Mount Gambier & Melbourne – day 283

Having woken up in one of the strangest hotels that we’ve stayed at in a long time, we showered in the communal bathroom (slash laundry room) and headed out to the Blue Lake. The town of Mount Gambier is situated in the flatlands below an extinct volcano and the main ‘tourists’ attraction is the Blue Lake. In all honesty, we only stayed in Mount Gambier as it was a major town that suited us for our visit to Naracoorte and made it easy to drive back to Melbourne later today. However, when in Rome… The 75 metre deep luminous lake is beautiful and well worth the detour on our way out of town. During the summer months, the lake turns an insane hue of blue whereas during winter, when we visited, it was more of a steely grey. However, if you looked closely at the shoreline, you could see shimmers of bright blue water reflected in the sunlight. Perplexed scientists think that the colour of the lake water has to do with the calcite crystals suspended in the water, which form at a faster rate during the warmer months. Whatever the reason, it was beautiful and peaceful as we wandered around to various viewpoints around the lake, stopping at one to have some breakfast before getting back into the car.  As we left the town, we saw the sign for the local sinkhole garden. A 50 metre deep sinkhole that forms one of the many caves that worm their way through the limestone beneath the town. The sinkhole has been planted as a garden as was great to be able to descend to the bottom of it, looking up at all the layers of limestone. As we walked around the top of the sinkhole, a grown man came towards us looking at his phone with a perplexed look on  his face. Jayne asked him if he was okay to which he replied ‘yep – just trying to find a Pokémon’… Our first insight into this next craze! Fast forward a few hours of driving through the Limestone coast along flatlands of endless green fields, trees and dead kangaroos. Suddenly, the landscape began to rise up from the western plains and we got outstanding view of the Grampians. A beautiful and unique set of rock features, we didn’t say a word to each other as the impressive natural features grew closer and bigger. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stop and explore any of the many walking trails in the area but we will definitely head that way when we come back to Australia in the future. Another two hours of driving, including an argument that I was driving too slowly (I was driving at the sped limit!!) and a traffic jam coming into the city, we were back in Melbourne, returning the pink monstrosity to Thrifty, pulling into the parking bay just as he was closing for the day! Perfect timing as we had no idea what to do with the keys had he already left! Put our luggage in a locker at the bus station and went to the Greyhound booking office to buy our bus tickets for central Australia. Decided to go to watch the new Ghostbusters film as we both were keen to see it and had some time to kill before our coach to Canberra. It was actually surprisingly good for a remake – it was almost as good as the original film! Who knew Chris Hemsworth could be so funny! The female cast made a formidable comic team in their own right although Kate McKinnon stole the show as the oddball physics geek. Back at the bus station with some food for dinner, we waited for our night bus to Canberra, watching people pass through the station and being fascinated by the security guards opening up all the lockers, checking the contents and re-locking them once they knew they were safe! Boarded the bus at 22.00 and settled down into our seats, slightly uncomfortable as you have to wear seat belts on coaches in Australia and they kept cutting into my neck as I tried to sleep…

Saturday 16th July 2016

Tower Hill, Naracoorte & Mt. Gambier – day 282

We doubled back up the road to visit the Tower Hill Reserve. Descending the hill to the surrounding lake we saw a wallaby with what can only be described as a reddy-orange afro. He was surprised to see visitors so early and you could almost hear him ask the question, “Why are you interested in me, I’m a wallaby? Oh wait, foreign tourists!” And off he hopped. 

We walked for a small bit along the grass to the start of a trail, watching small birds, some with fluffy beige bodies, another set with an electric blue tail and some with patches of red on their nape and body. They added a bit of energy to the otherwise lazy and docile grey kangaroos that adorned the area. We opted for the ‘Journey to Last Volcano’ trail. A loop of 1.9km, the path was well signposted with very accurate measurements back to the visitor centre. Katherine spotted two emus munching on the side of a hill and again they had the same quizzical look before they carried on grazing. The top of the volcano, in my opinion, wasn’t that exciting or picturesque – the surrounding area being much more interesting. We carried on up another hill, heading slightly off the path, to come across a group of 7 kangaroos. When they grunted and got annoyed with me, we turned around and went back. We were now on our way to Naracoorte. Going back through Port Ferry, we were technically off the Great Ocean Road for some time now, but we still considered it so due to the amazing views and coastline we were seeing. We chose the scenic route to Mount Gambier and passed a dozen restaurants that took our fancy for dinner later that evening when we returned to the town.  In 1994 the significance of Naracoorte Caves’ 500,000 year old fossil record was recognised by UNESCO and co-listed with Riversleigh in North Queensland (won’t be able to get there – too far out of the way), as Australian Fossil Mammal Sites. Together the sites tell the story of Australia’s ancient animal heritage and Gavin was our guide for a tour of one of the caves.  The importance of the fossil record and its relevance to science is showcased in the Victoria Fossil Cave (the cave tour we did), and in the Wonambi Fossil Centre (didn’t have time to visit the centre). Wonambi is the name given to a snake only found in the caves here in Naracoorte. The cave we visited was spectacular, with stalagmites, stalactites, columns, drapes and the way they illuminate the corridors and chambers adds to the ambience with colours of creamy yellow and orange coming through the formations of calcium carbonate.    The geography lesson of the area, the cave structures and the formations were a precursor and introduction to the main spectacle. A showcase of some of the 120 species of vertebrates recorded to date, in situ, in an excavated pit of the last section of cave we visited. The bones lying on the cave floor had been there as a result of three reasons: 1) they fell down a small sinkhole and were trapped, 2) they lived in the cave and just died of natural causes and 3) the remains of prey that were brought in to the area by predators. There was a discovery of a large group of marsupials in another area which suggests a sudden closure or collapse of the den or cave structure blocking an escape route (similar to #2). The talk and display inside the Victoria Fossil Cave was incredible. Well worth it and had we known (and had the money) we possibly would have done the full day World Heritage Tour for $250 that takes you to other caves and restricted areas where rare fossils are still in place.  Driving back to Mount Gambier we passed dozens of vineyards. There were a few stout workers out in the cold pruning the branches and one tractor passing down a field pruning with a hedge trimmer. I learned from the experienced alcoholic, I mean Katherine, that wine from these sites are typically cheaper and not as good quality. I good have guessed that myself, with the attention given to other plants in the area. 

We passed by some pine forests as well. But, unlike earlier in the day there were no Roos spotted sticking their heads out of the tree line. Katherine spotted two such individuals, whom I decided to name as Reuben Hood and Little Joey. They guard the South Australia forests from Koalas and often employ the SAS Echidnas (SASE’s) and ninja Drop Bears. 

With little adventure happening in the town, horrific news on the radio about Nice, we opted for a pizza and fizzy lemon, tv on in the background and uploading scenic photos to the blog for the last few days adventures. 

Total distance driven: 398km

Friday 15th July 2016