Arriving half way round the world
Although Brenda S., from Dartmouth, NS. was the winner of the “Taste of the Good Life” adventure contest, Zak and I were total winners as well. Tourism Australia and CBC organized one of the best trips we’ve ever been on.
I knew the flight to Australia would be long. What I didn’t know was how long, long would feel. 5 hours from Toronto to Vancouver, 25 hours from Vancouver to Sydney, and 5 hours from Sydney to Perth. Thanks to Tourism Australia, Zak and I got to do it in style, we flew Air Canada Executive Business Class. The sparkling wine served before takeoff was only a tease of what was to follow.
I have no pictures of us in our pods – lost my camera and cell on the plane!
Zak and I ate and drank, on and off, for a straight 35 hours and since we weren’t moving around very much, we didn’t burn very many calories! It truly was a warm up for what was ahead: An Australian Culinary and Wine Adventure.
Australia’s Sunniest State
We left Toronto on May 23, at 8pm and arrived in Australia on May 25, at 2pm – for us, May 24, 2012, never really happened. Tracey Vince, our lovely host and Tourism Australia escort, greeted us at Perth airport ready to show off what Western Australia had to offer.
We headed to the InterContinental Perth Burswood, checked in, and got ready for dinner. This is also when I realized my camera and iPhone had gone missing!! But, I was too jet-legged to care.
The InterContinental is huge, it’s definitely one of the largest hotels I’ve ever stayed at. I sort of felt like I was in Vegas, especially with a 24hr casino in the lobby (If I had a bit of spare time, I would have tested out their poker tables).
That night, we dined at one of their twelve restaurants, Neil Perry’s steakhouse, Rookpool Bar & Grill. The menu at this restaurant was so extensive! We all had a hard time deciding what to order. We chose a few items and shared them (I find that’s the best way to tackle menu indecision). The meal was delicious. As a side, we ordered the Hand Cut Fat Chips. These chips (fries) were so friggin fat and fluffy and they tasted like they’d been misted with malt vinegar. Super cool! We also tasted of our first local wine. Because we’d be heading to the Margaret River in a few days, we sipped on one from that region.
Perth, Fremantle, and Cottesloe Beach Filming Day
We started the day early, since we had touring and filming to do. I’m not sure Brenda, the prize winner, knew that when she won the contest, she’d also be getting her 15 minutes of fame (she did great, a total pro!).
First, we visited the very pristine and beautiful Kings Park. The previous day was Anzac Day in Australia. Forty thousand people had gathered in the park, but you would have never known it – it looked perfect. Brenda and I filmed and explored the grounds.
Then we headed to Cottesloe Beach, one of the city’s most popular places for swimming, snorkelling, and surfing. If you looked up, you’d occasionally see helicopters patrolling the waters for sharks! There had recently been a few shark sightings, but no one seemed to care!! I did! There was no way more than my toes were going in that water. Despite Mr. Great White sightings, it is one of the best places to watch the sun set into the Indian Ocean.
Next stop, Fremantle – a beautiful port city, filled with so much history.
We did a lot of filming and a lot of eating. I also sipped my first “flat white.” It’s just like a latte, and it was the first of many.
For dinner, we headed to Little Creatures, a converted boat shed overlooking the harbour. It has a super funky feel to it, with wait staff that worked harder than any I’d ever seen before, and they don’t work for tips! Little Creatures served quite the spread, the team and I got to taste kangaroo for the very first time – I “reckon” it tastes similar to venison (reckon – a word you’ll hear all the time from Australians).
After a long day of filming, exploring, and eating, it was time to rest. The next day, we headed to Margaret River – wine country, baby!
Off to the Stunning Margaret River Region
We had to be up and ready to leave by 8 am. Our drive from Perth to Margaret River took 2 hours. The time flew by because our exceptional driver, Captain Mike, kept us entertained with history lessons about everything we saw along the way (If you’re looking for a tour guide/driver in Perth look up Australian Pinnacle Tours and ask for Mike Cox).
Our first stop was Vasse Felix. The grounds are scattered with impressive sculptures and Margaret River’s oldest vines – the neighbouring vineyard, however, argues that point. I filmed a short spot with Executive Chef, Aaron Carr (a.k.a. the surf chef). It was my first time interviewing a chef and I was a little nervous, to say the least.
We chatted about two of his signature dishes and some wines to go with. Vasse Felix is known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blends. Aaron was super kind and treated the crew to our first fine-dining experience – Australian Modern Cuisine for lunch. He didn’t have to ask us twice.
Our second winery on the tour was Cullen Wines. Their wine was the smoothest I’ve ever tasted, and it’s no wonder, all Cullen Wines are grown on a certified biodynamic, carbon natural, and naturally powered estate. Their grapes are harvested, by hand, on fruit and flower days according to the astrological calendar. Their natural wines express the place and land on which they grow – so, basically, all you taste is love.
After a couple glasses of wine (I know, hard life), we headed to MadFish Wines – a wine that I’ve occasionally spotted at the LCBO. This was a fun experience. Michael Whyte, the General Manager at Mad Fish, had a bottle of sparkling wine chilling for us, along with some freshly shucked oysters. That’s when we found out that our prizewinner, Brenda, had never sucked back a raw oyster before! This was going to make for some funny TV. And it did. Brenda stepped completely outside of her comfort zone and downed five oysters – show off! Haha.
For dinner that night, we ate at Lamont’s at Smiths Beach. Although none of us were hungry and would have much rather gone to bed, we loosened our belts and sat down for dinner. Marron was on the menu and it was the first time any of us had tried it. Marron is Australian red claw crawfish, which can grow to over a pound – they’re like small freshwater lobsters. We had them over caesar salad.
Dinner was great, but truthfully, we all couldn’t wait to hit the sack. We were staying at Cape Lodge, one of Australia’s Luxury resorts (1 of the 3 we’d be staying at on this trip – thank-you Tourism Australia!). We each stayed in our own little boutique cottage, I believe ours was called the Forrest Suites. Each of the cottages overlooked the beautiful vineyard, gardens, and lakes of Cape Lodge. Lavender and roses grow everywhere, I couldn’t think of a more beautiful scent as you walked to your room at night. This was definitely a romantic, relaxing, and enchanting place to rest our heads.
Another Day of Sumptuous Food and Wine Pairings
After a great night’s sleep and a simple, yet delicious, breakfast at Cape Lodge, we were on the move again. First up, Margaret River Providore – a cafe, epicurean shop, vineyard, and organic olive farm. Just outside the kitchen, there’s a huge vegetable garden where they grow the produce they need to make their homemade jams, preserves, and sauces.
Even though we had just eaten breakfast, it was time for lunch at Eagle Bay Brewing and can I tell you, it’s really hard to constantly eat when you’re full, but we did. This was the tapas tasting lunch, paired with wine and beer, that we had been looking forward to all week. First, Head Chef, Rupert Brown, and I had to get some filming out of the way. He showed me how to make one of his signature dishes, rare smoked kangaroo and coriander salad with spiced nectarine and cashew chutney – not bad at all! I loved Rupert’s style of cooking, there was so much flavour and comfort in the food.
Here’s what we had for lunch (several servings of each):
- Fresh bread, olives, marinated feta, za’atar’ spiced almonds
- Ploughman’s plate: chicken liver pate, pickled cucumber, chicken stuffed with bacon and mushrooms, herb mayonnaise, maffra cheddar, branston pickle, fresh bread, and crostini
- Meze plate: olive, crumbed haloumi with slow roast tomato, mushrooms a la greque, potato and pea samosas, spiced eggplant with tzatziki
- Wood-fired pizza: Atlantic salmon, capers, green olives, chive creme fraiche
- Wood-fired pizza: leek, walnut, candied pear, gorgonzola
- Rare smoked kangaroo and coriander salad with spiced nectarine and cashew chutney
- Chips with garlic mayonnaise
- Mixed leaves, snow peas, sprouts, cashew nut, honey soy vinaigrette
- Puy lentil, green olive, and cherry tomato salad
After lunch, we headed to Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse to burn some calories (lots of stairs to climb) and to get some scenic shots of the Indian Ocean.
For dinner (which again, we were not hungry), Tony Howell, Executive Chef at Cape Lodge dazzled us with a 5-course meal, starting with sashimi tuna and finishing with chocolate, strawberries & cream. It was nice to sit down with the gang after a long day on the go.
The next morning, Brenda and I had a private cooking class with Tony Howell. He showed us how to make the previous night’s entree (in Australia entree is a starter, not a main…which makes total sense!) – Sashimi tuna with pickled ginger, sushi rice, and Asian omelet.
After cooking school, we packed up the van and headed to the airport, we were flying to Adelaide in South Australia. We had a bit of drive, so we stopped at a servo (Australian slang for gas station) for burgers. In Australia, burgers are usually topped with a pickled beet and a fried egg. If you’re asked if you want salad, it doesn’t mean salad on the side, they put it on the burger. All these toppings make for a really fresh tasting burger, but, as we quickly learned, also make them a little messy to eat in the van.
Arriving at the airport sucked. Our group had become super tight, so saying goodbye to Tracey and Mike was not fun, but all good things must end. We hugged, promised we’d stay in touch, and then we were on our way. South Australia, here we come!
Welcome to South Australia. First Stop, Barrosa.
We arrived in Adelaide late and hit the hay. The next morning, Bob, our new tour guide and driver, was ready to show us around. Our destination – Barrosa, South Australia’s most famous wine region. We stayed at our second luxury resort – The Louise. This place rocked! It reminded me of something you’d see in Arizona, a luxury resort in the desert.
My first job here was to interview Mark McNamara, Executive Chef at Appellation, the resort’s restaurant. We walked through his gardens, talked about his philosophy of cooking, and what a cool place Barossa is to work and live. He has a real passion for fresh local ingredients – they harvest produce from their kitchen garden, bake their own breads, and butcher and cure their own meats. I could learn a lot working here – wonder if they’d adopt me for a little while? That night, Mark and his team fascinated our taste buds with a world class dining experience.
The meal was bitter sweet, it was a reminder that the next day would be our last day of work. We didn’t take any pictures – we just ate, drank, laughed (so hard), and talked about all the funny things that had happened over the previous 7 days. It was the funniest dinner party EVER! We were a group of strangers that were brought together for this project and we all gelled so well.
Final day of work – Penfolds “Make Your Own Blend” & Maggie Beer’s
The next morning, the winners, Brenda & George, Zak, and I joined the “Make Your Own Blend” experience at Penfolds Winery. We felt like mad scientists, mixing our own special blends of wine – and let me tell you, wine making isn’t easy. There’s a lot of science that goes into blending the perfect tasting wine.
After Penfolds Winery, we had one more stop. I was really looking forward to this one. We were ending our tour at Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop. If you have the opportunity to visit Barossa, you must stop by her shop. Maggie Beer is a self taught cook, writer, and founder of Maggie Beer Products. She’ll remind you of your favourite aunt, so warm and inviting. Thanks to our tour guide, Bob, who knows her personally, I got to have a quick conversation with her. She’s so inspiring, and when you taste her food, you really taste the love – especially in her Passion fruit ice cream. Yum!
After lunch at Maggie Beer’s, Brenda and I filmed our final segment – yippee, we were done! It was time to stop rolling the camera. Zak and I were ready to start our vacation. Kangaroo Island, here we come!
Kangaroo Island, Southern Ocean Lodge
Tourism Australia thought Kangaroo Island would be the perfect way for Zak and I to unwind from a jam-packed week of touring, filming, eating, and drinking.
We flew from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island on a small plane (about 30 passengers) and were greeted by Rob, a lovely local tour guide, for a full day of exploring. The cool thing about Exceptional Kangaroo Island Tour Company is that they only hire residents who have grown up on the island. Not only do you get a very thorough tour, you also get a lot of fantastic stories along the way.
Kangaroo Island is wild life sanctuary without fences. We started the tour trying to spot Koalas while having morning tea (who doesn’t love sweet treats and coffee mid-morning – love this tradition!). After spotting a few sleepy balls of grey fluff (they sleep 18 hrs a day – might have something to do with getting stoned from the Eucalyptus leaves they eat for 6 hours), we were off to get up close and personal with some kangaroos and sea lions. We also stopped at a couple cool sites on the island – remarkable rocks and Admiral’s Arch. The picturesque costal landscapes are stunning.
After a full day of touring, Rob took us to Southern Ocean Lodge. As you pull up to the lodge, a welcoming committee greets you. Every single one of them knows your name, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. As you walk up to the lodge, gigantic wooden doors open and you are faced with one of the most breathtaking views you will ever see. I was so tired, the view was almost overwhelming – I swear, I almost shed a tear (I know, what a loser!). They have 21 indulgent suites, each named after shipwrecks that have sunk around the island – I think there are 88 of them in total. When you stay at SOL, everything is included – fine dining, a few tours, and a ‘feel at home’ open bar in the middle of the lodge. They think of every personal touch at this place, from robes that actually fit perfectly, cake in your room upon arrival, and toys for the bathtub – it’s unreal!
Palm Cove, White-Sand Beaches and Top-Notch Restaurants
The following day, we headed back to the mainland and caught a flight to paradise, it was time for fun in the sun. We headed to Palm Cove, located 20 minutes north of touristy Cairns. In Canada, we go south for a sunny holiday, in Australia, you go north. Palm Cove is beach town, filled with palm trees and a few lovely resorts. We stayed at Pepper’s, thanks to an earlier recommendation from our director, Mark.
We had a great time at Pepper’s Beach Club. The staff were so accommodating – I even scored a wicked deal on their daily rate (sometimes all you have to do is ask.). Our days were filled up with reading and relaxing by the pool.
First Helicopter ride, I had white knuckles the whole way!
The highlight of Palm Cove was on the third day. I surprised Zak with a helicopter ride to the Great Barrier Reef. Zak manufactures helicopter-landing systems for naval ships – he loves helicopters, but, had never actually been on one, so this was the perfect surprise. We lucked out, we were the only two signed up for the helicopter ride. Zak sat up front and chatted with the pilot the entire time. I rode in the back, scared to death. It was so terrifying and so much fun all at the same time. I had white knuckles holding on for dear life to the back of Zak’s seat, all while laughing hysterically. After some dips, dives, and breathtaking views, it was time to land on the world’s smallest platform – man, did our pilot have some mad skills! We spent the rest of the day snorkelling from the Quicksilver platform.
2 Days in Sydney
After 7 nights in the tropics, it was time to start making our way back. We headed to Sydney for our final 2 nights before hopping on a flight back home to Canada.
We stayed at the Four Seasons in Sydney – what a great location. It was walking distance to most of the attractions. When we arrived, we dropped off our bags and went out to start exploring the sites of the city. We headed for The Rocks, I had read that there was a foodie market that happens on Fridays. For lunch, we grabbed a Spinach and Cheese Gozleme (a traditional Turkish pastry with a savoury filing of feta cheese and spinach) and some marinated chicken and shrimp skewers.
After eating, we checked out some of Sydney’s iconic sites and hopped on a ferry to Manly to see some surfing. That night, we stopped at 4 Pines to try some of their local brew, then headed to China Beach for some modern Asian cuisine. The staff was super friendly, especially @_mattrogers – he gave us some great restaurant recommendations for our last night and told us about a farmers market that we should visit. We went back on the ferry and got a cool perspective of Sydney at night.
On our last day, we woke up early because we had some shopping to do. We fuelled up at Mad Spuds Cafe, we needed carbs for a day full of walking. I loved Surry Hills. If I were to live in Sydney, I’d feel right at home living there. We spent part of the day shopping at Paddington Markets – an outdoor Saturday market filled with 200 vendors selling clothes, jewelry, crafts, spice blends, cookbooks, etc. It was a great place to get unique gifts for friends and family, back home. I picked up a few Crown Street Cooks cookbooks – a fundraiser for the historic Crown Street Public School. The recipes look awesome and I can’t wait to give them a try.
We shopped and walked all day – through plazas, farmers’ markets, outdoor malls, and we saw some really old and stunning architecture. It was the perfect way to end our trip. For dinner, we chose a really cute fish house near the water and then headed across the street for a nightcap at Sydney’s oldest pub – Lord Nelson Taylor. Zak was eager to go there because he grew up in Portsmouth, England, where Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory is dry docked. Sydney was the perfect place to end a 3-week culinary adventure in Australia.
11 Flights. 8 Hotels. 10 Crew. Thank you, Tourism Australia! You planned the trip of a lifetime. Thanks to everyone that worked so hard to make this trip fun and stress free. Thanks to the prizewinners for being so cool. It was fun watching you both step out of your comfort zones. I can’t wait to go back (if only wonderful Australia were a bit closer!)!