Journey down the Great Ocean Road.

We got off to a surprisingly on-time and smooth start to our Great Ocean Road trip on Boxing Day. It was a holiday we’d talked about doing as a weekend trip, but decided to save until we had a few extra days to explore the area. It was beautiful hot sunshine as we set off, and in fact all the way past Geelong, to Torquay, where the Great Ocean Road officially starts.

Steps to the sand

Steps to the sand

Our first stop was at Coles for food, not particularly exciting … but the next one was at Bell’s Beach where, Silvio told me, the final scene of Point Break is set (although apparently it’s not actually filmed there).

Our beach stop

Our beach stop

We drove on, past several holiday parks, often at beautiful river mouths opening on to the sea, perfect for splashing around in. I was so tempted to stop for a quick dip, and eventually we did stop at a beach but I only made it in ankle deep. Still, it was so nice and refreshing to feel the sea.

My first paddle

My first paddle

We arrived in the late afternoon at our motel in Skenes Creek. It was pretty nice, a car space right outside our room, with patio doors and a view out across the ocean, and a BBQ area just opposite our room.

Our motel

Our motel

We dumped our cases and went off to the rocky beach just opposite the motel, where there was a small rocky beach. The sky had started to cloud over and the wind had picked up, so luckily I wasn’t too inclined to jump in the sea anymore, because it wasn’t really a swimming beach – the waves were crashing on to the rocks. It looked as though the rocks had been formed in a volcano, the shapes were so unusual.

Volcanic rocks

Volcanic rocks

Wind in his hair!

Wind in his hair!

Beach!

Beach!


After exploring the beach, we took a quick drive into Apollo Bay to have a look around. We wandered along the main street, then checked out the beach and the obligatory sculptures by the grassy car park. The sky was starting to look a bit heavy and ominous, so we didn’t stay out too long.

Broken path to the beach

Broken path to the beach

Ominous sky ...

Ominous sky …

Apollo Bay art

Apollo Bay art


Back at the motel, we took advantage of the barbie and set out burgers and sausages. Silvio cooked, I watched with wine and my kindle :) The sun sets pretty late at this time of year anyway, and we got an extra ten minutes of daylight thanks to being further south.

Silvio about to cook

Silvio about to cook

I’ve picked up Silvio’s Italian habit of breakfasting on sweet biscuits, but on Friday morning when I woke up with my stomach growling, it was a disaster – I’d forgotten them! We had to make do with Christmas cake instead …

Me on Gibson's Steps

Me on Gibson’s Steps

With our sugar cravings satisfied, we set out to drive to Port Campbell to see the Twelve Apostles along the coast. Along the way, we stopped at Gibsons Steps and a first glimpse of the first Apostle and yet another beautiful beach.

Seagull posing

Seagull posing

A little further, we stopped at the next lookout and wandered along the paths taking photos. The views were just outstanding! We took a few selfies, and found some nice guys to take photos of us, but got photobombed several times by another lady who seemed completely unaware of it.

Watch the lady in the corner ...

Watch the lady in the corner …

... here she goes ...

… here she goes …

Photobombed!

Photobombed!


A little further on, we found Port Campbell and headed to a fish and chip cafe called Frying Nemo for a carb fix. Silvio brought the hot, greasy paper parcel out and we unwrapped it with glee – only to be bombarded by flies as we tried to eat our chips :( Eventually it was just too much, and we wrapped our lunch back up to eat in the car. We drove all around Port Campbell looking for shade, which took about three and a half minutes, but found none – so Silvio parked up in a cul-de-sac in front of somebody’s house to eat! We got some odd looks from the little girl playing on a skateboard in the driveway next door, but no flies and nobody asked us to move.

Fish and chips!

Fish and chips!

On our little tour, we had driven past a gorgeous little bay with turquoise water, so after lunch we stopped there so I could finally take a dip in the sea! The temperature was in the mid-twenties so it was only just warm enough really to go for a swim, and the water was fre-e-e-e-ezing! Needless to say, it took me a rather long time to go all the way in, although I did in the end, and it was lovely. Silvio was baking in the sun on the sand, so when I got out again we headed back to the car. We filled up with petrol before we left, and I found a leaflet of “Food Artisans” in the area, which looked pretty interesting.

It's c-c-c-cold!

It’s c-c-c-cold!

From Port Campbell, we drove a bit further up the road to see the arch and what used to be London Bridge – a bridge of rock that broke off in 1990, leaving the remainder of the rock stranded out in the sea. The views were once again incredible, and the strength of the waves pounding over and over against the rocks leave no doubt as to the potential power of the ocean. In the arch, the water would rush up to the rocks and then around into the curve, climbing up the walls of rock then dipping down again with each rush, it was almost hypnotising.

The archway

The archway

Back in the car park, I noticed that the car next to us not only had two antlers attached to the windows, but it had a big red nose on the front. I wanted to take a photo of it without looking too obvious, so tried to make it look like I was photographing our own car.

The car parked next to us was disguised as Rudolph

The car parked next to us was disguised as Rudolph

As we started the drive back, it seemed a bit early to be heading home already. As we reached the junction for Timboon, we decided to try and find one of the places marked on the food artisans map, a cheesery and cafe called MouseTrap Cafe.

The gap where the bridge was

The gap where the bridge was

Thanks to my amazing skill with directions, we made it! The grounds were absolutely beautiful, and I almost wished we’d come earlier and had lunch there – it was sunny, green, quiet and peaceful. We had a cheese tasting, but the pieces they offered us to try were so tiny it was almost hard to tell which ones we liked! Perhaps they have a lot of timewasters … but we like cheese, and ended up buying a gruyere as well as a strong tasting soft cheese and another hard one. I also bought a raspberry and rhubarb jam, and a rhubarb chutney, they are both really delicious.

Mousetrap Cafe

Mousetrap Cafe

Cheese counter

Cheese counter

The Mousetrap

The Mousetrap

From the cafe, we headed home and back to the barbecue! After our big lunch of fish and chips (and a few sneaky snacks along the way) neither of us were very hungry, so we just polished off the remaining burgers.

Saturday, we had planned to make the most of the good weather and spend some time on the beach – starting with breakfast out in Apollo Bay. We went to a restaurant called La Bimba, overlooking the ocean. Once again we spoilt ourselves, starting with a ginormous strawberry milkshake for me, and a huge blueberry muffing for Silvio, which I may have helped him with … followed by a proper breakfast with eggs, hollandaise sauce and toast. And we ate the lot :)

The muffin was huge!

The muffin was huge!

Breakfast, all gone!

Breakfast, all gone!

Mmmm ... all gone

Mmmm … all gone


Before heading down to the beach, we went shopping for a little beach tent. I think we slightly regretted having got rid of our beach umbrella before leaving Manly, didn’t really want to buy another one, and this seemed like a better option. We found a perfect one in the local hardware shop.

Apollo Bay has a beautiful little beach, and the weather was gloriously sunny, but unfortunately it was also really, really windy. We tried to put the little tent up in the first spot we picked, but it was obvious very quickly that it wasn’t going to stay put – the sides caved in under the wind, and the poles buckled. We gave up, packed it up again, and wandered along the shore until we found a more sheltered spot near a sand bank, and this time the tent stayed up a bit better.

Our beach shelter

Our beach shelter

I went off for a paddle while Silvio snapped photos of me, grimacing as the cold water hit me. I did manage to submerge myself eventually – up to my neck anyway! – it was even colder than the previous day!

So cold!

So cold!

Cold again

Cold again

I'm in! Almost

I’m in! Almost


After a swim and a bit of chilling out in our tent, and a few too many visitors trying to share it (flies) we left the beach, and headed out on a trip to find some koala bears. Our hosts at the motel had advised us to go down the road towards the Cape Otway lighthouse, where there were lots of them in the wild. We weren’t disappointed – a short way down the track, a group of people had stopped with cameras pointing up into the trees, and when I got out with my own, I could clearly see the koala hugging the branches and peering down at us all.

Koala in the tree

Koala in the tree

I snapped a few shots then left the others to it, but as we pulled away the cars in front had stopped for another koala who was going for a romp across the road. He sat down next to the wheel of the car behind us! Further along, we saw more koalas – most of them were curled up and sleeping in the trees.

Koala exploring

Koala exploring

On Saturday night, after admiring my koala photos, we went to Chill – a tapas place – for dinner. It wasn’t great value, but the food was pretty good, especially the mushroom croquette, yum.

On Sunday the weather was sunny again, but cooler. We set out towards Forrest, to visit some sights along the way before lunching in the local micro-brewery and sampling the beer. The first stop along the way was an “impulsive” one to Stevenson’s Falls, which was marked on the map by a small, gravelly side road. We drove down it for what seemed like forever, but actually around 5km, before we reached a campsite. Just before the campsite was a little bridge with a small, trickling river right before it … I crossed my fingers that this wasn’t what we’d driven all the way down the track for.

Waterfall

Waterfall

A lady at the campsite pointed us on down a winding, gravel road for “another kilometre and a half or so” … we debated whether to turn around, but having already come this far, we decided to carry on. Eventually, we found the car park, then hiked along a path by the river for another kilometre or so, before we saw the waterfalls. They were pretty spectacular actually, finally worth the long trek! The path led up to a bunch of rocks in front of the falls, and Silvio’s inner climber took over: he scrambled across the stones to get closer, and we took a bunch more photos!

Selfie at the falls

Selfie at the falls

Silvio climbing over the rocks

Silvio climbing over the rocks

Rock "climbing"

Rock “climbing”


Back on the road, we also stopped at a dam to walk across the top of it – more nice views, more flies too though. At least it wasn’t quite such a long, windy drive to get to it!

Finally, after the dam, it was time for food! Yay! And beer! Double yay!

Food and beer at the Forrest Brewery

Food and beer at the Forrest Brewery

The restaurant was packed (it did seem to be the only thing around though) and the menu was very inviting. We both tried one of the beers, which was good although quite bitter. An hour or so later, full up and slightly sleepy (me at least), we were back in the car, heading out to Elizabeth Lake to walk off some of the calories.

Elizabeth lake

Elizabeth lake

It was another drive down a gravelly road, the poor car was starting to look pretty dirty! We got out at the lake and I realised I’d left my jumper at the restaurant :( luckily it was pretty warm still. We headed out through the woods to the lake, a bit less than a kilometre up and down some slopes and steps. At the lake, we sat on a bench to enjoy the view for a bit, then decided to venture a bit further to the “beach” – which turned out to be another ten minute walk to a small sandy shore. Some people in front of us had paused to photograph a black lizard, but it darted away before I could see it.

Silvio on the bridge

Silvio on the bridge

Walk around Elizabeth Lake

Walk around Elizabeth Lake

Paths at Elizabeth Lake

Paths at Elizabeth Lake


Apparently there is a colony of platypus by the lake, but we didn’t see them – maybe we were too noisy as we stomped around the paths. By the time we got to the beach, my legs were in the mood for walking, and we decided to carry on around the entire lake. It was supposed to be 4km – the signs at the start indicated it would take 3 1/2 hours – but it certainly didn’t feel that far, and we were back where we started within an hour. It was a pretty walk though, particularly the first part where we had some great views across the lake. The trees around it were so tall that we couldn’t see very much of it at any point, and on the way back we were mostly walking through the forest.

Chilling out at Elizabeth Lake

Chilling out at Elizabeth Lake

We drove back along the twisty roads to Apollo Bay, stopping for yet more meat for the barbie on the way home – I think we must have used that barbecue way more than any other guests. It was still pretty early, but Silvio was suffering a bit from a pulled muscle aggravated by the walk, and didn’t really want to go out anywhere else. I decided to go to the local beach on my own, the sun was starting to sink and the light was getting pretty, it seemed a shame to waste our last evening inside.

Walking along the beach

Walking along the beach

There was a sandy beach not far up the road by a camping and caravan park, with a small river cutting through the middle of it. I did consider paddling through it, but it looked a bit too deep. I walked along the beach to the rocks that marked the beginning of the rocky beach we’d visited on our first day, more of the volcanic patterns that I’d seen there. It was still sunny, but pretty windy.

Rocks at the beach

Rocks at the beach

Back at the motel, we attempted to barbecue some veggies with our steaks – the potatoes weren’t too bad, pretty crispy :) I have to say though, I think I will stick with cooking broccoli in a pan.

Monday, it was time to pack up and head back to Melbourne. We dawdled on the way home, stopping in Lorne to wander along the beach front and pick up some lunch. Sadly the place we went too – with big adverts for fried chicken outside – had no fried chicken! What?! We went to a bakery instead, but it left both of us with a still-unsatisfied-craving for fried chicken …

The rest of the trip home was just as pretty as going – I can’t wait to go back next year!

Shrimps on the Barbie.

For the first time since arriving in Australia, this year I wasn’t on holiday for Christmas! Spoiled or what?

Silvio and I started with a pretty awesome Christmas Eve dinner: roast chicken with sage and pistachio butter, Silvio’s Special Roasted Potatoes, and gravy made with quince paste, which was so yum. I did some of the preparation before heading out for a catch up over wine with Bridget, who was in town for a few days, leaving the rest of the cooking to Silvio (who did a perfect job).

Alex and Jen enjoying the Christmas meal

Alex and Jen enjoying the Christmas meal

On Christmas Day, we headed over to spend it with a bunch of friends including Jen, who had arrived from London in October. We were pretty early, with cake and salad, so by the time the other guests arrived (bringing MEAT!) we were already enjoying some Christmas “spirit”. Jen had a K-Mart frozen daiquiri mix turning slowly to icy slush in the freezer, I had my favourite Chardonnay in the fridge, Silvio was eyeing up the enormous ribeye steaks that Brady was pulling out of the bag, everybody was happy.

Cooking the steak

Cooking the steak

The barbie was fired up and the first thing to go on was the massive prawns! Or shrimps, as I believe they are called here. Such an Aussie cliché, shrimps on the barbie, that of course it had to go on to facebook.

Shrimps on the barbie!

Shrimps on the barbie!

While we feasted on the prawns/shrimps, the steak was next. Alex had put together a yummy summer salad with watermelon and pomegranate, mine was spinach with beetroot, feta and sweet potato, and that was also going down pretty well. While the steak cooked, Silvio hovered around the barbie with the meat thermometer, guarding the precious. It really was enormous, but finally it was cooked and Alex carved it up on the table before digging in to what was left on the bone.

Brady and Alex feast on the bones

Brady and Alex feast on the bones

Meanwhile, Kai had put ribs in the oven, but since they take so long to cook, Silvio was carefully leaving room for them when they were finally done.

The massive steak

The massive steak

We finished up with slices of my Christmas cake, finally I got to cut it up! The icing was delicious. Full of food, I was feeling rather sleepy, in fact I think we all were … the lovely warm weather was helping us along to nap time! Jen was first to succumb, heading off for forty winks while the rest of us played Dixit, a game involving picture cards and a scoring system so complex that they have to write the rules on the game board. I won, thanks to a lucky round with a crytic card that Silvio played.

Dixit

Dixit

Jen returned just as we got started on Guitar Hero, and just in time to pick up the microphone! It was really heating up in the house, so she plugged in the air conditioner.

Guitar hero!

Guitar hero!

Halfway through the track, I could smell a bit of a burny smell, but it didn’t seem too bad, so I kept concentrating on the notes, until – POP! The electricity tripped and the game was unexpectedly cut short. We all walked around sniffing and trying to locate the cause of the problem, eventually isolating it to the plug socket with the air conditioner plugged in to it. The plug itself was too hot to touch, but when I pulled it slowly out of the wall by the wire, the plastic oozed apart leaving a blackened hole and a small wisp of smoke. So that was the end of the air conditioning, but at least we got the guitar hero back on!

The burned out plug

The burned out plug

Eventually the food coma hit and I drifted off for a while as Die Hard played in the background. As the sun started to go down, we finally wished everybody a merry Christmas, what was left of it, and headed back home to enjoy the last of the evening.

Sleepy from food, wine and warm weather

Sleepy from food, wine and warm weather

Mmmm cake.

Shortly after typhoon Haiyan hit the Phillippines in November last year, some of my colleagues organised a bake sale at work. At the last minute, Adel (one of my fellow team members and also a very good baker) was talking about the delicious sounding lime and coconut cupcakes she was planning to make, and asked me if I was going to do anything. I was about to chicken out, but I decided to join in and make a typical English feast: scones with jam and cream.

Ingredients, check. Wine, check.

Ingredients, check. Wine, check.

The evening before, I bought posh jam from Coles, went home, set out all of the ingredients (and a glass of vino, of course), and got stuck in with the rolling pin. They didn’t turn out too badly, and let’s face it, most things taste good with a scoop of jam and cream on top :) I always put the cream on first, although I do have friends who’ve insisted this is just wrong!

Customers

Customers

The next day, I took the cream upstairs to ask for a bowl, and instead the chef in our cafe swapped me my pot of cream for a full bowl, ready prepared – bonus! I laid out the scones alongside everybody else’s efforts, all of which looked delicious, then came downstairs a short while later to hand over my money for a good cause: charity and cake. I had to buy one of my own scones, along with Adel’s cupcakes topped with candied lime – it was a bit of a sugar overload, but so yum.

Scones for sale

Scones for sale

As Christmas got closer, I was also determined this year to make a “proper” Christmas cake – a rich fruit cake, topped with marzipan and delicious, naughty, sweet icing. I made the cake a few weeks early, and in the weeks coming up to Christmas, took it out of its foil wrapping to give it a sneaky drink of brandy.

Christmas cake!

Christmas cake!

The marzipan went on a couple of weeks before Christmas. It worked fine, although I only just had enough to cover the cake, and next year I think I’ll get more and do a thicker layer. Sadly I couldn’t find proper yellow marzipan – the white one still tastes the same, but the yellow one looks prettier! Next time I’ll also make sure to put sugary water or something on the cake to make it stick better, the icing falls off when I cut the cake now … although that’s not always such a bad thing, that is my favourite bit :)

Rolling out the marzipan

Rolling out the marzipan

Cake almost marzipanned

Cake almost marzipanned

Me!

Me!


In the last week before Christmas, I made the icing. I had wanted to find a non-edible decoration with the words “Merry Christmas” but I hadn’t found one, but I had bought some star and snowflake cutters and special papery (edible) snowflake confetti. My idea was to make a light blue cake to be like a sky, with snowflakes. I had blue ribbons and glitter to finish it off.

Partly decorated cake

Partly decorated cake

The snowflake cutters proved a bit difficult to use, and I only managed to get two usable snowflakes to put on the cake, so it ended up with more stars! I managed to cut out the letters for Merry Christmas, and pipe icing into little decorations around the edge. The initial icing layer was a bit too soft and runny, so although that made it fairly smooth, the decorations around the edge slipped a bit so the whole thing looked a bit drunk! Apt, maybe, given that I enjoyed a glass of wine while baking it … the ribbons mostly hid the errors, luckily.

Decorated Christmas cake

Decorated Christmas cake

The finished cake looked pretty awesome actually, far from perfect but one of my better efforts :) Next time I will definitely make the icing a bit thicker first, and follow Mum’s advice to let the first layer dry before decorating it! I also got a nice response from Baking Pleasures, the website that I ordered the snowflake cutters from, with some advice to try some different things next time. All in all, it was good fun making the cake and so far, it’s been even more fun eating it …