Hitting the road

Trip Start Mar 30, 2003
Trip End Jan 30, 2004

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Flag of Australia  ,
Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Executive Summary:
I've been travelling through southern Australia. It's cold here.

Unexpurgated version:
Wow, it seems a long time since I wrote from Alice Springs. I had one more day there and walked to the Old Telegraph Station, the building of which in the 1870s led to the town's founding. On the way a kangaroo bounced up right in front of me, but it ran off before I could take a pic. My 2 main memories of the place are the flies, which would fly straight at my eyes, despite a liberal application of 100% DEET insect repellant, and the signs erected in front of restaurants and shops showing the mileage to different cities from Alice. Nowhere of any size was within 1,500km.

Having eaten my fill of camel-mince lasagne and kangaroo curry in Alice it was time to move on, so I took the Ghan train south to Adelaide. This is hyped as one of the world's great rail journeys - in fact Australian railways are incapable of writing Ghan without the prefix of 'legendary'. It was certainly very long - scheduled to be 19 hours, it actually took 90 minutes longer than that to travel the 1,559km. The view for the first few hours was of the bush stretching off to the horizon with occaisional cattle and hardly a road in sight. By dawn the landscape had changed to grass, hills, trees and sheep grazing.

Adelaide, capital of South Australia, is a pleasantly bland sort of place with the centre of town entirely surrounded by parks. It bills itself as the 'city of churches', but I cannot say I noticed that many. (The city fathers should check out Rome.) The temperature here was only 18C, some 20 degrees lower than in Alice. It was a shock seeing everyone wear coats - the last time I needed anything more than a T shirt and shorts was in the Himalayas in early June. Initially in denial about the change in climate I walked around town with sandals, rather than put on my trainers. The locals looked at me as if I was a moron.

Clearly, a warming glass or five of alcohol was called for, so I signed up for a day tour of the Barossa valley, home to some of the largest brands in Australian wine, such as Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Jacob's Creek. The tour took in four wineries (including Jacob's Creek) and the number of tastings provided at each was very generous. Bizarrely, three of the four produced a sparkling red wine and all produced a 'port' which appeared and tasted more like sherry. At the end of the day some of us on the tour were still sober enough to meet up at a bar where we played pool and went on to a live music venue.

I spent the remainder of my time in Adelaide wandering around the National Wine Centre (more tastings), the Botanic Gardens and a museum full of aboriginal artefacts. It struck me that I have been staying in lots of places with women's names. Did Adelaide know Alice Springs and Agnes Waters? Did Alice and Agnes compare the purity of their respective water??

For moving on I decided that having already travelled around Oz by plane, train and coach it must be time to rent a car, so now I have my own wheels for a couple of weeks. Its a great sense of freedom to just travel around in a car, not knowing where you will end up that night. However, I am heading to Sydney, so I do have a rough idea where I'm going!

First stop was Kangaroo Island, a 45 munute ferry ride from Fleurieu peninsula winery area, which in turn is a couple of hours south east of Adelaide. The island is quite large and teems with wildlife. In fact, it's not advisable to drive there at night because of the likelihood of running over a nocturnal animal, such as a possum or wallaby. Just on one day I saw:
- 4 koalas clinging to tree trunks (they sleep during the day)
- 5 kangaroos, 1 of which would cheekily approach tourists in a car park in the hope of food
- 3 echidnas, which look like porcupines. All were crossing roads and I nearly ran over them.
- many New Zealand fur-seals basking on the rocks at Cape du Couedic
- lots of Australian sea lions at Seal Bay
- 20 pelicans who appear at 5pm at Kingscote wharf as they know they will be fed fish then.

The islanders were very friendly and the local drivers like to wave at the tourists as they drive past. It took me a while to get used to that and to remember to wave - at first I thought they were warning me that there was a speed trap around the corner!

Back on the mainland I headed to Victor Harbour on the Fleurieu peninsula. This is a pleasant holiday spot complete with a horse drawn tram over a causeway out to Granite Island. I continued east on the coast road, crossing a small river using a very old fashioned ferry which required a cable to pull it across, stopping at Kingston and stayed over at Mount Gambier. This town is built of the side of a defunct volcano and on top of limestone caves. The Blue Lake in the crater changes colour from grey to bright blue every November and nobody knows why. I stayed at what was described as 'the most interesting accomodation experience in town', the former jail. I was in cell 6 and it was suitably spartan...

Having served my term I headed east to Portland and on to the start of the Great Ocean Road scenic route. This is hyped as one of the key attractions of Oz, but in truth the road is not next to the coast for most of its length. However, there are certain points that do give a stunning view of the limestone caves and stacks, most famously of the Twelve Apostles, also the Bay of Islands and the Bay of Martyrs.

I made it as far as Port Campbell the next day and then on through Apollo Bay and Lorne to stop at the Oz capital of surfing, Torquay, last night. On the way I stopped at Cape Otway lighthouse (first lighthouse built in Oz; thousands had died in shipwrecks along this coast) and Otway fly, a steel walkway through the canopy of the temperate rainforest over 20 metres up.

So today I arrived in Melbourne, just in time to miss the England v Samoa rugby match here. I am staying in St Kilda, a suburb on the beach some 4km from the centre of town. More on Melbourne later.
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