingo, when they can always just move to China’s vast countryside? You’re forgetting that the average Chinese is a gregarious creature.”

We might moan about the traffic jams and the smog, and the noise and the price of housing and the cost of living, but given a choice between a big city and the countryside, most Chinese will choose the former. In fact, no one in my family can understand why we are undertaking this road-trip when there is absolutely no one to see for hundreds of kilometres on end!

HRH stops at a small roadside town called Baladonia to refuel the car. The price of petrol is $1.97 a litre. He pumps only enough to get us to Norseman – very many litres.

 A picture of a summary of the route we are taking from Eucla to Norseman on the side of a building at Baladonia.

A picture of a summary of the route we are taking from Eucla to Norseman on the side of a building at Baladonia.

Why I’ll be damned! After so many hours of travelling, we still have another 191 km to go!  Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, we swop seats and I drive for about an hour. It’s only my second time behind the wheel since this arduous road-trip, disguised as a “family holiday”, began but already my driving has improved. For a start, I don’t need any reminding to lift up the hand brake before taking off. HRH’s barking at me when I attempted to do that the last time has seen to that.

Oh Norseman, oh Norseman, where art thou? The endless straight road in front of me makes me think of Char Koay Teow and a nice big bowl of Chendol. Will I ever see either again or will this drive be the death of me?

Soon enough I see the outline of a vehicle, roughly 10 km ahead of mine. I am doing a steady 110 km/ph but I slow to 100 km/ph.

“What do you think you are doing?” asks HRH.

“Avoiding whatever it is in front.”

“If you can’t overtake here, where can you overtake?”

“Probably nowhere. Well, you did want me to drive. I’m not going to overtake,” I say, losing speed further. Now I’m doing 90 km/ph.

HRH shakes his head. We pass through a small town where there is a police vehicle hiding in the bushes.

“Good thing your mama is driving, Amanda,” says HRH. “If it was me, we’d have a speeding ticket.”

Afraid of overtaking, law-abiding citizen that I am, our tiger is only doing 60 km/ph at this point. I heave a sigh of relief when the vehicle ahead of me turns off into a caravan park. However it isn’t long before I come across other motorists. Wanting us to reach Norseman before nightfall, HRH gladly resumes driving once my hour is up.

Hallelujah! It' Norseman!  A picture of a summary of the route we are taking from Eucla to Norseman on the side of a building at Baladonia.

Hallelujah! It’ Norseman! A picture of Norseman’s famous metal Camel sculptures.

Day 9

“Oh no. Not another 9 to 10 hours on the road,” I wail as soon as we pile into the car.

By now, even HRH is over seeing Australia’s big backyard. Since we set off at 9 am, we hope to get into Perth before sun down.

Just like the last couple of days, the road stretches on into the horizon. On either side of us is scrubland, alternating in heights and density every hundred kilometres or so. There is a huge metal pipe running parallel to the road, carrying what we were told by the innkeeper at Norseman Railway Motel, is Norseman’s supply of water, coming directly from Perth. From Norseman, the water is transported by road to towns like Baladonia.

Can you see the end? I can't either.  A picture of the road after Norseman towards Perth.

Can you see the end? I can’t either. A picture of the road after Norseman towards Perth.

“You can tell that no vegetables will grow here,” I say, noting the hard, reddish soil.

“So now you are an expert on soil, are you?” asks HRH, teasing me.

“It’s only common sense. What farms have we seen since entering WA? You need rain to grow grass and grass to raise cattle; so no rain means, no cattle. No cattle means, no manure to fertilise crops. Even if there was manure, the ground looks just too hard to grow anything in it. Rich soil is always black in colour.”

A picture of the shrubs growing along the road to Perth, just past Norseman.

A picture of the shrubs growing along the road to Perth, just past Norseman.

“Yes, but I’m sure you can put a Chinese village on it.”

What’s with HRH and this Chinese village? “I’m not moving there,” I say. “You can move there if you like.”

As we near Perth, the road widens to two-lanes on either side and snakes downhill. Unbeknown to us, we are travelling through the Perth Hills.

“Oh look,” HRH says excitedly to me. “Petrol is only $1.32 a litre.” And five seconds later, “Oh look. This place is even cheaper. It’s only $1.26 a litre at our good friend Gull.”

After dragging our sorry arses through the Nullabor, any servo selling petrol for less than $1.50 is our good friend.

“Oh, this one is even cheaper,” says HRH. “I’ll come here to pump. Where are we on the map?”

We are somewhere on the Eastern Freeway rolling towards the Central Business District.

“And see what big shopping centres they have!” exclaims HRH, like one of those people from his proposed Chinese village. I imagine this is what mainland Chinese say when they see Hong Kong for the first time.

“It feels like Adelaide crossed with something else,” I say.

“You and your Adelaide,” he says then accuses me of having an unjustified fixation with the capital of a state that has foul tasting water.

Thanks to Tom Tom, we find our home for the next seven days, Perth’s Fraser Suites, without any difficulty. After our many days on the road, all I plan to do is veg out.

Home sweet home. A picture of our apartment at the Fraser Suites in Perth.

Home sweet home. A picture of our apartment at the Fraser Suites in Perth.

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Our 9-day road-trip from Brisbane to Perth (Part 3)

Day 5

Thankfully yesterday’s mother-of-all-heatwaves has subsided and Port Augusta is a cool 19 degrees C this morning. After reloading the car (it was HRH’s bright idea to “reorganise”), we set off down the road for the famed “Nullabor Plains.”

Now, why is a 1400km stretch of arid, definitely inhospitable, land famous? I suppose if you can survive the boredom of seeing absolutely no one and nothing for hours on end, then you can lay claim to having very good mental concentration and perhaps sign up to be a pilot or a long-distance truck driver. For everyone else there’s the rugged beauty that is outback Australia.

“It’s my birthday today,” says Amanda from the back, for the umpteenth time.

“Yes, I know,” says HRH. “I’m taking you to see the desert, like I promised you.”

“Lily (Amanda’s best friend) had a disco-party. How is this better than a disco-party?”

Trust a newly turned 8 years old to ask all the right questions. There’s no hoodwinking them with promises we adults lap up every time a general election comes around.

“I’m taking you from one end of Australia to another, Amanda,” says HRH, in a tone that implies the magnitude of such an undertaking.

“How is that better?”

HRH shakes his head in disbelief. From Amanda’s viewpoint, it can hardly be better since she was made to give away many of her prized possessions – clothes, ribbons, knick knacks that little girls like collecting – leave her school and say goodbye to all her friends.

“She’s too young to appreciate this never-ending road-trip,” I say to HRH. To Amanda I say, “We’ve gone from Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, to Moree, a small country town in Queensland, to Dubbo, a small country town in the state of New South Wales, to Broken Hill, another small country town in New South Wales, to Port Augusta, where we stopped the day before yesterday, a small country town in the state of South Australia. Today, we’re off to Ceduna, a border town, still in South Australia. How many classmates of yours can say they’ve seen so many places?”

“And how many states does Australia have?”

“6 states and 2 territories. 1 Queensland can make 5 of Peninsula Malaysia. That’s how humongous a country Australia is.”

“People have died trying to find their way out of the desert,” says HRH.

A picture of the countryside outside Port Augusta, South Australia, heading towards Ceduna.

A picture of the countryside outside Port Augusta, South Australia, heading towards Ceduna.

A picture of the road leading away from Port Augusta, South Australia.

See how low the clouds hang? A picture of the road leading away from Port Augusta, South Australia.

A picture of the landscape leading away from Port Augusta, South Australia.

Did you say “melancholic”? I did too!

While we were in Port Augusta, we heard on the news of a South Australian man who’d gotten lost in the bush. Rescue police were still out looking for him when we left.

A picture of the landscape leading away from Port Augusta, South Australia.

“I once saw this programme about surviving in the wilderness and it says that a) you must build a shelter to keep yourself warm during the night b) search for a source of drinking water…You can get water from leaves by tying a plastic bag around a bunch of them in such a way as to collect the condensation, presuming you had the good sense of bringing along a clean plastic bag and a piece of string before getting lost…c) search for a way of signalling to rescuers. Apparently my lipstick is very handy. If our car should get lost out in the middle of nowhere, we stand a better chance of being spotted by rescue choppers if we use the lipstick to mark a huge X on the roof of the car.”

“I once went for this Aboriginal wilderness survival tour,” says HRH. “You can get water from these plants you see around us.”

“How?”

“I’ve forgotten. It was some 10 years ago.”

“That’s very helpful,” I say, changing the discs yet again. We can’t possibly be listening to Jay Chou another 20 times.

Soon enough we come across one of those towns that seem to exist only to extort petrol-thirsty travellers like ourselves. The price at the pump is a $1.90 a litre. Across the Nullabor, petrol prices go as high as $1.97 a litre. You can either fill up your tank or be prepared to walk until your legs fall off.

A picture of a poster in a window between Port Augusta, South Australia, and Ceduna

A picture of a  giant bird between Port Augusta, South Australia, and Ceduna.

I know the name of this bird but have forgotten. Excuse me. I’ll let you know at a later time. A picture of a giant bird between Port Augusta, South Australia, and Ceduna.

A picture of a shop between Port Augusta, South Australia, and Ceduna

The sign says everything: we’re half way across Australia! A picture of a shop between Port Augusta, South Australia, and Ceduna.

A picture of a locally mined gems in a shop between Port Augusta, South Australia, and Ceduna.

Amanda was in heaven seeing this. A picture of a locally mined gems in a shop between Port Augusta, South Australia, and Ceduna.

After another hour and a half on the road, we reach our accommodation for the night, the Ceduna Foreshore Hotel and Motel. Known as the “Oyster Capital of Australia”, Ceduna boasts some good fishing and correspondingly, seriously tasty seafood; HRH and Amanda have a couple of battered banana prawns and fresh scallops and I, on my new cholesterol-lowering diet have marinated octopus for tea. Allowing our stomachs an hour of rest before the onslaught of more food, we return to our hotel room to watch Spongebob Squarepants on Nicklodeon.

At dinnertime, I get a bone lodged in my throat from eating locally caught pink snapper and thus spend the next forty minutes trying to dislodge said bone by chowing down on 2 crusty bread rolls. That doesn’t work so at HRH’s advice, I have only my second coke for the last 2 years, while watching a gorgeous Ceduna sunset. Oh, and I’m still producing nose wontons.

A picture of Amanda giving me attitude in Ceduna, South Australia.

A picture of Amanda giving me attitude in Ceduna, South Australia.

 A picture of a Ceduna, South Australia, sunset.

Now tell me that ain’t a beauty!  A picture of a Ceduna, South Australia, sunset.

Day 6

It’s official: my nose has eloped with my make-up bag. We set off for yet another of HRH’s beloved “short drives”, this time to Eucla in Western Australia. It’s a teeny tiny dot on HRH’s travelling map, so I’m not expecting much other than a clean bed to sleep on at night.

 A picture of the road leading away from Ceduna, South Australia.

It’s another day on the road. A picture of the road leading away from Ceduna, South Australia.

 A picture of the landscape leading away from Ceduna, South Aus

Where have all the animals gone? A picture of the landscape leading away from Ceduna, South Australia.

 A picture of Amanda fast asleep at the back of the car.

I have to smell Amanda’s feet as she decides to put them up the entire way.

Almost every road-train we meet on the road West is considerate of other motorists, especially smaller vehicles like ours transporting an entire family. But along comes this guy, who you can’t see because I belatedly decided to take his picture from my side-view mirror, who tries to PUSH US OFF THE ROAD when we attempt to overtake him. Before that he’d been careering from left to right. Lucky him, I hadn’t taken down his vehicle registration number if not I’d be placing a call to the relevant road transport authority.

 A picture of the road train that tried to push us off the road just outside Yatala in South Australia.

Most road-train drivers are considerate of other motorists but this one was a menace. A picture of the road train that tried to push us off the road just outside Yatala in South Australia.

Since we are still celebrating Amanda’s birthday (like the Queen, her birthday goes on for a whole week), HRH detours for us to see the Great Australian Bight. Just what is a Bight? Beats me, but you are supposed to be able to spot seals, whales, sharks and other marine life when they are in season. Whale-watching season folks, is in October and November. We are many months too early and instead, only have rugged coast to admire for the bargain price of $5 per adult. Children visit for free with one paying adult.

 A picture of HRH lifting Amanda up to view marine life at the Great Australian Bight, Yatala, South Australia.

A picture of HRH lifting Amanda up to view marine life at the Great Australian Bight, Yatala, South Australia.

A picture of The Great Australian Bight.

Sorry, no animals folks. They go elsewhere to spend the summer.  A picture of The Great Australian Bight.

 A picture of a poster about the Great Australian Bight.

This poster tells you about the marine life visible from the Great Australian Bight.

A picture of me and Amanda on a deck overlooking the Great Australia

Yes, there is no point dressing up when only absent marine life are going to see you and your runaway nose. A picture of me and Amanda on a deck overlooking the Great Australia

Yet more driving follows. We pass through the border of South Australia and Western Australia where we are stopped for a routine fruit-check. Just so you know: you are NOT allowed to bring fruit into South Australia or Western Australia, if travelling from other parts of Australia. This is to prevent fruit fly from damaging the citrus-growing industries of either state.

Once again, we arrive at our destination in time for tea. But instead of stuffing our faces with hot chips from the one and only café in Eucla, we check out the pool for houseguests and picturesque gardens, which the hotel’s restaurant looks out onto.

From our hotel room you can catch a glimpse of the sea.

A picture of our room in Eucla, Western Australia.

It’s not the Ritz-Carlton or the Shangrila, but it is clean and comfortable. A picture of our room in Eucla, Western Australia.

A picture of  the view from our room in Eucla, Western Australia.

You can catch a glimpse of the sea. A picture of the view from our room in Eucla, Western Australia.

 A picture of father and daughter moseying down the rocky path in Eucla, Western Austra

Trying to walk to the beach; never got there as it was a lot further than what it seemed from our room window. A picture of father and daughter moseying down the rocky path in Eucla, Western Australia.

A picture of a giant whale in the kids playground at Eucla, Western Australia.

A picture of a giant whale in the kids playground at Eucla, Western Australia.

A picture of HRH and Amanda at the "Traveller's Cross" in Eucla, Western Australia.

So far from civilisation. A picture of HRH and Amanda at the “Traveller’s Cross” in Eucla, Western Australia.

 A picture of the swimming pool at our hotel in Eucla, Western Australia.

Can you see the sliver of sea in this photo? It’s a different blue to the sky.

A picture of the gardens at our hotel in Eucla, Western Australia.

The restaurant looks out onto this gorgeous garden. You’d appreciate the effort it takes to establish and maintain such a garden if you saw the hard, clay-like soil. A picture of the gardens at our hotel in Eucla, Western Australia.

 A picture of Amanda having another plate of spaghetti bolognese in Eucla, Western Australia.

Amanda wanted spaghetti even for her birthday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our 9 day road-trip from Brisbane to Perth (Part 1)

Now what would possess someone to drive 4800 km from one side of a continent as vast as Australia to another? Well, for starters there is madness and for another, it’s to show young un’s the sheer size (and it is bigger than anyone’s backyard, believe me) of Australia.

We’d been warned to take fuel and water with us but our car was crammed to the hilt with all our treasured personal belongings so there was place for neither. It was either that or one of us would have ended up sitting on the roof. No prizes for guessing who, since HRH was planning to drive and it is still illegal for children to be in the front seat of the car, let alone strapped outside to a vehicle travelling at 110 km per hour. Perhaps, as HRH pointed out, we’d be travelling along a major highway for all of the time, so worse comes to worse, we’d hail down a passing road train for help.

Day 1

We plan to set off at 10 am but due to the nature of packing up an entire household full of stuff, end up leaving at 5 pm instead. Tania, who I’ve had dinner or lunch weekly for the last 5 years, helps us to reposition some of our bags in the car so that I won’t have to ride for 4800 km with my knees tucked under my chin.

She, who knows everything there is to know about road-trips, says, “You are very brave to be doing this.”

Blowing my hundredth nose-wonton (I have the flu, for crying out loud), I say, “There is a very fine line between bravery and madness. If you were to do this 9-day, 4800 km journey, I’d call it brave. With us, it’s more likely madness.”

With that I hug Tania and bid her farewell. We set off in the fading light of Brisbane for Moree 5 hours away. Due to the lack of light and my continuous production of nose wontons, I have no pictures to show you. Suffice to say, I am suffering, wondering aloud where among all our bags I put the Codral Cold, Flu and Cough tablets. Then I remember the bag that mum packed for me, with Aerius D, a similar cocktail of time-released nasal relief. Mum also packed me panadol, something for phlegm, sanitary pads and 2 boxes of tissues, just in case I should need any of these things. Thanks Mum.

Day 2

At the insistence of HRH, I take a few snap shots of our motel. It is a brick oasis in the middle of the desert; the place even has a swimming pool, which would be great in this infernal heat, but we have no time for that as we must travel another 5.5 hours to our next destination, Dubbo. HRH, slightly sleep-deprived from me coughing up a lung for most of the night, between blowing nose-wontons, tries to cheer me up by saying the trip is “only 5.5 hours long.” Oh yippee skipee.

Our Motel in Moree, New South Wales.

Our Motel in Moree, New South Wales. It cost the same as the Intercontinental Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. No, I’m serious.

Outback New South Wales, past Moree.

Outback New South Wales, past Moree.

We drive and drive and drive some more, past hay fields, along a mostly straight road. Occasionally we come across a dead joey, being picked at by crows and the odd eagle. After what seems like hours on the road, the hay fields give way to bushes.

The road from Moree to Dubbo, New South Wales.

The road from Moree to Dubbo, New South Wales.

HRH decides to stop in a town called Mendooran to refuel the car. The town is so small, it only has the one street featuring the requisite supermarket, gas station and post office. Locals around these parts are cattle farmers. The gas station attendant informs us that our next destination, after Dubbo, is “pure nothing through the desert.”

I blow my thousandth nose-wonton despite the Aerius D.

The Mendooran post office in country New South Wales.

The Mendooran post office in country New South Wales.

We arrive in Dubbo mid-afternoon but I feel like I’ve been travelling the whole day. HRH has us booked into Cattleman’s Country Motor Inn, the best accommodation there is in Dubbo. We are given a new two-bedroom apartment with tasteful modern decor.

HRH crossing the road in front of our motel in Dubbo, New South Wales.

HRH crossing the road in front of our motel in Dubbo, New South Wales.

After checking in, we go in search of food. We wind up at one of the town’s two Vietnamese eateries. The food is authentic, if substantially more expensive than what it is in Brisbane. For dinner, we opt to dine at the Cattleman’s restaurant. You can see Amanda pigging out on the first of 4 bowls of spaghetti bolognese she has throughout the trip.

Amanda at the Cattleman's restaurant in Dubbo, New South Wales.

Amanda at the Cattleman’s restaurant in Dubbo, New South Wales.

Day 2

We exit Dubbo straight after our 10am checkout. We have to, even though Dubbo Zoo is purportedly worth a visit, because we have another 9 hours on the road until our next stop for the day: Broken Hill.

The landscape after Dubbo, towards Broken Hill in New South Wales.

The black thing is the railroad. The landscape after Dubbo, towards Broken Hill.

2 hours into our journey, HRH says, “I was told that some people count the road kill to keep themselves entertained.”

So there goes 1 dead joey, 2 dead joeys…the alternative is dead rabbits. They road signs keep saying to watch out for suicidal kangaroos, emus and wombats, but I can see none of them around.

The road after Dubbo, towards Broken Hill.

The road after Dubbo, towards Broken Hill.

In case you didn’t know (and I didn’t either until HRH told me) mining giant BHP gets it’s name from the area, the oldest active mine in Australia. It stands for Broken Hill Proprietary. The town is the only one we’ve ever seen with an active mine forming part of it; most mining towns conduct their activities beyond the main streets.

Our room at the Red Earth Motel in Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Our room at the Red Earth Motel in Broken Hill, New South Wales.

A civic guide to Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Advertised eateries are KFC, Macdonalds and Hungry Jacks. We locate a cafe nearby to enjoy a simple western meal.

Broken Hill, New South Wales, at dusk.

Broken Hill, New South Wales, at dusk.

Amanda having a bowl of spaghetti bolognese in Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Sprinkling on the cheese. Amanda having a bowl of spaghetti bolognese in Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Food and accommodation is priced well above what you’d pay in any of the major capital cities in Australia. The town’s only Chinese restaurant does a rousing business. Locals are friendly; surprisingly many can afford to eat out on a weeknight. I don’t suppose there is much else to do. We see many families at the cafe we’re at.