Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Peregrinations - Port Lincoln and Boston Bay

 Mr and Mrs Tabubil and Mr and Mrs Tabubil-in-law spent the long Easter weekend exploring Port Lincoln and Boston Bay.  Six hundred and thirty kilometers by road from Adelaide, Boston Bay is one of the world's great natural anchorages.  It is three times as large as Sydney Harbor and would have made a lovely capital city but for that ever-present South Australian problem: a lack of fresh water.
Matthew Flinders charted the bay in 1802, during his great cartographic voyage in his ship Investigator. He marked the swiftness of the tide-race, and lost eight men and a cutter to the current.  The bodies were never found. Flinders named the place of the accident Cape Catastrophe and dug for water on the shores of the bay and sailed away.
Notwithstanding the lack of water, the hills around the bay are green and wooded -even in late summer, and the bays and promontories are perfect for a weekend's driving - rounded and rolling on a very human and domestic scale.

Our base of operations was a small and cheerful cottage on the edge of the bay, ten kilometers out of town.  We arrived at dusk.  The cottage was wrapped in high winds and we felt deep tides nearby. Drafts whistled at the windows and slipped in under the door - we climbed into jeans and thin summer sweaters and cuddled under salt-crusted cotton comforters.

"It's like being in Scotland" Mr Tabubil-in-law said.  "When Mr Tabubil was two years old we took a cottage on a loch for a week's holiday. The weather was just like this, but there was one important difference - in Scotland there was a warm pub a hundred meters down the road!"
"How about Appeltart?"  Mrs Tabubil-in-law said, and unveiled a spring-form pan with a proud flourish.
My mother-in-law's apple pie is a holy sacrament and that will stand against the Torah, the Bible, and the Rig Veda for spiritual comfort any dark and stormy night of the year.  My father-in-law's moustache twitched and dreams of Guiness in a smoky pub wisped away like smoke in the wind and we ate appeltart every night we were there.

In the morning we saw that our cottage nuzzled right up against the bay with water almost up to the doorstep - a high tide lapped at the edge of the front lawn and seagulls sat on posts and looked down at us dourly - as seagulls do.

Across the road from our cottage, a white path twisted through a grove of burned out eucalyptus trees.  We followed the track up to the entrance of the Port Lincoln National Park and found the well where Matthew Flinders crew dug for water in 1802.  The crew of the Investigator were gasping for water and willing to drink it thick and white from a hole dug barely a stones throw from the bay.  We picked wildflowers and walked back down the road to our seaside cottage for Easter Breakfast.

On Saturday we drove 20 km across the peninsula to Coffin Bay to eat oysters.  Coffin Bay is a tangle of long narrow bays and cul-de-sac coves; a set of sand-and-water Russian nesting dolls.  The titular town is deep inside - 25 nautical km from the open sea. The bay and the hills around it belonged to the Parnkalla people until the white settlers came in the 1830s and planted wheat. The hills were good for wheat but the bay was better for oysters and, in very human fashion, the settlers shipped 'em out by the hundredweight and in less than ten years the industry was exhausted. In the second half of the twentieth century aquaculture was revived on a more sustainable scale - the still waters of the bay slosh in docile fashion against rows of oyster racks, and professional line fishermen cast from the town dock.

We ate Coffin Bay oysters at a little restaurant called the Oysterbeds Good Food House.  Waiting for the food was like watching paint dry on a damp afternoon - without any of the dramatic urgency.
            We were the only party ordering from the kitchen, but two dozen fresh shucked oysters took forty minutes.  They were worth the wait - fresh from the ocean, delicately briny and faintly sweet. They were good enough that we went scrambling back inside to order another round - and sat down with the Encyclopedia Britannica and a scrabble set to wait.
            Down on the water, the air was full of the crackle of sailcloth: the Coffin Bay Yacht Club was holding a regatta.  We watched the start of the junior division - tiny sailboats barely larger than coracles bobbed wildly on the gentle swell.  Each was crewed by a ten year old captain and a five year old able seaman riding before the mast and handling the jib.  Parents shouted advice from shore as the children worked the boat out past the shallows, but after that they were on their own - across the bay and out of sight around a rocky promontory.

Out in the middle of the bay, there was a long narrow sandbar.  A party of boys motored out to it for a game of cricket.  The run count went up as the tide came in until they were playing ankle deep in water and the ball refused to bounce - just scudded off down the channel in the general direction of the open sea.
            On Sunday the Easter bunny brought us Lindt Chocolate and we all gave thanks.  I had packed three sets of enormous pink and purple tinted rabbit ears in the bottom of my bag, but on Easter Morning found that I had somehow left them at home.  Mr Tabubil and his parents gave more thanks.  I was tempted to climb up on a post and glower down at them like the seagulls, but I was bribed to come down with chocolate eggs and we made up and were friends again.

After breakfast we drove into the Lincoln National Park, parked the car and hiked 16 vertical miles straight up to the top of Stamford Hill where a monument was raised in 1849 to Matthew Flinders. From the top of the hill we could see the bay spread out below us - sparkling blue water dotted with tuna farms, and edged by long coves of pale white sand.  We clambered 16 miles straight back down again and spent a while paddling in one of the white coves.  The sand was as fine as silt, and clouds of minnows flashed around our legs where we stood in the water.
            We drove out to the ocean shore to look at the lighthouse, but it was as ugly and forgettable as mid-century monumental architecture tends to be, so we went and climbed rocks on the seashore instead.  The sea was very blue and the sun was very warm and the wind was very slow and very gentle, and we hunted for oyster shells and sponges until we fell asleep.

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