Wanted personable young couple to go bush walking, canoeing, cycling and horseriding in a variety of beautiful locations. Must enjoy fabulous food and a relaxed, healthy lifestyle. Apply, box 2001, Utopia.
Such an ad doesn’t appear often, so Graeme and Gabriela Clarke decided they had to make the life they wanted happen for themselves. They had met in 1980 on a 23-day safari to the interior of Australia, and after German-born Gabriela returned home, the romance blossomed during Graeme’s travels in Europe.
In 1984, they settled in Victoria, where Graeme had grown up on a dairy farm. The idea of organizing small-group walking tours hit them while on holiday in Germany. “Our slides of Wilson’s Promontory had everyone gasping,” said Graeme, “but at that time, access was difficult without private transport, so few of our interstate or overseas visitors got to see the area, one of the most beautiful in the country”. Graeme was then working as an accountant with a travel agent, so the idea soon germinated and developed.
They took the first group away in September 1986, calling themselves Walkabout Adventure Tours. “Although the food was always of great concern to us, we didn’t emphasize it in our brochures,” said Gabriela. “But people were so surprised and delighted by it that we soon realised its importance, and changed the name to Walkabout Gourmet Adventures”.
It’s easy to understand both the surprise and delight after you sample some of Gabriela’s cooking. Our first opportunity to do so came when we stopped for elevenses in Colac Botanic Gardens on our way from Melbourne to do the Great Ocean Road walk. From the back of the Mazda minibus appeared a luscious blackberry and custard flan made with fruit picked the previous day on Graeme’s parent’s farm, and a chocolate-nut loaf called convent cake - nobody knew why, but it was heavenly. Thermoses of boiling water were quickly transmuted into tea a freshly dripped coffee.
They’re setting a high standard, I thought, wondering how it could be maintained far from their home base. But it was. Every meal for the next three days was a triumph of presentation, imagination and,, not least, nutrition. Although she’s had no professional training as a chef, Gabriela had a grandmother who was a fantastic cook, and the family always had fresh herbs and vegetable from the garden. Both Gabriela and Graeme believe in the importance of healthy eating, and what they don’t grow themselves, they get from Greens & Grains in Prahan, where all the produce is biodynamic or organically grown.
We stopped for lunch at a pretty picnic area on the beach at Port Campbell. While we browsed through the small but very interesting museum, our hosts set out an array of salads, quiches, cold meats, wonderful bread, cheese and fruit. (They cook all the previous day before a tour, with the help of a third person. Our group was smaller than the maximum of 10 guests, but there would have been a lot of preparation).
Port Campbell National Park runs in a strip of varying width along a coastline of spectacular milestone formations. “London Bridge” (which has fallen down since my visit), and the Twelve Apostles, which stand like sentinels on guard against the relentless attack of the ocean, are well known. The coast is in constant retreat but in the end, the sea is bound to win. On a pleasant sunny day, such as we enjoyed, it’s not easy to imagine the wilder moods of the area, but tales of shipwrecks from last century make a fascinating counterpoint to enjoyment of the scenery. Graeme has a good background knowledge of the areas they walk in and was able to answer most of our questions.
After we had explored the coast a little more, Gabriela took the minibus and drove to the farmhouse at Johanna, where we were to sleep for the next two nights. The rest of us made our way there on foot, tramping the windy swept shore. The beaches along this stretch of coast are pristine and beautiful, many questions deserted because they’re either dangerous or inaccessible. Bell’s Beach has become a Mecca for surfies from all around the world.
By the time we reached the farmhouse, Gabriela had dinner well underway - just time for a quick dip in the heated indoor pool, a shower, and a drink. From the “bar”, a large crate they brought with them, Graeme produced a very presentable choice of aperitifs. “Obviously, we can’t carry everything, but we can satisfy most requests. I like to feature good Victorian wines and there’s always beer. If anyone has a special preference, they’ve only to let us know and we’ll include it. Packing for each trip is different, and checklists ensures that nothing is overlooked - right down to taped music to suit every occasion.
Meanwhile, wonderful aromas of roasting pork were wafting from the oven and Gabriela was constructing salads that were almost too pretty to eat. She uses platters rather than bowls for these works of art. She plans the menus carefully and keeps records so that when people go on their next walk, the dishes are always different. Diabetics of anyone on a special regimen such as Pritikin need only to say so. Gabriela simply adjusts the menus.
Sharing both the chores and cooking, she and Graeme are a very well organized duo. In fact, the running of the whole venture is impressive. When no one else is around they chatter away in German so that Graeme keeps in practice. During the winter here, they transfer their operation to Europe, conducting walking trips for small groups in France, Italy, Switzerland, Australia and Germany, and taking charge of meals and accommodation.
“It’s a little different from what we do in Australia” says Gabriela. “We don’t cook, but we order the meals in advance, because many people find foreign menus intimidating and stick to things they recognize. This way, they get to try regional specialties that tourist don’t always know about.
Travel is in a hired minibus - Gabriela leads the walks while Graeme transports the luggage so that, when the group arrives, the bags are in the rooms and everyone can relax before the evening meal. “The walking there is different, too”. Gabriela continues, “and although there are a few mountains, it’s not really strenuous.
“The tracks are so good that you don’t have to concentrate on you feet”, explain Graeme. “We actually walk farther but you don’t notice. We have taken people who weren’t particularly fit, and never had any problems. It’s amazing how quickly their level of fitness improves”. Guests include people from all around the world, some who have done walks with them in Australia, or heard about the tours from friends. “This year, we have had to increase the number, and we are already taking bookings for 1991. We’re now including trips to Munich and Venice, which we know will continue to be popular.”
Next morning, after a splendid breakfast that began with homemade muesli, we drove to Melba Gully State Park to walk Madsens Track, an hour’s easy ramble that loops through cool forest glades. The 48ha park is a tiny pocket of rainforest with totally different plant life from the coast only a short distance away. Glow worms live in the damp mossy banks along parts of the track, Graeme informed us. Our itinerary promised a look at them that night - they’re only visible in velvety darkness.
No one in our party had ever seen a glow worm, and we began eagerly to question our host, who sheepishly admitted that he hadn’t either.
So far, he admitted, no group had been able to rise to the occasion after the evening meal. On the spot, we vowed to be the first.
A short drive took us toward the coast, and then on foot again for an hour or so to a picnic spot high on a headland overlooking Melanesian beach. For walking, we were each issued with a small backpack containing a refreshing lemony drink, an emergency muesli bar, and light rain gear, just in case. Graeme carried the lunch, which centred on a simple chicken curry dish that drew raves all round. Gabriela served it with a saffron-flavored rice pilau, salads, fruit, and more of the wonderful bread that she gets from Natural Tucker Bakery in Ripponlea. Both the setting and the meal were perfection.
Dinner on Sunday evening is always the gala affair of the weekend, and guests are asked to dress for it. Not everyone takes this too seriously - one group who have been away with the Clarkes seven times, once dressed impeccably from the waist up, but kelp on their shorts and walking shoes. Graeme took photos above and below the table for the record. For our party, this meal turned out to be the hit of the trip. Three small raclette ovens were placed strategically along the long table with plates of cheese, including the correct raclette for this operation, chopped ham, and waxy yellow-fleshed steamed potatoes.
Gorgeous-looking salads completed the spread, and we were invited to toast our own little treats topped with melting cheese in the glowing ovens, which were about the size of a cake tin. They have tiny pans that slide in under the heating element. As if this were not enough, dessert soon followed - profiteroles with chocolate and cream.
It took all our resolve to change clothes and set off to see the glow worms. It was quite different walking the track at night, with even the moon’s beams excluded by the dense canopy.
With the aid of torchlight, we reached a likely spot near Anne’s Cascade, and switched off. Gradually, as our eyes became accustomed to the inky blackness, pinpoints of light began to appear in clusters along the banks. Glow worms are the larvae of a species of small fly - their light attracts minut insects to a sticky trap where they meet their doom. The longer we gazed, the more we could see of the shadowy world these fascinating little beasts.
On Monday morning, I woke to a view like a Hans Heysen painting through my window. The valley was shrouded in silvery mist, pierced by shafts of pink from the rising sun. Cows were strung out along the crest of a slight rise. Quickly, I flung on some jeans, grabbed my camera, and rushed outside, but already the scene had lost some of its magic in the fast-changing light. After another astonishing breakfast, millet porridge with plum compote, platters of prosciutto, ham, hot rolls, fruit, and more, we filled our mater bottles and set off to walk through Otway national Park toward Dinosaur Cove, now attracting the attention of fossil-hunters from all around the world.
We returned in time for a barbecue lunch, and then, with planes to catch, it wasn’t possible to linger any longer. The drive back to Melbourne took us along the spectacular Great Ocean Road, which swoops and climbs, mostly within sight of the sea, through Lorne, with its faint air of remembering its more genteel past, to Anglesea, Geelong, and eventually, the city for the flight home.
This is a class act - nobody does it better. The walks are all to beautiful areas, and vary in length from one to 14 days. This year, they will also include some cross-country skiing. One itinerary takes the Clarkes to Dinner Plain, a burgeoning storybook village that has so captivated them they’ve bought land there and plan to build. “It will be wonderful to have our own lodge”, say Gabriela, “and not have to compromise on the little extra touches, such as having the right glasses.”
Four years down the track, they both agree that the best thing has been the wonderful people they’ve met from all walks of life. “Some have become almost like family, “adds Gabriela. “It’s been hard work… there’s always a lot of preparation, but we have a lifestyle we both really love.”
For my fellow guests, what most amazed them, apart from the glow worms, was the standard of the meals. One summed it up, “I never realised that healthy food could look and taste so wonderful.”
200g green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
5 tablespoons pinenuts
500g biodynamic rolled oats
250g barley flakes
250g oat bran
200g raw wheat germ
5 tablespoons sesame seeds
5 tablespoons linseeds
Chop nut and pumpkin seeds coarsely in a food processor, and mix thoroughly with the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Store in large screw-top jars for use as required. Make about 2.5kg.
100g unsalted butter at room temperat.
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
4 eggs separated
½ cup cream
100g hazelnuts, coarsely ground
100g almonds, coarsely ground
150g cooking chocolate, coarsely grated
1 table spoon baking powder
Grease a 24 x 12 x 6 cm loaf pan and line base with greased baking paper. Cream butter and sugars, and beat in egg volks, one at a time. Stir in cream, nuts and chocolate. Sift flour with baking powder. Whisk egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Fold flour and egg whites gently into butter mixture, pour into prepared pan and bake at 175C for about 50 minutes, or when a skewer, inserted in the centre of the cake, comes out clean. Serves 10-12.
Find out about full article and others recipies on Page 5 of Lynn Cole's Coasting Along article PDF.