Leaving the east coast of the Eyre peninsula for now we decided we had unfinished business with the west coast, and headed off on what turned into a longish drive from Tumby Bay to the small coastal settlement of Streaky Bay. We had briefly visited here before on a previous “lap” of Australia, but hadn’t had time to explore.
Streaky Bay was home to the Wiringu people for “thousands of years”….I hate being forced to use that generalisation, but with almost no archeological research I could find having been done in the area, it has to suffice. So we acknowledge the Wiringu people as the traditional custodians of the land that we now call Streaky Bay. In their oral history they record what is thought to be their first contact with white people, when the Dutch sailing ship Golden Zeepard moored up in the harbour in 1727. After the “Waterloo Bay massacre” that happened in 1849, which is not far away, the Streaky Bay area become a no go area for those First Australians who had up until then survived dispossession of their lands and denial of access to their traditional water holes.
Today Streaky Bay grows as a tourist destination for, amongst other groups, caravaners like us, as well as a small fishing industry and wheat growing inland. The draw for many tourists is getting a line out in the bay, where the delicious king george whiting and garfish lurk. We have sampled both and from the local shop, and they are indeed quite outstanding. The local pacific oysters are also top class, the clean waters of the bay no doubt driving their quality.
We booked for a couple of nights at the Streaky Bay Islands Caravan park, a few kilometers out of town, and yes you can guess why they called it that. Well two nights turned into ten! We found it a really comfortable park to settle in. Clean, spacious sites, nice and quiet at night, it ticked all our boxes. With no town water to draw on, they have even built their own desalination plant!
Not being into fishing, we find ourselves in a small minority of folk here, so we have to be creative about finding stuff to do. There are a few nice coastal drives to take with photo opportunities. We took one to a place called Whistling Rocks. – where the blow holes createsmore of a thundering than a whistling.
An evening walk from the campsite through the dunes rewarded us with an amazing sunset. These are big, big skies.
Another day saw us cycling into town, on the well graded shared path. Of course despite hundreds of people staying at the caravan park, we were the only cyclists we saw all day! Eagle Eye Catherine then spotted a sea lion cruising around off the jetty, looking (successfully) for lunch.
After being hunted in Australian waters in the 19th century, they are like many other of our flora and fauna, listed as endangered. This means they’re declining at greater than 50% over three generations. Commercial fishing, marine pollution and climate change, all are now contributory factors to a continually declining population. as well as an infection that every pup gets called hookworm. You can now find Sea Lions in only 80 breeding colonies along the coast of South (80%) and Western Australia. If you have grandkids, they are likely to read about their extinction in the wild unless something drastic is done now to prevent it. Which, given current initiatives and priorities of budget spending, looks unlikely. Some projects are underway, such as the University of Sydney’s with a vaccine for hookworm on Kangaroo Island, but it’s not looking good. It is all rather depressing I know, but not much point sugar coating it and just sharing the nice pictures?
We continued our mission to find shorebird sites, and with the help of a guy from the Department of the Environment, we did. The last part of the trip took us down a sandy narrow track, and after the Landcruiser nudged its way though one to many tight, prickly spots, we abandoned it and walked. It was a hot dusty slog, but we were rewarded with some awesome sightings as we found the spot where the little creek met the ocean. Plenty of fishing going on here. Check out the great egret sequence – I just keep looking at the grace and beauty of this bird that Catherine has captured so beautifully. And these Singing Honeyeaters are everywhere, their song piercing the silence of the bush.
Location: Coffin Bay, Eyre Peninsula, South Australa
Unfortunately Mrs A still hasn’t recovered from her food poising, so no Coffin bay oysters for her, and so I abstained in sympathy. Poor thing, it’s been a bad one.
Anyway she was still keen to get out for a couple of walks, amazingly energetic given all she has consumed for the last 5 days have been two pots of apple purée, a couple of bananas, and dry crackers.
We set off from our campsite in the small town of Coffin Bay and immediately almost bumped into some wallabies, as you do. We had a bit of a eye starring competition, we lost and we moved on. A grey flycatcher came to say hello next, this was looking like a promising walk!
The path took us along the side of the bay, and in the late afternoon sunshine it was glorious, with a very brief and distant cameo appearance from a dolphin. They actually have their own species here, first identified in 2015. Only in Australia.
Once again this was a walk completely devoid of other walkers, other than one guy headphones on marching back to his isolated shack on the edge of the bay.
The following day we took a drive to Coffin Bay National Park and did a 9k circuit from Yangie Bay. We saw one other couple and a family. Positively bustling.
There wasn’t much wildlife about on the walk out to Yangie Island, but after we had quietly sat for a few minutes, Mrs A spotted a small flock of rarely seen Rock Parrots fly down to the samphire salt flats nearby to feed. Out came the big lens, somewhat relieved as I’d carried the thing nearly 5km without a hint of a reason to get it on the camera. It certainly made it worthwhile, we hadn’t knowingly seen this species before. They are quite stunning don’t you think?
On the way back we realised we were on a wildlife roll when a couple of emus came strutting over the path a few metres in front of us. They are odd looking creatures. Never tire of watching them.
A short while later, we rounded a corner to find a couple of wallabies which were as surprised as us to find each other eye to eye.
So a pretty good walk on the bird and animal front, and the views not too shabby either. A nice way to end this trip down the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula.
Tomorrow its “the big smoke” of Port Lincoln and then a bit of a look up the east coast that we dashed down a month ago.
Location: Elliston, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia
The small settlement of Elliston sits on the edge of the grand seascape of Waterloo Bay, along a wild stretch of coast that is otherwise deserted. The massive stretch of the Nullarbor awaits if you are travelling west. The tip of the Eyre Peninsula beckons 200km to the south east. The town itself was unremarkable, as so many of Australia’s small settlements are, but the natural context it sits in was awe inspiring.
Home to the Wirangu people for thousands of years. and visited by other Aboriginal groups such as the Nauo and Kokatha, we acknowledge their tenure and connection to the land. The Wiragnu were driven from the area by European settlers and lost their traditional fishing and hunting grounds. There was conflict as the Warangu people fought back against this, with casualties on both sides, culminating in a massacre just outside what is now Elliston, in May 1849.
I immersed in this grim story on a wet afternoon, which has put Elliston on the map as a case study in a chapter of what Australia calls “the history wars”. The ongoing debate about what happened during Australia’s colonisation by the British and the impact that had on the Aboriginal population. In this sad chapter in Elliston, on the one side lie the white setters’ records of what happened, written mainly by the police involved, and on the other the oral tradition passed down by the Warangu elders.
The town refused to accept the Wiragnu version of events, that scores of their people had been massacred by driving them off the steep cliffs of Waterloo Bay, until a mayor sympathetic to their version, brought matters to a head by wanting to raise a memorial to the event, and use the word “massacre”. This was fiercely contested by those who felt the more reliable record was of the white fellahs, that only two of the Warangu people had been killed.
Today we now have police body cams and video from bystanders, to get a bit more of a balanced view of events. The Warangu could only pass down their story. In the end the town hired an anthropologist to investigate. His conclusion was that a large group of Witrangu (he thought around 25) had in fact been slaughtered and that within the Wirangu’s oral history “It’s far more likely that there would be a lot of facts in them than in some of the histories written by settlers who had their own events to portray and their own events to hide.”. Did the initiative help with reconciliation as the mayor intented? Looking at some of the vitriol from anonymous people still posting comments about it, I’m not so sure.
And there you have it as a case study of how individuals at local level try to heal this country’s hidden wounds, part of the “historical truth telling”, but there’s a long way to go, (good summary if you’re interested to read more) and certainly at the moment other priorities that will take precedence. Like getting the country vaccinated!
If you are interested in reading how Europe, and particularly Germany, has tackled the their historical truth telling, and acknowledging the role they played in the conflict that engulfed the world, I can throughly recommend a book called “Those Who Forget”. The author, born to a German father and French mother, investigates her family’s role in the Second World War and the how it took until the mid 1980s before Germans found a way to talk about their past honestly at a national level. A message in her writing for any county who hasn’t dealt with its past, you will never properly move on.
We spent a few days exploring the area, around Elliston, walking along the cliffs, admiring the power of the waves, and usually we could do so without another soul about. Given it‘s still school holidays and our caravan park is full, its once again a surprise how few people get out of their cars and walk. Lucky for us!
We drove a short way up the coast and had a wander around a large wetland area, looking pretty dry at this time of the year, and again saw no one. Not many birds either sadly, but thats your chance. A few sandpipers and lapwings, plus a Nankeen Kestrel as we drove in (minus camera to hand!).
Full timing in a mobile home, with plumbing not really designed to be more than a holiday escape pod, means you will get some issues. This time it was only a blocked shower drain, and the purchase of a plunger and some help from the lovely park owners with their drain cleaning fluid, and our pipes were once again sorted. At least there was no $100 an hour plumber’s bill. Most stuff is fixable, especially with the knowledge base of the group of owners that we tap into through a Facebook site.
We took advantage of being close to a pub and had a couple of hearty dinners there, meeting the new landlord who has (bravely I think) taken on the project of making this place pay. Its a very small town, with two seasonally busy caravan parks on the route to or from Western Australia. We also met a couple of long distance cyclists having a much needed refuel there over dinner, Tara and Sara, who were riding across Australia west to east on push bikes. (https://www.cyclingoz.com). What a heroic pair!
They are raising money for a couple of charities to support their work with those suffering from mental health issues. I can imagine having ridden a few (relatively) long distance rides what a gruelling challenge they have taken on. If you can spare a few dollars, I’m sure they would appreciate it. We lost a friend a few years ago to depression, and it will haunt me forever thinking of what could have been done differently to have him still in our lives. Lifeline was the recipeient of our donation, a charity that deserves our support when so many of their traditional fund raising events have been postponed or cancelled.
We enjoyed out time in this small town (in England it would be called a village), everyone we met made us welcome. We have not once experienced the “bloody tourists” type of vibe that we have sometimes experienced elsewhere. We took time to have some conversations, and get a little insight into their lives, and perhaps there’s a connection?
In the past, we’ve always had an agenda to drive us, one that involves tackling the huge distances there usually are in between spots that are interesting. We don‘t have that sense of urgency on this trip. And that’s wonderful.
Location: Port Lincoln, Eyre Peninsula South Australia
It was time to leave behind Adelaide and put some miles between us and what we expected to be the frenzied crowds escaping the city for the Easter and school holidays. With international travel currently off the agenda for all Australians, we expected everywhere to be heaving. We were wrong. We soon leant that South Australia doesn’t do busy like New South Wales!
We had chosen as our destination the Eyre Peninsula, a 700km road trip to the west of Adelaide, and an area we had visited briefly and liked some years ago. An area slightly smaller than the combined area of England and Wales, the peninsula only has a population of 273,000, as compared to just under 60 million for England and Wales! Yup, social distancing isn’t a big issue here.
The peninsula is the source of much of Australia’s great quality seafood, not just the world famous Coffin Bay oysters, but a smorgasbord of other shellfish and yummy produce from the deep clean water off the coast. Tuna, squid, lobster, sand crab, and the largest commercial fishing fleet in Australia is based in the main town on the peninsula, Port Lincoln. We had booked a couple of nights in a caravan park there anticipating the Easter rush, that never came. Port Lincoln is actually officially designated as a city given it is a regional centre. but I refuse to call it that as it will conjure up the wrong idea in your head. This is a small, small, town. But first, we had to get there.
The Eyre Peninsula by plane is a short hop due west of Adelaide. By road its a 670km slog down some pretty straight and yawn-inducing roads. We broke the journey at a spot flagged as a free camp. No facilities, just a patch of gravel and a heck of a view, with some resident wildlife, including native birds, a skink, and unfortunately, a million flies.
Unfortunately our admiration for the scenery was somewhat tainted by the fact that our caravan steps refused to lower! This has happened before and usually a good clean, squirt of silicon spray and a curse or two usually sorts it. Not this time. A help message out to a Facebook group of other Zone owners, and we soon have ideas flowing in of fixes to try. Wonderful thing social media, sometimes. Well we tried everything to no avail so made a dash down to Port Lincoln and called in on spec to a caravan repairer there we had used before, Port Lincoln Caravan Centre.
I thought the Thursday before the Easter Holidays we might be ushered away, but no, they were immediately under the van testing a few things. Great service, and once again demonstrating that South Australia wasn’t as busy as we anticipated. Sadly the upshot was a new set of steps. So we booked in for the following week hoping the parts would arrive on time. Looks like Port Lincoln was going to be our home for a little longer than planned. Well that wasn’t going to be too arduous to bear when we saw the site we had been allocated! No, that’s not a painting of an idyllic bay dotted with islands above Tassie’s head, that is our view!
Looks like it was going to be a tough stay, with sea and island views, and a walking/cycling track running right past our front door!
So let’s acknowledge the Barngarla nation as the traditional owners of the land on which this thriving fishing port and service centre now stands. In the Barngarla language Port Lincoln was called Galinyala (meaning “sweet water”). Sadly it took an Israeli to have the interest and commitment to capture the Barngarla language, which by 2012 was at risk of being lost completely. Just like 50% of the other 250 languages spoken by First Australians when Europeans first arrived. Now there’s even an app you can download to learn the language.
Much has changed since the elders of this nation guided European explorers to where they could find those “sweet water” supplies in the early days of contact at the beginning of the 19th century. Now Port Lincoln has to bring in its water by pipeline from aquifers, so having our own patch of green grass on our pitch seemed a luxury. A desalination plant just along the coast has been discussed since 2014, and finally now tenders have gone out.
Port Lincoln sits on the largest natural harbour in Australia, Boston Bay, and is home to the largest commercial fishing fleet in the country, with massive money being made fattening blue fin tuna for the Japanese sashimi market. It’s an interesting coastline with heaps of onshore islands, so we thought we best get ourselves out exploring.
We set off to have a wander down the walking trail along the coast, and spied through the new telephoto a few birds along the way. We particularly love the red wattlebird, Catherine captured him perfectly poised.
The marina we walked to is home to the multi-million dollar mansions these hard working fisherman have now been able to build, courtesy of the Japanese hunger for sashimi from the blue fin tuna.
The next day we were up at sunrise and were soon gliding through the clear blue waters, eyes peeled for the ospreys that nest along this coast. We don’t take the risk of having the zoom lens out on the ocean, so you will have to believe us when we tell you through our binoculars we spotted an Eastern Osprey atop this mast surveying for breakfast.
Not a breath of wind rustled the silky surface, in our limited experience this is unusual down this coast, so we felt privileged to be out on such a calm morning.
That night I hard reserved us a table at Del Giorno’s, what every web site says is “the best place to eat in Port Lincoln”, and we were expecting a rather upmarket affair. However, when we were seated at our little rickety wooden table, we glanced up to be a little taken aback to see a young guy sitting opposite practically topless with a baggy singlet and armpits and chest on view everywhere. Are we snobs? Probably. It certainly wasn’t what we expected from the the many accolades the place had. I queried the waiter about it and found his reply fascinating as it captured regional Australia, and its culture so precisely. . His reply “In Port Lincoln you never know who has the money, certainly not based on how they dress, as they like to wear what they want, and don’t like to be told what to do”. Fair enough. So Catherine as usual stood out looking classy and simply fabulous! I have to say the seafood was delicious and so it should have been for $100 p/head with a bottle of wine. No nice glasses or tableware, just good food. So we formed our little (snobby) bubble and enjoyed the evening.
We were based a 15 minute drive from Lincoln National Park, and the next day we set off for what would be the first of several trips to explore this gem of a place. We hiked a loop trail with the zoom lens all ready, but Mrs A quickly changed back to the landscape lens though when we rounded this corner and were confronted with this awesome beach and glittering blue water.
Before you ask, no we didn’t swim…barely 20 degrees for goodness sake 🙂 We did stop though and have a magnificent lunch Mrs A had prepared. Now kale salad with tinned sardines might not have your taste buds watering, but in Catherine’s hands its turned into a gourmet meal with her boxes of herbs, spices. and fresh sauces. And what a spot to eat it in.
Suitably fortified we tackled the rest of the loop, and with the temperature in the sun reaching over 30 degrees, calories were burnt and thirsts were developed. A few of our feathered friends were spotted through the mallee scrub, but it was a little light on, other than this endangered hooded plover.
When you look at why they are endangered, the main culprit is them being scared away from their nests by cars roaring down the beaches, and dogs and humans getting too close to their nests. Sadly Australia has one of the worst track records of any country in the world for wildlife loss. Since Europeans arrived, over 100 unique flora and fauna have been lost. This article provides a pretty comprehensive summary of all the bad news. I’m not sure if there is a connection, but on the walks we did over three days in the park, we didn’t see one other person walking. The only people we did see were sitting at their campsites or near their car on the beach. That’s quite astonishing, don’t you think, on an Easter holiday weekend? So if there isn’t a love of walking though the bush by the majority, spending the estimated $12.5B it would take to reverse this wildlife loss isn’t going to win any votes. So it won’t happen.
Another short drive took us to an other worldly landscape of a salt lake. These places are just so the opposite of the type of the lush country were spent most of last year in. Fascinating to wander through and just listen to the silence.
We then drove round to a lookout, and just ambled along the cliff top, watching the pacific gulls gliding though the thermals. then pointed our binoculars at this rock pinnacle.
Catherine spotted an osprey perched on top as bold as you like. I guess she felt pretty unassailable up there! A few minutes later and we watched a juvenile White-breasted Sea Eagle cruise on past us. Then an aerial dog fight between the eagle and a Pacific gull. Breathtakingly beautiful. What mastery of flight. Finally a bottle nose dolphin briefly popped out for a breath of air, unfortunately when Mrs A didn’t have her zoom lens on.
Another short drive along the coast took us to yet another awesome lookout at Sleaford Bay, a photographers paradise. A white faced heron stood proudly surveying its patch. Sooty Oystercatchers on the shore.
Our last trip from Port Lincoln took us to Sleaford Mere, a coastal lake. Yes it makes you want to just shout for joy to see such vibrant colours, and still no Easter holiday hordes!.
Another day, another walk, and another stunning beach. This is such a beautiful part of Australia. And once again, we have the walks completely to ourselves, despite the campsites scattered around all looking full. This really has been a great week, thanks to our broken step! If it wasn’t for that we would have probably just rushed on with our desire to see “what’s round the next corner”. Instead we realised how much just this one corner of the Eyre Peninsula has to offer.
Location: Renmark and Berri, The Riverland (Ngarrindjeri), South Australia
We only stayed one night at Renmark, a small town on the banks of the Murray river, and according to a couple of sources, originally home to the Naralte people, about which I confess I can find absolutely nothing.
However, research published last year, led by Flinders University in collaboration with the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation (RMMAC), has accurately radiocarbon dated a site near Renmark as having been occupied 29,000 years ago. That’s before the last Ice Age! And yet that news doesn’t even warrant a mention by Renmark town council on their site, or any other related tourism site. This is how ingrained the dismissal of our deep history is in Australia. I just can’t imagine many places in the world that would discover a site of such antiquity and the local people pay such little respect or interest. We hope drawing the attention of our readers goes some way to acknowledging the achievements of our First Peoples. They looked after Millewa, or Yorta, as the Murray is called, for all those thousands of years. Thank you.
Now the Murray around Renmark is home to ski boats who take their baffles out to make the noise on our camp site almost deafening, combine that with the continuous rumble of road trains crossing the bridge at the end of the camp site, and we changed our booking to one night! We did go for a wander in the only marked walking trail in town, which turned out to be also used as a road. Catherine managed to get some good pictures given all of that.
Look at that euro (kangaroo), no matter how many we see, they still delight us. That wasp larvae also elicited quite a few “ooh’s” and “ah’s from us as well. Never seen anything like them, and thats one of the joys of Australia, we still keep coming across new to us flora and fauna.
We moved a short way down the river and have spent a long weekend at a caravan park on the traditional lands of the Meri (or Meru) tribe, a people who I have also struggled to find out anything about. All I know is that native title was finally recognised for them and and other Murray River First Peoples in 2011, after a 13 year battle. It grants “non-exclusive rights” (so not so much really?) to “access, hunt, fish, camp, gather and use natural resources, undertake cultural activities, conduct ceremonies and meetings, and protect places of cultural and religious significance” in some 47,500 square kilometres along and around the river.
In total 37% of Australia now has a recognised native title interest in it, which is managed by a body corporate. What that really gives in practical benefit and influence, I’m still trying to read about and understand.
Berri had little to interest us to be honest. Its a small settlement based around the bridge of the Murray. We just needed to have a few days out of the dust of the Mallee country. And what happens on the first night? We have a dust storm 🙂 Another cleaning session in the caravan required! They have a lovely pool, and in the afternoon heat we retired to the cool of the water. The Murray’s muddy brown water, thanks to the carp, didn’t appeal.
This is Wilabalangaloo Reserve, gifted to the community (National Trust) and run by local volunteers. It is a wonderful place to wander in the early morning before the heat drove us back indoors.
We had a walk round a Martin’s Bend reserve on a couple of mornings, giving Catherine a chance to practice her zooming and catching birds in the act of hiding from her.
We acknowledge the Paakantji and Baakantji people as the Traditional Owners of the Minindee Lakes area we visited last week, and who are still active custodians of the land after these 30,000 odd thousand years. In the last 20 years though us white fellahs have pretty much ruined what they had sustainably farmed on land surrounding the lakes and from the water itself.
The Lakes are naturally occurring depressions that fill with fresh water after rains when the river flowing through them (Australia’s longest waterway, so including tributaries) the Darling, is in flood. They were joined together in 1968 by canals and turned into a water source for arid Broken Hill (100km up the road) and for irrigating farmers using the Darling River downstream. Theoretically it also works as a flood management system, although it has been ten years since they have seen one of those and the lakes are currently at 17% capacity.
The draw for us in visiting the area was that these lakes are an Important Bird Habitat (IBH), and with the new telephoto and our kayak, we thought…let’s drive for 120km up that corrugated dusty road to take some photos! My dad would have been especially proud. The son who he couldn’t interest in his passion for birding, now getting all excited about seeing some of the thousands of water birds that call these lakes home. Like everywhere we have visited across the Murray-Darling Basin in the last 6 weeks, there is no good news for the environment. Bird numbers are in sharp decline as the water levels are adjusted to suit the needs of cotton and almond farmers, not the health of the ecosystem.
The town of Minindee seemed to reflect the deterioration in the health of the lakes. The main caravan park in town was an absolute dump, and even the information centre staff said “We DO NOT recommend you stay there”, but instead sent us 15km out of town to another park. We did drop into the local IGA, as we try and spend local if we can, but it was a sad little shop with nothing fresh on the shelves. and a belligerent look from the cashier had me hurriedly scuttling out. We were later to be told by several people that “the town is dying and the council do nothing”. Ten years of drought must have been a tough run for them. Let’s hope some of the deluges falling across most of Australia this week benefit them.
We were camped at a lovely spot right on the edge of one of the lakes called Copi Hollow, home to the Broken Hill speedboat club! Not usually the best mix with kayaking and birding, but on a Thursday afternoon we were lucky and had the lake to ourselves.
We had our first trip out in our kayak with the zoom lens. It wont be the last. Look at some of these shots!
We returned buzzing, and set the alarm for a dawn paddle the next day. We are describing the feeling to each other as “like being on safari”. There’s the thrill of spotting something new, the joy of being outdoors and watching nature unfold around you. In a kayak there’s no noise to frighten the birds, and we soon worked out how best to use the stealth to our advantage, silently drifting along parallel without threatening and forcing them to fly and abandon nests and/or their young.
It was absolutely magical, and we feel a whole new world has just opened up for us in being able to identify birds from their photos that otherwise would have been a fleeting glance in my binoculars. Oh, and its a good workout for me as I’m “the engine room” at the back, while Mrs A cradles the zoom lens between her knees and spots our next photo opportunity :).
We try and cast aside thinking about the dire future this ecosystem has. Very little is being done to help it. The authority that manages the Murray-Darling Basin were told by CSIRO 10 years ago to use their climate change models showing the likely increase in temperatures and extended droughts that were to come, as the basis for their planning. But no, they insisted on using the historical data as it was more economically convenient. An investigation by journalists in 2017 exposed some of the corruption, and this prompted a Senate enquiry in 2018. Even the irrigators are fed up with the incompetent management and are currently taking the authority to court in a class action. And so it goes on.
After lunch, we drove out to nearby Kinchega National Park. The park is set among the flood planes of the Darling River, and as we have seen throughout our travels, is predominantly dry and arid, coming to life around the snaking waters of the Darling. The land has been home to the Baakantji nation people for more than 35,000 years. ’Baaka’ means the Darling River and ’ntji’ means ‘belonging to’. Many of the community descendants are staff at the park, helping to eradicate pests – both flora and fauna, and preserve those that have not been destroyed by white person occupation.
The land was settled by European Australians in the mid 1800s, and a huge sheep station set up, with over 120,000 sheep roaming the area.
Sheep farming did not work well in this area. Initially, there was plenty of food, but soon the sheep trampled and ate all the grass, the ground pounded as hard as concrete by their hooves so that the delicate seeds could not germinate. By the early 1880s, 47,000 sheep had died of starvation, and by the late 1880s a further 45,000 were lost. This led to the collapse of this industry.
Sadly, the damage to the environment was already done. Within 15 years of cattle and sheep being introduced to the area four species of mammal had gone extinct. By the early 1990s, it is recognised that 27 mammals have gone extinct in the area – the highest rate of native animal extinction in Australia. It was designated as a national park in 1967.
Having driven through the dusty arid road, we returned to our oasis in the desert by following the river road, passing huge river red gums many hundreds of years old, and spotting some of the local bird life (ironically near a dry lake known as Emu Lake).
I had seen that there was a boat tour out on one of the lakes surrounded by private land, so otherwise this area was inaccessible, so we had signed us up for that.
It was pretty average to be honest. Nice to be out on the water, but again not a welcoming or friendly smile from the operators. or no attempt to have the dozen people on the boat interact and enjoy themselves. The guide trotted out with little enthusiasm some local stories, and it was nice to see a new bit of the lake system, but not a tour that will burn into our memories,.
Is it a lack of motivation, or a lack of commercial acumen? Surely you’d think it would be a pretty obvious equation that happy customers talk about the trip and more people sign up. We often come across this type of apparent indifference to customer satisfaction in outback Australia. Sometimes we think it’s because there is little competition to drive them. This operator for instance was the only boat going out on the lakes, and most of his trips are full apparently.
So Menindee lakes we loved you, the town and the “vibe”, not so much. They are going to tarmac the road from Broken Hill down to Minindee, so lets hope that breathes new life into this struggling community. We will remember these first few “birding paddle safaris” (as we now call them 🙂 ), as being absolutely magical, and the gateway to something we will enjoy for many years to come.
I hope the Minindee Lakes survive as a place that these beautiful creatures continue to visit and take sustenance from for many years to come, but based on what we are seeing now, our confidence is low.
One of the major downsides of our itinerant lifestyle, is the risk of losing contact with the nearest and dearest to us. With a birthday coming up for Mrs A, I thought it would be a good excuse to set up a few surprise calls for her with some family and friends scattered around the world. That was proceeding well, when our friends Jenny and David decided they wanted a road trip down from Sydney to come and spend the weekend. Jenny suggested Mildura – just a hair over 1,000km from their home! So with a bit of secret squirrelling I managed to get us booked into a park there and a chalet sorted for the two of them just a few metres away from us.
Now, I knew nothing about Mildura but when I started my research to plan the weekend, I discovered it is actually quite well endowed with restaurants. So a frenzied few days later of disappearing off to make phone calls (remember we are never really apart in the confines of a caravan), I had it all mapped out. It was in fact, I learnt, a long weekend so things were pretty booked up, so some flexibility was required.
The Thursday before Catherine’s birthday, we left our camp in Cobdogla and I finally had to tell her where we were going as it was loaded into my Google maps for navigation. Now Mildura is never going to release the same “ooh’s” and “wow’s” as say Venice, but she went with the flow. I knew she was going to be wowed when Jenny and David strolled in.
We checked into our campsite, and I cast an eye over at the cabin I had booked for Jenny and David. I could barely contain my excitement. I told Mrs A that I had to take a booking that night for her birthday dinner as places were full on Friday. Actually it was because Jenny and David were going to have to leave at 4am the next morning and wouldn’t be in shape to head out for dinner on the Friday. These are two people who both run their own businesses and are super busy. What a thing to do. Amazing.
I had booked one of Mildura’s finest for that night, an Italian called The Province. We had a great meal and headed back.
I struggled to sleep, not only because of the next day’s events, but also the trucks thundering down the Stuart Highway just next to our campsite. Australians are very keen, it seems, to build their campsites right next to our main roads. Its not like we don’t have the space! Perhaps it is the cheapest land?
The morning finally dawned, and her first surprise of the day was… no presents. We had been talking about a telephoto lens to help with wildlife photography, and we had nailed it down to a particular model. Then, as far as Catherine was concerned, it all went quiet. In the background meanwhile, there was more frenzied activity trying to source the model, finally I found one in Sydney, in a shop down the road from Jenny and David! It was meant to be, I thought. I had it express couriered to Jenny’s business, an art framing studio in Rose Bay. (Note anyone who needs top notch framing work its called Framing and Art Matters).
Catherine was polite enough to say nothing, and I quickly distracted her with a phone call to some of her family in friends in the UK, and one who joined from Provence. Then a call with my daughters and another couple of friends. That all worked well. It was going to plan.
I then had to make an excuse to disappear into town for “half an hour”. I had to go shopping for some fresh treats for dinner, oysters included of course, pick up her dairy- free birthday cake, and source some extra fine wine for our weekend’s festivities. Woolworths had almost run out of oysters and the fish counter assistant disappeared for so long out the back I thought he had gone to collect some more from the coast 500km away! The bloke in the cake shop was on his own and apparently everyone in Mildura buys cake on a Friday morning. Then Dan Murphys, source of decent wine, had such an amazing selection that I got a bit carried away choosing. So two hours later I arrived back after leaving madam alone doing the washing on her birthday morning. She’s…Ok…I smile a lot and take her to lunch.
Now lunch was at a Vietnamese cafe that if you ever find yourself in Mildura you have to go to. Fabulous food. Mr Bun Mi. Wow. Madam is smiling now as well.
We staggered back to the caravan park and time ticked past slowly. I kept discreetly (I think) checking in on Jenny and David’s progress. All was going well – no mishaps. So finally I got a message – they’ve arrived. At precisely the moment they turn up, Catherine had decided to take a shower. There’s a knock at the caravan door. I mumble something about her needing to get dressed, and there they are.
Plenty of hugs and a few moist eyes later, we have a glass of bubbly in our hand and the world is a wonderful place. I give Catherine her present, and she is a bit gob smacked. Firstly, it was a giant box, so apparently her first thought was “Whatever it is, where the heck will we put it?” Living in a caravan can constrain one somewhat 🙂 I will always remember that ear-to-ear grin when she unwrapped it.
Then it’s time for her next surprise, I’ve lined up an online call with a bunch of friends in Australia. Thanks to Chris for helping with the Zoom arrangements, and a jolly old natter it was. We then settled in with Jenny and David for a long catch up. Friendship is just such a wonderful thing. To think two people have gone to that effort to come for the weekend, it really floored us. I then explained to Catherine what I have planned for the Saturday. Jenny and David were in on the secret. I had seen there was a well-rated winery just up the river called Trentham Estate. I had called them and booked in wine tasting and lunch. But how to get there? I posed the question and was told it was possible to hire a pontoon boat in Mildura and cruise up. I called up and booked the last boat. So it was a day on the Murray River with a fine lunch and wines to break the trip.
The morning dawned quite crisp after another sleepless night listening to the trucks, and we headed off to the marina down the road. It was a fine looking boat, and off we went down the river. It was about then we realised just how cold it was. David had a short sleeved shirt and the girls not exactly kitted out for a windchill of what had to be in single figures. David and I took turns to drive the boat and lose all feeling in our hands, he even wore one of the life vests at one point to try and warm up!
Meanwhile Catherine was there in her sundress turning blue 🙂 Finally the power of the sun made its presence felt, as we arrived. We had cracked a bottle of something bubbly and French on the way, and finally we could relax in the growing warmth of the sun after our nearly two hour dash up the river.
Trentham Estate had a fabulous tasting room, and Janine who ran our tasting was one of the most professional and engaging hosts we have experienced anywhere round the world. We methodically worked our way though sparkling, dry whites, some fuller chardonnays , Italian varietals in reds and finally some bigger Shiraz. What a brilliant selection of wines, and such value for money.
Lunch was equally well done, with the locally caught Murray Cod for three of us and steak for David. Janine even brought us an extra tasting to try with lunch, and we already had purchased a full bottle. So the trip back was pretty…relaxed.
Arriving back at our campsite was when the weekend went a bit curly. David noticed a crack in their windscreen. It had chipped on the way down and the heat had turned that into a full on large crack. Some frenzied calls to NRMA Insurance and O’Brians Windscreen Repairs led us to the conclusion no one would be touching this window until the following Tuesday. It was a long weekend remember, and when O’Brians says they offer “24×7 service”, what they actually mean is they have someone in a call centre who answers the phone, not that they repair windscreens 24×7. So David was booked on a flight back to Sydney early Monday morning, and Jenny got her window fixed by 11am Tuesday, driving back solo with a stopover in Wagga, before arriving back on Wednesday. Not quite to plan, but of course being them they took it in their stride.
Catherine took her camera out on a few walks to try out her new lens. This will be a long journey of discovery I think. We see so many fabulous birds and animals, it will be great to get more up close and personal.
So that was the birthday weekend. I’m going to declare it a victory, despite the windscreen incident. A weekend I think we will both remember as a highlight of our time together.
Location: Cobdogla Station Caravan Park in the Riverland Region of South Australia
Its a name to conjure on the tongue – say it out loud “Cobdogla”. Wonderful. We planned to stop a couple of nights and then booked for a week! Its easy to love, with access to the Murray River from our front door, a nice shaded camp spot and the whole place so well looked after. A short drive and there are wineries in abundance, we just thought…why not stay a while longer.
Cobdogla is word that is derived from a local indigenous phrase meaning “land of plenty”. How apt a description. The Murray winds its way though this arid landscape and brings life to where there would otherwise be desert. The massive irrigation of this area has further enhanced the landscape, making it possible for acres of vineyards on land which was once dry scrub. In the grounds of the caravan park are the remains of a grand chimney, all that’s left of the property that once ruled over 500 kilometres of river front, breeding horses that explorers used to traverse the desert to the north.
It makes such a difference to your whole perception of a place when you are greeted as warmly as our campsite owner Karen did. We set up and I got the kayak all pumped up ready to explore. We launched 100 metres from our van onto a small bay fringed by River Red gums, that provided a lofty perch to Whistling Kites, who had already announced their presence with that oh so idiosyncratic call of theirs. Pied cormorants stretched and wiggled their snake like necks over at us to acknowledge they knew we were intruding on their fishing patch.
A short paddle brought us out into the main channel of the Murray. We turned down river and felt insignificant in that broad reach of water. I imagined the countless generations of First Australians who had called this area home, sustainably sourcing food and water from what were, until Europeans arrived and introduced carp, crystal clear waters. Now the water now is a muddy brown as they suck up the silt, which then blocks the sunlight and kills off the other fish and aquatic plants, contributes to blue/green algae blooms. Other than that…another great environmental move. Check out the ‘With and Without’ Carp photo below from an experiment where carp were removed from a water system.
We soon got used to their ugly mutts sticking their heads up next to our kayak, and we tried to ignore them and keep looking up at the birds. We had a couple of paddles like this from it camp, then another where we launched a bit further in Loch Luna Game Reserve, a maze of back channels that needed a short drive to gain access. Nockburra Creek Canoe Trail was one of the best paddles EVER!
The bird life was just teeming around us. We lost count of the different species, but a new one for us was the Red Rumped parrot. Yes..it did have one.
A few hours of exploring this maze of channels and we were grateful for our Strava app to plot our way back to our launch point! The Advanced Frame inflatable kayak once again proved to be a pleasure to paddle, going swiftly through the water and providing a stable photography platform to capture these shots.
After several mornings of pre-dawn starts to get on the water, it was time for a gentler day. A little wine tasting was organised at a small organic winery producing what to me sounded like some interesting varietals. We worked our way through examples of vermentino, petit manseng, durif, touriga nacional, and ended up taking half case to try and cram under our bed in the caravan with the other supplies.
With temperatures forecast to be in the mid to late thirties, it was looking challenging to be off in the caravan, so our friends offered us an extended stay with them. Hard to refuse when they are such great company, and live in a lovely leafy suburb up in the hills south of the city of Adelaide with a fab garden with heaps of shade.
They have two thirds of an acre intensively planted producing the most scrummy fruit and vegetables, and chickens consuming the meagre left overs and producing fresh eggs. A closed loop system!
A highlight for me was being invited by Mike to go out on his tinny off the main beach in Adelaide for a fish with his mate Joc (more on him later). After 24 years in Australia this was a first. I know…shouldn’t have given me citizenship. So before dawn we were hitching up the boat and driving down to launch just as the sun was starting to make its presence felt on what would be another 36 degree (in the shade) day.
The slight breeze on the water was welcome, and that suddenly increased to a roar has Mike opened her up and we shot out to sea. Crab pots were lowered, lines were cast, as I watched on in bewilderment at the frenzy of activity. I had always written fishing off as a bit dull, remembering seeing blokes sitting by smelly brooks in England staring at apparently nothing for hours. Well this was chalk and cheese. It was frenetic, with garfish queuing up to get on their lines, and blue swimmer crabs jostling to get entangled in the pots. But interestingly there was never more than three at a time. Apparently they are so feisty there’s no room in the pot for the lucky onlookers.
We were soon approaching our quota of crabs and garfish, with a couple of small mackerel and a couple of squid for good measure, and the talk turned to dinner recipes, and indigenous archeology. Strange bedfellows I know, but Mike’s mate Joc turns out to have been one of Australia’s leading lights in the field, not of fishy gastronomy, but early Australian history. I was so excited to have met him and have the privilege of listening to his tales of locating art sites deep in the Kimberley that no Europeans had gazed on before.
Joc’s involvement in indigenous Australian tourism over many years and support for the development of Aboriginal businesses was so inspiring to listen to. Now this is a bloke I’d love to be trapped on a desert island with. This has been a growing interest of mine, fuelled by reading everything I can find on what’s known (and often argued about) in the human history of Australia. Joc and Mike both have a strong respect for our First Australian culture, and this is so refreshing, as so many folk we have met on our travels have been ignorant, derisory or downright racist.
With a happy heart and a heavy esky, we headed back to the beach. As I was holding the boat ready for the trailer, a couple of sting rays wandered up to me and had a good nose round my legs. Its such a shame that one terrible accident can so blight these beautiful creatures’ brand. Steve Urwin, of Crocodile Hunter fame, had a tangle with the tail of one and it sadly ended with him having a heart attack after being pierced in the chest by the barb that tail carries. A sad loss. But these guys were just cruising, I assume they have been humanised by being fed, showing none of the usual aversion to hanging around swimmers they usually have.
Well let me tell you that the feast that night was incredible. We kicked off with Coffin Bay oysters that we had picked up from the shops, salt and pepper squid, dipped in flour and flash fried with a dose of fresh lemon from the garden. Then a massive bowl of crabs, with a tamarind curry sauce Catherine had whipped up. Local wines flowed. I can see the understand the satisfaction Mike and Kim get from growing and catching this food themselves. Lots of work, but the rewards are clearly enormous, mentally and physically.
Another hot day loomed on the forecast, but Catherine and I were getting a bit stir crazy sheltering in the van, so took ourselves off before first light to head down to the nearest river paddle we could find. The Onkaparinga River (map) winds its way down from the Adelaide Hills, ending up in an estuary full of water birds , eventually emerging out to sea surrounded by red sandstone cliffs. It was pretty windy, but we pressed on and glad we did. As the fiery sun rose it beat us down though and we headed back to the car before sun stroke was on the cards!
Talking about the car, we had a couple of days worth of work done on the Landcruiser. A service that showed that at our 150,000km service there will be a few more costs to budget for, with a water pump starting to leak and brakes nearly ready for a refresh. But that’s not bad going given in the 12 years of ownership these will be the first expenses other than the routine service’s and two sets of tyres. The only problems we have had are all minor and related to the accessories we had mounted. the workmanship was pretty shoddy, and it was time to get the work redone. I hit gold with the firm we found called Clisby Auto-electrics. Just delightful guys and as far as I can see, did a thorough job for a good price. Thank you.
We finished up our stay by joining Kim and Mike on a trip up to Lobethal, meeting up with Ali and Andy to go and watch a bit of music as part of the Strum and Stroll festival. There wasn’t too much strolling, and the strumming wasn’t as guitar based as we had hoped but it was a lovely evening nevertheless.
It was very kind of Kim and Mike to have us cluttering up their drive for so long. They both produced such amazing dinners every night, including one evening of pizzas on the BBQ. Again creating another first for me – I rolled a pizza base. Yes, I’ve had a deprived life. Now it’s time to give them their time back and head off for another trip.
Location: Hillocks Drive, Marion Bay, Yorke Peninsula
Our caravanning friends, Kim and Mike, had told us about this pretty special place that they had been coming to for years with their family, at the bottom of the Yorke Peninsula. Well they certainly have sent us to a little slice of paradise!
As we pulled up in the van, even with grey skies, the view was just breathtaking. We had travelled 70km down a dirt road off the highway, then through a locked gate at the entrance to the private property called Hillocks Drive that stretched for miles along this remote bit of coastline.
We chose our spot with a sea view, got set up and waited for Kim and Mike who were driving out from Adelaide (around a 4 hour drive). Tassie immediately took herself off for an explore, always a good sign we are somewhere bushy.
We watched the sun go down and light up the red cliffs as Catherine served a cashew nut chicken dish and Mike produced a lovely old Shiraz. We have shared many dinners with these guys now and it’s never an ounce of effort to keep finding new points of conversation. Perfect companions for four days off the grid!
The days just flowed, with Mike putting a rod in early in the mornings, and us wandering along the cliff top walks with their dogs.
Dinners were amazing. Mike and Kim are super BBQers, and produced a full lamb roast with all the veg and then meatballs on the last night.
We also had a pizza bake off, which they won hands down as I messed up with how I had installed a new fancy Weber ambient temperature probe, finally realising my error too late to save the pizza. Ah well…a valuable learning experience. All the gear and no idea! Next time I’ll be ready.
Dinner was rudely interrupted one night by spotting a Peninsula Brown Snake curled up a couple of metres away from our camp. Given they are one of the more venomous in the world (although quite passive by the standards of other brown snakes) it was moved on with the assistance of Mike’s fishing rod. Never a dull moment in the great Australian outdoors.
I took myself off for a ride one day along the old coast road, overgrown, rocky and sandy, perfect for my big old tyres. I could feel this view along Salmon Beach lodging itself in my memeory, ready to be hauled out and revisited on the next trip to the dentist’s chair. A moment to treasure, and not another soul seen on the ride.
I wondered (as I often do) how many other people had sat at this very spot over thousands of years and what was in their minds. I regularly try and find out something about the traditional owners of the land, by that I mean the First Australians to live here, and regularly come up empty handed. All I can tell you about this spot is that the Nharangga people lived all around the Yorke Peninsula for thousands of years before they spied a tall ship sailing past their coast in 1802, and their thoughts would have been irrevocably changed. This will be the subject of another post dedicated to trying to explain why this part of our history is so often glassed over, or given a politically correct mention at best.
Another day, Kim and Mike kindly offered to keep on eye on our (no doubt sleeping) Burmese cat while we headed out for a day trip to a national park. Tassie is closed in the caravan when we leave her, with plenty of ventilation, water bowls, litter tray and food…but…peace of mind, especially for this anxious soul. So off we drove to the Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park, right at the tip of the Yorke Peninsula.
It is a rugged park of pristine white beaches, framed by the bluest ocean we’ve ever seen. This was nature at its most awe inspiring, and so quintessentially Australian with its harsh, scrubby landscape that gives you a scratch on the legs almost every time we walk through it. I call it the Australian tickle, to go with the Australian wave (swatting away a fly). Rugged beauty at its best. We followed a couple of the walks detailed on the park leaflet, some more rewarding than others. The climb to the top of a short hill to the lighthouse gave us the most inspiring views though.
Just as we were about to head back to camp we had a message from Australia Post to say the parcel I had confirmed was being diverted to Adelaide (because it was delayed), had failed to have been diverted after all and instead just been delivered to a post office up the road! Bless Australia Post. It was the new double deck cover for our inflatable kayak. This now enables us to convert our double sit-on-top kayak to a single or a double open-water fully enclosed boat. I have really been impressed with this kayak so far.
On our final day we enjoyed cooling off in the rock pools on ‘our’ Coffin Beach.
Later, Catherine joined Kim, Mike and the dogs for a walk along the aforementioned Salmon Beach, while I enjoyed some quality time out of the sun with Tassie and a good book!
Well, what a campsite this has been. Catherine and I just love spots like this where you can spread out without worrying about the neighbours. The sound of the surf at night. The brightness of the stars. Trailing our feet in bath warm rock pools as fish inspected madams red toenails. Memories burnt into our heads.
We know how lucky we are to be experiencing this when so many of our friends are in lockdown. We could so easily have stayed in Victoria and now been stuck there. South Australia has so much to offer, especially when the weather is unseasonably temperate as it is right now. That means its not in the 30’s!