Monday, July 13, 2015

Where Eyre We Roam

Day 2.

Soft rain and grey skies greeted us on Wednesday morning. The pet chilli plant was able to feel the elements for a while and I went for a swim in the lovely motel pool before we packed the car, went shopping for things we had forgotten to bring, such as straws for our Pimms, and then meandered out to the Arid Botanic Gardens for lunch and a walk amid the plants. We love this place.

Everyone does. It is special - spread out in the red sandy soil with the Flinders Ranges as a breathtaking landscape backdrop, blue against a bluer sky. We gazed upon this beauty and brunched at the Garden Cafe - upon an Aussie burger which was flavoured with bush herbs of some sort and utterly delectable, Bruce upon a toasted sandwich. We drank in the pristine desert air, examined the seemingly inexhaustible variety of eremophilas, pored over the industry of bull ants, and marvelled at the sweet scent of the witchetty acacia.

And then it was back on the road and south down Eyre Peninsular to the steel town of Whyalla. It was a mighty mecca in its day and it is still a really striking place, its red-roofed industry juxtaposed against a vivid azure sea.

The town has some lovely old architecture and it features Hummock Hill, a vertiginous winding trail up which one drives to lookouts which showcase the town in all directions. And there is the shallow bay - pale swirling greens and yellows against white sands and deep aquamarine seas. Cargo ships dotted the horizon. A busy marina lies in one foreground and industrial buildings in another.

The shallow bay lured us down for closer examination: those colours like nowhere and nothing else; a well-tended foreshore, perhaps too much so; a lot of cement paving and strange zig-zagging roadways onto the beach; playground and exercise machines; an elaborate sculpture of a diver beneath a school of fish; a white sandy strand with moderate seagrass; indifferent seagulls. We ordered a cup of tea at the cafe and sat in the brisk breeze enjoying this very different view before using spotless loos and and resuming our drive, noting as we went the darling old workers' cottages.

There followed a long, straightish drive down a beautiful road through undulating scrublands with the plan to hit Cowell with plenty of daylight.

My friend Janice Madden had organised accommodation for us. I thought it was going to be at the dear old Commercial hotel in Cowell's main street which I remembered fondly having stayed there years ago when visiting Cowell on a newspaper assignment. But, no, it turned out to be around the corner in a very modern two-storey holiday house which is an adjunct to the hotel.
Blossom, the pet chilli plant, took the sun on the bonnet of the car as we explored these swanky digs. There was a lovely little balcony where we could put her out in the fresh air and where, once unpacked and organised, we sat and relished a Pimms, looking out on a strange wasteland vista which seemed to separate the township of Cowell from a section of burbs.

Cowell's great claim to fame is as an oyster-producer. It used to be a major grain port but times have changed and now its exquisite, pristine waters are home to big, beautiful, delicate oysters - knee-tremblers, if you are an oyster-lover of my ilk.

We booked a table in the pub for dinner and went off for an exploratory walk down to the jetty, looking out to where the oyster beds sit in the clear sea, finding a lovely mangrove boardwalk. It was a pleasant walk which gave us a strong sense of the place.

The feeling was very laid-back and quiet and yet the caravan park was crowded and the town's other pub was rocking with merry tourist business as we walked past.

Funnily enough, our pub was very, very quiet indeed. It would seem to be out of fashion, patronised more by locals than tourists. We ate at a side table in the dining room, fascinated by the quaint old salad bar with its lace-motif plastic flaps to protect the food from the famous Aussie flies.

I had Cowell oysters, of course. A dozen. Presented in four different ways; specialty of the house. The food was not gastronomically remarkable. It was strictly country-pub. And off we trotted to our great big house to stretch out in the upstairs living room and watch the telly.

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