Exploring close to home - casual but fun.
In my research with Google Maps, I work out it’s going to be just over five hours drive. 469.5km. Add the breaks in, and we have a whole day. I’m still not sure whether I’m crazy or not. For one, I don’t particularly like driving long distances. Second, I’m taking three kids with me - alone. Hmm.
Where am I going? Wartook, at the Grampians. It's about 40 minutes the other side of Horsham (coming from Adelaide). My dad has property over there, and he is always asking us to go. Hubby can't come due to work, so I hold my tongue the right way and hope for the best. Three kids in my car and me. It will be interesting.
The Happy Wanderer Holiday Resort could have had potential some years ago. Now it is run down. The views from the log cabins are beautiful. One afternoon I wander over and am stopped in my tracks by the view in front of me. Grassy plains lead my eye to the soaring mountain range hiding the horizon. I can imagine sitting on the deck, watching kangaroos graze, as the sun goes down. But alas, not tonight. I hear ‘mum, excavate with me. Nobody wants to play with me.’
Halls Gap is just 30km away. The slow drive through the tree-canopied mountains is easy. The inconvenience of having to keep an eye (or two) on the road (as I am the driver) instead of the forest of trees that keep enticing me with their beauty is slightly annoying. I also smile at the quirky tree growth (after the monster bush fires about a year ago) that covers the trunk of each tree like a hairy bear. Little sprouts of leaves cover each trunk from close to the ground up to the highest limbs.
The town of Halls Gap itself is like a setting out of a movie. On one side of the main road is the caravan parks and playground, hemmed in by the towering rock face behind. The other has, among other small buildings and stores, a cute collection of shops bordering a shaded lawn area. Umbrellas and picnic tables are full with latte-sipping hikers. We walk the porch that runs the length of the shops, browsing the souvenirs, crystals and fortunately, missing the lolly shop then head over to the playground. I resist the urge to get coffee - just.
After a recommendation by the Visitor Centre as to where we could go with five kids aged 4-13-years-old, we walk to Venus Baths. An easy 2km return walks to half a dozen rock pools of varying sizes and depths where the children jump and slide and get wet. Me too. It was worth listening to the whine from some of the kids on the walk up - the kids didn't want to leave. It also means I don't lie, saying 'it will be worth it' to keep the kids going on the way up - seeing as I'd never visited before.
I carefully mention to my dad that next time we come over to the Grampians I'd like to stay in Halls Gap - even though it's not near his property. The caravan parks look nice, there is a big playground at the public park in front for the kids, and multiple hikes begin at the foot of the mountain rock face. I can hike without having to drive anywhere. And now the kids know about these very fun rock pools to slip, splish and splash about in.
So, you ask, how did the trip go? Really well. The kids entertained each other, we didn't lose anyone, and I kept my sanity with the drive there and back. Even though we had a 1.5-hour wait in Bordertown for my dad who was running late (a normal occurrence).
Did I enjoy it? Hmm. I loved the exploring but was happy to escape kids (yes, even mine) when I got home.
Would I do it again? Yes. But not to Wartook. Halls Gap is my Grampians spot.
Secret weapon? iPads for the car. Cousins for play. Lots of food. No food with artificial colours or too much sugar - especially in the car.
What do you do when things go wrong on holidays? What do you do when your kids embarrass you? Hide.
A long weekend. It comes with its pros and cons for the business owner - me.
Pros: Time with family, escape the house, have fun, do something different, time out from work.
Cons: Need to find time to catch up the lost time, tonnes of washing to do on return, too much eating and drinking.
Every Easter, my family goes up to Barmera, in the Riverland. It's a long weekend of speedboat fun (if the weather is kind), relaxing, kids playing, lots of eating, an easter egg hunt and a wine or two. Holidays revolve around the river, however, when Mother Nature doesn't play nice, we have other options.
Berri has a fair on the Saturday - nothing big, but fun. The community comes out, my kids love watching the gymnastics demos and then trying to catch all the eggs being thrown off the stage for kiddies.
Barmera has a big fair, music and big screen movie on the Sunday arvo/night. We go every year. It's fun to have a look through the stalls, grab some festival food (fish and chips were great this year!) and then sit and listen to the musician or band. We haven't made it to the movie yet, but as the kids get older, we will rug up and stay on.
Banrock Station is not far away - wine and wetlands. What more do we need?
Lake Bonney - we ride and run around it. About 22km. I need to do this to get rid of all the chocolate I eat over Easter. And it's also a good mental challenge. Note: if you are going to do it, do it early morning or late afternoon so you can entertain yourself with beautiful light on the lake as you go. And, don't expect to follow the lake around the edge - the road veers out in sections - but follow your nose, you will find your way.
Loveday and other dirt tracks are to be discovered by 4wd. Haven't done it by 4wd (hubby loves it though), but went for a jog along the tracks near the caravan park. Can see how it would be a bit of fun - for the right person.
This year, we found a wholesale fruit and veg shop too. I can't remember the name of it, but it's on the highway, just out of Barmera, when heading towards Berri. You have to turn down a country road, and then enter what looks like a farm with big sheds - but it's worth it. Cheap prices and yummo quality. We'll be shopping up there again, next year. (If you know the place, please tell me the name.)
And of course, Caravan Parks lend themselves to relaxing and not doing much. While the kids run between the playground, jumping pillow and new friends' caravans, adults can sit back and enjoy. Yes, some campers enjoy a bit too much, cracking a tinny at 8am, but nothing has become too rowdy yet. Even the fireworks that go off like a barrel gun at 10.30pm are taken lightly.
Question to end… why do we lock our houses up like a fort, but when in a caravan park, we believe a zipper will do the job?
This weekend we went down to Victor Harbor. It's something we do quite often, with my family living down there. But have we ever stopped at Alexandrina Cheese Company? No. Have we ever picked strawberries at Mount Compass. No. Have I ever thought of going to Mount Compass for dinner? Heck no.
Mount Compass, for us, is normally only a place to stop for a toilet break or food. I only know of Mount Compass as a tiny, quiet, cold and wet town where we had to play netball at least once per season (when I was growing up). Why would I go there otherwise?
Well, we find out there are a few reasons…
At first, $17 for two adults and two small children to pick a kilo of strawberries seems on the 'bit rich' side. But then we thought about it. We had enormous fun - so it's a cheap outing. We ate lots - we filled our bellies. And we ended up squeezing over a kilo in the container we were given. After eating about a dozen, it still weighted out at 1100gm. Win, win, win.
The strawberries? Well, most were good, some were fantastic, and some were a bit 'pumped with water' flavour. Maybe it's our ability to pick the correct strawberry? Who knows.
Alexandrina Cheese Company is between Victor Harbor and Mount Compass, and every time we go down, we see the big blue sign on the side of the road, 'turn left', but we keep going. Today is a different story. The kids loved the cut out face signs to pose for photos in, the tin galahs scattered around the grass, and picking cheese to taste with toothpicks. It'd be a great spot to go for a few hours over a cheese platter and drinks.
The shop is perched on top of a hill, with a view out over the paddocks and lumpy bald hills. A very rural farm outlook. Ben made comment the customer service wasn't what he expected - not as friendly and country cheerful. Perhaps they were still warming up for the day?
I'm not a cheese 'snob' but I do like a cheese platter. We bought two cheeses (and toyed with the idea of buying more) - with the Vintage Cheddar devoured within the hour after arriving in Victor Harbor. It didn't taste quite as 'vintage' and intense as what we tasted, but the fact that it, err, disappeared so quick, spoke louder. And the curd we purchased - that was great, fried over eggs, the next morning.
3. Brazilian BBQ
YUM! Get there. That is all I need to say. But I will say more.
Who would think they could find perfectly cooked meats, bathed in scrumptious spices and salts, that are beyond our BBQ taste in deliciousness, at a golf course in Mount Compass? I didn't, but was so very hopeful. I lived in Brazil, and I haven't tasted the same quality and experience yet in Australia. A friend I met in Brazil joined us to give it test it out too.
The dinner show includes a performace by the fabulous dancers by La Bomba - an awesome dance studio based in Adelaide. They add the sparkle (or thousand) to an otherwise pretty ordinary atmosphere in terms of decoration and Brazilian experience.
But, don't go for the atmosphere. Or even the dancers. Even though I enjoyed getting up for a butt wiggle, and Ben was not too upset about the distraction of watching the girls shimmy and prance in their sparkling little bikinis and feathers.
The food. That is why you go. The Rodizio experience is all you can eat, waiter delivered meats, to your table. The waiter brings out cut after cut of various meats and slices it off the skewer onto your plate. The meats have been cooked on a brazilian bbq with special coals. On the table is a selection of sides - a black bean dish (feijoada), farofa (yummy sprinkled on meat), rice, tomato salad (vinagrette) and other dishes. Their chips and aioli starter was more than moorish, but the pao de quiejo (small cheese breads) took me back to Brazil.
Lesson learnt this weekend. Be a tourist in my own backyard. There are treasures to be discovered. Some treasures that people come all over the world to experience, yet we drive straight past.