A Curious Lunch and Local Art Stop in Kaniva

While road-tripping across Victoria towards Adelaide last month, my husband and I decided to stop roughly midway in the regional town of Kaniva for lunch. Kaniva is a remote town, located about 400 kilometres, or roughly four and a half hours’ drive from Melbourne on the Western Highway. 

Heartfelt food vegan gluten free Kaniva Victoria Austrlia travel roadtrip road travel salad coffee

It’s here we found a gorgeous retro-styled vintage café that specialises in vegetarian and gluten free options called Heartfelt. This was our lunch go-to during our nine-hour drive westbound. We also decided to stop here on the way home to Melbourne after the Adelaide Vegan Festival.

Heartfelt food vegan gluten free Kaniva Victoria Australia travel roadtrip road travel salad coffee

What I’ve learned through travel is that you can never experience the same destination in the same way twice. Kaniva, despite its small town vibe and modest population of just over 1000, was no exception. Both times we visited Heartfelt, there was a new vegan-friendly, gluten-free salad four our local vegan lunch. A chickpea and roasted pumpkin salad with herbs and orange segments folded throughout and sprinkled in sunflower seeds was enjoyed in the warm sun at an outdoor table while sipping on a grapefruit mineral water. The weather in Kaniva is usually warm and summery; a relaxing lunch to break up the monotony of our long drive. While paying the bill a quick wander through Heartfelt’s interior was candy for the eye – vintage, upcycled crockery and trinkets, cute bunting, local artwork and gloriously restored furniture. It’s all fitting, considering this was originally Kaniva’s Gilpin Variety Store back in the day.

Heartfelt food vegan gluten free Kaniva Victoria Austrlia travel roadtrip road travel
Heartfelt food vegan gluten free Kaniva Victoria Australia travel roadtrip road travel salad coffee

On the return trip, the salad choice switched to a wild rice and roasted beetroot salad dressed in seeded vinaigrette and topped with more of those sunflower seeds and lush green herbs. Outdoors was also switched for the indoors as we took a seat by the sun-drenched shop window. I ordered a soy fair-trade latte to partner my salad, yet it was served in a mug! This was big country value and hospitality when all I was expecting was a Melbourne-sized latte glass. It’s no wonder Heartfelt serves its namesake so warmly and welcoming to weary travellers like this; it makes turning to the long road just that little bit easier.        

Heartfelt food vegan gluten free Kaniva Victoria Austrlia travel roadtrip road travel coffee salad

While Kaniva is a predominantly rural, farming town of sheep stations and wheat crops, the town idolises its farming animals through artwork around town in a celebratory spirit. This made me wonder how a remote town that relies on animal agriculture can depict animals – sent to slaughter – in outdoor art installation in a human-like context. I didn’t start questioning this until I visited the Curious Beasts Art Exhibition at the South Australian Museum once we reached Adelaide.

vegan local art lunch Kaniva Victoria Australia travel roadtrip road travel

The exhibition was a curated collection of prints from the 15th to the 19th century from artists such as George Stubbs, Albrecht Dürer and Francisco de Goya. During the Early Modern Era, ‘most people believed that God had created animals for human use and accordingly viewed them in the context of human concerns’. Curious Beasts provided a snapshot into art that stemmed from the wonderment that artists had about animals from far-flung countries. These prints delivered to audiences – that may have had a lack of access to travel – knowledge about exotic animals, which isn’t always a bad thing. Though, that ‘human use’ was a constant over-hanger throughout the exhibition.  

If I could pull another quote from the exhibition: ‘When we look at animals, we often reveal something of ourselves.’ Curiosity, if piqued enough in the context of art, can distort interpretation. It’s through this curiosity when, oftentimes during Curious Beasts, animals were depicted in bizarre, even grotesque, circumstances. Within some prints, animals were painted as humans wearing suits and in daily life situations where roles were reversed.

vegan lunch local art Kaniva Victoria Austrlia travel roadtrip road travel
vegan local art Kaniva Victoria Austrlia travel roadtrip road travel
vegan local art Kaniva Victoria Australia travel roadtrip road travel

This reflection brought me back to my point about experiencing a destination with new eyes each time you visit. By the time I reached Kaniva on the return, I realised that this style of curious artistry is still occurring in present day; in art installations here in Kaniva of all places. Which then made me start to wonder – if sheep are portrayed in a human way through this art, then why are sheep still being harvested through animal agriculture for human gain? It’s a deep question I contemplated for the rest of the drive back to Melbourne.    

You can stretch the driving legs at Heartfelt in Kaniva, 40 Commercial Street East Kaniva Victoria 3419 Australia, 03 5392 2945, open Tuesday to Friday 10am to 5pm. It’s advised to phone ahead to confirm if vegetarian options are available as vegan.

The Curious Beasts Exhibition is running daily at South Australian Museum until 5 February 2017. $17 adults, $14 concession, $5 children aged 5-15 when accompanied by a paying adult, $35 families (2 adults and up to 3 children) and free for children under 5 when accompanied by a paying adult.

All food, beverages, entry fees, road-trip petrol and tolls were paid in full by me.