How far would you drive for a good meal?
To the next town? To your nearest city? In our case, it was 1300km.
This well and truly knocks our previous record of driving from Brisbane to Gympie in regional Queensland for pumpkin scones from its place as the craziest distance covered for a knock-out meal.
It all started years ago with a bowl of mouth-watering laksa in Civic, the business centre of our nation’s capital. For those who do not know, laksa is an Asian soup-like meal full of flavoursome vegetables, spices and in our case, juicy tofu drowned in creamy coconut milk with crispy spring onions on top. The restaurant is fairly unassuming. Clean, warm, functional, brimming with public servants. If it lacks anything in sophistication though, it is more than made up for in taste.
From that moment, any trip to Canberra had the omnipresent incentive of a bowl of laksa. Try as we might to find a substitute closer to home, we always left feeling as deflated as Charlie must have when he though he had missed out on a golden ticket.
So when it came to setting my first challenge as part of the 4BC Suzuki S-Cross blogging competition, one word popped into my head:
Laksa. And so it was that we set out to drive 3000km in the Suzuki S-Cross to Canberra and back for a bowl of laksa. The catch: We had just three days. And a baby on board.
Day one was to start with a 4am rise and on the road in a fully packed car by 5am. That didn’t happen. At 8am, we rolled up in our S-Cross at the BP Service Centre on the Bruce Highway for a coffee like two old dogs wondering where we left our mojo.
Fully caffeineted, we became much more effective and the miles finally started to peel off. It wasn’t until close to lunch, though, that we hit our first milestone. Rising out of a cane field like a bastion of hope, we saw the steep, ruddy red pitched slopes of the Our Daily Bread Café at Broadwater off the main highway.
We first found this old church abandoned, run down and unloved; a giant For Sale sign its unholy welcome mat. Then Alannah found it and it became a beautiful café, with much of its original interior intact. I grabbed a slab of homemade carrot cake with mint and whipped cream then it was on the road.
Coffs Harbour is perhaps best known for its big banana. But we decided to skip bananas for Aurelia’s first babyccino. A few more stops were in order though as Aurelia was starting to get a bit frisky. But what really cost us was a relentless array of start-stop road works that had us yo-yoing between speed limits all down the east coast.
Before we knew it, we were well and truly behind schedule. At one point, we realised that we had let our navigational duties slide and had let the petrol drop well below the necessary fuel load to get us to our pit stop.
Luckily, the S-Cross proved its fuel efficiency and we found a little petrol station just off the beaten track. But with hours of road ahead of us, a baby who had just reached her witching hour and our destination beginning to seem more like a mythical Brigadoon, uncertainty begun to creep in. The dream of savouring a mouth-watering laksa was morphing into the reality of roadside broth.
A quick calculation and it was clear that we would have to change our plan to stopover the night at our favourite little motel at Cooma, just south of Canberra. Instead, it was a $74 room at the beautiful old town of Goulburn, north of Canberra. Dog-tired, we crashed fully clothed in our welcoming bed after 2am and slept solidly until after 7am.
We shook off our late night driving hangover with a coffee before hitting the open road. In a matter of no time we were through Canberra and out the other side bound for one of one of the most beautiful spots on Earth: the Snowy Mountains. What would at trip to Canberra be like without a visit to the Snowies? The seasons here are refreshingly distinct. Today was no exception.
Our road became a tunnel through a kaleidoscope filled with red, brown and orange flecks. A brief roadside stop became an Autumn playground for Aurelia. Piles of perfectly shaped leaves ranging from vibrant red to burnt cinnamon became the ultimate nature’s playground.
As we neared the border of the Snowy Mountains National Park, our surrounds changed again. Gone the shady trees with snowing red leaves. We had entered what seemed more like an underground ocean garden – only 1400m above sea level. Tough little ghostly white trees with bent trunks from surviving some of the harshest weather in Australia, steep slopes studded with stands of skinny, grey tree trunks and all bathed in a light a little ultraviolet in appearance. Roads chocked with tourists in the ski season were today empty of life, making the scene all the more spectacularly eery.
We wasted no time in testing how the S-Cross took to its new altitude. We whizzed around bends in the road seamlessly zipping together the mountains slopes on either side. We effortlessly zoomed up the slope beside Mount Kosziusko, keeping half an eye on the altitude reading on the display inside the car. We motored over vast dam walls. And we picked up a couple of hitchhikers who looked weary from their walk in the mountains (watch the video at the top of this post).
As sunset closed in and with empty stomachs, we pointed the car back toward Canberra and set out to fulfill our road trip mission. But with more than two hours of driving ahead of us, could we make it in time for laksa before close time? Luckily for us, we had entered the land of the long lunches, late dinners, politicians, public servants and their ilk. Canberra’s centre was buzzing by the time we arrived at about 8pm. And our laksa joint was open until 10pm.
Squeezing in to the packed restaurant, we finally got to savour the meal we had travelled over two state and territory borders, mountain ranges and pesky roadworks to savour. Such a build-up in anticipation could fall devastatingly short of expectation. But we were stoked to find our bowl of laksa was even better than we remembered. With full bellies we did a few victory laps around Canberra’s many roundabouts and past Parliament House until we felt dizzy and tired enough to collapse into bed.
The key challenge of the journey now behind us, a new test appeared over the horizon. We had one day to make it back home north of Brisbane in time for work the next day. We decided to take the inland road home so we could take in the picturesque escarpments and valleys of the Hunter Valley and beyond.
Our first stop was to tick-off our first viewer challenge: to drop by the fabulous Hunter Belle Cheese at Muswellbrook, NSW. Not only is HBC the home of some udderly amazing cheese, including our favourite beer cheese, but you can also get in a bit of practice milking the mechanical cow in the restaurant. By this stage, Aurelia had been disguised to fit in with our new hitchhiking friends.
The sight of a baby panda milking a mechanical cow presented a bit of a pandemonium for the HBC restaurant. With the hard work of milking out of the way, we decided to ditch our newfound friends, who by that stage were starting to wear out their welcome. Our next stop was the Golden Guitar at the home of country music in Australia – Tamworth (and an old war tank in between). You can drive right up to the Golden Guitar, perched just off the side of the main drag. After hanging out at the spot for a bit hoping some of the town’s star-making power will rub off, we set off again – this time bound for home.
Thanks to the open stretches of road, scarce traffic and absence of roadworks, we were able to make up for all of the time lost on our first day. By just after midnight, we were finally tucked up in bed, a little worse for wear, but happy knowing we had had completed one hell of a challenge.