A new year dawns. The last few have been doozies, so what will this one bring?
We weren’t too sure what this day would bring either, setting off without being 100% sure where we’d end up. It started though, just as yesterday had. It turned out that Goolwa was putting on an extra Parkrun to have one on New Year’s Day, so we set off back to Goolwa and I did another fun 5km along a path that ran beside the river. It was already a warm one, but the river looked gorgeous, still and sparkling like glass and there were a few runners, walkers and a couple of dogs too, enjoying our trot in the morning sunshine of a new day and a new year.
Time to journey on and go eastward-ho, as we slowly make our way back towards Victoria. We had a little backtracking to do, along some of the same roads we arrived on and then rolled into Murray Bridge for elevenses in a nice little park beside the road. It was already 30C, with a hot wind and we sheltered under some dappled shade of a tree and watched the world go by, before motoring on.
If South Australia were anywhere else, you’d say it had Roman history, because all the roads are so darn straight. Long and straight, just on and on and on. Everywhere is so flat, that there’s nothing to have to curve a road around, so we seem to go everywhere in straight lines. No corners needed. We passed Pink lake, that looked like another great expanse of salt and then wheeled into Meninge. This was a little coastal town that was bustling and we turned off the main road when I saw a sign saying “Lookout”.
“We’d better go and have a look there,” I said.
As we drove up the road, Steve had a laugh, “How can there be a lookout, it’s all flat!”
When we got there, it was probably worth the chuckle because there wasn’t much height in the advertised “lookout”. It was an aspirational lookout! Either that or it had delusions of grandeur. It was striving to be a lookout, giving it a red hot crack, the little Aussie battler of a lookout.
As we drove out of Meninge on another curveless road, we passed a sign saying “Next services Kingston SE 145km”. We were entering the great expanse of nothingness! On we went and we were actually driving through the Coorong National Park, beside the river and wetlands of the Coorong. This is the waterway that’s in strife because of the narrowing of the mouth of the Murray River. Flocks of pelicans were flying overhead and then coming into land in the water and bobbing around as a group. Very special to see those birds.
From the Coorong we popped out the other end in Kingston SE, whose main claim to fame seemed to be their Big Lobster. Australia really does seem to like celebrating “big” things…the Big Pineapple, the Big Banana and now here was the Big Lobster. That was it really. Exactly what it says on the tin…a Big Lobster, sitting there on the side of the road. Why? Well, I think Trev was sitting in his shed one day and he’d finished his macrame and needed a new hobby, so thought he’d just knock up an enormous fibreglass crayfish. Well, everyone needs a hobby!
Another hour up the Roman road and we arrived in Naracoorte, in a 38C fan forced oven, with that hot wind taking our breath away. We decided to make this our pit stop, just a lay over for a night until we continue on our freestylin’ way tomorrow.
Off to an early start again and we headed for the Naracoorte Caves National Park. First things first though…cuppa time. Steve boiled the kettle on the little Trangia and we sat under a gum tree and had a brew while we waited for the Visitors’ Centre to open. The guided tour was booked out, so we went for the self-guided peruse of one of the smaller caves, oddly named Tomato Stick Cave. We descended from the heat of the morning into the calm, cool of the subterranean chambers. It’s always interesting to see the weird and wonderful formations in a cave and we strolled through, sometimes ducking to avoid a donk on the head. Actually, only one member of the team had to do that, my shortness fitted comfortably under every arch and dangling stalactite. It was an interesting roam through a hole in the ground.
After a cool exploration of the little network of caves and chambers below ground, we climbed back up into the bright morning and went for a stroll around a looped track in the National Park to read some more about the caves and the fossils found in them.
Time to hit the road and our route took us through the Coonawarra wine region, so it was mile after mile of vines and vineyards, which gave us some lovely greenery to see amongst the still endless sepia tones of everything else. We wheeled into Penola, a nice little town and found a shady table in a park for elevenses.
“No! You aren’t having those chips!” came a voice behind me. Had someone seen Steve tucking into his packet of Kettle and decided to give some impromptu dietary advice? I turned to see a woman and two little Pugs. “They heard the rattle of that packet,” she said. The two snuffling little dogs were eyeing off Steve’s packet of chips and hankering for their own crunchy elevenses, or maybe hoping for some fallout. The little flat noses leaned towards the prize, but were quickly u-turned by their lead and directed on their way to continue their lap of the park. Thwarted again!
We stopped off in Mount Gambier to have a look at another hole in the ground. The Umpherston Sink Hole is an enormous hole in the ground that’s made even more stunning by the garden created within it and hanging down its sides. The sink hole was part of a 19th century garden, with the home sitting at the back of the park, although not there anymore and as the sink hole was a focal part of the garden, the garden was added to it.
From a hole with a garden, to a hole with a lake. We took ourselves to see Crater Lake, or Blue Lake, which is a dazzling blue and Mount Gambier’s water supply. The crater is actually part of a volcano and was formed by eruptions.
Valley Lake, (there are a few lakes in Mount Gambier!) adds to the colour palette with some green to contrast with its blue cousin. Just up the road we found a nice spot to park for lunch, overlooking a frisbee golf course. The course was in yet another hole in the ground, with steep crater walls around it and the manicured parkland sitting in the middle. We had some entertainment over lunch as we watched the ferocious tussle between two players as they fought to be the first to sink their frisbee into the basket. It looked the real deal, with the players carrying two frisbees – one for the long throws and another for the short game. The approach toss was taken…oh no! Straight into a tree! That left it short. That’s gonna cost him. He walked on, rotating his wrist as if to say, “what did I do wrong, I did this, but perhaps I should have done this instead’ and gave a couple of practise flicks of the wrist, ready for the recovery toss. His opponent took his throw and sailed the disc through the air within a hairs breadth of the basket. Player one tried again. Out came the short-game frisbee for the approach…toss…missed! It wasn’t his day. Player two…toss…in the basket! It was riveting stuff!
On we went, whipping along the road with a blend of vines and flat, brown paddocks beside us. We crossed the state border and we were back in Victoria and the clock in the car magically jumped forward half an hour. Wind turbines rotated lazily on the hill behind golden rounds of hay and then… we could see the sea. We’d reached the coast again and our pit stop of Warnambool and it was nice to smell the sea air again.
So, we’ve started the year freestyling our way in South Australia, seeing some natural wonders and some not so natural giant crustaceans. We’ve seen big holes and small holes, looked down on holes and wandered into holes. We’ve explored and discovered, wondered and learned. Not a bad way to start a new year. What does it have in store? What will 2023 throw at us? It’s a mystery to us all, but let’s hope it’s a ripper!
Happy New Year all. I hope it brings you health, happiness, joy and acres of fab!
True story – we saw a lookout sign as we were driving across to Perth. It was as flat and straight as you described, but we saw 3 or 4 tents, so we swung left. It was absolutely breathtaking. True Australian bite with a storm cloud to boot. We had that picture on our way for 40 years! So one never knows! As to the holes, I love the different colours of those lakes. Not fond of caves myself as I’ve a fair amount of claustrophobia. I had to use maps and look up the Murray River as I couldn’t reconcile where you were seeing it with the one that pur friends from Bendigo used to go camp at north on the border. Yep same river. What a snake it is! Your running form must be stellar!! Another 5 km notch.
What a great story Bernie. I’ll continue my “aah, let’s have a look” strategy because you never know what the landscape will throw up and what could be along that road! You’re right, the Murray River deserves its “Mighty Murray” name, long and winding and so much depends on it. It sounds like you’ve done some great travels Down Under!