In our original plan, after departing Port Lincoln, was to head straight for Adelaide but in overlanding world, the original plan is never the plan that you follow and that is what makes overlanding so unique. This time, and after a quick overnight in quiet Fitzgerald Bay, we headed to the boot-shaped “Yorkes” (Yorke Peninsula) that although it doesn’t have major highlights, still maintains a certain wild beauty.
Through our route, we visited the old mining town of Moonta, the Innes National Park and Yorketown. All of them had their own unique charm and made our stay really pleasant. As we turned northbound and reached Port Augusta, it took one wrong turn and instead of heading to Adelaide, we got caught up in South Australia’s wine region.
Truth to be told now and probably on purpose, after two nights visiting the South Flinders Ranges, we entered Clare Valley, a wine region located only two hours north of Adelaide. At the centre of this fertile agricultural district, Clare, this skinny valley, produces world-class rieslings and top notch reds. Add to that gorgeous countryside, with open skies, rounded hills, large gum trees and windy wheat fields and you have the complete picture. Our first stop, Clare (the town) was founded in 1842 and it is the biggest settlement in the valley. After the first impression, it seemed to us more practical than charming, so after a quick look around we left and headed to the surrounding wineries. After inspecting a couple of them and tried some of their wines, we found a free camp in Farrell Flat, one of the small towns here that date from the 1840s (many built to service the Burra copper mines) and called in for the night. The next day, we visited the Heritage-listed Mintaro (founded in 1849), a lovely stone village that could have been lifted out of France and repositioned into the Australian bush.
Further south we reached sleepy Auburn with its beautifully preserved, hand-built stone buildings and cottage gardens. Finally after a week in the wine region and another great free camp in Tarlee, we entered Adelaide that I couldn’t find a better way to describe how it feels than the one you can read in Lonely Planet: “Sophisticated, cultured, neat casual − this is the self-image Adelaide projects, a nod to the days of free colonization without the penal colony taint. Adelaidians may remind you of their convict-free status, but the city’s stuffy, affluent origins did more to inhibit development than promote it. Bogged down in the old-school doldrums and painfully short on charisma, this was a pious, introspective place.”
As impressive as a city can be, Adelaide kept us busy for three days before we took the road to the Adelaide Hills. Yes, you guessed it right, more wine region to be explored, just 12 minutes up the freeway. “The Hills” with their gorgeous valley unfold old towns and cool-climate vineyards. Hahndorf, the main epicenter of the valley, is an undeniably pretty country town with European architecture, decorated by trees and flowers overflowing from old wine barrels used as pots. This is Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement and just for the story of it, the city of Hahndorf was placed under martial law during WWI, and its name changed to Ambleside (renamed Hahndorf in 1935). The above information was picked from the very informative town’s visitor center. Next up and still in the wine hunt, was a quick drive through McLaren Vale that is surrounded by wheat and encircled by boutique vineries and nothing much else to look at. After a long day, we retreated in Port Elliot that is set back from Horseshoe Bay, with gentle surf and good swimming.
Here, in another RV overnight stop, we enjoyed the views over the bay. The next morning, we were told by the Ranger that since we were not a self confined vehicle, we should not be staying in RV overnight stops. We acknowledged our mistake with a smile and we moved on.
The Limestone Coast was our next target in southeastern SA between the flat, olive span of the lower Murray River and the Victorian border. Although we didn’t expect it to be nothing more than a drive by, it was a rather curiously engaging place. Taking the highways, you can fast track your route across these flatlands in under a day, without too much sweat, but around here the delight is in the detail and the off the beaten track small towns along the coast.
As the Murray River curls across eastern SA, an old custom that dates back to the late19th century, a culture of free river crossing transportation is still alive. 24-hour, winch-driven ferries transfer vehicles across the water. As you arrive, your car is guided onto the floating platform by the ferrymen who lock safety gates into position before they shunt you across to the other side. What a tradition! After disembarking the ferry, we explored the area’s lagoons, surf beaches, photogenic fishing ports and snoozy agricultural towns. We stayed in friendly Kingston SE for a couple of nights, in an old working farm run by the very hospitable Mr. Willy, before we reached Robe, a little fishing port that has become a holiday hot spot for Adelaidians and Melbournians alike. As you roll into this town, you are most likely to be disappointed by the looks of it, but with a better look, off the main street, someone can find quality up market eateries and new fancy accommodation.
Not for us! Directed by Mr. Will, we had picked up a fresh lobster from a local fisherman. So all that fancy establishments seemed pointless to us since all we needed was a shelter to prepare our delicious dinner and that was exactly what we did.
The next day and on our way out of town, we found some magic white sand beaches in the outskirts of town and as expected, we treated ourselves driving Voukefalas on the sand for the necessary pictures and videos. Heading further east, Mount Gambier is the Limestone Coast’s major town and service hub that is built on top of an old volcano’s crater. “The Mount”, to the drive-by visitor like us, seems a little short on sites, but it is not what is above the streets that makes Mount Gambier special. It’s the deep blue Crater Lake and the hidden caves that worm their way through the limestone beneath the town that makes this place special. All amazing sites to visit, even in a cloudy dark day that we were there.
After crossing the border into Victoria and with our Covid clearance passes in hand, as well as our masks, we reached Portland. This city’s claim to fame is Victoria’s first European settlement, founded as a whaling and sealing base in the early 1800s but despite its colonial history and architecture, blue-collared Portland lacks of a real draw card, with exception maybe some good beaches and surf breaks outside town. So in an unorthodox way for us, this time we picked to leave the coast and base ourselves in a wonderful location recommended by locals, in an area higher above the city and in a deep forest of gum trees to enjoy a couple of days in the woods before we continued. Port Fairy, our next destination, was voted in 2012 the world’s most livable community, and as soon as you start driving in to the town, it was not hard to see why. After a lunch stop and a walk on the beach though, we pushed to Warrnambool, the next big town that was also originally a whaling and sealing station. Nowadays it’s booming as a major regional commercial centre with historic buildings, waterways and tree-lined streets.
Our major destination in this region though was “The Great Ocean Road”, one of Australia’s most famous road-touring routes that takes travelers past world-class surfing breaks, rainforests, calm seaside towns and koala-filled tree canopies. On your way through, you can drive over limestone cliffs, local dairy farms and get up close and personal with the crashing waves of the Southern Ocean. First taste of the routes unparalleled beauty came in as we rolled into Port Campbell, a small, laid-back coastal town that was named after the Scottish Captain Alexander Campbell, a whaler who took refuge here on trading voyages between Tasmania and Port Fairy. Its tiny bay has a lovely sandy beach, the only safe place for swimming along this coast, but that is not why travelers come here for. The town’s surroundings is what the real drawback lays under the name of Port Campbell National Park.
This is the home of the Twelve Apostles, and the most famous and most photographed stretch of the entire Great Ocean Road. As we started our route towards the Apostles, our first stop was Loch Ard Gorge beach, where the Shipwreck of Loch Ard, the coast’s most famous tale unfolded when two young survivors from the wrecked iron clipper ship made it to shore. One of the several walks you can take nowadays takes you down to the cave where they took shelter. London Bridge, the next stop outside Port Campbell, has fallen down. It was once a double-arched rock platform linked to the mainland but nowadays, after the collapse of the first of the arches that connects the shore, you can only see what remains. Nevertheless it is a spectacular sight. In January 1990 the bridge collapsed, leaving two terrified tourists marooned on the world’s newest island – they were eventually rescued by a coast guard helicopter.
The No1 site in the tourist track though was the next one in our plan, “The Twelve Apostles” that are not 12 in number and never have been. From the viewing platform you can clearly count seven Apostles on one side and two on the other, but maybe some collapsed with time. As you can read in the well maintained visitors’ center, “The Apostles are called stacks in geologic parlance, and the rock formations were originally called the “Sow and Piglets”. For touristic purposes in the 1960s, the local authorities thought they might attract some tourists with a more trademarked name, so they were renamed “the Apostles”. Since the apostles tend to come by the dozen, the number 12 was added sometime later. The two stacks on the eastern (Otway) side of the viewing platform are not technically Apostles – they are Gog and Magog. The soft limestone cliffs are dynamic and changeable, with constant erosion from the unceasing waves – one 70m-high stack collapsed into the sea in July 2005.” You can understand that the local authorities’ trick of establishing a trade mark worked as you roll in the parking lot that is full of tourist buses and helicopter flights that are also available over the area. With that said though and as the various viewing platforms are spread among the cliffs, the site hasn’t lost any of his majestic beauty.
That night, our camp was within the Otway National Park, in Cape Otway, the second-most-southerly point of mainland Australia (after Wilsons Promontory) and one of the wettest parts of the state. To our bonus, we had free roaming koalas sharing the gum trees of our campsite. It was a wonderful experience that kept us busy for the rest of the afternoon, checking them out while taking as many pictures as we could. The rest of the coastline, on our way to the picturesque Apollo Bay, was also beautiful and rugged with waves breaking on the rocks along the way. Lorne, a destination I had visited ten years ago, in my backpacking trip through Australians east coast, has an incredible natural beauty, something you see vividly as you drive into town. Tall old gum trees line its hilly streets and have been attracting visitors for generations. We could see that on school holiday or midsummer you will probably have to compete in order to get a seat in the few restaurants but that should not stop you from visiting as it is still a lovely place to just hang out.
Further down it was Torquay that in the 1960s and 1970s was just another sleepy seaside town that back then was the base for surfers in Australia in their cultural pursuit. It was here that surfing hippies roamed up in clapped-out Kombi’s, smoking pot and leaving free while surfing. Today Torquay is mainly mainstream and the town’s proximity to world famous Bells Beach, and status as home of two iconic surf brands, Rip Curl and Quicksilver, ensures Torquay’s place as the undisputed capital of the Australian surf industry.
Up next was Melbourne, where in most tourist brochures someone can read that is best experienced as a local would. The city’s character lies upon the collection of inner-city neighborhoods. In our case we were lucky as Raymond Rochelle’s brother lives here. So with Ray guiding as into the where and how, we dived into Australia’s most happening city. Melbourne’s wide main streets have a constant buzz day and night, seven days a week. Museums and art galleries are dotted throughout. Like in most big cities, skyscrapers cluster the east and west ends of the center and are mostly used by businesses. Southern Cross Station sits to the west, with Docklands Stadium and the regenerated Docklands beyond. Opposite the central Flinders Street Station, Federation Sq (better known as Fed Square in Auzzie mate) stands beside the Yarra River and has become a favourite Melbourne gathering place. To the east is the top end of town (locals call it the ‘Paris end’), with its monumental gold rush-era buildings and designer stores.
And then there is St Kilda, the city’s beach scene, where someone can take a stroll along the beach, before catching a live band show in one of the bars in lively Acland St for the evening. Last but not least was a visit to Oakleigh, the Greek area, for a home fix to Greek food and restock on homeland products. Rochelle seemed to be even keener than me on having the Freddo (Greek trademark coffee). We spent the rest of our time here mostly in the east part of the city as some cases of Covid posed up in the city and we didn’t want to risk our following trip in Tasmania. And then the lockdown came… But let’s stop here as this will be a diary for our next episode.