Squeeze some brown balls at the beach

Brown grassy balls on Middleton Beach in South Australia.

Now I know why so many Aussies in Canada play hacky sack. It’s their brown balls.

That is, it’s the brown balls of fibrous material that litter beaches in South Australia. They look like naked hacky sack balls, ready to bounce off your ankle.

I recently visited Middleton Beach with my friend Jared. While he sought waves on the water, I scanned the beach for artifacts.

Along with round stones and shards of surf board, there were millions of hairy balls that I affectionately called “beach potatoes.” They were generally smooth, matted spheres that had some heft when you gave them a gentle squeeze.

I did an image search on Google and it led me to a page on Wikipedia for Posidonia oceanica. If the balls I saw on the beach are the same, they are a very common type of sea plant called Neptune Grass.

“It forms large underwater meadows that are an important part of the ecosystem. The fruit is free floating and known in Italy as “the olive of the sea.” Balls of fibrous material from its foliage, known as egagropili, wash up to nearby shorelines.”

And further down in the Wikipedia entry, it says,

“This species is found only in the Mediterranean Sea where it is in decline, occupying an area of only about 3 per cent of the basin.”

The Mediterranean Sea? So either these mysterious beach potatoes are not Neptune Grass; or they are Neptune Grass and have escaped the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal. They then floated their little brown butts down to south Australia.

All I know is I think these little brown balls are cute—and they probably make awesome hacky sacks.

Brown grassy balls on Middleton Beach in South Australia.
What are these brown, grassy balls on Middleton Beach in South Australia? Are they Posidonia oceanica (Neptune grass) or naked hacky sacks?


Flirt with a biplane pilot

Coffee milkshake at Adelaide Biplanes museum near Aldinga, South Australia.

I imagined that if I arrived at the Adelaide Biplanes aerodrome on a bicycle in a breezy summer dress, I could flirt with a pilot and sweet-talk my way into his cockpit.

That didn’t quite happen. I did cycle a few kilometres from McLaren Vale to the airfield and museum, and I did scan my radar for pilots, but the place was quiet and none were to be found.

Instead, I ordered a thick coffee milkshake and watched a small plane practice taking off and landing from the comfort of the airfield’s vintage-themed café.

Says the Adelaide Biplanes website,

“Based at the vintage and charming Aldinga Airfield, Adelaide Biplanes is all about delivering some of the most awesome flying experiences it’s possible to imagine. From the joy and sheer romance of a gentle Waco biplane flight at 1,000 feet, along the scenic Adelaide south coast, or a vintage Tiger Moth flight with a stunning sunset as your personal backdrop, to an extreme Great Lakes biplane open cockpit Aerobatic Flight that offers a totally unique, adrenalin-pumping experience, that literally puts all your senses on overload. To the ultimate buzz of actually learning to fly at the most motivating, challengingly-fun, inspiringly-easy going and singularly safe Flying School. At Adelaide Biplanes, we have a passion for pretty much everything there is to do with aeroplanes.”

I was grounded this time, but rumour has it Santa Claus has logged a flight plan with the tiny airport. Maybe I’ll bump into the big fella next time around.

Cafe and museum at the Adelaide Biplanes airport near Aldinga, South Australia.
Cafe and museum at the Adelaide Biplanes airport near Aldinga, South Australia.

Find a stairway to heaven

Staircase descending to Port Noarlunga beach in South Australia.

In South Australia, a stairway to heaven goes down, not up.

It starts from a road where you park your sand-carpeted hatchback. There’s a industrial-size tub of SPF50 sun lotion in the back with the towels. It’s got a pump so you can slap it on fast.

Faster than it takes to pull on your wetsuit. It’s thick neoprene rubber and if you’re lucky, you’ve got a buddy nearby who’ll pull the back zip for you. If she’s local, she’ll tell you how the surf looks before you even peer over the rail.

When you do, you see an expanse of blue with strips of white foam. They curl and break like slow-motion music. If you’re a surfer, that’s heaven.

I’m staying in South Australia with Jared Thomas, author of Calypso Summer and Songs That Sound Like Blood. He loves to write. And he loves to surf.

He tells me he’s going to show me how, sometime soon.

Author Jared Thomas in surf gear at Goolwa Beach, South Australia. (photo: ulrike.ca)
Author Jared Thomas at Goolwa Beach, South Australia. The stairway to heaven in the feature photo above is Port Noarlunga Beach.

Snorkel with sea stars

Ready to snorkel at Second Valley Beach, South Australia. (Photo: ulrike.ca)

Tilly, Delilah and myself learned to snorkel today, in different ways.

We were at Second Valley Beach in South Australia. The water was a bit cool but the air was still and the sun warm. Tilly and I donned wet-suits and floated in the buoyant, salty St. Vincent Gulf.

We sighted bright pink and orange sea stars.

I came back to the beach, eager to peel off my neoprene suit and sit on the soft sand. Five-year-old Delilah was patiently waiting there for one of us to come back.


Delilah’s graduated to “Starfish” level in her swimming classes and I asked if she’d keep me company in the clear, sandy shallows. She was justifiably doubtful of the undertow at first but I held her hand and we waded in slowly.

In a little while her sister Tilly returned and asked Delilah if she’d like to try the snorkel mask.

Slowly the two of them made their way into deeper water and Tilly coaxed her to slip on the mask and then lower her face in the ocean. It was just in time for her dad to proudly witness the big moment. He had been snorkeling in the deeper blue of the cove.

Rocks at Second Valley Beach in South Australia.

Rocks at Second Valley Beach in South Australia.
Second Valley Beach used to have a tramway that connected fishing boat sheds to the access road.
Squid fishers at Second Valley Beach in South Australia. (photo: ulrike.ca)
Today fishers stand on the pier and pull up fresh squid and whiting fish.

Earn a library card

Letter of permission and library card from Onkaparinga Library in Australia.

Here’s a traveller’s tip if you stay in a place for a month or more: Get a library card.

It’s usually free. You can borrow guidebooks, novels, maps, and movies. You can pick up useful local knowledge like events calendars, newsletters, and volunteer opportunities.

And you can chat with friendly librarians like the lady at the Willunga branch of the Onkaparinga Public Library. She told me all I needed to earn my own library card was have my hosts Jared and Ruth write a letter. Ruth was kind enough to sign the letter I pushed in front of her this morning.

(Lucky for me neither Ruth nor the library staff noticed I spelled Onkaparinga incorrectly.)

The public library is a great place to pick up events calendars for the area you’re staying in.

Spring events calendar at the Onkaparinga Public Library in Australia.
Grab a Spring/Christmas events calendar at the Onkaparinga Public Library .

NEW BLOG: Cycling France’s Canal des Deux Mers

Ulrike's bicycle on a dirt path next to the Canal du Midi, France.

Go to Cycling France’s Canal des Deux Mers

Hey hi! Check out my newest stories—a bike adventure along a historic canal that runs 500 kilometres across the south of France. The canal connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. It’s called Le Canal des Deux Mers—the canal of two seas.

I solo cycle-camped the Canal de Garonne, the Canal du Midi, a section of Mediterranean coastline including the Carmargue, and a bit of the Rhône River.

I drank wine, ate cassoulet, mingled with riverrains, joined some pagans, and slept with four Frenchmen on their canal boat—it’s a story.

To join the ride go to the Cycling France’s Canal des Deux Mers photo-travelogue. And if you’re keen, listen to a conversation about my journey on the Adventure Bike Touring Why I Bike podcast (45 minutes).

See you there!