A pic­nic of fresh, lo­cal pro­duce sounds sim­ple, right? Think again. ME­GAN BLAND­FORD has a ‘height­ened’ food ex­pe­ri­ence.

Australian Traveller - - Contents -

Pic­nic on the edge

Many years ago on a Fri­day night, I was let­ting loose on the dance floor when I spot­ted a man I de­cided to in­tro­duce my­self to. We danced to­gether be­fore ex­chang­ing num­bers. In that hour, the dance floor of a dingy pub be­came the stage of a ma­jor life turn; I’d just met the man I would marry. Fast for­ward to the same date 17 years later, and we find our­selves placed within an­other hour that will set the tone for the next chap­ter. The stage is re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent, tak­ing the form of a pic­nic rug of sorts. It may sound quite tame com­pared to that late night dance floor of years past, but I ask you: have you ever had a lunch that’s so ex­treme you have to wear a hel­met and har­ness while eat­ing? We’re atop Mt Buf­falo in north-east Vic­to­ria, a mas­sive col­lec­tion of gran­ite boul­ders, which form im­pos­ing, craggy rock faces. It’s an ad­ven­ture hub for hang glid­ers, hik­ers, cross-coun­try skiers, rock climbers and ab­seil­ers, and our guide for the day, Tim, is a keen en­thu­si­ast of the lat­ter two sports. “This is like my back­yard,” he says of the moun­tain whose sides he’s spent many days travers­ing. Mt Buf­falo is de­scribed on Wikipedia as ‘mod­er­ately tall’, but when you’re practising ab­seil­ing at 25- and 45-me­tre heights, try­ing to con­vince your­self to trust a rope and a stranger with your life while you walk back­wards down a sheer cliff… there’s noth­ing ‘mod­er­ate’ about it. Luck­ily, Tim is the per­fect stranger to en­list through this ex­pe­ri­ence. He’s just the right mix of re­as­sur­ing and in­struc­tive, and we feel im­me­di­ately safe in his hands. I ask Tim’s ad­vice about whether I should look down or de­scend blindly. “Just watch your feet, and don’t look down,” he sug­gests. I do as I’m told, un­til reach­ing the point where my feet no longer touch the moun­tain and I’m left swing­ing on the rope in mid-air. “It’s OK! But don’t forget to breathe!” Tim calls down to me, making me re­alise I’ve been hold­ing my breath for most of this ab­seil. I take it v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y down the rest of the way, my hands aching from my tight, pan­icked grip. My hus­band comes down next, in his usual fash­ion: cav­a­lier and fast. (Show-off.) To­gether, we’ve just found why our in­stincts led us to an ex­treme ad­ven­ture for our an­niver­sary rather than the usual ro­man­tic din­ner: sup­port­ing each other as we step out­side our com­fort zones is a nod to the per­sonal risks we’re about to jump into over the com­ing years. And then it’s lunchtime, AKA time to ab­seil down to our pic­nic rug. The por­taledge is es­sen­tially a tent floor at­tached to the side of the moun­tain with ropes. The idea of eat­ing lunch on it is daunt­ing, but Tim puts it into per­spec­tive: “I sleep on it when I’m

do­ing a multi-day rock climb,” he says, adding that he’s glad he no longer sleep walks. Uh-ha. We ab­seil down to the ledge’s po­si­tion 300 me­tres above the gorge floor, re­al­is­ing that no mat­ter how many times you ab­seil, that first step is al­ways really hard to take. We marvel, though, at how fast we’ve be­come com­fort­able on our mid-air pic­nic spot; there are a few ropes and straps around, but we lean back against the moun­tain and soak in the views over the Alps, Aus­tralia’s most im­pres­sive moun­tain range. The scenery from the top of Mt Buf­falo is great, but down here it’s even bet­ter. Tim ab­seils down to de­liver our pic­nic box, and then leaves us to enjoy our oddly ro­man­tic lunch. The food, packed by Bright deli The Loaded Bas­ket, is sim­ple but per­fect. We start with lo­cal olives, then dive into a sour­dough roll with chicken, cran­ber­ries, feta and freshly picked greens, and a pearl bar­ley salad with fresh sun­dried toma­toes. Next is a spiced cup­cake each, with lash­ings of cream cheese ic­ing, and we’re feel­ing fully sat­is­fied in more ways than one. We sit on the por­taledge for an hour, chat­ting about where our lives have taken us and where we’re headed. There’s no bet­ter way to cel­e­brate a re­la­tion­ship than to do some­thing crazy to­gether. It’s now the be­gin­ning of a new per­sonal chap­ter, liv­ing in a new place with new jobs and new goals, and this wob­bly moun­tain­side ledge is our launch pad to the next ad­ven­ture.

We lean back against the moun­tain and soak in the views over the Alps.

THIS IM­AGE: En­joy­ing the view of Mt Buf­falo Na­tional Park with a por­taledge pic­nic. BE­LOW: A de­li­cious lunch by deli The Loaded Bas­ket Deli.

CLOCK­WISE: Ab­seil­ing down Mt Buf­falo; ex­hil­a­rat­ing to say the least · Mt Buf­falo Na­tional Park · Me­gan about to go over the edge.

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