A Tour of South Australia, a 50th Anniversary Reunion                                                             and Travels with Stuie.

14 March to 3 May 2016

This year was the 50th Anniversary of the 14th Intake at HMAS Leeuwin, WA, when Max joined the Navy, just a lad of 16 years. So, with a reunion planned to take place in Adelaide, it seemed a good opportunity to include a tour of the “bottom half” of South Australia. We had already covered the “top half” on our way back from our trip to the Northern Territory in 2014.

We set off mid-March, making our way via Gatton and Warwick, with lunch at the spot where Alan Cunningham named the Darling Downs. Through Goondoowindi, St. George, Dirranbandi, and finally crossing the border into NSW at Hebel, a road we’d never travelled before.

Pulled into Lightning Ridge for a look, but it was so hot, couldn’t consider staying too long. A visit best left for winter. Then on through Walgett, Brewarrina, Bourke and Cobar. Struck quite heavy rain at Cobar, even some flooding across the highway. I’m sure the locals were very pleased. Stopped at a rest stop just before Wilcannia for M/T and were besieged by a herd of wild goats looking for a few tit bits.

Finally Broken Hill, where we found a pet friendly caravan park, with a swimming pool! It was so hot, around 35! Got ourselves settled, then on with the togs for a cooling dip in the pool. Well, the water was so cold, I could barely put a toe in. Max was in and out in 2 seconds flat. We contacted Sarah and arranged to meet her for a quick tea of fish and chips. She is programme manager with the local ABC radio station, and had a busy day planned for the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day Races. Sarah is a school friend of Kris’ from our Warwick days. Always good to catch up.

Next day headed south to Wentworth, with a storm threatening. No storm, but fierce winds coming from the south. Made towing the van a chore for Max. The drive from Broken Hill to Wentworth is quite desolate. As we neared Wentworth, the countryside changed and there were vast fields of grain. We drove into a dust storm and the weather had become quite cool.

Crossed the Darling River, at Wentworth, down the road a bit and crossed the Murray River into Victoria and found a great camp at Meerbien, on the banks of the river. So peaceful. Decided to stay two nights, very relaxing, watching houseboats sail past, and so many birds.  A full moon shining on the river a beautiful sight to see.

Next on to a free camp at Lake Lascelles, near Hopetoun, another great spot right on water. Then Galaquil, and the Dingo and Rabbit Fence, erected in 1885, from Tyntynder to SA border “to prevent dingoes and rabbits overrunning and devastating pastoral and agricultural land to the south”. Next stop Brim to see the amazing paintings on the roadside silos, by Guido van Helten. I first saw the silos mentioned on Facebook ages ago. I made a note in our map book, never thinking we would have the opportunity to see them. Just amazing. Very open country, grain crops as far as the eye could see. Morning tea at Dimboola, lunch at Coleraine, then our next overnight stop at Dartmoor.

Next day we arrived at Mt. Gambier Showgrounds, offering water and laundry facilities for $15/night. Decided to stay over Easter, to avoid the crowds, also a good base to visit the surrounding areas free of the van. The coastline around Mt. Gambier offers spectacular scenery, from Port MacDonnell to the south up to Robe, including Cape Northumberland, the most southerly point in SA. Port MacDonnell is the crayfish capital of SA, managed to purchase a pensioner priced lobster, a real treat. Visited the Blue Lake, but wrong time of the year to see it at it’s best.

Left Mt. Gambier, only travelled a relatively short distance and ended up overnighting at Kingston S.E. Weather came in quite cold. Had a look around the town, found Larry the Lobster, he looked a bit sad. In need of a makeover, I think.

Heading north now, past The Coorong, and on to Narrung, a great free camp situated on the banks of Lake Alexandrina. This was a lovely spot, so we decided to stay a couple of nights, to have more time to explore.  We are taking this trip nice and slow, less tiring and good for Stuie to be able to run around a bit (on his long lead, of course!) The Coorong is a spectacular body of water, great for bird watching, able to get good photos of Cape Barren geese and a Nankeen Kestrel.

After a very peaceful couple of days, on to the car ferry for a short crossing, the Narrows, between Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert, to Poltalloch, up the road a bit and another car ferry to Wellington. Made our way to Mt. Barker in the Adelaide Hills, scenery changing to vineyards and almond orchards. Two nights at Mt. Barker, with a drive to the Toy Factory, the factory making wooden toys, which Max was keen to see. Also home to the Giant Rocking Horse. Found Melba’s Chocolate Factory at Woodside, made a few purchases here! Drove through Hahndorf, but so crowded, couldn’t find a parking spot. The Hills reminded me of Stanthorpe, with fruit trees and grape vines, and the reds and golds of beautiful Autumn foliage. For some reason, and I can’t think why, I didn’t pack enough winter clothing. So, off to the shops for a few bits and pieces. I was so cranky with myself, knowing all we needed was at home! 

We drove from Mt. Barker, through McLaren Vale, all vineyards now, to Goolwa and then onto Hindmarsh Island, to have a look at the mouth of the Murray River. Quite cold and windy, but great scenery and a nice lunch of fish and chips. On to Victor Harbour, on the Fleurieu Peninsula, for our next overnight stay. Next day, across the Peninsula, through Yankalilla, to Normanville for a couple of nights. Another “twitcher” prize here, with a New Holland Honeyeater in a tree right next to our van. Explored the coast from here, up as far as Aldinga Beach, taking in Carrickalinga Beach and the Myponga Reservoir. All the beaches are pet friendly, with Stuie having great fun running around like a mad thing.

South now to Cape Jervis, where we planned to leave the van while we were at the reunion in Adelaide. The ferry to Kangaroo Island also leaves from here. Managed to get a booking on a tour to KI, for after the reunion, by the skin of our teeth, I might add, we were so lucky. Great place to stop here, a farmstay, with old colonial farm buildings and views to Kangaroo Island. So, next day, with the van sorted and in storage, we left for Adelaide. We dropped Stuie off at a kennel on the way, and made our way to the motel, where we’d be staying for the next five days.

A very full five days, with tours to the Barossa Valley, a mystery tour for the ladies, ending up back at the chocolate factory,( and another bag full of goodies!), and Hahndorf, a boat cruise out of Port Adelaide, and numerous bits in between, topping it all off with a Gala Dinner. On the last day of our time in Adelaide, we visited the Zoo. I really wanted to see the pandas. Only one was on display, but a real treat, just the same.

Back to Cape Jervis, and our tour of Kangaroo Island, and who should we come across on the bus, but Linda and Greg from Claremont! Small world. Visited Seal Bay, with Australian Sea Lions lounging around on the beach, Admiral’s Arch and Remarkable Rocks. Travelled the whole length of the Island, taking in the spectacular scenery. We were due back on the ferry at 7.30pm, but an emergency call came through and the ferry had to head off for a rescue at sea. Finally back on the ferry at about 9.30pm, so glad to get back to the van after a very long day.

Early start to pick up Stuie from the kennel at Meadows, very excited to see us. Port Parham our next stop, spent four nights here. It was Blue Swimmer crab season and the hope was to get a good feed. Well, we didn’t do too badly. All you need to catch the crabs is a rake and a bucket to put them in.  They are fairly close to the surface, and by raking the sand, the crabs cling on to the rake. This is at low tide, of course. The weather was great, quite warm.

Yorke Peninsula now, with a morning tea stop at Clinton and overnight at Port Julia. Kept to the coast road right around the Peninsula, having a look at Wool Bay and Edithburgh, through Yorketown and on to Marion Bay, where we spent the night at another farmstay. Not the best spot, and a bit exxy considering there were no facilities to speak of, but needs must.

Back on the road, following the coast as much as possible, having a look at Hardwicke Bay and a morning tea stop at Port Victoria. Then Moonta and the local bakery’s famous Cornish Pastie for lunch. I have to say this pastie was much tastier than the one I had at Land’s End in Cornwall last year! 

Moving away from the coast now, heading north. Found a great free camp at Clements Gap. Previously a school (1892-1942), there was a shed full of memorabilia about the school, but also interesting exhibits about the area’s role in in WWII. It seems it was the location of a camp for American soldiers. There was also a little church, The Soldiers Memorial Methodist Church, opened in 1925. All set in dry, dusty scrubby bush and what seemed to be a long way from anywhere.

From Clements Gap a quick look at Port Pirie, through Port Augusta and on to Whyalla and the Eyre Peninsula. Fitzgerald Bay for the night then on to Cowell. We stayed a couple of days here, Max had the beginnings of a cold coming on and needed a break from driving. Caught up on the washing, did some shopping and generally relaxed.

Max feeling better, and the batteries recharged, we made our way down the coast, through Arno Bay, Tumby Bay, Port Lincoln and on to Coffin Bay. Max was very keen for a feed of Coffin Bay oysters. Apparently, they’re to die for! I’ll take his word for it. Coffin Bay is very picturesque, so oysters duly purchased, found a spot to stop and have some lunch.

Time to look for a camp for the night, found a sign to Coles Point. After about 10ks of dirt road, all of a sudden an amazing vista opened up. We were on the top of a cliff overlooking the Southern Ocean, and the very beginning of the Great Australian Bight. Just spectacular. Miles of untouched coastline, the sea a brilliant blue. And a beautiful sunset to top it off. A little bit of history. Coles Point was named after the Coles family who settled the area in the mid 1800’s. Matthew Flinders named Mt. Greenly to the north, and the hill to the south was named Frenchman, used by French whalers as a look-out in the early 1800’s. I have to say one of the best stops we’ve made in all our travels.

Next day an interesting morning tea stop at the site of the Lake Hamilton Eating House. The building was constructed sometime between 1851-1857 and was used as a stopping place for coaches and travellers passing through to more distant areas, until the 1880’s. There are some lovely old colonial buildings in SA, even in the smallest of towns. A lot of ruined buildings can be seen dotted around the countryside. Farmhouses were built of stone to ward off termites.  On to Elliston and a great cliff top drive, then Walkers Rock for the night, a lovely bay and beach. After Walkers Rock, up the coast, and we happened upon a sign to the Talia Caves. More spectacular scenery and an easy walk down the staircase to the caves.

 A morning tea stop at Venus Bay and then on to Murphy’s Haystacks. Here we found huge pink granite boulders right in the middle of a paddock! Amazing. $2.00 entry and $5.00 for a pot of local honey!  

Made for a caravan park at Streaky Bay, lucky to get one of the last sites, for our last night on the Eyre Peninsula. Heading for home now, driving across the top of the Peninsula, stopping at Wudinna to have a look at the giant granite statue,” Australian Farmer”, commissioned by the local community to recognise the history, community spirit and belief in rural Australia. An overnight stop in Kimba, and on our way out of town, detoured to White Knob Lookout and the Edward John Eyre Sculptures. Edward John Eyre is remembered as the first man to cross this continent from Sydney to the Swan River. (We saw Kimba’s Giant Galah on our way home from our trip around Australia in 2010, no need to visit him again!)

Took the road up through the Flinders Ranges to Quorn, a nice old fashioned town with some lovely old buildings. Also the location for some iconic Aussie movies, such as The Shiralee, The Sundowners and Sunday Too Far Away, just to name a few. Through Wilmington, Oororo, and another look at the 500 year old Red Gum, and on to Peterborough for the night. An interesting stop the next day for morning tea at Manahill, SA, not far from the border with NSW,  with quite a grand railway station, an old pub and imposing gates to nowhere. They must have been the front gate to a long gone property.

On the homeward stretch now, basically retracing our steps through outback NSW, stopping for the night at Cobar and Walgett. Back into QLD, overnighting beside a lagoon near Inglewood.

And so home. A great trip. South Australia is a must see on anyone’s travel list. Spectacular coastal scenery, historic Adelaide, the beauty of the Adelaide Hills, certainly offering something for everyone.