Chasing Birds

I've got a garden to tend, birds to find, beers to drink, and stories to share.

Australia Part 1: Adelaide and the Fleurieu Peninsula


Note: Australians are known for their unique way of bending and shortening the English language. Personally, I find English dialects to be fascinating and will try to share some of the relevant and/or more entertaining slang terms we come across. They’ll be denoted by italicized text in parentheses. 

We’ve been in Australia (Oz) for 12 days—a fact that my brain is having a hard time adjusting to. It may be in part because the cool Mediterranean hills of Adelaide feel familiar. The rolling residential streets are narrow and winding, shaded by mature gum trees (including eucalyptus (eucalypt); native here, obviously) punctuated by bursts of vibrant color from private gardens and native flowering shrubs like bottlebrush and jacaranda. And when you venture out beyond the suburban foothills, you find rolling grassland, already turning gold in the dryness of early summer, interspersed by oak-like woodlands. And beyond that, vast vineyards yielding some of the best wines in the world. Beyond that, the Great Australian Bight bleeds into the vast Southern Ocean. This should sound familiar to many of you. Yep, almost immediately upon leaving the airport, Colin and I agreed that Adelaide reminded us of the central California coast—a place that we both have very strong ties to. After 24+ hours of travel, we had landed in a familiar land…but not quite. Like California with crazy colorful birds, a British accent, koalas, and no Mexican food. A bizarro world of sorts. Though I’m sure the we-swear-we-don’t-feel-jet-lagged style of jet lag had something to do with our skewed perception of place.

Mark and Jen's beautiful backyard garden.

Mark and Jen’s beautiful backyard garden.

The daze was amplified further when we were whisked off to the South Australian bush on day 2. Mark and Jen, our awesome and generous friends and travel guides, had planned a camping/bonfire party for Saturday, out on their beautiful plot of land south of Adelaide on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Friday afternoon (arvo) and Saturday morning were spent setting up for the party—a massive effort, to be sure. Their property (which they call “the block at Kangaroo Valley” or just “the block”) is set in the rolling hills just a few kilometers off the coast. A portion of the property is grassland dappled with wooded ravines (reminiscent of the Sierra Foothills), including a small pond (dam) and an incredible view of distant windmills and the Southern Ocean. The other half of the block is primarily native bushland.  Mark and Jen are making a concerted effort to remove non-native plants and recover as much native habitat on the property as possible. The diversity of birds and other animals on the block underscore the fact that this habitat is critical (and dwindling in this agricultural region).

Kangaroos on the block.

Kangaroos on the block (photo credit: Colin Leslie).

Colin and I took several walks through the bush, following kangaroo (roo) trails that meander through massive yuccas (or yacca as it’s both locally spelled and pronounced), acacia, and gum trees. Several times throughout the weekend, we felt like we were straight out of a David Attenborough documentary (doco), watching grey kangaroos graze on the hillsides while bright pink Galahs and massive Sulphur-crested Cockatoos (Cockies or Cockas) squawk flamboyantly through the air. We even had a close encounter with an echidna, watching as it blindly rooted through the soil for bugs.

After wading through the haze of jet lag and getting past the staggering abundance of local wildlife, we managed to pack in all of the typical Aussie summer weekend activities. Once most of the set-up for the party was complete, the 4 of us spent the hottest part of day at the beach (Rapid Bay, photo below), lounging in the shade and taking quick dips in the icy ocean. We followed up the beach with a hike nearby in Deep Creek Conservation Park. Although short, the walk took us through a massive, old-growth stringybark forest. Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos and Laughing Kookaburras (Kooks) set the tone for the squawking din in the canopy above while tiny (and violently blue) Superb Fairy-wrens bopped around through the shrubs below. Aside from the birds, though, it was quiet and we were the only ones there.

Male Superb Fairy Wren (photo credit: Colin Leslie

Male Superb Fairy-wren (photo credit: Colin Leslie)

Back at the block, folks trickled in throughout the afternoon and by early evening there were easily 40 people laughing around the bonfire, watching kids chasing dogs and dogs chasing each other. The bonfire party, though a lot of work on our hosts’ part, was an awesome (and authentic) way to kick off 3 weeks in Australia. I was totally bowled over by the generosity of Aussies and their genuine interest in others, rather than just themselves. When someone asks, “How ya going?” they actually care about your response. And the sheer amount of meat that went onto the barbecue was impressive. I had heard Aussies were serious about their barbecues and I was not to be disappointed. The next day, a small group of us met up at Second Valley, a beautiful beach near Rapid Bay, only about 10 km up the road. We alternated between napping in the shade and swimming in the ocean. Colin and I took the opportunity to kayak along the coast, exploring hidden coves and the reefs below. We spotted a few fish, some species of stingray, an Australian Sea Lion, a little colony of pied cormorants, and a Nankeen Kestrel nest site on a cliff above a pebble cove. We rocked up on shore to watch the kestrels zipping through the salty air (and do some beachcombing). As an added bonus, we discovered that the Australian meat pies we had been hearing about are actually Cornish pasties—a food that I grew up with in Northern Michigan.

Beach at Rapid Bay, South Australia.

Beach at Rapid Bay, South Australia.

I’ll just say that our first weekend in Australia was nothing short of perfect. Within about 3 days, we decided that we’d someday love to figure out how to work and live here, even if only for a short period of time. Colin and I have never been very dedicated beach bums, but two weeks in and I think its safe to say that salty water and sticky sand is slowly working its way into our hearts.

Check out Colin’s photos here, including a sneak peek of our week on Kangaroo Island (more on that in the next post 🙂 ):

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