As this trip passes there are many new discoveries to be made along the way. Some are momentous mind-blowing episodes of awesomeness; others are more mundane. Like the silly can holders that exist in my car, too small for many a fizzy bottle and too large for takeaway coffee cups. It’s a minor thing, so imagine my surprise when hearing some hoodlum faced the same problem and made a song about it. It’s so serious the song is played over and over again on one of those identikit FM radio stations – you know the type, Shiny FM or Supernova 102.7, with a playlist of ten songs and flagship drive time show hosted by a vacuous airhead and some bloke named Davo or Sammo or Bozo. Such is our disconnect from popular culture it took both Jill and I a while to figure out he was actually singing about the ceiling being able to hold him and his partying associates.
More profound discoveries continue each day as we move along South Australia and towards Adelaide. Entering from southwest Victoria, Mount Gambier is the major town of note in this region and, like much of the landscape here, grounded in ancient volcanic foundations. At its heart is Blue Lake, a crater lake that is indeed very blue and for which no-one quite really knows how it gets this colour. Juxtaposed with the lake, the town is fairly mundane, but offers the usual services thrown in with the odd sinkhole to explore.
The volcanic terroir can be thanked for the blessings of the Coonawarra, north of Mount Gambier and delivering the finest Cabernet Sauvignon in the country. It’s a small, low key wine region and its major town, Penola, is compact and, well, fairly dull. Still, a glass or two of red spices things up and makes the strange, shabby local campground seem that little better. The area is also strongly associated with Mary MacKillop, now Saint Mary, who I’m sure must have been assisted in performing miracles with a local drop or two.
Hmm, is that blasphemous? Maybe, but then my silly can holders didn’t get miraculously fixed while driving through the area. They stayed that way back down to the coast, the Limestone Coast in fact, incorporating quiet seaside towns of Beachport, Robe, and Kingston. While Beachport provided pleasant coffee, Robe was the fancier spot on this coast, with neat holiday homes and sandy beaches, gourmet food stops and twee shoppes which sell everything you could never possibly need in your life whatsoever.
Perhaps our miracle came near Robe, staying at Cape Jaffa, an out-of-the-way, tumbledown kind of place with a campground seemingly catering for far more people than actually visit. Thus, on a Sunday night, we were the only people staying in the whole campground, revelling in having a clean and tidy amenity block and camp kitchen, with TV, to ourselves. We showered, laundered, lingered, cooked, charged electronics and, for me at least, got up early and watched the culmination of The Masters the next morning.
Just north of here sat Kingston, another quiet spot beside the seaside and projecting additional bleakness thanks to cool, showery weather. Anything of note seemed to be shut on a Monday, but the Big Lobster is one thing that cannot be hidden away. It truly is a monster and deserves some respect for the complex structure required to piece this together; certainly a lot more impressive than the big potato / turd, big cigar, or now defunct big cheese. It’s still rather silly though.
Continuing north-westward the towns thin out altogether for a stretch of land where the waters of the mighty Murray River fill a patchwork of ponds and lagoons, wedged up against a huge spit of sandy dunes and beach, known as the Coorong. It’s a fluctuating landscape, shaped by water flows and weather and remains windswept and wild, especially along the endless ocean beach. The waters fill, drain, evaporate and fill again, leaving salt deposits in their wake and low sandy scrub for migratory birds to hide in. Exposed, it encourages a very chilly night that requires extra blankets and a hope that this is not the start of a trend.
Happily things warmed up somewhat continuing west and bridging the Murray into Goolwa and Victor Harbor. These spots were more bustling, with Adelaide just an hour or so north and Victor Harbor a seaside getaway replete with funfairs and ice creams and old fashioned trams. The flat sparseness of the Coorong had passed and a coastline of rugged granite cliffs and deep creeks fed into the Southern Ocean, while the interior of the Fleurieu Peninsula boasted golden hills peppered with gums. From Deep Creek Conservation Park views over the intriguingly and slightly disturbingly named Backstairs Passage led across to Kangaroo Island and, while walking signage went somewhat astray, a fine park campground with plenty of hot water and shower access made amends.
Next morning it was time to cross Backstairs Passage and take the extortionately expensive 45 minute ferry ride to Kangaroo Island. The next three days proved worth it, compensated by relatively inexpensive diggings in two fine parks campsites. The first, at Flinders Chase National Park, provided a well-kept base from which to explore and marvel in this wild western wedge of the island. A whole day of walks and sightseeing followed, with a coffee and cake stop at the visitor centre in between. The bonus of coming across some of the native wildlife along the way, as promised in all the glossy brochures and slick marketing, added to the day.
This included – finally, and no thanks VIC – the first koala of the trip. Amusingly this was directly opposite a sign informing you to look for koalas and how to spot them. Jaded from Victorian experiences, I uttered “yeah right”...as I then turned round and saw a koala. This one was only mildly animated, which is actually quite lively in koalaland terms. The sighting was the highlight of a platypus walk that didn’t yield any platypus and the Rocky River hike that didn’t include much of a river or very many rocks. The river, still dry but very much more rocky, eventually reaches the sea down past Snake Lagoon (which thankfully had no snakes either), a sight to behold as a, well, river of jagged rocks snakes down to the beach.
Later in the day, post-cake, were more rocks and wildlife, the top tourist gems of this very special national park. It is hard to resist scepticism about exactly how remarkable Remarkable Rocks will be. Some people, especially those who don’t like rocks as much as me, might just think ‘yeah they are like a bunch of rocks’. And, from a distance, they don’t look so flash. But close up, mingling amongst them, you can appreciate their scale and the rather remarkable, weathered features, bright orange lichen stained domes and the question of how they ended up like that in that place. Something to do with an ancient sea bed and erosion I guess...
Cruising on to the far southwest tip of the park, Cape du Couedic, the weather played its part in evoking the land’s end allure of such an exposed extremity. Now bleak with a strong and chilly southerly, devoid of all but a few hardy leftover tourists at the end of the day, it was perfect weather. Some may prefer warm sun and clear blue skies hovering above placid seas, but give me a stormy, bracing maelstrom six days out of seven to really appreciate the clash between the land and the ocean.
Of course here stood cliffs and barren headlands, rocky islands and shattered stacks, and the impressive Admirals Arch, separating one torrent of water from another. Amongst this melee, fur seals, seemingly carrying on as normal, i.e. frolicking in the water, battling the waves to come ashore, drying out atop rocks, and very regularly getting narky with one another. It’s something you could watch for hours, but the cold and dark is dissuasive enough to send you back to the car and a blast of heating.
The next day remained cool and blustery but with plenty of sunshine to be dazzled by several white sandy bays of the south coast. After a stop for more koalas (4) in a reserve, the beach at Hanson Bay was wonderful to stroll along though no doubt too cold for anything other than a stroll. Similar sandy walks were encountered at Vivian Bay and Bales Beach, but I’m thinking Hanson was the best since it was the first, involved a walk that was neither too short nor too far, and left me with the tune of Mmmbop in my head (yeah, remember that? And them, with their long girly hair?)
Kangaroo Island is also supposed to be something of a gourmet destination, you know, all fine fresh local produce served on a chopping board instead of a plate, just like practically every other gourmet destination in Australia. I’m sure there are some very nice things somewhere but I have to profess to coming across little in the way of genuine gourmet delights. For instance, the fish and chips in Kingscote, which were fresh and tasty but just fish and chips. And the honey, which was nice, but really not overly distinguishable from any other honey. I guess I was missing cheese, the one place making this on the island out of the way and thus out of scope on this occasion.
Reaching the eastern side of the island there was one more night to stop beside the ocean at Lashmar Conservation Park, eating a very gourmet dinner of beans on toast. This delightful spot is a bit off the beaten track, with views over Backstairs Passage to the mainland and down the coast to Cape Willoughby. At the cape, of course, another lighthouse with cottages to rent, tours to sell but, at least for a modest gold coin donation, a couple of small walks to see the buildings and heritage of the area. Just watch out for the rather large beefy kangaroos both on the walk and on the drive home.
The last night of camping before Adelaide was blissfully warm and dry, the absence of dew a real blessing and making packing up all the easier. With inquisitive fairy wrens for company it was time to roll the swag up for a few days and navigate the much more swollen waters of the Backstairs Passage without bringing up any of the flat white or chunky Kit Kat consumed in Penneshaw that morning. With the mainland safely made (just), it was reasonably swiftly on towards Adelaide, and a few days in the hills with the Mairs. Another spacious and comfortable spot to recoup and do requisite volumes of laundry. A chance to eat off ceramic plates and drink some of that Coonawarra wine from proper glasses. And a pause to collate photos and write some words yet again.
Unfortunately Adelaide’s weather was less than sparkling but this was rather fortunate given we had a roof over our heads for a change. There were a few pleasant forays outdoors, and one annoying foray through the mega Westfield for some provisions. In Belair National Park, there was a good chance to keep up the koala toll, with two walks through this pleasant bushland clocking up 4 and 11 koalas respectively. Now they come thick and fast, no thanks to VIC.
Capping off the stay on the final night were a few hours in Glenelg, beside the sea dodging the showers and reliving memories with one of the better kebabs this side of the equator. It doesn’t sound so glamorous, but it was nice to know second time round that things still taste this good. Hopefully things will continue to taste this good as we move inland...definitely via the Barossa, but then, the emptiness will build and options become limited. It may be back to gourmet beans on toast, and iced coffee instead of country flat whites, rocking away in those silly can holders. Regardless there is reassurance from the feeling that the discoveries will keep on coming, from bakeries to billabongs, B roads to barbecues, big things to little things and many other things mundane and momentous in between.