footloose and fancy free in oz

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


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Late Update #2: Victoria – hot, cold and sizzling

OK folks, here’s the last “catch up” post which will get us more or less up to date (and will hopefully rid me of blogger’s guilt).

A couple of months ago now, back in the fresh New Year, we started inching our way towards Victoria. It was strangely sad to be leaving South Australia behind. It had wiggled itself into our heart.
But we had things to do, places to see and people to meet.
For us it had been self-evident for some time, that catching up with people was going to be the focus of our stay in Victoria. It was just what the doctor ordered, as far as we were concerned. In the Melbourne area we were looking forward to connect with distant family and old friends, plus there was the delight of catching up with our first-born who was coming to Melbourne. After more than a year on the road – and well over three years since we’d left NZ – the anticipation of reconnecting with people with whom we have a shared history was a huge buzz. And while we’ve shared magnificent moments with interesting and wonderful people that we’d met on our travels, these encounters tend to be fleeting by definition.

With catch-ups in mind, we entered the meteorologically troubled state of Victoria.

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Freezing fairies and a culture shock

Our Tiki-tour along the coast brought us increasingly inhospitable weather. We did our best to ignore it and took some time out in the pleasant, gentrified fishing village of Port Fairy – home of the more-or-less famous Port Fairy Folk Festival. The town is a cute holiday destination with a lickety-spit fishing port as a focal point. Although to be honest, we visited primarily because we were intrigued by the town’s quirky name (which locals clearly don’t find airy-fairy). My inner child was hopeful that we’d come across a Hairy MacLairy who lives in Port Fairy. Alas, no such luck.

There was a graver disappointment in store for us: we didn’t have enough warm clothing in the wardrobe (and didn’t fancy burrowing into the bowels of our storage compartments where “emergency” thermo stuff lived). Did I mention it was the height of summer? The weather sure could have fooled us, our teeth didn’t stop chattering and we were lucky we didn’t lose toes to frost-bite (how naïve to be wearing summery sandals!).Mind you, apart from us, nobody seemed to take note of the sub-antarctic temperatures. The jaw-droppingly long queues at the ice cream shop were beyond comprehension.
It was clearly time to harden up – in more ways than one.

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As we absorbed the ambience of this attractive holiday town with all its trinket shops, eateries and sophisticated galleries, we couldn’t help notice that it’s rather more moneyed than any other place we’d been to, for what seemed a rather long time. We were overcome by loads of swanky European cars (and nearly over-run by their impatient drivers) and cafes full of people that looked like they sipped lattes for a living and mastered the art of avoiding pesky milk froth getting stuck on their upper lip. It all struck us as being a few economic miracles away from the earthy, community focused and organic feel of our favourite haunts in South Australia. As for the glorious Outback – that didn’t even seem like the same country.
So, there you have it.

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In hindsight, it probably wasn’t really all that super duper swish – just a buzzing holiday town at its seasonal height and within striking distance of the metropolis of style and fabulousness that is Melbourne. And it showed. We also came to the rude realisation that over the past year we seem to have acquired country-pumpkin-sensibilities. Simultaneously, some form of cerebral network failure must have erased our memory of modern urban lifestyles. It’s mildly embarrassing, but we’ve developed dislikes for the fast paced life and all that it entails, even traffic lights. The bloke dryly noted that we must have caught a virulent strain of “Outback Disease”.
Future will tell if it’s a cause for concern or celebration.
In any case, the big city was beckoning, and we were in for some lively readjusting.

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Desolate. Chic. Port Fairy.

Fabulous: Melbourne, family and friends

“Hi, my name is Sylvia and I’ve been living under a rock. I’ve never been to Melbourne and haven’t as yet absorbed the city’s legendary awsomeness through osmosis.” This tape played in my head as I wondered if there are support groups (a la Alcoholics Anonymous) for people who’ve never been to Melbourne. There definitely should be programs for metropolitan failures.

It’s ironic that in the past we would have gladly visited at the drop of a hat. Now, on the other hand, we dreaded it and would have avoided it at all cost if it weren’t for the people we were so looking forward to meeting. And as a further incentive, there was also a gig – our Xmas present to each other; Our first-born had alerted us that Bonobo was in town and insisted that it was an unmissable event. We knew to trust his impeccable musical taste.

So we steeled ourselves for what lay ahead and spent one last quiet night on the shores of Lake Colac, where icy winds swept across the water. We were surrounded by a bunch of mad fishermen who sat on the shore looking like arctic explorers wrapped in heavily insulated jackets. One fella sat there, rod in hand, motionless for hours; just as I was about to check on him (to make sure he hadn’t died of hypothermia) he showed a sign of life. I had visions of the poor sod sitting there for days before somebody noticed. Not sure if the maximum temperatures actually made it into double digits on those days.

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Lake Colac

We prepared for our big city visit and had arranged to meet long lost members of my distant tribe in West Melbourne first (two cousins of some degree, along with their parents). Despite the best efforts of our extremely temperamental GPS, we found our way to their home – without getting lost or ending up on one of the city’s many toll roads (the toll mafia charges like wounded bulls for commercial sized trucks; besides it’s an exercise in anger management if you don’t have the electronic toll thingy in your vehicle). Anyway, once there, it was a delight to get to know my distant family. It helped us ease into the ‘big city experience’ and made it infinitely friendlier. Best of all, my cousins are cool cats (it clearly runs in the family) and we found we shared a great many interests. They showed us around and – thankfully – familiarised us with Melbourne’s recently introduced MyKi public transport ticketing system. Had we charged off on our own, we would have likely drawn on, ahem, ‘choice expressions’ to describe the fact that you can’t simply buy/pay for individual trips. Notwithstanding the personal induction, our visitor experience suggested that MyKi suffers from more than just teething problems. But then again, what do you get for $1.5B these days?

The grandeur of Melbourne’s State Library Reading Room

We gratefully accepted the offer of camping in our relatives’ back yard which we’d previously discussed at length – and width. The garden gate demanded a super precise reversing manoeuvre, affording a scant centimetre to spare at either side, between our panel work and the sharp corners of the fence post capping. And then there was the gutter-bump to make things even more exciting. No guessing who got the job. (I might be blonde, but I wasn’t slow in volunteering the bloke for what looked to be Mission Impossible. What’s more, I had more faith in his slick truck driving skills than our insurance coughing up for any ensuing panel damage.)

After a few minutes of to-ing and fro-ing, the bloke utterly redeemed himself. He probably could have walked on water. Watching him squeeze Truckie with breathtaking precision through this unforgiving sliver of a space was like witnessing a watermelon being passed through a nostril. For my more modest truck driving skills, it was the spatial equivalent of poetry in motion.

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Federation Square, of course

Having lived in Brisbane, Auckland, Wellington and, back in the day, London, we’ve had our fill of big cities. In saying that, we sort of enjoyed the Melbourne experience. It really is a special kind of city, if a touch capricious. It’s obviously home to beautiful people and I for one find them a delight to observe. People watching is the best kind of spectator sport, and this must be one of the best cities for it. Street fashion is a personal favourite, and the beautiful Melbournians (or Melbournites?) really do whacky and unconventional chic extremely well. The cynic in me almost spoiled the party though, by proclaiming it just another uniform, albeit one in disguise. The same might well be said for the extravagant inner city architecture. It made me think of a classroom full of kids with a high proportion of ADD sufferers, all of them jumping with hands raised high, vying for one’s attention. Most of it was very stimulating. Some of it was naff. But all of it together made me wish they had given Ritalin to city planners.


We visited our lovely friends, Jan and James, and invited ourselves to stay at theirs after the Bonobo gig. Luckily for us they happily obliged and hosted us at their swish city pad. Even luckier, they lived within stumbling distance of the gig, which made it unbelievably easy for us to amble back after a night of letting our hair down and enjoying fantastic live music (while also doing serious damage to the average age in the joint). Fun was had on all counts.

Eating and drinking ourselves around the Laneways was predictably another one of the high points but the tastiest high point was at a family dinner when Cousin David introduced us to the Negroni Cocktail, possibly the holy grail for lovers of bitters. And as if that wasn’t enough, after dinner his wife Toni served us the best Limoncello ever (made by her aunt, I believe). Unforgettable!

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Travelling spirits: We met this Japanese juggler (above)  in several places including Darwin and saw him again in Melbourne. Loved his dancy show, his beautifully laid out implements and the sweet sign.

Back into the country

After our intense gastro-boozy- voyeuristic and arty-farty Melbourne experience, we were ready to head for the hills. Or rather the valley – the Yarra Valley to be precise, where our old mate Charlie has a 50 or so acre lifestyle block in glorious serenity, sufficiently remote from the city.
We were good mates when he lived in Auckland in the 1990s – fellow migrants with shared European cultural and linguistic roots, and a great common fascination with plants and gardens. Needless to say we all looked forward to reconnecting after many years.

Charlie's private dam cum swimming hole

Charlie’s private dam cum swimming hole

His intimate property is beautifully situated high up in the Yarra, adjacent to the ubiquitous vineyards that you’ll find everywhere in this region. Long ago he has established a productive orchard, a substantial berry plantation, and lately also a novel raised vegetable garden as well as an assortment of interesting plants. He has created a series of inter-connected dams and has designed his property with self-sufficiency in mind (a lifestyle that is very close to our hearts).

The main house is currently undergoing a major DIY renovation. Being a resourceful engineer, a fixer-upper and a lovable eccentric with magpie tendencies, he also has an amazing collection of stuff – various items of plant and machinery along with assorted bits and pieces – much of it having long ago spilled out of his immense shed. We felt very much at home and happily pitched in with work that needed doing.

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Innovatively contained and raised vege gardens

Some like it (not so) hot

A radio station billboard advertisment stuck in my mind. It proclaimed this particular station and its presenters to be “As Melbourne as 41 degrees in the morning and 18 by lunchtime”. Initially I dismissed it as “advertising truth” best taken with a good pinch of salt. However, after 2 ½ months in the state, we knew different. No need to alert the Advertising Standards Authority. The billboard was indeed telling the godforsaken truth.

Subsequently, we also got to experience a couple of heatwaves with sustained temperatures in the mid 40s. And that really is getting a bit bloody hot, if you ask me.

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With extreme temperatures, and in context of minimal rainfall, came severe fire danger of course. Being on a country block surrounded by tinder-dry forests, grass and bush, this became a daily topic of conversation. It wasn’t until Charlie showed us how to operate various pumps and hoses and put us through a fire drill that the severity of the situation actually sunk in. The drill, by the way, involved us sheltering in a nearby dam, holding a large piece of dense wet carpet-type felt above our heads (to protect us from any fire and – most important – to trap vital oxygen that would otherwise be consumed by flames)!

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Extreme fire danger saw the fire hose being rolled out and the buildings hosed down.

It all culminated in a fairly tense weekend of extreme temperatures and high winds (almost exactly 5 years, to the day, after the horrendous Black Saturday bushfires which took place here). This time, several out-of-control fires were raging in the wider neighbourhood, claiming 18 properties (but thankfully no lives). We had our ears glued to the emergency radio station where incessantly sounding sirens and endless evacuation notices kept us pretty much on edge.
It would be an understatement to say that we were relieved when this particular danger passed.

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Fire drill

And being in Victoria meant that it wouldn’t be too long before temperatures would plummet and flames would be roaring elsewhere … in the fire-place, that is.

A Rainbow type of festival

Believe it or not, February was festival time again for us! The Rainbow Serpent Festival was being held a couple of towns away from Ballarat in a nice country setting and we had once again applied for volunteer positions which allow you to work for a ticket. It’s a fantastic way of keeping expenses low (those festivals are quite pricy) while getting a look behind-the-scenes and meeting interesting people. It’s a win:win.

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Rainbow, as it’s affectionately known, still trades on its hippie roots and its links to indigenous culture but has grown to become a massive event, which I’m guessing is but a shadow of its former self. This year it sold out at 15,000 capacity. It was nice in many respects, but it came across as decidedly commercial with a thin veneer of sustainability consciousness and a ‘painted on’ hippie vibe. Basically it was overrun by loads of young trendy Melbourne peeps plus a large contingent of interstate and international visitors of the same ilk, all playing dress up and enjoying the 24-hour psychedelic playground, with all that it entails.

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Before you dismiss me as a grumpy old woman, I’ll quickly add that, yes of course, we had heaps of fun, we enjoyed the festival on the whole and we laughed at being rugged up for the first part as it was so cold, and then sweltering in 40+ temperatures with gale force winds on the last few days (and while we were working). But, and it’s a big BUT, our enjoyment was tempered by the effects of crass consumerism and the mind-bogglingly huge mountains of rubbish that were left behind by festival goers at their campsites. I was actually too embarrassed about it to photograph the aftermath. Everything you never thought you’d find was biffed: domestic furniture, tents, inflatable things, bicycles, clothing, camping equipment, decoration, accessories … and pretty much anything you can imagine. We thought it was shameful for an event that talks about sustainability and proudly states “permaculture” in its workshop offerings.

Our delightful festival buddy and all-round wild child

Change of tack

As much as we love our reinvented selves as footloose and fancy-free travellers, we always knew that this type of journey wasn’t a destination in itself. What we didn’t know was that an open-ended and loosely defined adventure such as ours, also comes with a velvet lined trap: It’s jolly easy to get used to a life of travelling on the road. Further, with the option of casual work here and there, it would be no problem to continue this lifestyle without further dipping into savings. Unsurprisingly, there’s a temptation to delay the return to “real life” indefinitely. We’d met plenty of people who have done just that. Loads of them have been on the road for many years, and some even for several decades, typically resting in places for a while when they become travel weary.

We’ve been a bit travel weary lately and felt like a rest. Increasingly we found that neither of us could be bothered to prepare for the next stretch of travel. Partially this is also due to the fact that we’re back into more populated areas. We both feel that after all the amazing experiences in the back of beyond, this just doesn’t cut the mustard for us anymore. We both felt that we’d either have to return into the magnificent serenity and vastness of the Outback and explore WA, or pull the plug altogether.

We’ve been talking about “life after the trip”, which is likely to entail house and land, and ideally a high degree of self-sufficiency, and realise that this won’t happen while we’re swanning about Australia. Besides, it may well take some years to establish. More to the point, since neither of us is getting younger fast (though I’m obviously a bit better at it than the bloke), we’ve decided that we will end our most awesome adventure when we get to Brisbane.

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Near St Kilda

Good bye Victoria

We had spent a fair bit of time at our mate Charlie’s place, looked after his property while he was away and helped with a few projects and some gardening which was enormously grounding. In between, we had a few trips, most notably along the Great Ocean Road which we was recommended as a “must do”. We admit that it’s certainly a beautiful drive along the rugged coastline with the famous limestone stacks jutting out of the sea – but it’s also a highly frequented tourist drive, dubbed the Great Asian Road for obvious reasons. Admittedly, it was holiday season, but nevertheless we were flabbergasted by the sheer numbers we encountered on the walkway to viewing spots for the famous “Apostles”.

Incidentally, the Apostles were originally known under the decidedly agricultural sounding moniker  “Sow and piglets”. But- who could have guessed – it strangely didn’t prove popular with punters. Then somebody figured out that a more glorious sounding name would surely help tourism numbers along. So, rather than praying for visitors, they put their faith in religion to drum up business. The rest, as they say, is history.

   
Our favourite along the Great Ocean Road was the area around Cape Otway where we found a lovely camping spot tucked away at the end of a long dirt road. It was relatively quiet and had the huge bonus of being home to a considerable population of koalas. They were practically everywhere and in such numbers, that we could actually study how different they all looked. It was fun to compare the rugged looks of grand-daddy with the mum and the cute young koala.
Their over-population was taking a toll on the vegetation though and a number of trees sported thick plastic collars on their trunks to deter koalas from climbing them. Mind you, the presence of a pair of koalas cheekily sitting just above such a collar, suggested that the rangers have a long way to go before they can outwit those cute marsupials.

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Cuteness alert: Baby bear

Our final exit tour, through Gippsland and into NSW, was as meteorologically memorable as our entry into Victoria. We made the acquaintance of an impressively large low pressure system that would be with us for a very long time, much to the delight of farmers who’d been praying (possibly a bit too devotedly) for rain. As a result, we didn’t get much of an opportunity to explore the area due to torrential rains on most days. (On remaining days we had ordinary showers or thunderstorms. ) However, on one day it was even mostly dry.

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Polocrosse: Full-on contact sport for all involved

That day, we were lucky enough to come across a regional Polocrosse tournament near the oddly named town of Sale. (One can’t help but ponder how local search terms would screw with search engine algorithms. Looking for Sale real estate, or just about anything in this place would be an interesting experience).

Anyway, we absorbed this amazing sport and hung out with the players for the day. It’s a fascinating sport that demands outstanding skill and must appeal to daredevil riders. We saw gobsmackingly amazing displays of horsemanship, often by riders who hadn’t even made it into their teens (!) but gave the adult participants a run for their money. A couple of young hot shots (who looked barely old enough for a newspaper round) told us proudly that they had qualified for the national champs – held in Darwin of all places. Having travelled the distance over many months ourselves, we were aghast at the effort and expense involved in driving there, and back again, with a bunch of horses in mega-sized rigs. Not sure that it makes horse sense, but it’s one hell of a commitment that’s for sure!

Photo finish – animal parade

 

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More Polocrosse action

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Easy care dogs (Lorne)

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Super sized Grandpa Bear

A bird in the hand ...

A bird in the hand …

Grasshopper Porn. I dare you not to click to enlarge.

Grasshopper Porn. I dare you not to click to enlarge.

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Washed up puffer fish. Still looking surprised.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

 

RIP Noel Harper (1926 – 2014)

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Noel, complete with bling, dressed for his last ANZAC parade

This blog post is dedicated to our dear old friend Noel, who sadly passed away on 10 February while we were in the Yarra Valley. Noel had become our quasi family when we lived in Brisbane. The friendship started on a particularly bumpy Air NZ flight when the bloke got to sit next to Noel. The bloke doesn’t like flying at the best of times and has a deep aversion to white-knuckle rides like this one. Noel, on the other hand, seemed nonplussed by the turbulence and thought it was a good time to recount various fond (and hair-raising) memories of his air related experiences from his service in WWII. Then out of the blue, Noel started singing hymns much to the concern of the already speechless bloke who, by now, figured that death was imminent. Needless to say, this story became a favourite talking point.

It only transpired much later, that Noel adored all the old traditional hymns and would sing or whistle them at any time, for no reason at all. He was a great whistler!

It was a delight to have Noel in our close circle and it was a great honour that he called us his best friends. I can honestly say that it was his eager participation and genuine interest in our adventures that motivated me to put time and effort into this blog which he so enjoyed reading.

Missed but never forgotten.

 

 


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Late Update #1: Fleurieu for Christmas

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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