A fondness for fair-dinkum Queensland fare
Australia always makes me happy. I travel with plenty of spare suitcase space, knowing I’ll shop til I drop, and I’ll have eaten my way through as many of the local delights as I possibly can.
This trip was special though; it coincided with my daughter’s 18th birthday. We have a tradition of celebrating big birthdays with travel, so getting the right spot was crucial.
After a nervous wait because of the unprecedented bush fires across New South Wales and Queensland, our flight began its descent into Brisbane, in the Gold Coast. The grey haze from thousands of kilometres of fire and smoke was tangible from a long way away. Currently, Australia is literally at the whim of which way the wind blows, and every day we were reminded of how fragile our ecosystem is. It really makes you think.
Although we had planned to visit The Farm, a self-sustaining working farm in Byron Bay, during our visit, the fires had an impact here too. After an hour of sitting in traffic as we headed towards NSW, signs warned us of several road closures, and we came to a standstill, before finally conceding defeat. Instead, we stopped at Tamborine Mountain, a Waiheke-esque hilly retreat 30 minutes from Brisbane, with wineries, walking tracks, craft shops and markets. After a quick native wildlife hunt (very obligingly, there was plenty, including lizards, brush turkeys, kookaburra, rainbow lorikeets etc etc), hunger kicked in. NaMoo is a great casual stop; the Korean-run eatery does an amazing line in bulgogi beef, and the (slightly less Korean but still delicious) chicken teriyaki. Parents had salads, kids had burgers – everyone was happy. Great drinks too – this is a good coffee and milkshake spot!
The weekend was spectacular – although, as happens every time I visit, I get frustrated at the difference in food prices. Butter is AUD$2.50, fresh juice is about $3.50, 3 litres of good milk is around $4.50 – even sunblock is $3. It’s really quite hard to swallow these prices when you live in Auckland.
Although for the most part, fruit and vegetables are on a par cost-wise when in season (although $5 for a whole, juicy, seedless watermelon? Not even when they are in glut do we see that in NZ), it’s frustrating to see how much cheaper food production can be when the system works. This isn’t the fault of our producers, most of whom are doing a champion job; we are smaller, less populated, we have less agriculture, costs are spread etc. But it’s frustrating. (And please don’t get me started on petrol costs. We travelled just over 600km in our Skoda hatchback rental on half a tank of petrol, which cost us $30. Yep, $30.)
Anyway. That aside, what really struck me was the quality in Queensland – not just of the food, but the people. Time and again, we received excellent service everywhere, from hotel and hospitality staff to supermarket workers; even the drivers don’t try to take the back of your car off when you’re attempting to reverse out of your car park. When it comes to manners and politeness – New Zealand, we need to up our game. Seriously.
While there were no low points for us, a food high point that deserves a mention is Bar 11. Under the Meriton Suites just off Queen Street, this new Manhattan-style cocktail bar is a cracker. After a couple of excellent happy hour cocktails, we ordered from the tapas and share plate menu, and it was delicious. Bao buns with sticky, juicy hoisin pork belly; karaage chicken, jalapeno fish; crispy chicken tacos, spicy chicken wings…every single dish was mouthwateringly tender, served quickly and hot, with a smile. Ask for TJ at the bar – there’s not much he can’t fix if you ask him!
We couldn’t leave Australia without a stopoff to see Australia’s most famous small marsupial – one which has in the past week been declared ‘functionally extinct’. So on the drive back to the airport, we stopped in at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. I cleverly managed to trip over a speed bump in the car park, giving myself a few bruises – but also the opportunity to talk to the staff while they cheerfully dressed my cuts and grazes. Currumbin currently takes in almost 40 koalas every day – a job which is becoming more vital every day. These koalas are the lucky ones – and just check out their daily menu!
And so we headed home, tired, with suitcases full of wine, local beer and a few cheeky clothing purchases (if only we could bring food back!). We arrived to drizzle – normally a downer, but not when you’re returning from a country that is literally dying for the sake of some rain. Are we happy to be home? Absolutely. New Zealand is beautiful; our temperate weather means we have delicious produce, and we aren’t anywhere near at the mercy of climate change. Our fresh fruit and veg are fantastic compared to so many other countries, and our growers and chefs will always have my full support. But if I could ask for one change? Could we please just be a bit more polite?