Monday, May 6, 2013

Dawn over Lake Alexandrina, a stay at Ruby's Cottage ... over to Langhorne Creek, and Bleasdale Wines

In August of 2012, we took a day off  and spent the night on the shore of Lake Alexandrina. You wake to the sounds of herons and the waters lapping, while pelicans soar over the lagoon. There was not much of a sunset the night before, so we were really, really hoping for a spectacular dawn, and Mother Nature didn't let us down. In fact, she didn't miss a trick! Photographing sunrise over the lake was one of the three main reasons for being there. The second thing was, we wanted to have dinner out "somewhere," and had been wanting to give the Pier Hotel, Milang, a go. (The third reason was cabin fever. Gotta get out before you start chewing the furniture ... you know the feeling!)

It was the middle of winter downunder, of course. It was cold -- or what we think of as cold. Maybe one or two degrees Celsius, which would be something like 35 degrees Fahrenheit. But it was well, well worth the chilly fingers and toes, as you can see from the pictures we brought home.

One of the things that impresses itself on us the most, when we get out of town, and particularly when you get out of the hills too, and into the flatlands, is ... the size of the sky. It's, um, well, it's big, and every time you look at it, it's different. There's a movie called Local Hero -- wonder if you know it? It's set in Scotland, and filmed on the west coast, looking out towards the Hebrides. A few of these shots make one think of that movie. 

These images are uploaded at 1600 pixels wide (one or two are a little smaller, due to being cropped to get rid of unwanted elements), and they're well worth a look at the larger size. As Jade has said elsewhere, there's a place where art blurs into photography, and photography blurs into art ... and this is definitely it.

This one was captured the night before, standing in the street right outside the Pier Hotel, after dinner:

You're waiting to see bats, hear the wolves howl, and Frank Langella rides up on a tall, black horse, takes your invite to dinner but, oddly enough, doesn't touch the food ... speaking of which, The Pier Hotel is under new management lately, and the menu has changed. The fare is strictly "pub grub," but it was hearty, plenty of it, and the prices were quite agreeable. All in all, a nice evening, which we finished out in the bar, watching the London Olympics on TV before heading back to the Millennium Possum, with plans to photograph the sunrise next morning.

Back in 2007, we stayed a couple of nights in Milang, at a B&B there known as Ruby's Cottage. (As of December 2013 it's no longer a B&B, so the link that used to live here is deleted.) It's described as a "120 year old stone cottage," where "time can stand still." And that is so accurate! The owners have gone to great lengths to preserve the nature and flavor of the building, which belonged to a local lady by the name of (!) Ruby. She lived there all her married life, and actually passed away there. In fact, Jade will tell you, Ruby is still there...

Opening to door to Ruby's Cottage, and looking in, Jade stopped on the doorstep and said, "Whoa!" It's that moment when your eyes go slightly out of focus and you see/hear/feel something without recourse to your eyes, ears or nerve endings. Here's the difference between Ruby's Cottage and Martindale Hall, at Mintaro: Ruby likes visitors, whereas Mr. Mortlock, at Martindale, does not. So Ruby's Cottage "looked at Jade" for a moment as she approached the door, and the house said "Welcome, come in, have a cuppa," whereas Martindale Hall had said, "Beat it, you're not welcome."

So we went in, put on the tea kettle and had a cuppa. The house's kitchen is 100% modern, and the furnishings are lovely. Everything has been chosen to stay in character with the antique nature of the house. The gardens are especially lovely, and Lake Alexandrina, and the wetlands, are on your doorstep. Perfect! The thing we remember the most from this stay is the quiet. That, and the blazing stars. Milang is about two hours out of town, and when you've left behind the city lights...!

Leaving Milang, you're embarrassed by choice -- so many places to go. You could to a lot worse than head for the Langhorne region; and as you do, desolate salt marshes and flocks of forlorn sheep give way to some of the most lush vineyards you're ever going to see in this country:

Oh yes, this is wine country! The wines are very different from those produced in the Barossa Valley, the Clare Valley region and McLaren Vale. The Langhorne wines are closer in character to the Coonawarra wines, because of the climate. It's a lot cooler and wetter in the Langhorne region, for a start. In fact, the year we visited Bleasdale Wines (2011), we were told stories of local flooding, and the likelihood of a crop being wiped out. We tried several wines at Bleasdale and bought two, and spent a wonderful hour in their museum. The winery has an amazing history -- also a fantastic website, where you can read the novel-like story of the Potts Family, with genuine photographs from the period.

Vineyards at Bleasdale Wines, Langhorn, South Australia

The Langhorne region of South Australia ... and the weather is changing!

One of the original vehicles used when Bleasdale Wines was founded in 1850 --

-- and the modern equipment. Wine tanks ... that's a lot of wine. You're seeing one tiny corner of a field of such tanks, here. Seen from the air, on Google Maps, these ranks march on for a loooong way.

Original equipment: a "red gun lever press" ...

... and it's HUGE, dwarfing human beings.

Try some wines at the Bleasdale cellar door shop! We did, and bought two...

From Bleasdale, you'll go through the tiny town of Langhorne Creek itself, if you're headed in any direction, because that's where the roads go! The names of the roads tell all: the Strathalbyn-Langhorne Road, the Wellington Road ... and the latter takes you to the ferry on the Murray River. (In fact, we not only photographed but videoed the whole ferry process, and with any luck, we can get those videos edited up, so we'll show you the ferry across the Murray.) So, Langhorne Creek:

Langhorne Creek revolves around this point...

... a crossroads, the jumping off for Adelaide or the Limesone Coast -- your call...

Follow the signs! Wellington and the ferry, or Strathalbyn and the Fleurieu ...?

The day we did this trip was just after Easter, 2012. In South Australia, the weather usually turns fast at Easter... crash, bang boom, and suddenly it's winter. Like this. Fortunately, we were headed for home, and just in time!

We headed for home in fog and rain ... made one stop at the cricket oval in Mylor, to raid the picnic basket and use the facilities there. The driving conditions were interesting. The hills on the Fleurieu  Peninsula are rolling, often steep, and twisty-windy, with tight bends followed by drops down into the next gully. Driving in fog, the road seems to drop out of existence ahead of you, and trees loom up like Ents marching to war. It's exciting, and after half a lifetime driving in Alaska, Dave gets a kick out of it, anytime the weather in Australia hands him anything other than "clear and bright with dry roads."

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