Our delicious adventure was a year or more in the planning. The idea was birthed in our minds three years earlier when we visited Western Australia’s south-west region together for our twentieth wedding anniversary. We were only there for five days, not long enough to see all that was there. We came home with imaginations of returning to that area for a longer period of travel one day, which seemed ridiculous considering our current responsibilities. After a while raising a family, establishing small businesses, paying school fees and a Sydney mortgage was wearing us out – I’d heard of people taking ‘long service leave’ and I wondered whether we qualified.
We realised that being self-employed meant that no one would finance an extended period of leave for us – unless we did! So we saved our dollars for eighteen months, worked hard and began to make plans for the road trip of our dreams. Although we had not camped for twenty years and had no experience travelling long distances by road (particularly towing our boat behind us), we did our best to be prepared for the adventure ahead. We had our moments of wondering if we were a little bit mad taking off across the country in this season of our lives, rather than waiting for retirement as many do. I think some family and friends thought the same, but defying common sense we decided to go!
There is so much to organise when leaving your everyday life behind for an adventure, but eventually the day arrived and we shook off those last minute worries and doubts that try to creep in when you are doing something extraordinary, the voice that asks ‘what are you thinking?’ We took off on our road trip across our capacious land, travelling from the east coast to the west coast and back again. What a moment that was when we started the drive south, there was laughter and cheering and a vague sense of disbelief on our faces that we were finally on our way, along with niggling thoughts of what we may have forgotten.
Six hours south of Sydney, after travelling down the picturesque south coast of New South Wales, we spotted the turn off to Wallaga Lake. Winding downhill from the main road, we caught our first glimpses of the lake and were suddenly curious for what we would discover there. As we rounded the final bend in the road, we were greeted by a magnificent, weathered wooden bridge that offered a truly grandiose entrance to the peace and tranquility that is Wallaga Lake. Crossing that bridge was the beginning of an adventure in itself as we well and truly exited from the fast lane of city life, escaping to a hidden place by this enormous lake. Mr G’s eyes widened as he imagined the fishing prospects of such a large body of water, his to explore in his beloved boat which we were towing behind us.
The next few days and nights at a lakefront campsite with our boat moored in the lapping shallows out front was idyllic. The school holiday period had not yet begun so we were one of only a few campers enjoying this lakeside position for now. Each morning the serene, smooth waters of the lake beckoned. Mr G, our youngest son (who we like to call ‘the Adventurer’) and I spent hours out on the lake in our boat catching bags of flathead, octopus and record size bream. Prior to leaving Sydney the adventurer and I had each earned our boat licences. We felt it was a wise move to equip us all to manage the boat for our long travels rather than just depend on Mr G. This great expanse of water was the perfect practice ground for us newly-licensed boat drivers to practice while exploring the area.
On our return to shore each day, a pod of local pelicans frantically squabbled for front position, always present and keen for a feed at the fish-cleaning table. The adventurer was more than happy to oblige them. He’d throw the fish frames high in the air and we’d watch the pelicans go to battle over each one, as they descended toward their wide-open bills. It seemed to be an ongoing game that neither the adventurer or the pelicans ever tired of.
We took a day to visit the nearby town of Bermagui, a small, vibrant coastal town that hugs the edge of its spectacular harbour and nestles under the shadow of Gulaga (Dromedary Mountain). Driving a little further out of the town to the coast, we saw the renowned Blue Pool, a large natural rock pool at the base of a rugged cliff face and Camel Rock, a striking rock formation (that looks like a camel) at the north end of Camel Rock Beach. We also visited another region just a short drive from our campsite in the opposite direction, the quaint towns of Tilba Tilba and Central Tilba. Both are a step back in time with perfectly preserved heritage villages, home to vibrant shops, cafes, wineries and various B&B accommodation. We stopped in at Pam’s Store for a late lunch and enjoyed one of the best burgers we’ve eaten. It was a relaxing afternoon sitting on the old front verandah of this historic building, looking out across the rolling green hills and the breathtaking natural beauty of this south coast haven.
Early evening back at our campsite, I battered and cooked our freshly caught flathead fillets. As we devoured them with some chunky hand cut chips and a kale and carrot slaw, we sat around a warm fire burning slow in an old half-gallon drum on the sandy shoreline of the lake. As the sun sunk low and disappeared into the trees, evening closed in and we marveled at the spectacular black night sky, generously speckled with a carpet of twinkling stars. We then retired to our tent, and to the peace and quiet that comes with camping in remote places. The sounds of the water lapping on the jetty nearby gently soothed us to sleep. It was official now, we had shifted gears, the pace had slowed and the days ahead were to be without schedule.
© Excerpt from Our Delicious Adventure - Recipes and Stories of Food and Travel by Jane Grover