A Tasty Month

I can’t believe April is almost over. It’s been such a hectic month, and it’s just flown by. But it’s been an enjoyable busyness, and I certainly preferred it over the languishing nothingness that seemed to define March.

One of the things I most enjoyed about this month was eating out in my home city. I love the ever expanding food scene in Perth. There are new places opening up all the time, which makes it nigh on impossible to get through all the cafes I’ve got on my ‘to-eat-at’ list. Add to this, it was school holidays, plus the weather has been absolutely glorious!

Seriously, autumn has been better than summer this year, with endless days of clear, blue skies and sunny afternoons. Daytime temperatures have been warmer than usual, while the mornings and evenings are crisp enough for cosy jumpers, but not bitingly cold. It’s simply divine, and the perfect weather for exploring and being outdoors.

In the lead-up to Easter, I cut out eating biscuits, chocolate, cakes and ice-cream, so I was definitely craving some sweet treats.  Consequently, I think I consumed more sugar in the week following Easter than I did in the month preceding it.

One meal which stands out from my recent foodie forays is the apple pie French toast which I ordered for breakfast at Jack & Jill, which is located in Kalamunda, a suburb in Perth’s hills. It was absolutely heavenly. The brioche toast was lathered with the most divine creme patisserie I’ve ever tasted- it felt like eating a cloud. (Or what I imagine eating a cloud would feel like!) The dish was complemented by apple and brandy butter, while a sprinkling of oat crumble provided some crunch, and pieces of rhubarb gave a touch of tang to this delectable dessert-style breakfast.

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I also had a decadent breakfast with my friend, Suz, at Little h. When we were in Kangaroo Island for our hike earlier in the month, I told Suz that this newly opened cafe was serving up red velvet pancakes, which led to many indulgent daydreams while eating yet another packet of beef jerky for dinner.

It was an exciting moment when we entered the sleek, modern cafe in Duncraig last Sunday and the waiter confirmed the pancakes were still available. The order was placed and before long, a plate of three ruby red pancakes with thick swirls of cream cheese frosting was placed in front of both of us. A dream was finally realised, though the pancakes were so rich that we almost felt as though we had to go on another hike to burn off the calories!

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As well as these delicious breakfasts, I’ve also enjoyed two outings to the family-and-furbaby friendly cafe, Slate; used up an $80 gift voucher at Shadow Wine Bar in Northbridge; tucked into a delightful pear and gorgonzola pizza at Comet Pizza, before polishing off a classic taiyaki ice-cream at neighbouring Whisk; eaten the most scrumptious choc-orange doughnuts for ‘lunch’ at my favourite restaurant, The Hummus Club (and got their amazing brownie to take away); celebrated a friend’s 30th with a high tea at Madhatter’s on Milston and chilled out with friends at Mandoon Estate on Anzac Day.

My sweet tooth has definitely been indulged this month, but there’s room for one more treat before April is out. Tomorrow, my brother and I are heading to Cafe 2TwentyFour in Belmont to try their brand new Raffaello milkshake. I can’t wait!

Golden Valley Tree Park

When I walked the Bibbulmun Track last year, one of my highlights was the day I wandered through the Golden Valley Tree Park. This beautiful park is located in the country town of Balingup, which is about 240km south of Perth. To be honest, I’d never heard of the town before I did my hike, but it’s safe to say it’s certainly on my radar now.

I remember it was a sunny winter’s morning as I followed the meandering trail through the valley of the trees. Most of the trees had lost their leaves by this stage, but the surrounding hills were the most vibrant shade of green I’d ever seen. It was a colour that became characteristic of the Balingup area, but until that day, I didn’t think such bright green earth existed in the West Australian landscape. I was left in awe and made a promise to return to the park in autumn.

Last Tuesday, I fulfilled that promise. With my garden-loving mum in tow, we set off for our road trip around 10.30am. I love driving, so it was exciting to hit the road and, especially, to be headed for the country. Despite my love of travel, I tend to go overseas or interstate for my holidays, which means I don’t explore my own backyard nearly as often I should.

There was definitely a sense of nostalgia on the drive down to Balingup, as I passed through several other sites associated with my Bib Track hike. In fact, what should’ve been a three hour drive to get to the Tree Park turned into a four hour drive, as I ended up taking the scenic route through a couple of other Bib Track towns, such as Collie and Mumballup. It was hard to believe that I ever walked to these towns by foot.

Eventually, we made it into Balingup, which was decorated with colourful scarecrows for an upcoming event. The Tree Park is located 2km out of the main town area, and when we arrived, we enjoyed the picnic lunch that we’d packed at home. My mood was instantly bolstered, not only by the food, which went down a treat after our long sojourn in the car, but also by the immediate sense of peace I felt as soon as I stepped out of the car. There were no other people around, and the fresh country air was filled with birdsong, as well as the familiar sound of farm life in the form of mooing cows and bleating sheep.

After eating, it was time to decide which section of the park we wanted to explore. I wasn’t aware on my first visit, but there are actually two parts to the park- the Australian Collection and the World Collection. We opted to walk around the latter. It was so cool to come across trees which had been transported from far-off places such as the US, the UK, China, Iran and the Himalayas.

At first, I was slightly taken aback at how brown the land was. Gone were the luscious green hills that had made such an impression on me, and in their place was a dry carpet of rain-starved earth. But the trees showcased a range of autumn colours, which was beautiful to behold. We don’t get a huge display of fiery golden leaves where I live in Perth, and I miss having the opportunity to observe that distinct, colourful change between seasons.

We wandered through an old pear orchard, which was filled with suspicious sheep ready to run if we dared to come too close. The air crackled with the sound of our footsteps treading upon a crunchy carpet of fallen leaves. The path led down to an avenue of dazzling sequoias, and culminated in two stunning golden ash trees, whose overhanging branches formed a ceiling of sunshine over a little wooden bridge.

In the end, I did seven hours of driving for a two hour walk, but it was so worth it, because if there’s one thing that always manages to lift my spirits and put me in a great mood, it’s a nature retreat!

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Sweet Simplicity

I headed down to the beach this evening, in the hope of catching a nice sunset. It’s my favourite time of day, and sunsets by the beach in summer can be absolute magic. Sadly, my camera has not had much of a beachside workout this summer, as Perth has been seriously lacking in dramatic evening skyscapes.

I had a bit of time to spare when I arrived at Hillarys, my go-to beach destination, so I decided to get some food first. Ice-cream is totally acceptable for dinner, right? Well, this ice-cream bowl definitely lived up to its promise of delivering a serve of sweet berry blissfulness. There’s no denying that strawberries and summertime were totally made for each other.

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When I made it down to the beach, the day had already quietly faded. This is what the majority of our sunsets have looked like this summer. Where in previous years there have been rainbow clouds marching boldly across the heavens to announce the day’s end, this year, the days seem to be disappearing with no fuss or fanfare. Just a final flicker of light before a faint glow illuminates the hazy horizon, until, that too, vanishes from view.

I love my grand sunsets but I also appreciate the quiet ones. They’re much like our everyday lives- seemingly unremarkable from one day to the next, but always unique, and full of beauty if we care to look. A gentle reminder of the beauty in simplicity.

I also find that quiet sunsets have a sense of timelessness about them. All the colourful sunsets I have photographed stand out resolutely in my memory and take me back to a specific time. Quiet sunsets, so oft repeated over the years, are nothing more than vague recollections in comparison, like a blurred memory of a forgotten dream, or a word that’s on the tip of your tongue. You can’t recall the details but you can feel their lingering presence.

And sometimes, this feeling is all we need. The details are irrelevant. I don’t want to remember the specifics of being 17, but to be reminded of the freedom that I felt all those summers ago, when driving down to the beach first became an expression of finally being an adult, young and carefree, well, that is a gift to be treasured indeed. It’s for this reason, this link to days long surrendered to the passing of time, that I am grateful for the quiet sunsets, and look forward to many more in the summers still to come.

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The 9th Annual Rottnest Trip [Part 2]

The first part of the Gabbi Karniny Bidi treated me to some beautiful coastal views and provided the opportunity for a pleasant stroll along some of Rottnest’s best northern beaches. The trail now turned inland and I had my first glimpse of the salt lakes.

The salt lakes occupy ten per cent of the total area of the island. They were once an underground cave system and were formed about 6000 years ago, when the limestone roofs of the cave system collapsed and the sea flooded the area. Now, the lakes are completely land locked.

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Lake Baghdad is just one of the many lakes on the island which support a variety of unique ecosystems. The thick grasses which border the lakes are particularly important as they are the habitat for many species of animals.

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Five of the lakes on the island are seasonal and dry out in summer, leaving a fragile surface frosted by salt crystals and the occasional pool of water. Their barren appearance is almost glacier like- well, if you can ignore the colourful vegetation which fringes the edges.

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There is a wide variety of salt tolerant plants that grow around the lakes and which have adapted their features in order to deal with the high levels of salinity present in the soil. For example, the samphire, a succulent plant, concentrates the salt in its rich ruby leaves. These eventually shrivel up and fall off the branch.

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Pink Lake is slightly more- you guessed it- pink than some of the other surrounding lakes. This is partly due to the presence of an algae which grows on salt crystals in the lake. This algae contains the substance beta-carotene, which is a red/orange pigment also found in many fruits and vegetables, such as mangoes, pumpkins and carrots. Pink Lake is also four times saltier than seawater so the high salt concentration, combined with the algae, gives the lake its rosy appearance.

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As I continued my walk, I came across a beautiful boardwalk extending along Lake Vincent, with a chorus of cacophonous birds piercing the peace of the surrounds. In winter time, the water extends underneath the boardwalk to create an illusion of walking on water.

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The trail now merged with a man-made path known as The Causeway. One of the darker chapters of Rottnest’s history is that for almost 100 years, it was used as an Aboriginal prison. The Causeway was built using Aboriginal labour around 1860. In those days, salt gathering was a successful industry on the island and The Causeway provided a link to the salt works, as well as the lighthouse.

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In previous years, I have always cycled my bike past the salt lakes, appreciating the long stretches of flat ground, as opposed to the hilly terrain pretty much everywhere else. Walking the trail as it began to wind its way back to The Settlement allowed me a much higher view of Lake Herschel than I’ve been accustomed to. It was decidedly picturesque.

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The final landmark on the trail was Vlamingh Lookout. Situated on the aptly named View Hill, the lookout provides scenic views of many of the lakes visited along the trail. It also serves as a memorial for the Dutch captain, Willem de Vlamingh, who explored Rottnest way back in 1696 and described the island as ‘paradise on earth’. You’re not wrong there, Captain Vlamingh!

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I arrived back in The Settlement about five hours after setting out. The trail can probably be walked in half that time but I’m a firm believer in enjoying the journey along the way to the destination. My brother and his friend were waiting for me and, being teenage boys, they were positively starving so it was time to get some food. We had Subway and an ice-cream, then walked to The Basin, a popular swimming spot which I’d already visited earlier while walking the trail. James and I always end our day at The Basin while waiting for our return ferry. It was pretty much deserted, which meant we had this beautiful water all to ourselves.

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All in all, the 9th annual trip to the island was a wonderful adventure and left me with another treasured collection of summer memories and photographs. See you in 2018, Rotto, for our ten year anniversary.

The 9th Annual Rottnest Trip [Part 1]

It’s become a summer tradition for my youngest brother, James, and I to visit Rottnest, a small island off the coast of Western Australia. It’s one of those magical places which seems to lie outside the reach of time. It’s unaffected by the frantic pace of everyday life. I step off the ferry and nothing’s changed. Another year’s gone by yet it feels like only yesterday since my last visit. Timelessness in a time-centric world is comforting and probably one of the reasons why I keep coming back.

This year, my brother’s friend joined us. We arrived at Hillarys just after eight a.m. but the 8.30am ferry was already fully booked so we had to wait for the 10am ferry. This meant it was close to 11am when the three of us finally descended on the island. Luckily, our return ferry was at 8pm, which still gave us plenty of time to enjoy the island.

Our first port of call is always the Rottnest Bakery for a quick feed before we start our explorations. Most years, my brother and I have hired bikes and cycled around the island but we broke with tradition last year and walked instead. It was a fantastic change as we ended up discovering parts of the island that we’d never seen before. I was keen to walk again this year, however James and his friend wanted to do their own thing, so after finishing our sausage rolls, we split up and went our separate ways.

Last year, we’d been vaguely aware of some trail markers but had predominantly walked our own route. Towards the end of 2016, I read about a series of walk trails that span the island. There are five sections, each ranging between 6-10km in distance and named in the language of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land: the Ngank Yira Bidi, the Gabbi Karniny Bidi, the Wardan Nara Bidi, the Karlinyah Bidi and the Ngank Wen Bidi (which is still under construction). Together, they make up the 45km Wadjemup Bidi.

Only two of the trails start from The Settlement, the main arrival area on Rottnest. These are the Ngank Yira Bidi and the Gabbi Karniny Bidi. From memory, James and I followed parts of the Ngank Yira Bidi last year so I decided to tackle the Gabbi Karniny Bidi.This 9.7km trail enables walkers to discover Rottnest’s salt lakes, as well as some of its beautiful bays and beaches.

It took me a few minutes to find the gold osprey trail marker that represents the Gabbi Karniny Bidi and when I did, it led me out of The Settlement and onto the northern shore of Thomson Bay. (Only later did I realise I’d actually walked the trail in reverse. I’ll blame that on the fact I only had three hours of sleep the night before.)

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Despite my lack of zzz’s, I felt alert and awake. Though this was probably aided by the fact that my hat kept blowing off in the wind. Twice, I had to chase it over rocky outcrops, including while I was trying to photograph the Bathurst Lighthouse.

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Then, my hat decided to go for a swim at Pinky Beach. When the water looks this inviting, I can’t really blame it, though.

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It was a windy day, for sure, but overall, a beautiful day for walking, with magnificent cloud formations adding a sense of drama to the sky.

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Walking along Longreach Bay reminded me of my 1000km hike on the Bibbulmun Track last year. Towards the end of that hike, I got to enjoy many beach walks under majestic clouds.

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It was a great feeling following a trail again and being able to see such sweeping coastal views. In nine years, I’d never actually come across Fay’s Bay.

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Approaching Geordie Bay, there were lots of people enjoying the pristine surrounds, whether it be lying on the golden shore, swimming in the turquoise water or relaxing aboard the boats that are such a prominent sight along the Rottnest coastline.

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Little Parakeet Bay marked the final view of the coastline before the trail started to meander inland towards the salt lakes. More on those in Part 2!

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Hummus Me Up!

dscn2353Let me introduce you to some divine dishes of goodness from The Hummus Club, a recent addition to the restaurant scene in my home city of Perth devoted to serving up delicious Middle Eastern cuisine.

Tonight marked my third visit in a month so it’s safe to say I’m quite a fan. I was all ready to order when the waitress came around to ask if my mum and I needed help with the menu. Might as well get straight to business!

One of the things that won me over on my first visit was the cocktail I had. I am not a gin drinker at all but the combination of gin, almond, ginger beer and orange blossom which constituted ‘A Day in Beirut’ piqued my interest enough to try it. Didn’t that turn out to be the best decision I ever made! It’s the most textured cocktail I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking- an enthralling mix of smoky sweetness which keeps me coming back for more.

There are four hummus dishes you can choose from- plain hummus or hummus with beef, chicken or mushroom, all served with pita. I’d tried the beef and the chicken on my previous visits, and chose the beef again this time. An accompaniment of crunchy pita crisps and popping pomegranates add another layer of enjoyment to an already delectable dish.

The rest of the menu is made up of a range of share plates. Previously, I’ve tried the zaatar fried chicken, lamb kefta, beef kibbeh and batata. Having the batata again was a given- I mean, who can go past crunchy potatoes- but this time I opted to try the falafels, which were zhuzhed up with tahini, pickles and coriander.

All in all, it was a top-notch meal that left both Mum and I feeling as though we may need to be escorted out of the restaurant in a wheelbarrow. Sadly, there was no room for dessert but I’m consoled with the knowledge that I’ll be visiting a fourth time to try the brownie and doughnuts.

There was definitely need for a walk though. We decided to go down to the Esplanade and take a sunset stroll along the Swan River. We kept walking until we hit Elizabeth Quay, a development project undertaken by the West Australian government at the start of the decade in a bid to spice up the Perth waterfront. Despite the quay officially being opened at the end of January last year, I had not ventured out to visit it until today.

It was a very pleasant walk which not only eased our sensation of being seriously stuffed but also reminded me that there’s a lot to explore in my own city. I look forward to returning to photograph Elizabeth Quay- after another serve of hummus, of course!

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