Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Portland - Mt.Gambier - Naracoorte

* A funny sign outside the information centre at Naracoorte Caves. We didn't see any of the ugly but harmless critters but would've liked to. He he he.

After leaving Portland (the caravan park had koalas in the trees) we did a bit of sightseeing around the area. We stopped at Cape Nelson where there is a light station and magnificent views over the Southern Ocean. The girl I bought coffees from said that Blue Whales (!!) had been sighted almost daily. Despite binoculars and determination it was not to be. I did get to watch some weather roll in though and wander about the cliffs.
*The light station at Cape Nelson.

We also visited Cape Bridgewater, famous for its 650 strong seal colony. An energetic 45 min walk out to the colony was good exercise and provided fantastic views back over the bay but again the wildlife was elusive. We counted 3 seals. This walk on top of the previous few days touring took its toll and we both had sore pins at the end of it all.

*The view from Cape Bridgewater

Our intentions after leaving Portland were to stay in Victoria for one more night to prevent having to throw all our fresh fruit and veg out (again!). As we got closer and closer to the Vic-S.A border it became apparent that camping options were a bit skinny. So we dumped the good stuff in Nelson and hopped over to S.A.

Mt.Gambier and the surrounding region has held some fascination for me since learning to scuba as it's a fresh water, cave diving mecca. We stopped in at Piccaninnie Ponds for a look - you need a permit to snorkel here, and if you want to dive you MUST be a certified cave diver. I had heard from some ladies I met down at Jervis Bay on a dive trip that it was an incredible experience and I was pretty keen to give it a go. Not without a permit though.

*A selfy in front of the impossibly blue Blue Lake in Mt.Gambier. The blue comes from dead algae and takes on this incredible cobalt hue in the summer months. The lake itself is in the crater of a volcano.We stayed the night in Mt.Gambier and waited for the sun to come out to see if was really as blue as they said. Yep. We also visited some other volcano related sights around town including sinkholes that had been lovingly turned into garden oasis.

As we'd already visited Piccaninnie Ponds and I couldn't convince Andy that a snorkel in the cold water would do him any good, Ewens Ponds seemed like a good compromise. A series of 3 ponds connected by shallow channels. I would be going it alone.

* A sideways selfy of the happy little snorkeler in Ewens Ponds. Andy loves this photo and can't believe how lucky he is to be marrying me.

The water is very clear (40m vis) and cold and is part of the unconfined aquifer, ground water that runs from Naracoorte in the north to the ocean near Port MacDonnell in the south. It is this same ground water in the Blue Lake, Mt.Gambier and Piccaninnie Ponds.

*What can you see? Not a whole bunch. There were some little fishes and I'm sure if I'd known what to look for I could have found other life. The water was cold and it was very hot outside with plagues of bush flies making it unpleasant for my shore based buddy. It was definitely worth the trouble of putting on my wetsuit just for the bizarre experience it afforded. I am glad however that I didn't insist on getting air and scuba-ing as I am on a roll with picking good things to do. There is also an underwater cave system beneath Mt.Gambier but this is not for the fainthearted or inexperienced. Every little experience we miss contributes to the Whaleshark/Manta Ray fund for Coral Bay (which is really just around the corner). After my snorkel we lunched in Port MacDonnell - southern rock lobster capital of Australia.

*Campground at Naracoorte Caves.
We liked the camping area here so much that we decided to stay another night. So far we've only regretted NOT staying an extra night in a spot rather than regretting staying too long. As it was again forecast for 37C the proviso was that we spend some time in the caves doing tours during the hottest part of the day. Deal.
This camp ground has showers and power and it's all included in our new parks pass, so it feels like it's free! The bird life is astounding, especially the tiny songsters I am yet to correctly ID but various wrens and wagtails as well as the usual parrots and magpies (whose gorgeous warble is starting to sound like the soundtrack to this trip).

*The entrance to Naracoorte Caves visitor centre. The caves have world heritage rating due to the significance of the fossil deposits here. The biggest deposit of it's kind in the whole world it has a comprehensive representation of the last 530,000 years. Not huge geologically speaking, but incredible as it includes the now extinct Australian mega fauna. Paleontology is a pet interest of mine, so I was in heaven. And Payniac loves caves (you find out all sorts of stuff about each other on a trip like this). To escape the heat of the day, and because we're nerdy keen we took a tour of the Bat Cave and the Victoria Fossil Cave.
The Bat Cave tour included a stint in the bat cave control room where the controls for infra red cameras are and scientists and rangers are able to monitor the bat's behaviour. The cave is significant in it's own right as the bats are critically endangered southern bent wing bats. We also toured the Blanche cave which was originally used by the Naracoorte folks for picnics and as a town hall, a nice cool place in the hot summer.

*Victoria Fossil Cave and Marsupial Lion.
This cave was very pretty with the second half of the tour focusing on the fossils and the discovery of the various chambers of the cave. The fossil chamber wasn't discovered until 1969 and the work continues, an estimated 40,000 animals to be sifted through. Big job.
We also walked back to the Bat Cave at sunset to watch the little bats come out for their nightly feeding - an Attenborough moment for sure.

*VJ hard at play. A good afternoon when I have all the chairs and my book.
Life on the road takes its toll and we find it's very important to have our own time and space, especially after being in the car on a hot day for hours. It has taken us a few weeks to hit our stride again, similar to when we set out in September, even though we had a better idea what to expect. I suppose it's just an adjustment period, and we really pushed our limits in the first few weeks in January in the Vic High Country, with more than a few hot and stressful moments. The travelling is now easier and it's much cooler this morning...I wonder where we'll end up today? Time to hit the road.

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