Even since I was a kid these boats have been cruising up and down the Torrens River. Okay, they may not have been these particular boats as sometime along the way the old wooden boats were replaced with new fiberglass ones (quite possibly because the older ones were getting, well, a little too old). I’m not sure we can refer to them as ferries because ferries tend to go from one point to another in the most direct way possible whereas these boats travel around the Torrens River (or rather lake to be more precise), though there are two stops – one at the zoo and one at Eldar Park. I remember when I was a kid we would jump on the Popeye at Eldar Park, go for a cruise up to the wharf outside the zoo, and then go and have a look at the animals. Well, remembering those more innocent days in my life I decided to take my brother on that exact same journey.
You may be wandering if the Popeye has any connection with that sailor that loves eating spinach (and a can of the stuff turns him into a super hero), goes out with this woman named Olive Oil, and has to deal with this beast of a man named Brutus (no doubt named after the guy who popularised the term to stab one in the back). Well, just so it happens there is a little sign on the wharf at Eldar Park which tells us how much it costs to go for a ride, and sure enough look whose image happens to be on it:
As mentioned, the Popeye cruises around the Torrens with two stops, the main one at Eldar Park and a second one outside the zoo. As you have probably worked out by looking at the picture above, you can go from Eldar Park to the Zoo, or for a complete round trip (we only went one way, but from what I gathered you get the best value for money going from Eldar Park to the Zoo because that route includes a cruise down the Torrens to the weir and back again).
Okay, while I may have already described the route, here is a map that I just created with my amazing (or not so amazing as the case may be) drawing skills (and the wharfs are marked on the map as well):
Unlike most ferries (but then again the Popeye could hardly be considered a ferry) the captain gives you a running commentary on the sights along the river. Mind you, I don’t remember a running commentary when I was a kid, and I suspect that the commentary changes as new things begin to pop up along the river bank (such as the hospital and the revamped Adelaide Oval).
So we begin by pulling out into the Torrens Lake (which by the way is artificial, thanks to the weir at the far end) and the captain pointed out the foot bridge and Adelaide Oval, which is only a couple of years old. Before the footbridge if you wanted to get to the Oval you had to go the long way around (at least from the railway station) and if you wanted to watch the footy, well, you had to travel all the way out to West Lakes. These days it is a lot easier because the Oval has been revamped and now holds a lot more people, and the route to the oval is much more direct – namely across the footbridge.
Next to Adelaide Oval you can also see the tennis centre, not that you actually see anybody playing tennis there (I don’t think I ever have, at least in recent years).
After passing under the footbridge (and avoiding the waterfall) we cruised along the Torrens towards the mouth. On the northern side there is a park (well, there are parklands all long the Torrens, but that is beside the point) which tends to fill up with cars during games at Adelaide Oval (or at least it used to, I’m not sure if that happens anymore). On the southern side there is a lot of construction going on, namely because they are extending the Convention Centre. In addition to that they are also turning it into a riverside boulevard, much like Melbourne’s Southbank. However, they are currently still in the construction stage, so it will be interesting to see what it looks like in a couple of years time.
It was at this time that the captain decided to talk about some of the wildlife you encounter around the river. There are the standard native birds such as pelicans, black swans (which is a bit of an event), and cormorants, however the river is also teaming with fish, including goldfish, catfish, and European carp. It is not uncommon to find people fishing in the Torrens, namely because it is actually really easy to catch fish (I ought to know, I caught my first fish in the Torrens), however the problem is that you can’t eat them, and you can’t throw them back. This means that if you catch fish for food you are probably going to have to look for another place to indulge in your hobby.
We then come to the limit of the journey downstream, namely because there happens to be a weir holding all of the water back. Next to the weir happens to be this garish looking building which is in dire need for some renovations. I still remember when this was a very exclusive restaurant (and probably still is) that offers great views of the river and the city. Mind you, these days you have a pretty decent view of the river, and some great views of a number of construction sites. The restaurant is on the upper level, and on the lower level is a kiosk (no doubt for the cyclists and joggers who go on a lunch time exercise spurt).
The Popeye then turned around and passed the weir (which happens to be next to the restaurant). Apparently this is the third weir built on the site, and is the main reason that there is a lake here. Mind you, I remember on hot days people would climb up to the top of the weir and jump into the lake (I saw this, ironically, when I was going on a cruise on the Popeye) – unfortunately these days they suggest that you don’t go for a swim in the Torrens.
If the lake get a little too full, then the water will start falling over the weir and out to sea, though when that happens they will open the sluice gates and allow the water to flow out to a more meaningful level. Mind you, one year the sluice gates malfunctioned and when they went up, they didn’t go down, resulting in the entire lake flowing out to sea. When that happens we end up discovering all these strange and weird things sitting in the mud (including, one year, a safe).
Beyond the weir, as our captain told us, the Torrens flows downstream to empty into the gulf. Mind you that hasn’t always been the case as when the settlers first arrived the river flowed into a swamp which would then flow out to sea through West Lakes and the Port River. They have since built a channel for the river to flow along and in the process drained the swamp. If you travel down the river you will discover that this channel begins around Lockleys (namely because the river stops meandering and starts heading in a straight line).
The Popeye then started heading back upstream, but as it did so the captain pointed out that the Old Adelaide Gaol (which is no a tourist attraction) is located across the railway line from the weir, and next to the gaol the the Adelaide Hospital is being built (though it is not quite completed yet).
As we headed back up the river we passed a number of rowing clubs. The captain told us how many there were but to be honest with you I forgot the number, but there are more than a dozen (14 I think). The oldest rowing club is the Adelaide Rowing Club, but you will find other clubs, mostly belong to Adelaide’s elite schools as well as the University of Adelaide. I’ve actually been into the Adelaide Rowing Club a couple of times, namely because you can rent the club rooms out for functions such a wedding receptions and birthday parties. However I have never actually done any rowing (though a friend of mine who went to Pultney Grammer said that the members of the rowing club held a special status at the school).
We then continued along our route and the captain pointed out the railway station, which is a very old building that has now been converted into a casino. While I’m not a big fan of casinos, and haven’t put any money into a pokie machine for ages (or made a bet at a gaming table since I was in Macau), I still quite like the old style architecture of the Adelaide Casino. It makes you feel like you are in Monte Carlo as opposed to Las Vegas (or Macau) as the Sydney and Melbourne casinos do (though the only reason I like the Brisbane Casino is because it is the only place in the city that you can get a beer after 11:00 pm).
Next to the Railway Station is the Festival Centre. To be honest with you I’m not sure what it is trying to achieve. The structure of the Opera House is supposed to reflect the sails that you see scattered across Sydney Harbour, however the Adelaide Festival Centre seems to be trying to mimic the Opera House, while having its own character – If anything I would describe it as a couple of lumps of quartz. There is a part of the centre known as the plaza which is basically empty except for a few colourful structures, and people have been debating what to actually do with that empty, garish place, for a few years now.
Next to the Festival Centre is Eldar Park, which is where I got onto the Popeye in the first place. Eldar Park is probably one of the premier parks in Adelaide, namely because it is easily accessible, and also has a rotunda (though I wonder why people get so excited about the Rotunda because it isn’t as if it is the only one in the world, let alone South Australia). I remember once when they discovered these rooms under the Rotunda and it was splashed all over the local newspaper (or should I say rag). Mind you, once again that is not surprising because most rotundas have rooms underneath them where musical instruments are stored.
This part of the Torrens has undergone a number of upgrades over the years, which doesn’t include the footbridge. It’s always had a fountain, always had swans, and always had the Popeye, however in more recent times they have put some little boats in the river as well, which glow at night. Actually, they aren’t boats per-se, but rather model boats, like the ones that you make when you fold a piece of paper a certain way (not that I can remember how to do that because the knowledge of how to fold a paper boat has never been one of those things that I felt that I needed to retain). These little boats are supposed to represent the first fleet, not so much the one that brought the convicts the Sydney Harbour, but rather the one that brought the colonists to South Australia.
The Popeye then left the banks of Eldar Park and headed under this bridge. Apparently when it was built it was one of the widest bridges in the world (so our captain said, but I found that very hard to believe). It carries four lanes of traffic (each way) and has two wide footpaths (one on either side). Mind you I have crossed this bridge many a time, and a part of me feels that it is supposed to mimic the Blue (or Southwark) Bridge in London. If you are lucky enough you may encounter some hippies performing some tribal dance under here at night (don’t worry, they’re hippies – they don’t bite).
After passing under the bridge the captain pointed out the Jolly Roger Boat house. Apparently, according to him, it is one of Adelaide’s more exclusive restaurants. I had never envisioned it as such, but that probably has more to do with us buying icecreams at the kiosk underneath it as opposed to having a dinner there (I may have had a dinner there once, but honestly I can’t remember).
The Popeye then puttered further down the river where the captain pointed out my alma mater – the University of Adelaide. It is not so much the university that caught my attention, but the University Footbridge. The bridge was originally constructed to allow the university students to cross the Torrens to the sporting field, however in more recent times it had to be rebuilt, namely because a bunch of chemistry students blew it up due to a prank during prosh week. Another famous (or infamous) event was when some unidentified students suspended an FJ Holden underneath the bridge (another prank involved dismantling a lecturer’s car and reassembling it in his lecture theatre).
Our final destination was the wharf out the front of the zoo, however before we stopped there we went under another bridge, the Frome Road Bridge. Apparently this is the oldest bridge in Adelaide that is still standing (there was an earlier one down near Adelaide Oval, but that has long gone) and was originally built in Scotland and shipped over to Adelaide to be assembled here. We travelled under the bridge, but at this point the river gets really narrow and you can’t really travel that much further upstream by boat (it also gets really shallow. As such the Popeye had to conduct a three point turn and then head back to the wharf before completing the round trip back to Eldar Park.
The captain then rattled off some facts and figures about the river heading upstream (which I promptly forgot), and docked at the wharf. I then jumped off with my brother and made our way to the zoo, after taking a video of the Popeye heading off back to its original destination.