Monday 16th March 2020
Driving distance approximately 350 klm / 220 miles
Warning: This is a cup of coffee read 🙂
Leaving Adelaide this morning, we headed towards the Limestone Coast region of South Australia, with our destination to be wherever we ran out of day.
The first part of the drive was fast freeway to Tailem Bend, where we turned south towards Meningie.
This brought us into the Coorong National Park, a vast saltwater wetland lagoon and series of sandbars separating the land and the Southern Ocean. From the mouth of the Murray River at Goolwa (look for Encounter Bay on the above map), the coastline of the national park stretches 130km / 80 mi towards Kingston.
The Coorong is an important breeding ground, and thousands of Australian pelicans call it home, thanks to the area’s abundance and diversity of fish. Signboards provide much information, one interesting morsel being that freshwater fish are stunned as they enter the saltwater, making them an easy catch for the pelicans.
Even though it is popular with campers, fishermen, and 4WD drivers, the Coorong is still a coastal wilderness of low dunes and native vegetation. It’s profile was raised after the release of the Storm Boy movie in 1977, which was itself based on the 1964 book of the same name, written by Colin Thiele. It is about a lonely boy’s relationship with a pelican called Mr Percival.
We have many pelicans where we live on the east coast of Australia. When one flies past our 5th floor window Bill invariably says, ‘there goes the A380 Airbus‘. A fully grown male pelican is a big bird. A flock of eight or so flying in formation is a formidable sight at our window.
After it leaves the Coorong behind, the coastal road continues for another long distance – perhaps 100klm / 60mi – to reach Kingston SE, home to Larry the Lobster. Larry is 17 metres (56 feet) tall, about 40 years old, and assists in promoting the seafood, wine, and cheese of this south-east region of South Australia.
Also in Kingston SE is the sundial of human involvement, officially called an analemmatic sundial. I looked up the definition of that . . . and . . . well, it’s much easier if I just show you.
There’s a circle of stones, with a marker in the middle. You stand on the current date on the marker, face your own shadow, and raise your arms. Then bingo! Wherever your shadow arms are pointing, read the number painted on the stone, and that is the current time. Adjusting for daylight saving, it was 2.30pm when we took these photos.
Nearby sculptures emphasise the ocean theme:
As does the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse having been relocated into town!
Originally commissioned in 1872, and screwed into a reef out to sea about 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) west of the headland of Cape Jaffa (which in turn is 27.2 kilometres / 16.9 mi SW of Kingston) it was brought onshore in the 70s and is now a museum to show how lighthouse keepers and their families lived in the tower structure (open school holidays or by appointment only).
Another half an hour driving brought us to Robe where we decided to stop for the night. I don’t usually write about our accommodation, but this motel was a stand-out. No wonder the owner offered me to have a look at the room before deciding. All rooms at the Lakeview Motel & Apartments at Robe have a front-side lake view – tomorrow’s post will show what I woke up to! Very reasonably priced, the rooms are large, well-appointed, with modern bathroom, kitchenette facilities, plenty of drawers and cupboards, and there is a barbecue and guest laundry on site. A perfect place to hole up for self-isolation!
We settled in with plenty of daylight and energy left to start an exploration of Robe. It is a very pretty fishing port and coastal town of around 1000 permanent residents, situated on the Guichen Bay which was named in 1802 by members of the French exploration team headed by Nicolas Baudin. You can read more about that expedition on this link to Wikipedia. Baudin, in Le Geographe, and the English explorer, Matthew Flinders, in the Investigator, met on 8 April 1802, around the spot now showing as Encounter Bay on the map at the top of this post. They had each been charged with charting the ‘unknown coast‘ of Terra Australis, and, despite being unsure whether their respective countries were at war, exchanged information at this meeting. There are many reminders of each of their expeditions in place names as you travel around Australia, for example, way across in Western Australia which I blogged about here. Fellow blogger, John aka Paol, wrote about Flinders recently, as he went across to the other side of the world to find him.
Until the coming of rail, Robe was a major colonial out-port. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it was also the disembarkation port for Chinese gold-miners headed for the Victorian goldfields hundreds of miles away. It was not their choice to land here. The shipowners did it to avoid paying a Ten Pound/head tax to the Victorian government, who’d levied it on the Chinese in response to complaints from British miners. The new arrivals were ignorant of the distances involved.
A haunting memorial “welcome” arch, desolate in the late afternoon light, commemorates their landing spot:
The Limestone Coast is the name given to a geographical area the size of small country, but I guess it derives its name from the geology. This coastline is dramatic, with rocky cliffs coloured from light beige, to sand, to golden beige, that are subject to constant erosion from the crashing waves of the Southern Ocean. This barren-looking coast is part of the Great Australian Bight. I’ll leave the reader to decide how it got its name.
This photo was taken at Cape Dombey, a short drive out of the town centre. In the background is the Obelisk, built in 1855, and used to store rockets which were fired to distressed ships, carrying life lines and baskets for bringing passengers to shore. Perhaps I omitted to mention the alternative name for this area is SHIPWRECK COAST. In 1853 alone there were thirty in Guichen Bay, which prompted the installation of the obelisk, which stands 100 feet above sea level, is 40 feet high, and can be seen at a great distance.
Also on this exposed headland are the remnants and footings of a gaol built in 1860. I imagine it was a rather desolate and windy place to be incarcerated, even for a short time pending relocation to Adelaide. After a prisoner escaped by picking his way through the wall, they were re-inforced with boilerplates from the ship-wrecked ‘Ardmella‘ – a vessel we were to learn more about the next day.
We had driven to the car park beside the old gaol, but there are many walks around the headlands, and also back into town. All would afford fine views of this eroding coastline and bird and wildlife sightings.
After a good walk around this area, we deserved a decent dinner, and found just that at the historic English-style Caledonian Inn, built in 1859. Some of its internal construction is of timber salvaged from shipwrecks – and again, we were to see more of this re-use in our travels the next day.
As I am a couple of weeks behind in blogging about our road trip, I have decided to include some commentary on COVID-19. I don’t wish it to detract from our experiences and the wonderful things there are to see in Australia, but one day I may look back and recall these events. So . . . under the banner of that endeavour . . . I mention . . . ,
A week after our visit, the “Cally” closed, temporarily we hope, due to corona virus. At this stage of our trip though, we were still “alert, but not alarmed“. There were 20 known cases in South Australia – a huge state – and all but two of those had come from overseas. The Barossa Valley cluster had not yet been identified. This part of the coast, hundreds of miles from the city centre and airport, felt like a refuge. We were speculating that perhaps we were safer to stay on the road. At home, we live in a community of around 250 persons in two apartment blocks, many of whom travel regularly, to Europe, on cruises, or on road trips such as we were doing. We are a highly social community; golf, cards, swimming, dancing, eating, drinking, partying just some examples. That’s about to change, but as we enjoyed this meal, we were blissfully unaware.