It’s been ten years since I had last ventured across the border west to South Australia. I only remember two things – the Bratwurst sausage at a German cultural festival in Hahndorf and the steadily falling rain. Since I spent two years growing up there in the mid 1970’s, I do have other random memories – hunting a fox that had eaten our chickens Henny and Penny; Popeye the open topped boat that sailed down the River Torrens; wearing a brown supermarket bag over my head during “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. I think I was a turtledove and I was anxious about running around the tree half blinded by the bag.
Anyway, a board game convention in the Barossa Valley was the impetus for a four day trip this time around. Aidan (3)stayed at home, Rosa (9) came with us – which we weren’t sure would work. The chances of being constantly interrupted during a game of Hawaii with the “I’m bored, there’s nothing to do here except talk about the Adelaide Crows finals chances” (they lost, we watched in a boisterous pub) refrain was high.
It was a ten hour drive, exasperated by constant stopping (Josefa and I are big on the stops) which must have driven Richard, our designated driver, half crazy: weak coffee and overly creamy buns in Beaufort, second hand shop (junk) in Ararat, second hand shop and lunch in Kaniva, kicking the football in Birdwood. Eventually rolled in at 5.30pm to our hotel, which resembled a 1970s shunting station. All the hotel rooms were hotel carriages. I thought it was a great idea, until about 4am in the morning when I realised installation, a door that closes and a quite fridge is probably more important than sleeping in the ex-Express train to Robe.
Anyway, for the weekend we played games. Quite a few of them with about fifty other mad gamers from Adelaide and Melbourne. My favourite was a game of Twilight Struggle that went all the way to turn 10 and finished at 1.45am with with squeezing out a win over Richard. Exhausted me too. Really enjoyed my game of Blood Bowl Team Manager too.
Glad Rosa had a great time. She completely vanished Sunday with her newfound friends. She always seems older when she’s around others – or perhaps she was allowed to grow up without Aidan hanging around and Mum and Dad’s diverted attention.
After the weekend gaming we left early Monday with a plan to spend even more time stopping and starting. Two days worth, in fact.
We spent all morning in the Barossa. Lovely country, quite different to Yarra Valley wine country. More open, less green. You could imagine it baking in summer. We went to Maggie Beers shop and cafe to buy her cider and spreads. Richard talked her up to Rosa, and then who should appear but Maggie herself in some business meeting. Of course Rosa, who had no idea who she was beforehand, was desperate for a photo. I didn’t want to interrup the meeting, Rosa plugged into the tears and I braved it and asked politely. Great photo too.
Then a token visit to a winery. I just don’t drink enough wine to make use of it. Now, if it was cider… I must admit it is pretty special seeing so many big names along the road. Penfolds, for example. We went to Wolf Blass. Great tastings. You can tell I am not a connoisseur though – I prefer the sweet moscato.
Eventually got out of the Barossa by 1pm to be trapped at the Giant Rocking Horse. It had a good, and free, wildlife sanctuary. You just had to pay for the feed bags. And those animals had it good. One goat ripped the bag from our hands and the kangaroos were best mates with their arms around you, despite getting fed pretty much without a rest for the last four hours.
Twenty minutes later we stopped at Melba’s Chocolate Factory in Woodside. I had been her with Jo ten years before without realising! It is supposed to be a working factory, but the emphasise is on buying chocolate, and lots of it. I thought it was a bit tacky, with bags of chocolate stacked in plain wrapping. But I regreted not kissing the ground when I got home and ate their chocolate frogs. Awesome. The strawberry and mint especially. Not too sweet, creamy, fantastic. If I’d known how cool their chocolate was, I would have bought it all up. Even the uninspiring looking fudge was great. Stop here if you can, and buy the Chocolate Frog Bag.
The German kitsch village of Hahndorf was like a completely different place. I couldn’t remember anything from ten years ago. Jo pointed out the beer barn, but I couldn’t remember the place being one long main street. Perhaps it was the constant drizzle that shrouded half the shops back then? Jo spent ages in a German folk art store and bought Christmas decorations. It is going to be fun when we eventually get to Germany, that’s for sure. We love all the stuff they make.
Richard was looking sore with all the walking, so we decided not stop until we reached…well, we weren’t exactly sure. We just drove and drove and ended up in Naracoorte. No hotel booking, but we got a good family room. Naracoorte is famous for its caves, and this is where we spent all morning. Rosa loved it. She’s into rocks at the moment. We had a short tour and saw a lot of stalactites. Great underground and the tour guide kept our attention.
Another town I’ve never been to before is Mt Gambier. The Blue Lakes is almost right in the middle of town! I thought it would be a good drive out towards the coast. It is awesome, clear and still half way up a dead volcano cup. It wasn’t very blue, you need to come back in January for that, but it was blue-ish.
We struggled on for the rest of the day, stopping for lunch in Port Fairy before reaching home Tuesday night. Two days driving was tough, but I really enjoyed the Monday. Most people would hate to stop as much as we did, but for me that’s part of the enjoyment of visiting these capital cities – they all seem to be nine hours away from Melbourne and there’s no way I’m going express for that long.