A Fresh Perspective
Victor Harbour - Warrnambool, 21st - 22nd December
You probably remember that last night we didn’t get the schedule right so we couldn’t go to a shop. That meant not only that we had to find a restaurant for dinner, but also that this morning we have no breakfast. What tourist sets off on a long day without having eaten something. We load Bertie and leave for the supermarket. And what do we see there? There is a farmers market opposite! On a Saturday, colourful, full of people. Well, he won’t be Boyan Kolarov if he skips a farmers market. Like a child in a toy shop. He will go in and look around with eyes wide open, wanting to soak it all in.
Freshly baked goods, amber honey, dried salami, colourful fruit and veg, juicy stews, sweet puddings … wait, why am I describing a farmer’s market to you? As if you have never seen one. Each of us hungry, we all find something for breakfast and even fill a bag of real tomatoes. Turns out that worldwide, there is only one country where you can find quality seasonal tomatoes and that is Bulgaria. Elsewhere, you only get plasticy-wooden products. Therefore, if you somehow stumble upon real production you can’t just walk away from it. The true tomato is a valuable find.
As we leave Victor Harbour we come across a pink lake. Yes, Nic and I have already been impressed by one. But let’s not forget that the new members of the group are only now starting to explore the unique sights of the continent. We can’t skip the repeat sights just because I have already told you about them. And would you expect the same stories anyway?
This lake, for example, is nothing like the one before. It is neither very pink nor is it much of a lake. In this drought is it simply a field with a white crust over it. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, you might decide it is just sand dunes. But mum and I still decide to go up close so she can feel the crunching of the salt under our feet. She can now confirm it is like a thin layer of ice over a frozen puddle in November.
Nic’s phone is as always set up in front of us to lead us to the next stop. The road is Australian - long and straight; fields on the left and the ocean on the right. I would be worried if the ocean was on the left … But the map starts to show some weird land to the south in the ocean, parallel to the road and the shore. Our curiosity is eager to find out what is happening. It turns out that from Victor Harbour to Coorong National Park, the ocean and the land can’t decide on the ownership. Along 150 kilometres, there are two continuous streaks by the road. There is first a long stripe of water, and then there is land again before it gets to the open ocean. The views on the southern strip are probably amazing when you are so surrounded by the blue element.
At the end of this separation, we take a turn towards the actual National Park and more precisely - to its beach. At the entrance, we make a risky decision. On a temporary sign, there is a warning that the park was closed yesterday due to “Catastrophic Fire Danger”. On the scale, this is the highest level for bushfires. But after a short consideration, we realise that today is about 25 degrees colder than yesterday so we decided there is nothing to worry about. Plus, they haven’t made the effort to update the dates on the sign today.
The road is slightly off-road until we reach a section that is super off-road - 4x4 and letting out air from the tyres is required. Well, we’re not quite prepared for such adventures. But according to the signs, if we leave the car here the walk to the beach is only 1.2 kilometres. Some good movement is always welcomed. Our morning exercise.
The path is true sand dunes and some bush and turns out to be impossibly long! My stories of the overexaggerated walking distances make me a liar all of a sudden compared to this one. We are all incredibly worried about the snake possibilities but only mum chooses to vocalise it. The path meanders up and down the dunes but the ocean isn’t getting any closer. We finally spot it from the top of a dune and decided that’s enough for today. The actual beach still looks a long walk away and the wind up here is unbearable. Its strength lifts the sands around us and it not only fills any open whole, but it also rams the sand particles into our unprotected faces, causing us a lot of pain. Like countless needles flying towards us.
Thankfully, the walk back apologises for the inconvenience caused by meeting us with a mama kangaroo and her little one. They are standing on the path as if waiting for us to see them. And even give us about a minute to observe them before hopping away into the forest. Mum and dad’s first close-up meeting. For us, it might be a routine now to see them this often, but their first reaction reminds us of the initial joy we felt to be so close to them. I will never get enough of the Australian wild animals. Of course, I only mean those that don’t try to actively eliminate me.
Back at the car, each of us pours roughly a cup of sand from our shoes, although there is still another half stuck in between the layers. Nic and dad open up Bertie’s hood to check the levels of the cooling liquid. Although in Adelaide they fixed this problem, we are still not convinced their methods worked. We continue to regularly check the quantities at each stop so we don’t end up unprepared in the middle of the road. (I promise that these seemingly unnecessary updates of the car will come to be very valuable. Just before Canberra you will find out exactly what I mean.)
The coffee drinkers in the group have already taken their morning dose. But they wouldn’t refuse another one as dad is still struggling to adjust to the new time zone and needs a quick wake up. Therefore, we stop at the first coastal town and a small cafe in a small old church draws us in to sit comfortably. The Australians are famous for their appreciation and love for coffee and so far Nic and I can confirm that every cappuccino we’ve had has been lovely. We order two soy cappuccinos and two espressos with a few different biscuits.
Oh, God!!! Dad’s reaction to the first sip of coffee is precious and unforgettable! Fortunately, we have a video to confirm the event for the next five minutes. His face expressions are something between disgust, shock and attempts to keep his dignity. Every muscle contracts again and again in hope to save him from the taste in his mouth. And rightly so! To understand what is going on, each of us takes a sip from the cup and we are convinced dad is not mistaken. Although no one gets quite the same convolution, we are all frowning at the sour taste of the coffee despite the tons of sugar in it. Mum’s espresso is exactly the same and fortunately, ours was saved by the soy milk.
Without too much thought, we explain to the girl behind the bar that this coffee isn’t nice at all so she suggests making it again. There is no difference. The coffee is just as disgusting. She explains it is a local sort. It is grown and processed over there, a few kilometres north. AAAAAAAH! Well, that explains a lot. The good coffee beans are usually connected to areas in South America and Africa. Not Australia! Who has ever heard of Australian coffee??? But in the end, Nic and I can not only enjoy our coffees but also the comedy show that dad continues to put on for us as he is set on drinking his “wake up” ration.
Walking out of the cafe and after long deliberation, we decide not to buy a whole packet of this coffee. Even if it is just a keepsake. Instead, we decide to spend some money in the neighbouring establishment to fix our taste. Fried fish delicacies, otherwise known to the entire world as fish and chips. Just the chips for us, thank you! And for them a whole platter of different ocean creatures. But just in a cardboard box, don’t picture some five-star service. And still, they had nothing to complain about.
The reason to pick this town with horrible coffee in the first place is their lighthouse. Which is just a museum, moved to the land, accepting tourists. And just as we get hyped to visit it we see the keeper locking the gates in front of us. Closed. However, (it was our mistake) he notices our vague interest in the lighthouse and starts a long story of the history of it through the car window. If I have to be honest, I didn’t pay any attention to his words so I can’t share any of it with you. Oh, what a loss …
We stop at one more sight to see the local Obelisk. Which turns out to be a lighthouse without the light. Yes, turns out there are such coastal facilities as well, that are just tall pyramids or obelisks, in red and white stripes, signalling the shore. I guess you could do without the light. But the best thing here is the ocean view. Blue and wild. Yet another one for some, but first for others.
Tonight we’re sleeping at a cabin park near Mount Gambier. You probably remember it as the second biggest city of South Australia. We haven’t discussed it officially, but it is quite clear now we won’t camp with mum and dad. And that is only thanks to the Australians’ camping culture which offers a thick network of equipped cabin sites. Beds, toilets and kitchens for everyone. Plus it saves us from dinning out which - as we all know - isn’t exactly cheap Down Here.
We settle quickly into the new space. We have enough time to start a laundry cycle and to go on a walk for wine, which according to Nic is only ten minutes away. So we leave dad to transfer the washing into the dryers while mum and I go for wine. After half an hour walking on the unimpressive main road, my phone thinks there is another half an hour to the closest alcohol shop, which will be closing as we arrive. I think Nic gauged that distance of ten minutes very badly. So he can make it up to us, I call him to come to pick us from the road, take us to the shop, and, of course, back to the cabin.
Chef Kolarov makes a vegetable pasta for everyone. Mum and I open the wine and we even find wine glasses in the cabin’s cupboards. And so we sit down to discuss everything visited today. Each of our impressions have one thing in common - however nice it is, there is nothing better than home.
Well, who could have expected such a day?
Have you heard that Rome is built over a “honeycomb”? After thousands of years of passing from one ruler to another, there are countless layers of building under the Italian capital - covered and built over. Therefore, there are about 80 sinkholes in Rome annually. One of the “honeycomb cells” can’t take on the weight any longer and the surface gives in. A large hole opens up, archaeologists and historians study it for decades, after which it is either marked as a historical site or is given back to the owners to build whatever they have in mind.
You are probably wondering what this full of history and culture capital has to do with some provincial area in South Australia. As it turns out, Mount Gambier also lays on such a honeycomb. But instead of thousands of years of history, under the city, there are billions of years of biological processes in a huge system of underground caves. Some are still underground while others have sunk. But almost every place we will visit today is in one way or another connected to the caves.
I am wondering if you can easily insure your house here when there is a giant hole under you, full of stalactites and stalagmites. The fees are probably extortionate.
We skip the city’s cave and go straight to the fallen cave of Upherston also known as the Upherston Sinkhole. Thousands of years ago this was a cave just like any other. But the soft limestone gave in and the roof of about 50 metres in diameter sank 20 metres down. Such an occurrence is usually considered a natural disaster, but thanks to the riches of the local James Upherston, since the end of the 19th century, this hole has a new life. A beautiful life.
The four of us are standing on the edge and neither of us can believe what we are seeing in front. The sight is known as the “Sunken Garden” and it is clear why. Waterfalls of ivy are hanging into the whole and lead the eye down. And there you see a fresh and green bowl with well-arranged pink hydrangea bushes for contrast. Two tall palm trees rise high above the edge of the garden to balance out the depth.
No, there is no such place. Am I dreaming? When two or more people think they are dreaming the same thing, that is usually a sign that it is nevertheless real. Right now, it isn’t just the four of us, it is full of other entranced tourists. It must be true.
We walk down in a tunnel behind the hanging ivy like the backstage of the gardens and about to walk out on the stage with the beautiful decors. Tidy cascades. Pink accents. Cave walls. Wild bees. Panoramic balconies. Picture taking everywhere. It is truly uniquely beautiful, unimaginably picturesque, wonderfully immersed here. But as stunning as the gardens are, they are still only 50 metres in diameter. You can see them quickly and even with time to stay alone with your thoughts, the moment comes to leave. No one wants to walk away and say “goodbye”. But we get there anyway, just slowly.
We reach the centre of Mount Gambier and continue to enjoy the lovely city - colourful, friendly and designed with a vision. We are welcomed by blooming rose gardens and wide alleys. In front of the municipality, they are trying to keep up another sunken garden, although this one is clearly struggling with the drought. The tour gets us into the local museum too. We pass a VR installation by four Aboriginal teenagers that have designed a vision for their lives in distanced galaxies - colourful, vivid and futuristic.
We walk around the lower hall with a wonderful collection of Australian artists. Down to earth, but classy. Carrying messages - not always easy to read. Before we leave, our architects don’t miss the opportunity to pay attention to the modern addition to the old museum building which makes it so much closer to the ordinary people and invites them to come in without overwhelming them. We quickly visit the local library too to show mum and dad exactly what these spaces look like and how they are used in the Western world. Social, accessible, free space for development and togetherness.
But don’t think that is all Mount Gambier has to offer. There is yet another big hole to see. But this time it isn’t connected to the caves but to a volcano. And it is not a garden but a lake. The Blue Lake isn’t accidentally named like that. Its colour is unreal and indescribable. I don’t think I have ever seen such a blue to develop independently in nature. I can compare it to the Majorelle blue, but after all, that is just paint on the walls of the Marrakesh’ garden. Dyes mixed by a human hand. While this lake coloured itself all alone. Its water is so pure that this is also the water source for the city. Down below we can see the small filtration station. Beauty!
The next stop not only takes us to more natural phenomena but it also transfers us into a new state. And we are all impatient to see what Victoria will offer us. For Nic and me, this is the last state on the continent - the smallest one (no counting Tasmania). The smallest, but vertically the same size as the entire United Kingdom with all adjacent islands. Its name, as I am sure you have already guessed, comes from Queen Victoria and the territory has been an independent federal state since the 1850s. The capital is one of the few Australian cities you have ever heard of. But we’ll talk about Melbourne closer to Christmas.
The first sight we are heading to is the Bridgewater Blow Holes. I am excited to be seeing yet again this wonderful phenomenon; the view turns out to be grand and scary. There are again no geysers. Perhaps the tide is too high and too active today, so they take over the blowholes. Instead, we are taken by the collision between the giant waves and the darkened cliffs. The element is so merciless that the waves rise above the edge of the cliffs, while the water spray travels in the air for kilometres.
The sheer power is hypnotising with the destruction it carries. You can just watch from afar, admire it and sincerely pray to never get closer. Ever! How much time has passed …?
After a short de-hypnotisation, we turn our attention to the signs around us. One of them tells of a “feeding event” that can sometimes be observed between November and April. The powerful waves push the nutritiously-rich waters and sands from the bottom and lift them to the surfaces where the animals can take advantage of them. And then, I see the black spots in the ocean. If I hadn’t read the sign, I would think twice about them and I would have agreed with dad that it is just seaweed. But something is not letting me give up or stop believing that those are actually seals or dolphins, or both.
After a long debate in which no one chose to believe me, a dolphin decides to jump out of the water in a perfect bow. A mesmerised “AAAAAAAAAAH!” passes through everyone gathered! It has probably heard me and is helping me convince the audience. I told you it isn’t seaweed! I am not sure whether I am more excited about the fact I was right or that I see wild dolphins and seals again. You know me … A bit later I manage to convince all four of us that we are also seeing whales. Because the dark spots are too big to be just dolphins. This “feeding event” only happens in 1% of the worldwide coast. And we are here to see it.
And only five minutes to the south, you reach another phenomenon - the Petrified Forest. A relatively large area of trunk-like petrifications. Some have been preserved at human height or higher. Others have lost their front half and only a hollow bow is left. The rest have left perfect remains of a circle on the path. Do trees fossilise like this? According to early theories, this was a forest that was taken by the ocean. But in reality, that is just the way limestone has formed here. And because they are so close together, they resemble a forest. Dad specifically asks Nic to stand in one of the half-cylinders for a picture. How else could he thank him publicly on Facebook for the full agenda today?
Our drive back takes us to a cafe on the beach - time for a late lunch. But a mesmerising view opens up in front of us on the hill down. A bay in a perfect horseshoe. Layers of waves are spreading towards the sand. Evenly spaced, as if in a roll. The unrolled parts are still white and foamy while leaving behind a gradient towards a vivid blue. We park immediately and get out to take pictures - such opportunities require risk activities, but mum and I don’t think twice about climbing high, especially as we have dad as support.
Tonight we’ll settle in Warrnambool, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have one more stop. Confidently, we enter Tower Hill Reserve, where people usually spot … guess which animals!
Already at the entrance, we see kangaroos squatted down in the bush by the road, munching away. They lift their heads to check who is disturbing them but quickly return to their scheduled activities. About ten metres further, we see two gracious emus behind a tall bush - the first ones to greet mum and dad. This visit is starting strong, but we haven’t actually come for kangaroos or emus. Not that we will pass them easily.
Within the reserve, we quickly catch up with a van by the road. We’ve been looking as well, but they have definitely found one. We jump out of the car with cameras and yes … There! Up, high into the branches of the eucalyptus tree, a koala is sleeping. Curled up not giving any care for the crazy ones beneath her. This one is grey and white - Nic and I haven’t seen ones like that before. The van leaves but we catch them up quickly. Wow, they have a good eye. This time it's a mama with a joey which isn’t feeling very sleepy. How could you not feel like a kid when you are surrounded by plush animals. These ones even move on their own. And underneath there are a few kangaroos which mum decides to pursue through the grass for pictures.
Around the carpark, we spot a few more emus and I make the mistake of sticking my hand out the window. All of a sudden, there’s an emu next to me - how did it not stick its head inside Bertie, I don’t know. As if to say: “If you’ve got nothing to feed me, why are you disturbing my serene walk?”. Turns around and leaves. Further on we pull over again to observe some black swans in the lake. But meanwhile, we don’t stop scanning every tree. Nic is driving slowly so that we don’t miss a golden opportunity. Like a wild animal safari. Our noses up high and looking, until we catch up with another car, stopping the traffic on an uphill.
Wow! A koala - quite obviously male. On a big rock, standing like the Lion King and waiting to be photographed. He is so cute that our cup easily starts to spill with happiness. He had a little idea to leave as there might be a bit too many paparazzi around but decided to give us a few more minutes of admirations. Big and grey with a white chest and tummy. Aaaaaaaaaand he left for the sunset. I think we might have stressed him out too much, but I am too excited from the meeting to be worried. Such an “awake” koala we have never seen. Turns out, they can run as well.
We arrive at the campsite late - tired and hungry. But at the same time incredibly full of today’s emotions. If you haven’t done your own statistics, I shall tell you exactly what wild animals we saw today. The list is big, get ready:
Seals / Sea lions
Kangaroos / Wallabies
And countless types of birds.
There is plenty of material for colourful dreams tonight.
Many of the things we are seeing, really are repetitive to what we’ve experienced in Australia already. But through the eyes of mum and dad, everything seems new, different and inspiring. And if the touristic map of Victoria is well known for you, you are probably thinking you know the name Warrnambool. And if we’re sleeping here, then you expect that something big awaits us. Maybe even something Great! Till tomorrow!
Vassya (Boyan, Svetla and Nic)