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Published: December 13th 2006
A little way along the road from Port Campbell is a park centred around the huge caldera of an extinct volcano. Now lush with vegetation, the crater is a haven for wildlife.
The Great Ocean Road comes to its end too soon. What a drive…The remainder of the coastal road between Port Campbell and the South Australian border is somewhat less impressive, crossing as it does wide expanses of featureless agricultural land and large industrial towns such as Warrnambool. The rather tedious drive is spiced up, if that’s the correct word, by huge wind farms and a gargantuan cheese factory, complete with cheese museum. Not very much to go on…
We spend a night in Nelson, a small town a few miles to the east of the Victoria-South Australia border. We’ve been driving for four days now and we have crossed barely half of Victoria lengthwise - the concept of “distance” here in Australia is something quite different from what we’re used to. Although Victoria is, indeed, Australia’s smallest mainland state (excluding the Australian Capital Territory, which encompasses Canberra alone), it could easily swallow Great Britain whole with nary a belch and room to spare. The scale of this country is mind-boggling if you’ve only ever driven in the United Kingdom. Mind-boggling and daunting, when we look at our road atlas and see the vast expanse of land that separates us from
An emu emerges from the vegetation in the volcanic caldera. These rather small-brained creatures have been known to attack if startled !
our intended destination of Uluru - and then we’ve got to drive back ! According to the map’s distance chart, the round trip from Melbourne in Victoria to Uluru in the Northern Territory should be 4618km. Let’s see what the trip meter says when we return the van…
In Nelson the weather is still pretty cold, and when we wake up the following morning it’s wet and rather miserable (not really what we had in mind for Australia, but there you go) so we shelve our plan to go boating on the Glenelg River, reputed to be a picturesque waterway navigable far inland and home to abundant birdlife. Next time…
Shortly after leaving Nelson we cross the border into South Australia. Large signs by the road warn us of Australia’s interstate quarantine rules - no fruit, no vegetables, no livestock (check to that last one), no fruit-flies (damn it), and so on and so forth. Expecting a potential check at the border, Alex and I conceal our forbidden goods (two potatoes and a piece of broccoli) in the back of the van. It turns out that the draconian police checkpoint with machine-gun-toting officials is actually…a wheelie bin. I
Along the otherwise boring drive between Port Campbell and Nelson. I wonder if Australia is as full of NIMBYs as the UK ?
somehow doubt they will stamp our passport with “Smuggler - persona non grata
for a broccoli floret…they are pretty keen though you know.
South Australia…home of the Crow-Eaters. Australians love giving disparaging nicknames to inhabitants of other states, and “Crow-Eaters” is what South Australians have been labeled for yonks. Apparently it dates back to the days when meat was scarce and locals had to shoot crows (which were and are in abundance) for food. Here’s hoping the practice has died out ! Incidentally, Victorians have, rather inexplicably, earned the sobriquet
of “Mexicans”. Perhaps this was invented by the New South Welsh (hmm?) who see “south of the border” Victoria as rather provincial ? For all their relative wealth and power, inhabitants of New South Wales are affectionately (or not so affectionately) known “cockroaches”.
Our first experience of this enormous state is the coastline that stretches from the Victorian border all the way to the state capital, Adelaide. First stop after Nelson is the town of Mount Gambier, a rather low-key place (guidebook euphemism for “no-horse town”) puzzlingly built around a now extinct volcano. It’s drizzling so we make a beeline for Mount Gambier’s premier tourist attraction
Yup, it's blue !
The Blue Lake at Mount Gambier. Very deep and very blue.
(splutter), the so-called “Blue Lake”. The lake is actually a flooded caldera, and is known for its (apparently) dazzling blue waters. Somewhat skeptically, we drive to the top of the hill to a little viewing platform over the caldera’s edge and look over the side. Yes, it is blue. Surprisingly blue, actually. One might even
say astonishingly blue. But it’s hardly a “premier tourist attraction”. Still, I pity the brochure writers - they were obviously working hard with the little they had…
South-Eastern South Australia is a foodie paradise. All the more amazing since not many people outside Australia are aware of the fact. Of course, the area encompasses many world-famous wine producing regions (Barossa Valley, Clare Valley), but there are many other delights to be sampled - not wanting to disappoint our dear readers we sampled all the state’s offerings in lavish quantities, especially el vino
, but more on that in a later entry. The towns located along this part of South Australia’s coast, dubbed the Limestone Coast, are important fishing centres for a very important Australian export: the Southern Rock Lobster. From November to March (hurray !) these delightful creatures are plucked in obscene numbers from the
The original Larry
Larry the Giant Lobster, local celebrity and prime attraction in the (small, did you guess ?) town of Kingston SE on the Limestone Coast. Lobsters, lobsters everywhere.
clean waters off the coast. We weren’t about to let an opportunity like that past us. Our first stop along the coast in the pretty town of Robe yielded what we were looking for. The staff at the friendly local fish and chip shop pointed us to the nearest lobster processing factory (you mean there’s several ?) down the road. Inside were five or six large tanks thick with large and rather menacing rock lobsters. Being the valuable export that they are (£9.99 for a tail chez Waitrose last time I checked), they aren’t cheap even here, but for a little less than the price of tail in the UK you get the whole beastie here, meaty legs and all. The guy at the factory battled heroically with the Chosen One for a little while as he frantically tried to escape his buttery fate (we already knew exactly
what we had in mind for him
). These things can obviously be quite vicious, as I was later to discover…
With our arthropodic purchase taped into a cardboard box with long sticky-out antennae we drove northwards along the coast, stopping briefly at a local food shop along the way to pick
Coorong National Park
Dazzling white dry salt lakes line the Coorong. Lovely breeding spot for flies, it would seem...
up a bottle of local terra rossa
red wine (and a couple of free glasses courtesy of the owner, who took pity on two poor Poms having to quaff their Cabernet Sauvignon out of a plastic tumbler). After a short stop in Kingston SE, home to a large and admittedly rather pointless plastic sculpture of a lobster named Larry, we drove along the Limestone Coast, through a fascinating area called the Coorong, a land of dry salt lakes and sand dunes. Of particular
note were the vast numbers of fat, meaty flies that hurled themselves against our windscreen (not quite fair I know but flies are stupid) at the rate of one every second or so, turning the front of the campervan into a rather macabre Kandinsky. It got so bad that we found ourselves stopping frequently, purchasing a dollar’s worth of petrol at every station just to use the squeegee. We obviously weren’t the first as the water in the buckets was a thick potage
of fly guts. Nice !
The main part of the Coorong runs from Kingston to Meningie - 145 kilometres of dunes to the left and salt beds to the right of the deserted
A shy kangaroo interrupts his grazing to have a good look at us on the sand dunes in the Coorong.
road. After a bit of toing and froing complete with three point turns in the middle of the road (I said it was deserted !) we found the one point along the entire road where you can drive through to the foot of the dunes and walk to the sea. Leaving Larry (newly baptized and still more or less alive in his box - and before you report me to the RSPCL, the guy at the factory said this was the nicest way to do it) in the van we walked along a scenic boardwalk over the dunes towards the sea. It was a beautiful landscape in the late afternoon light, of shrubs thick with singing birds and rolling hills of sand. Along the way we spotted a couple of emus (which you have to walk past carefully while holding your arm above your head - they think you’re another emu and don’t attack - so it wasn’t just Rod’s that had a pugnacious temperament !) and our first (live, more on the ARP or Australian Roadkill Phenomenon in a later entry) kangaroo, which stared at us in amazement (the feeling was mutual Skippy) before hopping away into the scrub.
Rolling dunes and sea off the Coorong National Park.
The path snaked on and on, over the crests of dunes and through the troughs until we reached the sea, whipped up by the same ol’ southwesterly. It was a beautiful spot and quite deserted.
After a bit more toing and froing (and a few more three point turns in the middle of the road) we found our campsite at Salt Creek, halfway between Kingston and Meningie.
There comes a time when a camper’s mind turns to lobster. Larry’s Hour of Glory had arrived (those of a delicate disposition when it comes to dealing with live crustaceans, please skip the paragraph - Alex and I, of course, had no compunctions). Carefully opening the box, I gave a tug (I was going to write “gentle tug” but if you can’t face up to reality I already told you to skip the paragraph…) on Larry’s antennae. Nada
. He was still shifting around a bit as we came back from the dunes so he had obviously expired a short time before. As Alex prepared the remainder of the meal (lettuce, sweetcorn and lashings of butter to be precise) I prepared to prepare Larry. “Let’s take a photo first”, someone suggested (I
Ray of Light
Late afternoon over the Southern Ocean.
really have no recollection of who said it). Indeed not many a lobster can have been prepared in Smoggie before so it was worth a snap for the blog (of course). Grasping Larry’s shell I posed for the shot (with an asinine grin that I reproduced in the second photo you can see on the blog) when the previously-thought-defunct creature suddenly surged back to life and attempted a back-flip in a last-ditch attempt to save his carapace. He succeeded in puncturing my finger with one of his sharp spines (quite painful, since you ask) before falling to the floor, to my yelp and Alex’s helpless laughter. Very surprisingly this was my first lobster attack and I was rather shaken by Larry’s sudden and vigourous resuscitation. Nursing my injured finger I picked up my attacker with a pair of metal tongs and placed him in a bucket of fresh water to be drowned. Yes, dammit, drowned ! Vicious thing. Got what was coming to him. That made one lobster attack to go with Alex’s Lopburi mugging-by-monkey on the life-experience list. Half and hour later and Larry had gone to the great lobster-pot in the sky. For sure this time !
Smile for the camera
Larry, definitely dead as a dodo, about to go into the pan.
Larry’s life was not in vain. Cut in half, griddled and drizzled in melted butter, his tastiness was a true testament to his courage, determination and fighting spirit.
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