Friday, 28 December 2007

VICTOR HARBOR


“Yea, foolish mortals, Noah's flood is not yet subsided; two thirds of the fair world it yet covers.” - Herman Melville

Today we visited a friend of ours in the morning and had coffee with her at her home. After catching up and chatting for an hour or so, we said our goodbyes and we were picked up by another friend who had offered to make a day excursion down to Victor Harbor with us. Although the day was hot, this proved to be a good idea as Victor Harbor is always 5-6˚C cooler than city temperatures.

Victor Harbor is a coastal town only 80 km (just over an hours' drive), south of Adelaide. The town, which overlooks historic Encounter Bay and the Southern Ocean, is a short drive from Cape Jervis and the ferry to Kangaroo Island. The approach from Melbourne is one of the most attractive journeys in Australia, especially along the coast and through the Fleurieu Peninsula. Victor Harbor has a classic Mediterranean climate that is moderated by its proximity to the Southern Ocean, which provides cooling sea breezes at the end of each warm summer's day. Its maritime location also means that Victor Harbor has mild, attractive winters.

In 1802 Captain Matthew Flinders met Captain Nicolas Baudin 11 nautical miles out in Encounter Bay. The explorers were on a very similar mission to chart the coast and record the local flora and fauna of New Holland. Although Britain and France were at war at the time, scientific expeditions were permitted to sail unhindered. France had an interest in claiming portions of the new continent as Britain had done with New South Wales. Governor King of New South Wales had warned Baudin when he arrived in Sydney that the whole of the continent and Tasmania had been claimed by Britain. Nevertheless, Baudin ventured off to explore, chart and name many parts of the southern coast. When Baudin and Flinders met they discussed their discoveries and Flinders advised Baudin the best route back to Sydney. Flinders recorded that, "in consequence of our meeting here, I distinguish it by the name of Encounter Bay".

The area around what is now Victor Harbor was probably known of by white men even prior to this meeting. Whaling out of Sydney was a growing industry and American ships were already competing with British and Australian ships along the southern coasts. The American vessel Union spent the winter of 1803 at the inlet on Kangaroo Island. It has been recorded that gangs of sealers and whalers ranged up and down the coast hunting and accumulating sealskins and barrels of oil.
Firearms, the slaughter of wild life, the introduction of disease and the abduction of Aboriginal women by white men all contributed to Aboriginal hostility toward Europeans. In 1830 Captain Sturt journeyed down the Murray River to the sea and noted that the native Ngarrindjeri people of the area were hostile and wary of firearms. In the following year Captain Collet Barker was killed by Aborigines at the Murray Mouth.

Ridgway William Newland, a Congregational clergyman from the south of England, led the first true party of settlers to Encounter Bay in July 1839. The group comprised his family, some relations and friends along with several skilled farm workers and their families. Newland had obtained letters of introduction to Governor George Gawler from Lord Glenelg, Secretary of State for the Colonies. Gawler told Newland that the village of Adelaide was becoming overcrowded, that most of the nearby land had been taken up and splendid land was available at Encounter Bay for only one pound an acre. Newland took his advice and transported his party to their new home via the Lord Hobart

The whalers ferried the passengers ashore to Police Point where the excited welcome by the Ramindjeri natives terrified the women and children. Newland chose a campsite in a spot close to Yilki where they pitched their tents in a circle. They lived here for almost two years because Newland's first priority was to make his little community self supporting, even before they built houses. However, they did construct a chapel from bush timber to hold regular Sunday services that all in the vicinity were welcome to attend.

Victor Harbor soon became a bustling seaside port, actually known as 'Port Victor'. The Yilki precinct is home to the original whalers' quarters and tavern. Due to the increased trade up and down the River Murray, Victor Harbor was selected as a safe port for ships to dock and transport wool and grain overseas. The first railway (Horse Drawn) was built from Goolwa to Port Elliot and later extended to Victor Harbor to carry goods brought down by the Paddle steamers. This important historic transport network is still working today, however the Horse Tram takes you to the platform of the steam powered Cockle Train, which links to the paddle steamers at Goolwa Wharf. A visit to the Encounter Coast Discovery Centre on Flinders Parade, is a great place to start your visit to discovering the history of Encounter Bay.

We had a pleasant saunter through the town and its shopping centre, bustling with tourists and locals. There are many souvenir shops, and some with a definite sea-side flavour, including a nice shop called “Nauticalia”. This is a great place to shop for men’s gifts and I certainly enjoyed spending some time in there. Women may find this disappointing (as the ones in our party found), but I was enthralled by all the gadgets, the nautical paraphernalia (compasses, sextants, telescopes, ships equipment, etc), the books, the bric-a-brac, etc.

We had lunch at the Crown Hotel, which offered standard pub food but nevertheless quite fresh and of good quality at a reasonable price. The hotel was full with quite a few locals amongst its patrons (which is always a good sign if one is looking for somewhere to eat).
Granite Island is one of the most recognised ecological attractions in Victor Harbor due to its unusual granite formations with crashing white waves, elevated views, flora and fauna and walking trails that provide outstanding panoramic coastal views. Since the early 1990's, significant redevelopment of the island has enhanced the visitor experience and enabled better protection of its flora and fauna. The creation of 300 new penguin burrows in the precinct of the bistro provides a safer and larger breeding habitat.

Many of the unusual features on the island are due to the particular way granite is weathered by wind and water. Typical are the large rounded boulders on the surface of the island. These may become undercut to produce intriguing shapes such as "Umbrella Rock". "Nature's Eye" is another example but in the form of a water-worn pothole. Within the granite on the Bluff and Granite Island, are pieces of pre-existing rock masses which the magma engulfed in its rise from the depths before it solidified into granite. They are known as xenoliths.

To access Granite Island, travel across the wooden causeway by Horse Drawn Tram or take the short walk and watch anglers fish at sea. Facilities include public amenities, a restaurant, kiosk and a souvenir shop.

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