provisions[ plural ]

UK  /prəˈvɪʒ.ənz/ US  /prəˈvɪʒ.ənz/

supplies of food and other necessary items:

provisions for the journey

Cambridge Dictionary (n.d)

 

The past few weeks have been interesting. Like everyone else, we have been in lockdown in our house in Sydney. 

But unlike a lot of people, Mr T, Marc, Anne and I, are no strangers to self-isolation. Years of cruising around the world meant a dozen ocean passages and remote anchorages with no one around to socialise with.

It wasn’t always fun, and cabin fever hit many a times, to the extent that, in the later years made a point of joining other family boats when we could. For everybody’s sanity. But that was the trade-off for a life of adventure and excitement, where freedom and autonomy were the guiding principles. And we survived, learning to be patient, to occupy ourselves, to appreciate each other’s company and to admire what nature has to offer. More importantly, we never stopped counting our blessing for being in good health, on a safe and well maintained boat, with plenty of provisions to see us to our next destination.

I guess what I am saying is, that we approached this 2020 lockdown as, yet, another long ocean passage ( with the added bonus of internet and non-stop connections now). Fortunate enough to have a roof over our heads, the ability to work and study from home, stay in touch with family and friends online, we have been focusing on “getting to the other side”, keeping healthy and well fed.

With Mr T and I initially considered “at risk”, we started our quarantine earlier than most people. The kids were sent grocery shopping a couple of times and D dropped off a few items as well, until I decided it would be easier for all of us, if we had everything home delivered. It started with the supermarket for all non-perishables. Then, our beloved Farmer’s Markets closed, but thankfully a lot of the stall holders “pivoted” to provide online ordering and home delivery. It probably wasn’t the business model they had in mind, but rolling with the punches is the order of the day and this is how we’ve managed to buy our meat and seafood in the past few weeks. 

As for our fruits and vegetables, I initially thought I would grow my own. Seriously, this idea lasted 2 days, until I found out about the Community Organic Project, a local collective offering a weekly box delivery. I started the subscription when we couldn’t  leave the house due to full lockdown, and loved it so much that I am still using the service all these weeks later. All produce are organic, sourced from farmers and businesses by Alison. While we have a choice of small or large-sized box, there is no saying in what will be in the box. Alison picks whatever looks good that morning, trying to balance basics like tomatoes and apples, with exotic items for people to try, such as finger limes or cavalo nero. I love the variety and personally look forward to my “Mystery Wednesday Box”, as it takes me out of the cooking rut I sometimes find myself in. So far, I have been experimenting with jerusalem artichoke chips, eggplant gratin and even roasted white choko!

This is a small box for a family of 4. Flour was extra I ordered.

The fruit offerings though not as varied, are plentiful. Bananas and oranges are the first to disappear, while grapes and apples somewhat always end up in juices or cakes.

I would not go as far to say that our diet is plant based, but we certainly eat a lot more vegetables than we used to, as a result of this new way of provisioning.

Take this provision salad. I first came across it while cruising in Trinidad, 15 years ago. I used to think it was named after the variety of ingredients, then realised it comes from using starchy root vegetables like yams, taro, cassava, or sweet potatoes known in the Caribbean diet as “ground provisions”. In the Caribbeans, these are available year round, they keep stored for a long time, and provide a good source of carbohydrate at a very economical price. For that reason, it used to be a staple on the boat.

It is an easy mix of root and green vegetables, herbs and a dressing. There are no real rules, any veggies you have on hand will do, as will any kind of dressing. Traditionally, people will cut the provisions into cubes, and dice the rest of the vegetables. I am lazy, and tend to cut mine in wedges or rough chunks. The texture might be different but the flavours stay the same.  

This is still one of my favourite veggie dish. Not only because it is the perfect way to use up items on their last leg in the crisper, but also because it brings any grilled meat to life! And takes me back to lazy beach barbecues in the Caribbean islands.

Good times: Happy Hour in the Tobago Cays

Provision Salad

Serves 4-6 , as a side

Ingredients

1 kg sweet potatoes ( or any ground provisions, such as taro root or yams ), peeled, boiled and cut into wedges

1 red capsicum, sliced

1 celery stalk ( leaves included ) , sliced ( leaves chopped )

1 handful of salad leaves 

1 small cooked beetroot, peeled and cubed

1 red onion, peeled and sliced

1 shallot, trimmed and chopped

1 handful parsley

Dressing

2/3 cup olive oil

1/3 red wine vinegar

1 tsp garlic, minced

1 tbsp dijon mustard

  1. In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes with the capsicum, celery, green leaves, beetroot, shallots and parsley.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk until you have a thick emulsion.
  3. Add to the provision mix and toss to coat evenly. 
  4. Garnish with extra parsley and refrigerate until ready to serve.

As we descend thru thick clouds from 9000 feet, we emerge in the foggiest and wettest weather I’ve flown in. “ Lucky, the instruments are working “ I say, “ since we can’t see where we are going “

Prepared to land

We’re flying into Coffs Harbour in driving rain. Thankfully winds are light and Mr T manages one of his legendary smooth landings. It’s been 2 years since our last visit, but it feels like yesterday as we park the plane and make our way into town. Nothing has changed.

Last time we came here was to visit Judy, Mr T’s sister. We’re back for her 80th birthday, looking forward to catching up with her and the family the next day.

We’re staying near the Jetty, just like last time ( different accomodation though ). And being a Sunday, the markets are on. Our timing is off, however, as the stalls are packing up. My hopes of a food truck snack dashed, I follow Mr T’s lead and settle for a light lunch: burger and wine at Attitude Burger overlooking the marina. It is a good start!

Burger to share

We’re actually sharing the burger, because though we’re both peckish, it is too late for lunch but still early for dinner. I have my sights on Element Bar for dinner, where we really enjoyed our meals previously. We pass the afternoon wandering around the marina, checking in the Yacht Club which is surprisingly quiet for a Sunday afternoon ( or maybe it’s just me?) and generally trying to work an appetite for dinner.

Luckily, the weather has cleared by then but I err on the side of caution and select the couch inside, just in case.

Early dinner for 2.

I am happy to see that Element’s menu has not changed much and our favourites are still on offer: we order the crispy coconut chicken tacos to start with.

Soft shell tacos with chicken tenders

They’re chicken tenders, coated into coconut crumbs and served in soft taco shells with charred corn, mango and avocado salsa. You know how much I love my tacos!

Spring rolls and salt and pepper calamaris

Mr T goes for the salt and pepper fried calamari as well as the spring rolls, perfect pairing for his Stone and Wood beers ( it is Happy Hour, what can I say?)

House salad and crumbed triple cheese mac bombs

Thinking of Anne who is not with us but wishes she was, we order the triple cheese mac bombs. They taste as good as they sound, and I can’t help but send her a picture! We also ask for a house salad, so we can have something healthy, but really that would be optional.

It’s w a waddle back to our quarters, the Pacific Marina Apartments, and not long before bed. 

View from our room: Rain as far as the eye can see

Torrential rain wakes us up in the morning. You know, the kind of downpour brought on by cyclones or tropical lows hovering at sea. So much for my plans to walk down the beach for a sunrise shot. We mull over the possibility of staying in for the day, but that’s boring and we still need to go out for breakfast anyway. A quick call to the rental car company later, I am at the wheel of a nice SUV ready to hit the road. 

But first, breakfast. Just across from the apartments, there is this coffee van called Supply which is part of a cafe of the same name. I originally intended to grab some cappuccinos and head back to the appartment, but the space and menu look too inviting and I phone Mr T, asking him to join me instead. The decor inside is semi-industrial, with exposed beams and timber frames, white tiled walls and polished concrete floors. There is a mix of large communal tables, smaller settings and a lounge area adjoining the bar ( not an option at 9am! ). On both sides of our table for 2, are people taking pictures of their plates, which makes me feel right at home and has Mr T rolling his eyes as in “ not one of these places… “ I am quite smitten with the breakfast menu which features wholesome choices, just what we need this morning.

I start with a Bondi Juice, while I wait for Mr T. It is a zingy concoction of carrot, orange, lime and ginger. They take their coffee seriously here, showcasing 4 types from the Pacific, South America and Africa. They roast the beans themselves and you can buy a bag to take home. I wish I did, because Mr T’s cappuccino and my bulletproof coffee were really nice. I never had butter and MCT oil in my coffee, that was a first and it didn’t really tasted buttery as I feared. I think I might try it at home.

Another nice surprise, was the grilled asparagus on rye bread with pea puree, fresh ricotta, cherry tomatoes, a poached egg and salsa verde. As they say on Masterchef, there is a lot going on that plate, both in flavour and in quantity.

Mr T wanted an omelette, and was very pleased with his, coming with mushrooms, taleggio cheese, pepperonata and toast. Like I said, wholesome awesome food. 

Feeling invigorated after breakfast, we jump in the car, hoping the rain will eventually stop. We head south to Urunga, which is where we met  Mr T’s old friend,  Keith, a couple of years ago. We promised to come back for another visit, but sadly, Keith passed away before we got a chance. So it is with a hint of nostalgia that we drive thru the town on our way to the boardwalk.

Starting from Urunga, the boardwalk passes along the banks of the Kalang River, to the junction with the Bellinger River and out to the ocean. It has stunning views inland past Urunga town and up the river valleys to the Great Dividing Range, north across the rivers to Mylestom Spit and south along the beach to Picket Hill and beyond to Nambucca Heads.

It’s a 2 klm return walk, and while lovely and peaceful in today’s overcast weather, I imagine it would be even more stunning on a warm sunny day. The area is renowned for its local bird life and wetlands.

We’re no experts but we manage to spot stingrays shuffling sand in the shallows, pelicans sitting on old poles, 

a big lizard on rocks and

my favourite wildflowers, banksia in the wetlands. By a struck of luck, the rain has stopped just in time for our walk, and we are the only people around. 

I glance at the map and suggest to Mr T that we drive inland to Never Never, attracted by the sound of it.  Visions of remote and sparse areas of outback Australia dance in my head, remembering the lines of Australian poet Barcroft Boake :

“Out on the wastes of the Never Never

That’s where the dead men lie!”

While we are far away from dry and dusty Northern Territory or Western Queensland, this little corner of rural NSW has its fair share of charm and mystery. With a population of zero residents, near Bellingen, it is part of the Dorrigo National Park and a haven for bushwalks and picnics.

We love the drive thru Bellingen, last visited when the farmers markets were on, but today looking more like a ghost town. 

can you spot the galahs?

Sherrard waterfall

The road known as Waterfall Way, climbs the escarpment of the Great Dividing Range, skirting the southern edge of the Dorrigo world heritage rainforest and crossing the Newell and Sherrard waterfalls for which the route is named. Winding up hill thru misty rainforest, we reach the green plateau where the small town of Dorrigo sits.

Dangar waterfall

Only 2 klm out, is Dangar Falls, a 30 meters waterfall with a viewing platform easily accessible from the carpark. Thanks to recent rains, there is plenty of water running and should we continue another 120 klm west on that road, there is the promise of further waterfalls and gorges all the way to Armidale. That would mean we would not be back on time for Judy’s birthday dinner however.

The birthday girl
Leanne and Kasten
Kim and Derek
Vanessa, Rhiannon and Ben
Tahnee and Jess

We meet Judy at her favourite restaurant, Latitude 30 at the Jetty. She is joined by her daughters, Leanne, Kim and Vanessa who also turned up with husbands Kasten and Derek. Some of the grandchildren, Rhiannon, Tahnee and Ben are also here. Somehow our party of 12 manages to squeeze around the table and there is nothing like a round of cocktails and beers to start! 

Some dishes are local’s favourites and I guess are not allowed off the menu: oysters are a must for Kim and Derek, as are paella and chowder for Tahnee and her partner, Jess.

Mr T plays it safe, ordering flat bread and taramasalata for starters, and the mahi mahi special which comes pan fried on a bed of confit potatoes and beurre blanc sauce.

Judy decides an Aperol Spritz is a perfectly adequate starter and goes for the mahi mahi main. Both her and Mr T like their fish, then again mahi is Mr T’s favourite’s fish. Personally I can’t go past the beetroot and vodka cured kingfish. It is a very pretty dish, with orange & saffron infused champagne gel, citrus salad, pomegranate & horseradish cream and wattleseed lavosh. And it tastes as amazing as it looks. I choose the other main special, the swordfish with a salad of jerusalem artichokes, beetroot, radishes, prosciutto wrapped figues and walnuts. It is a delicious combination of all my favourite foods.

Vanessa, Rhiannon and Ben, prefer the more “classic” option of fish and chips which looks very tempting indeed.  

As for dessert, the restaurant allowed Judy to bring her own birthday cake. Everyone had a slice,   albeit in my case, a thin one!

Neither Mr T or I felt like getting up the next morning, but since we woke up to a dry and sunny day we shook ourselves off and headed out for a sunrise hike up the Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve.

Also known as Giidany Miirlarl to the local Gumbaynggirr Aboriginal people, this seabird rookery in the heart of Coffs Harbour is surrounded by spectacular views from coast to islands and a must-do everytime we visit.


Muttonbird Island is a great spot for watching birds up close; as one of the only easily-accessible places in NSW where the migratory wedge-tailed shearwater nests. The birds spend the Southern winter in Southeast Asia and are said to return to the same burrow in August each year in Australia. They keep one single egg warm and raise their chick, then leave in April the following year. While I spotted a few burrows, there were no signs of birds that morning. It is also an important Aboriginal place, harbouring stories of the Dreaming and a wealth of traditional resources are available at the Outdoor Learning Space located at the base of the island.

the walk starts from the jetty
view from the top
plenty of burrows but no sign of birds

It is a short  but steep walk to the eastern side lookout, and while Mr T and I are happy to hike at a leisurely pace, we are overtaken by a few joggers who clearly like the early morning challenge as they pass us multiple times. The 360deg views over the Solitary islands are well worth the effort though, as we gaze at the ocean on one side then the hinterland and the marina.

From Eastern Side Lookout, looking back to the top
Returning from overnight fishing
yacht anchorage off the jetty and charter boat heading out
Offloading the catch of the day

While fishing boats are returning and offloading their catch at the co-op, charter boats are heading out and the marina businesses are waking up. We stop by at the Galley, a small cafe tucked away in the marina precinct, and on recommendation from Derek the night before, order the Egg and Bacon Roll. It comes with a thin beef patty, as well as very crispy bacon and a runny egg, tasting more like a burger than a traditional egg and bacon roll. But I am not complaining. Coupled with a fresh juice and a creamy cappucino, it’s a pretty nice start to the day. 

Later on, we quickly catch up with Judy and family for a morning tea of leftover birthday cake and some freshly home baked apple pie, making me feel like I am about to burst!! 

As we bid our farewell, there is a vibe of excitement in the house and indeed all around Coffs Harbour today, because Elton John is performing tonight. It sounds like half of the town is getting ready for the concert and certainly appreciating the media attention. 

At the airport, we can’t help being caught up in the buzz:  as we taxi off, the tower warns us to be on the lookout for the star’s jet flying in! Who would have thought this regional town of NSW would make its mark on the map!

Yesterday was ANZAC Day in Australia. This is when the country commemorates the crushing WW1 Gallipoli battle  and more broadly the sacrifice made by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during the past and present wars. 

Every year, people will gather in the early hours of the morning, to attend the dawn service  remembering the fallen. Except this year was different: gatherings are banned so most people were standing in their driveway, lighting candles to the sound of a live stream playing the Last Post. I was lucky to wake up early enough and witness the most beautiful dawn from our rooftop, while indeed, someone out there played the mournful tune.

Then, I set out to bake ANZAC biscuits, as I do every year. These are iconic pieces of of Australian food heritage, along with pavlova and lamingtons.  The key features are that they contain oats, coconuts and are eggless. The story goes that these biscuits were originally sent as part of care packages to the the troops in WW1, on the basis that they would survive the long journey.

Yesterday’s biscuits happened by accident. 

Everyone I know has a favourite recipe, and I have used the same recipe from AWW over the years with great success. For some reason, I decided to try something different yesterday, inspired by a post from Not Quite Nigella. Her recipe is a different version ( using less coconut, more butter…which she browns to make it uniquely nutty !) that I wanted to try.

Then I decided to make a few adjustments of my own, starting by using less flour ( because in isolation, I am in rationing mode for some items, obviously ). I made up for it, adding more oats and coconut and leaving the quantities of wet ingredients unchanged. I was not really thinking how it would affect the whole mixture, until I combined the lot and ended up with a rather wet mix.   Leaving it to cool in the fridge helped firm it before shaping it in clusters on the baking tray.

When it came to oven temperature, the difference between crunchy and chewy sits within 20C ( 180C and 160C respectively ). Distracted-me decided to preheat the oven by cranking it up to 220C  ( it was 6.30am, the kitchen was cool and I wasn’t quite awake yet ) and completely forgot to turn the temp down afterwards. It wasn’t until Mr T walked in half way thru the cooking process, saying “something smells really nice and caramely in here!” that I took a horrified look thru the oven door: the clusters had spread and merged together, forming a large sheet of bubbling chunky caramel.  I quickly reduced the heat to next to nothing, watching the trays like a hawk for another 5 minutes wanting the mixture to cook thru a bit longer but dreading it would burn. 

Indeed, some of the edges did burn, but that was easily fixed by cutting them off. 

And the result? Because of the reduced quantity of flour to hold the biscuits together, these ended up quite crispy and lacy, they looked like a sweet version of Bak Kwa ( the pork jerky from Singapore ) but tasted similar to brandy snaps ( thank goodness for that !)

I cut them into rectangles and packed some into cute boxes with a spring of rosemary ( another ANZAC symbol of remembrance ) to hand over to the family. 

Because of isolation rules, Rosalie had to cancel her long planned traditional gathering of family and friends that day. However that didn’t stop Mr T and I from walking over and drop off these little morsels of sweet delight, figuring we’d also take care of our daily exercise ( in Australia, this is a reasonable excuse to leave the house during confinement). By the time we returned home, after completing our 7 kilometers delivery walk, my phone was lit up with texts about how delicious the biscuits were. And thankfully, some were left for us to enjoy with our afternoon tea. The perfect sugar hit !

Crunchy Lacy Anzac Biscuits

Makes 16

Ingredients:

1/2 cup plain flour

1 1/2 cup traditional rolled oats ( not the quick ones )

1 cup dessicated coconut

1 cup brown sugar

3 tbsp hot water

2 tbsp golden syrup

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp bi-carb soda

1/2 tsp salt

135 g butter, melted

  1. Pre heat oven to 220C
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, dessicated coconut, and brown sugar. Mix well.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the hot water, golden syrup, vanilla, bi carb, salt and melted butter. Stir well.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix to combine. 
  5. Scoop a teaspoon of the mixture and place on parchment lined trays ( about 8 per trays ), making sure you leave enough space between them as they will spread
  6. Bake at 220C for 7 minutes, then turn the heat down to 140C and cook for another 5 minutes.
  7. Take out of the oven and make cutting indentations while the biscuits is still soft ( I use a pizza cutter but a long sharp knife will do ). Let cool on the tray for 10 minutes, the biscuits will firm up while cooling.
  8. When cool enough to handle, break off the biscuits and leave to harden on a wire tray.
  9. These are best eaten on the same day, but will keep firm in an airtight container for a few days ( if they last that long!) 

As you know I have a weakness for octopus. It is my favourite seafood, on par with prawns and dare I say, I love it more than lobsters! There, I said it.

Ii was lucky enough, last weekend, to land a beautiful large specimen from Mrs Fish, my local fishmonger. Tony ( Mr Fish ) had trimmed and cleaned it all for me so that all I had to do was give it a quick rinse, and put it in the pot. I managed to make 3 different dishes out of it, not wanting to let any of it go to waste, and served them at a family  lunch. The guests liked it and some asked for the recipes. These could not be easier!

 

 

Basic Boiled Octopus

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Ingredients

1 large octopus, approx 2 kg

bay leaves, to taste ( I use a lot )

1 onion, peeled ( optional )

2 tbsp red wine vinegar ( optional )

Water

  1. In a large cast iron or heavy pot, place the cleaned and rinsed octopus in one piece
  2. Add the bay leaves , onion and red wine vinegar, if using
  3. Cover with water and bring to the boil on high heat. The octopus will begin to curl and turn pink.
  4. Lower the heat, cover the pot with a lid and let the octopus simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.
  5. Allow the octopus to cool, then drain. Keep the cooking liquid for another use ( see below )
  6. Your octopus is ready to eat as is, or use for the following recipes.

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Mr Octopus going in the pot in one piece.

 

Galician Octopus

 

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Serves 12, as a snack

Ingredients

1 kg cooked octopus ( see basic recipe above )

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp smoked paprika

2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

  1. Cut the octopus into bite sized pieces using scissors or kitchen shears.
  2. Combine the octopus pieces, olive oil, smoked paprika and parsley in a bowl.
  3. Season well with sea salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  4. Just before serving, drizzle some extra olive oil. Serve with toothpicks.

 

Grilled Octopus

 

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Ingredients

1 kg cooked octopus ( see basic recipe above )

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp garlic, crushed

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

  1. Preheat a grill or bbq plate. Rub the octopus with olive oil and place on an oven tray or hot plate if using the bbq ( no need to cut it into pieces at that stage )
  2. Grill or bbq on high for 10-15 minutes until the octopus is slightly charred on the outside
  3. Remove and let cool for a few minutes. Cut into bite sized pieces, using scissors or kitchen shears.
  4. Combine octopus pieces with crushed garlic in a bowl.
  5. Season with sea salt and pepper and serve with lemon wedges.

 

Rice in octopus stock

This is NOT a paella dish, nor a risotto. It is my version of boiled rice flavoured with octopus juice,  that I didn’t want to waste.

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Ingredients

Reserved cooking stock from Basic Boiled Octopus, including the bay leaves ( you should have at least 4 cups )

2 cups medium grain rice ( or any rice good for paella, not long grain rice)

Cooked chorizo slices, for garnish

  1. Bring the octopus stock to the boil
  2. Add the rice and stir well to combine. Bring back to the boil, then turn the heat right down to a simmer and cover with a lid, as you would for ordinary rice.
  3. Cook the rice for 20 minutes or until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is cooked.
  4. In the meantime, fry chorizo slices in a frypan until just cooked. When ready, transfer the chorizo to the pot along with any juices from the frypan. Cover with the lid for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to mix a little.
  5. Serve warm.

 

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One whole octopus put to good use ! Nothing wasted.

 

What to do in 36 hours in Port Macquarie?

Earlier this month, we were meant to fly our friends, Dave and Denise, down to Merimbula for an overnight stay. However the NSW South Coast bushfire crisis forced us to change plans and head north instead. Ironically, the North Coast had been battling its own bushfires a couple of months prior and was only just recovering from massive destruction around the Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie area. So, in a way, we were doing our bit to support the local economy and though we didn’t bring an empty esky, we indeed had plans to visit as many places as we could.

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We flew into Port Macquarie airport in this hot January morning, witnessing the blackened landscape along the way but mercifully, no active fires near the town ( though we were told by a local “ there is a pit fire near the runway, that is virtually impossible to put out. It just keeps burning underground ! “) The first thing we noticed is how clear the air is compared to Sydney.

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We picked up our hired car and drove across the Hasting River, to check out North Shore beach which is only accessible by ferry.

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The beach is gorgeous, long and empty, perfect to kite surf on this windy day or ride a horse along. Our crew was peckish however, so we returned to Settlement Point where Denise had spotted a cafe restaurant earlier.

Overlooking the Hasting river and a few meters away from the car ferry, The Point is a quaint cafe serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Customers appeared to be locals and holiday makers alike, service was friendly and accomodating as some of us have very specific requests like a burger without certain trimmings ( that’s Denise ) or long black on ice ( that’s me ). We started sipping beers, latte and iced coffee ( otherwise known as long black on ice, not to be confused with the concoction with cream piled on top! ) while waiting. The food took a little while as it is freshly made, but when it arrived serves were quite generous.

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fullsizeoutput_85a1Mr T ordered a Homemade Chunky Steak, Red Wine & Mushroom Pie which came with a side salad. He could only manage half of it, it was that filling.

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David and Denise went for traditional Aussie Hamburgers while I opted for the vegetarian delight, thinking it was a lighter option as it read “ Oven roasted field mushroom, roasted pumpkin, baked capsicum, spanish onion, zucchini, grilled halloumi stacked on baby spinach, sliced avocado & toasted turkish bread with a balsamic reduction & cashews”.

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As delicious as it was, it was anything but light, even when leaving the bread on the side ( and god knows how much I love Turkish bread !)

Our belly full, we headed south for a drive along the Coastal Drive to Camden Haven. It is only 49 klm, but it took us 2 hours as we stopped along the way at Lighthouse Beach, Shelley Beach, Lake Cathie, Bonnie Hills…

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There is no shortage of pristine, long, sandy beaches but sadly, areas like Lake Cathie, an intermittently closed lake, is out of bound as it suffers from poor quality water, largely due to drought conditions in the past few years.

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Finally back in Port, we checked into the El Paso Motor Inn, our home for the night. It is in the centre of town, a perfect spot just across from the coastal walk and the river.
There are tons of dining options within walking distance, but we couldn’t go past the Beach House, one block down from the hotel.

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It was a very busy, noisy place on this Friday night, popular with sunset watchers, so once we managed to nab a table, we didn’t move!

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Menu is typical pub food, nice and generous:

IMG_3992chicken schnitzel for David,Hummus dip with pulled lamb and bread for Denise,

fullsizeoutput_859dIMG_3990caesar salad and slow cooked lamb to share for Mr T and I. And copious beers and wine! Great ambience. 

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I got up early the next morning for a hike along the Coastal Walk. Starting from the Town Green ( across from the hotel ), the walk is 9 klm long all the way to Tacking Point lighthouse. I only walked as far as the end of the breakwater wall and Town Beach however, along with a large number of people doing the same thing, dodging kids on bikes, guys fishing off the rocks and dogs, …

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It is indeed a popular spot with boulders along the path, painted by people keen to leave their mark. Naive drawings immortalising family holidays, passionate declarations of love, sad RIP, cheeky celebration of boys pub crawls…a veritable gallery of human emotions stretches to the end of the break wall and leads to a large skatepark as well as picnic areas. I can’t imagine anywhere more kid and family friendly.
This short 30mn cardio workout done, it was time for breakfast back at the hotel. Continental breakfast is included in accomodation at El Paso, a basic but adequate offering of toasts, cereals and hot drinks. Any hot meals are extra, but we were still full from last night and I was saving myself for lunch.

Setting up for the day’s exploring, I wanted to visit the Port Macquarie koala hospital, a facility dedicated to the care and preservation of the marsupials. Totally self-funded and run by a few paid staff and a lot of volunteers, it is the first of its kind in the world. Their workload of late has dramatically increased with the impact of the bush fires on the koala population, and while interested to visit and see for myself ( visit is free ) the rest of our crew was wary of seeing animals in distress. Instead, we headed inland to visit Bago Maze and Winery.

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Though only 30mn from town, it feels quite remote, nestled in the hills. The setup is lovely, but the weather was really hot ( 37C ) so we didn’t bother about the maze. We left  it to the restless young kids whose only interest seem to want to get lost in a 2 meter tall hedge maze while their parents wished they were back in the coolness of the cellar door.

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Which is where you find David and I, tasting lovely blueberry wines and liqueurs. In the meantime, Mr T found some locally made harissa and honey to take home while Denise sampled the local muffin and latte.

Then it was back on the highway, to Ricardoes’ Tomatoes and Strawberries Farm.

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This is a working farm with two acres of greenhouses controlled by state of the art computerised technology, hydroponically growing tomatoes and strawberries. Visitors can pick their own strawberries in the shady enclosures where the berries grow on tall vertical vines: armed with a bucket, it is just a matter of plucking the berries, which are then weighed and bagged to take away ( no eating allowed while picking !)

IMG_4072IMG_4079Denise and I could not resist having fun picking strawberries while the boys patiently waited in the cafe checking out the menu. I bought a few tomatoes then we were off. We didn’t really spend much longer, as it was really hot in the greenhouses and the cafe area was too busy for our liking.

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Lunch was by the river, at Whalebone Wharf. What a gem! From the moment we walked in, the velvet shell armchairs, bronze fittings and whitewashed walls make you feel special already. Mr T glanced at me with his “ where have you taken us” kind of look but relaxed as soon as we were seated.

IMG_4088Our table was overlooking the river, a nice breeze flowed thru, having us forgetting about the heatwave outside. The menu focuses on seafood and local produce, prepared by award winning chef, Peter Ridland, previously of Jonah’s in Whale Beach ( I mention this, as Jonah’s has been on my restaurant bucket list for decades, so I figured this would be near enough !) I loved the look of the sides and the fact that there are more side choices than entrees or mains. You could enjoy an entire vegetarian meal with these sides. But we’re omnivores and love our seafood. So…

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Denise spotted the flash fried calamari dish at the table next to us, and literally said “ I’ll have what she’s having “.
After being told the fish of the day was not available, the boys chose the beer battered flat head fillets with chips for Mr T and roasted pumpkin for David.

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As for me, the roasted king prawns had me intrigued so I ordered an entree size of these with grilled greens on the side. While the seafood was very good, cooked to perfection, the vegetables were sensational.

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My greens ( broccolinis, broccoli and green beans ) were grilled and crispy with a crunchy topping of almond crumbs and refreshing sour cream and chive dressing. The roasted pumpkin melted in your mouth and tasted divine with whipped cashew cream, toasted seeds and mustard dressing. David couldn’t stop eating it, then he couldn’t stop talking about it! Mr T loved his beer battered chips, especially the garlic and pepper salt but couldn’t eat all of it so he shared with Denise whose dish was much lighter as it “only” came with a rocket and cucumber salad.
I really would have loved to try the desserts but not only the heat was dampening our appetites but Mr T was now in a flight preparation mode, keen to fly back home before the cold front hit later in the evening.

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The trip home was a very hot and smoky affair, as we were re-entering the fire zone. Even though we weren’t flying into any fire affected area, the winds from Victoria and the NSW South Coast were blowing the highly polluted air hundreds of kilometres up the coast. By the time we landed in Bankstown, in the late afternoon, the air was thick and a scorching 48C. We love our hot weather but that was getting extreme and we all made a collective wish for the cooler weather to hurry up!

As a final note: There is a Koalas Sculpture trail you can explore, with 16 koala sculptures scattered all over town.  We managed to spot 2 of them ( actually, we ran into them by chance, as we weren’t really looking! ): Con at the Historic Courthouse ( pictured below ) , and Berry Beautiful at Ricardoes’.

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