Sunday, February 16, 2014

Road trip: day 5 - Meningie to Horsham

This is getting ridiculous now, isn't it? I've been back at work for more than a month and I'm still writing my holiday blog posts. I'm going to push on...

Before Luke and I left Meningie, the owner of the motel asked where we were heading. We told her we were going east on the Mallee Highway to Ouyen and she said there wasn't much to see on the way. We knew we weren't taking a scenic route - or what most people would consider scenic - but I didn't bother to explain the allure of a harsh environment, rural decay, ghost signs and old stuff. 

By that measure, there was plenty to see - a 330km stretch of sun-dried paddocks, bleached almost white in some areas, and tiny rundown towns that looked mostly uninhabited. I found only the second ghost sign of the trip in one of these apparent ghost towns not far out of Tailem Bend - I think in a place called Sherlock. 

Two-in-one sign on derelict garage

There was a truck parked at a grain silo opposite this old garage, but that was the only sign of life. That little contraption to the right of the photo below is a dilapidated old petrol bowser  with imperial currency on the measuring panel.   

Hay rolls

We stopped at the bakery in Ouyen for lunch (no, we didn't have an award winning vanilla slice. Cold custard. Gak.) and at the local council office for some advice on visiting the nearby Wyperfeld National Park, the third largest national park in Victoria.  Unfortunately, a four-wheel drive is required to access most of areas of the park, so we were limited in where we could go.  We definitely weren't going to throw caution to the wind here like we did on the beach in Robe. There was literally no one else around, it was stinking hot and we didn't have great mobile reception.  

We saw a big lizard on the road on the way in (a dragon of some type) and a mother and baby kangaroo shading themselves under a pine tree as we drove around the park. We nearly got carried away by flies when we climbed to the top of a small hill to visit the grave of the infant son of the couple who, in the 1860s, owned land that later formed part of the Wyperfeld National Park. (The baby was supposedly delivered by a caesarian section performed by his father!)  

It probably wasn't the best time of year to visit the park, but hey, we were passing by.          
Cottage ruins in a paddock of post-harvest stubble

We decided to visit nearby Lake Albacutya, even though our map said it doesn't have  water in it most of the time. The road we took to get there wasn't the main road and we probably shouldn't have been on it in our Micra  (picture a dirt road, oddly a bit soft, higher on one side than the other and the middle almost high enough to maroon us), but we got there and, of course, the lake was completely dry.   

On the way to Lake Albacutya

We were going to go to Lake Hindmarsh as well, but because our map said it's also "usually dry", we decided not to bother. Naturally Luke later overheard fisherman talking about water in the lake. 

We continued south to Dimboola where we were going to stop for dinner, but there wasn't much on offer. It's a sizeable country town - population around 1,500 - but it looks like it's in a state of decline...or at least a state of no progress.  A big old hotel on the main street was gutted by fire more than 10 years ago and remains boarded up. 

Another derelict Dimboola building (with old signs)

Dimboola does have an awesome ghost sign though. I've never heard of Jellex jelly crystals before. 

Although I'm attracted to the aesthetics of decay and dereliction, we saw so many small and not-so-small towns in such a state of decline between Tailem Bend in South Australia and Dimboola that I ended up feeling quite melancholy. A lot of their young people have likely moved to bigger towns or to the city after finishing school and I can't imagine many families moving in to these areas. These places don't have much that appeals to the wine-sipping, cheese-nibbling, pamper-me set from Melbourne, least of all proximity. Small towns within an hour or two of Melbourne have been going gangbusters in the last 10 or 15 years, but sadly their northern neighbours are suffering. Perhaps this is just the way of the world. 

Anyway, enough melancholy. We continued on to Horsham where we stayed the night. The motel owner was leaving in the morning for Robe - "We just came from there!" - and then the Great Ocean Road - "We just came from there, too!". 

Next (whenever that might be): The Grampians

Monday, February 10, 2014

Road trip: Day 4 - The Coorong and lakes

It's taking me longer to write about our recent holiday than it took us to make the actual trip in the first place. I've been slack and it's also been too hot for me to want to go near my laptop.

On day four we continued exploring The Coorong and surrounds. We expected to see plenty of water birds because The Coorong is renowned for them, but we weren't really expecting to see emus.  We saw a pair walking across a salt pan a long way off in the distance as we drove by. "What's that?" "Emus!" Not that we hadn't seen emus before, but I don't think I've seen them in the wild.

We saw their footprints on the beach where we stopped soon after seeing them, although I hesitate to use the word 'beach'...

Ew. Sticky, stinky mud. It's rapidly becoming a rule that we can't go on holidays without me falling in something (e.g. a creek in Tasmania) or stepping in something (e.g. dog poo in Paris, within hours of landing).  Luke laughed and laughed and laughed. I laughed too, just not as much as he did.

Fortunately my foot slipped out of my sandal mostly mud-free and I was able to wash the sandal in the handbasin of a nearby toilet block before sitting it on the dash of the car to dry in the sun.

When we returned to the car I was startled by a snake sheltering under our car. Well, I thought it was a snake at first, but quickly realised it was only a lizard. A fat, stumpy-tail.

Luke had to move the car because Stumpy didn't seem to have plans to go anywhere. Luke came back over to have a closer look at the lizard and it crawled into his shadow. It wasn't particularly hot, so we think it might have been seeking protection from birds of prey. But we couldn't stay there all day sheltering it.

We visited various points along along the lagoons, traversing many dirt and gravel roads. We saw more pelicans, although nowhere near as many as you'd see in the area during breeding season.

Cleared for take-off

We visited another look-out area which was weird and a little creepy. A strange, dense, textile-like substance the colour of hessian had apparently washed ashore and bunched up along where the "beach" meets the scrub. 

But that's not the creepy bit. This is:  


This wasn't the only dead fish - I spotted about a dozen on about a 15 metre stretch of beach/hessian stuff and on the grassy/scrub, long dead and mostly skeletonised. Maybe fisherman had discarded the fish due to their undesirability and birds had picked their bones? 

This was where I encountered my first (and only) snake for the trip. It was lying near a bush on the edge of the beach, but when it heard or felt me approach it whipped into the shrub so fast I heard it more than saw it. I was about two metres away so I didn't feel in any danger. 

Next we drove around the western shore of Lake Albert up to the Raukkan Community, a settlement established by the Ngarrindjeri people 150 years ago on the banks of Lake Alexandrina. This is where David Unaipon, a preacher, writer and inventor who graces the $50 note, lived and ministered to his flock. The little church above his shoulder on the $50 note still stands and is very well looked after. 

You might recognise it better front on, which is how it appears on the currency. It's called the Point McLeay church. 

We took the ferry across The Narrows, which joins Lake Alexandrina (at the top in the photo below) and Lake Albert (at the bottom). 

Hidden behind the ferry is Malcolm Point and its wee little lighthouse (I know, not very useful. We didn't stop for photos either). It's no longer operational, but it remains Australia's only inland lighthouse - possibly the only inland lighthouse in the Southern Hemisphere. 

That night we had an early dinner at the pub in the tiny town of Wellington on the banks of the Murray River and then headed back to Meningie with a few detours to take photos. 

Sunset over Lake Albert 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Road trip: Day 3 - Robe to Meningie

We had no place to be at any particular time on the third day of our road tripping adventure, so we look things at a more leisurely pace. We started the day with a visit to Long Beach where we saw this sign in the car park:

When we realised we were allowed to drive on the beach we considered it briefly before commonsense prevailed  -  we couldn't risk getting bogged. Ten seconds seconds later we looked at each other and agreed to thumb our noses at commonsense. Pfffft! YOLO!!! (No, we didn't really say that.) Off we went in our Nissan Micra.


We didn't care that the half-dozen or so other cars on the beach were four-wheel-drives and their owners were looking at us quizzically/scornfully. We didn't know tham. They didn't know us. Whatever! Oh, how we laughed. 

Luke, the Intrepid Explorer 

Although I'd been told Robe was lovely, I didn't have high expectations...maybe because the name makes me think of a tatty dressing gown? But it really is lovely. The beach is long and wide and the foreshore is lined with pine trees. Like Port Fairy, it has some well preserved/restored old buildings, although they are mainly concentrated in one street. 

 Customs House (It's hard to tell but this is a very small building)

Robe also has an obelisk. Contain your excitement! It was built in 1855 to act as a sort of lightless lighthouse for the many ships that sailed by in the treacherous waters of Guichen Bay. There were 30 shipwrecks off the coast there in 1853 alone. I can' any light on why they didn't just build a proper lighthouse.  

It looks tiny, but it's actually 12 metres tall 

We left Robe before lunch and stopped off in the tiny township of Cape Jaffa, pretty much only because I like Jaffas.  There wasn't much to see there - just a handful of workshops facing a long, thin jetty and an empty beach stretching for miles in either direction. 

Luke spotted this piece of gloomy, pot-bellied equipment sheltering under the veranda of one of the workshops. It made us giggle. The guys in the workshops must have thought we were strange taking photos of it. 

We stopped for lunch in Kingston SE. The SE stands for 'south east', which, I deduced from scouring the map, is tacked onto the town's name to distinguish it from Kingston OM, or Kingston-on-the-Murray (River), a town further north. (Tangentially, there's a town near Kingston OM called Winkie. Looking at maps is fun.)  The sign on the outskirts of town just says 'Kingston' though. 

We had lunch at the pub (the gluten-free options included included "rice noddles") before visiting the town's main attraction, the Big Lobster, for a quick photo.  

Next on our itinerary was The Coorong, a vast stretch of wetlands that runs parallel to the roaring ocean. We stopped on a track to Chinaman Wells to take photos of a salt pan and purple scrub, and got a surprise when startled a kangaroo and her joey hopped out of nearby bushes. They hopped a safe distance away then stopped to watch us. That was our second encounter with wildlife (not counting the dead snake on the road just out of Robe). 

We saw a lot of salt pans - dried up salt lakes  - and we also saw a salt lake that still had water in it tinged with pink. 

The white fringe on the beach is a thick layer of salt. It was crunchy underfoot and sparkled in the sun. 

Salt encrusted rock

We stopped in Salt Creek (to continue the theme....) and went for stroll in the bush...

The Coorong isn't exactly the place for breathtaking scenery. 
It has a more rugged beauty

...before heading on to the small town of Meningie where we booked into a motel across the road from Lake Albert for a two-night stay. 

Evening grooming hour in the Lake Albert shallows

We had schnitzels for dinner at the pub because we had no other option - there was nowhere else to eat by this time and on schnitzel night thing on offer is schnitzel. (No, there were no gluten-free schnitzels.) There was also no lime in my first gin and tonic so I decided to ask for lime or lemon with the next one because it just isn't the same without that citrusy twist.  "We're from the city," Luke explained when my request was met with slight befuddlement. She gave me a large wedge of lemon in a little dish to go with my drink. 

And then it was back to our motel for bed.  My run of good sleeps continued. Holidaying agrees with me.