After The Nullabor we turned South and headed towards Adelaide. We made our base in a small town called Gawler about 25 miles outside the city and at the gateway to the Barossa Valley, which is the main wine region for South Australia. We had three nights planned here, so after our journey into town we caught up on some domestic jobs which included a trip to the supermarket to restock and a trip to the laundry to put our clothes through a much needed wash. That then left us with two days to explore the Barossa Valley, slow time.
Steve is starting to get his running together and with a marathon less than six weeks away he was keen to get out for a long run, so on the first morning Sarah hired a bike and we set off on a cycle path into the vineyards, Sarah cycling and Steve running. It was a beautiful morning, clear blue skies but not too hot. Up and down the hills, in and out of the vineyards we went, mile after mile. When we eventually got back we had been out for almost 18 miles and had a great little tour through the wine region.
Across the road from our campsite was the town swimming pool. The Australian psyche towards swimming is very different from that in the UK. Almost every town has a 50 metre pool, even Norseman with its population of just over 500 had one! Apparently there was a big push by the Government back in the 60’s and dozens and dozens of pools were built. Luckily most of them have been looked after quite well and still operate. They all seem to have a similar layout with a main pool, a smaller one for children, a covered area to sit (often a grassed area with sunbeds and chairs) and some form of cafe. The main pools are always well disciplined with lanes for specific levels of swimming and you can generally get in and swim uninterrupted at any time of day. We spent the afternoon lying on a sunbed relaxing after our morning exertions and Steve dusted off his goggles and got in for a few lengths.
The following morning we gave ourselves a bit of a treat and went into town for some breakfast. We haven’t eaten out much at all on this trip, partly because we have been enjoying the campervan experience but mainly because on our route so far there hasn’t been that many places to go! We tucked into eggs benedict and pancakes and then jumped in the van and drove into the Barossa Valley a few miles further than we had run and cycled the day before. We passed through several small villages, all immaculate in presentation, with tourist shops, cafés and upmarket restaurants making the most of the numerous wine tours that come out of Adelaide. As we drove between two villages we went across a bridge over a narrow dried up river, the name of the crossing was Jacobs Creek!! Now we have heard of that somewhere! Two minutes later we drove past the entrance and couldn’t resist a trip into one of the biggest and most well known vineyards in the area.
It was a lovely place with a new modern visitors centre, manicured gardens and a terrace in the sunshine. We wandered around for a while and then sat on the terrace, Sarah with a chilled glass of prosseco and Steve with a coffee (it was his turn to drive).
We thoroughly enjoyed our couple of days sightseeing in the Barossa Valley, it made a nice change to be in the same place for three nights and we moved on feeling refreshed and ready to go again. As we left Adelaide we took a route along the coast enjoying the beach suburbs of the city. We stopped in Glenelg and went for a walk along the beach. It was another warm, sunny day and as it was a Public Holiday the place was pretty busy. We got carried away enjoying the walk and before long we were three miles along the beach!! Oh well, it’s not that we have to be anywhere I suppose. Incidentally, the Public Holiday was for a horse race “The Adelaide Cup”. Imagine having a Public Holiday in the UK for The Grand National!
A four hour drive out of Adelaide brought us to our camping spot for the night, another area we had heard about where you can camp just off the road. We pulled in and found only a couple of other vans in the area so again we had acres of space to ourselves. With another few hours of driving the next day we decided to get up early, just after sunrise. Steve pulled back the curtains and right outside the van were two kangaroos munching on the grass!! We watched them for ages and they kept one eye on us and continued with their breakfast. We even got up and dressed, went outside and they were unperturbed. It wasn’t until Steve got a little too close that they upsticks and hopped off at a surprising fast rate of knots.
Our destination today was The Great Ocean Road, a 250km stretch of road along what many regard as one of the most scenic in The World, and we would have to agree. Probably the most iconic feature are ‘The Twelve Apostles’ which are often featured in Australian tourism advertising. These days, due to erosion of the ‘Apostles’ by the wind, rain and ocean, there are only seven left, but they still make an impressive sight.
The scenery along The Great Ocean Road is extremely varied. It starts off with the classic limestone features and although The Twelve Apostles are the most photographed there are others which are pretty impressive in their own right. The Bay of Islands, The Bay of Martyrs, London Bridge, Loch Ard Gorge and The Grotto are the main ones.
They are situated over a 20km stretch West of the small town of Port Campbell which is where we were staying. “20km”? said Steve, “that’s a nice distance for a steady run”. So we drove down to the furthest attraction, took a few photographs and then Sarah drove to the next one while Steve ran. As we were stood admiring the view a few people commented on how they had seen Steve running. We told them that he was running between the various features and so over the next 15km or so Steve was passed and repassed several times by the same people, honking their horns and waving at him.
Throughout the day we stopped at some amazing places and then in the evening we made our way to The Twelve Apostles where we parked up in the visitors centre car park, cooked some dinner and waited for sunset. We watched as coaches piled into the car park full of people making the long day trip out from Melbourne. By the time sunset arrived there were several hundred people all trying for that perfect selfie! Even with the crowds it was pretty impressive.
As we were staying in Port Campbell for another night we decided to get up early and make a stop back at The Apostles for sunrise. This was an excellent call. The short drive there was impressive in itself and with only 30 people at the site we felt we had the place to ourselves. Another stop in the car park, this time for breakfast, and we were on our way back on The Great Ocean Road. The road moved slightly away from the coast and twisted its way up and down through a rolling agricultural landscape, reminiscent of The South Downs in The UK. We then dropped back to the coast where the road was cut through the cliff in spectacular fashion. It was as impressive if not better than The Big Sur section of the Pacific Coast Highway in California that we cycled last October. Sarah did a great job, driving the snake like road as Steve sat back and admired the views. We passed through great looking towns as we passed into the surf coast and before long we emerged into the surf town of Torquay, home to the surf brands of ‘Quicksilver’ and ‘Ripcurl’ as well as Bells Beach (one of the top surfing spots in the world) and the filming location for the final scene of the cult movie ‘Point Break’. Sarah was looking forward to re-enacting the final surf scene but unfortunately there was no surf….. she does however have the Patrick Swayze hair these days!!
Torquay was a great place, it reminded us a little of Southern California with the beaches, surf, and so so many people out on the cliff top paths, walking running, cycling etc. As Steve was still training for the marathon in Kazakhstan he took advantage and ran 20 miles along the cliff tops and beaches. With a mixture of clouds and sun, and a cooling breeze, he was in his element. Sarah took advantage of the area as well by doing her own five mile walk.
Our next stop was to be three days in Melbourne, Australia’s second biggest city. The Formula 1 Grand Prix was in town and we had tickets!! albeit the cheap general admission tickets but nether the less we had tickets. Attending a Grand Prix has been on our bucket list for years so we were both quite excited. However, when Steve returned from his 20 mile run Sarah hit him with the bad news…..”The Grand Prix has been cancelled”. To be fair we had been following the news quite closely and the reports were suggesting a cancellation was on the cards. We toyed with staying in Torquay an extra day but we had a campsite booked in Melbourne so we set off for the big city lights.
We visited Melbourne several years ago. It had rained, it was cold and to be honest we weren’t that impressed. This time it rained, it was cold and to be honest we weren’t that impressed!! Many people rave about Melbourne but I suppose it’s “horses for courses” and as much as we try, and we do try, we were positive and looking forward to it but we just can’t seem to find what it gives above the likes of Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. With the rain set for a few more days, we left Melbourne a day early. We will try again another time and one day we will find the Melbourne people talk about.
** OK Covid-19. Has there ever been a single conversation that is spoken about simultaneously by so many people everywhere in The World? It seems to be impacting everyone to some degree and the whole thing is moving so fast. We have been trying to keep up with news in The UK, Australia and the other countries we were intending to travel through, and we have watched our potential routes get blocked one after another as country after country falls like dominoes in one of those visually impressive tricks.
Our current situation and plan has no resemblance whatsover to when we left The UK and even less to when we first thought up this trip a couple of years ago. “Let’s fly to Australia, spend a few days there to get over any jetlag, then catch a container ship to Singapore and travel overland through South East Asia, China, a couple of “Stans”, into Russia, Scandinavia and home”. Well none of that is going to happen now!
We have a campervan rented until 7th April when we have to hand it back in Cairns. “What then?” has been the question we have asked ourselves several times. Steve’s parents are following the Government advice and self isolating for 12 weeks. Sarah’s mum is doing the same (not in the same house though, that would be a bit weird!). We are thankful they have decided to do this which will, hopefully, remove some of their vulnerability. Sarah’s dad and step mother are in Bali, Indonesia for another three weeks and are keeping well.
This does leave us with a slight problem in that if we returned to The UK now we would have a slight problem with accommodation due to the quarantine issues! Most countries have either closed there borders or require a 14 day self isolation period, so right now the logical thing for us to do is to stay here in Australia. So we have decided to get to Cairns, have a week or so away from the campervan and then pick up another one and drive the bit (or lot actually) of mainland Australia we haven’t done yet. Cairns to Darwin to Alice Springs to Uluru (Ayres Rock) to Adelaide. From there we have booked a flight home in the middle of May.
Obviously this is subject to change by circumstances which are out of our control, but we need to have a plan. We figure that if things start to get shut down here it’s most likely to be in the bigger more populous areas, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne etc. Far North Queensland and The Northern Territories appear to be less impacted by the virus, probably because there are significantly less people there!!
Our day to day life is pretty much unaffected by the virus. Outside of the cities the supermarket shelves are fairly well stocked and we are in possession of enough of that prized assest….the toilet roll! The Government are providing regular updates and the pattern seems to be a few days behind that of the UK. The numbers here are significantly lower, but that could all change in a week or so.
We are still absolutely loving it here and enjoying ourselves everyday. We do have a small sense of guilt that we are stuck here while times are obviously distressing and chaotic back in The UK, but we will be back in a couple of months and we are sure it will hit us hard…..or maybe not. Maybe The World will have a handle on this thing by then….let’s hope so.
That’s it for now. We will post again in a couple of days about our time in Canberra and Sydney and then we will be up to date. All this blogging takes so much time! 🙂
P.S. Kazakhstan marathon is cancelled!!! I doubt if this will stop Steve training, he is already on the lookout for a secondhand bike!