Wine, wide open spaces and wonderful new experiences

What a week it has been!   So much to talk about I hardly know where to begin.  It ends with two once-in-a-lifetime experiences but more on them later….

2 wheels on my waggon

No, don’t panic. Aussie Dieter hasn’t come a cropper and lost a couple, but we’re talking about a great weekend of two-wheel fun in the Barossa with Will and Nicky.  The Barossa Valley is only an hour or so out of Adelaide and the area is the largest premium wine producer in Australia (Penfolds, Peter Lehmann and Jacob’s Creek being some of the bigger names) The valley was settled in the 1840s by German immigrants fleeing religious persecution.  Although German stopped being spoken there after WW1 and place names changed, some of the towns still retain strong German characteristics as a reminder of the early years

First up were the bicycles.  Easily hired from the campsite in Nurioopta (or Nuri as we soon began to refer to it like the locals) we were saddled up shortly after 1.30pm after setting up camp and sped off to our first winery – which was quite a distance away and so helped to get a thirst up (not sure that’s such a good thing when wine tasting).  Anyway, the very fine and beautifully located Two Hands winery provided the opportunity to work through a long list of very nice wines.  There was not a lot of spitting these ones out – which became the mode d’employ to be honest even if not totally professional – and top of the list for me (and a couple bought and straight into the bike basket) was a rather pleasant rose ‘Trusty Rusty’.  We even got some snazzy glasses to keep which will adorn the Tamarama flat’s bar area very soon.

No time to waste so off to the next and an equally well positioned and family run number – Hewitson winery – where we met some very lovely fellow tasters from Dublin (now living in Adelaide) and which was hosted by a very lovely lady who furnished us with some nibbles to enjoy in the sunshine.

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Favourite this time was a Sav Blanc ‘Lu Lu’ which found its way down the throat in no time at all.  In all of this, you might wonder – ‘but Tim doesn’t drink wine’. ‘No worries’ (as they say in these parts) he’s happy to taste the odd sample here and there, likes the fizzy stuff and they tend to serve beer as well as back up so happy days.  We’ hoped to drop into the Whistler winery too, but distance, legs, wine consumed and the need to get the bikes back for 5.30pm hampered the plans.  To tomorrow!!

Toot n’ Scoot

Now to enable us to cast our nets a little further, our steed of choice for day 2 were scooters!  Toot n’ Scoot are a super local company that delivered us our 50cc beauties for a day of fun and frolics on the open road.  Starting with the farmers market at Angaston for coffee and tastings of lovely local produce, we headed off around the Barossa to take in the views and the atmosphere at a lovely leisurely pace.  Tim demonstrated his streamlined, lying down ‘purple helmets’ type manoeuvre up the hills to try and gain advantage, but sadly the extra kgs still meant we could beat him for speed (flat out at 50 km/hr) which didn’t go down that well – but great fun all the same.  Another lovely family-run winery (7 generations with the first Smith coming from Dorset don’t you know) Yalumba Wines is the largest and oldest – established in 1849.  Beautiful setting, lovely old buildings and great staff meant that we happily spent a good couple of hours or so ending with some wine and nibbles on their terrace.  Not a bad day at the office.  Next onto Bethany for a sample of Bethany wines – set on a hillside and another example of the numerous long-standing operations – this one started in 1852 – with more wine on the terrace to take in to views with a final hurrah to a micro brewery in Tanunda where the very naughty cider (at 8% made Rattler seem tame) and lovely local brews helped to keep us greased.  Thankfully, we all managed to make it back in one piece – mind you we were travelling at little over walking pace so I’m sure we wouldn’t have attracted too much attention – and we reluctantly handed back the trusty steeds to scooter guru Robyn before a quick change and heading out to dinner (by taxi I might add).  What a great day.

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Our final day of the weekend was a much more sedate affair but we did manage to enjoy a visit to the Whistler winery (missed off on the first day), enjoy some wine and lunch before a lovely walk around the vineyard before heading back to the airport for the kids to return to Sydney.  As you might have seen on fb, we totally bossed the Barossa!

‘On the road again..’

Good old Willie Nelson ringing out on the music system heralded the start of our very exciting outback trip to the Red Centre and beyond.  This was part of the trip we were really looking forward too.  Not that the other experiences hadn’t been great, it was just that we knew that the next week or so would bring us close-up and personal to landscapes that just couldn’t be anywhere else.  It hasn’t disappointed.  Just some snippets to whet the appetite:

  • I’ve said it before I’m sure, but the size and scale of this place is just gob-smacking and nowhere else does this become quite so apparent than here in the outback as you hit the Stuart Highway and head north.
  • The roads go on and on and on and on and on. Rarely any traffic and so generally very relaxing.  Not at all boring because we’ve never experienced anything like it and like school kids, we are often wide eyed and open-mouthed at what we see.

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  • Road trains – they are very big boys indeed. You eventually get disappointed if they are not 3-ers or 4-ers and they rattle past you with no apologies – but they are nowhere near as scary as we’d imagined…so far.
  • Temperatures are definitely on the increase and the heat haze you see on the road ahead is quite eerie – definitely like a ‘mirage’ and difficult to make out at times. Especially when cars/trucks are emerging from them even though some distance away.
  • There’s actually nothing very much to distract you. Towns are mostly small to begin with and then end up just being roadhouses where you get all the essentials –  fuel, rest, food and usually overnight accommodation if you need it.  We’ve stayed at a couple of Roadhouses already and they are really good – well equipped and do the job.

Coober Pedy – interesting….

One actual town on the road ‘up North’ is Coober Pedy.  Interesting in a couple of respects.  It’s a very good representation of the harshness of Australia’s Outback and the determination of those who have and continue to live here.  It’s somewhere that the terrain and temperatures are so extreme that home – and even churches – are built underground.  It’s main attraction to those inhabitants has been opals which have managed to attract prospectors in their thousands over the years.  Opals were discovered in 1915 and the town was established at the end of WW1 when returning servicemen headed for the fields to stake their claim and try their luck – using their trench-digging skills for both mining and establishing their underground dwellings.  Think Mad Max.  If you’ve seen the film, you’ll get what I mean and Mad Max 3 was actually filmed there.  It is pretty desolate but in its own way, still an amazing landscape even if it is ‘littered’ with the spoil heaps of thousands of mine excavations.

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In another respect it’s also ‘interesting’ as it is has a bit of a reputation as a rowdy township – this was the first site we’d stayed at where the emphasis on security was really played out and this continues to be given as a reminder at roadhouse and campsites since.  It’s reported that issues are largely the result of extreme climate, scarcity of water, alcohol problems, access to explosives (in mining areas only I might add) and not a lot else to do.  All part of the experience it has to be said.

I’m in a wide open space…

The Manson track has been playing on repeat in my head for several days and feels totally apt.  Things what I have learnt and been astonished by and probably repeating here:

  • Big, big skies
  • Length and emptiness of the roads – as far as the eye can see in front and behind you
  • The lack of ‘sealed’ (tarmac) roads unless you are on the main highways.
  • The heat hazes that look like there’s water lying on the road
  1. Imagine for a minute what you would expect the outback to look like. Most of what you imagine will be there or there abouts.  However, what we were not expecting, and have been totally blown away by, are the colours and how green it is.  Yes, green and colourful.  Now this is, it seems, largely due to the fact that there’s been some unexpected rain over the last month and like all desert-like landscapes a bit of rain has the most amazing impact.  This is definitely true here.  The colours are gorgeous and breathtaking – burnt orange soils, interspersed with cobalt/black, all sorts of greens, blankets of little white flowers and purple flowers which are reminiscent of the carpets of bluebells in our spring at home, but obviously much much smaller flowers.  Shrubs of yellow flowers and lilac.  Just a palette of gorgeousness which photos cannot do justice too (trust me I’ve tried).  I feel we are very blessed indeed to see it this way.  I’m sure it will be much harsher over the coming months.

Although I don’t want to keep dwelling on lack of Roo sightings too much, I’ve still to see any live ones ‘in the wild’ and actually, of late, very few flat ones.  I have some very unsound theories for this that I want to share (sorry):

  1. The verdant abundance of plant life described above means they are feasting happily in the outback and are so full that they can’t be arsed to hop about
  2. They have become well versed with the green cross code and so ensure their road crossings take good account of conditions and they ensure they look left, right and left again before hopping across
  3. They have been corralled into holding pens or exported to the Australian states that we have yet to visit
  4. It’s a very big place and they are there but I can’t see them
  5. It’s all a myth promoted by the 1960s classic TV series ‘Skippy the Bush Kangaro’o when actually it was a one-off actor-trained Roo used to promote Australia as the place to see Skippy in the wild when actually he doesn’t really exist and like me you are left to Skippy watch the whole journey in vain.

Uluru

The last two days have been spent at the Red Centre itself.  It hasn’t disappointed.  Another sight that feels familiar even before you see it, the excitement of actually seeing it is immense.  You can be fooled by Mount Connor – another flat topped beauty – that sets you up for the main event which is still 140 ish kms away.  The approach through the national park teases you with glimpses and raises expectations and excitement all the more, but the real deal- its textures, colours and its amazing presence – doesn’t disappoint.

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We’ve been lucky enough to experience it in two very special ways.  Dinner at sunset on day 1 followed by a visit to the stunning Field of Lights installation by British artist Bruce Munro who is noted for his immersive site-specific installations usually in an outdoor context.  He was, apparently, inspired by the fields of colourful flowers he’d experienced during a visit to Uluru in 1992 – similar to that explained and described earlier.  It was meant to only be in situ for one year but has been extended to March 2018.  A real treat indeed.

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What could top that?  Well a sunrise ride on day 2 on a camel of course!!  An early start with the alarm set for 4.15am and an early meeting with Stumpy the camel at 5am at ‘Australia’s largest camel farm’.   Home to 60 working camels it was fascinating to have an insight into the 130 year history of camels in Australia and the role they played in opening up the outback.  One story is that having helped lay the railway, the instruction was to shoot the camels as they were of no further use.  Apparently, though, the Cameleers hadn’t the heart to do it, so let them loose instead thus introducing camels into the wild in Australia.

Having never been on a camel before, I had been led to imagine them as nasty, spitting, smelly things but these boys were not fitting that stereotype.  The way they get up and sit back down is a bit of a challenge but fun all the same and to be honest, the pace, movement and whole early dawn experience was one of the most relaxing, chilled-out experiences I think I have ever had.  Both Tim and I rode ‘two-up’ and Lawrence of Arabia had nothing on us I can tell you!  The Cameleers were skilled and knowledgeable and were able to tell us about the flora and fauna of the desert as it came to life as Uluru basked in the sunrise.  Magic.

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Told you it had been quite a week – more to come.  Woo hoo!!

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