footloose and fancy free in oz

A bloke, his better half, and a 4WD truck, in the wild blue yonder of the red continent

Late Update #1: Fleurieu for Christmas

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It’s been a while … I know. And I’m hand-on-heart sorry about my slackness. Really and truly!
I was actually shamefaced when some of you recently contacted us to check that we’re still alive. *hangs head in shame*
I could offer feeble excuses (we’ve had as good as no internet access for the past 7 weeks or so), but it’s really a case of mea culpa.

So, in case anybody still cares, here is the first of a couple of posts that will bring us up to date again.

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Fabulous Florieu

Well, with the silly season around the corner, we hoped to put as much distance between us and the hordes that were about to swarm to the holiday destinations that we’d become used to having to ourselves. We pondered heading further down towards Victoria for Christmas but were dissuaded by the impolite weather that dominated the state every time we checked. It struck us as decidedly unbecoming of summer.

Besides, we loved South Australia even though weatherwise it was a bit hit and miss; or hit and hiss when a heatwave visits, which happened mid December when the northern parts of the state experienced extreme temperatures  – including a record 49.8°C in Coober Pedy. We’re thanking our lucky stars that our timing was better than that of a bunch of adventurers who headed that way, only to find that in such high temperatures, vehicle tyres on the Oodnadatta Track were popping like pimples on a teenager’s face. Disconcertingly, we heard that the weather pattern would eventually catch up with us; much later though as it turned out.

Meanwhile there was plenty to keep us in SA in general, and on the Fleurieu Peninsula in particular: we loved the super chilled vibe, the people are amazingly welcoming, the country is beautiful and the wildlife is prolific in the more remote areas. And as if that wasn’t enough, the built environment is dominated by beautiful stone heritage buildings that create a very appealing atmosphere – we felt as if we’d been transported into the past. It all felt pretty darn good and charmed the pants off us.

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We agreed that it wouldn’t be any hardship if we ended up spending a few weeks on the bottom end of the Fleurieu Peninsula. It’s among the preferred destinations for city-weary ‘sea changers’, beach house owners, and general holiday makers alike.  Apparently holiday house owners based in Adelaide make up well over 70% of the population in some areas. However, the fact that many places are passed down through generations explains the more settled feel. The people we’ve come in contact with all seemed very passionate about the place – noticeably more so than elsewhere we’ve been.

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Councils have clearly been upsized …

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Victor Harbour

Victor Harbour is the main hub, a cute country town that comes alive in summer with a pleasant buzz. Next along, Port Eliott, is a pocket sized beauty that consists almost exclusively of the prettiest heritage buildings and gorgeous little shops . It also has a pretty little beach in the aptly named Horseshoe Bay. The last place, Goolwa, is off the main road and therefore a bit quieter but no less charming. If anything, for us it was the pick of an already good bunch.

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Coastline near Victor Harbour

The coastline is superb as is the countryside where there are vineyards galore. One could easily stumble from one gorgeous vineyard to another, which is, no doubt, fantastic for wine buffs. We don’t count ourselves among them, but had no trouble enjoying the beautifully presented boutique vineyards, often reminiscent of their European counterparts. However, with wine gluts being reported all the time, we couldn’t help but wonder whether they’re all profitable. I was mindful of the old joke about how to make a small fortune with vineyards. The trick, so the advice goes, is to start with a large fortune.

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One of the many vineyards in the Currency Creek wine region

What took us by surprise was the beautiful laid-back atmosphere that would have you think you’ve travelled a few decades back in time. It’s obviously enhanced by the historic architecture and the generally slower pace, but there’s also a lack of pretentiousness which rounds things off wonderfully. The area attracts and nurtures a solid community of artists and artisans ; we spent a few days following an arts trail, visited a bunch of galleries and met artists in their studios. Mind you, half a day was spent looking for places that were listed as being part of the Arts Trail, yet no longer existed. That, we decided, was on the frustrating end of laid-back.

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Victor Harbour

Back to happy things: Gastronomically, the area is a treat thanks to visionary and committed people involved all along the food chain. It’s noticeable everywhere – from the multi award-winning artisan bakery to the fabulous little greengrocer cum delicatessen cum café where the (mostly organic) produce is proudly displayed alongside portraits of their growers and suppliers. A number of fabulous eateries renowned for slow food complete the tasty picture.

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It was not at all surprising to hear that Goolwa was in fact the first town in Australia to be recognised as a “cittaslow” – (ital. “citta” = city) a place where the slow food movement, a focus on traditional techniques and traditions, local produce and heritage varieties, is a central element, along with an encouragement for diversity and healthy living. For a self-confessed slow food fan, it doesn’t get much better than that.

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Old World charms your pants off

Flipper is alive and well

Water based enjoyment was largely a passive affair. We found the ocean too rough – not to mention too cold – for swimming. Having said that, our enjoyment reached a high point when a large pod of dolphins appeared out of nowhere and showed off their considerable acrobatic skills. They were jumping high out of the water, doing 360’s and all manner of difficult looking twists and turns. Those acrobatic moves likely have names at places like Sea World. Then, to top it off, they started ‘dancing’ on the water; one dolphin – possibly an incarnation of Michael Jackson – literally ‘walked’ on its tail backwards. I kid you not, it was the sort of thing that made Flipper famous. It was frigging unbelievably spectacular – pretty much like a marine flash mob! The most amazing display either of us had ever seen, by a country mile. The show lasted a good 20 minutes or so and left us gobsmacked.

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Local kids acting all intimidated by the “no jumping off the wharf” sign.
(Horseshoe Bay, Port Eliott)

Our holiday hide

Victor Harbour had already become quite busy. Then, the week before Christmas, SUVs with boats or jetskis in tow, started rolling into the much quieter Goolwa also. We desperately longed for a quiet spot where we could tuck ourselves away until the holiday madness subsided. It manifested pretty much instantly as we chanced upon estuarine perfection: a waterfront spot on a very long uninhabited peninsula that extends from Goolwa all the way up to the mouth of the mighty Murray River, surrounded by the famous Coorong National Park.

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This was “our spot”. Seriously amazing, super private and right on the water’s edge.

We had the river- and lake fed system right in front of us – a wetland of national significance, no less, with an astounding variety and number of wading birds. Behind us were huge sand dunes that lead to a booming southern ocean beach. ‘Our’ spot was also popular with bird watchers. It was, ahem, actually ‘their’ spot, but they were a friendly lot and generous with their knowledge. We got to know ornithologists and amateurs alike, and learned a great deal about identifying some of the trickier wading birds.

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Breakfast with the birds

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A track through the sand-dunes lay between us and the booming surf beach

“I reckon there must be at least 20 species of birds here at any one time,” the bloke mused one evening. His throw-away comment prompted us to do a quick bird review. We surprised each other when, in a matter of a couple of minutes, we had named 22 species in view. And that was without having to move (or refering to our bird book). It was pretty special! We’d officially joined the bird geeks.

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His Highness, the Royal Spoonbill

Town was an energising bike ride away, and the beach behind us was rich in Pipis which we collected for a delicious seafood pasta. Life was swell.

However, there was a mystery that gave us something to ponder: As always, we leave our jandals (thongs) out the front of the truck at night. However, as soon as we moved into this spot, one jandal – the left one of a new lime green pair – disappeared overnight. Bummer, I thought, and grabbed a spare. Next night, we inadvertently left them out again. Same thing happened; the left one of a new pair disappeared. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to see a pattern, so we became vigilant. Until, that is, we fell back into old habits again … and another new left jandal disappeared. We resolved the case one balmy night when we were quietly sitting outside and were visited by a fox who then trotted past us along the water’s edge. I saw those eyes, and they looked mighty shifty. I swear, they were checking out our footwear. Reckon that was our suspect right there. We also heard some young foxlings yelping in the distance. They sounded unmistakably excited. I bet they were fighting over the new cool rubber toys.

Hand to mouth – the feast cycle

We’d been in contact with an old travel buddy, Vicky, who was in the general area and we invited her to camp at our special spot. It was great fun to reconnect and compare travel tales after quite a few months. Poor Vicky had been getting a rough deal with her motorhome and had warranty issues galore. So many things have broken on it on it you wouldn’t believe she purchased it brand new only just over a year ago.

She joined us in time for our annual celebrate-athon. Since the bloke’s and my birthdays fall in the couple of days before Christmas, we always wind up with an endurance event involving quantities of rather nice food and drink. Being on the road didn’t change things much. A micro-kitchen is no hindrance to producing yum food from scratch. Home-made goodies like ravioli, breads, traditional cakes and (for the first time) a pannettone, made for daily delectation.

A bouquet of roadside wildflowers for the bloke's birthday

A bouquet of roadside wildflowers picked for the bloke’s birthday

Unfortunately, and entirely predictably, those treats left traces on my physique. The bloke noted that with my new pouch I now blended in nicely with the marsupials around here. He, on the other hand, is an inconsiderate freak who doesn’t even gain a few grams of fat out of solidarity. Most unkind.

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Our panettone looked infinitely better before it was on my arse.

Never mind. There’s always exercise to melt away excess kilos, right? Our bikes were the obvious choice. I thought it would be perfect to venture the 10 or so km to the Murray River Mouth, accessible only by 4WD along the beach. We’d meant to do it a couple of weeks earlier but flagged it as it was too busy for our liking. At the time a handful of Landcruisers crowded our space. Well, we must have been totally deluded. The place was now infested by shiny SUVs turning the beach into a veritable highway.

Still, exercise was needed … and exercise we got. The damp sand at the beginning of the beach was really nice and firm to ride on but for some reason it soon deteriorated and became quite a bit softer – enough to have us working hard on them pedals.

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It was fun (in a masochistic way) and required a great deal more effort than anticipated. However, we cycled all the way to the end … and back again, for our sins. We got so many toots and thumbs up along the way, even the offer of a beer to celebrate our effort; it would have been rude to give up. And while I’d do it again in a heartbeat, I’d be more careful about my attire next time. Not wishing to go into details, but ladies will know the bodysuit (with dome closures you-know-where). Let me tell you, it’s a bloody stupid garment to be inadvertently wearing on a cycling trip. Unless you look good walking like John Wayne.

Pondering extraction

Before long “our” spot became a semi-permanent home base. We knew a fair few of the bird watchers by name and had a good handle on the birds. We could even tell the three resident Royal Spoonbills apart, just by their feeding habits. No kidding! And there was one Red Kneed Dotterel that always came real close to us. We were becoming part of the environment and it felt pretty darn nice.

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Night Heron

But guilt overcame us when we realised that we’d been hogging the spot for 17 days. It had already become 2014 and it was time to move. Frankly, we were surprised that we hadn’t as yet received a rates bill.

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Moonrise over the Coorong

We thanked our lucky stars that we were allowed to enjoy this wonderful spot for such a long time. It gave us time to ponder all sorts of things, including our immediate and not so immediate future. Some big decisions were made, but more about that in the next blog post which will hopefully follow soon.

Pics to finish

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In case you were wondering how good fake owls work as bird deterrent. We watched these two magpies pulling covers off the furniture and creating general havoc. In the end one of them shat on an owl.

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Wobbly rides waiting for customers

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