Christmas in South Australia

6 Jan

Port Neill Bay

My first Christmas in Australia, what can I say. Simply put I was sold on the promise I was going to shear a sheep.

Christmas away from home will never replace Christmas as I know it, nor should it try to.  But at a minimum this Christmas gave me insight into a new Australia. I wanted to avoid the feeling of Christmas but in the end I walked away with more than I could have anticipated.

I flew to South Australia the evening before Christmas Eve to spend the holidays with my flat mate Wes and his family. All I knew about where I was going is that I would first fly the hour to Adelaide, then get on a small commuter plane and after arriving in Port Lincoln drive another hour north. Tell that to any Australian and they nod, “ah the middle of nowhere”.

Peering out of the window before landing in the Eyre Peninsula, farmland stretched for hundreds of miles then hit the sea. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the contrast of country and sea smashed against each other. I started picturing mermaid sheep.  Mer-sheep? But once I arrived I was greeted with such gracious hospitality that didn’t stop until I boarded the plane back to Melbourne.

Rockeby Farm Pantry

Rockeby Farm Pantry

I spent that first evening on Rockeby Farm, the family farm Wes grew up on. Driving down the pitch-black dirt roads late at night, the air quiet, I squirmed at the thought of knowing that there was no one around for miles. Everyone knows I’m scared of the dark. But the old farmhouse, built in early 1900s, was warm and I spent a few hours getting to know his parents, Sue and Mark, who kindly taught me a bit about their farm properties as we sipped a few wines. We spent only that first night on the country farm though and were off to the beach in Port Neill for the next few days.

But first Wes took me to town. We spent Christmas Eve morning sitting on the Tumby Bay pier eating fresh chicken sandwiches from Ritz Café, watching a young boy expertly fish alone off of the side, as Wes told me stories about growing up in such a small, rural area. Tumby as it’s known, is a good 30 minutes from the farm and is where he went to school – one school for all children from kindergarten to 12th grade. There were 46 kids in his grade when he started; he graduated with 16 and was only one of 6 to go to university. Talk about small town ambition.

He then whisked me away to Boston Bay Wines, a small boutique vineyard and cellar door set on a hill where the vines overlook the ocean, just outside of Port Lincoln. We sampled the gamut and stocked up for Christmas with their Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and award winning Riesling.

There was no stopping us there, so we were off to Delacolline Estate next. Stepping out of the car we were greeted with the sound of hundreds of bees chatting away over their afternoon lunch.  I was so ecstatic at the thought of visiting my first lavender farm, the sweet scent overwhelmed the property and the fields of purple snuggled next to the vines made for a beautiful backdrop. Not to mention the 2005 Riesling was a stand out and we also couldn’t resist a bottle of Sparkling Shiraz, as it’s an Aussie Christmas tradition after all.

The Eyre Peninsula is known to be one of the purest seas in the world. Remote and desolate, with many untouched bays it makes for pristine fishing grounds. It’s a region that prides itself on sustainability and is where seafood such as oysters, abalone, tuna, prawns and more is exported from daily.  Of course I had to try some. Sarin’s Restaurant in the Port Lincoln Hotel is the best spot in town to devour the famous Coffin Bay oysters, which is exactly what we did before stopping off in quiet and stunning Coffin Bay itself.

We stayed at the beach house for the next few nights, and that evening I accompanied his parents and siblings to the local pub. Wes unfortunately had an emergency oyster spew on our ride home so recovered in bed alone. In a town of 300 people, the one pub is where everyone, and I mean everyone, goes for a social gathering; parents, grandparents and small children included. I felt a treat being introduced as the foreigner from far away America and giggled to myself as it seemed every second person was named Hannah.

I woke up Christmas morning to a quiet house and decided to start the day with a run on the beach. As I approached the half-moon bay of Port Neill, Mark’s words at the pub the night before couldn’t ring in any truer. He told me, “Why go to a beach with lots of people? If there’s people, just go to the next one”.  I told him I never knew such a luxury.

Port Neill Beach

Port Neill Beach

As I began to run, I saw the sand ahead, the water clear blue to my right and the sun beaming down against it; and that’s when I got emotional. I think it hit me all at once. The sparkling water and unexpected beauty really let the distance and pure remoteness sink in. Christmas, and this couldn’t be any more of a contrast of what I’d be doing at home. It’s exactly what I asked for if I couldn’t have the real thing. In that moment I felt the luckiest person in the world, and it was a moment for me that was incredibility awesome.

Even more awesome was when I got back to the house I had eggs and bacon waiting for me. We then exchanged a few gifts. I was overjoyed for the generous touch of perfume from my flat mate and homemade heating pad Sue made with grain from the farm, a gift I had been secretly hoping for. Even more special was the Christmas-themed box and stocking that made its way from the US then onto the plane with me so I could open a gift from my family on Christmas morning. The day followed with an impromptu game of tennis in the sun, some reading and sunbathing and the enjoyment of our wine purchases from the day prior.

Wes watering flowers in the sun

Watering flowers

Boxing Day, while still very casual and relaxed, was celebrated with even more grandeur as all of Wes’ 3 siblings and their partners, as well as his grandparents attended at the beach house for a traditional seafood lunch feast.  As I cracked open my popper, I found myself realizing I’ve picked up some Aussie slang like the common contradictory response of “yea, no”. The outback must have gotten to me.

Before getting too settled in Mark had myself, Wes’ brother Lewis and girlfriend Chelsea out on his boat at dusk to catch the next day’s lunch. Chelsea and I caught 7 snoek between the two of us, a great success as it was her first time fishing.

On my final day Mark, Wes and I headed back to the farm. Unfortunately due to the holidays there wasn’t enough time to get the sheep ready for shearing. Mark made up for it though and gave me a full tour of the farm. First he emptied the trough, and then Wes and I hopped out of the cab of the truck to herd 340 lambs from one paddock to the other. We simply walked along through the fields, both casually and slowly, and those fools just kept running away…right where we wanted them to go. My deed was done.

That evening we BBQ’d the most exquisite, uhum, lamb for dinner then ended in the late hours laughing till I cried playing the vulgar game Cards Against Humanity the Australian edition with the family.

Thank you Wes, Sue, Mark, Lewis, Karl and Hannah for your amazing hospitality, beautiful homes and an amazing holiday adventure!

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