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The Road Beckons

After spending several days in Robe, much of it spent getting caught up with my website, I finally dis-Robed (har, har) and left on a Friday morning.  I headed west along the coast highway and planned to spend that evening in Adelaide. 


Above:  Larry the Lobster greets every visitor to Kingston, South Australia (with melted butter on the side).

I really enjoyed laid-back Robe but I won't say that my time there was "relaxing" because I haven't relaxed much on this trip since leaving the U.S. in early December.  I'm always busy doing something:  either planning my trip, working on e-mail, updating my website, working on my digital photos, or walking around a new town while taking pictures.  I haven't had any time, really, to just sit around, browse through magazines or daydream.  I won't complain though, because I haven't woken up to an alarm in almost a year and this sure beats working in an office.


After I left the pleasant town of Robe and drove west for a few hours, I rode an old-fashioned cable-ferry across Australia's longest river, the Murray.  This was the second time I've seen the Murray, the first being a week earlier on the steamboat "Pride of the Murray" in Echuca. 


I was planning to drive into Adelaide that afternoon and check it out, but then I remembered that Friday afternoons usually aren't a good time to visit large cities.  People are heading out of town then and the roads are usually clogged.  Therefore I decided to spend that night in the seaside resort town of Victor Harbor, just short of Adelaide, and go into Adelaide on Saturday. 


I pulled into Victor Harbor around 2 p.m. and got a motel room.  Victor Harbor, located on the coast, was kind of interesting, but the best part was getting a much-needed haircut there from a friendly, outgoing and inquisitive "Pommie" – a transplant from England.  Aussies refer to the English as "Poms" or "Pommies," a nickname that harkens back to the 1700s when Australia was a prison colony for England.  The word "POM" stood for "Prisoner Of his Majesty." 


The haircut, incidentally, cost only US$7, so I figured that I should come over here to Australia more often to get my hair cut.



Above left:  "So ferry, cross the Murray..."  Those of you under 30 probably won't get this joke.

Above center:  The pedestrian causeway to Granite Island in Victor Harbor, South Australia, a seaside resort town.

Above right:  Downtown Victor Harbor, post hair cut.

Beautiful Adelaide

Above:  King William Street, one of the main thoroughfares in Adelaide.

The skies were overcast on Saturday morning as I crossed over a low mountain range and approached Adelaide, the capital of South Australia and the state's largest city.  This apparently had been quite a week for Adelaide because a World Technology Conference had been held here earlier in the week, bringing together some of the smartest people from around the globe.  Then on Wednesday, Bill Clinton made his first visit to Adelaide and the next day, Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, visited Adelaide. 


Of course, this was all just a prelude to my visit on Saturday, the event that Adelaide was really gearing up for.


Although I'd heard of Adelaide for many years, I didn't have any preconceptions about the city because I knew virtually nothing about it, other than it was about the same size as Portland.  I figured it was probably just another bland city, but I felt obligated to at least take a look at it for a few minutes before continuing on my way.


Once again, here's the popular 1960's Aussie group, The Seekers.  This is their #1 hit, I'll Never Find Another You.


<Note:  Fifty years after releasing that song, The Seekers sang "I'll Never Find Another You" during their farewell concert in 2013 – and they still sound awesome!  Check out this video.>


As I approached Adelaide, the area started reminding me of the California's Sacramento Valley with its golden, rolling hills and scattered, leafy trees.  With about a million people, Adelaide is only about one-third the size of Sydney or Melbourne and, as I discovered, is a lot easier to navigate:  no wild and crazy Sydney-type drivers here, and no ridiculous "hook turns" as in Melbourne.


I drove into downtown and parked in a garage, then I walked around for what was going to be 30 minutes.  However, I ended up spending four hours there because, as I discovered, Adelaide is a city of clean, tree-lined streets, interesting buildings, and pretty parks. There's also a beautiful river that winds through the city, a nice university, an interesting museum, and a very lively and pleasant pedestrian shopping area several blocks long called Rundle Mall, which was jammed with shoppers, people-watchers, and street performers.  I loved Adelaide!


You don't hear much about Adelaide if you live in the U.S., but I thought it was far more pleasant than any other large city in Australia or New Zealand, including Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland.  In fact, its nicer than just about any city I've visited during the last year.  As with Portland, it's a large city but it has a small-town feel to it, and although I would never admit that any city is as nice as Portland, Adelaide comes pretty darn close.



Above left:  A fountain outside the Museum of South Australia.  I spent about an hour walking through the museum, which has a great collection of Aboriginal artifacts.

Above center:  A quaint shopping mall in Adelaide.

Above right:  Bridge over the Torrens River near downtown Adelaide.



Above left:  Street performer on the Rundle Mall in Adelaide

Above right:  A "living statue" on the mall.  I think this guy needs to get outside more often.



Above left:  Reflections in the steel orb on Rundle Mall.  That's me in the middle – the goofy guy taking the picture.

Above center:  Quite possibly the world's only aerial rock band.

Above right:  Back at the parking garage.  I walked around Adelaide for four hours – about four hours more than I'd planned.  It's a really wonderful city.

Flinders?  Which Flinders?

I left Adelaide around 2 p.m. and drove into the Barossa Valley, a beautiful area near Adelaide, which has lots of vineyards and wineries, something like the Napa Valley in California.  Unfortunately though, it doesn't have many places to stay so I kept driving, eventually reaching the city of Gawler, which, according to my Australian AAA Accommodations Guide, had a motel with 104 rooms.  Saturday afternoon is usually the toughest time during the week to find a place to stay, but I was hoping that Prasad's Gawler Motel had at least one vacant room left.


Above:  Heading north through the Clare Valley on Sunday morning towards the Flinders Ranges.

Yep – in fact, they had 104 vacant rooms left.  Mr. Prasad's eyes lit up with anticipation when I walked into the lobby, then he gave me a funny look when I asked if he had any rooms available (after eyeing the empty parking lot, I was just being polite).


After checking into my choice of 104 rooms, I realized that it was a bit creepy to look outside and see a virtual ghost town of empty motel rooms stretching off into the horizon.  "Jeez, what's wrong with this place?," I kept asking myself with visions of the Bates Motel dancing in my head.  I felt a little better, and better for Mr. Prasad, when another car finally pulled in around 9 p.m.


As I pored over my maps that night in the empty Gawler Motel, I noticed a place a few hours north of town called Flinders Ranges National Park.  It confused me at first because I'd run across the Flinders name several times during the previous week.  Let's see, there was Flinders Island near Tasmania, Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island south of Adelaide, Flinders Street in Adelaide, and a Flinders River in some town that I'd passed through a while back.  Whoever Flinders was, he must have been one important dude (or she must have been one important dudette).


Above:  Quorn, a small town in the Outback, was featured in the Mel Gibson film "Gallipoli."

The photos of Flinders Ranges National Park in my Lonely Planet guidebook looked intriguing, so I decided to head up there on Sunday morning for an hour to check it out – and I'm really glad I did.  In fact, I was so impressed that I ended up camping there for two nights.  As I discovered, Flinders Ranges National Park is a beautiful place on the edge of the Outback with lots of red rocks, kangaroos and, amazingly enough, native pine trees – one of the few places in Australia where there are native pines.


This was still during the hot summer so the park was mostly empty, which was nice.  When I walked into the quiet Visitor Center, the two attractive, young women standing behind the desk perked up.  However, I attributed their enthusiasm not to my exotic American accent, my dashing good looks, nor even to my incredibly suave demeanor, but rather to the boredom and isolation that they’d endured during the previous few months.  They eagerly showed me a map of the park, and when I told them that I was looking for solitude, they suggested the Aroona Campground, about 20 miles north and in one of the most remote parts of the park.


I thanked the ladies for their time, hopped in my Camry, and headed up to Aroona Campground, which I found an hour later after driving on miles of dirt roads and after crossing several creeks with trickles of briny water.  Sure enough, the campground was empty, so I set up my tent and ate dinner watching the sun set over the meadow, while kangaroos and emus wandered about – the Australian equivalent of where "the deer and the antelope play," I'm sure.  It was a very warm, quiet, and pleasant evening.



Above left:  A deserted house in the abandoned town of Wilson.  This was on the old Ghan Railway, central Australia's lifeline until it was abandoned in the 1950s.

Above right:  The Visitor Center at Flinders Ranges National Park.  There aren't many visitors this time of year.  It's too darn hot, I guess.



Above left:  The roads through the Flinders Ranges are a bit primitive and not really suited to a new, two-wheel drive Camry.  But that didn't stop me.  Please don't show Hertz this picture.

Above right:  Despite the bushflies, the Aroona campground was the nicest place I've camped at since leaving the U.S.  This is one of the few places in Australia that has pine trees, so I felt right at home.


The next morning I decided to go for a hike, so I packed my daypack with a few bagels, my two cameras (one digital and one film), and a couple quarts of water.  After I’d hiked for eight miles across the very hot and very dry Outback, I realized that the two quarts of water weren’t nearly enough, especially since I’d gotten, ahem, a bit lost.  Of course I don't admit that very easily, having spent six years studying geography in college and another six years working in the Rocky Mountains as a wilderness ranger.  To be honest, it wasn’t my fault because the map wasn’t very good, which reminds me of Traveler’s Rule #17:  Whenever possible, blame the map.  I staggered back to the campground late that afternoon, very hot, dusty and thirsty.  A quick bucket of water over my head and two ice-cold Diet Pepsi's later, though, and I was a new man.


I saw lots of these at Flinders Ranges.  Here's Lazy Harry singing Kookaburra.


I hadn’t seen anyone in the quiet campground since I'd arrived the previous afternoon, so I was surprised when a lanky guy carrying a large backpack approached me, with my hair still dripping, and greeted me with a smile.  “I was wondering if you were driving out tomorrow,” he asked in an Aussie accent.  When I told him that I was, he asked me for a ride back to his car, which was parked about eight miles away.  He told me that he'd gone backpacking for a few days and that he didn’t want to hike all the way back to his car.  I told him that I’d be happy to give him a lift to his car the next morning.  With a warm handshake, he told me that his name was Jeff and said that he'd be back in the morning, then he sauntered off to a campsite on the far side of the campground.


Above:  Jeff, the happy hiker, and his $300 car.  Good luck, mate!

Sure enough, the next morning Jeff dropped by my campsite again, so I threw his backpack into the back seat of my Camry and we headed out.  During our slow drive on bumpy, dusty roads, we had a pleasant conversation.  Jeff said that he’d just finished college near Brisbane and was exploring the Outback for the first time – rather bravely, I thought to myself, after he told me that he’d bought his car second-hand for just $300. 


Jeff was eventually heading north to Darwin, where he had landed a job with the Australian National Park Service.  He was a quintessential Aussie:  very cheerful, inquisitive, and thoughtful.  When I dropped Jeff off at his weather-beaten car with bald tires, he thanked me profusely and I gave him one of my travel cards and told him to keep in touch.  It was a pleasant start to a pleasant day.


Before I leave Flinders Ranges National Park, let me describe a creature that I was introduced to here:  the fabled Australian bushfly.  Unlike the sandflies in New Zealand, Australian bushflies don't bite.  But they are very aggressive, especially around any source of moisture, such as your eyes, lips, ears, and nose.  They're especially bothersome during the hot summer months (i.e., now), which is when they're most active.  Bushflies are like the Hare Krishnas of the fly world, because they won't take "no" for an answer.  They're a bit smaller than American houseflies, but they're a whole lot more troublesome and are like a different breed.  Indeed, comparing an American housefly to an Australian bushfly is like comparing a poodle to a wolf.  Despite the pesky bushflies, though, I enjoyed my peaceful stay at the Flinders Ranges.


And as for the name Flinders?  I learned that all these places were named for Matthew Flinders who, in 1802, was the first person to sail completely around Australia.  Good thing his name wasn't Magillicuddy.



Above left:  I hiked for five hours through the desert one hot afternoon and saw a few kangaroos and a lot of huge spiders with huge spider webs.  This is a view of the Flinders Ranges – before I got lost.

Above center:  The Aroona Valley, where I camped for two nights.  

Above right:  With all the pine trees and red rocks, this area reminded me of Zion National Park in southern Utah.



Above left:  I've seen a lot more emus than kangaroos on this trip so far, including a flock of six in the Flinders Ranges.

Above right:  Don't show Hertz this picture, either.  I crossed this creek several times and it got a lot worse than this.  I only scraped bottom twice, though.

Beware of Killer Gum Trees

The American travel author Bill Bryson wrote a wonderfully humorous book about Australia a few years ago called “In a Sunburned Country,” and if you want a good idea of what the Land of Oz is like, I recommend reading it.  As I discovered while wandering through a Sydney bookstore a while back, Bryson’s book is, interestingly, called “Down Under” here in Australia – it's the same book but with a different title.  I have no idea why they changed the title here, but then I haven’t figured out a lot of things about Australia yet.


Not to get off the subject of Bryson’s book, but why Australians and Americans call the same item by different names has been a source of constant amusement during my trip.  If nothing else, it keeps my mind occupied during the long drives around this very large country.  An obvious example of this is fuel:  what Americans call “gasoline” is what Australians call “petrol,” which I still haven’t gotten used to saying.  I caught on a lot faster to calling paved roads “sealed” and calling dirt roads “unsealed,” calling ketchup “tomato sauce” and a flashlight a “torch.”  I guess those alternative phrases are all fairly logical.  However, I still haven’t figured out why my favorite fast-food restaurant, Burger King, is called “Hungry Jacks” here (same logo, same Whopper, same Value Meals, but different name). 


Above:  Parking (a bit apprehensively) near a Red Gum tree in the Flinders Ranges.

But getting back to “In A Sunburned Country,” one of the passages that I remember in that book was when Bryson discussed the snake situation here.  As he put it, of the world’s 10 deadliest snakes, all 10 live here in Australia.  That includes the Taipan, a snake that will kill you so fast that often the last words of someone who innocently approaches a Taipan is, “Hey, look at this sna…”  End of sentence.


Bryson seemed obsessed with all the things down here that can kill you, like snakes and some of the world’s deadliest spiders.  Of course, north of here there are crocodiles to deal with.  As I learned from Bryson’s book, freshwater crocodiles, or “freshies," are harmless to humans but the saltwater variety, or “salties,” are definitely not.  In fact, salties will go out of their way to ruin your day, as the numerous tourists who get eaten each year find out.  Unfortunately, salties are found in freshwater as well as saltwater, so the only way to be safe from crocs, I guess, is to not go in the water – or near the water.


As I’ve learned, it’s a good idea to stay at least 10 feet back from the edge of ponds because salties can, and will, jump out to snare unsuspecting tourists who stray a little too close to the water (remember that scene in “Crocodile Dundee”?)  I’ll take that advice to heart when I visit croc country in a few weeks.


Down here in southern Australia though, along with the snakes and spiders, I recently learned that I have to contend with another deadly menace and one that Bryson didn’t mention:  Red Gum Trees.  Red Gums are one of the many species of eucalyptus trees in Australia.  They’re quite large and stocky with stout, brittle branches that have a nasty habit of suddenly breaking off, even when there’s no breeze, and crashing to the ground.  Believe it or not, several people each year in Australia are injured or killed by Red Gum branches.  In fact, every national park that I’ve visited so far has posted warning signs about the Red Gums, advising visitors not to linger or camp under Red Gum trees.


The spiders and snakes don’t really bother me, but I’ve gotten a bit paranoid about the Red Gum trees, and every time I walk under one, I nervously glance upward and quicken my pace.  There are many good ways to die, but getting killed by a tree isn’t one of them.



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