When is a capital city not a capital city? When it's a capital town. Adelaide, capital of South Australia and home to 957,000 Australians, two-thirds of the population of the state, is miniscule when you're used to cities like London, Birmingham and more locally, Melbourne and Sydney. It's only seven times bigger than Hobart, and Hobart is tiny – indeed, even those who live in Adelaide refer to 'the town' rather than 'the city'.
This has its advantages. The most obvious is that you can walk everywhere in the centre, and anywhere else is a very quick drive away. But there are other advantages, such as the availability of parking spaces really close to the centre, uncrowded beaches and a chance to explore the entire city in a relatively short period, something you can't say about Melbourne or Sydney.
However, there are disadvantages. Adelaide isn't one of the great cities of the world, and although it is charming, it can't compete with the bigger cities when it comes to sights; it has just one street where there's any real nightlife, and it's not the most amazing experience; the beaches are fairly average compared to those down the coast; the city isn't big enough to support a tram network, and in fact only has one, out to the beach; and things like petrol aren't quite as cheap as in the bigger cities. But I enjoyed Adelaide, albeit briefly1, and it made for a pleasant stop before I headed off for the Nullarbor Desert and the first real test of my plans to drive round the continent.
Arrival and Exploration
After the Coorong I headed up the coast to where the Fleurieu Peninsula starts, and hung a left to Wellington, where I crossed the Murray River (one of the most important rivers in southeast Australia) on a cable-driven car ferry. Then it was a short drive down to the coast and along to Port Elliot, a picturesque spot on Horseshoe Bay, itself a cute little beach with granite boulders either side of the bay. Luckily the wind that had plagued me in Kingston had died, so I managed to get the tent up without getting Mary Poppinsed up into the sky.
The following morning I visited Victor Harbour, down the road from Port Elliot, and walked along the long tram bridge that connects the harbour to Granite Island. A horse-drawn tram goes up and down the tramway, and the island is a particularly pleasant place to wander around while watching the sea batter the granite rocks on the shore. If you go to Granite Island you can see fairy penguins, but I had to move on, and move on I did, all the way to Adelaide, 90km to the north.
The campsite I stayed in was on West Beach, about 8km west of the city centre (which is not exactly far considering it's a beach). The beach was fairly nondescript, with a bit too much seaweed, but you can't really complain when you're that close to a city. That night I drove into town and wandered around; my one memory of that wander is a strange old man, who started talking to me at a pedestrian crossing, and kept babbling on for four whole blocks before turning off the street. I didn't understand a single word he said, but it was definitely Australian, of a sort. I rather warmed to him, whatever it was he was trying to tell me.
I explored Adelaide for the next couple of days, and there's no doubt it's a gorgeous place. I visited the State Museum (which was very good, and free); I walked through the botanic gardens, which are quite spectacular; I went up to Light's Vision, a statue which shows the spot on a hill where Colonel Light sat and designed Adelaide's street layout, and from where you can see the whole town; I wandered past the interesting architecture of Adelaide's many old and solid buildings; I checked out the university, which turned out to be an interesting spot, right next to the botanic gardens and teeming with Australian students moving from lecture to lecture or just sitting under the trees studying or chatting... in fact, I simply walked for miles, because Adelaide is a walker's town.
At Home in Yankalilla
While in Adelaide I decided to ring up one of the people I'd met while doing telephone support for Acorn in Melbourne, who'd invited me to get in touch when I was in Adelaide. He and his wife live south of Adelaide but on the west coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula, an area I hadn't seen, so on Thursday I went down there to stay the night.
It was lovely; what a sweet couple. Charles and Ena were originally from the Midlands, near Cannock Chase, and they retired about seven years ago. They decided to live in Australia, mainly because most of Charles' family now lives here, and they have a house just outside Yankalilla, a tiny village some 89km south of Adelaide. They made me feel right at home, with a guided tour of the surrounding countryside and beaches, then back home for a cooked roast and plenty of port. Charles and I swapped advice about computers, I told them about my travels, and it turned out Charles had been a magazine printer so we talked about editing, publishing as we whittled away at the port. I found them and their way of life quite incredible – getting water pumped from a borehole, feeding possums in the back garden, seeing all sorts of wild animals hanging around, taming local wild cats and keeping them as pets... it's not your normal retirement home, is it?
We even got to see a comet. Over the previous few nights there had been this huge comet in the sky, but you could only spot it if you were looking, and then the tail suddenly became obvious. The view from their house was really clear, as they're so far from city lights, and I was quite spun out by it all. It proved to be yet another excellent contact in Australia; what a delightful country this is.
1 This is probably the best way to enjoy it, rather like very loud music or rich chocolate mousse. Otherwise you might find yourself getting bored, which is what happened to one friend from Melbourne who had to spend a year of university there. 'It felt like exile,' she said with a wince...