Up the lazy river

There are many things you don’t expect to encounter when you’re riding along a popular bike track: a cemetery is one of them.

Adelaide isn’t enormous and it’s easy to get around. 14kms from the city centre lies the Adelaide Hills to the east, and the beaches to the south. With such gorgeous weather lately staying inside doesn’t really seem an option, so on Sunday we rented bikes from one of the city bike centres and headed to the coast. Note: I use ‘rent’ in the loosest form of the term; there’s no charge for bikes and the only collateral you’re expected to leave is a drivers’ licence. Rent is from sun-up to sun-down and as long as you don’t plan on using your licence, holding on to the bike overnight isn’t a huge concern either. This is never a concern for me: I once had an out of date licence for four years in NSW, and this March I renewed it when I realised I was moving to SA: it was supposed to be done in January 2009!! Spot the reluctant driver….

I had slight reservations about getting on a bike in such a public manner after my last attempt (see my McLaren Vale post for an in-depth, blow-by-blow description of my encounter with a ditch). The bikes for rent aren’t exactly made for small people: they probably weighed the same as me, and with the seat all the way down I was still on tip-toes trying to get on. I looked for a positive, and found one: this was the Volvo of bikes. If it was me versus big dog/large bush/brick wall, this monster was going to make sure victory would be mine.
The beauty of discovering a new city is that tourists, or locals/would-be tourists have a greater tendency to be adventurous. The cars are left at home, the hesitation to see areas that were also thought of as boring is lost, and the admittedly lazy outlook of most of us is forgotten. We tend to live our lives in a small circumference of convenience: our supermarket is the closest one; we travel the same way to and from work; we stick to activities that are close by, or easy, or involve the same people every week. I’ve been guilty of it for years: living in Sydney I can remember spending the majority of my time in the same three suburbs, never really going much further than 5kms in any direction. As soon as we got on the bikes on Sunday, we discovered a park not more than 2kms from our house that we’d never noticed before. This was a proper ‘Japanese bridge’ park, with ducks to feed, a kiosk with decent coffee and chocolate muffins, row boats on a lake and kites. How did we miss this?!?! As we kept riding, we found more and more little gems in the city that we’d never bothered to stop to look at before. In our 42km river ride, here’s some of the highlights:

Sunday Petanqúe, Adelaide city parklands.
Not lawn bowls in a bowling club; boules on a specially designed traditional boules area in the park, a lá Paris. By 10:30am they looked like they meant business. I can honestly say that outside of a trip to France in summer years ago, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a boules congregation in a public park before. It was absolutely beautiful to see; sun shining, bare trees blowing, little old men and ladies in their red jumpers and tweed hats wandering amongst the boules with tape measures.

Adelaide Zoo and the River Torrens
The zoo is fairly new, state of the art and the home to the only giant pandas in Australia. It’s set back behind the botanic gardens, right on the river. A tree full of kookaburras drowned out any exotic animal noises, but it definitely is now on the hit-list of things to do. And when I say ‘tree of kookaburras’, I mean 7-8 of them going nuts and squawking at once. Either they hate people riding on bikes underneath them, or the cockatoos that were going nuts in the other tree were annoying them. NOISY PARK. I’m saving my trip to visit Wang Wang and Fumi the pandas and their friends until late July. Continuing along the river, you’ll find more picture book bridges and gardens, with barges available for tours on the water and colourful paddle boats for hire. I’m sounding biased, but honestly the River Torrens has got a bit of a Mary Poppins chalk drawing feel about it: dancing penguins and a race on roundabout horses must be reserved for next weekend! We also managed to pass the Adelaide Ferrari Club, which is essentially a whole lot of people with no money left after they’ve bought their oversized matchbox cars standing around a random carpark looking at everyone else’s identical oversized matchbox car. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do on a Sunday….hmmm….

Torrens Linear Park
Essentially just the grassy bit next to the river, the linear park continues from inner city Hindmarsh out towards Henley Beach. Highlights (after from grass stains and public bbq’s) include possibly Australia’s most random park monuments- the Lions Club sponsored Hindmarsh section, who’s installation includes ‘large plastic tree with cartoon galahs’ and ‘man in loincloth inside volcano, hammering’. Well that’s my name for them: I don’t like to mince words. The photos speak for themselves. Further down the track, as we meandered along the river we also had the opportunity to ride pretty much straight through a cemetery. If there was a place to crash and burn on a bike, large concrete gravestones would definitely have to symbolise something. In terms of bizarreness, the cemetery track was matched only by the bike track cutting through Adelaide Gold Course on the way back. Yep, that’s right: one minute you’re on a regular path, the next minute you’re ducking golf balls. No mistakes, no accidental turns; I think they figure that we should be wearing helmets, so technically we’re safe. Nobody gave a thought to how safe the golfers would be with disoriented cyclists coming at them from nowhere though, did they?

Henley Beach
Of course, the whole point of the ride was to make it to the sea. As the path gets closer to the ocean, the land on either side widens as the mouth of the river narrows. Locals have turned the land into horse pastures and people can have picnics under huge trees, with kids riding on bikes and talking to horses over the fence. 500m up the road you have Henley Beach, less built up than Glenelg and without the thousands of tourists. Just inside the mouth of the estuary, a pelican was sitting next to a fisherman waiting for scraps. It seems even the wildlife is enjoying retirement at the beach. Long jetties reach out from the beach into the sea, providing a glorious (and very windy) way to enjoy the smell of the sea and take in sunsets over the water. As an easterner, watching a sunset over the ocean is still a bit of a novelty.

Once back home I couldn’t help but marvel that I a) managed to avoid getting hit by cars as I laboriously dragged my tank bike across the roads; b) did not fall down a set of steps towards the river when I was very close to doing so; and c) avoided flying golf balls and didn’t take out those two golfers that were recklessly standing within 5mts of my bike as I charged through the park. 5 metres is simply not enough room: everybody who’s seen me on a bike knows that!

Wine of the week: Kangarilla Road 2010 Chardonnay (left over in the cupboard from our McLaren Vale weekend)

For all your cycling info while in South Australia:
I found a fabulous website that lists all the petanqúe (boules) clubs in Australia, including Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne – start planning some days out, guys!
Bike trails and walking trails for South Australia, including the River Torrens trail
South Australia Tourism’s page on Adelaide parks, including our new favourite: Elder Park

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