We were spoilt for choice when it came to food. There are so many cafes, pubs, restaurants and eateries – more than we had ever seen on our travels – so we aimed for either the best or the offbeat. Perhaps the kookiest thing was a soft serve ice cream from Aqua S in the city. Their specialty is sea salt ice cream, a style of ice cream from Japan. Luckily we were there for popping candy week, so we sampled their sea salt flavour with cranberry, sprinkled with pop rocks.
While we had several coffees in Sydney, we had two favourites. The first came from Mecca Espresso, a small outlet on King Street that offers cheap take aways and makes a smooth and creamy coffee. The second came from The Fine Food Store on The Rocks. We sat in and had breakfast as well – a savoury Croque Sir Grill with prosciutto, a poached egg and aioli.
Who would have thought that stuff in bread could be so good. Mr Crackles on Oxford Street in Darlinghurst is open for lunch until late in the night for all your crackly cravings. We got the Crackle Classic and BBQ Pork Roll with onion rings for an awesome lunch.
Another great lunch was thanks to Marrickville Pork Roll. This popular spot is a tiny shop that usually has a line out the front. For $4.50, you get a flavoursome Vietnamese sandwich that is good until it’s gone.
North of the harbour is Vienna Sandwiches, another little outlet that smashes out a wicked sandwich. We got the Chicken Gangnam Style sandwich and it blew our minds.
Further north along the Pittwater is Newport Chicken. It might seem like a regular take away place but the boys behind the counter seem to love what they do and make a ripper chicken burger.
We sampled Asian from both ends of the scale – cheap food court fare to high end yum cha. Our favourite food court in the city was the Market City Food Court, where we got a massive feed for around $20.
In Chatswood, we met up with fans Chris and Betty at New Shanghai and had a few plates of delicious dumplings. In the shire, we had a fancy dinner at Din Tai Fung Restaurant with Dave’s uncle and his family. Apart from dishing out some great dumplings, their fried meats and noodle dishes were amazing too.
We took a break from pizza after our Cairns Pizza Quest, but by the time we got to Sydney, we were ready. Our first pizza was from Gourmet Pizza Pantry in Gladesville. We got two large pizzas – Caprice and Tijuana – and a regular garlic pizza for $37. The Caprice was essentially a capricciosa while the Tijuana was a Mexicana with chilli con carne, jalapenos, corn chips and guacamole – both were awesome.
In the shire, we had a pizza fest at Queen Margherita’s of Savoy. These pizzas have such a thin base, that they cook in less than 90 seconds. The bases are almost like pancakes but they taste so good and the toppings are top notch quality.
We sniffed out a few breweries in Sydney, only missing out on one in the Rocks. They all had a great selection of beers but our favourites were Young Henry’s in Newtown and Batch Brewing Co in Marrickville. Check out our post about Sydney Breweries here.
Cairns is a city in tropical north Queensland and is a major tourism destination for both Australians and Internationals. We were here for around 7 months and really got to know Cairns – we even got to meet a fellow blogger, Kate Richards (AdventureMumma).
Outdoor fitness is a big focus in Cairns, with a timetable of free activities on offer along the Esplanade, like yoga, Zumba and tai chi. The Lagoon is also popular with everyone. Many locals also run along the Promenade or work out at one of the fitness stations.
One thing you’ll notice about Cairns is the smelly bats. They hang around in the trees near the library and Cairns City bus terminal during the day and once the sun starts to set, they get active and take flight to find their dinner. If you’re looking for a car park and don’t mind a bit of poop on your car, there is usually a spot or two available next to the library.
Cairns is one of the fastest growing towns in Queensland, with a population of over 151,000 people and is a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.
Over 2 million Aussie and international tourists visit Cairns every year.
The region is home to the world’s most dangerous bird – the cassowary – and the world’s largest moth – the Hercules moth.
Queensland’s highest mountain Mount Bartle Frere (1622m) is 51km to the south.
Cairns has the highest youth unemployment rate in Queensland with over 21% of 15 to 24 year olds not working (December 2014)
Cairns, like many other towns in Australia, was founded after the discovery of gold. The city was named after Sir William Wellington Cairns, an Irish fellow who was appointed the governor of Queensland in 1875, one year before Cairns was founded.
Cairns started off as an uninhabitable swamp with nothing much to offer until a railway was built to connect the coast to the Tablelands. After nearly 30 years of settlement, Cairns finally became a town in 1903 with a population of 3,500. Once the gold rush died down, the railway was used for agricultural purposes to transport fruit and dairy to the coastal flats, where the sugar cane grew and still grows to this day.
Being in the tropics isn’t all sunshine and coconuts – cyclones can sweep through at any time during the wet season and cause some serious damage. Cairns met Cyclone Willis in 1927 and Cyclone Agnes in 1956, and while both were fairly destructive, Cairns recovered.
Tourism in Cairns became a major industry in the 1980s with the opening of the international airport and listing of World Heritage areas in the surrounding rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. It is still a major tourism city that attracts visitors from all over the world who want to see the reef and explore the Daintree.
Places of Interest
Cairns Zoom and Wildlife Dome
This awesome place is located in the dome on top of the Casino. Meet some cute Aussie animals and brave the zip line and rope course above, all in one day!
The Esplanade & Marina
Cairns may be a major tourism centre but for the locals, outdoor fitness and activities make up a big part of the culture. The Esplanade is reclaimed land that has been renovated into a wonderful outdoor venue for everyone. Have a picnic on the grass, go for a run along the promenade, or have a splash in the lagoon. There are free fitness activities on every week, like yoga, volleyball or Zumba, and there is also a Saturday morning market.
The marina is just around the corner and is a great place to buy some fresh seafood straight from the fishing boats. The Pier Shopping Centre nearby has a variety of bars, restaurants and retail shops.
Rusty’s is open on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, but the best time to go for cheap fruit and vegetable is between 2pm and 4pm on Sunday. There’s a huge variety of tropical fruits, Asian greens and unusual produce. There’s also a few food trucks and stalls selling bags, bibs and bobs.
The Night Markets
On every night from 4:30pm, the night markets are accessible from the Esplanade and feature a variety of stalls from jewellery and lanolin creams to massage and souvenirs galore. The food court on the Esplanade side is a good place for a cheap feed. For $14.90, purchase an extra large tub and fill it with ALL THE FOODS – octopus, battered fish, fried prawns, omelette, everything…
Centenary Lakes Botanic Garden
A few clicks out of town you’ll find the Cairns botanic gardens. There is a beautiful rainforest section, bamboo gardens, lakes with turtles and a variety of birds and for the fabulously fit, the Red Arrow Walk will reward you with great views over the airport.
Nearby is the Tanks Art Centre, which holds monthly markets during the dry season, and the Flecker Gardens display a diverse range of tropical plants and pretty flowers – keep your eyes open for the White Bat Flower – amazing.
About 27km north of Cairns is Palm Cove – a little beach community that is popular with holiday makers and weddings. The esplanade is choc-a-block with fancy and award-winning restaurants, hotels and tourist outlets that are built around old Melaleuca trees, while the long white beach lined with palm trees is perfect for wedding photos or a great holiday snap.
We rocked up to Palm Cove just in time for the Reef Feast festival, and sampled some of the food on offer from some of the best restaurants in the village.
Behana Gorge & Walsh’s Pyramid
Walsh’s Pyramid is visible from the top of the Casino in Cairns, but it is about 28km south along the A1 highway. At 922m, it is believed to be the highest freestanding pyramid in the world, and is a part of the same mountain range as Queensland’s two highest mountains, Mount Bartle Frere (1622 m) and Mount Bellenden Ker (1593 m).
Nestled in between the peaks is Behana Gorge. Be prepared for the long walk but it’s worth it once you get to explore the gorge and cool off in the waters that make up Cairns’ water supply.
A little closer to town is a secluded swimming hole that is quite the local hotspot. Crystal Cascades is about 5km south of Redlynch and is popular during the summer months as visitors cool off in the fresh water pools.
Big Captain Cook & Big Marlin
Cairns has two Big Things – one can be seen as you drive along the Cook Highway while the other is near Stockland Shopping Centre in Earlville.
Food & Drink
Our first visit to Cairns started with a pub crawl through town, and from that venture, we can say that the Union Jack and the Courthouse Hotel are great pubs for a Sunday sesh, while the Croc Bar at the Grand Hotel is a sight to see. If you prefer to party, check out Gilligan’s.
We also went to a few trivia nights throughout the week. Thursday nights was at the Salthouse – meals and drinks are expensive but the pork belly pizza is delicious, and there are plenty of prizes to be won. Sunday nights at the Serpent Bar at Nomads on Lake Street is a very cheap night in terms of meals and drinks, but there is only one prize – a round of drinks for the winning team. Monday nights at the Red Beret in Redlynch was our favourite trivia spot – not only because it was close to home and the trivia format was good, but the chicken fajitas won Juz over. Don’t try the pizza though – Roscoe’s across the road is much better.
Here are a few other eateries worth mentioning…
If you love noodle soup and dumplings, there are two locations that are perfect. Rest assured that if the wait for a table at Ganbaranba Noodle Colosseum is too long, you can wander around the corner to Tokyo Dumpling and still be satisfied with a great value meal. Another great Asian place is BaMienVietnamese Cafe. We had visitors from Melbourne and took them here for lunch. It was a fluke that this place turned out to be fantastic. The dishes were well priced, well portioned and absolutely delicious.
Coffee lovers can head to two locations in the city – Caffiend and Smith Street Cafe. Both offer great coffee in a funky environment. If you’re after a tasty breakfast, try the Lillipad Cafe or Ozmosis near the Botanic Gardens. Lillipad has some great vegetarian options while Ozmosis gets you out of the city with their scrumptious Eggs Benedict.
Having won multiple awards, Ochre Restaurant is considered to be the best restaurant in Cairns. Juz’s awesome sister got us an Ochre gift voucher for Christmas so we got to indulge in a bit of modern Australian cuisine, like wallaby steak, Davidson plum jam and lemon myrtle sweet chilli sauce.
We were in Cairns for around 6 months and took it upon ourselves to find the best pizza. Some pizzas were too soggy, lacked flavour or were overpriced. All in all, we found some great pizzas…
Information & Accommodation
Cairns Tourist Information Centre – Cnr Alplin St & The Esplanade, Cairns. Ph: (07) 4031 1751
While we were in Cairns, we decided to go and try to find the best pizza in town. We sampled 11 pizzas from places in the city centre and surrounding suburbs, and were surprised by the amount of variation you can find. The criteria for a good pizza included choice, quality ingredients, a hardy base, great flavour and the price, as well as customer service and atmosphere.
Here is our list from worst to best…
The Red Beret
We love the Red Beret and would go there every Monday for trivia, but they provided the worst contender on our pizza quest. Poor selection on the menu, soggy base, cheap toppings, bland and overpriced. Can’t say the same about the chicken fajitas, though – they are consistently delicious.
Score: 4/10 – points earned only because it looked decent enough to coax us into buying one.
This was the second challenger on our pizza quest. We were lured in by the bargain of a large pizza for $15.
Juz’s mexicana had good flavour and a good amount of chilli but the base was soggy and doughy. The swirl of sour cream was visually appealing though. Dave wasn’t impressed with his Capricciosa. It had a soggy base, too much onion and no olives. He also had to pay extra for anchovies. Not bad if you’re on a budget but certainly not the best pizza…
Score: 6/10 – points lost because of soggy base and the Capricciosa lacked olives and having to pay extra for anchovies.
We visited La Pizza for lunch while Juz’s mum was in town. We ordered a small supreme pizza for $15.
The base was thin and well cooked with a crunchy crust, but while it wasn’t soggy, it was probably too thin to handle the toppings. The toppings were nice and fresh, but perhaps some more seasoning or garlic would have made the flavours pop. All in all, it was a little lacklustre.
Score: 6.5/10 – points lost due to floppy base and lack of flavour punch.
We drove out to the northern beaches to give Holloways Pizza a go. We got a large Italian pizza for $24 topped with bacon, pepperoni, ham, mushroom, capsicum, onion, olives and anchovies. The first thing we noticed was the base – amazing base with a lip of crust, ready to hold whatever toppings were thrown at it.
The massive let down was the toppings – everything was there but not enough. We hardly noticed any tomato sauce, anchovies were occasional and it needed more olives, salt, seasoning, something! It had so much potential but missed the mark on flavour. Also, the 40 minute wait was too long – they need to upgrade their pizza oven to accommodate for the demand on a Friday night.
Score: 7/10 – points lost due to the poor amount of toppings, lack of flavour, no Capricciosa option, steep price and long wait. All the points go to the base.
Little Ricardo’s on Sheridan Street claims to have been voted the best pizza place in Cairns and we were curious to see if this was true. Juz got a large Mexicana for $19.90 with extra olives and the toppings were spicy and spot on. Dave wasn’t as impressed with his Capricciosa ($17.90), which lacked olives and ham! Both of our pizzas had a really thin base that didn’t have the structural integrity to handle the toppings. Tasty, but not the best… However, the service was good and our waiter, Giovanni was a really friendly guy.
Score: 7/10 – points lost due to the Capricciosa lacking olives and the base was way too thin.
The next pizza is proudly brought to you by Pedro’s on Sheridan Street. We got two large pizzas, two garlic breads and a bottle of drink for around $42.
Dave’s Capricciosa was delicious, with plenty of olives and anchovies while Juz’s Mexicana was a surprise with fresh chilli and minced beef instead of ham. What really blew us away was the thick, crusty base that handled all the toppings with gusto, but it could have done with a bit more salt. In fact, the base was so thick, that we ended up saving some slices for breakfast because we were so full. Their garlic bread was also fantastic.
Score: 8/10 – points lost due to super-thick bland base that made the pizza a little dry and too filling.
Houdini’s Pizza – Best Pizza Base
This was the first pizza on our quest and was the leader for a long time. We were hoping for a Capricciosa pizza but there was no such option so we went with a pizza that we both agreed on – Houdini’s Favourite. It had a great crust that was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, while the toppings were of high quality, flavour and freshness. It cost us $21 for a large 12″ Houdini’s Favourite and we enjoyed every delicious bite.
It has been a few months since we’ve eaten there and it seems that they have since expanded their menu to include more traditional pizzas.
Score: 8/10 – points lost for lack of Capricciosa option, price and snotty customer service.
Il Forno – Best Quality Toppings
Just before our two-week hiatus in Melbourne, we drove up to Palm Cove to try the infamous Il Forno. These 12″ pizzas were $22 each which is quite dear, but the toppings were top notch quality and tasted fantastic.
Dave got the closest thing to a Capricciosa, which was the San Pietro and got extra anchovies while Juz got the mega spicy Il Forno. Both pizzas were served piping hot, too hot to touch initially. The thin base struggled to handle the toppings but was superb at the crust. Great pizza, truly… but the base was a major let down.
Score: 8/10 – point lost due to soggy base, extreme temperature when it was served and steep price.
Roscoe’s Pizza in Redlynch – Best Value for Money (Thursdays Only)
Roscoe’s in Redlynch was the closest pizza place to where we were living and we were blown away by the value. On Thursdays, they do 2 large pizzas for $20 so we opted for their Anchovy, Olive and Mushroom pizza, as well as a Salami pizza with additional olive and onion at no extra charge.
Both pizzas had a thin but hardy base that was not soggy at all. The olives were quality kalamata and there was enough anchovies and mushroom to satisfy Dave. The salami pizza had the perfect amount of cheese, and the extra toppings really set it off. Of all the pizzas we have tried in Cairns, Roscoe’s Pizza sits at the top for value.
Score: 9/10 – point lost because we suspect they don’t make their own base. It was just so neat!
Stratford Pizza – Equal Best Overall Pizza
This was the final adventure on our epic pizza quest – a little place called Stratford Pizza. Careful or you’ll miss it – it’s only open a few nights a week and is hidden away in the back streets. We’d had our eyes on this place for a while and with high hopes, we were pleasantly surprised. We ordered half and half Capricciosa and Neapolitan with bacon for $22, which was fair because of the extra charges for half and half and extra bacon.
The base was solid and the toppings delicious, plentiful and flavourful. The only thing about the pizza was that it was only cut three times instead of four, so we ended up with a massive slice each. This is easily ignored though because not only was the pizza great, but the licensed BYO courtyard had a lovely ukulele songstress serenading us with a cute tune about puppies.
Score: 9.5/10 – trivial half point lost due to incomplete slicing, but the base, toppings, flavour, price and atmosphere of the place makes it such a gem in the burbs. We highly recommend this place.
La Porchetta – Equal Best Overall Pizza
La Porchetta is conveniently located in the city centre, right next to the cinemas. We ordered a large half & half, Capricciosa and Italian for $19.50. Dave was happy with his pizza, it had all the standard ingredients and tasted great. For Juz, the Italian was the ultimate in pizza – bacon, hot salami, olives, anchovies, garlic and herbs. Wow! What a great combination of flavours. The base was nice and thin but with enough guts to hold up the toppings. Our La Porchetta Pizza rated so highly, it hit the top without hesitation.
Score: 9.5/10 – it ticked all the flavour boxes. Half point off for staff lazing around on couches.
We’d like to introduce a local blogger in Cairns – Kate Richards. She is a mum to 2 very active kids, prefers the great outdoors to crafting or cooking any day. She is also an adventure and social media junkie, photographer & videographer. A true local of Tropical North Queensland and love sharing family adventures.
We asked her, if she has $100 and a day to spend in Cairns with a friend, what would she do? Here are her suggestions…
2. Check out the Esplanade Markets that run Saturday from 8am-4pm right next to the Lagoon. If you need to have a shower after your workout, there are facilities next to the lagoon.
3. Catch the 131 bus from the Cairns City bus station on Lake Street to the Botanic Gardens. Single paper tickets are $4.80 per person and are valid for two hours. On Saturdays, the 131 bus leaves the Cairns City bus station every hour on the hour and takes 15 mins to get too the Botanic Gardens.
4. Explore the Botanic Gardens, climb Red Arrow for views of Cairns and the Northern Beaches, then check out the Tanks Art Centre for local Art Exhibitions (10-2pm).
5.Catch the bus back to the Cairns City bus station and head to Rusty’s Fruit Market for lunch at one of the Rusty’s Food Trucks on the Sheridan St side.
From here there are two options – the relaxing option and the adventurous option.
The Relaxing Option
6. While you’re at Rusty’s, grab some fresh fruit & vegetables (for a BBQ later) from the market stalls.
7. Walk back to the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon & take a dip in the lagoon. Listen to some live music on the lawns (2-5pm).
8. Visit Prawn Star at the Cairns Marina for some Fresh Local Seafood for dinner. Purchase a kilo of Banana Prawns for $25 with lemon. Ask for a tub of their special Prawn Star Sauce.
9. Cook dinner on the BBQs on the Cairns Esplanade.
10. Use your leftover to enjoy a cocktail and schooner of Little Creatures at the Salthouse.
The Wildlife Option
6. After lunch, head to the Cairns Wildlife Dome for an interactive experience with some native animals.
7. Share a large pizza from Oasis Kebab for dinner.
8. Head to the Salthouse for a pair of Great Northern schooners to wrap up the day.
We were expecting to linger around Cooktown for two nights before heading to Cairns for work, but just as we were making plans, a fantastic opportunity presented itself. The owner of a local farm needed some help for the week, and it was just the kind of experience we were looking for. Now that we were locked in to stay in Cooktown for a week, we had a little more time to get to know the town and the locals.
Cooktown is the northernmost town on the east coast of Australia
It sits at the mouth of the Endeavour River, named by Captain James Cook after his ship
There are two seasons – the wet during December to April, and the dry from May to November.
The region is very rich in biodiversity because it covers three major ecozones, and therefore is a place of interest for botanists.
The traditional owners call the region Gan gaar, which means place of the rock crystals because of all the quartz crystals.
In 1770, Captain James Cook arrived and moored the Endeavour at the mouth of the Endeavour River for shelter and repairs after running aground on the Great Barrier Reef. As the repairs were underway, botanist Joseph Banks and naturalist Daniel Solander explored the area and collected over 200 species of plants for documentation, and they also learnt words from the local people, like ganguru (kangaroo). There was an artist on board, Sydney Parkinson, who was the first British person to draw Aboriginal people from direct observation.
In 1872, gold was discovered on the Palmer River southwest of Cooktown and the site was populated by many diggers from all over the world. Cooktown was selected as the port through which the gold was exported and supplies were imported. Two years later, Cooktown’s population grew to approximately 4,000 people and it was established as a town.
These days, Cooktown’s population is less than 2,000. It has reached the status of a tourist destination because of its relaxed atmosphere and proximity to Cape York, the Great Barrier Reef, Lakefield National Park and the rainforest.
Points of Interest
The James Cook Museum
Whether you’re interested in the landing of James Cook in 1770 or not, a stroll through this fantastic museum is a must. See the original anchor of the Endeavour, learn about Cooktown’s Chinese history and local aboriginal culture, and discover the original use of the museum building. Fascinating stuff…
Nature’s Powerhouse & Botanic Gardens
Essentially, Nature’s Powerhouse is Cooktown’s Visitor Information Centre. Get a map, stroll through the neighbouring Botanic Gardens or have a toasted sanga and a coffee on the deck.
The gallery and museum are also worth checking out if you’re interested in flora and fauna. The Charles Tanner Gallery is a great exhibit of local animals such as snakes, bats, lizards and butterflies. The displays were both interesting and educational. The Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery pays tribute to an artist and botanist. While we were there, they were showing the ‘Botanical Endeavour’ – Sir Joseph Banks’ Florilegium Exhibition from 1770.
OMG – one of the best lookouts we have come across on our journey. Stunning views of the surrounding mountains, the Endeavour River and Cooktown. Amazing.
Follow Finch Bay Road all the way to the end, past the Botanic Gardens, and you’ll arrive at Finch Bay. It’s is a great little beach with an estuary. We saw a big crab in the shallows and wished that we’d had a net with us to scoop him up!
About 25km south of Cooktown is Black Mountain National Park. It is a massive pile of granite rocks that has developed over the last 260 million years. Due to an unusual joining patter in the granite, fracturing and exposure to water has caused erosion and weathering of the boulders, but while the surface is just a mess of boulders, the solid granite core is underneath. There are three animals that are completely unique to the park – the Black Mountain boulderfrog, skink and gecko – making Black Mountain one of the most restricted habitats in Australia.
The early settlers and local indigenous folks both have stories and rumours about quite a few people (often criminals) venturing into the caves among the giant black boulders and getting lost. Whilst the people have never been seen again, the locals reckon you sometimes still hear them…
Food & Drink
This was the first pub we visited, and for a Saturday afternoon, it was fairly busy. Then we remembered – AFL Grand Final weekend. We sat outside in the beer garden and had a lovely lunch of pizza and parma before getting on with the rest of the day.
More like cranky-pants café! The owner of the store had a serious attitude problem, but the coffee was good, which is why people keep coming back. We found out later that the owner had had a tiff with his partner the night before and was therefore in a particularly cranky-pants mood that day.
The Italian (aka De Wogs)
Opposite the road from the Top Pub is a popular Cooktown institution that dishes out mountains of risotto and pasta, tasty pizzas made with fresh ingredients, as well as Chinese food at a dearer than average price. While Juz’s soggy but yummy parma lacked ham and chips, Dave’s capricciosa pizza was perfection, but to be perfectly honest, neither seemed to justify the price.
The Lions Den Hotel
About 30km south of Cooktown is an old pub called the Lions Den. It’s named after a mine in the area, which got its name when a stowaway named Daniel was working at the mines and while standing at the entrance of one of the tunnels, the mine’s owner said, “Daniel in the Lions Den”.
The pub has plenty of character, with scribbles, business cards and stickers all over the walls, as well as old hats, thongs, license plates and stubbie holders.
Information & Accommodation
Nature’s Powerhouse is on Finch Bay Road and is open from 9 am to 4:30 pm. Contact them for information about Cooktown by emailing email@example.com
Pam’s Place YHA – on the corner of Boundary and Charlotte Street. To make a reservation, call 4069 5166 or email firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.yha.com.au/Hostels/QLD/Cairns-and-Far-North-Queensland/Cooktown/
About 15km south of Cooktown is the turnoff for Archer Point. Continue along the dirt road until you get to the end. It’s a great place to camp provided you don’t set up right on a headland. The wind is strong and constant, but the views at sunset are breathtaking.
No visit to Cooktown is complete without checking out the Top Pub.
Because we arrived in Cooktown on AFL Grand Final weekend, the pub was packed with rough sheilas and burly men in wife-beaters and short shorts. We later found out that for a more classy experience, you have to go to the Sovereign because the Cooktown Hotel is for bogans.
After ordering our food, we sat outside in the beer garden because all the tables inside were occupied. Dave’s pizza came out first. It looked fantastic and was topped with plenty of olives and anchovies, but it missed getting top marks because of the canned mushrooms. That said though, for the $12 it cost, he was suitably impressed.
The pizza was devoured and gone by the time Juz’s parma arrived. Right off the bat, it was clear that it was a factory chicken breast because it was heart-shaped. It also lacked ham, which was tragic because it could have really done with that extra dimension of flavour, and the tomato sauce seemed to be bottled Bolognese sauce with a few sprinkles of dried Italian herbs. No matter – it was a tasty and perfectly sized lunch with great chips and scrumptious salad.
We were very excited when we rolled into Coober Pedy. It had been on our list of things to do for ages, and after delays in Darwin and Alice Springs, we were finally here!
When the town came into view, it was very much what we expected – dry and dusty, with buildings built into the sides of the Stuart Ranges. As we cruised through town, we understood why Coober Pedy is the Opal Capital of the World. There were opal shops everywhere, as well as old blower wrecks and noodling mounds. Nearly everything was opal related.
We had a look around, ate lunch at John’s Pizza Bar, filled up on some cheap diesel (cheaper than Alice Springs) and headed back to the Oodnadatta Track.
In 1915, Jim Hutchinson, his son William, and two other blokes went to Coober Pedy to look for gold. While the men were out looking for water, William found an opal. Eight days later, the first opal claim was pegged. In 1920, the site was renamed from the Stuart Range Opal Field to Coober Pedy, an anglicised version of the aboriginal words ‘kupa piti’, which means ‘white man in hole’.
After the Great Depression in the 1930s and 1940s, opal prices went down and mining came close to stopping until 1946 when an Aboriginal woman named Tottie Bryant found opal at the Eight Mile Field. This rejuvenated the opal industry and Coober Pedy developed into a modern mining town.
Australia supplies about 95% of the world’s commercial opal and 70% of that comes from Coober Pedy.
Most of the opal that’s found is called potch – dull opal – but the other 10% is beautifully coloured and is qualified as precious.
The population of Coober Pedy stands at around 3,500 people, with about 60% being European.
The soldiers who returned from WW1 introduced the idea of living in a dugout – an underground home. Underground home temperatures remain at a steady 24ish °C throughout the year, whereas the outside temperatures can exceed 40°C during summer. About 50% of the population live underground, and in case you’re wondering, a new underground house with five rooms can be constructed for around $25,000.
Points of Interest
The Big Winch
Sitting at the top of the hill that overlooks the town, The Big Winch is old and rundown. While Juz went over to check it out, Dave was hijacked by a clingy man from Hong Kong who did his best to sell us some opals from his own private mine shaft but ended up scaring us away instead.
This was a fascinating stop with heaps of historical information about the area. The museum was fitted into an old opal mine, and while they offer guided tours, we saw ourselves around.
There was a great section with prehistoric bones of animals that lived in an ancient inland sea and there were also opals for sale. We learnt about triplet, doublet, and solid opals but walked away empty handed because everything was very expensive.
Saint Peter & Paul’s Catholic Church
The first underground catholic church in Coober Pedy. When we walked in, we found that it had the same chlorine smell as all the other underground places we visited that day, but unlike other churches with high ceilings and cavernous halls, the St Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church is a little claustrophobic. We didn’t spend much time in there.
If you want to try and find some opals yourself, there is a public noodling area to the north of town that consists of dry, dusty mounds of dirt. We knew we would have no luck finding opals because we have no idea what to look for so we decided it was time for lunch.
The term ‘noodling’ evolved from ‘noduling’, looking for nodules of opal in the rock.
John’s Pizza Bar
We chose this place for lunch because of the awesome prices, but the food is also awesome and the venue is licensed. We enjoyed cheap wine and beer with our cheap steak sandwich and yiros, which were the perfect size to satisfy our midday hunger.
About 30 km north of Coober Pedy is a string of low hills that have ‘broken away’ from the Stuart Ranges. The main feature is the Castle, or ‘Salt and Pepper’, two outcrops – one is solid white while the other is a sandy, yellow colour. This landmark has featured in films such as Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome.
The Painted Desert
On the road between Coober Pedy and Oodnadatta is a turnoff for the Painted Desert. This beautiful and desolate landscape of white, yellow, red and purple soil sits right in the middle of nowhere. The road in and out was in good condition without too many corrugations so the diversion is well worth it.
Once we were done with Coober Pedy, we headed back to the Oodnadatta Track via William Creek. The road was good, and it would have been a smooth ride if we didn’t have to watch out for silly bush chooks that went out of their way to run in front of the Troopy. Lucky for them our brakes work, otherwise they wouldn’t have lived to see another day.
After receiving the shocking wakeup call that we we’re suddenly south of the Tropic of Capricorn, we rolled into Alice Springs cold and hungry. Our first stop was pizza, then a hot shower at the town centre before a beer at the pub. We then made contact with our first Helpx host.
Alice Springs is sits in the heart of Australia’s Red Centre and is flanked by the MacDonnell Ranges on either side. With a red sandy desert stretching for kilometers in all directions, Alice is an iconic Australian town and is the gateway to Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon.
Alice Springs is the third largest town in the Northern Territory
The population sits at around 28,000, which is about 12% of the Territory’s population
Alice Springs supposedly has 270 mm of rain a year but 70% of years are below average. It’s a land of droughts and flooding rains
Arrernte are the original inhabitants, who refer to Alice as Mparntwe, and believe that the MacDonnell Ranges were carved by giant caterpillar spirits during the creation time. They took care of the land until European settlement.
The town first started off as a telegraph station for the Overland Telegraph Line. This line follows the expedition route of John McDouall Stuart, who crossed Australia from south to north in 1862. Just over 20 years later, a boom in population would be caused by the discovery of alluvial gold at Arltunga, about 100km east of Alice Springs.
Camels were integral for the survival of people living in Central Australia and were used to transport wool and provisions to Alice and the surrounding sheep and cattle stations, missions and aboriginal communities, as well as to pull ploughs to build dams. Camel trains would travel over 600km from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs to bring supplies to Alice Springs, but once the railway line between Alice and Adelaide was completed in 1929, the camels were released, and with more motor and air transport flowing through the region, the isolation of Alice dissipated.
If it wasn’t for the cameleers and the camels, Alice Springs wouldn’t not have survived, and to celebrate, The Camel Cup is raced every year.
Until the early 1930s, the location of the town was actually called Stuart, while a nearby waterhole was called Alice Springs after Lady Alice Todd, the wife of Sir Charles Todd. The telegraph station was built next to the spring and this caused a bunch of confusion for administrators down in Adelaide, so in 1933, Stuart was officially gazetted as Alice Springs.
These days, the town is full of nice hotels, restaurants, Aboriginal art galleries and well over 25,000 inhabitants.
Places of Interest
Telegraph Station Historical Reserve
The reserve is where the actual Alice Spring is, a little waterhole named after Lady Alice Todd. The old buildings of the telegraph station are still there, and you can pay to explore the station, or you can just look at the building from the other side of the fence. There are a number of walking trails from the station that lead into the bush but beware, they aren’t very clearly marked and you may find yourself walking for hours in the wrong direction.
If you’re fit and keen for a decent climb, then head west along Larapinta Drive until you come across Flynn’s Grave. This is the starting point for the trail that challenges Mount Gillen and depending on your fitness, this activity will take 2-3 hours.
The peak of Gillen can be seen from town and leans over the landscape like a wave about to break. The return trip is just under 5km and takes you up nearly 300 metres. It’s a tough hike but once you hit the peak, you’re on top of the world.
Anzac Hill Lookout
If you’re not game to challenge the mountain, then maybe a hill is more to your liking. Anzac Hill Lookout is right in the centre of town and gives great views of the surrounding area. It’s really popular at sunset.
Alice Springs Reptile Centre
This is a must see attraction in Alice Springs. You get to meet a variety of reptiles, including snakes, goannas and blue tongue lizards. We absolutely loved our time at the Reptile Centre – check out our post here.
Todd Mall Markets
Every second Sunday, Todd Mall is lined with market stalls selling clothes, crafts and yummy foods. It’s a great opportunity to loiter around for breakfast, purchase some Italian biscuits or to grab a coffee and a bargain. If you’re a market fiend, every alternate Sunday is the Heavitree Gap Market, next door to the tavern.
Finke Desert Race
This is Australia’s great desert race. For four days over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, cars, quads, bikes and buggies flood the town and kick up the dirt and attempt the two day, off road, multi terrain race from Alice Springs to the Aputula community.
We went along to the Prologue day on Saturday and the Finishing day on Monday to support our mate, Tony from Loveday 4×4 Adventure Park. While he was coming first in his class on the first day, he busted a shocker on the second day and rolled in last, 3 minutes before the finishing deadline.
Alice Springs Beanie Festival
One of the worlds’ most unique festivals, the Alice Springs Beanie Festival runs for four days and features thousands of the most creative and colourful beanies you’ll ever see. We were lucky enough to be in town for the event and thought it was really special. Check out our post here.
Lasseters Camel Cup
This annual fundraising event has a reputation that precedes it. If you’re lucky enough to be in town for this kooky occasion, attend! You won’t regret it – check out our post here.
Henley On Todd Regatta
One of the kookiest events we’ve ever been to, the Henley On Todd Regatta occurs annually in Alice Springs and takes place on the dry bed of the Todd River. Check out our post here.
Food & Drink
There is not a lot of choice in Alice Springs, but there are a few places where you can get a good feed. Uncle’s Tavern in the centre of town is an easy location for a beer and a relatively cheap feed, Outback Kebabs is good when they’re actually open and ice cream lovers can head to Uncle Edy’s Ice Cream for an awesome selection of flavours to suit anybody. For great fish and chips, you can’t beat Eastside Fish and Chips, and if you’re craving for pie, Wicked Kneads near Coles will satisfy. Here are a few of our favourites…
For the truly hungry, you can’t go past the Gillen Club. Expect to pay around $20 for lamb shanks, chicken parmigiana, or salt and pepper squid, which is a pretty good deal, and with every meal, you get all you can eat at the salad bar. Check out our post here.
If you’re looking for a great place for breakfast and an even better place to relax with a cocktail in the evenings, then check out Epilogue. Located on Todd Mall in Alice Springs, it combines hipster coffee culture with a shabby chic cocktail bar, complete with chandeliers and a great tapas menu.
Our first encounter was for Saturday morning breakfast. We perused the menu of Mexican-style breakfasts and both settled on the breakfast burrito. After we ordered our food and coffee, we sat outside in the toasty sun.
The coffees were surprisingly fast to arrive, and Juz’s soy latte was topped with the most delectable layer of microfoam. Dave’s macchiato was fantastic too. Expectations were high for the food.
Shortly afterwards, our burritos arrived. Two halves stacked on top of each other, stuffed with scrambled eggs, bacon, guacamole, salsa and beans with a side of chilli sauce. While there was definitely enough food and it was well prepared and presented, Juz was hoping for a little more POW from the chilli sauce and the guacamole, but putting her fussy tastes aside, it was a good breakfast.
The second time we went to Epilogue, it was to meet up with Amanda and Gary from Travel Outback Australia. We had a wonderful night of conversation, food and wine. The first thing we sampled was the espresso martini. This was absolutely delicious and set us up for the rest of the night. We also ordered two pizzas – the mexitarian and duck pizza. These were absolutely fantastic in flavour and valued at $16 each. We also got some nachos which were fresh and great to share, as well as some pork meatballs.
We visited a third time when our friend Jenny from Lorella Springs was in Alice Springs for a day. We took her to all the important places like Mount Gillen, Anzac Hill and the Reptile Centre, and before dropping her off at her hostel for the night, we took her to Epilogue for a drink while the open mic session provided entertainment.
We were cold, we were hungry, and we had just rocked up in Alice Springs. We set our priorities straight and went to the first pizza shop we could find, Rocky’s Pizza. Operation Pepperoni was immediately in full force.
We approached the counter and ordered a large half’n’half pizza with capricciosa and mexicana for $20. The friendly Italian behind the counter told us to take a seat and he’d bring it out when it was ready.
We sat outside, despite the freshness in the air. Juz was first to break.
“I need to go to the toilet… be back soon”
She found a public toilet at the Town Centre, sorted out her business and returned to the table to wait with Dave.
“I need to go too – where was the toilet?”
“Over there… if the pizza comes out before you get back, I’m not waiting.”
All of this happened within the space of about 10-15 minutes, and Dave still had time to come back before the pizza appeared.
It was glorious – we hadn’t seen a pizza this beautiful in over a year. It didn’t stand a chance.
Once slice, two slice, three slice NOM! The fourth slice, well… it was history. We sat back, fully satisfied. Who would have thought we would hit the jackpot on the first eatery we entered in Alice Springs? We had high hopes for what else this town had to offer… but until then, we were happy with pizza as a staple.
Little Creatures was established in 2000 by the same guys who ran Matilda Bay Brewery. The name was inspired by the album of the same name by Talking Heads, and refers to the yeast that turns the sugars in the wort into alcohol. Over the last 12 years, it has become Fremantle’s #1 tourist destination, is a major part of the Fremantle community and has spread its empire to the other side of the country, all the way to Fitzroy in Melbourne.
We were really excited to go on the brewery tour, which runs daily between 1pm and 3pm. Our tour guide Sean was great and talked about the beginnings of the brewery, the processes involved in making Little Creatures beer, and we even got a tasting session at the end.
The building was originally built as a boatshed before being turned into a crocodile farm. When Little Creatures took over, they wanted to transform the place into a brewery with a cellar door feel. We think they’ve achieved this quite nicely with beer being served to the public directly out of 4000L fermentation tanks, and the feeding platforms from the old crocodile farm are now being used as platforms by happy diners enjoying a beer and a meal.
Little Creatures have been brewing in Fremantle since 2000 – when they first started, they used small 30L kegs and delivered their beer to local pubs in their Kombi Ute ‘Elsie’. In 2008, another brewery in Healesville was started and they shipped their original equipment to Victoria to establish the White Rabbit Brewery. They are currently setting up a brewery in Geelong to supply the east coast of Australia while the Fremantle brewery focuses on the WA supply.
The beer making process is relatively standard. After they crush and shell the malt, it is mixed with hot water in the mash tun to make a porridge that will break down into sweet wort. This wort is separated from the porridge and the byproduct leftover is sent to local farms to feed their cows.
The filtered wort then undergoes sterilisation in the kettle before being hopped, filtered, and hopped again. Fresh hop flowers are added to the wort via a hop vat, of which only three are in Australia, and Little Creatures own all three of them.
Finally, the hopped wort is left to ferment – ale about 12 days to ferment while the pilsner needs about 21 days – and then it is packaged and distributed.
After the tour, we sampled the Little Creatures range, including an exclusive small batch.
Small Batch Shepherd’s Delight Red IPA – 6.4% a golden orange beer with a fruity, sweet smell and subtle smoke flavours, mandarin and some gentle hops, despite the 5 varieties of hops they use.
Pilsner – 4.6% Little Creatures’ only lager that uses 100% barley malt. Zesty and fruity with sweetness and a crisp, refreshing yeasty finish.
Bright Ale – 4.5% a fruity and sweet golden ale with gentle hops and a clean finish.
Rogers – 3.8% an amber ale with gentle hops and sweet caramelised malt that gives the yeast less sugar to eat, thus a lower alcohol beer.
Pale Ale – 5.2% the first Little Creatures beer. An American style pale ale with tropical fruits, a good body and sweet finish.
Pipsqueak Apple Cider – 5.2% The cider is made from granny smith and pink lady apples that have been fermented with sauvignon blanc yeast. Apple juice is added to the end product to adjust the alcohol content and reduce the tartness of the cider, creating a fresh and crisp taste with the perfect balance of sweetness and a tart bite.
White Rabbit White Ale – 4.5% Juz’s favourite beer. A cloudy Belgian style white beer with light malt, orange peel, coriander and juniper, it is an absolute pleasure to drink.
We were lucky enough to be at Little Creatures during their Thursday Firkin Night, which involves tasting a new beer. We sampled a brew that was a combination of American and Belgion style beers – Small Batch Quiet American and Little Creatures Pale Ale. It was quite sweet with lots of herbs and spices and very easy to drink.
The dining hall of the brewery is set right in the middle of the entire operation. We thought it was really cool that when you approach the bar and ask for a beer, it is served directly from a 4000L fermentation tank that is suspended over the bar.
The walls are lined with booth seating and there were beer gardens at either end of the hall. All food is made from fresh, local produce with the intention to ‘support the small guy’, and there are 55 people working in the kitchen to push out up to 6 tonnes of delicious food each week.
We started off with a big bowl of frites with garlic aioli. Each addictive chip was well seasoned and cut in a rustic fashion. They had a buttery crunch that made us assume that they used a waxy variety of potato to give it a creamy texture, but there was another flavour that we couldn’t quite put our finger on – it must be awesomeness.
Pizzas were next – Italian pork and fennal sausage with bocconcini and Harissa spiced lamb with feta and melanzane. The Italian pork sausage pizza was covered in tomato sauce with a young acidic flavour that overpowered the flavour of the sausage. The bocconcini was mild and added a great texture. The harissa lamb pizza was full of exotic flavours and spice with a generous sprinkle of salty feta. The base of both pizzas was crisp and well cooked without any sogginess.
After the pizzas, we ordered a plate of refried bean nachos to share. It was piled high like an ugly mountain of red, green and yellow, but despite the amount of toppings, each corn chip was still super crisp. The beans were hot and spicy and generated some great warmth in the chest while the sour cream and guacamole were cool enough to extinguish the flame. The jalapeños were a burst of juicy zing and it wasn’t long before the plate was empty.
The Little Creatures Brewery is located on Mews Road in Fremantle and is open everyday for tours of the brewery, and for brunch, lunch and dinner. Stop by for a quick bite and brew or make a night of it with friends and a few pints of your favourite ale.
We rolled into Robe at around lunchtime and realised it was quite a hospitable town. Victoria Street is full of restaurants, cafes and pubs so we promised ourselves to stick around and sample the local fare.
The town sits on Guichen Bay and was founded in 1846 by the South Australian Government. It ended up being the place where thousands of Chinese hopefuls looking for their fortune landed to prepare for their pilgrimage to the Victorian Goldfields in the 1850s.
The beach and view of the bay was stunning, and the clouds seem to be different compared to those in Victoria.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Robe Visitor Centre & Library
The lovely people at the visitor centre are more than happy to provide a plethora of information about the local attractions and excellent fishing spots. You can pick up maps, tide guides and brochures that give you an indication of allowed fish sizes and quantities, as well as hire bikes for free so you can tour around town at your own pace.
The visitor centre is also the library and offers free wifi in a quiet and air-conditioned atmosphere. Across the road is a public toilet block with cold showers, just in case you need to de-funkify yourself.
This 40ft tall structure was built in 1855 and was originally all white. The seamen complained that it was difficult to see while out on the ocean because the limestone cliffs were also lightly coloured. The red stripes were introduced in 1862 to make it more visible and the Obelisk is now visible from 20km away on a clear day.
A boutique roasting house and espresso bar just on the outskirts of town that sells coffee beans, tea, coffee percolators, plungers and grinders. Mahalia Layzell started roasting her own coffee in 1999 and since then, her empire has grown to supply selected outlets around Australia.
This quaint little outlet was built over 100 years ago and was originally used as a tailor’s workshop. The cellar door for Waterhouse Range Vineyard is located here, which was established in 1995 on terra rossa soil about 15km east of Robe. They create a variety called Governor Robe Selections, and while their Chardonnay was fresh and fruity with flavours of nectarine and peach, the 2006 Merlot won us over. It was light and juicy with a gorgeous garnet colour; perfect for the warm weather. The 2005 Shiraz had a little more body and spice with lots of dark fruit flavours, but was a little rich for the 30 degree heat.
“We wish you health, wealth and happiness”
Robe is a huge fishing town with a variety of locations to drop a line. There are lakes and beaches, jetties and breakwaters or rugged cliffs where you can catch bream, flathead, flounder, whiting, salmon trout and a bunch of other good ‘uns.
We gave the lakes a go – Lake Nunan in particular – with the hope of catching some bream, but because our fishing schedule was out of sync with the tides, we had no luck.
The information centre has free bike hire! Make a booking and take the bikes for a spin around town. Check out Lake Butler, the Obelisk and Old Gaol before cruising down Victoria Street. It’s a healthy and environmentally friendly way to explore the town.
FOOD & ACCOMMODATION
This is the one café in Robe that is supplied by mahalia coffee, and they sure know how to brew a cup! We stopped in briefly for a caffeine fix and found ourselves enjoying a smooth, creamy and tasty latte, compliments of mahalia coffee.
Pizza time! We shared a medium pizza, half capricciosa and half Amazon.
The Capriciossa was topped with mushroom and fresh anchovies, not the super-salty ones out of the jar. They were fresh little suckers and absolutely divine to bite into.
The Amazon pizza was topped with both fresh and semi-dried tomato, goats cheese, olive and basil. Apart from being very tomato-y, the cheese provided a tart but creamy dimension and the basil was a fresh relief.
The oldest pub in town, the ‘Cally’ was established in 1859 and built from the wood of two shipwrecks that crashed upon Robe shores. The insides have a truly traditional feel, with timber struts and support beams, old wooden floors and rustic limestone walls.
We ate dinner here – Dave ordered the fisherman’s basket while Juz got the ‘parmi’. They came out quick and looked incredible!
Both plates had standard cut chips that were well seasoned with a salad that included mushrooms, cucumber and tomato. Dave’s plate was full of deep-fried goodies like calamari, scallops, prawns and fish, while Juz’s ‘parmi’ was a little different from a Melbourne ‘parma’. It was topped with a sauce that was more like roasted capsicum than Napoli sauce, and there was no ham. Regardless, our dinners were delicious and were washed down with some liquid gold.