OK, bear with me here - I know you are coming to From the Kitchen for the recipes (and I am delighted that you do), but I can't not share with you some of my recent adventures. If you had asked me a year ago if I could see myself jaunting around Australia from island to outback to rainforest in a year's time, I would have laughed, and yet that was me just a week ago. In part of the lead up to Restaurant Australia's Invite the World to Dinner I spent a couple of nights at Orpehus Island in the Great Barrier Reef before heading west of Cairns into the North Queensland outback. I hitched a ride with Tim on his 8-seater Cessna and we cruised above an ever more sparse and brown landscape before touching down on a dusty, red airstrip in the middle of nowhere. Feeling a bit dusty myself I gratefully freshened up with an ice-cold facecloth offered on a tray by the neatly-turned out Nadine of Crystalbrook Lodge. Within minutes I was on board the souped up outback truck driven by General Manager Andrew Simpson, relishing the air conditioning and bound for Crystalbrook's cattle station for a rejuvenating cup of tea. Once again ready for adventure I hopped aboard part-owner and dinky-di outback character Jim's (barefoot pilot with a good Aussie twang) tiny chopper and we swooped over the sparsely treed countryside on our way to the luxurious sanctuary of the gorgeous Crystalbrook Lodge. If you fancy seeing more, click on the recipe link below... :)
Crystalbrook is a literal oasis in the middle of this outback cattle station, even when I was there, with their water at a drought-induced all-time low. Despite the lower than normal water level in the lake, it was still the perfect place to putter about in the Lodge's electric boat, fishing for barramundi grateful for the protective shade of the canopy. The lake is totally magical, surrounded by wildlife and dotted with twisted trees, it is amazingly relaxing and a fabulous outing whether you return laden with fish, or not. After a quick freshen-up we hit the road headed for a mystery location, and an experience which would have to be a stand out from my travels anywhere. Dropped in the middle of the bush with 360˚ views of stunning outback we watched the sun set, glass of champagne in hand and delicious hors d'oeuvres to nibble on. It is no wonder that many guests are happy to be left, with oil lanterns and a fire crackling, to enjoy this moment in solitude until the staff reappear to whisk them back to the lodge for dinner.
Dinner itself was a revelation - absolutely beautifully prepared by chef Andy, and although unexpected considering the remote surroundings, exactly what you would wish for from a luxury lodge. We started with seared scallops wrapped in prosciutto with Parmesan crisps, followed by eye fillet with local prawns seared with garlic and brandy (a very refined version of surf and turf!) and finished with peach Melba 'Crystalbrook style'. Accompanied by a beautiful cabernet sauvignon we sat, ate, chatted and watched the stars come out in the huge outback sky. Totally mesmerizing!
The next morning, Andrew woke me with a tap on the door just after 5am, and clutching my mug of tea I watched the sun rise slowly over the lake. My foggy head evaporated as the sun crept above the horizon and within half an hour I had my running shoes on and was ready for a bush walk around the lake track. I have never seen a farm in New Zealand anything like this! Cattle emerged from the lake and trotted in front of us, disturbing the pelicans and raising a carpet of dust. Bulls stood their ground as we approached, sauntering off at the last minute, and the bush around us was alive with the sounds of Butcherbirds and Apsotlebirds nattering and calling to each other. By the time we completed the 5km loop I was ready for a shower and delicious breakfast of birchermuesli, yoghurt and fresh fruit, leaving the boys to enjoy their 'cook up' of bacon and eggs!
After our beautiful breakfast we had time for one last outback adventure before heading inland - we jumped in the truck and took to the dusty roads exploring areas where unbelievably hardy tin miners had tried their hand in the outback. Remnants and relics scattered old campsites and the searing heat was a constant reminder of their outrageous fortitude - I can not believe they laboured away in that heat, in the dust and dry, it's little wonder that rum and whisky bottles make up a good proportion of the treasures Andrew has found in the bush. Before I knew it we were back in the truck and heading back to the airstrip. Reassured that there were no new anthills to knock down, and that the kangaroos were headed well into the bush, I hopped back aboard the Cessna with pilot Tim, sad to be leaving so soon, but excited to be bound for my final Queensland stop en-route to Tasmania.