September 9, part 2

There is a self-guided nature walk that Nikki and Richard recommended, so I parked the car and headed off into the scrub. The plants and various areas were labeled with numbers, which a printed guide sheet explained. A few tiny orchids peeked between the more dominant waves of vegetation, and birds were abundant: mallee fowl, green parrots, blue wrens, currawongs, galahs. There were also a lot of butterflies and dragonflies, which delighted me, and stacks of mosquitoes, which didn’t. It was interesting to note that there were only a few mozzies in the section where the earth was largely sand, but when a new vegetation region growing in clay soil was reached, even bug repellant couldn’t keep them away. I didn’t take a lot of photographs in this section.

Gums and wattles

Gums and wattles

wattle flowers

wattle flowers

I was pleased to come upon a mallee fowl nest–a huge mound nearly six feet in diameter–now deserted but still intact. The mallee fowl use sand and rotting vegetation in the construction of their nests, to create the heat necessary to incubate their eggs. Amazing.

I am delighted with what I am seeing at this point, and yet I miss the outback terribly. I feel like I’m already on my way home, now that it is behind me. Next trip, I need to plan for more time in the arid interior.

After about 45 minute of wandering, I headed back to the car, and then back to the main road, headed for Horsham. I found an old hotel–the Royal–which was once elegant but is now a bit faded in its glory (and a little mildewed), but they had an available room at a great price, breakfast included. Plus, when I got to the room, I found that the sheets and towels were awesomely clean, crisp, and white, and I had a choice of foam or feather pillow. So the glory may be faded, but the effort is being made to have this still be a nice place.

I had dinner in the hotel’s bar, which is the busiest, cleanest, and warmest room in the hotel. I ordered a Strongbow cider and the evening’s special chicken. The very nice bartender, who was also the waiter, asked what I’d been doing and where I was headed. (My accent made it immediately clear, when I ordered dinner, that I was not an Aussie.) He brought me a more detailed map of the area to which I was headed next and made several recommendations of what to see in the Grampians. So a surprisingly pleasant evening at the end of a long day.

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Monday, September 9

The picture window at the foot of my bed framed the pale dawn. There is not a cloud in the sky–just the morning star hanging above the horizon.

Up with that lovely dawn, put the last few items in my bag, and said farewell to Nikki and Richard, who were also up. Then I headed toward the bus stop, to catch the 6:40 bus to Adelaide.

I was greeted by a cheerful bus driver (have yet to find another kind here), and we headed down the Barossa Valley and back toward the city. Once we reached Adelaide, I hiked over to Thrifty Car Rental. Apparently, the travel company through whom I’d made my reservations apparently forgot to pass the information along to Thrifty. This resulted in a good bit of confusion, but the folks at Thrifty were eager to make things work out. I did have to put the rental on my credit card, even though I’d prepaid it, but they said they’d reverse the charges as soon as they’d straightened things out. (And I’m happy to say that did happen.) But fortunately, they had a car available. That could have been a far bigger problem than a bit of confusion over payment. And happy turn of events–the car has a tape player, so I get to try out the new Ted Egan tapes I’d bought in Alice Springs. Good-oh.

By 9:00 a.m., I was on the road, heading out of Adelaide. The Mount Barker Road wound up around the Devil’s Elbow (the sharpest in a series of sharp hairpin turns ascending the mountain). It was a long, winding, windy ascent, but was endlessly beautiful. After Eagle on the Hill, the road leveled out and began to slowly descend through rolling farmland. At Tailem Bend, Highway 1 turned south, but I continued on eastward, turning a while later onto Highway 8.

I was 2-1/2 hours out of Adelaide when I reached Coonalpyn, where I stopped for lunch. I found a place that had meat pies for sale, and since I haven’t had one yet on this trip, I figured that was the perfect thing to eat. Then back to the road. Rolling farmland alternated with beautiful mallee scrub as I continued on, through Tintinara, Keith, Bordertown, and across the border into Victoria.

By 1:30, I’d reached Nhill, and I turned south on a narrow, nearly deserted road heading for Little Desert National Park.

Mallee, yellow gums, wattles, and broom trees closed in around me. The park is not heavily visited, and hence is only barely signposted. However, Nikki and Richard had given me an excellent map, so I found the spot I wanted with minimal panic and only a smidge of backtracking.

Marker at entrance of Little Desert National Park

Marker at entrance of Little Desert National Park

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September 8, part 2

Only a few more towns now lay between us and the Barossa Valley–small, charming towns filled with character, surrounded by gum trees, and with an appealing, old hotel always close to the road. We passed through Freeling and then turned down Daveyston Road, back toward the Sturt Highway. We were in the Barossa Valley again, and soon back in Nuriootpa and “home.”

First order of business was shopping, not just food for my last evening but also for the coming week for Nikki and Richard. I always love visiting grocery stores when I travel, as it is a great way to see a very basic way in which life is different from back home. Australian grocery stores aren’t dramatically different from American ones, but they don’t have all the same products. There are British imports as well as Australian goods (including some wonderful, local cheeses), and a lot of wonderfully exotic produce. So I had fun doing even this.

When we got back to the house, Nikki took me on a tour of the garden. Richard has put in a pond for her, and she has filled large areas with beautiful flowers. Most intoxicating of all, however, was the hedge that surrounded the garden and had been grown into an arch over the entry grate—it was all rosemary. Every time I brushed against it, the fragrance of the herb surrounded me. Simply wonderful.

For dinner, Richard prepared a barbecue of kangaroo basted with his apricot/honey sauce. He was very pleased to get a chance to use his new grill. Nikki and I helped with sides: pumpkin, potatoes, and noodles. Of course, Australian wine was also on offer. Surrounded as we were by wineries, it was only reasonable to enjoy some local wine.
There was a lovely sunset and we were still outside when the afterglow turned crimson.

Afterglow

Afterglow

After dinner, we watched videos of Australian destinations, discussed books, and talked. Nikki put on Mozart and served port, coffee, and chocolates, as Richard set about helping me plan my onward journey across Victoria. He had an abundance of maps and valuable suggestions about places I might have the easiest time finding a nice hotel with lots of character and routes that might show the countryside to advantage. Lovely to have so much information before heading off again–and maps. Having not had maps for my Sydney to Brisbane drive, earlier in the trip, I was delighted to have maps for my next long drive.

I didn’t want the evening to end, but I need to get an early start and Nikki and Richard need to go to work in the morning. So we parted company with promises to try to get together again someday.

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Sunday, September 8

Up early, breakfasted, and on the road. We traded the seashore for broad wheat fields and sheep properties dotted with charming, small, rural towns of vintages similar to those we’d already seen. We drove through Crystal Brook and then Gulnare. The terrain and the crops changed as we got to Clare. Settled in the 1840s and named for County Clare in Ireland, the Clare Valley is one of South Australia’s excellent wine regions. Sheep and wheat gave way to vineyards. As the term “valley” suggests, there are hills surrounding Clare, the old town at the center of Clare Valley. This town is larger than the rural towns through which we’d passed, but it was just as charming. Richard headed for a hilltop that would give us a good view of the town before we headed in and through.

Clare

Clare

Nikki and Richard share a love of fine wine, so a stop at the Wolf Blass Eaglehawk winery was deemed a necessity. The winery was handsome and the surrounding vineyards were lush and well trimmed. It’s spring, so no grapes are in evidence, but the vines were handsome in their neat rows.

Wolf Blass Eaglehawk Vineyard

Wolf Blass Eaglehawk Vineyard

Continuing down the Clare Valley, still surrounded by thriving vineyards, we came next to Watervale and then to Auburn, on the southern edge of the valley.

Continuing southward, we came to the town of Tarlee, which blends old and new, with historic buildings and services to accommodate surrounding farms. Stone quarries here supplied the stone for many of Adelaide’s most notable buildings, and that same stone was much in evidence even in the more modest buildings of Tarlee. Tarlee is a crossroads, and it was the road that drew us onward. Richard and Nikki have to work tomorrow, so we needed to get home at a reasonable time.

But not without eating. We picked up food in Tralee, and then we stopped a bit farther down the road for a picnic lunch. Richard chose a handsome spot on the banks of the River Light. This river was named for Colonel William Light, who designed the city of Adelaide and named the Barossa Valley. The grassy spot was shaded by huge gum trees, and we could hear no sounds other than the river and the many birds as we dined.

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September 7, part 4

If you look at a map of South Australia, you’ll notice that the sea, in the form of Spencer Gulf, cuts inland a fair distance, and as a result, the Flinders Ranges actually touch seawater at this point. (Which is why the ranges got named for a navigator.) Hence, while the mountains were still visible, we headed toward salt water.

While still in mountainous terrain, we drove through Port Germein Gorge, along a narrow, winding road that cuts through the southern Flinders Ranges. Steep, stony walls, magnificent gum trees, wildflowers and wildlife made the drive a delight. (Be advised that, since our visit, fire and flood have seriously damaged parts of this road, so it may not be open if you visit now, and some of the magnificent gums trees have been lost–though its importance to local communities has triggered efforts to reconstruct the damaged stretches.)

We stopped in Port Germein, a small town (population around 200) that was originally settled as a shipping port. With easy access to gentle beaches (good for both swimming and exploring tidal pools) as well as the mountains, it’s easy to see why this is a popular eco-resort area. We stopped to admire the wooden jetty, built in 1881 and still the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere, at just over a mile in length. Originally constructed for shipping wheat, the jetty is now the place where locals go for a bit of quiet fishing.

Following the coast, we came next to Port Pirie. Facing the waters of Spencer Gulf, Port Pirie is still within the boundary of the Flinders Ranges. The town’s history is tied to the railroad, and Port Pirie was once one of Australia’s busiest rail centers. Reflecting this past, the city’s National Trust Museum is housed in a former railway station.

Port Pirie Museum

Port Pirie Museum

Final stop of the day was in Port Broughton, where we pulled up at the Port Broughton Hotel. Surrounded with Norfolk pines and with a view over the sea, the location of the hotel was splendid. The hotel was another wonderful, old, outback-town hotel, with a broad veranda, second-floor balconies, and an exterior lavishly decorated with iron lace. Inside the hotel, I delighted in the high, elaborately decorated ceilings, abundant leaded glass, and many antiques, even in the bedrooms. Delightful.

Port Broughton Hotel

Port Broughton Hotel

After briefly pointing out highlights of our surroundings, Richard got us all settled in. I really like Nikki’s husband, Richard. He’s funny, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and very dedicatedly Australian. He has been a charming bush guide, and I imagine that he is the kind of man who’d make a really good, true friend. And Nikki is as open, honest, intelligent, and delightful as I had remembered. I am truly having a wonderful time with the two of them.

The three of us enjoyed a lovely dinner–fresh fish, as we were so close to the water. We talked over an after-dinner cider, but then it was time for bed. It has been a very long day, and we have another long day tomorrow.

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September 7, part 3

We headed back southward, but after Hawker, Richard turned down a different road than the one we’d arrived on, taking us before long to the Kanyaka Station ruins. These ruins are the remains of a huge property that was first claimed in 1851 and settled in 1852. Only six months after establishing the station, the first owner/settler, Hugh Proby, drowned in a flash flood during a thunderstorm–a fact that made me realize how fortunate we were that Richard knew to get us clear of the potential flash flood while we were in the ranges. With new owners, the station grew to be one of the largest in the state (365 square miles, or 240,000 acres, at its largest, by 1856) that was once home to as many as 70 workers and their families.

But then the drought hit–a three-year drought that killed 20,000 sheep on the station. Surprisingly, the owners hung on for another 20 years, and even recovered, when the drought ended. However, by 1888, the station was abandoned.
The station had grown to be almost an entire village, since it had to be self-sufficient, this far from a city of any size. The main house, workers cottages, shearing shed, and out buildings were all made of local stone, and as a result, many of those buildings have survived, at least partially.

Kanyaka Station ruins

Kanyaka Station ruins

Kanyaka Ruins-2-lighter

After a good wander around the ruins, we were off again. Next stop was Quorn. This is another of the historic railway towns that dot this region, with its importance established in the early 1900s as the junction for both the east to west and north to south railways. During World War II, thousands of troops passed through the town, most of them fed by the local Country Women’s Association. In addition to being historic, Quorn is charming, and it has been a popular place for making movies. Films shot here include “The Sundowners,” “Gallipoli,” “The Shiralee,” “Sunday Too Far Away,” and “Robbery Under Arms.” (Of these, “Robbery Under Arms” is the only one I haven’t seen–but it was fun recognizing settings from the other films.) The train station and the town’s Austral Hotel have starred in the most films.

Quorn's train station

Quorn’s train station

Continuing on, we passed through Wilmington, another historic town settled in the mid-1800s, and another lovely access point to the Flinders Ranges. Next up was Melrose, which I’d actually driven through on my previous trip to Australia, though that time, we were headed up and over Horrock’s Pass and on to Port Augusta. The town is much changed, but the massive, gnarly river red gums lining the creek were still there, and still amazed me just as much as they had previously.

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September 7, part 2

With Hawker being the hub of Flinders Ranges tourism, it is probably not too surprising that our next destination was, in fact, the ranges. Suddenly, the colors changed again from red to green.

The mountains, and the national park they inhabit, were named for English navigator Matthew Flinders, who first sighted the ranges in 1802. Abundant mineral deposits initially attracted miners, who at various times mined (successfully) gold, silver, copper, lead, barite, and coal. But now, the big draw is natural beauty and it’s hikers and campers who are drawn to the park.

Like other mountain ranges in Australia, the Flinders Ranges one sees today have been worn shaped by erosion over long ages, with the tallest peak today reaching only 3,825 feet. But they are wonderfully handsome, in their wildly sculpted ruggedness, with their geologic history written large across their faces. The ranges are also famed for their spring wildflowers–and it is spring.

Richard drove us along the Moralana Scenic Drive, which is scenic indeed. We stopped frequently, to admire dramatic vistas, lush carpets of yellow, red, and purple wildflowers, and abundant birdlife (galahs, corellas, finches, wrens). Kangaroos appeared regularly, which, as always, delighted me. I was in heaven.

Richard guided us to a lookout that let us view the dramatic, ragged edge of Wilpena Pound, a natural amphitheater in the heart of the mountain ranges. We alternated short drives with long hikes, breathing in the fresh air and the fragrance of the eucalyptus trees.

Enjoying the Flinders Ranges

Enjoying the Flinders Ranges

About half an hour down a path through a steep-sided valley, Richard decided we needed to turn back. Clouds had been gathering, and Richard could see that, in the distance, it was raining. I would have guessed we had plenty of time before the rain would reach us, but Richard explained that, even though the rain seemed fairly distant, a flash flood could come rolling through within a short time after the rain came down, and the stone walls offered us nowhere to go if the roaring water caught up with us while we were still there. So we hiked back out to a safe spot, were we enjoyed the flora and fauna in an area that was not a potential riverbed.

But eventually, it was time to leave this glorious place and continue on our way.

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