27 October to 2 November 2019
Adelaide to Kingston SE via Hahndorf, 294km
to Coonawarra, 136km
to Beachport via Southend, 111km
When we left Adelaide through the Adelaide Hills, we had time for a quick coffee stop in Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, Hahndorf.
Briefly renamed Ambleside during WWI, Hahndorf no longer disguises its German influences in its architecture and cafes.
We continued through the now familiar rolling farm lands of South Australia, heading to the Coorong National Park.
On the way we stopped at the intriguingly named Pink Lake. There was definitely a pink tinge to the shallow water of the lake, the result of a type of algae. Just further along the road there was another perhaps better example.
We drove through the Coorong National Park, along the long lagoon separated on its other side from the ocean by the dunes of the thin Younghusband Peninsula, home to black swans and lots of other seabirds. You can see how windy it was. We needed to find somewhere sheltered to put up the tent!
We stopped just short of the town of Kingston SE (SE standing for South East, this being the South East of South Australia) at a campsite set up in the foreshore garden of an enterprising local. We put up the tent for the first time in over a week just a short walk through the dunes to the beach. We were all alone except for a group of guinea fowl.
We took a long walk along the sand all the way into town finding all sorts of colourful washed up sealife. We filled our pockets with beautiful shells that may or may not make it home with us.
Walking into town through the dunes we came across some inquisitive calves and surprised an echidna into its defensive, spiny ball.
Kingston SE wins hands down on our chart of Big Things. Larry, the Big Lobster is epic (and slightly scary!). 18m by 14m of fibreglass sea monster sits menacingly beside the road on the way into town. The town’s other attraction, the former Cape Jaffa lighthouse, was far less intimidating.
After our long walk we jumped into Tick and took an ocean side joyride about 20km up the beach, to the Granites, imaginatively named granite rocks sitting on the sand and the perfect perch for the local cormorants.
On our second night we were joined in the campsite by a solo French traveller, Alice, and, after making her a good old British cup of tea, sat with her on the dunes watching the sun set over the Southern Ocean.
Having had our fix of sea views, and hoping it would be less windy inland, we next headed up to yet another of South Australia’s wine regions, the Coonawarra.
We pitched the tent almost in one of its vineyards where it was in fact no less windy.
As well as vine views, the campsite was situated in 200 acres of virgin bush land. Here the forest has been untouched for 40,000 years and is full of manna gums and bracken, prime habitat for koalas and wombats. We walked the 2km forest trail twice during our stay and, apart from evidence of wombats digging for insects along the path, saw only a solitary wallaby. Koalas definitely don’t exist!
A short day trip from Coonawarra are the Naracoorte Caves, an area of extensive cave systems full of stalactites and stalagmites. Four of the 28 caves are open to the public, having been excavated for visitors by the early European settlers who “discovered” them.
The caves have acted as a trap for animals falling into them over half a million years making the caves one of the world’s most important fossil sites. By now, we had given up on koalas and wombats so we turned to Australia’s megafauna for our next wildlife encounters, giant creatures that once roamed the country. There was a time when the Giant Short-faced Kangaroo, the Tasmanian Tiger and the Marsupial Lion lived, evidence suggests, alongside the early humans. The Marsupial Tapir seemed the friendliest.
Inside the Victoria Fossil Cave we took a guided tour through its tunnels and to the location of a dig that has unpeeled the layers of 200,000 years of beasts that have fallen into the cave. Underneath the skeletons of more modern animals – Tasmanian Devils, possums, wallabies, all sorts of snakes and lizards – the paleontologists struck gold in the skeletons of more terrifying beasts.
Emerging blinking into daylight again Stefan confessed to being a little underwhelmed. “Trouble is I’m a cave snob now“, he said. We have been to some pretty incredible caves throughout our European travels. Even the ancient creatures weren’t going to impress him.
Having camped amongst the vines it would have been rude not to try some of the local produce and at Rymill Winery, the Lonely Planet promised “some of the best sauvignon blanc you’ll ever taste” and they weren’t half bad.
Unsure where to head next other than towards the coast again, we chatted to the campsite manager. He recommended Beachport. “Beautiful jiddy“, he said. We’ve grown fond of a good South Australian jetty so we headed there.
The jetty was indeed beautiful, surrounded by clear turquoise water. The weather was still blustery and cool but that didn’t stop the kids jumping. It did see my hat take a flight into the sea where Stefan waded to retrieve it. Beachport has an active fleet of crayfish boats. The boats were beautifully maintained and we chatted to one crew returning from their day at sea.
On the foreshore above the beach we found a sealion looking very sorry for himself. We watched him for a while and he didn’t seem very well at all. He seemed to have some recent injuries to his head so Stefan phoned the wildlife rescue people. They thought he might just be exhausted from a long time at sea but promised to send a local ranger to check him out. The next morning he had moved himself to the beach and after that he disappeared hopefully well enough to survive his next journey.
The coastline around Beachport was stunning. Penguin Island is home to, guess what, penguins (the fairy variety) but also seals although from a distance we could see neither.
The road signs promised wombats but, quelle surprise, our walk bore no sightings. We did, however, see a lot of giant, red bull ants. At about an inch or more long, they are very fierce looking indeed. Stefan has been bitten by one in the past so we trode carefully!
Just inland from Beachport is an example of one man’s ingenious, and seriously impressive, engineering solution to the rather marshy nature of the farm land around here – the Woakwine Cutting. Needing to find a way to drain the swamp on his land into nearby Lake George. It took 3 years for Murray McCourt and one of his workmen to cut a one kilometre gorge through the limestone. At its deepest the cutting is over 28 metres deep. An incredible feat.
On the heritage front Beachport had a tiny customs house, a tiny church and a tiny Institute building turned occasional cinema. A board outside advertised their monthly film society screening of a recent Australian film about the Vietnam war, Danger Close (the Battle of Long Tan). The screening was that evening and the board said everyone welcome so, as the forecast was for torrential rain, we took that as an invitation to stay dry.
We were made very welcome on arriving at the cinema later and it was clear we might be the only visitors amongst film society members. The film was as bleak as you might expect a film about the Vietnam war to be but beautifully shot and poignant to watch amongst a generation of Australians who may have served in it. The irony of the post screening raffle being won by the local pharmacist, a Vietnamese man, was not lost on us! We were invited to stay afterwards for tea and cake and we chatted to a local woman, Toni, and her husband Kevin, who have a farm nearby. As we emerged from the institute into the driving rain, Toni invited us to visit them on their farm the following day and scribbled her number on the back of an envelope for us to give her a call.
But inviting two strangers to visit might be a decision she was going to regret…