CHAPTER 5 – SOUTH AUSTRALIA
(Bert) Since entering the western part of South Australia we have been
viewing the most desert-like conditions thus far, although recent rains have
perked up plant life. I am walking in the desert when the sun pricks the horizon
with a stinging yellow beam. The left-over evening chill makes me wish I had
pulled on a second coat, though I am sure it will warm quickly now. To the eye
of a 60-mph traveler, the desert looks desolate and devoid of life. Not so at my
slow walking pace. An anxious Little Corella squawks as it flies overhead,
apparently in search of his cohorts. A Nankeen Kestrel is on the hunt and then
comes to rest on a branch just about out of range for my long lens. Crested
Pigeons take to the air and when they land their tail points to the sky and
their bill nearly hits the dust, as if they haven’t learned how to make a
graceful landing and slam on the brakes too late. Low horizon sunlight makes for
artful photos of the dry landscape, especially the wooden remnants of dead
trees. New life is abundant in flowers of yellow, purple and pink. Green leaves
are fat with recent moisture. On the horizon a rainbow arches and later we see
more of them, including one that is complete on both ends. During our morning
drive I even need to switch on the windshield wipers for rain in the desert.
(Shari) We only have about 2-3 hours drive today before we stop. Ever since I read about Australia, I have wanted to stop in Coober Pedy, known for its white opals. Even before we reach the town, signs along the highway warn us of open mine shafts. Later we learn that the miners are not allowed to close them off, in case a person is down there. Thousands of piles of rubble, big and small, populate the landscape. Next to every pile is an open hole. Only individuals are allowed a mine permit: one per person and then only 50 by 50 m. (150x150 ft.). Some houses are bigger than that. Nevertheless, people apply for the permits, in hopes of striking it rich. We settle into the campground before taking off to visit one after another opal store. The whole town is lined with stores and I am on a mission. I see black opals about the size of the one I purchased in 1987 that are worth some 6 to 7 times its purchase price now. Needless to say, no black opals for me on this trip! We look at hundreds, maybe thousands of opals and start to get confused. There are doublets, and triplets and pure opal of varying sizes and color. Ones showing red are more valuable and pricier.
Taking a break from opal shopping, we decide to try yet another pizza that advertises its gourmet choices. Ordering a Greek pizza, it comes on a thin cardboard crust with little sauce but good ingredients of sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, feta cheese and olives. Plus it is hot! Not Paison’s of Madison nor Boston Pizza, but okay. We continue our shopping and finally settle on a set of opals for our daughter when she graduates from nursing school in December and a smaller stone for our granddaughter at Christmas. She had told me she wanted a bracelet, but that means more than one stone and I think I will let her get that for herself someday. I will leave it up to you, the reader, to decide if I purchased one for myself.
(Shari) We join a tour of Coober Pedy at 8:15. Rudi, our guide, is 75 years young and has lived in town, mining his own claim for the last 48 years. His knowledge and wit make the 4-hr. tour delightful. Taking a small bus around the streets of the mining town, he explains the beginnings of the place. Because the weather is so very hot, dry and dusty, most people years back, lived in dugouts underground. He takes us to a Greek Orthodox Church built underground. He shows us the fronts of houses built in hillsides. Today, about half the population still lives underground and the rest in regular housing above ground. He says his wife never liked living underground, so he lives in a regular house too. He came to the area with a partner and they mined for years but never really struck it rich. He has stories galore and when asked a question, he can go on for hours. Inside the city limits, people are not allowed to mine but can “noodle”. He takes us to an abandoned claim and lets us scratch around the piles of rock to our hearts content. He says about 40% of the opals still is in that dirt, but previous tourists must have found it since we do not. Nowadays, not so much is wasted because the new techniques of boring a hole is more efficient that bulldozers and spotters. We visit an underground home complete with kitchen, 2 bedrooms, and living room, see a recreated mine and are allowed to shop. The shopping part for me is over and nothing I see here compares to our purchases yesterday.
After the tour, we depart Coober Pedy and travel south. Still in the outback, we stop for the night at a salt lake, normally dry, but full of water due to recent rains. I see two Emu’s walking from one side of the lake to the other. The water must be very shallow as it looks from this distance as if their feet are barely covered with water. What a neat sight and I tell Bert to back us in so we have the pretty view out our window. Right now, at sunset, I am forced inside by the pesky flies. This is the first experience I have had with those famous Australian flies, and they are a nuisance. They seem to want to fly up your nostrils or into your mouth and don’t want to go away. Our view from inside is just as good, and clouds reflect on the still waters of the very shallow lake. Another great day!
(Bert) Shari’s new purchase, an opal necklace, takes on deeper meaning on our Coober Pedy tour this morning. Rudy, an opal miner in Coober Pedy since 1974, only abandoning his mining work after his partner died and then his wife died, now tells us about the town and opal mining. An Austrian of Salzburg birth, he is among two dozen nationalities–mostly Eastern European–that settled into the community, hoping to make their fortune on opals. Unfortunately, opal mining is hard work, mostly manual labor, and requires good luck. The opals lie within a very narrow horizontal vein, perhaps only an inch at most in width and some 50-80 ft. underground, and whether that vein is present below the surface seems to be a matter of chance. Without a geological or mineralogical detection method, holes are dug where others have found success or at random in hopes of finding a new opal field. In the early days all mining was done with a pick axe, including digging the sink hole and the underground tunnels. Later, work shifted to bulldozers and at one time there were 200 working bulldozers, each consuming 600 liters of fuel per day, making Coober Pedy the biggest consumer of diesel in Australia. Economics forced out the bulldozers, though other mechanized equipment is still used for drilling the hole and digging tunnels, but manual pick axe work still is used to find the opals. One person or a team of two can register for a new mine shaft in a measured plot of 50 X 50 m. or 50 X 100. Companies cannot operate larger fields, so it remains an individual task. Undoubtedly, this restriction and its luck-of-the-draw gamble are what forces opals to increase in price year after year. Yet, one of the more productive fields Rudy shows us has 260,000 holes, each 22 m deep and 1 m wide. Anyone falling into a hole would certainly die, yet it is illegal to fill the holes as the action might bury someone alive who is mining below in the interconnecting tunnels.
Coober Pedy lies in dry desert, getting only about 2-3 in. of rain annually. At our campsite, we pay for showers and we pay for water if we want to add it to our RV tank; at the pizza restaurant we buy a $30 pizza, but a glass of tap water is not available, only bottled for a price. The town has an 18-hole golf course with tarred gravel “greens”, no grass and no water traps. All four of the churches and half of the homes are built underground in caves dug out by the same machines that dig the mines. This keeps the ambient temperature 24ºC day and night, whereas above ground homes experience 34ºC at night.
As we drive south from Coober Pedy the desert continues for another 100 km or so, with no vegetation above knee high and then gradually increases in height and greenness. When I see a vast lake at 4 PM, I pull off at a rest area overlooking the lake about a quarter mile away. For camping tonight I park so our rear picture window has a nice view of the lake. Immediately, Shari asks for my binoculars and even from this distance I can see what grabs her attention. Two Emu are walking across the lake. I rush to get my camera and head down the hill to the lake. The Emu are walking parallel to the shore, but into the water about 400 yards. I follow them, staying on the mostly dry salt flats, slowly reducing the distance between us. After about a mile of walking, they reach shore and enter the bush. Where I stand now feels like marble beneath me and if I dash my heel into the smooth glassy salt surface it barely makes an indentation. Later I talk to another camper who lives near here. He says in two to three hot dry days the lake will evaporate, this sheet of water a couple of inches high by miles wide will disappear and only the salt flat will remain. I inspect the sandy shoreline and find footprints everywhere, mostly Emu, but also dingo and some small marsupials. The Emu footprints look like the aboriginal rock drawings.
(Bert) Dry desert continues as we head south, with vegetation ankle-high, rarely to knee level. Twice we encounter pairs of Emus crossing the flat arid grasslands recently blessed with water. I approach one pair to get a better view and I am barely into the moist red dirt when they notice me and stretch their necks upward like periscopes, for a better view. After about 100 km, the landscape changes, taking on greener colors, bushes and trees. By noon we have left the Outback. Entering July 26, we spent 23 days in the Outback. Now it is sheep pastures, grain fields and thousands of acres of planted yellow flowers which look like canola to me. The flowers spill over into the roadsides and vacant ground, creating splashes of dense yellow. From Port Augusta south, we get glimpses of bays connecting to the ocean. We enter Adelaide and wish we were back in the Outback. Traffic is terrible. There either is no bypass or May does not know about it. I drive 20 km on city streets, stopping at most traffic lights only a block apart, cars weaving between lanes, entering and exiting, but mostly stopping. I am relieved to finally reach a campground south of the city, a 521 km drive today.
(Shari) We are finally out of the Outback! It happens immediately as we come to Port Augusta. The landscape changes from dry desert to green pasture grazed by sheep, yellow flowers along the roadside with some fields just covered in yellow. We wonder in what country we are traveling when we see signs that read, Adelaide, Dublin, Virginia and Texas T-bone steak. For awhile, vehicle traffic is moderate but when we get to Adelaide, it is one big mess. There seems to be no super bypass of the city. We take the truck bypass and it is loaded with stop and go lights; one after the other after the other. Bert gets irritated since none of them are synchronized and we travel 100 to 200 ft. at a time, then we have to stop. Finally we get to our campsite. We have not done the laundry for almost three weeks and it is time. Unfortunately, there are only two washing machines and the task takes longer than expected. I try to get a local station on our TV, but I must be technically challenged as I cannot get anything. I want to hear some news and the weather. I know it is raining now but what about tomorrow.
(Bert) We do the Australian crawl, 11 km in 45 min (9 mph), to exit Adelaide on its southeast side, and then watch three lanes of bumper to bumper traffic parked in incoming express lanes for 8 km, all stalled for an accident not yet cleared by tow trucks. Free of the congestion, the hilly countryside is lushly bright green in new grass and huge eucalypts line village streets and country roads, meeting above to form vaulted ceilings shading our path.
(Shari) We have taken our sunshine for granted over the past three weeks. It is still raining when we get up and Bert will be unable to bird the wetlands behind the campground. Good thing, our activity for today can be done in the rain. My brother-in-law wants us to check out a winery called Wick’s. He tells me it is in the Adelaide area. There must be a million wineries in the Adelaide area. I have some pamphlets about the area and look in them, but 50 wineries are mentioned in the Barossa area, another 50 in the McLaren Vale area and another 50 in the Hahndorf area. This is hopeless and I am about to give up. As a last resort, I ask the campground manager when I return our gate entry keys and lo and behold I walk out with a map with a circle on it showing where the winery is located. It is very close to the town we intended to visit anyway. It takes us 45 min. to negotiate the terrible traffic out of Adelaide but we finally reach the German community of Hahndorf. I just happened to read about it in one of the tourist books and learned that it was settled by Germans from Prussia escaping religious persecution in 1839. I think that is the year Bert’s ancestors left Prussia for the same reasons. Wouldn’t it be a hoot to find someone we were related to?
(Bert) While Shari tends the many shops in Hahndorf, I study its history. The parallels between Hahndorf, South Australia and Freistadt, Wisconsin, are amazing. The original German settlers left Prussia on the Baltic Sea because the state was restricting their Lutheran church practices. A group, mostly from Silesia, traveled to South Australia and established Hahndorf, named after the ship’s captain, in 1839, creating the oldest German community in Australia. That same year, another group of Lutherans, mostly from adjacent Pomerania, settled in Freistadt just north of Milwaukee, establishing the oldest Lutheran church in Wisconsin. Among them was Caroline, a 16-year-old girl, traveling with her sister and leaving parents behind. Caroline is my great-great grandmother and is one of eight of my ancestors that came over on the ships at that time. As I walk the main street of Hahndorf, I see historic buildings constructed in the same German fashion as in the Freistadt area. I take lots of photos of Hahndorf to show the historical society at the Freistadt church where I attended as a child. My mother, one of the historical society members, is co-author of a book describing Freistadt’s history and has traced my Lutheran ancestry almost back to Luther’s time.
(Shari) We arrive in Hahndorf just before 9 AM and I head to a German bakery, hoping to find cinnamon rolls. They don’t have them. They don’t know what they are and they don’t know how to make them. What kind of Germans are these people? We settle on a custard-filled donut and coffee rolls, neither are as good as the Germans make in Wisconsin but we stuff them down anyway. As I walk the street stopping in any shop that strikes my fancy, Bert is out snapping picture after picture of plaques and buildings and photos in picture frames. We both keep about the same pace as we go up one side of the street and down the other. I purchase some bratwurst (hoping for Wisconsin bratwurst); he snaps pictures.
(Bert) We leave Hahndorf in search for a nearby winery. My brother-in-law Wick wanted us to find Wick’s Winery and sample the wine. We find the vineyards and the warehouse, giant aluminum distilleries, stacks of oak barrels, and the manager who tells us where we can buy the wine. We drive to a nearby village and find lots of Wick’s Wine choices, selecting the Shiraz. Next we head to McLaren Vale and eat a late lunch at Oscar’s. With the meal I order a glass of Grey Nomad 2008 Shiraz, from the vineyards of McLaren Vale. On the bottle is a drawing of a small RV. In the U.S. we call northerners who winter in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, snow birds, a reflection of their hair color and their migratory nature. In Australia, they are called Grey Nomads.
(Shari) Our next stop is the winery but it is not exactly where the campground person told me but the next town up. Sure enough, there in big bold letters on the building next to a field of grapevines, are the words “Wicks Estates Winery”, pronounced here in Australia as “Wick seas”. We reach the end of the driveway, but see no one around. A car pulls up and we ask the driver but he does not know where we can buy a bottle of the wine. A woman pulls up and she says this land used to be hers and she sold it to Wicks. She points out the manager of the winery who tells us they do not have a cellar door license to sell to individuals but directs us to the hotel bottle shop in the next town. They are supposed to have a good selection. But first we have to visit the chocolate factory and the cheese factory next door to it. The chocolate factory is a huge converted barn, now making candy of all kinds with a plethora of candy on display to purchase. I depart with chocolate-covered licorice and just plain dark chocolate pieces. In the cheese shop, we get white cheddar and a Patrice, a cross between a brie and blue cheese. We stop at the bottle shop and buy a bottle of Shiraz 2008 from Wicks Estate. It is late now and Bert is ready for lunch. I have heard so much about McLaren Vale that I tell him that is where I want to eat. Off we go but get royally disappointed. The town is not near as cute as Hahndorf, nor does it have the shops and restaurants. We settle on a restaurant that is located there and Bert orders a glass of Grey Nomad Shiraz. Now I must tell you that Grey Nomad is the word to describe retired folks that travel around in an RV. The wine is delicious, as is the lunch. However, it is Wicks bottle for Shiraz that we can hardly wait to sample. I read about a scenic place to park for the night at Rapid Bay and the book did not lead me astray. It ranks as one of the top three campgrounds, we have visited so far. Only two other RVs are parked here, so we feel as if we have the whole ocean and beach to ourselves. Our back window is cozied up to the beach and as I write this I can watch and hear the waves coming to shore. Now for the wine. Bert opens the bottle and we take a sniff, like the wine connoisseurs that we are. “It smells a little old”, I remark. Bert says “It will taste good”. After swirling it in our glass, we take a sip. Guess what? It tastes bitter. “Old and bitter” just what we would expect from a name like Wick’s.
Okay, Wick, just kidding about the wine. We didn’t open it and will save it for our wedding anniversary late this month.
(Shari) I wonder what it is about a ferry that generates excitement in my bones. I have been on quite a few ferries since we started full-time RVing, but never get tired of them. This ferry is a smaller one, holding about 50 cars. Only 45 min. in duration, it travels from mainland Australia to Kangaroo Island across the Black Staircases straits of the Indian Ocean. We have not even left the harbor when the boat takes a jumping lurch. Immediately I decide the top deck is not for me. Between lurches and holding onto the railings on both sides, I slowly make my way down the steps. An additional lurch almost puts me in the lap of another passenger. The steward tells me the ride is smoother in the back. Okay, that is where I will go, IF I CAN MAKE IT. Again, I almost land in another lap but eventually lurch into an empty chair in the back, where I remain for the entire crossing.
(Bert) We’ve taken a lot of ferries and this one ranks as the roughest. The seas are high immediately after we break away from the protected harbor and it does not help that this ferry is a bit smaller than most, holding only about 50 cars. One of the workers put the RV on, backing it up the wide ramp sideways so as not to scrape either bumper on the sharp incline. As usual, I try to watch for pelagic birds from the deck. This time I need to use both hands to hang on to a railing and even if I struggle to raise my binoculars, my view bounces up and down like a yo-yo. Our ride to Kangaroo Island is about 45 min. and we are soon on solid land, stopping at the Visitor’s Center to lay out our plans and then on the island road heading to American River. The highway alternates between meandering through rolling hills, freshly green, and following the curves of bays, inlets and estuaries of the Indian Ocean. At one seaside park I see three Masked Lapwing chicks and as I attempt to photograph them the adults take to the air and one repeatedly dive bombs me. I put my camera up in defense and get a good shot of it coming toward me. I notice a currawong at the same park and study it closely, trying to figure out which species it is. Using one book, I more or less settle on Pied Currawong, but when I look at another it tells me they are often misidentified and only Gray Currawong resides on Kangaroo Island.
(Shari) As soon as we get off the ferry we head to the Visitor Center and load up on maps and materials about this protected island. I had read about a rare Glossy Black-Cockatoo that I thought Bert might like to see, so we drive there first. We scout the area but no bird. Bert asks at the post office and the lady there says they come in at 5 PM. My goodness, that is 3 hr. away yet. I think maybe we can buy some oysters at the harbor. Bert sees some more birds in a park and goes to photograph them. A pair dive bomb him and he uses his camera as protection. From my vantage point it looks like he is swinging up a rifle to take a shot. Quite comical! We find the oyster place and buy a dozen–he gives me 19–for $7, a bargain in any country. Since we do not have a grill, I think putting them in a pot on the stove will steam them open, so we stop at a scenic park overlooking the harbor and marina. Bert goes out to wash the clams in the sea. It has been raining on and off all day, another of those rain-sunshine mixtures that generates rainbows. Bert knocks on the window and tells me to look. One end of the colorful half circle shines on a sailboat and the other end shines on another sailboat as they appear to glow from within. Simply gorgeous! Meanwhile our oysters are steaming away, but have not yet opened. I pour a glass of wine and watch the gentle waves lap onto the shore. Still the oysters do not open. I think I should try putting them directly on the flame of the gas burner. Well, that opens the oysters but sure makes a mess. We are into this now so have to finish it. Between sips of wine, we eat oysters, one at a time as they open up. We head back to the post office hill and Bert continues to look for the cockatoo while I clean up the stove. I finish my task, but he comes back empty handed so to speak.
(Bert) At American River we drive to a spot known for rare Glossy Black-Cockatoos. In an hour of birding I find none and stop in at a post office to buy a stamp for a postcard. The lady tells me she saw the cockatoos just yesterday at 5 PM at a spot just up the hill from here. Planning to return later, we head to the dock where Shari hopes to buy oysters. We see no store, but when I ask a worker at a warehouse, he says they sell them and Shari buys a dozen. We park beside the bay and while I am washing the oysters in a bucket dipped into the saltwater, a rainbow appears that stretches from sea to land, a perfect arch fully illuminated.
Returning to the post office hillside a bit before 5 PM, I find the She-oaks and some are loaded with acorns that are sharply studded. If I attempted to bite into one, my tongue and lips would be shredded and my teeth would not be strong enough to break the shell. Yet, the cockatoos can handle these with ease with their outlandish nutcracker bills. I begin a vigil that lasts until 6 PM, without success. We drive home as darkness sets in and rain ensues.
(Shari) “Let’s get crackin’”, I say, “before it starts to rain”. The sun shines on the calm waters of Hog Bay and we had better make haste. It takes us over an hour to drive to the other end of the island. I am on a mission and that is to see Koalas in the wild. And we do. For a $2.50 donation each, we are allowed to walk on this person’s private property and look up into his eucalyptus trees. It starts to drizzle just as I start to look up. We snap pictures of the Kangaroo Island Kangaroo that seems not to be bothered by people. We snap pictures of Crimson Rosellas as they come to feed. And then we snap pictures of Koalas. We see five of them in the various trees. The sign says there are up to 25, but I notice they are hard to see when they sleep. Looking like a brownish gray ball in the crotch of two branches, their faces are hidden. Luckily, we catch one on the move, looking for fresh leaves to eat and Bert gets a cute photo.
(Bert) It takes us two hours to cross the island and our first stop is a place known for koalas. In route we saw one wary kangaroo and at our stopping place we see many of these very dark, very muscular kangaroos. These are Kangaroo Island Kangaroos, a subspecies of Western Kangaroo. Intent on feeding on grass, they ignore my picture taking. Nearby are flocks of Cape Barren Geese, a life bird. I’m the first to find a Koala, but I think Shari discovered most of the five or so that we find in the trees. The first is busy climbing a pine tree, the others resting in eucalyptus, curled up into tight fur balls. We just finish our walk when rain comes again. Yesterday and throughout today we constantly alternate between blue skies and rainfall, sometimes both at the same time. If I wear my raincoat it is dry; if I take it off, it rains. I have a protective bag for my camera and I am repeatedly struggling with putting it on and off. It must have rained 20 times in these two days, most ending with a rainbow.
We visit Finders Chase National Park where the most notable feature is a granite outcropping, formed when volcanic lava slowly oozed up to the surface, solidifying into a dome-shaped solid rock that eroded into strangely sculpted forms. We can walk atop nature’s work of art, poised at the edge of the Indian Ocean. Icy cold wind races through the arches and around the rounded forms and we are warned not to get too close to the slippery seaside of the rock, as it is a point of no return. As we are leaving, I meet a tour guide who asks if I saw an emu-wren, as he says this is one of the few reliable places to find it. I found Superb Fairy-wrens and Brown Thornbills, both well hidden and avoiding the strong winds, but no emu-wren. I’d linger longer, but I’m too cold and it looks like rain again. We move on to the old lighthouse and walk in the wind to the cliff overlooking a small colony of New Zealand Fur Seals. Just as we finish, the rains come again and I shelter my camera as I rush to the campervan.
(Shari) Our next stop between rainbows and rain is Flinder Chase National Park. Here Bert looks for the emu-wren and I look at the remarkable rocks emanating for a sea that glows turquoise and sapphire blue. After visiting a lighthouse and seeing fur seals, the rain comes fast and heavy. Luckily we are finished with the park and can head home, first stopping to take in the sights at Kingscote, the largest town on the island.
(Bert) Shari drives cross island as I nap. She stops at Kingscote, a small village where she wants to shop. It is not far from American River where we visited yesterday and just as she is trying to find the shops I excitedly ask her to stop. I jump out, binoculars in hand, and zero in on a flock of Glossy Black-Cockatoos as they are leaving a grove of tall trees. What luck! In fact, later when we leave Kingscote I see one more fly across the road.
The highlight of the day is after dark when we join a national park guide on a visit to one of the Little Penguin colonies. We are surprised that the location is right next to the ferry boat terminal and we could have visited it on our own during daylight. We probably would not seen penguins though, since all the adults are out to sea and only come in shortly after dusk. Three or four are walking from the rocky beach as we arrive and we see dozens more at their burrows dug out beneath sheltering rocks. To avoid disturbing the penguins, the guide uses a dim red light for illumination and I am not allowed to use a flash, so I have the camera set at maximum ISO but still have difficulty getting good shots. I try a video recording and although the view is dim, the sounds of the penguins are fascinating. The penguin doesn’t have vocal cords and the call is made by forcing air through its windpipe. Within a dozen to a hundred feet, we see adults and chicks, some squabbling, some walking, some shuffling for space, some huddled in caves with heads poking out, some already disappearing inside for the night.
(Shari) At 7 we walk over to the Penguin Center to sign up for their 7:30 tour. We are disappointed that no one is around even though the sign indicates that they do tours at 6:30 and again at 7:30. This is not what we learned at the visitor center and we are quite upset to think we may have missed them come in from sea to their burrows. At about 7:20, a ranger comes and tells us the penguins are in. Boy, Bert is really steamed and it must show as she says that maybe she will reverse her agenda and we can walk to the penguins before her talk. Good idea and off we go with four other anxious observers. As we walk across the street towards town center, we learn that the penguins come into the town all over the place, especially liking private gardens. Again, not what I heard at the visitor center. We see one of the little blue penguins right next to the highway, stopped in its tracks by an 8-in. fence put up for its protection from ferry vehicle traffic. Another penguin is on the walking path trying to make its way up the hill. Other penguins are already in their burrows and many more are walking up the rocks from sea. In the nighttime darkness, the ranger shines a red light (so as not to harm the eyes of the birds) at varying places. Bathed in red, we see baby birds, not yet ready to leave the burrow. We see juveniles walking all over the place and we see mommas and papas laboring home from sea with food to feed the chicks. We hear a sad story about a pair of six-week-old penguins. One fledged last week and the other is waiting for its parents to come feed it. It has been waiting for 3 or 4 days so far, yet no sign of either parent has been seen. This penguin experience turns out to be a good one for us after all, but does not have the drama of the one we had in New Zealand when we watched them emerge from the sea.
(Bert) Before leaving the island I get out before sunrise on a beautifully clear and still morning. I revisit the penguin colony, knowing the adults are already at sea, but hoping to find a few chicks. All are huddled inside their caves, none in view. A hear squabbling Silver Gulls at sea and watch them harassing a White-bellied Sea-eagle. I find quite a few birds out enjoying the change in weather and best of all is a flock of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos. Like the Red-tailed, these are giant parrots easily seen from long distances.
Our return ferry trip to mainland is over calm seas bathed in bright sunlight and we are soon driving through rolling green hills, cut close to the ground like golf-course greens by flocks of sheep. We stop at Victor Harbour for lunch and then Port Elliot for camping. The campground is pitched against the sea cliffs where huge waves curl as they crash on to a long sandy beach. Were this extensive property in California or Oregon, it would sell in the three digit millions. As we are settling into our campervan for the evening and Shari is preparing dinner, the A/C electricity goes out. There must be a circuit breaker somewhere, but I cannot find it in the dark. It will be cold tonight without a heater.
(Shari) Finally we attend a Lutheran Church. Since both Bert and I were brought up Lutheran, we always feel more at home at a Lutheran Church so we are delighted to see that the town of Victor Harbor has one and it is only 5 mi. from our campground. We arrive about the same time everyone else arrives and we both notice only gray heads are entering the doors. But to be fair, early services, as this one is, usually are attended by older people, the younger parents requiring more time to get their kids ready for church. We are warmly greeted by the designated greeter. Nearly half of the 125 chairs are full at the start of service. The first thing I notice is the artistic altar, made from the gnarled stump of a large tree, then topped with glass. It is a simply stunning work of art. The organist plays snappy tunes and the words of the songs and order of service is projected on two walls. I am taken aback when the minister, dressed in black pants and leather coat (it is cold in the church), asks the congregation to form small groups of 4 or 5 and discuss agape love and how it has changed you. I am comfortable with the idea, as we do it often in Bible study groups, but surprised to see it happen during the sermon time. Our group includes the couple next to us and a man in front of us. I mention the life changing experience of Marriage Encounter and the three Australians know of it and have attended it also. When Bert mentions that we attend church all over the world and always feel more love within its walls than outside, the discussion turns to RVs and how the man next to me thought that his love for his wife increased on such a trip. Bert says “You must have had a bigger RV than we do”. Everyone got a belly laugh out of that one, but was that nice? Especially when the sermon topic is LOVE? After service, we skip coffee and travel eastward hoping that their second service has more young people. But without a Sunday School hour or activities for young ones, I wonder if many children attend.
(Bert) After church services we drive for about an hour to sewer ponds where I bird while Shari reads. Flocks of non-descript ducks with ringed bills float on the largest pond, a new bird for me, called Hardhead. For the first time, a pair of Black Swans is close enough for good photos. They sure are regal birds, graceful with smoothly arched necks and dressed in an elegant gown of black feathers.
We follow fairly close to the South Australia coastline, crossing Murray River on a small ferry operated by a single man. We stop for the night at Bool Lagoon, an out of the way place that sees very little traffic (two or three cars) and no one else staying for the evening. Birds are everywhere and I hardly know which way to turn: dozens of Superb Fairy-wrens, several Swamp Harriers, Black Swans in flight, a hunting Brown Falcon, an Eastern Barn Owl I unknowingly frighten from its daytime roost, even a few rabbits that usually hide during daylight. Best of all is a Mallee Emu-wren, a rare species classified as vulnerable and one I did not expect to find.
(Shari) Spring has sprung and flowering trees are blazing yellows and reds and whites. Daffodils are out of the ground and grasses are a spring green. Only the grape vines have yet to leaf out. They know better as it got close to freezing last night. Our electricity was off all night and poor Bert just froze. After I got up, I solved the problem when I found a circuit breaker under the driver’s seat. However, tonight we are without electricity again as we are dry camping at Bool Lagoon, a world heritage wetland. Funny, I never heard of it, did you? We are the only ones here and it will be creepy tonight in total darkness. We are getting used to being the only ones camped as we see few RV’s on the road. To Australians, it is too cold down here to camp and they apologize for their weather. I rather like it like this and do not consider a high of 60º as cold.
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