After a wonderful introduction to the Australian wine districts in Clare Valley last week, we were ready for a wildlife experience. We drove from Auburn in Clare Valley to Wilpena in the middle of Flinders Ranges Nationalpark and checked in at a “resort” in the middle of the woods. “Resort” is probably a bit overdriven as it was rather simple, but it certainly made it to the Top 5 of all the caravan parks we have been to so far.
The area was huge, with hundreds of sites, but only about 40 of them were powered and with water supply. So as we arrived in the middle of the afternoon, we were lucky to get one of the very last vacant ones that day. From the reception we got a map of the area and started to drive through the woodland to find the spot they had reserved for us. As we arrived, many of the neighboring sites were already finishing their setting up, and were on their way to light the camp fires. On every single site there was a camp fire space, so if you had some wood, you could just light up. And as the sun started to set it was a beautiful sight to see all the small campfires light up between the trees. People sat there around the fires, eating and chatting. We have not seen any other place where camp-fires were allowed, and thus we were not prepared for it. We did not have any wood to light a fire for ourselves. We could buy some at the reception for a small fortune, which we chose not to do. It was OK for us to just watch all the other fires around us. And Anton met a very good play friend on the neighboring site, and stayed over there almost the entire time during our three-day stay. So he did not really care whether we had a fire or not. The neighboring camp fires didn’t really catch his interest either. He was much more focused on playing with Harry’s (his new friend) great collection of trains from the Thomas the Tank-engine collection. With Antons vast collection of cars from the “Cars” movie they had a blast together and completely forgot everything around them. So it wasn’t without a bit of arguing when it was time for washing and eating at dinner time. On the other side, he did fall asleep quite fast and slept like a baby all night!
Flinders Ranges Nationalpark is one of the rare wildlife areas that lie in a relative close distance from a big city. You can drive from Adelaide to the beginning of the park in just about three hours. Getting to where we stayed in Wilpena you will need a couple of more hours. There are numerous nationalparks in Australia and in each and every one of them there are very strict rules as to what you may and may not do. Before entering Flinders Ranges we had to pay for a license to stay overnight. Needless to say we only leave footprints and only take memories with us. A motto that is seen on signs in many Australian nationalparks. But when all formalities are in order you can really experience some fantastic and undisturbed nature, and drive along the characteristic red dirt-roads for hours without meeting many people. Even though there are many annual guests in the nationalparks, the areas are so huge that you feel rather alone. Only at the camper parks you meet many others, but you know that from the beginning, so we did not mind. And actually it is nice to meet and chat with other travelers, sharing experiences and tips.
In Flinders Ranges we put our campervan to the test. We tried our luck and went off on one of the easy dirt-roads. Easy it was, but never the less a dirt-road. And there were some spots along the way where it would have been a lot more fun to drive a four-wheel driven car. We had done some research and asked the locals if our van was suitable for the task. They all said that it should not be a problem. As we started I was cautious and only drove about 30 kilometers per hour. Max! It was bumpy and the van twisted, danced and jumped on the road. After about 20 minutes, everything in the cabin that was not properly fixed had fallen to the floor and I was ready to speed it up a little. And after a couple of hours on those dusty dirt-roads I was driving well over 80 kilometers per hour. It was on a particularly straight-ahead part, with a visibility of about 15 kilometers ahead. Towards the mountains that glowed in the afternoon sun. It was a fun afternoon, but I did worry a little about the van. Would it make it? Well, nothing happened and as we returned to the camping site that same evening I accidentally discovered that the van had in fact most likely already had a few other trips into the wild before getting there with us. Deep into the fittings by the rear door I saw some red, old mud. This means that it has been driving along WET and RED dirt-roads at some point. Our trip was dusty along the red dirt-roads. But it was DRY. So even though the van now wasn’t really clean anymore, I could tell the difference between the “old” dirt and what we had just applied.
We saw a great deal of Emu’s and Kangaroo’s in the nationalpark. They were everywhere. Even right outside our van on the campground. They were grassing in the early morning sunrise. But you have to be careful when driving around. They do jump RIGHT out in front of you, just as you are making good speed. Mostly during sunset-hours, but caution is advised at all times. Judging from the number of dead animals along the roads, quite a few Kangaroo’s and Emu’s die every year. And in the nationalparks they are not removed. This is the law and order of nature. But it does look rather macabre on those places where the animals normally cross the roads.
In the small town of Blinman we also had encounters with Camels. They are not originally Australian animals, but sometime during the 1850’s some rich businessmen decided to import some Camels from Saudi Arabia and use them as working animals in the rough, Australian nature. Camels are used to very high and very low temperatures, and are also accustomed to extreme weather. So this was an ideal animal for many purposes. Even within the Australian Antarctic exploration program Camels have been widely used over the years. They are thriving so well, that today there are hundreds of thousands of Camels throughout Australia. Most of them are living on farms providing wool, which is very insulating and many are also used for camel-rides for tourists in the nationalparks. And then there are the wild camels. Exactly how many there are is not really known. When they are counted it normally happens state wise. And as camels do not stay within the borders of the states, many of them are most likely counted more than once. Official numbers range all the way from 200.000 animals up to 2.000.000. The local camel owner in Blinman said that the actual number probably lies somewhere in-between. The case of the camel is, by the way, just one of many cases where animals have been imported to Australia. The Rabbit is another example of an imported animal that has been breeding and causing problems. Back in the early days they did not think much about the possible consequences. Australia is a mild and isolated continent, and if the animals do not have many natural enemies, they may breed and numbers explode excessively. As seen in some cases. This explains the insisting agents in Customs upon arrival to Australia. They do not want any new animals or plants into the continent!
We also visited the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna, which is a place often used as location for movies, when a typical “outback” scenery is needed. Remote, rough and only for the toughest boys around. In reality it IS remote and rough, but as it often goes with famous movie locations, it attracts tourists. We had just had our lunch when we arrived so we really couldn’t eat anything. This was a bit sad, because they had Emu-, Kangaroo- and Camelburgers on the menu. Even a “trio”-plate with three miniburgers, one of each, for tasting the whole lot at once. This was obviously something that attracted many gourmets... I have no idea what camel meat tastes like... I am still wondering if I should try that Crocodile meat or not... Australia really has many specialities to offer!
Back in the civilized world we have now entered Barossa Valley. This is where the most of the exported Australian wine has its origin. We have been to Jacob’s Creek, which I believe is the most famous Australian vineyard to europeans. We also went to Seppeltsfield which is another international star. Interesting as it is to see it all and taste all the wonderful wines, all the more frustrating is it when we cannot buy more than we need for own consumption during our stay here. We could have bought a lot more, but traveling with just a backpack dramatically puts a limit to what we can carry. But we have bought a lot of other locally produced products. Olives, olive oil, jam, fruit and vegetables. And on a few of the local farmers markets we have found some very delicious sausages, that we are currently enjoying. Even Anton likes to have a few pieces, just as a snack. And he is not a big meat eater! Of course it is the german minority here in the area that is leading the production of this fine delicacy.
As I write these lines we are visiting Hahndorf. The oldest german town in Australia, founded in 1839. It was quite fun walking though the main street this afternoon and see all the small shops offering german specialties, antique beer mugs, and other souvenirs. But we did not enter any of the restaurants offering the same dishes as we are used to back home in Munich. Here you pay the tourist prices. A pretzel like the one we can buy in Munich for 50-70 cents costs 4,50 dollars here! We went to a normal café instead, to enjoy some afternoon tea and a muffin.
In the coming days we will be driving along the south coast and start the drive along The Great Ocean Road towards Melbourne. It will be great to get some sea breeze through the hair after all the exciting adventures in the national park.