The next day was a complete change of speed, and most welcome too. Rather than mounting up for another extended drive, we merely travelled half an hour to the southern suburbs to stay with Joel’s parents, Helen and Jim. It was a lovely and very hot day, so after a light lunch and a tiki tour of the area Kristen and I went for a short walk then lay on the beach for a few hours. Brilliant. The evening saw a barbeque in the backyard, followed by slightly more booze than any of us expected… a top night for all!
We hit the road again the next day, with the modest aim of reaching the historic township of Robe on the south-eastern coast of South Australia. Starting late, we took the scenic route through McLaren Vale and the southern Adelaide Hills – both beautiful areas – before heading to the ferry crossing at Wellington. The day started very hot but by this time a change was in the air, and searing winds whipped the surface of the Murray as we crossed.
Within half an hour it was raining, windy and cold, which seemed quite appropriate as we entered the windswept coastal wetland region of the Coorong. Or as we variously called it: the Stinklands, or the Badlands. We couldn’t wait to get out of there. Apparently the foul stench in the air is only a recent phenomenon caused by too little water flowing down the Murray River system, but I noted there are virtually no settlements for almost a hundred kilometres along this coastline. It’s a famous bird sanctuary, and the sturdy shrubs that hugged the ground suggest it’s not hospitable for much else, though it might be much more scenic on a bright sunny day.
We overnighted in Robe, and as the weather was awful we decided to stay in our hotel the whole time. Fortunately the Caledonian Inn is a delightful gem originally built in the 1850s, and our room upstairs was charmingly off-centre yet comfortable. There’s a good restaurant onsite too, and while Kristen’s half lobster turned out to be very disappointing all the other elements of the meal were excellent. After dinner we had some random chats with locals, one of whom had just returned from a gourmet tour of Sydney the week before (Est, Sean’s Panorama, Pier, etc). It was a pleasant surprise to know that others were keen on doing our kind of journey.
The next day’s weather was still crappy, so we ditched our plans to head to Dunkeld via Mount Gambier and headed straight for Penola. This township is the service centre for the Coonawarra wine region, somewhere I have wanted to visit for many years. It is much more scenic than I expected: for some reason I had always presumed it was surrounded by sparse desert or bush, so it was a great surprise to find lush green pasture for kilometres around. The township itself is very pleasant, and we spent quite a bit of time browsing the excellent historical displays in the tourist office.
Naturally I was keen to visit a few vineyards (but only a couple!), and I chose Bowen Estate while Kristen plumped for Hollick. The latter was an inspired choice, because the cellar door host at Bowen told us our desired lunching venue was closed on Tuesdays. However there was a restaurant at Hollicks if we were keen on a bit of fine dining…. Natch. After a run through all their wines (the Wrattonbully shiraz is a great buy) we were taken upstairs to our table for a good meal overlooking the vineyards. Knowing we were going to eat the Meal Of The Trip that night we decided to keep it light, sharing two tapas plates for entrée (salt and pepper tofu; rabbit and pork rillettes; both excellent) and for mains a salmon and chardonnay pie (Kristen) and pan-fried salmon on mash with steamed asparagus (me). Both fine if not superb, but a great way to laze away a couple of hours.
After a suddenly rushed trip to the local pub to put our bets on the Melbourne Cup (we had time zone issues all the way through South Australia!), we then headed east towards our home for the next few days: Dunkeld in western Victoria. The drive was very pleasant and while I pulled over for a rest in Casterton Kristen had a wonderfully random chat with an old guy out walking his cataract-affected dog, Primrose. We arrived at Dunkeld on time for a change, and were able to rest a bit before having the best meal of our lives…