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Let's go OTBT in Australia

OTBT? That's Off The Beaten Track!

Note: some people in other countries might say that the whole of Australia is off the beaten track!


B&B-ing in Bemboka, NSW


Bemboka is a tiny community on the road to Cooma. Where's that? Southern New South Wales, near the snowfields but at a much lower elevation, and near the coast.

What it lacks in size it makes up for with a vibrant and energetic food scene, much of it due to one man, chef Patrick Reubinson. February saw him cooking for and coordinating the Bemboka Banquet at which 150 locals enjoy a sumptuous buffet of dishes made from ingredients sourced from within ten kilometres!

If you missed that, relax. Check into Stroudover Cottage for a night or two and you can choose to have Patrick come to the cottage and cook your dinner. During winter he is offering the exceptional Stroudover Cottage seven-course truffle menu for a minimum number of four people. He is proud that this is the only place on the Sapphire Coast offering a truffle menu experience.


When we visited, our meal began with white asparagus soup and homemade sourdough bread and included this delicious pie made with tender local venison, served with local seasonal vegetables. Raspberry brulee, sweetened with honey (local of course) and topped with meringue, finished the meal.

One word: delicious!



Dreamtime Gorge, Queensland

The sun set just as our ten-seater plane connected with the grass runway. George, the pilot, breathed a sigh of relief, and so did we - it had been touch and go to get to Bandanna airstrip, a four-hour flight from Mackay in north Queensland, before dark.

There were no lights on the strip of course, but the staff at the nearby Oasis Lodge assured us they had come down earlier and 'shooed the cows off '. Great!

This lodge guards the entrance to southern central Queensland's Carnarvon Gorge, an 11km gash through ancient sandstone. To the Aboriginal people it was a significant spiritual site and they honoured it with reverence, decorating it with paintings to record their mythology. Today their stencilled handprints are some of the best-preserved examples of this ancient and primitive form of self-expression and people come from around the world to see them.

Deep in the gorge, past tree ferns and over numerous smooth-rock river crossings of Carnarvon Creek the only water that dribbles through the rift, is near one section of rock-face called simply 'the art gallery'.

Here, once your eyes adjust after the brilliance of the gorge, you begin to make out innumerable pictures, all with a cryptic significance and messages sadly lost on most who see them now. Further still is the Cathedral Cave and back a bit is the stunning Amphitheatre, big enough once you get in there, but almost hidden by a mere metre-wide opening. One of the most extensive art sites is at Ward's Canyon, and others reported great views from the lookout on Boolimba Bluff.

Carnarvon Gorge is both subtle and wild. There is fragile beauty at the Moss Garden, but this is topped by the drama of huge bluffs thrusting through the palms above it; pretty-face wallabies and roos fearlessly check out the cabins at the lodge, but there are also rare birds and exotic tree ferns in the gorge which require patient searching to locate them; parts of this country are as challenging for serious hikers as anything you'll find, yet board-walks, easy trails and signs mean even the most timid can enjoy the best of the sights.

We had decided the Moss Garden sounded intriguing and so we scrambled up the track. Seven hundred metres, the sign had said at the turnoff. Nearly there - or so we thought - and then another sign said 500 metres. Returning hikers told us 'you're nearly there!' in typical bushwalker-speak, that always minimises the effort. But when we got there, eventually, it was worth it. A damp green, cool, reward for our patience.

Only some guests drop in by air, as we did, by chartering a small plane from Bundaberg. There are regular coach tours from Brisbane or you can drive yourself - the Gorge is about two hours' drive beyond Roma which is accessible from Brisbane by coach, train and air.

At Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge, the safari cabins continue the theme of blended luxury and 'roughing it' with the lower walls built from timber, and the windows and roofs of canvas, stitched like tents. There are en suite facilities, heaters and comfortable beds. The Lodge Squatters Restaurant pampers guests with the best meals that side of the black stump. They will pack lunches for day-treks and provide essential water-bottles. Vegetarian and special meals also catered for.

At the gorge, you can be as active as you wish -  abseil, rock climb, bike or hike, then bush-dance the night away - or you can enjoy a sunny doze in a settler's chair on a cabin verandah, wander through the bush, or take a quiet picnic to the creek and watch for platypus.

And if you wake to a thump on the cabin's canvas roof in the night, don't worry. It's probably just a possum patrolling the grounds.



A place we all DOO need to see

Doo Town, a Tasmanian coastal hamlet went quirky generations ago and has hit the news now for an unexpected reason. A food van in the tiny Tasman Peninsula settlement has hooked an award for selling the best fish and chips in the State.

Doo-lishus Food, established in the late 1990s and owned by Bev and Phil Millhouse (pictured above), was recently honoured ahead of many much bigger fish at the fifth biennial Tasmanian Seafood Awards in June. Located 79km south-east of Hobart, near Eaglehawk Neck, Doo Town started life in the 1830s as an unnamed timber station on the road to Port Arthur. Its proximity to excellent anchorages in Pirates Bay, good fishing waters and many nearby natural attractions, led to the development of a fishing shack (or weekender) community.

In 1935, a Hobart architect, Eric Round, placed a name plate Doo I 99 on his shack. A neighbour, Charles Gibson, reacted with a plate reading Doo Me. Another weekend fisherman Bill Eldridge chimed in with Doo Us. Mr Round responded to these challenges by renaming his shack Xanadoo.

The name plates proliferated and these days they can provide a visitor with a morning's entertainment.

There's Af-2-Doo, Da Doo Ron Ron, Didgeri-Doo, Doo-All, Doo Come In, Doodle Doo, Doo Drop In, Doo For Now, Doo F--k All, Doo I, Doo-ing it easy, Doo Little, Doo Luv It, Doo-Me, Doo Nix, Doo Nothing, Doo Often, Doo Us, Doo Us Too, Doo Write, Gunnadoo, Humpty Doo, Just Doo It, Love Me Doo, Make Doo, Much-A-Doo, Rum Doo, Sheil Doo, This Will Doo, Thistle Doo Me, Wattle-I-Doo, Wee-Doo, Yabba Dabba Doo and, of course, Dr Doolittle.

If you can't doo a trip there soon, read more here....


Esperance and an unexpected flying object 

"We have the news that Skylab has splashed down safely in the South Atlantic."

That was the radio report just before midnight on July 11, 1979 (38 years ago) yet seconds later residents of Esperance, Western Australia, were dumbfounded to see it shooting across the sky. Almost immediately a sonic boom shook the town, jolting many awake. They wrongly assumed it was the noise of Skylab crashing.

In fact the debris from the 75 tonne US Space Program's first space station narrowly missed hitting the small town, pop. 3000. It showered instead on farms and bushland beyond Esperance and to the east as far as outback Rawlinna. We were there at the time, and we saw it streaking across the sky above our heads.

Local lad Stan Thornton picked up some pieces from his roof and caught the first flight out of Perth, following the San Francisco Examiner's offer of $10,000 reward for the first piece to be handed in to their headquarters.

He was lucky his haul was portable enough. Some of the 'space junk' would have made a mess of anyone in the way. The Esperance Municipal Museum has a comprehensive display with some fragments as big as a fridge, although the largest piece is on display at the United States Space & Rocket Center, in Huntsville, Alabama.

Purely by coincidence the annual Miss Universe pageant was held just days later, on July 20, 1979 in Perth. Unsurprisingly, the large piece of Skylab displayed on the stage almost upstaged the competing lovelies.

Where: Esperance is in the far south-east of Western Australia, 725 kilometres or about a 7.5 hour drive from Perth.

Did you know? As a result of the event, the Shire of Esperance fined the United States $400 for littering.

More information....



Flinders Island, Bass Strait

You know that there's something special about a place when you've hardly arrived there, and already you are planning how you'll return. Soon. Flinders Island is like that.

The last remnants of an ancient land bridge between Victoria and Tasmania, this craggy island is just one of the Furneaux group, today reduced to awkward stepping stones in Bass Strait, with not a lot in the way of land between them and Antarctica.

Flinders Island itself is not really on the way to anywhere. You must decide to go there. Make an effort. Nor is this 90 by 30-something kilometre island teeming with locals. Jim, our tour guide was quick to point out there are only 800 residents, but 17,000 geese. That's Cape Barren geese, of course, named for the largish island across Franklin Sound to the south.

Some enterprising souls are breeding these birds now for export to Tasmania and the mainland. Other new industries – desperate attempts to put the land to other use now that wheat and sheep prices have plummeted – include crops of opium poppies and cauliflowers. And then there's abalone breeding along the coast. A vineyard has been planted, and with Flinders' moderate climate, there are optimistic hopes for a future with wines too.

Visitors can be as active or as laid back as they like here. For the energetic there is plenty to do – four wheeler tours, fishing, diving around some of the island's many shipwrecks, bushwalking and boating. Some people do a five-hour climb of Mt Strzelecki, the 760 metre peak that dominates many views on the island. The super-fit take part in the Easter Three Peaks race in Tasmania that combines boat racing with mad dashes up Mt Freycinet in Coles Bay, Mt Wellington overlooking Hobart, and Mt Strzelecki.

Yet you could come and just relax at a comfortable bed and breakfast or the beautifully restored family-run Flinders Island Interstate Hotel, in Whitemark, built in 1911.

The island's beaches enclose the land with white apostrophes – crunchy crescents splashed by cobalt and turquoise waters that could have skipped across from some coral atoll. At one, there is buried treasure too of a sort. Some older residents remember diving for it using hookah equipment in Killiecrankie Bay.

Those Killiecrankie 'diamonds' are really a sort of topaz, but their brilliance can be deceptive enough and even if you don't want to use the sieves and shovels that are for hire there so you can fossick for your own, you can buy some ready-cut and polished and set in gold or silver.

Today the bays yield up crayfish more readily and a sign at the gift shop in Whitemark, suggests you place an order for them at around $30 each. Here you can also buy the appropriately named Roaring Fort' pickles and sauces and honey. Another shop has local free range eggs and inland, at Latitude 40, the farm shop sells woollen pillows and softly luxurious wool filled vests.

Sometimes it's hard to believe that you're not on a remote island off Scotland. In fact with Mt Strzelecki reflected in water, cattle grazing nearby, and gulls flying overhead, the similarities are strong.

There's a mystery about Flinders. How the island has survived, why people stay. I'm going back, of course. I need to try to crack the code, and discover what the lure is. So, if you go, and find out first, please don't tell me.

I need to experience the thrill of finding out for myself.



A dinki-di Australian island


You've got to love a place where penguins almost outnumber people. And love it even more when you don't have to load a sled and trek over snow and ice to get there. In fact it's an easy weekend getaway from Adelaide, or even Melbourne.

Kangaroo Island, site of South Australia's first settlement, is just 45 minutes by SeaLink passenger ferry from Cape Jervis on the coast south-east of Adelaide, or less than 30 minutes by Emu Airways from Adelaide.


Here's a trivia question for your next pub night - a no-brainer if you've been with us so far. What is Australia's third largest island - after Melville Island and Tasmania? And another one - what is the tiny marsupial which only lives on Kangaroo Island? Answer: the dunnart. And in case you've been wondering - there are around 4000 tiny blue fairy penguins and about 4300 people on Kangaroo Island.


Matthew Flinders did it the hard way 200 years ago. Coming ashore he found kangaroos so fearless on this uninhabited island that his advance party effortlessly snared a few dozen of them and proudly took them back to the meat-starved crew on the HMS Investigator.

You could imagine that as they gnawed the bones at dinner that night, it wouldn't have needed the brightest seaman on the ship to suggest a name for this scrub-covered island.

Yet while kangaroos feature in the name - and the island was alive with them at the time (some people say there could have been a million of them leaping around on this 155 kilometre by 55 kilometre island) - there are Tammar wallabies, found only here, several types of possums, as well as echidnas, koalas, platypus, bandicoots, bush and swamp rats, bats, wedge-tailed eagles, snakes and a rather large species of sand goanna.


Guided tours at Seal Bay allow you to wander well-supervised amongst sea lions basking on the beach, and at Admiral's Arch in the Flinders Chase National Park, you can see some of the 6000 New Zealand fur seals that live and breed there. There are no foxes, dingoes or rabbits to disturb the wildlife on Kangaroo Island, so do plan to leave your pets at home.


But there are plenty of these here - echidnas - as well as koalas.


For a place that began its white settlement with a feast, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that food features rather heavily in today's Kangaroo Island.


There's a ten-kilogram baggage allowance on the airlines that service the island, which makes it sensible to pack light, as it is almost inevitable you will carry back bottles of wine, some local honey, or call in at Island Pure Sheep Dairy for some haloumi or fetta as you are heading to the airport.

But eating is just one of the pleasures on the island. You can walk off the effects of all that good food on the island's beaches or in the bush. Surf, sail, cycle and swim, or skid down the sands of Little Sahara. Take a fishing rod and catch a delicious King George whiting, or go searching underwater for a leafy sea dragon, only found here. Don't worry, it's really only a sort of seahorse, and not at all dragon-sized!


But this island platter serves up more than food. While the coastline has claimed many ships, the crisp white sandy beaches edge gin-clear water, ideal for every watery sport you might enjoy.


If you come by ferry, you will land at Penneshaw, a picture pretty town to the east of the island. It's the ideal starting point for trips to the Cape Willoughby lighthouse and American River (long story about the name, ask your tour guide). Head south and west of Kingscote for farmland and the National Park, the roadsides a garden in springtime when the island's 850 species of plants are in flower.


One of the most unusual features of the island are the Remarkable Rocks on the southern side of the island. These giant granite boulders smoothed by the wind, look more as if a mad sculptor has attacked them with a massive chisel and drill.



Kangaroo Island - with an animal in its name, and wildlife all over the land, as well as in the air and sea - this place is really jumping. There must really be something special about it. After all, 4000 penguins can't be wrong!


Kangaroo Island - it's the sort of place you somehow always hoped existed. Somewhere.



For more information: Kangaroo Island Travel Guide iPhone and iPad app, by Carolyn Jasinski - iPhones & iPads - on iTunes App Store or Android phones and tablets.


The luck of the Irish in Victoria

Perhaps nowhere else in Australia are the Irish more remembered than in the ‘Irish Town’ of Koroit, near Killarney. There is an annual Irish festival and shops in the tiny town sell souvenirs and fly the flag – the Irish one, that is.

 A non-Irish find is the excellent Seabreeze Café run by Tim and Andrew...

...who serve very generous sandwiches (like this pork and applesauce combo) in a bread roll made on the premises.

There's good coffee too, and city-style biscuits to go with it.

Am antique teapot...

...the Irish flag...

...Guinness, to be sure....

.....and an Irish annual festival.

A statue in the main street honours ‘The Spudpicker’ because of the importance of potatoes in the early settlement 160 years ago. The fertile soil and damp climate was ideal for growing potatoes.



Lunch on Lord Howe

As ice clinks in tall glasses of amber imported mineral water, and gourmet pizzas and toasted bagels arrive, followed by a waft of brewed coffee, you could almost expect to glimpse the Sydney Opera House nearby, or maybe busy Collins Street, in Melbourne. But instead the crash of surf replaces roaring traffic, and only mountains loom bluely on the horizon. For this is an indoor-outdoor eatery just metres from the turquoise water, serving up an urban menu in paradise, Lord Howe Island style.

Before I left for this longish weekend away I had joked with friends: "Why don't we meet for lunch? Lunch on Lord Howe!" And once there I realised we really could have.

Reaching this World Heritage-listed island outpost of NSW is almost as quick and easy as hopping on the train for an outer-suburban address. The flight takes just a couple of hours. You need no passport. Just sandals, sunscreen and a sarong. And perhaps a semi-glam outfit for the evening, as there are some fine eateries here too.

It's not that you'll be whisked into casino-land or off to a nightclub, of course, but there are restaurants offering top-class food that deserves attention, as do the knockout views through picture windows showcasing bays and headlands.

So what are the trademarks of Lord Howe? Hibiscus everywhere - growing, tucked into things, on pillows. Towering mountains - sometimes accessorised by a waft of cloud, other times splendidly blue, higher than the brochures have prepared you for.

And birds - hundreds of them, thousands of them, swooping down in their multitudes to a man named Clive who'll take you on a walking tour to the foot of Mount Gower, then demonstrate his oneness with them by calling them down, just so you can touch these wild things, and wonder over them closeup.

Then there are the bikes - and more bikes. Bikes with baby seats, family groups. And walkers. With a population of 280, cars are controlled (the speed limit is 25kmh) so Lord Howe's roads, all seven kilometres of them, often resemble a pedestrian mall.

Factor in the afternoon fish feeding at Ned's beach where you can wade in and enjoy the silvery bodies flopping against your legs, or a glass bottomed boat expedition to see them from another perspective, and you get the feel of the low-key, laid-back tone of the place. Just take your watch off, and let yourself wind down too

Many people think family-run and family-friendly Pinetrees guesthouse is Lord Howe. The presence is so strong, combining the lived-there-forever Andrews, Nichols and Kirby families, and guests who've stayed many times, still come dripping back from the beach for lunch, or to order a lagoon-side drink. Even so, the island also has several other resorts, as well as self-catering apartments and bed an breakfast accommodation, so there is something for everyone.

Unlike Norfolk Island, no ghosts lurk on Lord Howe. This place has a happy hospitable history. The first settlers in the 1830s were free, and welcomed visits from the whalers who dropped in and supplied them with water, fuel and provisions. In fact, you could say that was the beginnings of the tourism industry right there, although we should be grateful we are visiting the island this century.

Muttonbird was on the lunch menu back then!  






"Just call me Stretch," says the tall guy in the ancient Akubra hat. For sure his mother never named him that, but you can see why his mates have. As elongated as his speech, Stretch puts out a work-roughened hand. "Welcome to Tibooburra," he drawls, "What'llya have?"

So what do you do in the hottest and most isolated town in NSW? You do the only sensible thing and go to the pub of course. And when that pub is one of just two in Tibooburra, the only ones for several hundred kilometres in any direction, you'd better believe that it is well loved.

The Family Hotel, run by Melissa and William Thomson who have owned it since 2013, was built in 1882 by Francis Bladon. Originally it was known as the Tattersall’s Hotel but its name changed to Downie's Family Hotel in 1887. Despite having eighteen owners in its 128 year history, it has always retained ‘Family’ in its title.


There's a touch of bush culture here too. The walls inside the pub are covered with mural - and pretty priceless ones too. Clifton Pugh came to Tibooburra in the 1960, befriended the publican and decided to do some high class graffiti for him. Other artists such as Richard Armor, Russell Drysdale and Eric Minchen followed - and an Armor portrait of Pugh remains, valued, they say at $1.5million, if it could be rolled up and taken away.

Located on the back road to anywhere 400 kilometres BEYOND Bourke this place is none too cool - VB signs, white plastic chairs on the peppercorn tree shaded veranda, and a great front row view of the passing parade of dusty utes and 4WDs.

Most of the year the town (population 150) just putters along and the drift of visitors stays manageable. But one weekend a year - the long one in October - the town really hums. That's when the rodeo (said to be the best in the West) comes to town and the population soars, the pub roars, and people live off the buzz for weeks. 

And if you think living in Tibooburra is a picnic, just remember that this is the place most people in NSW know only from the fact it usually stars on the TV's evening weather report as having the state's highest temperatures in summer. It's doing it real tough too, right now, with the drought almost petrifying the already bone-dry land.

And as far as isolated goes, how does 335 km north of Broken Hill, 1504 km north-west of Sydney, and 900 km from Adelaide, sound? Even the indigenous locals can't have thought too highly of the place. Their name for it translates as 'heaps of rocks', but this may be more to do with some granite outcrops nearby which they regarded as sacred sites.

In the 1840's poor old Charles Sturt, the explorer, and his companions, came through this way too, and probably had some doubts about his sanity. He came dragging a 27-foot long whaleboat on a wagon, and was all prepared to tackle the vast inland sea when he found it, but sadly he finally abandoned his craft as well as the notion. A full-size replica of the boat is mounted in Pioneer Park on the outskirts of town, sailing incongruously above the flat dry plain.

A few decades later, the town had a brief fling with fame with the discovery of gold in 1881. A thousand miners arrived, and because of them a post office, school and hospital were built. The hotel began in that era too, of course.

The road to Tibooburra, whichever way you come at it, is a long, dry, dusty one. There are roos and wombats, saltbush and spinifex and hundreds of kilometres of red dirt. But under the peppercorn trees, the beer is waiting, and you can bet that Jenny is just putting something delicious in the oven for dinner, and Peter and Liz have dusted off the welcome mat.

And Stretch is more than ready to share a coldie and a yarn.  


Australia is a huge country and there are probably more interesting places off the beaten track than there are on it.

Go on get out there and find some more for yourself!


Text: ©Sally Hammond

Images: ©Gordon and Sally Hammond






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