After a good nights sleep, I woke up to my usual routine of checking my phone for news and to play a few mind games. It wasn’t the best start to the day when my phone just gave up on me and gave me nothing but a black screen. Later on today I was going to be facing a 23 hour flight and I now had to face it with no music and no games to kill time. Perfect.
In a grumpy mood and without my brain being woken up fully, we packed for the final time. I had not thrown away any clothes and I had bought a tonne of sweets and gifts to bring home and so with each passing day the zips on my case were under more and more pressure. But this was the last time and so I made the effort to try and fold one or two t-shirts. I soon got bored of that though and so I had to stamp and kick on the case to get it shut.
We didn’t have any cooking facilities, or intentions of cooking or that matter, and there was no breakfast available at the motel. The kids were delighted to be told that we would head to the McDonald’s just around the corner as a last day treat (for them, not so much us!). We placed our order and sat at a table that was under a plastic cover but more outside than inside. Birds were tweeting and scooting between the tables picking up crumbs and it seemed like a lovely last Saturday morning for us and the birds alike. A couple from another table kept smiling at us and so I said hello and got chatting. They had moved to Victor Harbor from St Helens, Merseyside and were just all excited to hear the English accents.
We picked our way through breakfast and then walked back into town for a potter about. The first place we walked past was Victor Harbor Antique Centre. I couldn’t resist a poke about as it looked to be packed full with all sorts of things and I wasn’t disappointed. One of the first things I spotted was a military cap badge that was from the Northumberland Fusiliers. I chatted to the lovely lady who owned the store and told her that I had flown from just outside of Northumberland to be there and what a small world it was. She told me that the QE2 was due to have stopped at Victor Harbour earlier in the month but it was too windy. What a way to arrive at such a beautiful place.
We continued down the main street which was busy and bustling with families on their Saturday morning errands. We wandered into a sports shop as Titchy was looking for a warm hoodie for the trip home and to snuggle into as the weather had turned slightly chillier which was a good way to prepare us for the English weather we would be heading into so soon. We picked up a few bits and bobs, my boy got a bobble hat which was probably the only one sold that day I suspect, and I am not sure that he has taken it off since. The guy that served us made some sort of joke about the upcoming ashes and so, for the final time on the trip, I made a joke about sandpaper. He laughed and we shook hands and headed back towards Granite Island to make another attempt to see the little penguins.
It was starting to spit with rain and there were dark clouds out at sea. The last thing we needed was to reopen cases to get dry kit for the flight home and so we decided to give it a miss. We had also read that there were just 15 penguins on the island (down from 1,600 recorded in the year 2000) and so the chances of seeing them, especially as they were small ones, were tiny. There is a cockle train that goes along the waterfront to Goolwa but that wasn’t due to set off for over an hour and so we jumped out of the drizzle and into the Whaling Museum.
My vegetarian and animal loving daughter was not exactly over the moon to be walking around a building that was crammed full with different ways to kill and bother such beautiful and intelligent animals. In fairness, the whole place outlined what had happened in the past but also focused on conservation and preservation moving forward. There was a large display showing the terrific work of the Sea Shepherds. They are an environmental group who focus on conservation but their headline acts are around preventing Japanese whalers illegally killing whales. It was very inspiring and, I think, made my daughter a tiny bit happier but it was very hard to tell.
The hour was killed and we now walked across to the train station to get aboard the Cockle Train that would take us on a half hour journey around the bay to Goolwa. The whole place was run by incredibly friendly and informative volunteers and we were ushered onto old fashioned and very basic carriages that were fronted up by a big old diesel engine. The kids (and childish adults) could go to the front and sit with the driver and see, hear and feel everything happing around them, they could even toot the whistle. The views were spectacular with the sea crashing against the shore to the right and lovely holiday homes with open verandas looking out over the same view but occasionally obfuscated for some by an old fashioned train.
The train was noisy and uncomfortable and the novelty would have worn off on a long journey or a regular commute, but this was neither. It was like taking a shower in history. The smell and the sounds of old fashioned trains is something that I love, but not in a geeky way. The young lad that was the conductor on the train let Titchy’s little lad clip his own ticket and it was as if he had just been handed a golden ticket to get to Willy Wonka’s factory. I have never seen a boy as happy as he was on that train that day.
We arrived at Goolwa and stepped into sunshine and a small town with not too much to do there. I think we had an hour to kill so pottered about, which was becoming a new hobby and seemed a perfect pace at which to explore Australia. I had a good look at yet another war memorial and showed my respects before we picked up lunch at a local family bakery, The Goolwa Bakery. Since 1912 this place has been knocking out pies and cakes and I could very clearly see why they had been around so long as the selection was huge and it was all fresh and delicious. Like an Aussie version of Greggs, but smaller and better. There were two lasses behind the counter helping us pick and they seemed to be stunned that we had picked their shop and that we would want to buy their cakes and pies!
We wandered back to the station to get the train back to Victor Harbor and, as the sun had come out and the dark clouds had left, it was a lovely trip back along the coast. We passed a little green on the way back where a wedding party was all set up to have their pictures taken with our train as their background. Everyone was happy in Australia, it was just smiles and lovely everywhere you looked. Well, I say everywhere. There are two types of people in the world, people that wave back at kids waving on trains and those that don’t. Try to surround yourself with people that do. Its 70/30 against waving so be careful, it may be a good question to ask when you interview people?
Knowing my penchant for arriving at places far too early before I need to be there for anything travel related, Titchy was worried that we needed to get away from Victor Harbor as soon as we could once the Cockle Train arrived back at the station. It would have taken a very mean man however to have forced her boy away from the area knowing that the engine was going to be turned around on a huge turntable that was very visible to the watching crowds or railway enthusiast who had a camera in one hand and a thermos flask in the other. Again, I don’t think I have seen anyone as happy as her little lad watching this engine being turned to point back towards Goolwa.
All railwayed out, we made the short walk back to the motel and into the pre-packed car and for the last time, we hit the road. It was a quiet drive, the kids were knackered and I think we were all just a little bit sad that we wouldn’t be around this place and these people for much longer. The drive back up to Adelaide was around 45 minutes and we were dropping the car off. We stopped to fill up with petrol just outside the airport and got rid of a lot of our Aussie dollars by buying crisps and sweets for the way home. I couldn’t resist the Mac and Cheese and Spag Bol flavours. I mean, seriously, what’s not to love about this place, they even do crisp flavours that everyone loves.
We handed the car back over and I apologetically handed over 4-5 empty plastic water bottles that I found in the back of the car. The lovely ladies behind the counter explained that it wasn’t a problem at all as they put all of the bottles left in cars into the recycling unit and use the money they get back from the recycling scheme to pay for their drinks at the Christmas party! We need to get behind that in this country for sure.
We made the short walk over into the airport and it was only then that I realised just how early we were. In a new record for me we were 5 hours early for the flight and had arrived hours before the Emirates staff were manning their check in desks. We had to kill two hours before we could even get rid of our bags! The Mac and Cheese crisps helped to kill some of the time, but I think even I was aware that this was too early. We eventually got through check in and through Duty Free and we were heading home.
We had all had an amazing experience and had fallen in love with our upside down friends. The only issue that I had as Australia vanished below us was that it was going to be so much harder to hate the Aussies in the cricket this summer. I would be back here one day and I couldn’t wait for that day to come.