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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 09 Oct 2011

Location: Robe, Australia

MapLeaving Warrnambool, grateful to our friends for putting us up for three days, we have continued our journey westward, through Port Fairy and on to Portland. A very early settlement in Victoria’s history, Portland’s houses show signs of old age, in contrast to the ultra-modern huge wind turbines that line the cliff-tops on the outskirts of the town.

Beyond Portland, at the end of the road, is Cape Bridgewater, an extraordinary concentration of geological features that lie in the shadow of yet another wind farm. Precipitous limestone cliffs that fall away into the sea, lying on basalt foundations that form a flat shelf for huge waves to break upon, provide a contrast to the tall, thin, white wind turbines just metres away. Ancient geology next to modern technology. The force and size of each wave would bounce off the sheer rock face to meet the next wave coming through to create a boiling white fury. We’d never seen wave action like it. Adjacent to these sheer cliffs were rock formations resembling stone tree trunks, in actual fact formed by acidic water seeping down through porous limestone. All of these unique sights were in a remote location with no sign of human habitation for many kilometers.

Following the coast road, through Nelson, and across the Victorian-South Australia border towards Mt Gambier, we get to re-live 30 minutes of our lives as we pass into South Australian time. We also pass tens of kilometres of pine plantation. Plots of trees in different stages of growth, from seedlings a few inches high to grand old masters about to meet their doom. Thousands and thousands of trees straight and tall, like rows of soldiers standing to attention. The brochure tells us that Mt Gambier is the centre of a thriving soft-wood industry, being surrounded by the largest softwood plantation in the Commonwealth.

What else makes Mt Gambier (population 30,000) so unique is that it lies on a bed of limestone coupled with fairly recent (in geological terms) volcanic activity. The town has a network of extinct craters above ground, and caves below. Our caravan park is adjacent to The Blue Lake, a flooded volcanic crater formed following an eruption. Apparently it appears a blue colour at the height of summer. To us, it seemed a bluish-grey, but distinctly more blue than the Valley Lake next door. Apparently, the colour is due to the depth of the Blue Lake (an astonishing 70 metres).

Below the city are limestone caves, some of which have collapsed to form massive holes. One is in the middle of the city, Cave Garden that is surrounded by an immaculate rose garden. Driving past, you’d never know that there was such huge hole in the ground, delving so deep below the streets of the city. Another incredible sight called Umpherston Sinkhole, is on the outskirts of the city but its garden has been planted on the floor of the collapsed cave. Walking down into the hole and looking up at the stone cliffs around us was an eerie feeling, an experience we’d never had before.
One of the “must-see” places for us on this trip was the Coonawarra wine district of the Limestone Coast. We have enjoyed wines from here for so many years, and now we could say that we’d seen the grapes growing. The iconic labels leapt out at us as we drove along this fourteen kilometre stretch of road – Wynns, Riddoch, Leconfield, Zema, Redman, Hollicks, Katnook, so many more. The so-called terra rossa (red soil) that provides such ideal conditions for grapes, particularly for red wine, extends only one kilometre either side of the road. We had a very informative conversation with Mal Redman, one of the two Redman brothers who took over the family business from their dad Owen, who followed on from his father Bill. Some of the vines outside the window were over a century old, and the gnarled old trunks were testament to their age.

Moving on from Mt Gambier, we continued westward passing more pine plantations, as we had also done so when driving north to Coonawarra the day before – such a huge area taken up with the same monoculture. West of the timber town of Millicent we could see another massive windfarm, we lost count of how many turbines (apparently 122 in total). They were lined up along the coastal cliffs as a crowd would gaze out to sea. Before long we were skirting the coast once again. We had missed the sea for the three days since Cape Bridgewater. As we drove into the seaside resort town of Robe for a couple days rest, it was good to hear the surf from our caravan site.