Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Trip to South Australia 6 / Warrnambool to Termeil

The Great Ocean Road is a 240km (150 mi) stretch of road along the south west coast of Victoria between the towns of Warrnambool and Torquay. The road was built by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932 and is the world's largest war memorial dedicated to casualties of WW1. It is an important tourist attraction in the region and winds through varying terrain which includes rain forests as well as beaches and cliffs composed of limestone and sandstone.
The soft limestone rock of the coast began forming 10 to 20 million years ago when it was under the sea. Skeletal remains of shellfish and calcium rich algae were compressed under their own weight to form rocks of varying hardness. As the sea retreated the rock cracked into a chequer board pattern leaving deep vertical joints. At the end of the last Ice Age the sea advanced again reaching the current level about 6000 years ago. Cliffs were formed when the sea undercut the edge of the land causing it to collapse. Harder rocks remain as stacks while the coast continues to erode away.
And the erosion taking place is no more evident than in the two pictures below taken by us during visits in 2003 and a few weeks ago. This formation called the Island Archway partially collapsed in June 2009.

The road provides access to several prominent landmarks including the nationally significant Twelve Apostles limestone stack formations as well as other beautiful spots. It’s not an easy drive as the road is quite narrow and winding with some precipitous drops to the ocean quite near the edge. The driver has to concentrate on not ‘gawking' and be aware that many other drivers are foreign tourists not used to driving on the ‘wrong' side. They do tend to wander over the centre line. Rock falls are another problem. We were held up by one for an hour just out of Lorne until it was cleared.
Will give you a selection of pictures of some of the more significant sites along the route ending with The Twelve Apostles (although there are only eight actually still standing).

Our day's journey ended in Torquay, the surfing capital of Australia, and headquarters to such surf clothing and equipment companies as Billabong, Rip Curl and Quicksilver.
It is also the home to the world's only surfing reserve, Bells Beach.
The surf was not pumping the day we were there but I had a classical picture of a day when it was on file.
That night over a Chinese meal we discussed the next leg of our journey. We were now back in familiar territory.
A number of options were considered but in the end we decided to make a 'run' for home via the Hume Highway. It would be a long way but on very good high speed roads. Leaving just on dawn and sharing the driving we were rolling through our front gate about eleven hours later.
What a great trip. 5800km (3600mi) in total and 99.9% of it most enjoyable.
Thanks for letting us share it with you over the last few weeks.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Trip to South Australia 5 / Victor Harbor to Warrnambool

Another early start as the first part of our journey to the Limestone Coast had to skirt around Lakes Alexandrina and Albert. Our first stop, Strathalbyn, was a nice town founded by Scottish migrants in 1839 and you can see the Celtic influence in the old buildings so well preserved there. It also had great coffee and quilt shops. Then it was through the Langhorne Creek wine region with, unfortunately, no time to stop.

Langhorne Creek is a little known region but of major importance, especially for the production of red wine.
Major varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Chardonnay and Verdelho. In recent years, Sangiovese and Grenache have strongly featured in the region's wines.
The area is influenced greatly by Lake Alexandrina, Australia's largest permanent freshwater lake and a natural flood plain. The soil of which is fine, fertile and deep, having been deposited by the Bremer and Angus rivers over aeons, makes it a very good region for horticultural production in general. The climate is characterised by low winter-dominant rainfall and, due to the cooling breezes from the lake, moderate daytime temperatures during the growing season.
Viticulture there dates from the 1850s when Frank Potts established Bleasdale, the region's only winery to stay in continuous production. Wolf Blass and Lindemans have shown interest in the region over the past ten years and a number of other big players have established vineyards there. However it has been the boutique wineries in the region that have been putting Langhorne Creek on the international wine map.
The area is also the home of a rare mutation of Cabernet Sauvignon. Cleggett Wines has planted a few hectares of the white grape, Shalistin and bronze grape, Malian. These are rare sports (mutants) which are made into the novelty white and light red styles of Cabernet Sauvignon.

At Wellington we had to cross the Murray by ferry as we were on a relatively minor road. Then we turned south towards the Coorong along which the road follows for almost 100km. This is one of Australia’s most fragile ecosystems. It is a mix of ocean coastline, scrub land, lakes and lagoons and home to hundreds of species of plants, birds, native wildlife and fish. It is sheltered from the Southern Ocean by the sand dunes of the Young Husband Peninsula.

For more than 25 million years the Limestone Coast area consisted of a series of ancient coastlines submerged below the ocean. During this time, tonnes of marine crustaceans and shells fell to the sea floor and cemented together to form a white porous rock ie. limestone.
About a million years ago the sea receded leaving us with this unique area.

We stopped for lunch at Kingston S.E whose main claim to fame is the Big Lobster and the relocated Cape Jaffa lighthouse previously situated on the treacherous Margaret Brock Reef 6km off the coast. Home of a huge cray fishing fleet during the season, to say this town is 'dead' during winter is an understatement. It was only the fried flake (shark) and potato cakes at Macs Takeaway that saved it for us.

We travelled on through the new and developing Mount Benson wine region. Here around 600ha are under vine with seven cellar doors offering prize winning Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc.
We arrived in our destination Robe and took possession of our little beach side cottage that would be our home for a few days. The view along Long Beach from the lounge was pretty nice too.

This quiet little town has quite a history. It was once the Limestone Coast's biggest port. But it was a treacherous one. The Cape Dombey Obelisk was built in 1853 as a navigational aid to assist entry into Guichen Bay but not all were successful. Powerful storms claimed quite a number of vessels and one of the pubs in town is constructed partially of timber salvaged from a couple of wrecks.

We found a monument written in Chinese on the foreshore. Apparently during the gold rush in Victoria in the 1850's the colonial government of the time imposed a poll tax on immigrant prospectors. To get around this tax, many were landed at Robe in South Australia and they walked the 320km (200 mi) to the goldfields. Twenty thousand Chinese passed through Robe during this time.
The storms of the previous week were still evident in the ocean and the ruggedness and danger of the coastline is quite evident.

Next morning dawned wet and stormy. We decided to make a day trip 100km each way to Penola and the Coonawarra wine region. The day before a mini tornado (an unusual event in Australia) had hit the town. On the drive in we could see the 100m swathe of damage as the storm had zigged zagged its way down the highway and through the town. Repair crews were hard at work. We stopped for a fortifying coffee and sadly surveyed the closed quilt shop.
With its terra rossa soil and dedicated winemakers, the Coonawarra region has to make fine wine. Cabernet Sauvignon is the undoubted star and the region is renowned for the production of some of Australia's greatest red wines.
The climate is Mediterranean with cooling maritime influences off the Southern Ocean. Rainfall is low especially during the growing season, necessitating irrigation.

The region lies on a ridge 59m above sea level with the surrounding country flat, frosty and poorly drained. The region is blessed with three soil types, the famed terra rossa and black and brown rendzina soils. Terra rossa is red-brown topsoil laid over a thin layer of calcrete (calcium carbonate) sitting on a white limestone base. It is the oldest and most fertile soil on the Limestone Coast. Its origins can be traced back to the ancient submarine deposits, nearly one million years ago, when the ocean extended inland as far as the present Naracoorte (Comaum) Range, known as the Kanawinka Escarpment. The region has experienced a number of ice ages that has left a series of dune-ranges stranded right across the Limestone Coast to the present shore line. As the land continued to rise above sea level this limestone became the principal ingredient of the developing Terra Rossa soil. The wind deposited organic matters and iron particles which oxidised to a rich rusty-red, thus providing the terra rossa with its colour and consequently its name.
While the Coonawarra has become synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon, wine making has diversified over time so today there are generations of experience producing wonderful Shiraz, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Malbec and Merlot as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and Semillon.
Our first stop was Brand's Laira. First planted in 1893, acquired by Eric Brand in 1950 and taken over by McWilliams in 1994, this winery has produced some of the best wine in the region. The Blockers 2007 Cabernet we tasted was exceptional.
Next was Wynns Coonawarra Estate was which was founded by Scottish pioneer, John Riddoch. He planted vineyards in 1891, and completed the estate's famous three gable winery in 1896.

We were the only ones in their beautiful tasting room so we got to sample a whole range of wine including their current and new releases as well as older vintages, some way out of my price bracket. It was a great experience. The Cabernets and Rieslings were wonderful and we bought just a few. Wynns Coonawarra Hermitage (now Shiraz) was the first wine I ever drank.
The winery itself looked more like an oil refinery.

Then it was Katnook's turn.
Again beautiful Cabernets and reasonable examples of Sauvignon Blanc and Rieslings. Here I splurged on one bottle of their 2005 Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon which I thought might cause Mr. Visa to call to find out whether I was still in possession of my card. I promised to open it for the co drivers's 60th birthday especially now it seemed with the ever increasing lack of room in the car she may be forced to box up her quilt shop purchases and mail them home.

Our final destination was Hollicks mainly for the restaurant rather than the wine.
We had a great meal in a room set up high and looking over the vines.
Salmon and leek pie followed by an evil chocolate concoction for me and pumpkin souffle' and roasted chicken breast, date and almond chutney and cous cous for the c-d.
We had a glass of Hollick's Savignin and Tempranillo with the meal and confirmed that we liked these two in the tasting room afterwards. I assured the co driver that they were definitely the last purchases! But then again there were 21 other wineries to potentially visit.
But by now the car was really filled up.

On the road again next day heading for Portland in Victoria. Suddenly the country changed and we were in forests of pines. Approximately 123,000 hectares are softwood, mostly Radiata pine are grown in South Australia for wood products and paper. The area between Millicent and Mount Gambier and to the Victorian border is a major plantation area.
Mount Gambier is South Australia's second largest city. It sits amidst a unique and ancient landscape of volcanic craters, lakes, caves and sinkholes not to mention mysterious underground waterways.
The crater lakes complex consists of four craters, the most famous being the Blue Lake. It changes colour annually from a steel grey in winter to a brilliant turquoise blue almost around the same date in November each year. Why is still an unanswered question.
It looked pretty blue to us in August compared to it's neighbour but when you see a summer picture the difference is amazing.

The Umpherston Sinkhole was once a cave but now with a collapsed roof has become a sunken garden.

There were two quilt shops in the city (which made up for the closed one in Millicent) so after a quick visit we were back in the car and heading across the Victorian border into Portland. The city is a large deep water port and relies on wood chip export, fishing and its aluminium smelter to drive its economy. Despite planning to stay here overnight we had arrived early and decided that we could make it to Warrnambool which would shorten the time getting to the Great Ocean Road the next day. The Port of Call Cafe' however provided us with the trip's best Aussie hamburger with the lot for lunch. For the uninitiated this consists of a beef patty, cheese, lettuce, tomato, beetroot, bacon, fried egg, fried pineapple and sauce all between a split bun.
Mr. McDonald and Mr. Hungry Jack (Burger King) please take note!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Trip to South Australia 4 / Flinders Ranges to Victor Harbor

Driving south down Highway 1 the 400km (250 mi) towards Adelaide through rich green grazing and crop land, we stopped at Port Pirie for lunch. This town has the largest lead and zinc smelter in the southern hemisphere and is possibly not the most attractive place in the country to hang about in. The rumoured camel, buffalo and goat abattoir planned to take commercial advantage of the feral animal cull in the outback is also not an incentive to visit.

Negotiating the busy streets of Adelaide, I dropped the co driver off at another quilt shop on the list and went on to buy some wine making equipment.
On the way back I happened to pass the historic Penfolds Magill Estate, the original home of Penfolds wines and the famous Grange Shiraz. Once in the countryside, this 5ha vineyard is now completely surrounded by suburbia. I thought about stopping for a quick visit but the very pleasant day has started to turn a bit nasty and we needed to get out of town into the Adelaide Hills before peak hour.
Sure enough, in about thirty minutes, we were hit with torrential rain and howling winds just as we reached Hahndorf and our accommodation. It was in a beautiful setting despite the weather and within walking distance of a couple of wineries including the award winning Smith and Shaw.

Hahndorf is Australia's oldest surviving German settlement. Its early pioneer settlers were refugees from religious persecution in the Silesian area of Prussia (north-eastern Germany). In December 1838, thirty-eight Lutheran families arrived at Port Adelaide aboard the 'Zebra', captained by Dane, Dirk Hahn after whom the town was named. It's very touristy now and tends to be a little pseudo Deutsch but there are some nice preserved buildings here as well as some good restaurants and expensive craft shops. We chose Bistro 25 a very tiny place who despite being booked out welcomed us in from the stormy night and made room. The scallops, pate', char grilled filet were delicious. So was the complimentary glass of Nepenthe Sauvignon Blanc.

Next morning, after a wild weather night and despite no let up, we soldiered on with our exploration of quilt shops and wineries.
The Adelaide Hills are part of the Mount Lofty Ranges that lie just outside the capital. In the late 1800's wealthy residents of the city discovered that the hills provided the perfect cool retreat from the hot suburban summers. Many fine houses were built and are still occupied today. There are 30,000 residents living (and many commuting) in the area today. It is also a wine region being one of South Australia's largest as well as the oldest. The first vines were planted in the Hills in 1839, three years after South Australia was declared a state. The lowest vineyards in the region lie at an altitude of around 400m and the annual rainfall can vary between 700 and 1250mm per annum.
This cool climate is ideal for Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and crisp Chardonnay. Other grape varieties grown in the region include Merlot, Shiraz, Semillon and Cabernet Sauvignon. Vignerons are also experimenting with some of the rarer varieties in Australia eg. Trollinger and Lemberger grapes from Germany, and the Italian varieties Arneis, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. We found the Spanish Tempranillo as well. I picked up some of that as well as a few bottles of Sauvignon Blanc from Bird in Hand winery. And they had great olives too.
The co driver had taken a liking to the typical South Australian countryside typified by dry creek beds bordered by tall river gums. She thought we should try to buy a painting or a photograph for one of our walls.

Just by chance, Hahndorf was the home of the famous German born landscape artist the late Hans Heysen and his studio, which is preserved by the National Trust, was only a few minutes from us.
We took our time wandering around and eventually ended up buying a lovely print from the NT shop there.

Two quilt shops were also on the agenda one of which turned out to be ‘the shop of the tour’. They even had a ‘waiting husbands’ chair......outside. Very considerate, I must say! And very much needed.
We also found a chocolate shop to die for. I will make no other comment. Enter the web site at your own risk!
The following morning we headed south and into the Fleurieu Peninsula with the first stop at McLaren Vale.
Only a half hour’s drive south of Adelaide, this is one of Australia's oldest wine making regions. The region consistently produces fine wines from a number of varieties, most importantly Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay

The topography of the region is undulating and therefore contains a variety of terroirs. In the East the land rises as high as 320m but the flats mostly lie between 50-100m elevation. The different soil types include terra rossa, light loam over clay, rendzina, soldolic, and Bay of Biscay. The soil type is generally quite poor with much of it sandy with a clay base. Irrigation helps when nature is lacking, although about 20% of the region’s fruit is retained as "dry-grown" to encourage intense flavours. Warm sunny days with sea breezes from the nearby Gulf of St Vincent help temper high summer heat. Its proximity to the Mount Lofty Ranges sees cool gully winds fall down from the hills in the late evening and early morning, chilling the grapes to retain crisp acidity and structure. Good winter rainfall of 580-700mm and low relative humidity ensure consistency of ripening and premium quality fruit. We even came across a block of very old bush vines as opposed to the normal trellised ones.

It was the weekend and most tasting rooms were very busy and the staff very sales rather than information orientated. I was searching for Tempranillo and managed to find two outstanding ones at d’Arenberg and Samuel's Gorge.
Then it was onto Victor Harbor and our accommodation just the other side of Encounter Bay. I had been warned that it was in a remote area. And it was! That's it right on the point.

What an amazing spot.

The weekend’s gales were still blowing and the Southern Ocean was in full flight.
Check out the view from our front window.

And the welcoming committee.
Next morning had somewhat improved weather wise so we went to see what Victor Harbor (no, not a sudden case of American spelling but a mistake by an early Surveyor General of South Australia) had to offer.
Encounter Bay on which Victor Harbor sits was discovered and named by Matthew Flinders in the HMS Investigator in April of 1802 although there is evidence that American whalers were in the area in the 1790's. Flinders was surveying the then unknown southern Australian coast from the West and encountered Frenchman Nicolas Baudinin of the Le Geographe near the Murray River mouth several kilometers to the east. Baudin was surveying the coast from the East for Napoleonic France. The ships returned to the bay and sheltered while the captains, who were probably unaware their countries were at war, compared notes. It subsequently became a whaling station.
It gained importance as a port when goods coming down the Murray River to Goolwa couldn't be exported through the dangerous Murray mouth and were transported up the coast by Australia's first railway albeit horse drawn.

Granite Island which protects the harbour is connected to the mainland by a long causeway.
There are two ways of getting over, walking or by horse drawn tram.
We needed the exercise and as well did a complete circuit of the island for a good work out plus some lovely scenery.
Granite island is home to a large colony of Fairy Penguins and are a popular attraction on the island. The penguins shelter on the island during the night, departing in the morning to hunt for fish before returning at sunset. We didn't see any.
Next stop was Goolwa. This used to be the final port of call for the paddle steamers coming down the Murray River. The river completes its 2375km (1485 mi) journey at Lake Alexandrina which then empties through a chain of low sand islands into the Southern Ocean. The largest island , directly facing the mouth, is Hindmarsh and it is from here you get a distant view of it. We could just make out a group of seals lying on the beach where the river raced out to sea.
A series of barrages join the islands, separating the salt water from the fresh water of the lakes and river. These barrages can be however opened during high river flow. The mouth is between two sandhill peninsulas. Sir Richard Peninsula on the northwest separates the Goolwa channel (the main river channel) from the ocean. The much longer Younghusband Peninsula separates the Coorong from the ocean on the southeast of the mouth.
Due to the poor water flows mention in a previous blog the mouth needs to be kept open by continual dredging. A silted up mouth would stop inflow from the sea and into the Coorong's 467 km² (180 sq. mi) lagoon system which would then warm up, stagnate and die. The Coorong is an important sanctuary for many species of birds, animals and fish as well as attracting many migratory bird species.
Lunch at Goolwa was the local specialty, battered Coorong mullet and chips. Then it was back to our coastal retreat via another listed quilt shop to prepare for the next leg of our journey.