After our impromptu drinking session in the Adelaide camp site, we headed out for the day to explore this colonial city. Probably the most European of all the cities in Australia, Adelaide had an air of familiarity to it that we had not experienced anywhere else since leaving London what seemed like a lifetime ago.
Adelaide is the capital city South Australia, and the fifth-largest city in Australia. It is a coastal city with some lovely sandy beaches, some of which have the ambience of a British seaside town with fish and chip shops, ice cream parlours and those little shops that inexplicably turn a profit by selling what seems to be a randomly accumulated selection of garbage.
The city was named after Queen Adelaide, and was founded in 1836. Adelaide has wide boulevards and large market squares reminiscent of the forums of Roman towns and cities and is surrounded by parks.
Adelaide ranks in the top ten ‘most liveable cites’ and it is obvious why. The relaxed atmosphere, excellent beaches and amenities and proximity to bush, woodland, temperate and desert areas mean that it has a little something for everybody.
We spent the morning on the beach with a couple who we had met the night before. I had bonded with the guy, Scott over his collection of AC/DC records. AC/DC are truly massive in Australia. They are everybody’s favourite band and references to them can be found everywhere. For example there is an Australian company called Scott which manufactures toilet paper dispensers for public toilets. In public toilets all over the country people have augmented the dispensers with the addition of the word Bon before the word Scott in honour of the AC/DC star Bon Scott.
After we had toasted ourselves for long enough we took a stroll around the city centre before heading over to stay with some friends, Sue and Peter and their daughter Roxanne. It was strange returning to normality like this, staying in a normal house doing normal things with people but it was a welcome change from living in the back of a people carrier. They were very welcoming and I even celebrated my birthday there.
They drove us out to a pub in the Adelaide hills for my birthday and it was an even better treat than I had hoped as they had Old Speckled Hen ale on tap there. Australians will tell you differently but their beer is rubbish. For a nation that prides itself so much on its drinking culture they really haven’t got the hang of it at all. The only thing close to a real ale that was available was a sickly concoction called Tooeys Old. Everything else available was tasteless lager. This is because due to the climate all the hops used in the brewing process are freeze dried and imported which leaches out a lot of the flavour that they possess.
Also in the Adelaide hills is a wildlife park called Cleland. Cleland is more a safari park than a zoo and is fairly unique in that it contains all of the animals that you would find in the bush normally, and you can wander among them. And best of all if you ask Faye, you can hold a koala.
The most exciting animal we saw in the park though, was a king brown snake. It was in the park, but it wasn’t one of the attractions. It just happened to slither by when we were eating lunch on a picnic bench so I grabbed the camera and chased it into the long grass in an attempt to get a picture. I didn’t get a picture. I didn’t even see it after that, so I turned back and wandered over to Faye who told me off for chasing yet more deadly creatures. I argued that I didn’t so much chase the blue ringed octopus as poke it, so this was technically a first offence. That didn’t wash though and so I was given a telling off like a little boy.
We spent two weeks staying with Sue and Peter in total and so I can’t thank them enough for being so welcoming and patient.
Our next destination was Melbourne, home of Neighbours which had been my guilty pleasure until ironically I went to live in a van in Australia and got behind with the plot. There are two routes to get to Melbourne from Adelaide and neither of them involve the Stuart highway which seemed unusual. One route heads on a fairly straight bearing inland through what we were told was nondescript bush land, punctuated by a couple of Australia’s roughest towns. The other being the grandly named Great Ocean Road which we had been told had some of the most spectacular scenery in Australia and passed through the town of Mount Gambier where there is a deep blue lake of potable artesian water, nestled in the crater of a dormant volcano. The lake famously changes colour from steely grey to deep blue depending upon the season. Nobody is sure why this is although I suspect it is to do with the reflection of the sky on the lake surface. With the opportunity of visiting Mount Gambier in mind and the fact that we had seen a lot of nondescript bush lately we went with the latter and the scenery truly didn’t disappoint.
Initially we wound our way through wooded hills and vineyards until we were thoroughly lost, which is inevitable when there are two roads to choose from. To add insult to injury, when we did finally get back onto the right road the van decided to break down on a ferry crossing over a tiny river. We delayed the ferry for so long that eventually we were pushed off the boat by the humourless boatmen to the sound of the humourless passengers honking their horns. Humourlessly.
Back on the road again, and we drove on through more woodland, signs intermittently warning us to avoid koalas or helpfully informing us of how many people had been killed or maimed in road accidents along that stretch. Surely if avoiding koalas is that dangerous, maybe we should stop swerving to avoid them. If there were signs up showing statistics of how many koalas had been killed or injured maybe they would stop being so careless when they cross the road.
We stayed two nights at a camp site overlooking Mount Gambier’s colour changing lake and the scenery was beautiful, reminiscent of the mountain regions of Canada. We spent a day walking unhurriedly around the hills and lake, taking our surroundings in before hitting the road again the following morning.
When we descended out of the hills and reached the Great Ocean Road it was soon apparent that the rugged Victorian coastline was indeed as spectacular as we had been told. Reminiscent of the Cornish coast of England it is characterised by great tall cliffs, caves, stacks and archways and is one of the most naturally photogenic areas in the world.
We spent two leisurely days riding along the great ocean road stopping for the night in Apollo Bay for a spot of fruitless fishing before heading on to Melbourne. Westopped for petrol at a garage along the way where we encountered this sign;Eventually we arrived in Melbourne via a very modern highway into a very modern city that appeared at first glance like a cleaner incarnation of Los Angeles with the towering skyscrapers of the C.B.D. looming up out of the low rise sprawl surrounding them. We headed for our desired camp site (the cheapest one in the guide book) and bought a case of beers en route. We found our camp site fairly easily and proceeded to get drunk with some more strangers, an art we had by now mastered, and went to bed.