Thursday, 26 May 2016

From Murray to Melbourne And Everything In Between

Some folks were travelling in style but it wasn't us
Without doubt, our initial day,  leaving Adelaide, exploring Victor Harbor and crossing the Murray River was the longest driving day during our month long vacation in Australia.  And, byWestern Canadian standards and certainly by Australia standards, we didn't drive that far, somewhat over 5 hours in length, accounting for some 370 km.  You see, we kept finding things to stop and look at; sometimes it was touristy stuff and sometimes it was simply some 'thing' or some 'place' that caught our fancy.  And so we stopped.  We hadn't intended for it to be this long.  Before we knew it, we also knew we needed to boogie on down the road or we were going to be sleeping in the car.  That might be okay if we were riding around in one of the many  hippy vans we saw but, alas, we were in a Toyota Corolla.  Yes, the seats tilted back a bit, yes, there was ample leg room and, yes, we would be warm enough; but who wants to sleep in a Toyota Corolla?

We took the Princess Highway which skirts along the length of the Coorong National Park.  We anticipated some pretty spectacular scenery along our route but, sadly, there wasn't any to be had. According to National Parks, SA website, the Park stretches about 130 kms, protecting a string of saltwater lagoons which are protected by sweeping sand dunes.  Perhaps because we were there during a drought, we saw little in the way of anything but a poker straight road (I suspect the only one on the continent #joking), salt flats and scrub brush.  I tell you this, not to discourage you from taking this route, but to encourage you to make a plan. . . and we didn't have one.  My best guess is, one needed to get off the beaten track a bit further in order to experience those spectacular views and we simply didn't have the time.  So on we went. . . .  To Kingston! 

In our mind's eye, this is what we expected to see. . .
Coorong National Park, looking pretty darn spectacular
Photo courtesy of Shane Reid, National Parks, SA
Instead, we found this

Larry the Lobster, Kingston SE, SA
I stand corrected. . . it would seem there are two Kingstons in SA and, since the one we were headed toward is located in the southeast portion of SA, it is aptly named, Kingston South East.   A cozy little community of around 2,200 people, and situated at the entrance to the South East coast, the area boasts plenty of beaches and fishing.  The Kingston SE website suggests that it is warm and welcoming, a place where the locals love to chat with visitors and, from our experience, this is definitely a truism.  We settled ourselves into the Kingston Lobster Motel -- you can't possibly miss it as its situated immediately adjacent the giant Larry the Lobster -- and headed out to explore the community, including the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse, before turning in for the night.  In the morning, we followed our host's advice and skipped across the road for breakfast at the Robe Bakery where, once again, we were showered in hospitality.
Umpherston Sinkhole
We journeyed on to the Blue Lake, in the City of Mount Gambier, VIC. Not only is it the water supply for the City, the waters of this extinct volcano, is renowned for it's sapphire color during warm weather.  There's also a liesurely 45 minute walk around the lake that we quite enjoyed but what we really found fascinating is the Umpherston Sinkhole, also known as the Sunken Gardens.  Converted into a garden by James Umpherston in 1886, this little gem offers an array of scenic spots in a gorgeous setting.  There is no charge to enter the gardens, unless, of course, it's the snacks demanded by the resident colony of possums.  Be careful though; while one particular guy was overly friendly, there was a second that tended to be a little on the nippy side and was downright mean to his kinfolk.

Hotel Bentinck (formerly Mac's Hotel)
Further along,  and located on Portland Bay, the City of Portland is the oldest European settlement in the state, the main urban centre of the Shire of Glenelg, and the only deep sea port between Adelaide and Melbourne. It's early history revolved around whaling and sealing and, although the port remains the home of a varied professional fishing fleet, the aluminum smelter is now the state's biggest exporter.  Portland is the start of the 250 km Great South West Walk, and home to the Portland Cable Tram which traverses a local scenic route.  Portland was also where we had a really good look at a koala in the wild.  Despite being listed as vulnerable in other parts of Australia, a large population of koalas live in and around Portland and can often be found in the city's parks, gardens and back yards.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention our hosts at the Melaleuca Motel as well as the friendly staff and patrons of the Hotel Bentinck.  Established  as the Mac's Hotel in 1848, the latter was lovingly restored to its former grandeaur and reopened in 1996 as the Hotel Bentinck.

The Grotto
On we went to the Great Ocean Road, through charming Port Fairy and scenic Tower Hill; honestly, it was just getting better and better!  There is good reason why this area is designated an Australian National Heritage.  Built by soldiers returned from WWI, the road is the world's largest war memorial.    If its history isn't enough to keep you enthralled, surely the spectacular beaches and incredible vistas will.  What there is to see and do, while barely stretching your legs is mind-boggling, what there is to do if you are looking for a full body workout and are fit, is truly a wonder. There's no doubt, Australia is truly a trekker's paradise!

There are a few 'must see' areas along this glorious stretch of water, including the Grotto, London Arch and the Twelve Apostles.  No one seems to know why the Twelve Apostles are named as such but early charts refer to it as the Sow and Piglets, with the Sow being Mutton Bird Island, viewable from Loch Ard Gorge, and the piglets being the surrounding rock formations to the east.

The Breathtaking Twelve Apostles
There's a reason why it's called the 'Great' Ocean Road; the scenic coastal drives and the scenery you will encounter will leave you breathless! Be forewarned, will be stopping your vehicle very often to admire a stunning coastline, explore one of the many quaint communities or simply stop for a moment to let the power of  Mother Nature seep into your soul.  Oh what a joy it must be to live  along this route and experience such magnificence on a daily basis!

Although the beauty of the Great Ocean Road is undeniable, this rugged coast is also steeped in a history of terrible shipwrecks and colonial struggles, with the most infamous being the story of survival from the wreck of Loch Ard, where only two people survived:  a ship's apprentice and a female passenger.  The apprentice dragged the barely conscious woman into a cave and then climbed the cliff to find help.  Having lost her entire family in the wreck (the grave site is located near Port Campbell), suffice to say the woman was haunted by her memories of this tragedy for the rest of her days.

Port Queencliff
An area of Victoria that I suspect is often missed by tourists is the Bellarine Peninsula, in particular, Queenscliff, in southern Victoria. With a population of less than 1,500, and originally a fishing village,  Queenscliff is a former seaside resort dating back to the 1800s. Two hours from Melbourne by steam paddler, and with increased tourism as a result of the extension of a railway from Geelong, Queenscliff once boasted numerous luxury hotels (known as coffee palaces), all the while maintaining its status as an important cargo port.  It also played an important military role with the construction of Fort Queenscliff, now an historical museum.

Perhaps now you understand how we successfully managed to turn a 13-hour drive into a 5 day road trip and, honestly, it wasn't near enough time.  While I had visions of kicking back and spending a a day here or there in any one of a number of lovely communities (Lorne was a favourite, by the way), we spent so much time stopping and looking, we gave up that opportunity.  Next time.

Meanwhile, get ready for the next installment of our  Australia travels, as we get ready to explore Tasmania.