Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Melbourne to Perth road trip

Hello dear readers, apologies once again for the lengthy break between posts. I’ve just returned from my longest holiday ever (as well as the biggest break I've had from full-time work) travelling around Western Australia. Previous vacations of around two weeks have always gone by too quickly so the man and I have been saving up our dollars and annual leave for a while so we could enjoy a month long holiday. After we adopted Ollie our travel plans developed into an Australian based road trip and dog friendly vacation as we didn’t feel it would be fair to leave our new family member in a boarding kennel for such a long period.

Map of our road trip including nightly stops

For those who are unfamiliar with where I live and/or with the geography of Australia, the distance from Melbourne in Victoria to Perth in Western Australia is approximately 3500 km by road. Most of the drive is through incredibly isolated terrain and includes crossing the Nullarbor Plain which runs across the Great Australian Bight. In the most remote areas, roadhouses (service stations selling fuel, snacks and souvenirs) are up to 200 km apart, often without a single residence in between.

A giant galah stands outside a shop in Kimba - "Half way across Australia"

Travelling from Melbourne to Perth with a dog meant that we were limited to camping along the way as the motel style accommodation at roadhouses don’t allow you to stay with pets. Knowing that it would be virtually impossible to find suitable food for us on the road trip, I planned ahead and prepared tofu bacon, chickpea eggs (adapted from Vegan Eats World) and delicious seitan pastrami from Vegan Diner. These items were kept cold in our Esky (Aussie brand of cooler/car fridge) along with dairy-free margarine, vegan cheeses, Fry’s chicken-style burgers, Linda McCartney sausages and salad items.

Cooking up breakfast on our little camping stove 

A portable pantry in the form of a large plastic tub accompanied us on our month long journey which was depleted and restocked several times. Its contents included tinned baked beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and tomatoes, olive oil, bread, rice, Vegemite (yeast extract), ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, Tapatio hot sauce, curry powder, cayenne pepper, mango chutney and snacks such as BBQ shapes, potato chips, nuts and dried fruit amongst other things.

Vegemite on toast (plus avocado for me) is what the man and I eat for breakfast on a regular basis and we continued this tradition throughout our travels. It was a challenge to perfect cooking toast over a naked flame on our gas cooking stove so we did have to suffice with the odd burnt section every so often. We enjoyed a big brekky on one occasion which was simply a matter of heating up precooked tofu bacon, chickpea eggs, baked beans and frying some tomatoes.

The spectacular Bunda cliffs 

Packing up campsites, driving long distances and setting up a new campsite at the end of each day meant that we didn’t have much time to stop and look at a lot of the sights along the way. Apart from roadhouse rests for fuel and toilets the only unscheduled stop I insisted on making was to one of the Bunda Cliffs lookouts close to the SA/WA border. This breathtaking spectacle of 120m high limestone cliffs above the crashing brilliant blue ocean was definitely worth a 10 minute break. Heaps of other photos on our 5 day trip across were taken from a moving vehicle which is not ideal although it did allow me to capture the ever changing landscapes along our hasty travels.

As we were spending somewhere between 7 to 10 hours on the road every day, a pre-made sandwich was usually on the lunch menu. Seitan pastrami, Vegusto vegan cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato and cucumber with the man’s favourite combination of vegan mayonnaise, American mustard and hot sauce kept us satisfied until we crossed the border from South Australia into Western Australia. There are restrictions about bringing fresh fruit and vegetables into Western Australia which meant that we had to ditch our remaining salad items, scoff down the last of our fresh fruit and rely on packaged foods until we reached Kalgoorlie.

Whilst I’m on the topic of packaged foods, our saving grace over the month eventuated from a trip to a local Indian grocer just before our departure. I had been on the lookout for easy, nutritious meals and found some heat and eat curries on their shelves. There only appeared to be 3 vegan meals out of around 15 varieties of vegetable curries as most of the others contained butter or cream. If you do come across the Pattu range, the Baignan Bharta (eggplant curry), Bhindi Masala (okra curry) and Peas Pulav (basmati rice with green peas and cashews) are all vegan. I wasn’t convinced they would be the most authentic tasting meals or spicy enough for our tastes and planned to perk them up with additional spices but it didn't turn out to be necessary. These meals were such a pleasant surprise so we continued to try out other brands of Indian convenience foods from standard supermarkets during the rest our trip.

The sachets are placed into boiling water for 5 minutes or microwaved if you happen to have one handy. Even though some of the curries are rather oily, they aren't particularly high in calories and fat and are free of any preservatives and artificial colours and flavours. The Tasty Bite range are not as flavoursome as the Pattu curries but they are available at most large Australian supermarkets with the Indian foods and are clearly labelled as vegan or vegetarian meals. We particularly enjoyed Punjab Eggplant and Mumbai Mushrooms from the Tasty Bite range. Some nights we scooped the curries up with chappatis rather than bothering to serve them with rice.

Sunrise over wetlands at Port Wakefield

So that's pretty much how we ate whilst travelling remotely for 5 days. Burgers and a few other meals were consumed along the way which I didn't remember to take photos of. There will be more posts to follow about Perth eats and the rest of the food on our trip over the the next few weeks. For now I'll leave you with a recipe which the man fondly refers to as "eggies". I've been making this since testing Ethiopian But'echa (Fluffy scrambled chickpea eggs) for Terry Hope Romero's cookbook Vegan Eats World. My adaptation omits the chillies, includes some black salt and cuts down on a couple of steps and dishes.  

Sand dunes at Port Augusta with the Flinders Ranges in the background

Scrambled chickpea eggs aka. eggies (Adapted from Vegan Eats World)

1 cup besan/chickpea flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 2/3 cups warm water
3 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon black salt
¼ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
pepper, to taste

Cook the besan in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly for 2 minutes or until the flour darkens slightly and smells toasty. Transfer the besan to a bowl. Pour in the olive oil and fry the onions for about 5 minutes or until they soften. Transfer the onions to a plate or small bowl.

Pour the water, lemon juice, black salt and sea salt into the saucepan. Start adding the besan into the saucepan a few tablespoons at a time, whisking all the time. After all of the besan has been added, use a spatula and continue stirring until the mixture becomes very thick and begins to pull away from the sides. Fold through the onions, turn off the heat and allow it to cool down for 10 minutes.

Drag a fork through the mixture to break it up into small lumps resembling scrambled eggs. Season with additional salt if required and black pepper, to taste.

This may be eaten warm or cold and it can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least a week. Adding curry powder and mayonnaise at the end is on my to-do list to create curried "eggs" for sandwiches.


  1. Welcome back Mel! I was thinking you must be just about home, but it's almost hard to believe the time has passed. I hope you had a wonderful trip and I have already learnt a lot about WA and Australia from this one post alone. I sense I'll be experiencing the same even when you're writing about Perth and the areas I technically know well!

    Your camp-cooked breakfasts are very impressive and it's nice to see what you were referring to with the Indian meals - I have actually tried the Tasty Bite range and you are right, they're fantastic. I hadn't realised they could be cooked in boiling water so will tuck that piece of knowledge away (perhaps for campervan exploits...).

    1. Thanks Kari, it was such a great trip! We travelled far and saw so much and loved how dog friendly most places were. I felt like crying when we took Ollie to our local dog beach shortly after arriving back home as our limited number of dog beaches are smelly and full of seaweed (worlds apart from WA beaches).

      I hope the Tasty Bite info comes in handy for your upcoming travels, it's so handy to be able to drop the packets into boiling water when you are tired and hungry!

  2. What a great experience - you seem to have been so organised. I have only done the trip by train and that was enough of a challenge (I didn't get a sleeper as I was a young foolish cash-strapped student). I am fascinated by the scrambled chickpea flour - is it very eggy - I love besan but not eggs. I am also curious about whether you drove both ways and how ollie handled the trip - did he need huge runs at the end of the day (one of our dogs used to get car sick I think if I remember rightly)

    1. Thanks Johanna, I was rather organised for this trip especially as I knew that there are limited shops along the way. We did consider catching the train back but didn't want to leave Ollie caged in the pet compartment for days. Ollie is very normally good in the car and was happy with a short walk in the morning and afternoon as well as the odd leg stretch when we were filling up the car.

      I don't think the scrambled besan is very eggy, I add black salt to create a little bit of egg flavour and smell. You could always use regular salt instead.

  3. How wonderful that you were able to take a month long holiday! This was such an interesting post, and I can't wait to hear all of the rest of the details. Your makeshift meals were creative and varied. I tried one of those Tasty Bite dinners many years ago, but I'd forgotten about them. That's a good idea to eat them on the road! The chickpea eggs have been on my list of things to make from Vegan Eats World, but I haven't tried them yet. I look forward to trying your version!

    1. Thanks Cadry, it was sensational being able to holiday for that length of time. The chickpea eggs were one of my husband's favourite meals from when I was recipe testing - he is ALWAYS requesting that I make them for him.

  4. Wow, what an awesome post! I would love to come to Australia one day so this was super interesting - I love a road trip! Those cliffs are stunning and I can't wait to try your eggies, they look great.

    1. Thanks Jojo, I hope you make it to Australia one day! I was mesmerised by the cliffs and could have spent hours watching the waves.

  5. oh wow, road trip! Looking forward to your next blog posts :)

    1. Thanks veganopoulous, hope you enjoy the next ones!

  6. What an awesome trip! I can't wait to see your next posts about Perth and the other weeks. Traveling in such a remote area for so long must be wild. The cliffs, though, definitely look like stopping off for!

    1. Thanks Jes, it was a pretty awesome trip! It was quite peaceful travelling through these remote places.

  7. Awesome! What a great idea, I've always wanted to do the drive and have just never gotten around to it. Looking forward to your posts (and to see if you visited any of my favourite Perth places).

    How did puppy deal with being in a car every day?

    1. Thanks steph, you should definitely do the drive one day if you have the time. It was a great trip which the man and I think every Aussie should experience in their lifetime.

      Ollie was great in the car, he sat behind us in a travelling crate which takes up a fair bit of room but he was able to be close to us and see the road ahead. He was infatuated with watching the road and the mental stimulation would tire him out eventually.