Five Tips for Visiting Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)
We at ExtraVirgin have had our own life-changing experiences in the expansive Australian outback so we were thrilled but not surprised to see Uluru ranked number three on Lonely Planet’s new Ultimate Travel List of the world’s unmissable travel experiences. It’s a substantial list, capturing 500 unique and compelling places, ranging from marvels of human invention to places of raw natural beauty. First place went to Jordan’s “lost city” of Petra, a 3000-year-old Unesco World Heritage site that has long mystified travellers with its history and stunning sandstone construction. Petra has been voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and Jordan, at least prior to Covid-19, was considered one of the safest countries in the Middle East. In second place is the Galápagos, the archipelago of Pacific islands 1000km from the coast of Ecuador that are famed as the place where Charles Darwin shaped his ideas of evolution by natural selection. And third, is central Australia’s Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, home to the spectacular sandstone formations once known as Ayers Rock and the Olgas. Uluru, an immense monolith, and Kata Tjuta, the rock domes nearby, are sacred to the Anangu, the Aboriginal people of the area who are one of the oldest human societies in the world. The UNESCO World Heritage site features an abundance of springs, waterholes, rock caves and ancient paintings. The Lonely Planet rank is an accolade that happens to fall in the month that marks the 35th anniversary of the Australian government’s handback of Uluṟu and Kata Tjuṯa to the Aṉangu. Since 1985, Aṉangu have jointly managed Uluṟu–Kata Tjuṯa National Park with Parks Australia. This month also marks the first anniversary of the closing of the Uluru climb (see more below). Reflecting on my own time in the park, I recognise that travel can be a force for good, allowing us to experience personal growth, connect with other cultures and communities, experience how others live, and to educate ourselves. What we experience on the road, can reshape our day to day lives. I confess to being one of those Aussies who deferred travel in my homeland while I ventured around the world, driven partly by youthful (and yes, ignorant) cultural cringe and by the reasoning that I could always travel domestically in my dotage. Sure enough, as I got older, my interest in Uluru and in exploring the mysteries of my own country grew. I was expecting to enjoy the sights, colours and history but I wasn’t prepared for the depth of understanding and connection I felt for this ancient land and its original inhabitants and their culture. Last year, when they put an end to the rock climb at Uluru, some voices opposed the closure of the climb, suggesting it was the highlight of an Uluru visit and that fewer tourists would come if they couldn’t climb. But I’d argue the rock climb was the least rewarding of the experiences you could have there; that there are many richer experiences to be had. In fact, I’d say there are plenty of rocks and man-made high places to visit around the world so go climb those if that’s your bag. Meanwhile, travel brochures for Uluru-Kata Tjuta will tempt you with a number of five-star tours and activities that involve fine dining at dawn, sunset or under the starred night sky or incredible scenic flights. To be sure, they are memorable experiences but for those interested in a truly life-changing visit to Uluru-Kata Tjuta, here are my tips: Slow down and appreciate the rock formations from a distance. There’s no amount of pictures that can prepare you for the jaw-dropping sight and vastness of Uluru and Kata Tjuta as you fly in or first encounter them through the windscreen of your car. Stop at one of the viewing sites that allow you to forge your own memories in the different lights of day. 2. Book a guided walk around the base of Uluru. It’s worth every penny. The 10km walk is an opportunity to learn from the Anangu, whose spiritual ancestors are embodied in the sacred site. Only accredited guides are allowed and their knowledge ranges from the geological formation of the site, the wildlife and flora of the area, creation stories of the Anangu, and the more recent history of how they lived with and cherished the site before the relatively recent arrival of Europeans. 3. The cultural centre adjacent to Uluru is currently closed due to Covid-19 but when it reopens, allow yourself at least a couple of hours to do it justice. It includes a fascinating display on tjukurpa, the creation period, as well as a detailed history of the handing back of Uluru to the Anangu by the Australian Government in 1985. By the time you’re finished, you will understand why climbing the rock is such an offence - like me, you may liken it to having a picnic on the altar at Westminster Abbey in London or Notre Dame in Paris. You get the idea. 4. Take a guided tour of Kata Tjuta for an excellent understanding of its unique place in Anangu culture, and a mind-boggling explanation of its geological formation over millennia. In many ways, I loved its vast, windswept spaces and haunting silent vistas even more than I did Uluru itself. 5. Be culturally sensitive. Uluru and Kata Tjuta have formed part of the traditional belief system of the Aṉangu for thousands of years and their role in life and ceremonies continues today, so there are a number of rules that visitors must follow. For example, the rock formations of the north-east face of Uluru hold chapters of creation stories that should only be learned in person and in situ. It is, therefore, inappropriate for any images of these sites to be viewed elsewhere, and visitors are asked to not take any photos in these areas. The special areas are well-signed so it’s easy to comply. It also means that the only place you can hear these creation stories is on site and in person, making them a very special part of your Uluru visit. While Uluru and Kata Tjuta are incredible at any time of year, the weather in Central Australia varies quite a bit between seasons. Follow this link to learn more about the best time to visit. In these days of staying close to home, when I ponder all the wonderful places I’ve seen around the world, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park stands out for being more than just a natural beauty spot or a landmark created by humans. When I reflect on my time there, I can conjure how it felt to be in the midst of raw natural beauty and ancient cultural heritage. It carved out a place in my heart and it certainly deserves its spot in the world's top-three unmissable destinations. Rain on Uluru is a rare and magical sight. This photo, above, was captured this week when the skies opened and rain cascaded down its flanks. Photo: Parks Australia
Back to (Gin) School Brisbane Distillery, West End
“Fortunately there is gin, the sole glimmer in this darkness. Do you feel the golden, copper-coloured light it kindles in you?” Albert Camus I came to love gin in my late 20s because of a trip to Malawi in Africa. It was a last minute assignment and I didn’t have time to take malaria medication, nor get any of the shots I needed before I left (not recommended!) However, someone told me that the quinine in tonic water gave you some protection from it. As you do, when you have no other choice, I put aside my sceptism and chose to believe them, crossing my fingers and dosing myself with gin. I quickly developed a taste for it and these days it’s my drink of choice in summer. Based on juniper berries, gin was invented by a Dutch physician as a medicine in the 16th century. It came to the attention of the English while they were there fighting against the Spanish in the Thirty Years’ War. They used it to calm their nerves before a battle and warm them up (hence “Dutch Courage”) and brought it back to England with them. The spirit took off under the enthusiastic patronage of William of Orange and became incredibly popular. It's believed that by 1730, there were more than 7000 gin shops in London and the average person was drinking around 1.3 litres of gin per week. At approximately 160 proof, this gin was strong. London fell into the grip of an obsession, the spirit blamed for a rising crime and death rate and madness. For the first time, women were allowed to drink along with men in the city's gin joints and it is thought this led many women to neglect their children and turn to prostitution, to pay for their habit, hence gin becoming known as ‘mothers' ruin’. Today, it seems we are in the midst of second (albeit far more sedate) love affair with gin, but while there’s still the good old “London Dry,” today’s gins look very different from the days of yore. And not just in their far lower alcohol content - today's gins are sophisticated, with complex and sometimes surprising botanicals, served with all manner of garnishes; from cucumber to rosemary, grapefruit slices, rose petals or celery sticks. My first gin, at Gin School at the Brisbane Distillery in Brisbane's West End, is a case in point. Infused with strawberry eucalyptus gum, it is garnished with a strawberry. The second, a delicious herbal concoction of dry gin infused with pea and celery comes with a nasturtium leaf plucked from the Jane Street Community Garden across the road, while number three is flavoured with coffee and citrus. Brisbane Distillery opened in November 2019, going into a hiatus and turning from gin to hand sanitiser at the peak of the Covid crisis. Recently, it’s expanded its operations, with a new space for their Gin School and a fabulous 23m long cocktail bar. Their Gin School is a slick operation. This was my second time here - previously it was a far more rustic affair, held on a mezzanine above the distillery floor. Now, there’s a charming purpose built-space adjoining the bar, with walls adorned by illustrations of botanicals and traditional apothecary-style shelving with 150 tins of botanical ingredients; from lavender to lemon myrtle, black cardamom, sage and Kakadu plum. Guests perch on stools at a high-topped table in front of one of 30 small copper stills, each with their own temperature-controlled hotplate. Classes run for two hours, guided by the highly engaging Jen, who gives us a comprehensive run down of the history of gin and the process pf making it. She's also on hand to assist with the hard decision of what to choose for your four recommended botanicals to ensure a good balance. Jen also takes us on a tour of the distillery - a highly impressive, sustainable production process that's a true grain to glass concept. They have 30 kilos of solar panels on the roof (Jen tells us their June power bill was $30!) and a Tesla battery. Jane Street community garden across the road, get the compostible bits of the botanics, while the barley used is local; milled, mashed, fermented and distilled into pure grain spirit in the top-of-the-range 2000 litre still with discarded ethnanol used for cleaning. The entire pure grain spirit production process takes up to two weeks. Inside the still are juniper berries in ethanol. We pop our botanicals into a tea bag, put them in the still and turn it on. From a process of condensation, the liquid is infused with the botanicals and distilled, the vapour dripping out into a beaker. Alcohol readings of each – different botanicals results in different readings and a table shows us how much water to add per the volume to make the required 45% alcohol level. As well as the botanicals, we are offered natural colours, made from botanicals such as butterfly pea flower, which tints it a fetching purple to a deep red drawns from hibiscus flower. This extra liquid is factored in to the required amount of water to reach the 45%alchohol then a funnel is used to transfer it to our bottle. And that's it - apart from the hardest bit: coming up with name for your unique creation. PS: Look out in the next few weeks for Brisbane Distillery's Gin Bus; a London double decker bus with bar that will serve at events and festivals. Verdict: High recommended. Everything about the experience is so very well-thought out and it’s great value for money given you get your own bottle of hand-crafted gin to take home, plus cocktails, a tour of the distillery and a cheese and charcuterie platter. Loads of fun. A caveat – I was here on a media experience and didn’t pay for it, however on the previous occasion, I went under my own steam and on my own dime. BRISBANE DISTILLERY & GIN SCHOOL DETAILS Cocktail Bar, Tastings, Bottle Sales & Gin School Corner Jane St & Montague Road, West End, QLD 4101, Australia Master Distiller Experience $189 per person Classes available Wednesday-Saturday 2pm and 6pm Bookings essential via
Episode 55: A Labour of Love: International Wedding Cake-Maker Gillian Bell
Listen Here To talk to Gillian Bell about baking is to be swept along on a journey inspired by children's story book adventures and the true romances of the couples she bakes wedding cakes for. Like Mary Poppins herself, Gillian flies in to spread her special type of magic at weddings in far-flung destinations. Gillian doesn't know what she's going to bake for each occasion until she arrives and meets the happy couple; she says the recipe for a wedding cake that captures their unique and personal story appears to her as she gets to know them. Baking wedding cakes has taken Gillian from her home-base in Brisbane, Australia to such places as Sweden, France and Scotland, the US, Japan, China and more. Her cakes are breath-taking works of art but first and foremost, Gillian says, she wants them to be delicious. Most of her clients are well-travelled people who find her work through word of mouth, although there are certainly some Hollywood stars and landed gentry among her clients. In this episode of ExtraVirgin Podcast, we hear how her love of baking developed, and about her unique approach to creating a wedding cake, including why she starts baking at midnight on the eve of the wedding. She also shares tips for anyone who's a little nervous about baking but would like to give it a go. Her motto is "has whisk will travel" and there's a fair chance that listening to this episode will have you reaching for a whisk and a recipe too. Enjoy! Click here to listen. You may also be interested in checking out Gillian's own lovely podcast, Dispatch to a Friend, which she creates with her good friend Annabelle Hickson. The podcast is a heart-warming look into their lives through the letters they write each other while Gillian travels, whisk in hand, and writer Annabelle captures life on her pecan farm in north-western NSW. The podcast, like many things in Covid-effected 2020, is in hiatus but the back catalogue is worth dipping into while we wait for new episodes. Like Gillian's cakes, it's a tribute to travel, cooking, flowers and love. You can find Gillian at her website Gillian Bell Cake and on Instagram @gillianbell cake.
Rhubarb and ricotta tea cake, from "Use It All by Alex Elliott-Howery and Jaimee Edwards."
Rhubarb and ricotta tea cake Serves 6–8 This cake comes from Cornersmith chef Greer Rochford. It’s a twist on a simple butter cake, using ricotta instead of only milk and replacing some of the flour with desiccated coconut. She’s used rhubarb in this recipe, but it also works well with other fruit, as long as it’s cut into small pieces. This cake is best served warm with cream and compote. 1 cup (150 g) plain (all-purpose) flour ½ teaspoon baking powder ½ cup (45 g) desiccated coconut ½ cup unsalted butter ¾ cup (150 g) caster (superfine) sugar Zest of 1 lemon, plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice 2 eggs 185 g (6½ oz) ricotta ½ cup (125 ml) full-cream (whole) milk 125–150 g (4½–5½ oz) rhubarb, trimmed and sliced into small pieces Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F/Gas mark 3). Line a 21 cm (8 ¼ inch) round cake tin with baking paper. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and coconut in a large bowl and set aside. In a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Turn the mixer to low speed and mix in the ricotta, then add the flour mixture in three goes until just combined. With the mixer still running drizzle in the milk and lemon juice. Turn off the mixer and fold in the rhubarb, then pour into the prepared cake tin. Bake for 50 minutes or until lightly golden on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. The cake will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. Combinations we like You can replace the rhubarb with the same quantity of any fresh chopped fruit, and you can use any type of citrus zest and juice. We love the following flavours: · Peach and lime · Berry and lemon · Pear and orange Use It All by Alex Elliott-Howery and Jaimee Edwards, photography by Cath Muscat. Murdoch Books RRP $39.99.
Book Review - Use it all - The Cornersmith Guide To a More Sustainable Kitchen
I've got my compost bin and I try to write a shopping list and meal plan, but the truth is, like most of us, I can always do better when it comes to minimising waste in my kitchen. So, I was particularly interested to read "Use it all"- a practical guide to reducing food waste. The book is by Alex Elliott-Howery, owner of Cornersmith Cafe & Picklery in Sydney, known for its sustainable, ethical approach to food, and Jaimee Edwards, who teaches fermenting and traditional cooking skills at Cornersmith's cooking school. The book transcends the usual straightforward 'recipe' format in favour of an approach featuring chapters centred around a seasonal shopping basket of produce. There are also scattered throughout 'foundation recipes' - flexible recipes designed to use whatever is in the cupboard - like 'Clear out the Pantry Cookies'. It's an orginal and highly practical idea for anyone who's keen to cut back on waste (and save money through doing so). Each basket makes around five meals and five sides along with a range of sweet, snacks and drinks, as well as offering suggestions of things to do to with those little bits of left overs, like the parmesan rind, 'tired' herbs or leftover bread rather than bin them. There's really nothing 'fancy' in the boxes, it's pretty much all unpackaged wholefoods and there's an encouragement to buy whole - like chicken or fish and, as the book says 'use it all." It's actually really, really surprising how much you can make from this one basket - kudos to the authors. There are also lots of recipes for preserves, pickles, cures and ferments, useful if you're an urban gardener or spy a glut of seasonal produce at your greengrocer. It's a wholesome, inspiring book that's all about simplicity and the joy of elegant sufficiency and how to use what you have down to the very last dried bean. Go here for a gorgeous recipe from the book for a rhubarb and ricotta tea cake Use It All by Alex Elliott-Howery and Jaimee Edwards, photography by Cath Muscat. Murdoch Books RRP $39.99.’
From the book Parwana by Durkhanai Ayubi Recipes by Farida Ayubi with assistance from Fatema Ayubi Khetayee // sweet biscuits for Eid (p. 146) Serves 12 These traditional sweet biscuits are usually made during Eid celebrations in Afghanistan. During my parents’ time there, people bought these from the local bakeries called kulchah feroshees, which used age-old techniques, and had special ovens to bake biscuits and pastries to perfection. 300 g (2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour 110 g (1 cup) full-cream (whole) milk powder 1 teaspoon baking powder 125 g (1 cup) icing (confectioners’) sugar 310 ml (1¼ cups) warm oil 35 g (¼ cup) ground pistachios Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Add all the ingredients, except the oil and pistachios, to a bowl and mix to combine well. Slowly add the oil and, using your hands, mix to form a soft but firm dough. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions and roll them into smooth balls between your palms. Place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper and press each ball with your hand to flatten slightly. Put an indent at the centre of the biscuit with your thumb, then bake on the middle shelf in the oven for 20 minutes, or until they are light golden. Cool the khetayee briefly on the tray before transferring them to a wire rack. Add a small pinch of ground pistachios to the indent of each biscuit to decorate and serve when they are completely cooled. Khetayee can be stored for 3–4 days in an airtight container. Parwana - Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen Murdoch Books RRP $45.00
Episode 54 - Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen
Listen here In this episode of ExtraVirgin Food and Travel Podcast, we talk with Durkhanai Ayubi, whose family owns Parwana restaurant in Adelaide, Australia. Durkhanai is also the author of "Parwana, Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen," a book that delves into the ancient and contemporary history of Afghanistan, its location as an important destination on the ancient Silk Route, and how these factors have influenced the cuisine. We also discuss how Afghans eat, seasonal and celebratory rituals around food and some of the delicious ingredients that make up its cuisine. We hear the stories of persecution and displacement and how her family healed the scars of their past by opening Parwana and sharing with people Afghanistan's deliciously aromatic food and hospitable culture. Parwana - Recipes and Stories from an Afghan Kitchen Murdoch Books RRP $45.00
People are increasingly considering their relationship to food and how it is produced, and meat is arguably the most controversial ingredient. We are asking where does our meat come from? How did it live and how did it die? How should I cook it? And should I eat meat at all? We’ve discussed the meat dilemma with past ExtraVirgin podcast guests including Hannah Miller - A Lady Butcher - who we talked to about nose to tail eating, and dietitian Kiah Paetz who shared how more people are trying veganism. Like many, I enjoy the taste of meat but I also care where my food comes from and how it's been produced. So, I was keen to dive into a new book that promises to show me why what I eat is important and how I can ethically buy, cook and eat meat. Called The Ethical Omnivore, it’s written by Laura Dalrymple and Grant Hilliard who own Feather and Bone – Rare Breed Providore and Whole Animal Butchery in Sydney, Australia, and it could well be life-changing for some. It is both a practical handbook for anyone who truly cares about the meat they eat, as well as a cookbook with 60 nose-to-tail recipes to support sustainable meat-eating. Laura and Grant didn’t start out as butchers - Laura was a graphic designer and Grant an aspiring filmmaker. But it dawned on them that while people fuss over wines for their pedigree, genetics and terroir, meat was considered generic, regardless of breed, production or provenance. Grant found some farmers growing rare breeds of sheep and some chefs willing to buy their lambs, and in 2006 Feather and Bone was born, with the aim of supporting sustainable local meat producers and regenerative farmers, and encouraging consumers to not waste any part of an animal when they cook. They only buy whole animals which they break down to supply retail and leading restaurants. They are butchers but they are also educators, passionate about better farming methods and the ethics of eating meat. In The Ethical Omnivore, they’ve pulled together all the wisdom and experience of 14 years of answering customer’s questions and working with farmers and chefs, laying out their solution to the ethical dilemma of meat-eating. In summary, it comes down to asking the right questions of whomever sells you meat, supporting ethical and regenerative farmers who minimise impact on the animals and the environment that support us, and learning how to respect the animal so that you're willing to cook something other than chicken breast. “Every time we buy something, we vote for the system that produced it,” they write. “We’re unapologetically on the side of food production systems that foster sustainable biodiversity, resilience and vitality in soil, plant, animal and human communities.” At least half of the book is dedicated to the topic of ethical meat production and consumption, while the rest is a beautiful collection of tried-and-tested recipes from the Feather and Bone community, including home cooks, farmers and chefs, united by their determination to make compassionate food choices that support a healthier planet. The recipes are diverse and cover all parts of the animal, and I love that the recipes aren’t divided into the typical categories of starters and mains, but by the time and effort involved. There’s a section for shorter cook times including schnitzel, salads and pasta sauces, and a section for cooking “longer and slower but not harder” such as hearty stews, smoky ribs and nurturing bone broths. And then there’s a section for the adventurous cook who likes a challenge, featuring more involved recipes that the authors say you should cook “at least once”. These include pig’s head terrine and a show-stopping spit-roasted lamb for 40. It was hard to pick one recipe to share with you here but I can't go past this one by Ben and Reagan Waring, who are retail customers of Feather and Bone. The well-travelled couple’s recipe for beef short ribs with pickled carrots and noodles was inspired by the idea that the food we cook should have a loving story that carries over into the eating experience you share with your friends and family. You need three hours to slow-cook the ribs but the preparation and plating is a snap at just 20 minutes or so. Click here to discover the recipe. You can find the book, published by Murdoch Books, at all good book stores and from Booktopia and Amazon. For more inspiration, you can visit the Feather and Bones website here.
Here's a recipe for a bowl of slow-cooked beefy noodle goodness from the new cookbook The Ethical Omnivore, by Laura Dalrymple and Grant Hilliard, of Sydney's Feather and Bones Providore. The recipe is by Ben and Reagan Waring who are regular customers at Feather and Bones. Enjoy, and click here for our full review of The Ethical Omnivore, a fascinating guide to how to ethically buy and cook meat. Ben and Reagan's Beef Short Ribs with Pickled Carrots and Noodles Feeds: 4-6 Preparation time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 3 hours 15 minutes Ingredients 1kg beef short ribs at room temperature 2 tbsp olive oil 80ml mirin 200g white (shiro) miso Noodles of your choice (Ben and Reagan like soba or ramen noodles), to serve Sesame oil, chilli oil and soy sauce, to taste Toppings of your choice (such as enoki mushrooms and shredded cabbage) Sesame seeds, coriander leaves and lime wedges, to serve For the quick pickled carrots 4 carrots cut into julienne 2 tsp finely diced ginger 4 garlic cloves 1 small red chilli 250ml apple cider vinegar (or enough to cover the vegetables in a bowl) 1.5 tsp sugar 1.5 tsp salt Preheat oven to 120 degrees celcius. Coat ribs with olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat, add ribs and sear them, turning, for 10 minutes or until nicely browned on all sides. Remove from heat. Stir mirin and miso in a bowl to combine, brush all over ribs, then place in a roasting tin and roast for three hours or until beef is tender and falling away from the bone. Meanwhile, to make the pickles, place carrot in a heatproof bowl. Combine remaining ingredients with 125ml water in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until salt and sugar dissolve. Pour pickling liquid over the carrots and cool to room temperature. They're ready to eat straight away but will keep refrigerated in a clean jar for up to two weeks. When ready to serve, cook noodles in a large saucepan of boiling water until al dente - they should still have elasticity. Drain, rinse under cold running water to stop them from cooking, drain again and toss with a little sesame oil to stop them sticking. Divide noodles among bowls, toss with chilli oil and soy sauce to taste, add beef (Ben likes his short rib whole; Reagan likes it sliced) and layer over toppings - you can layer the bowl with your favourite toppings or whatever you have to hand. Top with sesame seeds and coriander and serve with lime wedges.
Listen here: While vegetarian and vegan lifestyle choices are becoming more popular, many people are choosing to still eat meat, but to be more selective about it. In this episode of ExtraVirgin Food and Travel Podcast, we talk to Hannah Miller, the "Lady Butcher" about her ethos of 'purposeful' meat eating, how her job has taken her from the Antarctic to Australia, why she's moved to New Zealand, and, most intriguing of all, why her farmer's pigs have their own beach. Kicking off her career as a chef, after training at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York, it was meeting famous nose-to-tail advocate, chef Fergus Henderson of London's St John and author of The Whole Beast that was to change her focus and ultimately see her moving to a new country thousands of kilometres from her Portland, Oregon home. Hannah's story is about finding her passion, discovering a place where the niche for it was unfilled and helping inspire others to make better choices when they buy and eat meat.
Photo by Rhys Moult This is my third outback trip. I have Springsteen’s new album playing, cranked up high (you can listen on Spotify here). The first trip, a ‘famil’ (a trip for journalists writing travel pieces, hosted by a travel organisation or tourism board) was from Longreach to Uluru and it had a profound effect on me. The outback, I discovered, is a deeply spiritual place. Something radiates from the ancient soil beneath your feet into your boots and travels upward through your spine before lodging in the brain with an ‘ahh’ moment – another piece of the puzzle of our existence, a dream half-remembered, a dawning of understanding that we are not of skyscrapers and smartphones, but here – this is Australia. These days, I will take any excuse I can to head ‘outback’ and if you haven’t yet connected with the real heart of Australia, this is why you should. The Colours The light and the colour of the outback have been attracting painters and photographers for decades. The skies are wide and clear blue, the cloud patterns so unusual and contrasted with the red earth, it’s stunning. And talking of light, don’t miss the Field of Lights installation at Uluru where 50,000 spindles of light have been planted in the desert – it’s there until December 2020. The People The Indigenous Culture This is a map of the language, nation or tribal groups of the first nation people of this country. The incredibly rich diversity of language and custom means a wealth of differing art and stories specific to region or group, so take a tour with an elder to see different art work or important sites. Sometimes you won’t be able to go to places because they’re the site of men’s (or women’s) business or private to that group. On a tour I took, our guide Ricky was forbidden to even tell us the name of a sacred site and before taking us to one place had to ask permission from the spirits of his ancestors. There is some amazing art to be seen and bought if you want to take a piece of indigenous culture home with you. If you *do* want to buy some art do your research – there’s a lot of shoddy work being passed off as indigenous art and you want to buy the real stuff and support the community who make it. There’s a good piece here in The Guardian on how to buy aboriginal art ethically. The Sunsets and Night Skies I’ve seen some sunsets in my time (probably a few less sunrises!) and there is nothing that even comes close to an outback sunset. Unless you’re an artist with a comprehensive paintbox, you will never have seen so many shades of orange, pink or red. Find yourself a lookout, a ‘jump up’ or a spot by a billabong, breath and appreciate the beauty of the bush. The star-filled night skies are equally as incredible. Clear, unpolluted skies mean a canvas of black scattered with thousands of diamond- bright stars, shooting stars and the odd satellite on its circuit. I’m not a photographer so can’t do justice, but if you’re interested, this is *the* place to come to shoot starry skies and sunsets. The Landscapes Everywhere you turn in the outback there is incredible natural beauty. Uluru and Kata Tjuta are just awe-inspiring. I could have sat and looked at it Uluru for ever or spent days walking around it at different times of the day, to capture the nuance of light and shadow. I wanted to touch it, to run my hand along the ancient weathered stone; I’d hug it if I could. One thing I had no urge to do was to climb it (it will be illegal to do so soon). It makes me sad to think that some people whom are informed of its indigenous caretakers’ wishes choose to climb it anyway. Imagine if we were to set up a picnic in the knave of a church? It would provoke outrage, yet people are okay with climbing and walking on this sacred place, in fact in the last few weeks before it is actually banned, people are rushing to do so. Incidentally, as journalists, before we went to Uluru, we had a briefing on how we were and weren’t allowed to photograph the rock. There are some areas that are particularly sacred that the traditional custodians don’t want to appear in published photographs. There’s loads of other incredible sites in the outback too. Termite mounds bigger than your car, time-eroded canyons, swimming holes and walks to bluff and plateaus. Bring your walking shoes and good thick socks – but don’t expect that the red dust will not somehow magick its way between your toes anyway. The Dinosaurs! One hundred and ten million years ago outback Queensland was a vast sea called The Eromanga. Today, thanks to the region’s soil profile that helps preserve fossils, you can see skeletons of ancient marine animals such as ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs as well as well-preserved bones of land dinosaurs like gigantic sauropods and therapods. Make sure to visit the Australian Age of Dinosaurs outside Winton and book a tour that includes a visit to the lab where scores of dinosaur bones sit on shelves, waiting to be cracked open from their protective jackets (they’re coated in a kind of plastic, then foil then plaster to protect them) and prepared by lab staff and volunteers for categorisation. There’s also the dinosaur trackways at the Dinosaur Stampede National Monument where you can view the footprints of a dinosaur stampede. Around 95 million years ago, small carnivorous coelurosaurs about the size of chickens, and slightly larger plant-eating ornithopods came to drink at a lake when a theropod began to stalk them, then turned and charged. A panicked stampede ensued, and mud and silt preserved the footprints until they were discovered in the 1960s. It’s still the only example of a dinosaur stampede in the world. You should also check out the marine fossils in the attractive little town of Boulia. And while you’re there make sure to check out the cute Min Min Encounter show that details the phenomenon of some mysterious, unexplained lights that race and float above the ground, scaring stockman and cattle alike. We tried but failed to encounter the real thing but were told by locals that “you don’t seek the Min Min lights, they seek you.” The Events I guess when you have to make your own entertainment AND when your tourist season is relatively short (April-October) due to both heat and ‘the wet’ cutting off many roads, you party hard while you can. Hence the outback calendar is full of events. We’ve just come back from a long weekend in Longreach for a new event called The Outback Queensland Masters where a series of competitive golf games takes place in six outback town courses with the last, in Mount Isa, being the culmination with a million dollar hole in one competition. Then there’s The Big Red Bash, in mid July outside of Birdsville. The world’s most remote music festival (you can listen to the podcast we did with the organiser here) attracts around 10,000 people and is growing every year. The Vision Splendid Film Festival has just taken place in Winton, lures both local and overseas talent. There’s The Julia Creek Dirt and Dust Festival, the Boulia Camel Races, The Mount Isa Rodeo, the “Melbourne Cup of the Outback” The Birdsville Races, The Territory Taste Festival and heaps more, from outback marathons to fishing comps. And finally other reasons to visit… because one day you’re going to die, because every Australian should see and know their own history, because if you don’t, you’re missing out on something truly unique – one of the oldest lands and cultures on the planet. So, get out there if you haven’t. And if you have – I’d love to hear your memories or experiences. #Outback #Travel
Episode 52: Luxury Safari Adventures in South Africa
Listen Here This episode takes you to the heart of one of the world's most luxurious game reserves. Jacques Smit, of Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve in South Africa, explains how they work with authorities and local communities to give visitors extraordinary up-close animal encounters while respecting and conserving the wildlife and ecology of the area. Leave your pre-conceptions at home - there's a lot more to safari than lions and elephants. Jacques explains how there are no fences between the wildlife and the accommodation lodges at Sabi Sabi, so it's not uncommon to have a lion on the roof of your lodge or a family of elephants drinking from your private pool. He says staff protocols unobtrusively keep guests safe while allowing the animals to roam freely. Sabi Sabi, which has been operating as a private reserve since 1979, adjoins the vast and world-famous Kruger National Park in the north-east of the country. If you've ever wondered what it's like to go on safari, worried if the animals are safe and protected, or pondered why you'd choose a private reserve for your adventure, then this is a must-listen episode for you.