Monday 19 October 2015

Livin' like a local.

Cassowary Coast is one of the wettest regions in Australia. While this is not very enjoyable for Cam and I to live in Rocky, it does mean that there is a lot of fresh, local produce in the area to choose from. Fruit and veg, coconuts, honey, chocolate, sugar cane juice or coconut milk just to name a few. As we start to head back down south over the next month or so, roadside local produce is something I will certainly miss. Even just the other day I bought bananas from the shops for the first time in 6 months and could instantly taste the chalkiness in them. This post is about the local community, and just some of the local produce places that we came to love such as the fruit shop on the north side of Innisfail which had delicious passionfruit, a lady who had a juicer in her van and sold sugar cane juice, and of course Stevo's Bananas which was a small shop only 2kms north of Paronella Park which sold delicious bananas for only $1.50/kg. Needless to say Cameron and I had many banana smoothies during our last 6 months and I am very glad we brought our blender this time around.

One place that Cameron and I visited during our time in the area was Charley's Chocolate Factory which is located at Mount Edna on the way to Mission Beach. Originally the land was a banana plantation but there are plenty of those around so when the new owners bought the land a few years ago they decided to change it into a cacao plantation, the tree that cocoa pods and beans grow from. Much research was done into growing cacao trees in Australia as it does not naturally grow here.

Charley's Chocolate Factory run tours on Thursday and Friday morning. It is an interactive and hands-on tour where we were taught the history of cocoa and chocolate through the centuries. We were then taken through the farm where we got to see all the stages of growth of the trees, all the way through from bean to pod. We were shown how a natural rainforest tree is tricked into growing in a plantation, the flowers, the cocoa pods, and finally how the pods are harvested. It was all very fascinating, but not over just yet. 

Back in the shed a cocoa pod was cracked open, and we were shown the cocoa beans in their natural state being surrounded by a thin, fleshy, fruit layer, and later I got to try it. Set up on the bench was an array of contraptions. We learnt these are small versions of what is used in the process of changing the cocoa bean into cocoa powder, and then finally chocolate! The best bit after all was said and done was that we got to taste a variety of chocolates! All produced in Australia at Charley's Chocolate Factory. The cocoa beans themselves were from different parts of the world, but the recipe used was the same and it was incredible to taste the difference in chocolate considering they all used the same recipe. The day was then finished off with a BBQ lunch cooked by the local Lions Club.

It was August when we visited Charley's Chocolate Factory. As it is still a relatively new farm, there was not yet have enough cocoa to be producing chocolate 100% grown from the farm. They told us it won't be long though. There has recently been a new harvest of pods. It is a pity we left Mena Creek only on Thursday 15th October because only two days later on Saturday they posted on their Facebook page that they needed 2 helpers to crack open the newly harvested pods and separate the beans on Sunday the 18th. That would have been a fantastic experience! Now more than ever with the recent harvest I am keeping my eyes peeled for their updates when their home grown chocolates are ready as I'll be buying some for Christmas presents!

Something else we were in the area for was World Cassowary Day. This was also held at Mission Beach. Cassowaries are a large, endangered rainforest bird. Cassowaries live in the New Guinea islands and north-east Australia. There are three varieties, northern, dwarf and southern cassowaries.

It is the southern cassowaries that live in north-east Australia. World Cassowary Day was to raise awareness of them. As they are shy creatures we did not see any on the day, but we had seen them plenty of times nearby at a place called Etty Bay. However a package arrived just in time for the big day. Cameron's latest Li'l Aussie Monsters character, Cassowary Col and a new shirt for me too, Charlie Chocodile! Of course both shirts were worn for World Cassowary Day, and many people admired Cassowary Col, which by the way is one of the only happy looking cassowaries either of us have ever seen. When Cam was looking at other Cassowary drawings for inspiration he found it difficult because even the cartoon ones looked angry.

Another thing I will miss up here is the strong community spirit and support for the local farmers. Celebrations are held every year at the Babinda Harvest Festival. This year was the 52nd year the festival has taken place. Leading up to it the community starts to raise money which goes to the committee. That way if a farmer is in need of help, they go to the committee who can donate the money which has already been donated by the locals. This year $15 000 was raised!

The event was kicked off at 3:30 in the afternoon with the parade down the main street of Babinda (the town closest to Babinda Boulders). Many groups participated including the local pre-schools, kindies, schools, military, farmers. The parade was fantastic with many participants. It partially reminded me of Christmas time when the Firies go around in their trucks on Christmas Eve and throw out small bags of lollies for the kids. I was reminded of this because the people in the parade floats were also thowing out lollies to the kids.

After the parade was over it was time for the show. Entrance was only $3 per person. Besides the parade the highlights of the day was the lolly drop and seeing the Storm Troopers dance formation. The lolly drop was where the helicopter flew over the field, dropped a bunch of lollies and the kids ran out to gather as much as they could. Needless to say the sugar high the kids were experiencing from the lollies in the parade and the lolly drop was quite obvious. It was nice to watch them though. As it is a small community most people knew each other as did the kids. The night was finished up with fireworks.

The following day was our last day working at Paronella Park. It was sad to say goodbye to the wonderful people we worked with and the friends we made, but the tourism season had come to an end. As a leaving gift we were given a bottle with heartfelt goodbye messages, a postcard, and a home made delicious cake. Goodbye Mena Creek. Goodbye ParonellaPark. Goodbye Cassowary Coast. For now we are finished livin' like a local, and back to “Livin' La Vida Loca” which means the crazy life. Some people tell us we're crazy for doing what we do because we go against the grain of the Great Australian Dream of being married, with kids and a mortgage, and others to tell us to do it while we can, usually implied that later on we will have the above. But life is an adventure. Our dream is simply to make the most of the adventure!

Only one more blog post coming your way after this one of our time up here in far north Queensland as we are “On The Road Again” and livin' our dream!

- Jeni

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