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Archive for the ‘Blanchetown’ Category

Hayley Westenra woke me this morning. Very kind of you, Hayley, but it was six o’clock and still dark outside, way too early for my body clock. (Perhaps I should explain that Kirsten’s phone plays ‘Pokarekare Ana’ as an alarm call.) Yet another broken night’s sleep, and I’m sure at some point in one dream I was performing the synth solo from ‘Jump’ through several kilowatts of amplification – hope I didn’t wake the neighbours.

Anyway, we stumbled around blearily for the next hour, consuming a quick breakfast and squeezing everything into a mere ten bags for the train. (Ten? We began with six, but we’ve added a cool bag for food, one of our big yellow dry bags for towels, sheets and a water can, a picnic bag for the train and a spare rucksack for papers to be sent home before we leave Australia.)

We hit the road by 7am, catching the everyday miracle of crimson dawn over the Murray River.
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The Sturt Highway was kind to us (apart from a few roadworks), taking us smoothly through Salisbury and delivering us in Adelaide ahead of schedule. Fortunately the Europcar people were in early and let us in a few minutes before 9am to return the car. We dragged our bags through to the front office, got signed off and took a taxi to the interstate station. Yet another Chinese driver, and only $12 this time, welcome relief after the expense of Sydney taxis.

Not too busy at the rail terminal. We dropped off our ‘hold luggage’ and waited around for a couple of hours as more and more passengers arrived to be met by the greeter with the enthusiastically squeaky voice (we were too early for her). Not much to do or buy there; no hope of buying the Rough Guide to Malaysia (which we need urgently), but plenty of merchandise for the Ghan (our train, named after the Afghan camel trains of the pioneer years) and the Indian Pacific – baby bibs, erasers, mugs, nothing essential for us.

Why are we waiting?
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Various announcements, including the fact that today’s train is especially long – 900 metres, perhaps 36 carriages! I got that wrong then, assuming that no-one else would be so foolish as to attempt to travel on the final day of the Clipsal races. Instead there’s a bumper crop of passengers, and the train is split in two for boarding to save anyone walking too far.
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The ticket wallet advised: “Because of the close proximity of guests during rail travel, you are requested to board the train suitably attired with an acceptable standard of cleanliness and personal hygiene.” What will they do? Bring out the sniffer dogs?

We found our seats around 11.45am; a block of two and two on the starboard side. Lots of legroom, and as an added twist the steward clicked a lever to spin our seats through 180° to face the girls (all the other seats are forward-facing).
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Around 12.20 the Ghan departed Adelaide, creeping cautiously through the suburbs (and back through Salisbury). Slowly, so slowly, the houses gave way to bush – along by the Flinders Range on our right towards Port Augusta. There we picked up a few more passengers; understandably, our protracted train had to make two stops to let them on at the appropriate end. (Posh Platinum and Gold sleepers down to the Red Day-Nighter recliner plebs such as ourselves.)

The front of our train rounding a bend.
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Port Augusta.
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Now as I type we are half way from Port Augusta to Tarcoola (population 5) where the line splits, one branch heading north to Darwin via Alice Springs and the other going west to Perth across the desolation of the Nullarbor Plain. We are already well into the middle of nowhere and there’s a near-unphotographable sunset (you can’t open the windows so you’re plagued by reflections) to match this morning’s display.

For supper we bought pasties, a sausage roll and a hot dog from the buffet car, washed down with a Cascades beer (from Hobart). Not extortionate prices, but some passengers are better prepared with bags full of sandwiches, fruit, etc. (We didn’t have the chance to put a proper 24-hour picnic together.)

We’ll see how we get on with our night on the train (we’ve slept on coaches, planes and boats so far) as I don’t know what time they’ll dim the main lights (there are only four children on board altogether) and the seats don’t recline that far.

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An earlier start than the last couple of mornings. We finished off our cereals and did the last of our packing. We’re catching the train to Alice Springs tomorrow, so we need to get the packing down to our original bags again and dispose of anything we won’t need or want. Quite a task after nearly six weeks of dumping things in the car boot.

Just as we were ready to leave we met our neighbours in cabin no 5. They were a lovely retired couple from Sherston (also in Wiltshire)! They were touring New Zealand and Australia (or parts of it) and return on an almost yearly basis – lucky things.

Shortly before 9.30am we managed to peel ourselves away from this peaceful campsite and headed further north to our next destination Blanchetown.

Another long drive – yippee!
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Almost as soon as we left Robe we felt like we had finally reached the Australia like we know it from postcards and documentaries; i.e. long stretches of empty road, dry and barren landscapes on either side, dotted with green bushes. The soil looked very dry and almost cracked and at times I could spot the odd little house in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t help thinking whether these houses were habitable. Did they have electricity/gas or running water?
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We drove around Kingston SE hoping we would find an Op-Shop to dump some of our pre-loved items but no such luck.

Back onto the main road where the numerous mirages made it difficult to judge whether or not it was safe to overtake the odd slow car or truck.

We pressed on through Meningie and Tailem Bend to Murray Bridge where we chose to stop for lunch and drop off some of our surplus items. We consulted the Tourist Info oracle first, though one lady thought everything would be closed by now on a Saturday (much to our surprise) while the other then contradicted her and gave us leaflets listing all the eateries and all the second-hand/charity shops that would be open for a couple more hours.

We drove to the big purple shop called “Treasure Trove” and passed on our thick fleeces, walking trousers, t-shirt, woolly hats and gloves and, much to the girls dismay and disappointment, their purple woggle (noodle). There were tears from Ellen and a promise of getting her a new woggle once back in the UK only brought a watery smile to her face.

We then carried on down the road in search of a bakery but spotted a Subway and we knew this would cheer the girls up immensely. Suddenly we were back in Ellen’s good books, phew… We went for two one-foot-long meal deals to share between the four of us.

Once back in the car Tim suggested a small detour via the Barossa Valley. It only added 20 minutes to our 5.5 hour drive, so off we went to Tanunda for the Jacob’s Creek vineyard and information centre.

As we approached the centre we could see several vineyards marked Jacob’s Creek Shiraz, Jacob’s Creek Merlot, etc. I knew every grape variety would have its own vineyard, but what I didn’t know was that they were so spread out.

The information centre itself I found a little disappointing. There were information boards, a restaurant (that was closing as we arrived) and a couple of bars where you could purchase some bottles. They also sold some other merchandise like bottle openers, aprons, caps, polo shirts and rugby shirts (at almost $90 I thought they were a little on the expensive side). We looked into buying some wine but didn’t want a big bottle as we might not have time to finish it. In the end we settled for a selection box of 6 of 187.5ml bottles (3 whites, 2 reds and 1 rose), which are much easier to transport on the train tomorrow.
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As we drove out again we stopped very briefly at their animal park, which only housed a couple of emus and a handful of very lazy kangaroos. I suppose once one has seen them in the wild, one gets pretty fussy about them!

Finally we were on the home stretch to our campsite. Blanchetown is a very small town in the middle of nowhere. Our campsite is called Riverside and is (obviously) based on the bank of the longest river in Australia, the Murray. It is a very small, but clean and tidy campsite with two handfuls of cabins.

Murray River.
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The first lock.
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We booked a family cabin for the night and paid quite a lot of money for it. Needless to say we were disappointed when we had no hot water tonight for showers. Tim and I ended up in the amenities block where they did have plenty of hot water.

We popped into the town to buy some chips and fish/burgers/chicken for supper, which we had at one of the picnic tables back at the campsite.
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Spotted near the takeaway.
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Time to get the girls into bed and for us to finalise our packing. We have an early start tomorrow, so I had better get some sleep soon.

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