As we left the coast of Western Australia, the casinos on board reopened and the snowball bingo began to snowball once again. The closing made no sense to us; there were casinos on land in Western Australia. As we entered South Australia, we moved our clocks ahead half an hour. What a country. The Aussies could have been a bit more original in naming their states - Western Australia, South Australia, Northwest Territory. At least there’s no question where in the country you are.
We docked in Port Adelaide, about thirty kilometers from the city of Adelaide. Our tour included a brief swing through the town, known as the City of Churches. Unlike the other major cities in Australia, Adelaide was started by religious dissenters rather than convicts. Adelaide has the first mosque built in the country, constructed by the Arabs brought in to drive the camels used to explore the area. It is a planned city with wide streets. They were meant to be wide enough to provide space to turn around an artillery piece on its trailer. A wide stretch of attractive park land surrounds the central business district. Just as with the other big cities we have visited, Adelaide struck us as a nice place to live, but not a world class tourist destination.
Many of the first immigrants here were German and they brought wine making skills with them. A number of the smaller towns have German names and German items on their restaurant menus. We’ve sampled a lot of wine on this trip, and the Bararossa Valley just north of Adelaide is among the most famous productions areas, the Napa Valley of Australia with over eighty wineries. The touring and sampling here had a different feel. Most of these wineries are corporately owned and huge. Many of the wines we sampled were blends, rather than the loving development of a grape specifically grown by that winery on its own soil for its own production. Most of the grapes were picked by machines which bang up the plants, rather than by hand, a more expensive choice that is kinder to the grapes and vines. Because the wineries were large, they had the capacity to provide tours of what goes on behind the scenes. 80% of the wine produced here is for export. The reason we can buy much of it more cheaply at home than we can here is that it is taxed at 47%. No wonder so many Australians stick to beer. Because Australia is so far away from Portugal where most wine corks are produced, it got the left over corks after the good ones went to Portugal’s European neighbors. Some of them caused the wine to go bad and wineries here have pretty much given up on corks altogether. They have a point. Screw tops are easy to open and easy to use again if you don’t want to finish off the bottle the day you open it. They also regard the rules of white wine with fish and chicken, red wine with beef and pork, as a bit pretentious. They feel if you like the wine and you can afford it, you should consume it in a way that brings you pleasure. Since the corks and rules have gone to the wayside, wine consumption here has increased greatly despite the tax rate.
This area is suffering from a lengthy drought. When we saw a bit of green, it was irrigated. The vineyards use drip irrigation for the vines, which is efficient, but there are so many fields of grapes, there just isn’t enough water to go around. Large pipes bring in water from the Murray River some distance away, but this is only a temporary solution to the water problem. The cattle and sheep in the area can no longer graze on the parched brittle grass and the farmers import what they feed them from the north. We wondered how long they could sustain their operations in such circumstances. The brown and yellow hills looked like a bush fire just waiting to happen.
Many of our fellow Aussie passengers end up sailing past their home city in this circumnavigation of their country. The shore here was loaded with friends and family members waving to those standing next to us who stood peering out with binoculars and chatting on their cell phones. It reminded us of how far away we are from friends and family.