The Hotel California

Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
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Monday, June 4, 2007

Day Two: - Warrnambool - Port Fairy - Portland - Cape Nelson - Mount Gambier

'Crossing the Border..'

After lunching in Portland we took the optional detour down to Cape Nelson, the southernmost chunk of land marked by a bright white lighthouse at the end of the peninsula. The safety fence down there has broken away and you can get right down to the very lip of the abyss below. It's shit scary and amazing all at the same time, and blows you away with its raw and battered coldly uninhabited coastline, much like the 12 Apostles without the Apostles. The cliffs are ridiculously sheer and look loose and unstable, while the mass of rolling swell far below gathers energy, recoiling like a huge deep breath before hammering into the rocks beneath your feet. You can feel it... thundering away. You really wouldn't wanna be down there, at the mercy of the ocean, no way. My kind of beach entirely.

Once you've left Portland it takes no time at all before you're howling through the Lower Glenelg National Park, a huge sprawl of perfectly pitched pine trees and lush green grass, all of which dominate the view to the horizon on both sides of the main highway. It's very New Zealand, very Nelson Lakes'in fact, with a springy dewy grass that makes you want to collapse into it and spend a whole afternoon face down munching away. And then for about thirty-two kilometres you're subject to an alarming display of roadkill: emus, roos, wombats and all kinds of battered freaks littering the roadside, many of them exposing half-pecked rib cages laced with raw jelly-like meat, a bit surreal for a place that's otherwise soothingly pretty.



By mid afternoon we'd made it across the border and I was delighted to see the numbers '110' displayed inside a little red circle. It seems South Australia is a bit more realistic when it comes to long haul speed restrictions. I mean it. Riding for hours on end at a vague fluctuating '100' is dire, stupid, unrealistic and downright unfair. Being given another measly '(10)' kind of brightens up your afternoon, especially when the weather hasn't let up all day and you've spent the best part of it barrelling on relentlessly without a leg stretch.

Final stop was Mount Gambier, a town of about twenty-odd thousand situated curiously on the side of an old volcano. Sarah had gone on and on and on about it ('You gotta see the Blue Lake! You gotta see the Blue Lake!') so we went and saw the Blue Lake. It actually sits up top in the rim of the volcano and is the precious source of the town's water supply. A 'DO NOT CROSS!' sign on the roadside barrier tells you to go all the way round and underneath the highway to get to the lookout, but it was pissing down and freezing cold so we blatantly ignored it and crossed the road anyway for a better look. The view was marvellous, though the Blue Lake wasn't blue today. According to the label it turns a bright luminous blue colour during the summer months and remains a dull grey the rest of the time, so there you go - our day was grey.

The mysterious Blue Lake has seen its fair share of fatalities over the years too. Apparently the bright sparks that go jumping into the 'blue magic' soon discover that when the fun's over and it's time to get out, they're actually in a bit of a pickle in that they can't - the walls are near vertical and are not the grippiest of surfaces - so they just bob about for a bit until they get tired and sink, a great tourist attraction if nothing else..

Back in the town we found the old jail, a neatly preserved and well kept establishment just off the main strip. It's open to the public of course and oddly enough presents itself as an accommodation option. This we were curious to see and so we pulled up to have a mooch. Pretty impressive as 'old gaols' go but if you're considering staying the night it's probably too impressive: original cells with steel locking doors and no heat or light. Sarah's face was a picture. We pressed on.



And then...

Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light. We'd found the Jenn Hotel. It's 'Hotel California' in every sense, and I imagine takes you right back to the Aussie 'old days'. The whole place creaks with every step and breathes grand old age and times. It's corridors are dull and musky and the walls are lined with that smoke-stained textured wallpaper from the early seventies, a sickly mix of red wine and custard in classic tacky floral pattern. The grand old staircase does just what grand old staircases do, rising up centrally and symmetrically up and around to the corridors that run along each opposing wing. It was like stepping back in time.

On this night the bar doubled as a reception and the girl who greeted us was full of charisma and personality, one of life's little gems (and no doubt got a lot of pretty pretty boys that she calls friends) - nothing like the sour-faced trout in Portland earlier who served us our green eggs and bacon. This one was a darling, and gave us the hotel low down accurately and attentively before handing over our key with a beaming smile, a lovely smile (and such a lovely face, such a lovely place..) When she saw I'd got the bike she had a word with someone important and they said I could put the bike round the back under the shelter. This really made my day. Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way..

Dinner was great and offered a whole spread of great deals, including pink champagne on ice! Sarah got greedy and ordered extras before she found out dinner also included unlimited trips to the buffet bar. We were stuffed before the mains came, so it wasn't long before we found ourselves sitting lethargically, vacantly playing with our food (we kept stabbing it with our steely knives but we just couldn't kill the beast..) Last thing I remember..

Ok ok..

Tomorrow could be a long one, potentially. It depends where we end up. If we make it to Adelaide it'll easily be an 'after dusker', if we camp out on the Younghusband Peninsula it'll be a breeze. Guess it depends what time we get away from this place. It's very comfortable you see, plus we're immensely tired and starting to get a bit flu-y. She did say we could check out anytime we like. But can we ever leave?

Kilometres eaten: 605
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