Aus Update 26 - Naracoorte, Mount Gambier, Grampians, Ballarat


<Chris> 22-Nov  The main point of stopping in Naracoorte is to see the caves. There are masses of different caves in the area but only a few are developed for public access. First stop was at the Wonambi Fossil Centre to make a cave tour booking. There was a display of the marsupial lion and rainbow serpent (giant snake) fossil remains - quite fascinating.

When we stepped out of the visitor centre there was this kangaroo with joey just browsing on the lawn - no fear of us at all

They had a "reconstruction" of what they theorised one of the creatures bones that they had found would look like - don't know how they can guess fur type but here it is in fibreglass

Some really unique fossil finds have been made here which are still being excavated. We went on a tour through the Victoria Fossil Cave. There were lots of stalactites, stalagmites and fossils to see.

In the afternoon we continued in a southerly direction until we reached Mount Gambier. This town is situated around a number of crater lakes. It was quite a refreshing change to see some green grass (other than in the occasional irrigated front lawn) and we spent a number of hours napping on the grass in the afternoon sun. There was also sort of a wildlife park next to the lake and we saw several animals although I still failed to spot a koala or another snake. When I say "sort of" it was a fenced off area of wild land where they don't actually manage the animals, just keep pests like foxes and feral cats out and leave the animals to behave just like they were in the wild.

The area is full of caves & sinkholes. Some have been very nicely developed as "secret gardens" over the years. One was highly developed by  a private landowner in the 1800's but fell into disrepair when he passed on. Recently it has been re-invigorated by the council and is looking very nice.

The largest crater lake has a very interesting feature. It changes colour depending on the time of year from a  sort of steel blue to bright blue. Nobody really knows why, although there are plenty of theories about algae, calcite and CO2 effects. It seemed pretty blue when we were there. I tried to fit it all into one photo but had to patch this panorama together...

We stayed the night in a caravan park just outside Mount Gambier and slipped across the border back into Victoria on Thursday afternoon. You could tell it wasn't the main road by the rather inauspicious sign...

We hadn't really decided where we were going to stay the night and aimed for a place listed in our camping book in a national park. Funny thing though, we just couldn't find it. We had quite a bit of fun wandering around some rather deserted tracks and narrowed down the area, but eventually we decided we had better try for somewhere else. It's really quite impressive what the Maverick/Patrol can do.

It may not look so steep in a photo, but this really was quite a steep hill

We headed instead for a place called Wannon Falls. I plugged it into the navigator and when I saw it pick a very little used road I could have ignored it and let it re-route down the main road, but with Paula's permission, I decided I'd follow it. 

Here's the navigator screen

The road it picked

A little while later and we knew it was still a road because the Navman icn530 said so :-)

Unfortunately the road obviously hadn't been used in a while

But we couldn't let a minor matter like that stop us

And we're through

Sadly shortly after that the number of fallen trees reached a number that would have taken all night to get through, and the sun was disappearing fast, so we turned around and returned to the main road. I can't believe I forgot to take a picture showing where the road was supposed to be. We ended up stopping at a place called Wannon Falls overnight.

24-Nov. Next port of call was the Grampians National Park. This park is normally very thickly covered in vegetation, but a bush fire in Jan-2006 had pretty much cleared most of that. It's a really good example though of how bush fires are part of the regeneration process. Everything is starting to grow even this short time after it.

There are lots of huge mountains and great views. One of them (Mt William) had a road most of the way up, but the car park is 247 vertical metres from the top. The track was 3.6km long so it was a fairly hard slog, we could feel it in the legs for a couple of days after.

Because of the fires, all the camping areas had been closed (don't know why, I really can't see any real risks 10 months after). This meant that everyone in the park was concentrated in the one camping area that had been re-opened. We have been used to being pretty much the only people wherever we are camping so it was a bit of a shock. Due to it's close proximity to Melbourne (we guess), lot's of people started turning up at 11pm on Friday night (we'd already been in bed 2 hours), making a lot of noise and waking us up. Rather annoying, but I guess a small inconvenience in the overall scheme of things :-)

25-Nov. Just north west of the Grampians National Park is the Arapiles National Park. It is world famous for rock climbing and there were literally dozens of people camping there. As we weren't planning on doing any rock climbing, it seemed pointless to camp with them all, so we took a picture and carried on...

It was a really hot day and as we entered the Little Desert National Park I commented to Paula how I didn't feel like having to do any repairs or anything. The going was really tough on the sandy track so before we went too far I decided to turn around. Bad mistake. What looked like burnt grass turned out to be burnt tree stumps. Whoosh, sand was flying out from the side of the car, one of those perfectly sharpened by fire stumps went right through the side of the tyre. So I had to stop and change the tyre in the heat and sand. Kind of made me glad we only got second hand tyres as it was a write off. Would have been really upsetting if it had been a $250 new one.

We stayed overnight at Horsham. There was a beautiful sunset and the cockatoos and galas really made a din. We were on the phone and the people we were talking to could barely hear us over the birds.

26-Nov. We traveled east towards Ballarat. We felt like staying still for a couple of days, and there seemed to be plenty to look at in Ballarat, so we checked into a caravan park and set up the tent. We were really glad we did. The weather took on a decidedly chilly note and it was good to be able to sit inside out of the wind. One of the features of the caravan park was an "endless swimmer". This was a narrow'ish indoor pool with really strong jets that were supposed to allow you to swim continuously (endlessly) towards them. We booked it for half an hour, but were disappointed to find the jets weren't working.

There are a number of historic sites in Ballarat, and the first we visited was the Eureka Centre. This visitor centre has been erected in the approximate location of the Eureka Stockade. This was a part of Australian history I had never heard of, a miners revolt leading to a battle on 3-Dec-1854 against what they saw as the unjust miners licence and treatment by colonial authorities. There was bloodshed, killings, imprisonment and trials, and some (including the official visitor centre storyboards) claim that this was a watershed event in Australian democracy. I think that that is overstating it a bit, but there is no doubt some worthy changes occurred at the time. A very good interpretive presentation nonetheless. See for more information.

One of the "interactive" display pieces

A very large and impressive monument outside the visitor centre

Not wanting to tire ourselves too much, we saved the Australian Gold Museum and Sovereign Hill visitor centre for the following day. 

The Australian Gold Museum got me excited. I have been itching to do some fossicking at some stage, and this museum had examples of many of the most spectacular nugget finds by fossickers including several multi-kilo affairs - it would definitely pay for the holiday! Still, unless you're plain lucky, it seems you need to invest quite a bit in a decent metal detector and be prepared to spend days digging up rusty nails so I still haven't done any. 

Sovereign Hill is a reconstruction of a 1800's gold mining town. There are working shops and staff in character. They hold demonstrations of various crafts and equipment. It is really very well done. Lots of time walking and standing was very tiring.

Main street Sovereign Hill

Period police force drilling

I think I enjoyed the working machinery best...

Wheel makers workshop
(Click image for short video clip - 285kB .wmv)

Part of the rock crushing battery machinery
(Click image for short video clip - 319kB .wmv)

And the last thing I tried was a bit of gold panning...

Ever hopeful...

But no luck!

29-Nov. We had a last look around Ballarat and stopped by in their botanic gardens. The place has obviously been suffering from drought (the nearby lake has totally dried up), but one of the interesting things they had was the prime ministers walk. This is a bust of every prime minister that has served Australia.

We're heading towards Theo & Katrina's place in Melbourne. It's been 4 months since we departed on our trip to head up the centre and loop around Western Australia. It's been amazing and we've seen so many sights and experienced such remote and varied locations. It's been a real privilege, but we're looking forward to staying in a house again!