Wednesday, 18 May 2016

South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula

Because There are No Moose in Australia . .

When we landed in Australia, we needed some serious practice driving on the wrong side of the road.  We started with a nearby traffic circle in a new residential area under construction before turning ourselves loose on the unsuspecting citizens of Mount Barker and the Fleurieu (pronounced Flu-ree-oh) Peninsula. It was here that we cut our teeth on its very narrow roads, without benefit of shoulders and sometimes even guardrails and, just to keep you on your toes, the odd stupendously steep hill spiked with hair-pin curves.  For the first few days, more often than not, when we signaled to turn, our windshield wipers flashed up and our struggles continued as we desperately tried to convince the left side of our brains which hand was in charge of the gear shift.  And gawd forbid we should turn on the radio--far and away too much of a distraction!  
Driving the rural roads of Australia was a wee bit of a challenge and we thanked our lucky stars that neither of us had a tendency toward motion sickness.  I went in with the attitude that millions of others are driving quite successfully and, until I discovered I couldn't, then surely, I could!  But I admit, we both prayed fervently that every airport would be located well outside of a city in hopes of avoiding a significant number of traffic circles. . . it is as if Australia has a vendetta against signalized intersections.  We already struck out big time in Adelaide; we were hoping for better luck with the next five airports we would be encountering.  We also acknowledged that there would be no moonlit drives or stargazing; in fact, there would be no night  driving at all for us; judging from the countless carcasses along the roadsides, wildlife virtually turns the roads into an obstacle course after sunset.

Going in Circles?  Maybe a Bit

That said I have always been one to travel well out of my way to avoid a main thoroughfare and if I can help it, I never travel the same road twice.  We soon discovered that the North American version of a main route was far and few between in Australia and, while at first it was a bit daunting, we have come to have a great appreciation for its road network, and eventually even embraced the traffic circles. But let's get back on topic, shall we?

The Fleurieu Peninsula is billed as the playground of SA.  With its vineyards, beaches and historic towns, we had no problem finding things to see and do.  I know it looks like we kind of went in circles (and I guess we kind of did) but I bet we saw things the average tourist doesn't see.

St. Andrews Uniting Church
Strathalbyn, SA
It was here that we first had a taste of Australia's abundance of natural beauty.  This small triangle of land is bounded on two sides by the sea and on its third side by Australia's greatest waterway, the Murray River. With all that water, how could we possibly go wrong?

One of our first discoveries was the charming town of Strathalbyn. If you like historic buildings, antiques, collectibles and crafts, you will want to be sure to include 'Strath' on the list of places to see as you will find plenty to interest you around the community.  After we combed through the stores, we were drawn to another area of the community by an unfamiliar raucous emanating from a large flock of Major Mitchell's Cockatoos. Also referred to as Gawlers, these birds are plentiful enough that they are considered to be more than a bit of a nuisance because of their habit of eating the tops of  the eucalyptus trees, eventually killing the tree.

While the noise may have led us to the birds, the birds led us to St. Andrews Uniting Church. Founded by very staunch Scottish Presbyterians, St. Andrews is probably the most photographed building in Strathalbyn and is on the National Trust Heritage List. The Church is also near the lovely Soldiers Park, also worthy of a visit.
The Funky Garden Art at the
Glacier Rock Cafe

We stopped at the Glacier Rock Restaurant, in the vicinity of the Inman Valley.  There we discovered a 500 million year old boulder transported  some 15 kms by glacial ice all the way from Victor Harbor. Don't get me wrong, it was interesting but we found the area trees, the restaurant and its occupants far more fascinating.
Beech Tree Tear
The beech trees we thought to be blackened by a recent fire were weeping copious amounts of amber sap.  We have since learned that the color the bark is caused by a fungal infection that will eventually kill the tree. They have quite a pungent smell as does everything in Australia.  It would not be a lie to say that I literally sniffed my way through our vacation, getting high on the intoxicating fragrance of the lavender and rosemary hedges, if nothing else. In the restaurant, we were kindly introduced to the etiquette of casual dining (i.e. served at the counter) and the most wonderful coffee we have ever tasted.  Ah, what we might do for a 'long black' and a 'flat white' now that we are back in Canada.  It was also here that we struck up a conversation with two complete strangers and, shortly thereafter, found ourselves being led over hill and yonder dell to the top of a bluff and some of the most wonderful scenery we had yet to behold on our vacation.

Scenic View of Middle Beach, Goolwa, SA

We fell a little bit in love with Granite Island and Victor Harbor, even though we weren't graced with the presence of a single one of the some 700+ Little Penquins which we understand make an appearance each evening at dusk.  

Hence the name, Granite Island
Jump on the horse drawn tram but walk the Causeway connecting it to the mainland at least one-way, just so you don't miss anything.  The Island has historical and cultural significance to the  Ramindjeri indigenous people and forms part of the Ngurunderi Dreaming.  Give the 1.5 km Kaiki Walk a go as it will take you around the perimeter and is a very easy go.

Granite Island Tram, Victor Harbor SA
On we traveled through Goolwa, and Milang, making our way to Wellington, to one of the12 ferries crossing the Murray River. Wellington was the original crossing between Adelaide and Melbourne, a vital link on the Great Eastern Road to Victoria, until construction of the Murray Bridge in 1879.  There is no charge for the ferry, operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and its very reminiscent of the past.

The Murray River, though not terribly wide, is greater than 2,500 km in length and Australia's longest river.  It flows through several  lakes that fluctuate in salt content before emptying into the Indian Ocean (Southern Ocean) near Goolwa.  It is famous for its river cruises and houseboats and, though we didn't time it right, we understand there are some wonderful festivals, including the annual Wooden Boat Festival and Sounds by the River Rock  Concert.

Murray River Crossing, Wellington, SA
And there ends our time in South Australia, where we diligently strived to master twisting, turning, wee skinny roads; discovered drive-through liquor stores and the difference between a stubby and a tallie.  It's where we were given a warning not to use the word 'root', as it's the local term for another four-letter word generally considered to be inappropriate.  In other words, if you're from Canada, leave your favourite hoodie home. Incidentally, leave your fanny pack home too; if it's not bad enough that you'll be hopelessly out of style, a 'fanny' is the Australian term for the lady bits.

I know. . . you didn't realize you were going to have to learn a foreign language; neither did we . . .  just roll with it. . . it will be fun!