On the way to the Snowy River National Park some of the best caving experiences in Victoria can be found. The picturesque village of Buchan that sits into the hillside of East Gippsland is home to the Buchan Caves Reserve, which contains a beautiful campground surrounded by some of the oldest Canadian and American trees you will find in Australia and features the Fairy Cave, Federal Cave, Royal Cave and Duke's Cave.
We learnt that the temperature stays fairly consistent inside the caves (around 17 degrees celsius) meaning that the cave water, that is fed from Duke's Cave direct into the special fresh water swimming pool is quite cool but stays fairly consistent also in temperature.
Icy and filled with minerals, this water is amazing to plunge into on a 40 degree (celsius) day, but I imagine probably not so much on a cooler one! Locals say that a 30 degree day or over is perfect for swimming and many people can be found in the pool on these days.
The pool is 10m wide by 15m length and there are plenty of seats and lawn to accomodate swimmers.
The pool was man-made by the original Moon family that owned the caves, who forged it out of the bedrock. The water feeds in through the Duke's Cave outlet (pictured above) and feeds back into the Buchan River. Filtered by the limestone in the caves, its fresh, crystal clear and filled with minerals.
Only the brave-hearted jump directly into the pool, it's a cool treat on the skin from the hot sticky weather, good for your skin and soothing the hear the waters trickling from the cave.
While there are paid tours twice a day of the caves, the pool is free for everyone to use, making it an inexpensive day out for all to enjoy, and providing a sensory experience like no other. I mean, can you tell anyone that you have swam in cave water?
Is there a part of you that ever wants to just go back in time? As I road trip around the Gippsland highways here, I get the feeling that colonial Australia might have been a little like the wild wild west, only this is the wild wild south. While driving along the Wilsons Promontory coastline from Foster to Yarram, its hard not to be faced with the by-gone colonial boom town, gold rush, and merchant port leftovers that see long stretches of country road, green and windy, contrasted by amazing buildings that tower above the modest town dwellings they now reside with.
Victoria Hotel, Alberton, Victoria, Australia. Built in 1890 when Alberton was a boom town. Alberton was indeed named after Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert. Nowadays this tall building stands out in contrast with the flat green fields along the road on the way to Yarram. #colonialaustralia #portalbert #history #iconic #hotels #gippsland #victoria #roadtrips #travels #alongtheroad #historicbuilding #magicbuildings #australiana
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The Victoria Hotel in the small town of Alberton, next to Port Albert, is one of these buildings. The small town was once bustling, with many people arriving from all over the world to berth at Port Albert on their travels to the goldfields. Many early pioneers arrived at this port before railways were built.
Many of the old buildings that remain in the area are of Georgian and Victorian style heritage.
It's hard to believe that these towns, all joined by a scenic road with stunning views of nearby Wilsons Prom, were once the biggest in the area, they all now are off the beaten track, full of holiday makers looking to explore.
When it was booming, Alberton contained a number of buildings such as stores, hotels, even a police magistrates and court of petty sessions.
Once the railway and shire offices were built and moved to Yarram, the town began to decline.
Now the town is a small farming community, mainly cattle farmers, nearby Port Welshpool has begun cruises, the government is also refurbishing its iconic "Long jetty", which is over 572 metres long.
It's a beautiful drive that takes you from Foster, to Toora, Welshpool, Port Welshpool, Port Albert, Alberton and then on to Yarram. All these towns have amazing old buildings including the Regent Theatre in Yarram and The Standard Hotel in Toora.
Iconic Australiana is at it's best on this road trip. Old general stores, hotels, churches and homesteads dot the coastline. The port towns showcase magnificent Norfolk Pines, jetty’s, seafood outlets, amazing coastline views of Wilsons Prom, flocks of native birds and wildlife such as dolphins and stingrays. There are many accomodation options in the form of hotels, caravan parks, air bnb's and holiday houses.
A rainy and windy day is just as beautiful in contrast to the brilliant warm sun in summer here, and with the new attractions of cruises and walks along the jetty, these boom towns will surely be bustling with tourists come the summer months.
Ornamental and edible, the vintage cottage star flower called "Borage" is eye pleasing, culinary, medicinal and essential food for the bees that enter the garden. Here in Australia, Borage grows throughout the year, even tolerating light frosts. While it's an annual plant, it regularly sets seed and new blooms appear during all seasons.
Easily one of my absolute favourite plants, Borage is so adaptable that it can be grown in your vegetable patch, with other ornamentals to attract butterflies, in the herb garden, and in the winter flower garden to feed the bees.
Borago officinalis grows into a tall bush, producing sprays of a brilliant blue star shaped flower, it drops a large black seed from its middle once the flower fades to a purple pink colour. These large seeds ensure its easy to plant and re-seed. It is not fussy about where it is planted, as long as the soil is free draining, it doesn't like wet feet. There is also a lesser known white borage flower called "Alba", if you can find seeds give them a try.
In the days of our grandparents Borage was nicknamed "Bees Bush" or "Bees Bread" as it has a high pollen content. With the bees attracted to it's honey smell and bright blue flowers, it is a valuable addition to the winter garden. Bees still go out to forage once the temperature is over 10 degrees celsius.
We've seen many in our garden this winter, which has been warmer than usual. On the sunny days, bees are heading straight over to our Borage bushes and alyssum ground cover,
It's cucumber flavoured leaves are not just good for us and the bees. The chickens love the extra greens in the winter and gobble up the leaves, stalks and flowers.
Borage is a friend to the garden, it repels pests such as hornworms, attracting pollinators, and aids any plants it is interplanted with by increasing resistance to pests and disease.
Companion plant Borage with tomatoes, strawberries and pumpkins, cucumbers and zucchinis. It adds trace minerals to the soil it is planted in, and is good for composting and mulching.
While they do grow tall and can colonise in the garden, the plants are easy to identify and can be pulled out very easily. We have found no problems transplanting them into other spots of the garden, but success depends on soil vigour and its advised to grow from seed in a new patch.
Borage provides that summery cucumber flavour in the winter, and while its readily known that you can decorate salads and cakes with the flowers and add them to ice cubes, there is so much more to the plant than just this.
The young leaves can be added to green smoothies for instance. Specifically, borage has very high levels of GLA, gamma linolenic acid, an important essential fatty acid. Borage is also packed with other healthy nutrients that are great for the body. Borage is a good herbal supplement for women because it contains high levels of calcium and iron. Potassium, Zinc, B and C vitamins, and beta carotene are packed into the borage plant making it very nutritional.
It is also anti-inflammatory and a natural sedative, repairing the body and calming the mind. It's leaves can be stewed in hot water to make a tea. Add it to your bath in a salt scrub or into potpourri.
Whether feeding yourself, or feeding the bees, try this Mediterranean beauty and enjoy the benefits it can bring to the garden and to your life.
As well as penguins and seals, Phillip Island is home to tropical mangroves, and to special birds that migrate from as far as Alaska to spend time there.
Near the seaside village of Rhyll, there is a beautiful mangrove scenic boardwalk that takes you off the beaten track of the tourist areas and into the tranquil natural protected mudflats..
The sounds as you are walking through the mangroves are something else, with croaks of the crickets, different bird songs mingling together, and trickling water and sounds of the waves in the distance.
It is quite surreal, relaxing and therapeutic.
It's an exposed area of the island, with not much shade so I'd recommend that during the Summer that this would be a perfect walk for first thing in the morning or the cool of the evening.
We went on a relatively cool day but still got a little sun burnt.
The walk also takes you up Conservation Hill, and while it's a bit steep, it's worth it for the sweeping views of the inlet.
Facilities include public toilets, great parking, picnic tables and benches situated at very scenes intervals so that you can sit , linger, and take in the views.
First published 7 July 2017.
The unusual garden "Victors Way" is located just outside of the village of Roundwood in Co. Wicklow and while the 22 acre property features small lakes, stunning views and forested areas, it's a scenic purposeful walk with a focus on meditation.
The garden features a range of specially commissioned Indian made black granite sculptures that now sit in the privately owned meditation garden, which is open to the public at certain times of the year for a small entry fee.
The garden is by no means a place to wander around, shake off the day and empty the mind. It's intended purpose is rather to provoke thoughts about the human condition. Informative plaques guide visitors through a tour of the 14 statues, that are intended to represent the spiritual progression to enlightenment.
Surprisingly, to me, the garden has also incorporated the role of technology and the internet into this tour, with the garden itself being dedicated to mathematician Alan Turing, who invented the first computer. There are many references to maths, internet, technology and Buddhism throughout the plaques in the garden.
There is also a shed building next to the garden, an escape from the Irish rain, where you can see photos of sculptures being made and a history of the establishment of the garden, as well as a shop filled with Indian trinkets, and many singing bowls, which are used to achieve "Harmony of Mind".
As some of the sculptures feature nudity and (some) grotesque, its not suitable for children. In fact the owner himself has said the garden is for people over the age of 28 years.
When we went in search of the garden, there were only a few vague trip advisor reviews to go by, but since then a website has been created and you can visit it for more information.
It takes around 1-2 hours to go completely around the garden, indulge in a forest bath, dance with the elephants, and question the meaning of life.
We found that the gardens were very well kept and provide beautiful views over Wicklow, especially at "The Cobra" statue, where there are views of the Sugarloaf Mountain.
Definitely a walk for a mature and open minded individual, to walk out of the ordinary and into this magical and artistic garden!
First published July, 2017
The middle of winter here in Victoria marks the arrival of Humpback Whales, Southern Right Whales and Orcas to our easterly coastlines, as they migrate up to Queensland's warmer waters in Australia. They even have their very own festival.
Even if you do not glimpse a whale, the Cape Woolamai walk itself is a pleasure to take, with amazing scenery and a challenging climb up the cliff face steps with lush green vegetation which was stunning on a warm winters day.
Called the Magic Lands, one a hazy day the walk up the cliff face was just that. The scenery was breathtaking as the mist gusted in and out over the majestic cliffs and when the sun hit the water it shimmered a silver colour.
The basalt rock formations called "The Pinnacles" is located at the end of the Cape, providing amazing coastal views across the island and waters.
The Cape Woolamai trail extends further southwards along the top of see coastal cliffs, then loops back, providing a walking trail that takes 4 hours to complete at a leisurely pace.
Facilities include excellent car parking, public toilets and the Cape Woolamai Surf Lifesaving Club
Even though no whales were sighted by our bunch, we did spot some brave evening surfers as we were leaving, even though it was a chilly 5 degrees in the evening.
We enjoyed the scenery immensely and look forward to our next adventure up the Magic Lands Cliffs.
First published 15th August 2017.
As the long Summer evenings shortened into Autumn, finally tapering into dark winter nights, there was an opportunity to spend ten night's in one of Melbourne's richly historic and specialised gardens, learning about horticulture from stand out experts in their field.
As soon as one hears all about this course, its hard to "unhear" it. A fascination for three years filled with "maybe's" finally led to the opportunity to spend ten glorious golden evenings at Burnley, and I savoured every minute.
A scientifically experimental and educational institute for the past 160 years, Burnley Gardens at Melbourne University is still training novice horticulturists, arborists and landscapers.
Former graduates who have become experts in their fields have become lecturers and stay well into the evening to teach a fresh batch of students for their infamous course that they lovingly refer to as "Disco Hort".
Whether a home gardener, land owner or looking for a career in horticulture, the course attracts dozens of people twice a year, sometimes a "waiting list" to gain access has been needed to keep numbers at bay for this coveted Melbourne experience.
Burnley has always been "the place" in the city for horticultural learning, and this year's guest lecturers included John Patrick (Gardening Australia fame), Greg Moore (former principal of Burnley), Sue Murphy (current lecturer), Peter May (soil expert), Kirsten Raynor (Wisely and now Burnley), and Simon Rickard (Head Gardener Heronswood).
With a love for storytelling these experts are lively, entertaining and clearly display their love for Melbourne and for Burnley Gardens to their weekly captive audience.
Topics covered in the course include attaining a healthy soil, plant identification, plant propagation, mulch, pots, water and nutrition, plant form and function, tree and shrub care, garden history, landscaping, annuals, bulbs and perennials and plants for a dry garden.
There were vast opportunities to explore and tour the garden itself both in the long evenings alone and with the whole group led by lecturer John Patrick, who pointed out significant trees and history of the garden, telling stories of his days working in there and pointing out all his favourite plants.
Hands on and practical classes in the Nursery meant that course participants could look under the glass and see what was growing in the heated greenhouses and tried their hands at growing in Burnley's top secret growing medium. Because after 160 years, theres not much they don't know about creating a successful growing mix. Needless to say the plants we struck and took home were bouncing out of their pots with lush green growth!
The conclusion of the course included a mini plant fair held by the "Friends of the Burnley Gardens" with goodies a-plenty for the keen early bird.
"You've been disco-ed," says Kirsten Raynor, as the course concludes, with new fast friends made, we said goodbye and made a bee-line for our gardens, ready to put all we have learnt into practice.
"Disco Hort" has been run over the last 20 years, and is held twice a year, once in Autumn and then again in Spring.
Where once a coastal town nicknamed " little piece of Cornwall" thrived and exported burnt lime to build houses in Melbourne, now lies a charming little cove with clear blue waters.
Walkerville South is a little crescent shaped piece of coast line that overlooks Wilsons Promontory, the most southernly tip of mainland Australia. There are but a few homes dotted along the cliffs and its peaceful waters are home to many seabirds, seals, and humpback whales that journey up and down the coast.
Remains of the old lime kilns that were used to burn lime for building in colonial Melbourne still appease the coast line, built out of a mix of stone and bricks, its an usual site and makes for a great day exploring.
The waters are shallow and cool, a very tropical sea green colour, it is very sheltered even on cold days and the vibes are good for paddling, venturing through rock pools, sifting through colourful shells and admiring sea life and birds.
There are also multiple varieties of seaweed to investigate.
The small seaside town was named "Waratah" and settled on this beach when the first lime kiln was built in 1878 after lime was discovered by a local farmer in 1875. In full production of the six lime kilns, up to eighty men worked in the industry along the beach.
There is a recollection of one residents diary written on a post at the beach, one entry says "Had dinner at Bruce's house. Plenty of beer.", another says "Picnic Day out at the beach", and then "Tired after last nights ball."
There was also a 350m long jetty and a cable car that pulled the lime out to the ships, you can still see part of the tram rails near the cliff edges.
The marble cliff walk takes you up the cliff side, along the top of the lime kilns and joins a loop track from Walkerville South, to Walkerville North.
You can enjoy the views of Wilsons Prom in the distance and take a signposted historical journey.
There is also a track to the historic cemetery if you take a left off the track, it's quite a steep hill up there but a very interesting place to gain an insight to the people who once lived there.
As you walk the tracks, you may still see nasturtiums and a rogue fig tree, left over from village days. The kilns closed in 1926, with work men basically downing tools and leaving everything behind. By 1930 the cottages were in decay.
There are toilets to the left of the small car park and it's lovely to picnic on the beach, it is only 190km from Melbourne. While it's a very small little cove, its easy to lose track of time while exploring and spend hours on end venturing up and down the cliffs.
It's known to be a great spot to star gaze and catch a glimpse of the Aurora lights, evenings see yellows, reds, purples and blues as the sun sets.
There is another beach at Walkerville North to the left and Bear Gully to the right, but this beach has the whitest sand and clearest blue waters out of the three. It's a charming little paradise to spend an afternoon in.
Such a small island is Ireland, after living in Australia, you can forget for a minute that it doesn't take too long before you can get anywhere really.
In Australia, walking from one town to another seems a crazy feat, but its quite possible in Co Wicklow, as you take the stunning scenic walk from Greystones Harbour in County Wicklow, along the cliff side up to Bray, which sits south of Dublin. It's a two hour, 7km walk, and on a fine day or evening, is magical!
Greystones itself is a cute seas side town with a long esplanade of it's own, containing Georgian holiday homes of the notable figures from Dublin, it was the place to go for holidays!
Now new buildings are also going up along the shore. Church street is also the location of The Happy Pear, from Jamie Olivers Food Tube fame, and is a wonderful spot to start the walk to Bray, getting in some good wholesome food and coffee from the cafe for the trip.
Once you begin walking up, the cliff side walk follows the coast line the whole way along the east coast aspect, providing wonderful views of the ocean and also of golden grasses the wild flowers that adorn the hill sides. High Summer and Autumn are the best times for flowers.
It might be one of the only places you can see a lizard basking in the sun, you may be able to spot a basking shark, dolphin or porpoise.
The path is well marked with signs and is wide enough for two people to walk comfortable side by side, and there are resting spots all along it.
If you just want to do one way, you can take the regular DART trains back to your original location.
This is the scenic walk to put on your list if you're in County Wicklow. The golden summer evenings after dinner is the best time.
Professional Gippsland photographer, Alison Landmeter, recently received two silver awards for her local newborn images and has now also qualified for the National Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) Awards to be held later in the year.
“I am a new member with the AIPP after completing my accreditation with rewarding results,” said Alison, who has been a professional photographer specializing in maternity and newborn shots for the last 9 years while also working with local Gippsland John Ansell Photography for the last 7 years. She began her photography career with Colin McKeown Photographics.
Alison entered three images in the statewide awards for the newborn category, which was meticulously scrutinized by five judges; their average is then used to score the photo.
“My first print of a newborn from Traralgon scored an average of 78, which is classified as high professional standard, I was very pleased with it,” Alison explained.
“To my surprise the next two images, both photographed in Trafalgar, scored higher, 80 for the baby girl and 81 for the Indian themed image, both of these classify as above professional practice and score silver awards,” said Alison.
Alison described the experience as rewarding but nerve wracking and is appreciative of her local family, friends, clients and photography mentors support.
“I couldn’t have done this without the support of my local clients and friends, and especially my mentors John and Rosemary Ansell. I was very overwhelmed and it was wonderful having John Ansell at my side through the awards and knowing friends and family were watching the event live online,” continued Alison.
“A special thank you goes out to my local clients who have allowed me to be creative on their newborn shots. I am very passionate about local maternity and newborn photography and I love capturing moments with families and siblings in new ways.”
Alison is now getting ready to create two new images for the national awards to be held in September.
You can see her award winning images at www.alisonkphotography.com.
UPDATE: Alison’s award winning photos have now been featured on the UK’s Daily Mail and have been viewed worldwide on-line by thousands of people. Congratulations Alison!
I tripped over right outside the chicken coop, and I swear, all of the chickens looked up and cackled at me. In unison.
I'm glad I entertain them as well as everything else. You think there would be some compassion between us as we are all on that feminine wavelength, but no, let's laugh at her, jump the coop every now and then, let her chase us around, and let's turn our noses up at her gluten-free bread. We don't need any of that stuff.
Having chickens in the garden for me is a welcome balance. I live in a masculine household where the only female energy besides myself is the ageing Pomeranian "Poppy" and the five little chicken ladies.
Raised as well as any other babies, we hatched out Black Orpingtons Yoko, Zelda and Robot Chicken, then a year later white hybrids Buttercup and Blondie.
They were cheeky chickens from the outset, trying to jump out of their box and once succeeded, found playing with my three-year-old on the kitchen tiles, providing many fluffy hugs and kisses before they moved outside.
And not into any old shack I might add. They moved into a swish hipster UK made, Nasa designed, ergonomic, heat controlled structure that could be tractored around the garden. Nothing but the finest! La dee dah!
Fed our lush vegetable cuttings, organic poultry feed and good country sponges, I think perhaps I have spoilt them.
The girly bond that we share is unique though. They talk to me, using different sounds to tell me their food is empty, or the water has run out. They get especially loud when they want to be moved onto new grass. Bossy boots they are.
Many a time I've had to go out to break up fights between the black one and the white one. Pecking order disputes no doubt. Never a dull moment.
* For those not living in Australia an RDO means - Rostered Day Off.
While in New South Wales. it's hard not to fall in love with the Norfolk Pines. It's a majestic, giant-sized tree that screams of the tropics, originating from small Norfolk Island situated between New Zealand and New Caledonia.
Although those islands are 1400kms from these shores, you can find many Norfolk Pine trees dotted along the N.S.W coastline, as you road trip up and down.
At Tuross Head there is a particularly special memorial garden, located within a plantation of historic Norfolk Pines. Its in a beautifully breathtaking and peaceful location that looks out onto the ocean.
Upon entry you can enjoy wandering around the old trees, their giant size provides immense coolness and dark shade, where you can catch glimpses of the amazing green-blue seas through their tree trunks.
Walking past the pines you can find a special war memorial, dedicated to local fallen heroes, which are maintained lovingly by the Tuross community.
The gardens host the annual Anzac Day dawn service and locals say it provides a pleasing sunrise each year by the sea to commemorate.
Past the memorial, you can walk down to the rocky shore and sit at a number of tranquil benches dotted along the coastline, a really fitting way to sit down and finish the journey through the areas above.
We found it an educational place to visit with the kids, with many signs and plaques to read and our little ones enjoyed it thoroughly.
The pine plantation at Tuross Head came about as local Hector McWilliam discovered how to propagate the seed and planted 400 trees around the whole village, he had dreams of the town one day becoming a seaside resort.
Planting them in avenues and reserves, these pines, of which 276 remain, are now listed as heritage trees.
You may have noticed on the main street of Trafalgar that locally run “Obsession Coffee House” recently changed hands from Brett and Phoebe Hicks to new owner Lisa Somerville. While the name has changed to the bright red and vibrant “Sweet Brew Café”, both Lisa and Phoebe say the philosophy of the café of “Community, Coffee and Connection” remains intact.
Coming from farming families in Central and Northern Victoria and living in Elsternwick, the Hicks family decided to move to Trafalgar in August 2007. Brett joined his nephew Maris Romans, who had just opened the café called “Obsession” and they were warmly welcomed to join the business.
“Our business grew, and so did our family. We leapt in feet first and with our four children have integrated into the community through running the café,” said Phoebe.
Very quickly Brett was on the TCDA and Phoebe was involved in the Kinder committee and both in their local church St Mary’s. Battle of Trafalgar, Baw Baw Writers Network, Trafalgar Primary Parents and Friends and now Trafalgar High School Council all have welcomed the Hicks’ into their groups.
With the eldest two children beginning school, a connection with 1st Trafalgar Scouts also was added to the mix. Now both Brett and Phoebe are also Scout Leaders, this has become their main focus in the community the past few years.
“We were told when we moved here that it would be more than 20 years before we would be considered a ‘local’. This has definitely not been the case. We received a warm welcome in Trafalgar and are grateful for the embrace of our community,” says Phoebe.
“Trafalgar has been the perfect location for our family, these green hills are our home and we cannot imagine living anywhere else.”
With Phoebe pursuing a career outside the café the past 2 years an opportunity came to sell the café to the then manager Lisa Somerville.
“Around the tenth anniversary of the coffee house in August 2017, Brett and I felt like we had reached all our business goals and were ready for new challenges in our lives,” said Phoebe.
“We couldn’t have sold the café to just anyone and Lisa is the perfect fit as she shares the café’s philosophy of consistently good coffee and strong community connections.” Phoebe added.
Lisa says buying the coffee house appealed to her as she was ready to step back into a permanent role and wanted to create a lifestyle just for herself as she is just about finished raising her son, who is now 18 years old.
Lisa was born in Warragul, although her family hails from nearby Yarragon. She trained as a chef as a teenager and last worked in the industry 15 years ago. She also lived in Darwin for 20 years before moving back to the locality ready to have her son in 1999.
“I’ve known Lisa for about 5 years. We crossed paths and in passing I mentioned that I had a feeling the café chapter was coming to a close and we’d been thinking about moving on,” said Phoebe, explaining the handover process.
“A few days later Lisa asked about buying it. She came in as manager for a few months while we worked out the details and to see if the fit was right for her. “
Lisa says despite the name change, with signage and artwork designed by local creative Alison Landmeter, the friendly staff has stayed on and they will continue to serve a light, fresh and healthy menu, and of course amazing coffee.
“Because I am also gluten intolerant, I pay close attention to providing meals for those with allergies and can adapt the menu to suit,” said Lisa.
Lisa says she was ready to take the baton from Phoebe in January and appreciates the Trafalgar local patronage, warm welcome and friendship.
“It’s nice to buy the café from local people that you know who have built a good reputation for coffee. I’m stepping into a great legacy and I am ready to build on it here at Sweet Brew Café,” concluded Lisa.
You can visit Sweet Brew Cafes Facebook page for more info:
It feels like only a ninny would say that Summer was too long, it was though, long, hot and very dry. It hung on for longer than usual. The dizzying heat has a cabin fever like effect on the human psyche. Staring at brown hills, watching plants suffer and shrivel up, even looking up at the blue sky everyday makes you go a little bonkers.
Maybe I am a ninny. A ninny whose been out watering every morning and evening with a hose since late November, in the coolest and nicest parts of the day. First off it's an enjoyable thing to do in the evenings with a glass of red, it's a novelty, a sign of the lovely hot Summer and beach days to come, the Summer holidays stretch ahead. By the end of March you are just desperately looking for any signs of moisture on leaves and in the grass, any sign there's a significant change of season on its way at all!
I remember after a large period of drought in the early 2000's (I think it was 5-6 years in), right on the end of a dry Summer just like this, I decided to move to Ireland for awhile to work. When I arrived at my family's place, I just sat inside their porch for the first three days solid, my face pressed into the coolness of the glass, looking at the lush green pasture, enjoying the sight of the rain while drinking good strong tea. Rain and tea. It was bliss. They thought I was mad. They see rain for 9 months or sometimes more per year. It's another extreme on the other end of the spectrum. It can go both ways.
When all the cookers are ready, the time has changed and the nights are drawing in fast, its nice to have a bit of apple tart and custard, with crunchy pastry. From a very young age, I watched my mother and grandmother whip up a tart in under an hour ready for after dinner or late afternoon snack with creamy piping hot custard.
In Ireland the cooking apples reduce right down in the pie, a Bramley apple is a great variety, and here in Australia, a Granny Smith will do the job. I had one Granny Smith apple off one of our trees that was so big, it did the whole tart!
I have made the pastry gluten free as I have coeliacs disease. It's taken me along time to perfect, but now although theres many different ingredients to the Irish original, it tastes similar and has the same crunch as it comes hot out of the oven.
300-500gms apples. (depending on size of tart)
140gms Gluten Free Self Raising Flour (I recommend the Lauke Bread and Biscuit Flour)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
100gms chilled butter cubed
200gm boiled cooled potatoes (mashed without milk or butter added)
2 tablespoons desiccated coconut
2 tablespoons raw sugar
50-100ml milk (dairy or nut)
Preheat oven to 180 degree celsius.
1. Put the flour blend in a food processor or thermomix with 1/2 tsp salt and pulse to combine.
2. Add butter, coconut and sugar, pulse to combine.
3. Add potato and pulse to combine, add milk a little at a time until dough combines and just only comes together.
4. Turn out onto a board or tray, form a ball with hands, cut in half and then roll out with a floured rolling pin to .5-1cm thick, 2 sheets, one for the bottom of the tray, one for the top of the tart.
5. Place first sheet into tart tray. Slice apples into chunks until full, sprinkle with sugar, nutmeg or cinnamon if you wish. Lay send sheet of pastry on top. Prik pastry with fork to aerate while in oven. Coat with egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar. Decorate top with leftover pastry.
6. Bake in oven for 30-45 mins.
Enjoy with custard!
Eat hot or cold, you can also add homemade ice cream. I am lucky enough to grow both the Bramley and Granny Smith apples here in my garden as well as many other varieties and they are delicious in this tart.
It's Good Friday! Easter is nearly here, so its time to make some cost effective chocolate treats:
When in you live in the country side you meet some lovely older ladies who are only too happy to open up their mother's or grandmother's handwritten recipe books to share with you. When you have food allergies especially, its like they almost have them memorised and say "i'd think you could eat this great simple recipe from the 1930's" etc.
Well this is an old recipe given to me, its basic and turns out beautiful and delicious. I varied this time by only by adding gluten free flour instead of regular flour, I use the "Lauke" Gluten Free White Bread Flour, which acts very similar to regular wheat varieties.
I happened upon a really easy chocolate icing also and added crushed chocolate and hazelnuts on the top, which makes it really rich, but would be great for special occasions, like birthdays etc. For Easter, I have decorated it with Easter Eggs and used a milk icing. This cake also makes a great sheet cake for school birthdays as its just so simple, nearly as easy as a packet cake, to make.
I hope you enjoy and find it delicious............
1 and half cups of flour (plain or Gluten Free)
3 tablespoons cocoa or cacao powder
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or vanilla paste
1 tablespoon white vinegar
6 tablespoons oil (rice bran, canola, light olive oil)
1 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat oven 180 degrees celsius
Grease 20cm round cake tin
Dust inside of tin with excess cocoa powder, so it wont stick.
Add everything into bowl and whisk or use hand beater until combined well. It will be a runny mix.
Pour into cake tin
Bake 35-40 minutes
Cool for 10 mins, then turn out of tin
200 grams good quality dark chocolate
1/3 cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
Method: melt chocolate and coconut oil over low heat, when melted add vanilla and stir. Put mixture in fridge to cool for 35-40 minutes. Pour over cake, then leave overnight to set or put in fridge for 2 hours to set. It does set hard but is delicious and leaving it at room temperature softens it.
400gms icing sugar
2 x tablespoons milk
2 x tablespoons Cacao Powder
Method: Mix together with fork, if mixture is too dry, keep adding a splash of milk until runny. Will set in fridge. This mix is great for icing doughnuts too!
A couple of years ago, as we drove to New South Wales, I spotted a sign that read "Fairy Dell Reserve" out of the corner of my eye, the sign that grabbed my attention was located just outside Bruthen, one of the last towns before you leave the state of Victoria.
Despite spending quite a lot of my time exploring East Gippsland as a child, I had found a new place to put on the "to go" list. It had stayed in my mind there for all this time, when Merryn Padgett from "3 hrs from home" invited me to join her in the rainforest for a special day out with a few other local social media folk. So I jumped at the chance, knowing it was time to head off, make some new friends and go exploring.
So its a bit of a hike for us in the car, but I am used to that, from West Gippsland to East Gippsland, its about 3 hours (remember the Gippsland region is relative in size to Switzerland, yes the country) to Wiseleigh, just outside Bruthen.
Just as you drive into Wiseleigh, you turn left onto Deep Creek Road and follow the signs through undulating tracks until you reach the reserve, which is 5km of dirt roads. It is suitable for 2WD vehicles as well as 4WD, but 2WD vehicles be advised not to turn off the main track as its mostly little fire tracks that run off this.
We were met warmly by the lovely Merryn and local icon "Pixie Violet" who had come along to take the kids through the walk to look for fairy doors and easter eggs, a really nice way to keep the kids interested in the forest. She told us there was (biodegradable) fairy dust sprinkled through the forest so we could see where the little fairies had been!
Fairy Dell Flora Reserve is a nature conservation reserve of special significance to the local area of Bruthen, established in 1984. At 80ha in size, it protects an important area of warm temperate rainforest and is an amazing scenic spot to explore. Old trees are covered in mosses (even in Summer), lovely native orchids bloom in spring, and vines and ferns also dominate the landscape.
Facilities included toilet block, picnic tables nestled in the trees, barbecues and circular walking track.
While rain held off, we explored with Pixie Violet through the low circular track, over bridges, up a hill and down into the Fairy Dell, which was still lush and green despite the long hot spell we had been having. I enjoyed running my fingers over the different mosses, amazed at the variety.
The unique birds that roam the forest include the Rose Robin, the Lewin’s and Crescent Honeyeater, Australian King Parrot, Gang-gang Cockatoo, Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike and White-throated Treecreeper and many others, we heard the elusive lyrebirds, of which I am yet to see one!
All in all the friendly East Gippsland welcome was warm and inviting, having many lovely conversations and connecting with some amazing people who dearly love their region. I'm sure I will revisit the Fairy Dell for a look in the winter time, to see its green lush mosses at their peak!
Oh with the bizarre return of "high summer" temperatures, and a really dry brown view of our hills to contend with (poor farmers), ice-cream making has returned to lift my spirits while in the kitchen (aircon firmly back on while cooking). When it's really hot and the long weekend seems even longer, nothing is better than indulging with a sundae that calls for a rich strawberry sauce.
It's simple, tried and tested (honestly more than a couple of times), and so delicious!
1/2 lemon - a big squeeze
1 x punnet strawberries
3 x teaspoons raw sugar
1 x teaspoon vanilla essence or paste
1 x tablespoon maple syrup
Chop strawberries into quarters
In a shallow pan, add strawberries, vanilla, sugar and lemon.
Cook on high heat, while using a wooden spoon to crush some of strawberries and leave some whole, until sauce starts to bubble and strawberries reduce in size.
Add maple syrup and cook for 1-2 minutes until sauce is dark red and thick.
Let cool and spoon on top of ice-cream.
This week popular Irish band "The Corona's" played a one-off show in Sydney and announced dates for their upcoming Australian Tour in November 2018. As a Saint Patricks day celebration on the blog I revisited an article that I wrote in November 2017, when they last played at Melbourne's iconic Corner Hotel ...........
Australian fans thoroughly enjoyed a rare treat, an intimate night with “The Corona’s”, on the last leg of their Australian tour, as they left their musical mark on Melbourne’s most iconic music venue “The Corner Hotel” in Richmond.
On one of the balmiest evenings Melbourne has seen in a while, the crowd eagerly anticipated the night ahead.
The benefits of being an ex-pat ensured the loyal had their tickets in hand, as half the line waiting to get in were sent over to the ticket box to hastily purchase the last few. The excitement in the air was tingling, everyone glad to see a popular Irish act, which have been few and far between in the town over the last couple of years, amazed at the prospect of enjoying a close up pub show instead of a sold out Olympia theatre.
Whisperings inside the venue as it filled up, was that there was quite the line of people waiting to get in, and it was debatable if they would fit everybody in. It was clear since their last show two years ago, that the Irish had come out in force and this time had also brought their Aussie counterparts along with them.
The Dublin boys kicked off the show as enthusiastically as the crowd, launching into the first set with professional gusto, Danny O’Reilly stopped after just 2 songs in to tell the crowd it “already felt like it was going to be a special night,” for them and exclaiming “we are all melting in the heat, but sure we’ll all melt together!” In fact, bottles of water had to be handed out to the audience by security during the night.
The band belted out their original songs from their first album, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, including “as gaelige” version of “Heroes and Ghosts, in which he sang along with the crowd with his acoustic guitar, as well as their very latest single “Give Me a Minute,” in which he serenaded them on the keyboard.
If the thousands of kilometres they had travelled from city to city in Australia had taken their toll on the boys, they didn’t show it, providing an energetic end to a hot and sweaty week for many. They had taken in the 3 cities of Sydney, Brisbane and Perth in as many days, flying over 7,000km from Perth that very day to hit the stage on Sunday evening.
The discreet grey colonial style pub has been showcasing local and international live music for over 80 years, and is an important right of passage for any rock musician looking to create credibility within the Melbourne music scene. It’s seen the likes of Mick Jagger, White Stripes, The Black Keys, Blink 182, Powderfinger, Midnight Oil and even Hozier grace its band room stage over the years.
The pub’s reputation is well respected by front man Danny O’Reilly, who spent time in Melbourne as a lad, enjoying the local live music Melbourne had to offer.
He thanked the staff profusely and voiced his gratitude at being able to play there many times over the last few years.
He told Melbourne indie “Beat Magazine” earlier that week that they were proud to take their latest album to Australia and he hinted at the prospect of touring again in the New Year. The Coronas have now announced a Australian Promo Tour for 2018, and a concert for Sydney fans in March at “The Basement”.
The brilliant night was wrapped up with a lively 30-minute encore, surely cementing The Corona’s place in the historical line up of the Corner Hotel’s discography of performers, the audience most likely departing in the knowledge that next time they see the boys in Melbourne it will probably be on a bigger stage.
While spending a weekend recently in East Gippsland, to do something as mundane as getting the old jalopy serviced, we decided to head a further 16kms to Paynesville for the morning, only to find we had stumbled upon the "Paynesville Classic Boat Rally," completely by accident!
The rally, which only began in 2016, is a celebration of the boating history and lifestyle of the Gippsland Lakes. The town was buzzing with activity and onlookers, like ourselves, from the very early hours of the morning, right up to the boat parade at 11am, where all the local, vintage and hand built boats were paraded.
The weather was radiant and calm, hot with wonderful sunshine for onlookers to bask in. The esplanade featured a regatta style big band playing all sorts of tunes, which added to the character of the event, and everyone had their fancy hats on.
There was an expo showcasing different types of boating hobbies such as model boats and ships, sailing and yacht clubs, marine electronics, rowing clubs, timbers and also delicious local food outlets such as Forge Creek Lamb and Gippsland Gourmet Sausages.
We found a highlight of the "Sail Past" parade was the sight of the tall ship "Lady Nelson", that came from Hobart to visit the lakes for a weeklong stay.
There were also speedboats. hand built boats, vintage boats and even an old aussie-style tin shed in boat form gliding by during the parade. We had excellent viewing standing on the front of the Raymond Island Ferry which sat in the middle of McMillan Strait.
We sat here to watch the kids play and have a coffee, and as you could agree the view was stunning and relaxing for a Saturday morning outing.
We found out the rally has been a community-led initiative created by Peter Medling, whose family have been associated with boating for over 100 years in the area.
Peter wanted Paynesville to again showcase the long history and popularity of boating in the area.
I do indeed remember when I holidayed in nearby Lakes Entrance as a child seeing the signs for the Paynesville Boxing Day Regatta, which was a popular event around Christmas when there were many visitors. The local committee, supporters, enthusiasts and businesses wanted to revive this spectacle, and its proving wildly popular.
So from an expected quiet walk along the water, we were instead incredulously delighted to enjoy the busy buzz of activity that the boats brought with them, flags and all. What a happy accident!
I've traditionally not had much success at growing cucumbers in my garden. You could put it down to inexperience, the heavy clay soil, or just to the fact that I get preoccupied with my tomatoes!
However, after spending a couple of years growing the "straight from the nursery" long, green "run of the mill" varieties that would go bitter rather quickly, I decided to go and see what the locals were planting.
It turns out Apple Cucumbers are the norm to grow up here in the Strezlecki Ranges. So I decided to get onto one of the heirloom seed websites and found a brightly lemon coloured round variety that suited my bright and cheery personality down to the ground!
Perfectly sized to be eaten by one person, the old heirloom variety called "Lemon Cucumber" (because of the colour of the skin, not taste) ticks all the boxes!
It's prolific, easy to grow, even here in our cold temperate climate, and miraculously develops a thick skin once it's picked, but remains sweet and juicy on the inside, without a hint of bitterness at all! It also tends to have a longer growing period than other cucumbers.
In fact, you can plant these varieties when the soil temperature reaches just 12 degrees (instead of the usual 15-18 degrees). They also produce a high yield on their vines, which can run between your tomatoes along a vegetable bed, or up a vine to compact its size.
As they begin to grow on the vine, they change colour from light green to pale lemon to a bright golden yellow as they ripen. However, they do develop tiny black bristles on their skin, similar to that of a kiwifruit, but I've found that they brush off easily with your hands as they are picked.
The mild cucumber taste has a cool and crisp texture and even as it is stored and the skin thickens, the taste remains consistent as well as the texture.
These heirlooms are a very old variety, spotted in the Middle East from the 1600's and feature today in Indian produce markets, where they traditionally add them to soup, daal, and chutney.
I love to eat them fresh, take them on picnics, or slice and pepper them with dill seeds and mayonnaise, but this variety is also perfect for juicing, water infusion, pickling, gherkins and of course salads.
Growing three inches to an attractive spherical shape, the lemon cucumber offers a dazzling yellow burst of attention in the garden, and it's easy to reap the rewards from this long growing seasonal plant.
Where to take the biggest little bookworm I know in the world? To the oldest book and longest library in Dublin.
Even first thing in the morning, the line outside Trinity College in Dublin can be long (and drizzly), but thankfully there's a brilliantly placed coffee cart halfway down the line, where you can perk up and get your caffeine hit before you walk in.
The courtyard at Trinity is an experience in itself, with a beautiful kept lawn, buildings and small cobblestones to walk on, its entrance is memorable to say the least.
Like stepping back in time, its a hint of whats to come.
The "Turning Darkness into Light" exhibition, that takes you into the "Book of Kells" is an interesting historical journey, with large glass panels lit up with photographs and text that emerge from an otherwise dimly lit room.
The "Book of Kells" is thought to have been created around the year 800, although dates are disputed and three artists may have elaborately decorated the pages. These artists are likened to todays goldsmiths and the books contain the four gospels in ancient latin, written on calfskin.
When entering the room containing the Book of Kells, you can see there are two pages open on two volumes, one in each side of a glass cabinet. The pages are quite small really, measuring just 33cm x 25.5cm, but the gold and green and red colours are so vibrant the pictures just jump out of the page at you, which is amazing for such a small item that is so incredibly old.
Even my little bookworm, who has been born into the digital age, exclaims "wow" as he approaches it!
We next walk into the magnificent "Long Room", which is the old oak historic lengthy library of the college. It is called "The Long Room" as it is 65 metres long and filled with 200,000 old leather bound books. It provides such a long walk, I believe I can add this story to my "Scenic Walks" section of the blog. It certainly makes for great indoor rainy day exercise!
Impressive to the eye, the smell of the leather, combined with the aged oak is magical and there are some amazing artefacts to view, my favourite being a 15th century wooden harp, an familiar emblem to anyone with an Irish upbringing, and a national symbol on Ireland's currency coins.
The library was built between 1712 and 1732 and the stunning upper gallery was built in 1860. Stern looking marble busts line the walkway. they are all men of note who have a connection to the college. The library itself has a masculine energy, as in the beginning only men would have used this library.
All of the old shelves are roped off and visitors can walk to entire length of the library. There are many security staff to ensure you don't enter the roped off areas. No amount of "high 5's" could get my little bookworm past them, he did make a few friends though!
With its lovely ancient ambience and magic bookshop-like smell its easy to see why its one of Dublin's biggest attractions, with over 500,000 visitors walking the lengthy halls every year, and definitely a "must see" if you happen to be in Dublin on a misty cool day.
If you are too far away for a visit, you can see the "Book of Kells" right here:
'Vigorous', 'perennial' and 'oddity' are just some of the words that jumped out at me from the seed packet of the "reisetomate" traveller tomato, a Peruvian heirloom vegetable that made the cut for the new vegetables to plant in my Summer garden this year.
I had heard the previous Summer that this tomato was ideal for taking out to picnics, bushwalking, and day trips as it grows in tiny tomato segments (think of a mandarin) which grows in clusters to make beautiful and unique shapes. After seeing some pictures online, I was sold. They were going in the garden for sure!
No knife is needed to eat this wonderfully lumpy bespoke fruit, with the Germans naming it a “traveller tomato”, you can pull it apart one section at a time, which is perfect for munching! It was also a favourite with the Greeks.
This tomato originally comes from Central America with natives carrying the fruit on treks through the Andes.
The fruit is thick skinned, full of fibre, vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin B6.
Some tomatoes from my kitchen this summer:
Red Fig Variety Tomato from the garden:
Love these little pear shaped tomatoes. They are a heirloom called "red fig" from the Diggers Club. So cute! #littletomatoes #tomato #heirloomvegetables #heirloomtomatoes #diggers #gardening #autumn #mygarden #growing #ilobsterit #green #greenthumb #vegetables #redfig
A post shared by ☘️Eimear McNelis (@red_dirt_blog) on
Genovese Heirloom tomato last year in the garden:
All the "Back to School" hype of the last couple of weeks led me back to the cookbooks and trolling the internet for some healthy style snacks for the lunch boxes. My youngest son tends to be a "grazer" so I figured some light bread style muffins filled with vegetables from the garden might be just what was needed.
As I only bake gluten free (due to my own coeliac disease, I do not need to be inhaling flour dust), I decided to give these ones a go to see how they would turn out. They came together really well and actually rose, which is rare when using gluten free flour, but I did notice that putting them in the patty papers is not effective as they stick to the side a little, and I have adjusted the recipe to reflect this.
This recipe is a great snack that can also be made using nut milks so it can be made vegan. I noticed my gluten free mayonnaise was also vegan.
Serving suggestion: They would also be nice served, cut in half with a spread on it, a little like a savoury scone.
My son loved them, a win for the lunchbox!
1 3/4 cups of Gluten Free (or regular S.R) flour
4 tbs Gluten Free (and vegan) Mayonnaise
1 x cup skim or full cream milk (or any nut milk to substitute)
250 gms cubed zucchini
2 x shallots
1 x clove garlic
6 x small cherry tomatoes - quartered
1 x handful of swiss chard or spinach
Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Grease a muffin tin lightly with oil.
Fry up zucchini, chopped onion, garlic, tomatoes and chard in rice bran or olive oil until wilted (see pictures above).
Mix remaining ingredients together and whisk until smooth. Add frying pain contents and mix thoroughly.
Spoon mixture into muffin trays. Bake for 20-25 minutes until browned and knife comes out cleanly.
There's something very inspiring, especially for a writer, about the gentle clatter of cups and saucers, whirring of the old timber ceiling fans, smell of freshly baked scones and murmur of conversation, along with comfortable feeling and sense of knowing that this is always how this has been done at the Windsor Hotel in Spring Street Melbourne.
Serving one of Melbourne's oldest and perhaps most famous cup of tea, the Windsor Hotel has delighted over two million cake eaters and tea drinkers in the majestic tea room since 1887, one of which now includes me!
Upon entering, we were served a glass of sparkling wine, giving time for dietary requirements and tea preferences to be sorted, while also being told that the old "service" buttons were only there for show and are no longer in use, just in case we were wondering, and the waitress assuring us that she would tend to our every need.
The menu catered extremely well for my gluten allergies. my tray was served complete with gluten free ribbon sandwiches, dainty mini muffins and pastries, cakes, as well as the most delicious gluten free scones I've ever had.
Age old tradition meets modern culinary desserts , while a tray is brought to your table to enjoy there is also a buffet on offer for seconds, complete with chocolate fountain, ice cream and also an assortment of desserts and cakes.
The long red drapes, old bench seats, matching cake trays, silverware and cups, plates and saucers really bring a sense of stepping back in time and provided an opportunity for a proper long conversation and spot of story telling about family high teas been and gone. The staff left a postcard for us and invited us to write a letter to a friend, which added to the authentic ambience of yesteryear that the hotel induced.
An afternoon at the hotel has much more to offer than just the high tea. Visitors can explore various corners of the hotel's ground floor and read about the incredible history, personalities and even parties held at the venue.
A display on the ground floor in the original hotel elevators means that you can step inside and read about the penthouse parties and famous glamorous Hollywood guests that have stayed, including Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, The Royal Family, past prime ministers, and Sir Anthony Hopkins, to mention a few.:
We even snuck inside the ballroom for a look at the ornate decorations and fantasised about all the grand parties held there. The lobby includes a floral display, leather seats and tables, as well as a grand piano. The walls are adorned with old paintings of persons who frequented and lived at the hotel, including a stunning self portrait of one of the painters.
Absolutely! It was full bodied, very strong and we drank three large pots between us.
For a step back in time and experience like no other, you can visit The Windsor any day of the week for High Tea.
It feels like a really "Melbourne" thing to have something strikingly different as a zoo exhibit, more botanical than zoological, 10-11 species of colourful native butterflies from tropical North Queensland and the Northern Territory fly around the stunning greenery everyday, lighting on spectators heads and shoulders, providing a truly immersive experience to get up close and personal to these "flowers of the sky".
It's been a hot one today, the mercury hit 40 degrees (celsius), and after an intense amount of watering the outdoors everything, it was time to spend the day eating cold icy things.
Think "Baking Day" but all icy recipes!
I recently had a "Mango Lassi" at a local cafe, so decided to re-create it at home, since I had mango slices and fresh yogurt that we make weekly.
A Mango Lassi is traditionally an Indian yogurt based smoothie or milkshake, but I have also seen them made with coconut yogurt, which makes them vegan. Traditionally you can also add cardamon spice to the shake if you have it in your pantry.
I have used our local Hill Top Hives honey to replace sugar in the recipe, ice cubes add froth to the shake and mango slices ensure the drink is velvety smooth.
This recipe contains plenty of smoothie for two people, simply double the recipe for a little crowd of friends.
200gms mango slices or thick mango juice
200gms fresh yogurt
100gms ice cubes
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tsp Hill Top Hives honey (or your local honey)
Splash of milk (dairy or nut)
Add the mango slices and ice to the blender and blend till smooth and creamy.
Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smoothie consistency.
Pour into glass.
Add mint leaves as a garnish.
Stay cool and Enjoy!