Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Great Barrier Reef

Not only is Australia blessed with some of the most incredible geography on the planet, it is also home to one of the world’s most phenomenal wonders: The Great Barrier Reef. Abounding with an unimaginable variety of sea life, this reef is big enough to be seen from space! It is the largest coral reef in the world, comprising over 3,000 reef systems and hundreds of tropical islands.

If you love SCUBA diving or snorkeling, this is the THE place to go! The colors, creatures and spectacular undersea beauty will take your brea…
um, oxygen away. Even if you’ve never submerged your head, you can sign up for a beginner’s dive or snorkel trip. Diving expeditions depart daily from most of the coastal resorts. No matter where you stay on the reef, you are never more than 20-60 minutes away (by boat) from an excellent dive spot.

So where does one stay to see the reef? Queensland has several great cities with lovely coastal resorts. Here are a few:

Cairns (at left) is a sophisticated city and a perfect place from which to explore Tropical North Queensland with access to the World Heritage listed Reef, Rainforest and Outback.

Townsville sits on Ross Creek and is encircled by many interesting towns and places to see, such as Charters Towers and Ayr. The Great Barrier Reef sprawls to the east,
the Outback beckons to the west, and islands and rainforest entice to the north. Explore away!

In Rockhampton (at right), situated on the Fitzroy River, you’ll be near the beautiful Capricorn Coast
beaches. It is partially surrounded by mountain ranges and is known as the Beef Capital of Australia (complete with a variety of bull statues). Here you can rent a houseboat, peruse the galleries, visit the Cliff Kershaw Gardens or test your bush-walking skills to reach the Mt. Archer Lookout.

While you’re visiting Australia, be sure to sample one of the Aussies’ favorite desserts! Pavlova was named for the Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, who enjoyed this dessert while visiting Australia. It has a crispy meringue outside and a sweet, marshmallowy inside. It is usually topped with whipped cream and a variety of colorful fruits.


4 large egg whites

1 cup superfine (castor) sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Fresh fruit - kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, passion fruit, peaches, pineapple, or other fruit of your choice

Preheat oven to 250 degrees and place rack in center of oven.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and draw a 7- inch circle on the paper.

Beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. Start adding the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until the meringue holds very stiff peaks. (Test to make sure the meringue feels smooth, not gritty. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved.) Sprinkle the vinegar and cornstarch over the top of the meringue and, with a rubber spatula, fold in.

Gently spread the meringue inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper, smoothing the edges, making sure the edges of the meringue are slightly higher than the center. (You want a slight well in the center of the meringue to place the whipped cream and fruit.)

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the outside is dry and takes on a very pale cream color. Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar, and let the meringue cool completely in the oven. (The outside of the meringue will feel firm to the touch, if gently pressed, but as it cools you will get a little cracking and you will see that the inside is soft and marshmallowy.)

The cooled meringue can be made and stored in a cool dry place, in an airtight container, for a few days. Just before serving gently place the meringue onto a serving plate. Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Sweeten with the sugar and vanilla and then mound the softly whipped cream into the center of the meringue. Arrange the fruit randomly, or in a decorative pattern, on top of the cream. Serve immediately as this dessert does not hold for more than a few hours. Serves 6 to 8.