Sunday, 19 March 2023

Grampians: Halls Gap Zoo

Before going for our holiday to the Grampians a friend suggested it was worth going to the Halls Gap Zoo.  I had passed it before and my city mind expected it could not impress me like our Melbourne zoo.  But it did.  The zoo was spacious with mountain views.  It was not like a city zoo when you knew that outside the high walls was the bustle and concrete of the big smoke.  It was a lovely zoo but we would have enjoyed it more if the weather had been cooler.

 It starts with a note of the effects of covid on the financial ability to improve the zoo.

Meerkats are so much fun to watch.  They always have a lookout.

As always we stayed to watch the giraffes for a bit.  They are such elegant animals.

In fact if I had read the signs when I paid I might have noticed that we were there at the same time they had a feed the giraffes time when you could pay $60 for the privilege.  I consoled myself that it seemed a busy session and that they could feed but not not stroke those velvety looking giraffes.  Surely they have enough neck for everyone!

There were quite a few birds but they are difficult to photograph.  And the cassowary scares me.  This kookaburra in the sculpture garden was pretty cute.

Hey there lonely lizard, plotting his escape!

The zoo had lots of areas where animals roamed free, especially the little wallabies that were so good at blending with their backgrounds.  But there were often pairs of gates to walk through to stop the animals following us out of their area.

It would be no surprise that the dingo was kept in his cage.  He looked fierce enough chewing on an old bone.

This deer wandered around for a bit with us. 

 I felt sorry for the rhino in the dry and dusty yard.

The ostrich reminded me of the pink Ozzy Ostrich puppet on Hey Hey It's Saturday.  Which probably means it is unusual for me to see an ostrich.  His flouncy ballerina skirt is so much bigger than the one on the one our native emus wear.

The Texas Longhorn would be used to this heat but the Hairy Coo from Scotland was huddled under a shady shelter.

I am not sure I have ever seen such long curly horns on a goat before.  I liked the pile of stones for the goats to climb.

I was less excited by the emu as we had already seen some at liberty around our holiday cottage.  We would have preferred to see more of the wombat who was sleeping in the shade with just a cute little snout sticking ou.


And no zoo is complete without a dinosaur!  This gave us a laugh at the end when we were tired from a long hot work around the zoo.  The air conditioned gif shop felt so good.

 These kids drawings that were made into hoardings along the path were also pretty cute.

I am sure we will return sometime when we are in the Grampians.  Maybe next time I will pay to spend more time with the giraffes.  I am sure there are animals we didn't see on our first visit as there is a lot to see.

Halls Gap Zoo
4061 Ararat-Halls Gap Rd, Halls Gap
(03) 5356 4668
Open 10am-5pm 7 days a week
Adult entry: $38, child $19

More Grampians posts:

Monday, 13 March 2023

In my Kitchen: March 2023

It is March in my kitchen.  I hope it will be more relaxed than February.  Three trips away in about 5 weeks made February a lot of work as two of the trips were for events I was organising.  But I also feel lucky to go to interesting places, even if I am sort of glad I decided not to head on the work trip next week.  It feels like everyone is trying to catch up on summer for the first time in 3 years.  I have also had some time in lieu, birthday celebrations, the Sydney Road Street Festival and a visit to an amazing exhibition I will write about soon.  Some fun food shopping but not that much cooking.  And I read my first book of the year cover to cover on the weekend.  Finally!

The above photo is of a birthday lunch I made for a few of my family.  Sylvia was keen on nachos and who ever says no to nachos!  I wanted to make something else and rediscovered this voracious vegan pate- I haven't made it for ages but it was really satisfying with the sides of guacamole, coleslaw, salsa, yoghurt either wrapped in a tortilla or eaten with the nachos.  Sylvia made punch and .....

.... we made a vegan chocolate cake to have fun with decorations.  We wanted to use the cake wheel and scrapers that I had got for Christmas.  Sylvia suggested dots of colour on the cake but I wanted to try piping rainbow colours around the edge.  It wasn't at all perfect so I have just collated a collage of how we did it - Sylvia has showed me this technique for coloured meringues before and it was fun to try it with buttercream.  We did a crumb coat, arranged lines of coloured buttercream on clingfilm.  Wrapped it into a cylinder, cut the edge and then inserted into a piping bag (cut side down) and piped it onto the cake. 

The result was an overwhelmingly green cake but there are much worse colours that might dominate!  And the cake was as reliably delicious as usual.  A bit much buttercream icing for my liking but I put quite a bit of it aside.

We bought a few interesting groceries at the supermarket.  The Bluey pizza crackers were fun with imprints of Bluey characters in the crackers. The chocolate drizzled popcorn was great.  I wanted to try a non-alcoholic magarita but it was salty and odd.  (I think I had a margarita years ago but can't remember the taste).  Sylvia liked the inclusive oreos packaging.  And she also chose the Golden Gaytime cake mix.

Sylvia loves to cook spaghetti lately and always has leftovers.  We love a bit of crispy cheesy leftover spaghetti on home made pizza.  My mum often cuts her pizza with scissors so I decided to do than once the pizza had cooled slightly.  As you will see, they don't always cook that stright.

My mum makes tomato sauce every year.  She has these massive preserving pans.  And we always had Fowlers jars in our pantry but she hasn't found the orange seals for the jars anywhere this year.  This year she had to be strategic about finding a cheap box of tomatoes.  There is a tomato shortage being reported in the news for families who made passata and sauce.  What the news does not report is that Ezy sauce has gone out of business.  My mum has always made tomato sauce using Ezy sauce so this was bad news for her.  So she tried using an online recipe to use her own Ezy sauce and was happy with her sauce.  I look forward to tasting it.  My dad helped with the tomato sauce this year as you can see in the photo.

One of my recent work meetings was at Cape Schanck RACV resort.  It is odd to stay in a place surrounded by a golf course.  I'd prefer to see the beach out the window than the driving green.  But I really impressed by the array of food at the breakfast buffet.  Not just the usual beans, hash browns, tomatoes and mushrooms.  I could also add avocado, cheese and broccolini.  I really loved a hearty breakfast because the days were busy and long.

And then there was a visit to USA Foods in Moorabbin.  It was quite a drive which is a good thing as there were so many temptations for both of us.  Sylvia was so excited to try Eggos because she loved Stranger Things.  These were so easy and so delicious.  We had them with chocolate ice cream, maple syrup and I had berries and Sylvia had sprinkles.

Here are some of the savoury snacks we bought.  We've both wanted to try Goldfish crackers.  They are so cute but the only box we could buy was huge and terribly expensive ($28).  Not pictures is the Cheese-its which impressed me a bit less.  Sylvia was very excited about the Cheetos mac and cheese in a box.  She also had read about the Takis.  I loved the blue colour but they were too spicy.  I think there are still some in the pantry.  Whereas those Munchies - Cheese Fix mix of corn chips, cheetos, waves and pretzels went very quickly because it was irresistible.

We loved looking at all the American drinks.  The Butterscotch beer was all faux Harry Potter on the labels and it also tasted like lots of chemicals and way too sweet.  I was tempted by the Wicked Apple Brew but concerned about the fact there was absolutely no apple juice in the ingredients.  It was more drinkable than the Butterscotch beer but not great.

Here's some of the sweet USA treats.  Mostly Sylvia's choices: Nerds, Jolly Ranchers, Twinkies, Donettes and Pilsbury Strawberry Cake mix.  I chose the 3 Musketeers bar because I remember having these as a child and they take me back.  Did they ever sell them in Australia?  Sylvia enjoyed the rest of it except the Donettes which she only bought because she loves the Brooklyn 99 scene where Jake eats a messy sugary doughnut in Amy's car.  The donettes were really dry so they were given to her dad.  That strawberry cake was a bit intense in the strawberry flavouring but it was a nice pink.

Sylvia had a very lowkey but enjoyable birthday this year.  My mum dropped in with cakes and we had a special brunch and pizza for tea.  And these gorgeous biscuits (cookies) were dropped off by a colleague who is an amazing baker.

We also bought some bisquick at the USA foods because it was on special and I was curious.  Sylvia wanted choc chip pancakes and I wanted just chocolate between them so we compromised on pancakes with choc chips melted on one side.

Sylvia had made the Golden Gaytime cake but had toffee icing and butterscotch crumbs leftover so I used them to make Golden Gaytime pancakes.  The toffee icing was a bit sweet but I think some vanilla ice cream might have been good with these pancakes.

Finally I had a busy first weekend in March which included a trip to Pentridge shopping centre for a Vintage Market.  It was busy but not the sort of stalls we were after.  So we went to IGA which had lots of great salads.  I bought this Spanish Grain Salad which was excellent.  It had farro, black lentils, figs, salad dressing, romanescu dressing, sunflower seeds and almonds.

I am sending this post to Sherry of Sherry's Pickings for the In My Kitchen event.  If you would like to join in, send your post to Sherry by 13th of the month.  Or just head over to her blog to visit more kitchens and her gorgeous hand drawn header.

Monday, 6 March 2023

Grampians: eating out and holidays 2023

In January I took Sylvia for a holiday in the Grampians, where we stayed in a log cabin at the Grampians Pioneer Cottages just out of Halls Gap.  It was a lovely relaxing break.  So great to get out of the city to enjoy the wildlife, the bush, the space, good food and view some of Australia's Indigenous heritage.

The cottage was simple but cosy.  It was built in 1993 from recycled timber.  It was a really pleasant kitchen to cook in and the solid long dining table overlooked such wonderful views.  I really liked the Sunshine Harvester logo on the hood over the oven.  The Sunshine Harvester was an iconic agricultural invention in Australia with the town (now western suburb of Melbourne) built to house the workers and named after the brand,


It was a warm weekend so the cool tiled floors were appreciated much more than the open fireplace. I also really liked the old  1920s newspapers pasted on the walls like old fashioned wallpaper.  We were out each day but watched some tv in the evening. 

The views were spectacular, and the wild life was wonderful to watch.  On our first night we were excited to spy some kangaroos down the bottom of the paddock.  Then some bounded up our way to lazily graze and scratch their chests near our window.  You can see the ones close to us in the above photo and the dotted kangaroos in the bottom of the paddock.  This happened every night.  Mornings were more varied with a rooster peering in our bedroom window one day and an emu walking past the lounge window on another.

On our first day we had lunch at Brambuk: the National Park and Cultural Centre.  It was one of the places I enjoyed on our visit to the Grampians in 2017.  This year the cafe offered less options than on our first visit.  I asked for a scone with jam and cream.  No cream available.  So I had the scone with cheese and jam.

As well as the cafe, Brambruk also has a great gift shop and an information desk.  Just the place to ask about visiting rock art sites.  As a kid it never would have occurred to me that we might see Aboriginal rock art in our southern state of Victoria.  Now the Aboriginal name of the Grampians, Gariwerd, appears on many signs.  The mountains were not conducive to farming or housing for the Europeans and so it is far easier there to imagine the landscape that the Jadawadjali and Djab Wurrung people knew before colonisation.

First rock art site on our list was the Ngamadjidj Shelter.  We drove the longer route along Mt Victory Rd (C222) rather than the highway.  It took almost an hour.  The road wound around sharp corners and went up and down steep hills.  A canopy of gum trees made shadow patterns over the road.  It was a hot day and we had to walk 10-15 minutes to the site after we parked.

It was confronting to come upon the site.  First thing we saw was a fence of iron bars.  Seems they are keeping vandals out.  Close up the sign read "Unfortunately, much of the traditional lifestyle of the Jadawadjali was sadly destroyed before the meaning of these paintings could be recorded."  Aboriginal people of the more densely populated south east of Australia were often forbidden to practice their culture.  I heard an Aboriginal person say the other day how hard it was to have their culture forbidden and then Native Title legislation requires that they prove their connection to the land.

Ngamadjidj means white person.  Once we looked beyond the bars, we could see all these little people painted on the rock.  It reminds me of one of my favourite stories told about an Aboriginal woman who as a young girl was forbidden to learn to make eel nets.  When her aunties had a break from the work she snuck in to check on how they were making the nets.  She was able to continue the tradition when she got older and I think nets might have ended up in the museum (but I have lost the book where I read it - Hunters and Collectors by Tom Griffiths).  I loved how in the interview she said, "I tricked them."

Some of the figures were faded but I felt they encompassed the spirit of the story of Aboriginal defiance in the face to colonial destruction.  It made me proud of Australia's Aboriginal resilience.  They have faced so many obstacles and yet today Aboriginal culture is becoming more part of the Australian culture: flying flags, hearing language, ejoying artwork, and listening to their welcome to country.  I was pretty sad we didn't get to any other Aboriginal art rock sites but I am sure there will be more opportunities.

We drove back on the highway.  This took us past the Giant Koala at Dadswell Bridge.  Of course we could not resist stopping for a photo.  It is one of Australia's kitsch "big" things.  The koala stands 14 metres tall and has a souvenir shop in the belly and a cafe next door but neither were open by the time we got there.

Back at Halls Gap, there was a community market.  I didn't spend much time there as I was ready for tea but I did like these cute candles and the cold smoked garlic products.

Sylvia had done the online research on a pizza place.  The wood fired pizza at the Raccolto Pizzeria (2 Heath Street, Halls Gap) looked mighty fine, and we love a pizza on a Friday night.  However our plans to take a couple of pizza boxes home with us were cancelled when we found that they were not doing takeaway that night.  (Last time we ate here in 2017 this was the Harvest Cafe).

It was lovely to sit outside on a balmy evening watching people at this popular place, despite Sylvia being disappointed not to get takeaway.)  Sylvia had a Margherita Pizza and I had the Sweet Potato and Pesto Pizza.  We both had leftovers and weren't sure about taking food away if it wasn't takeaway (and the staff were lovely but quite busy) so we just wrapped our last pieces in our napkins and took them home that way.

The next day we headed out for brunch at LiveFast (5/97 Grampians Rd, Halls Gap).  I am tempted by any cafe with a green bowl on the menu.  We love the shops along the boardwalk by the creek with the Smugglers Heart gift and fudge shop, the lolly shop, the bakery, and another gift shop.  LiveFast has lots of seating inside and outside.

Sylvia had fried egg on toast and a fresh apple juice.  I had the green bowl of kale, broccoli, edamame, roast mushrooms, vegan feta, spinach, rice, alfalfa, almonds, and salsa verde.  It was exactly the healthy bowl of vegies, nuts and grains that is needed while on holiday.  And a bottle of Strangelove very mandarin soda.

At the top of the boardwalk is the ever popular Coolas Ice Creamy (97 Grampians Road).  Every time we passed it, people were  in a queue for ice cream.  We counted ourselves lucky not to have to queue after brunch for our ice cream.  I had the Chocolate Brownie and Fruits of the Forest icecreams in a cone and Sylvia had the Old English Toffee.  We loved it but the weather was so warm that it melted quickly.

In the afternoon we went to the Halls Gap Zoo (I will write more about it in another post) and then I dropped Sylvia at the holiday cottage before heading out to Venus Baths.  I parked by the tennis courts and walked through the Botanic Gardens to the walk through the bush along by the creek that leads to the baths.

While at the Grampians I had been determined to have a swim.  The swimming pool only had lap lanes between 6-9am.  I overheard a local in a shop advising a tourist not to swim in any waterholes at waterfalls because people had been sucked into whirlpools.  The only safe one was Fish Falls at the Zumsteins which was quite a drive as well as a walk.  
Venus Baths seemed the most practical one.  It was about 20 minutes walk from the town.  I wore my bathers and got into a waterhole which was freezing to begin and then became so refreshing in the humid heat that it was hard to leave to complete the loop walk.

The walk to and from the car was fairly easy.  I did it at a easy pace looking at the rock formations and trees.  I told Sylvia it was really easy and worth doing so we decided to do it again the next morning but she did not find it so relaxing and I can tell you that walking at breakneck speed without stopping to rest at the baths made it so much sweatier.  Nothing that could not be solved by a cheese toastie!


But back to that evening visit to Venus Baths.  After my swim I walked back to the car.  It was darkening as I drove to our cottage along the unsealed gravel road from the main highway.  I was surprised to see a kangaroo bound out of nowhere.  I hit the brakes and managed to avoid it so it could pass by unscathed.  It gave me a scare.  It was the time of day the roos were more active.  Though not all of them.  As I drove a walking pace up to our cottage, I had to stop again for a kangaroo.  This one was just sitting in the road and took so long to move that I could take this photo of it.

That night was our last in the cottage.  We cut up some vegies, put out crackers and corn chips, leftover mock tuna (chickpea) salad, olives, beetroot dip, brie cheese and some tim tams, yuzu poky, grapes and cherries.  It was a feast on a tray because I couldn't find large platters.  As well as enjoying all the food, I was happy that this helped us use up bits and pieces of food without creating too many dishes.  And we could eat it looking out over the magnificent view with the kangaroos one more time.  The next day we packed the car, did the Venus baths walk, and drove home.

More posts about previous Grampians holiday: