Join Pic and Russell as they stalk the wily peanut on its journey from the arid fields of the Australian outback across the treacherous Tasman Sea to sunny Nelson.
Pic Picot, famous New Zealand peanut butter maker, and Russell Millington, slightly less famous peanut butter factory engineer checked their luggage through to Brisbane and set off from Nelson shortly after lunch on an Air NZ Bombadier Q300.
The flight was late taking off and on landing in Auckland, all the available arrival gates were occupied. The two adventurers spent a harrowing time waiting on the tarmac as the half hour they had gleefully anticipated relaxing in the Koru lounge dribbled away while the flight attendant, oblivious to their real concerns, assured them that their connecting flight would still be waiting. They made their connection sweating and thoroughly unrelaxed, and took seats alongside Roger, a Nelson based aircraft engineer on his way to fix Bombadiers in Papua New Guinea. Shortly after takeoff, the attendant gave Roger and a few other passengers an Express Pass.
Pic, barred from the lounge by the flight delay and now snubbed by the cabin staff, rummaged through his backpack and found his freshly issued AirNZ gold card but held off playing it until the arrival of the drinks trolley. Realising her mistake, the offending attendant made generous and immediate amends and ensured that Pic and his guests were kept well refreshed for the duration of the flight.
Kingaroy where the tour was to begin, lies some 150km as the crow flies (and they do have crows over there, and flies too for that matter) from Brisbane. As visitors to Queensland, with no interest in or knowledge of rugby league, our adventurers needed a vehicle that expressed manliness and appreciation of Australian culture. They collected a large and powerful Holden from the airport Avis depot and oozed on to the motorway. With no daylight saving, dusk comes early to Queensland, and it was dark by the time they arrived at their hotel.
The 2013 Commodore Berlina looks like a squashed cane toad with widely spaced, slitty eyes and an aerodynamic wing affair attached to the boot lid that will hold it down in case you forget to shut it. On switching on the ignition, an LCD display strikes up with a stirring visual performance of the Holden’s logo, snarling and throbbing as it awaits its driver’s pleasure.
The sun came up shortly after five, leaving a full five hours of paid for accommodation to be whiled away before they set off. Long showers, followed by a sit-down, in-room breakfast with television consumed an hour, as did a thorough ironing of every article of clothing in their bags. By seven though, their room had lost its glamour and throwing thrift to the wind, they checked out and climbed into their car.
Russell, who had driven everything from snow cats at Scott Base to tuktuks in Thailand, was the designated driver. Pic, a retired trolley bus operator who had personally driven the last trolleybus to Avondale, managed the charging of electronic devices using the handy USB and cigar lighter sockets in the arm rest. With the address of Kingaroy’s Burke and Wills Motel entered in their GPS, they swung out onto the highway and headed up country.
The road to Kingaroy is largely undisturbed by convenient coffee joints and the three and a half hour journey is easily made in three and a half hours. A minor cacophony of billboards and green road signs heralds the motorist’s arrival in the town but nothing announces Kingaroy more loudly and proudly than that of the famous Peanut Wagon.
The Peanut Wagon, unlike its uptown rival, The Peanut Shack, sells every imaginable peanut product except for Pic’s Peanut Butter. They have honey roasted nuts, chilli and lime peanuts, peanut oil and a peculiarly Queensland substance called peanut paste – basically peanut butter with an odd name.
A Peanut Wagon specialty that Pic was keen to share with Russell was boiled peanuts. A favourite in the Southern United States, these are whole, unshelled peanuts, boiled in brine and vacuum packed then sold chilled. The boiling softens the shells, which can then, if one doesn’t know better, be eaten. As such boiled peanuts are extraordinarily rich in both salt and fibre and quite disgusting. Barbara, the Peanut Wagoneer, was intrigued to learn that boiled peanuts could be eaten whole. She seemed to think it was the sort of story her regulars would get a good laugh out of, particularly with Pic being a New Zealander and everything. Pic, well used to the friendly jibes of cross Tasman rivalry, took this in good humour and bought a bag of boiled nuts while Russell ordered some cashews.
The last few kilometres to Kingaroy passed slowly. Roadside signs tantalised the travelers with the nearness of their destination until PCA’s towering silos hove into view.
The Burke and Wills Motor Lodge is a sprawling maze of one room brick units. It describes itself variously as a motel and a Motor Lodge. Its Motor Lodgehood is conferred on it by its restaurant, which we didn’t try – despite the lack of a toaster, plates or any eating utensils. Russell and Pics rooms both included a single champagne flute and a regular wine glass, a poignant acknowledgement of the solitary habits of their usual guests.
For Russell and Pic though, their first night in Kingaroy was to be one of celebration, PCA’s CEO, John Howard and his charismatic marketing guy Geoff Sawyer had driven up from Brisbane for the occasion and were staying in neighbouring rooms.
By the time their hosts arrived the peanut butter makers were enjoying their third flutes of duty free gin and had made a nasty mess of a saucer of cheese with the motel’s teaspoons. John, who had brought his own beer, broke the ice with a detailed analysis of the Brisbane Bronco’s back line and in no time at all the cheese was all gone and it was off to the RSL for dinner.
The Kingaroy RSL while not actually the only place in town, is the only place in town. Their vast and spotless stainless steel kitchen crisply uniformed cooks and helpful counter staff produce a staggering variety of menu options. John and Geoff ordered the Roast, Russel had the steak and Pic had the chicken.
….To be continued