Thursday, May 2, 2013

Milang and Lake Alexandrina -- wetlands, sailboats, big skies and a lot of history

The sun rises over Paddlesteamer Drive, Milang, Lake Alexandrina

Colonial houses often have satellite dishes on the roof

A barge loading crane on the jetty -- it wears a "National Trust" badge these days

Lake Alexandrina, pretty in winter sunshine...

...and Lake Alexandrina, brooding on a winter's evening

Welcome to Milang, established 1854
Welcome to Milang, on Lake Alexandrina, in South Australia. It's all about big skies and vast water, sail boats and pelicans, night skies of incredible brilliance, wetlands with an enormous population of frogs, and a sleepy little town that's so quiet, the silence is a great reason for going there.

Frogs. Yes, frogs!

The Spotted Grass Frog, the Eastern Banjo Frog (aka the Bullfrog), and the Common Froglet ... the info board quotes a population of "thousands" of them in the wetlands, but in the evening you'd swear you're listening to millions. On one Milang visit, we had dinner at the Pier Hotel, and on the walk back to the van (the Millennium Possum waited patiently) we were stunned by the frog-racket emanating from the wetlands. It was August; there had been flooding in the Lakes area -- some of the shacks on Paddlesteamer Drive were still sandbagged, but to the frogs, it must have been sheer paradise.

Main street Milang -- that's the Pier Hotel at the end, a country pub with a very good dining room.

Paddlesteamer Drive, right above the beach ... winter ...

...and Paddlesteamer Drive on a summer evening.

"Paddlesteamer Diver" is a quaint, or even exotic name for an area the Alexandrina local government wishes would just vanish! The shacks have been there for so long, they're almost heritage listed, but they're still shacks ... somewhat makeshift and far from the modern subdivision Milang might like to see. These were originally holiday homes, but many people are retiring there -- and why wouldn't you, with views like this ... yes, that's a pelican fishing for lunch:

And it's not only about the lake, and the sailing -- or the herons and pelicans. Lake Alexandrina is a low-lying region, which means the wetlands are world class. Migratory birds stop there, for instance, the Japanese Snipe:

In summer, the water levels are so low that the region is far too dry for waterfowl, as such. (The same is true of all the southeast coast, from the Coorong to the Victorian border.) However, if you don't mind dodging showers and wearing a jacket, in the winter you can bird-spot to your heart's content on the coast of Lake Alexandrina. Temperatures will be around 16 degrees Celsius, give or take a little ... this is winter, after all. The trouble is that light levels can also be very low, so you might spot your rare bird, but digital cameras don't seem to be able to make heads or tails of the conditions. Photos are notoriously murky and need a lot of enhancement when you get them home.

But just let the sun shine, and the wetlands are gorgeous, especially in winter:

A boardwalk-cum-bridge spans part of the wetlands...

...connecting Milang proper with Paddlesteamer Drive and Lake Alexandrina itself.

The wetlands follow the coast of Lake Alexandrina, a habitat for birds and amphibians...

Some of the plants look like they came here from Mars...

Follow the walking trails, and you might not see the abundant birdlife, but you'll hear amazing voices.

Wildlife on the scale of the very small comes out after the rains.

One general rule, if you're going to tromp around in the wetlands -- or any other place that's off the beaten track, for that matter. Watch out for snakes, and make sure you wear something decent on your feet, and long-legged pants. The Lake Alexandrina region is home to the Common Tiger Snake, the Red Bellied Black Snake and the Common Brown Snake. Now ... everybody says they're plentiful, but we gotta tell you ... we've spent eons there, trying to photograph rare birds, and we haven't -- yet! -- seen a snake. Not one. Nada. Not that you can't, and won't, see them eventually, but they seem to hide when they see us coming. Not being mortally afraid of snakes, we'd love to catch sight of them, but they're even more timid than those rare birds. (Spiders, on the other hand ...! You might wish spiders were timid. One day, Dave will tell the story of the palm-sized huntsman with whom he shot pool...!)

Men and women of the Alexandrina region played their part in the wars too, and are remembered at Anzac Park. The memorial there is very special. The warzones in which the local veterans served, and the allies alongside whom they fought and died, are marked out by trees...

Anzac Park, Milang

Milang Soldiers' Memorial Gardens

Milang War Memorial

The area has a long and colorful history, involving riverboats and the coastal trade, the influx of settlers from many parts of Europe, agriculture and, later, tourism. A little of Lake Alexandrina's history is remembered in the wall art:

 "Visions of a Timeless Shore" by Peter McLachlan, assisted by Peter Evans; 1996. 

[The wall art, above, is entitled "Visions of a Timeless Shore." It was launched on March 3, 1996 by Mr. G Davidson, and was painted by Peter McLachlan, assisted by Peter Evans, as a commission from the Milang and Clayton Traders Association, Inc., and with the support of J. Schubert, the S.A. Country and Arts Trust, and the local community. Sorry we can't give you links for the artists, but a Google search turns up almost nothing. If anyone knows either of the Peters, please ask them to get in touch!]

There was a time the railway went to Port Milang, but today all traces of that railway are historic, heritage listed, enduring only as open-air museum exhibits...

The standing exhibit, seen from the wetlands, looking back towards the Pier Hotel, Milang. 

The old Milang Station. There's a signboard in there, offering Devonishire Cream Teas --
alas, that cafe has closed now. And that's an enormous pity.

End of the line -- literally! A preserved section of track at Milang just ... stops.

The remnants of the old, disused railway ... "the tracks to nowhere" ... lie right alongside the wetlands bird sanctuary. It's as quiet in Milang these days as it would have been bustling and noisy in the era of the steamboats. Today, as this info board says, wrens and robins nest there, dipping and diving for the insects that also breed in the marshes. These tiny birds are impossible to photograph -- they're the size of golf balls and so fast, you can't keep track of them with your eyes, much less a camera -- not to mention, in the kind of low-light conditions that Milang can turn on to confound you, almost without warning. Low-light conditions, you ask? Read on --

We must have visited Lake Alexandrina about a dozen times, and the sun might be shining when you set out, but as you approach, almost every time, the weather changes. You get amazing skies, spectacular sunsets and dawns ... flooded lowlands full of black swans ... but it can be murky in full daylight. The images for this post have been chosen from photos collected over many visits, across several years. At left you see the Langhorn region, approaching Milang and , yep, right on cue the sky is lowering at noon, daylight is failing. The frogs love it, but digital cameras have an impossible time. They do best at sunset and dawn, when the clouds intensify the whole experience. In fact, once we camped out there, specifically to photograph the dawn...

Leaving Milang. Now, where do we want to go next?!

Next: photographing dawn over Lake Alexandrina, and -- staying at a B&B there, which turned out to be haunted! Then, we'll take you to Langhorne Creek, and a visit to Bleasdale Winery.

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