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!