The Grampians

I woke to the sound of angel piss. The flawless azure sky that faded as I prepared for bed the night before had, at some time during the dark, boiled into a wet blanket of cloud extending to every horizon.  I ate a quick bacon and egg sandwich at the motel café and rode the ferry across the Mighty Murray.

My 5-hour drive from Mannum to The Grampians consisted of a survey of one variety of rain or another.  The primary road (A8) is pastoral, but over all an entirely miss able experience…until suddenly the horizon rises up steeply in the Grampian Ranges.

In stark contract to the outback I have been through so far (tropical wetlands and central desert) the Grampians is a cool climate granite based forest, not a large or perhaps well know as The Rockies, but certainly similar in flavor. Basically sharp jutting peaks and outcrops surrounded by dense ferny woodlands teaming with wilderness.

Being not made of sugar (but so sweet you would be hard pressed to know it) I took every opportunity to walk on my way over the western range, until I finally settled into Halls Gap in the evening. The Halls Gap YHA is a special place all its own. An “Eco” minded hostel that is very clean and comfortable, and has an herb garden to boot.

Given the location, the many hikes earlier in the day, and the chilly rain, I settled into the Hostel kitchen to make one of my all-time favorite dishes, Risi e Bisi, a wonderful Italian minestra of risotto and peas.  If you are inclined to hostel it (backpacker for you Aussies) this is a great simple dish.

200 gm Arborio Rice

600-700ml Broth (can be from bullion, usually chicken)

2 TBL Olive Oil

Half Small Onion Minced

2 Clove Garlic Minced

200 gm Fresh or Frozen Peas

75 gm Parmesan

Salt & Pepper to taste.

1. Bring the broth to simmer in a stock pot.

2. In a deep sauté pan bring he oil to heat and add the onion

3. Add in the onion and cook to translucent then add in the garlic.

4. After the garlic becomes translucent add in the dry rice, and cook just a minute, stirring frequently.

5. If you like you can deglace with a splash of white wine, but it is not necessary.

6. Begin stirring in the hot stock, adding just enough to cover the rice.

7. AT THIS POINT YOU MUST STIR THE RIOTTO FREQUENTLY. The risotto gets its creamy texture because as you stir you are “rinsing” the starch from the outside of the rice and that is adding gloss and thickening the soup.

8. Add the stock step by step until the rice is just a little dry to bite (about 15 min) then stir in the peas.

9. The peas should cook in just a few minutes, and the risotto should still have quite a lot of broth in it.

10. When the risotto is al dente (an Dante) kill the heat and keep stirring.  Remember this is minestra (a thick soup or stew) so it should be brothy.

11. Stir in the Parmesan until it dissolves. At this point the soup should be thick but soupy (Some people also like to stir in fresh herbs, and/or butter at this point).

12. Serve, eat and enjoy.

Kings Canyon

Our third day of travel was my favorite but a fair measure. We gathered firewood on our way in and made late camp in the most rustic camp at the Kings Canyon Resort area, this is where we had Dutch oven meals.

The Morning hike up, around, into, through, and over Kings Canyon was glorious. It encompassed very challenging steep climb up the left wall, a walk around the top to the back, a climb down to the water holes, then back up and around the top of the right wall. All in all about 7 kilometers of very rugged foot work. As with all our walks Carl stopped from time to time to give us nature lessons, tell stories of the traditional people and so fourth.

Along the south wall walk, our mob got a good laugh as I set up my camera to take a timed shot of me sitting on a surf board looking boulder. The reason for the laugh was that I had to run and run climbing to get up to the place before the timer went off. As it was I just made it, and everyone enjoys seeing a fat guy run.

Kata Tjuta

The tour I am on is the Australian Adventure Tour 4 day outback safari. Compared to the previous tour this one was more to my liking. We camped each night in swags (bedrolls) under 100,000,000,000,000,000 stars, ate good but simple bush tucker, that we helped to prepare, and took lovely but challenging bush hikes every day.

Our first day we drove 380km down to our Yalaru camp which is situated in the area of Uluru and Kata Tjuta. After a lunch of burgers we headed out to an 8km hike around that dozens of domes of Kata Tjuta, into and through the Valley of the Winds.

This is beautiful country, again reminiscent of Arizona, but more like red rock country around Sedona, and in some ways (due to the wind erosion) a bit like Bad Lands South Dakota. The landscape has a surreal quality to it; it would be easy to imagine being on some planet other than Earth.

Our guide Carl, is something of a mad bushmen himself, with his mop of dreadlocks and his small wiry frame, claiming to have slept our under the stars for every day in the past 7 years. He is a good guide who is a bit of a prankster, but very well studied in the geology, history, botany, and culture lore of the area. Having a highly knowledgeable guide can add great value to the experience.