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Attraction : Capricorn Caves

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The Capricorn Caves are only 30 minutes north of Rockhampton and are Queensland’s longest running tourist attraction.  Set in limestone that formed millions of years ago, the caves have been open for exploration since the 1880s.  Marvel at hanging fig tree roots that have split rock in search of water, glistening limestone formations that have formed over thousands of years, or enjoy the acoustics of the Cathedral Cave.

 

Our tour of the caves started on the right foot, with plenty of light hearted jokes from our tour guide.  She was knowledgeable and fun, answered all our questions about the caves, and we especially enjoyed our self-guided adventure out of the cave.

 

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The History

The caves were discovered in 1882 by the sons of a Norwegian man named John Olsen while they were out looking for some runaway horses.  They told their dad, and John soon opened it as a tourist attraction.  People from near and far would dress in their finest attire and go into the depths of the cave to explore with a lantern.  Later on, the caves were mined for guano.  Some chambers had over a metre of compacted guano and about 6 tonnes was taken out and sold as fertiliser.

 

In 1988, the Olsen family sold the property to Ken and Ann Augusteyn, who applied for an environmental management policy to protect the caves.  The Capricorn Caves has an advanced ecotourism certification and has won several Queensland tourism awards.

 

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The Caves

The limestone in the caves is 390 million years old and was originally growing coral under the sea.  When the limestone was exposed, acidic rain created cracks and dissolved the calcite in the limestone to form caves.  The airflow through the caves makes them evaporative and therefore relatively dry, which means it takes stalactites 100 years to grow just one centimetre.  There are more than 1.5 kms of underground passages connecting the caves together.

 

The various wildlife inside the caves includes butterflies, moths and microbats – sometimes even ghost bats and pythons that come in to eat the micro bats.  There is also a rare fern – the tectaria devexa – that calls the caves its one and only home.

 

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The Cathedral Cave is the most popular chamber – so popular in fact that they hold around 30 weddings there every year.  There are pews lined up with an aisle that the bride can walk down, and many singers have visited the cave and commented on how perfect the acoustics are – comparable to the Sydney Opera house.

 

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Another beautiful feature of the caves is the gentle beam of light that shines into the largest chamber.  During the summer solstice, the sun lines up perfectly overhead, projecting a beam of light into the cave.  It’s seen as a magical event – some people bring crystals to recharge, while others propose to their lovers, and occasionally, a disco ball is spun in the sunlight.

 

The Essentials

Capricorn Caves is open every day (except Christmas Day) from 8:30am to 6pm.  The Cathedral tour runs every hour from 9am until 4pm, but if you’re after something a little more daring, they also offer adventure caving, abseiling and rock climbing.  There’s even a high ropes course and geo tour.

 

They’re available for functions such as weddings and parties, and there’s a van park onsite for visitors wanting to spend the night.  For more information, visit their website: http://www.capricorncaves.com.au/

 

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Cutta Cutta Caves

Wildlife : Ghost Bat

 

Ghost Bat

source : abc.net.au

Name: Ghost Bat

Scientific Name: Macroderma gigas

Alternative names: false vampire bat

Distribution: caves and mineshafts in Northern Australia

 

Ghost bats get their name from the super thin membrane of their wings, which makes them look like ghosts when they’re flying at night.  These little pale-coloured bats grow up to 13cm in body length and weight up to only 140g but they have a huge wingspan of 60cm.

 

They use sharp little teeth, big eyes and huge ears to hunt, and find their food using echolocation.  The high-pitched sound they make rebounds of objects and the echo tells them where things are with reasonable accuracy.  Once they’ve locked on to a target, they swoop and wrap their big wings around it before killing it with strong bites.  They then take their dinner to a designated feeding place to eat.  Being Australia’s only carnivorous bat, they mainly eat insects, reptiles, frogs, birds and small mammals, including other bats.

 

Mama bats separate themselves from daddy bats by creating nursing colonies to raise their young.  They are pregnant for about 3 months before giving birth to one little critter.  Once they are old enough to hunt, they join their mum on food runs until they become independent.

 

Their conservation status is vulnerable due to the destruction of caves and mine shafts, and when one home is destroyed, up to 400 bats go with it.  Their feeding grounds are also being destroyed by agriculture.

 

 

Our Encounter:

The one and only time we saw a ghost bat was at the Cutta Cutta Caves, just south of Katherine.  We went on a tour and there they were, hanging about on the ceiling of the cave, occasionally chirping and flying over our heads.

 

Cutta Cutta Caves

The Crystal Caves

Experience : The Crystal Caves, Atherton

The Crystal Caves

 

We have never seen anything like it.

 

Imagine that you are a miner or a fossicker and you have just stumbled across a cave filled with treasures so numerous and valuable, that it’s as if you have fallen into a fantastical dream.  As you travel through this whimsical cave, you are surrounded by sparkling shapes and iridescent colours, long lost treasures and objects of unspeakable beauty.  Well, you don’t need to imagine any longer because this wonderland has been created for you by one man – dreamer and visionary, René Boissevain.

 

René began collecting after a stint in Queensland, when he found a beautiful agate boulder while fossicking at Agate Creek in 1963.  This spurred him to travel the world and find more extraordinary specimens and by 1969, he had established a museum in Holland called De Oude Aarde, meaning The Old Earth.

 

A few years later, he and his wife migrated to Australia, and after a lot of hard work and using only René’s imagination as blueprints, The Crystal Caves opened in 1986.  René believed that it was the very best way to display his amazing collection of crystals. Eventually, as René’s collection grew, the Crystal Caves grew, and it is still growing today.

 

The Crystal Caves

Safety first! Before entering the cave, equip yourself with a hardhat and head-torch – you’re gonna need it!  The self-guided tour takes you through many dimly lit caverns and grottos with low hanging stalactites and archways, all encrusted with crystals from all over the world.

 

The Crystal Caves

 

It’s ok, you’re allowed to touch.  Run your fingers over the reticulated crystals, or try to pick up a piece of Galena.  The Crystal Caves is not only an intriguing fantasy but also an interactive adventure!  Traverse the Winding Walkway, stroll through the Fossil Gallery and marvel at the glowing rocks in the Magic Temple.  Gaze in awe at the enormous Empress of Uruguay, the largest amethyst geode in the world.  The beauty is 130 million years old, 3.27m tall and weighs 2.5 tonnes.  If you think that’s heavy, the nearby Crystal Fountain is made from over 4 tonnes of rose quartz, the ‘stone of love’.

 

The Crystal Caves

 

Learn stuff!  This might not be the primary reason why you’d visit the Crystal Caves but you will certainly walk away with more knowledge than you had before.  As you travel through the caves, you will come across over 600 specimens of gemstones, rock formations and fossils as well as their origins and even how they were formed.  For example, the very cool pyrite cubes are of higher quality when their edges are closer to a right angle, while the beautiful sculpture carved of lapis lazuli is from the Chinese Qing dynasty of 1644-1912.

 

The Crystal Caves

 

The Fascnating Facets

Once you’re done exploring the caves, check out the incredible gallery, rock shop and jewellery that is Fascinating Facets.  Browse through beautiful necklaces, rings and bracelets, various gemstones and more.

 

The Crystal Caves

 

Crack A Geode

While you’re at Crystal Caves, why not crack your own geode!  The word geode meads ‘of the earth’ and describes a hollow rock full of crystals.

 

Large geodes, like the Empress of Uruguay, are inspected before they are dug out of the ground.  A small hole is drilled into the geode and a tiny camera is inserted to see whether the geode is worth excavating.  This process also helps to determine the best way to cut the geode.

 

Amethyst geodes, like the Empress of Uruguay, are formed in volcanic rock inside the bubbles that were trapped in cooling lava.  Over millions of years, water that is saturated with minerals seeps in and reacts with chemicals within the pocket of air.  A combination of minerals, pressure, water and time results in the beautiful crystals that are found within geodes.  Amethyst geodes get their gorgeous purple colour from manganese and iron.

 

The Crystal Caves

 

The Essentials

The Crystal Caves is located at 69 Main Street, Atherton and is open 7 days a week – except for good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day.  Fascinating Facets is the adjacent gallery, rock shop and jeweller where you can purchase a variety of collectables from semi-precious stones, fossil specimens and beautiful jewellery.

 

For more information, contact the Crystal Cave on 07 4091 2365 or check out their website at www.crystalcaves.com.au.

 

The Crystal Caves

 

Katherine

Town Profile : Katherine

Knotts Crossing - Katherine

Located on the river of the same name, Katherine is 320km south of Darwin.  It started out as an outpost between Adelaide and Darwin for the Australian Overland Telegraph Line.  These days, it’s a simple town with one major supermarket, a few pubs and acts as the ‘Crossroads of the North’.

 

Fast Facts

  • With a population of just over 10,000 and 60% indigenous, Katherine is the fourth largest town in the Northern Territory.
  • It’s the closest town to the RAAF Base Tindal and provides services to Defence families.
  • Traditionally, Katherine was an important meeting place for the Jawoyn and Wardaman people.
  • In 1845, explorer Ludwig Leichhardt crossed what is now known as the Katherine River and is the first European to be recorded in the area.
  • On his 6th successful journey from the north to south of Australia, John McDouall Stuart crossed the Katherine River in July 1862 and officially named it.

 

We rocked up on Saturday morning, just in time for the markets.  We took advantage of the cheap food and listened to some music before getting down to business.  We found a van park to stay the night, did some work in the library, stocked up on fuel and food and then headed to the Stuart Hotel for cheap $10 jugs of TEDs.  Turns out the Stuart Hotel has a great tropical beer garden and we enjoyed the friendly guys behind the bar.  They also do food, claiming to be Katherine’s cheapest.

 

 

 

Points of Interest

Knotts Crossing

Located only 5km NE from the centre of town, Knotts Crossing is a lovely place to have a picnic and a splash in the waters.  If we had more time, we would have spent a whole afternoon here.   Knotts Crossing is actually where the originally settlement of Katherine started, when people came to work on the Overland Telegraph Line.

 

Knotts Crossing - Katherine

 

Katherine Hot Springs

A short drive SW from the centre of town brings you to the hot springs, a series of pools that sit at around 32°C.  We had a bit of a dip in the afternoon while we chatted with some other happy travellers.

 

Katherine

 

Katherine Icon

Just behind the Information Centre is a bronze statue of Sabu Peter Sing, a stockman, horseman and bushman who represents all the men and women of the Outback. The erection of the statue was part of the Project of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association for 2002, Australia’s Year of the Outback.

 

Katherine

 

Nitmiluk National Park

Accessible via Katherine Gorge or Edith Falls, Nitmiluk is the ‘jewel of the region’.  You’d have to spend a week in Katherine Gorge to do all the hikes, and also have the endurance because they can be tough.  We did three hikes there and were absolutely exhausted.

 

Edith Falls is a great place to camp and the plunge pool is wonderfully close to the campground.

 

Edith Falls

 

Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park

Located just 17km south of Katherine, the Cutta Cutta Caves are a unique attraction with beautiful rock formations.  Check out our post here.

 

Information & Accommodation

The Katherine Visitor Information Centre is located on the Stuart Highway at the southern end of town.

 

We stayed at Knotts Crossing Resort, very close to the actual Knotts Crossing, and paid only $24 in an unpowered site for the night.  Close by was a camp kitchen, amenities, and a restaurant bar.  We also had a long chat with some really nice Austrian guys, who filled us in on the non-existence of an Australian-Austrian working visa arrangement.

 

Cutta Cutta Caves

Natural Wonders : Cutta Cutta Caves

Cutta Cutta Caves

 

On our way out of Katherine, we stopped by the Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park.  While we had seen plenty of caves and sinkholes down in South Australia, we hadn’t really heard of any in the Territory so we were curious to find out more.

 

Our tour guide, Ethan was very friendly and super knowledgeable about the caves, and we soaked up as much information as we could.

 

Cutta Cutta Caves

 

The History

The main cave was accidentally discovered in the early 1900s by cattle drover Mr Smith, who was leading his cattle across the land when a few disappeared down a hole.  In the 1940s, soldiers would enter the cave and use the stalactites as target practice, but it wasn’t until 1967 that the area became protected and named Sixteen Mile Cave Reserve.  In 1979, the area was renamed the Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park and there are a total of 52 caves in the park.

 

The traditional owners of the land that the caves are located are the Jawoyn people, but there is no rock art or signs that they ever lived in the cave.  Apparently, living in the cave was seen as a bit of a taboo for local indigenous folks – probably because the caves would’ve been pitch black at night, echoes may have been mistaken for evil spirits and if any animals had fallen in and died the cave wouldn’t have smelt very nice.  The words Cutta Cutta mean place of many stars, probably named so because of the twinkling of the calcite crystals.  It was believed that stars would hide in the cave by day and explode into the sky at night.

 

Cutta Cutta Caves

 

The Caves

Cutta Cutta Caves are Australia’s first cave system to be lit by solar power, which we think is pretty cool.  The cave are in a subtropical climate, and as the main cave only has one opening, there is no ventilation so the atmosphere inside is quite dry and warm.  On our way to the main cave, we passed a large depression, and when it eventually collapses, will change the atmosphere within the cave completely because it will create another opening.

 

The caves are made of 570 million year old tindall limestone, which is only found in NT, but the actual caves are only 350 million years old.  The main cave is 650m long and reaches the water table at the far end, but the tour only takes you in 250m because going any further in would be very dangerous.  Our tour guide Ethan is an experienced caver and has been all the way to the far end.  He told us that the passageway gets so narrow at some points that you have to crawl through on your stomach, there are sinkholes that are 80m deep, and the ammonia from the bat droppings further in is enough to make you pass out!

 

 

 

Each chamber of the cave has its own microclimate; it was cool at the entrance and got more humid as we got deeper in the cave.  The spectacular cave contains the usual features – stalagmites, stalactites, columns where stalactites and stalagmites have joined up – but there were also flowstones that look like melted ice cream, pretty shoals, and super thin straws.  These formations are formed with calcium carbonate and water combine and dry to become sparkly calcium crystals.  In some places, tree roots have made their way into the ceiling of the cave by releasing a weak acid that dissolves the limestone.

 

The Critters

There are about 300 bats that live within the cave, including ghost bats, aka false vampire bats, are one of Australia’s biggest bats and can have a wingspan of over a meter. They have big eyes and huge ears that point upwards from their face.  When we first entered the cave, we saw a brush trail rock wallaby.  There are a few other microspecies that live within the cave too – mostly insects, but also pythons, tree snakes and huntsman spiders, as well as the occasional visit from echidnas.

 

 

 

The Essentials

The Cutta Cutta Caves are open from the 1st of April every year – they close during the Wet Season because the cave floods (from the bottom!).  Entry is $20 per person but if you have a group of more than 10 people, discounted entry can apply.  The tours run daily at 9am, 10am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm.  Allow an hour for the tour and also a bit of time to check out the information in and around the office.

 

Phone number: 08 8972 1940

 

We found our time at Cutta Cutta Caves really enjoyable.  It’s a great way to learn more about limestone caves, how they were formed and used, and eventually protected so that everyone can enjoy them.  We’d also like to thank Ethan for showing us around and answering all our questions.

 

Watch out for kangaroos, camels and wombats - we didn't see any!

Experience : The Nullarbor

Watch out for kangaroos, camels and wombats - we didn't see any!

DAY ONE

We spent the night at BIG4 Ceduna Tourist Park to prepare for the massive 1400km journey over the Nullarbor.  Squeaky clean from a hot shower, draws filled with fresh laundry and fully stocked with brown rice, meat biscuits and curried onion fritters, we did a quick fuel stop on our way out of town.

 

While the Nullarbor seems to start at Ceduna and finish at Norseman, the actual Nullarbor Plain is a 1,100km wide piece of limestone that stretches into South Australia and Western Australia.  The area was named by Edmund Delisser, a guy who surveyed the arid, treeless plain in 1865, and the name is Latin (nullus arbor) for no trees.  The plain was created 25 million years ago when the land lifted out of the sea and it is one of the world’s largest Krast land forms   The plain receives an average rainfall annually of about 200ml and is riddled with a breathing cave system.

 

 

Penong

This was the first town we drove through, about 71km west of Ceduna.  We knew we were approaching because on both sides of the road are paddocks full of windmills… 26 to be exact!   Each windmill is privately owned and pumps water out of the group to supply the town.

 

 

We also visited the Woolshed Museum, which is located on the other side town.  It was the first stone building in the district built in 1860s and it has been refurbished and turned into a museum that showcases crafts by local artists, as well as mementos of the past like old tools, photos, barbed wire that was patented in the 1800s and other old things.  Dave was stoked to find a teeny tiny pair of work boots.  Entry is by gold coin donation.

 

 

Head of the Bight

We arrived to the turn off for the Head of the Bight at about 4:10pm, just as a guy was shutting the gates.  Located 290km west of Ceduna, the Head of the Bight is an area along the coast that offers spectacular views of the cliffs that separate the land from the ocean.

 

Behind the gates is an interpretive centre and viewing platform that is open between 8:30am and 4pm. It’s $5 per person to enter, which would be okay to pay if it was whale watching season, but we felt that if we could get views of the Bunda Cliffs down the road for free, why pay $5 to see them here.  Any ideas of return in the morning were promptly squashed and we drove away.

 

Nullarbor Roadhouse

This place is an essential stop for anyone travelling the Nullarbor.  The Roadhouse is open daily from 7am to 11pm and used to be a sheep station, but these days it is a motel, caravan park, pub and restaurant.  The guy behind the bar was super friendly and chatty, and we were able to use the fast wifi internet for free with any purchase, so we enjoyed a cool drink while we chilled out and caught whiffs of delicious food being cooked in the kitchen.

 

If you need to fill up on petrol, you’re looking at $1.80 per litre or more.  Sometimes the price was close to $2 a litre, so make sure you stock up before you leave for the stretch.

 

 

Murrawijinie Caves

The guy behind the bar said that we ought to check out the caves about 10km behind the Roadhouse, and with a wink wink nudge nudge suggested that we could also stay there for the night.

 

A dirt road from the Roadhouse led us to a series of three limestone caves that have been approved for public access.  It was so strange as we drove along because the horizon was completely flat – how could there be caves here? There aren’t any mountains!  By the time we arrived at the first cave, we were still scratching our heads until we saw a little sign depicting a stick figure falling due to unstable cliffs.  We got closer and found that the caves were great big holes in the ground caused by collapsed limestone.  JOY!

 

 

The first cave was shaped like a doughnut – running along the edges of the hole with a mound of collapsed limestone in the middle. As we walked around, there were some places where we had to duck down and nearly crawl through, and once we made a full circle, we climbed out and moved on to the next one.

 

The second cave was incredible – it went deep underground and seemed to just keep going into the creepy darkness.  There were patches of green and black on the cave walls, and the dirt was light and fluffy, puffing up into a little cloud with each step.  As we got deeper, the hot dry air was replaced with cool, damp air, and I could see how these caves would be a great refuge from the midday sun.

 

 

The third cave was just as beautiful, but it went long instead of deep, like a grand ballroom.  The collapsed lid provided the staircase down into a space that was big enough to house a fully stocked bar on one side, a DJ at the back with the dance floor in the middle, and a few couches and booths on the other side for people who wanted to chill or make out in the dark.

 

Up on the surface, the light was starting to dim so we prepared to stay the night.  We were only 10km from the highway but we felt really isolated. There was nothing on the horizon except a thin strip of cloud and the sun.  As we watched the sun disappear over the horizon, we had some fun with Dave’s beard.

 

 

The night was cold and sprinkled with stars and Juz woke at about 4am to spot a dark dog-shaped figure sitting at the rear of the truck.  In the morning, we concluded that it must have been a dingo, because we spotted one in the scrub on the way back to the roadhouse – a golden coat amongst the pink and grey plain.

 

DAY TWO

Bunda Cliffs

WOW… awe-inspiring cliff faces that form part of the longest line of cliffs in the world!  The 90m drop to the water gives the surreal feeling of being on the edge of the world.

 

 

The white rock at the base of the cliffs is Wilson Bluff limestone and it was formed on the seabed 38-42 million years ago.  Southern right whales can be spotted between May and October when they migrate here to breed and take care of their new babies, and while we were outside of whale watching season, we did spot two dolphins frolicking in the surf.

 

WA/SA Border Village

Village?  Pffft!  More like a place where you can fill up on petrol and get your car rummaged through by some guy with a clipboard looking for nuts and honey!

 

Then again, it’s probably just as much a village or town as the other stops along the Nullarbor.  There was a restaurant, motel and caravan park, as well as a big red kangaroo called Rooey II.  He stands next to a sign that points at all the significant parts of the world, like Rome, London, Paris, Moscow and home – Melbourne.

 

 

The Quarantine Checkpoint wasn’t as bad as I described earlier.  A guy does look through all your stuff but he’s nice enough to crack a few jokes while he has his rummage but watch out for the mild interrogation – “seeds? Where from?  Where did you buy them?  Did they come in a packet? In that case they’re fine… What’s this?”

 

The only thing confiscated was the adzuki beans that Juz planned to make chocolate fudge with.  We thought he’d take the sesame seeds too but they were bought at the supermarket.  For your reference, do not take any fresh fruit or vegetables, raw seeds, beans, walnuts in their shells, or honey.  Dried fruit is only acceptable if it was commercially dried, and if you have vegetables, cook them and it’ll be alright (hence the curried onion fritters).

 

Eucla

This was the first town we pulled up at when we crossed the border.  There’s an expensive petrol station and motel with beautiful lush garden featuring a frog pond full of tadpoles and water lilies.

 

 

Tom and Bella appeared again – they were doing the Nullarbor Links Golf Course after purchasing some golf clubs from an op shop.  They suggested we drive down to the beach and check out the old telegraph station that was slowly being buried in sand. Every wall of the ruins was covered in etchings of names and dates – the oldest one we found was from 1969!!

 

 

Cocklebiddy

It had been a long day and we were gagging for a drink.  The Cocklebiddy pub and snack bar was a sight for sore eyes so we stopped for a glass of goon and Dave’s first Western Australian beer – Swan Draught.

 

 

Tom and Bella met us there so we could continue to our campsite together.  There was a rest area just outside of the entrance to the Cocklebiddy Caves, which was now closed to public access. The Cocklebiddy Caves are one of the longest underwater caves in the world at 6km in length and 90% of it is underwater. We spent the night drinking and chatting, sharing stories about our travels and our lives.

 

DAY THREE

The morning was tough and we ended up sleeping in far later than usual.  Once we had injected caffeine and were close to feeling human, we packed up and carried on.  Caiguna was the first stop and marks the start of Australia’s longest straight road, which continues for 146km.  We also checked out the Caiguna Blowhole and learnt a little more about the breathing caves of the Nullarbor.

 

All caves breathe a bit, but the ones on the Nullarbor breathe more than others.  The air movement at the entrance of one cave has been measured at about 72km/h.  Inhalation happens when air pressure rises and exhalation happens as the air pressure drops.  There are about 20 caves on the Nullarbor; some are undergrounds lakes.

 

 

It was a hot day and we were glad to see the end of the stretch at Balladonia, a pit stop that boasts about being a site hit by Skylab rubbish in 1979.  Inside the roadhouse is a cultural heritage museum where you can learn about Skylab, the early days on the Nullarbor, camels and wildlife.  After some food and refreshment, we sat back down on our soggy seats and kept going, desperate for the end.

 

Norseman

It’s over! We made it across the Nullarbor and as a reward, the first thing on the agenda was a dip in the Norseman Swimming Pool!

 

Once we were refreshed, we explored the town.  There was a reception area with an information centre, toilets, electric BBQs, a bubbler and grassed lawn.  For a travellers’ hub, the town was a lot smaller than expected, with lots of closed, boarded up shop fronts.  Still, we appreciated that it was bigger than a petrol station and caravan park and relished the return to civilisation.

 

 

The way the town was established is a pretty cool story.  In the late 1800s, it was well known that there was gold in the area and many people came to search for their fortune, including Laurie Sinclair, a man from Esperance.  He started searching around Coolgardie but was unsuccessful so started the journey back home.  On the way, he stopped along a ridge of hills to rest and it was during this pit stop that his horse, Norseman, began to paw the ground.  Laurie initially thought that the horse was lame, but upon closer inspection, there was a piece of gold-bearing quartz lodged in Norseman’s hoof.  Laurie settled and worked the area for a while, and as the settlement grew with more diggers, it became a town in 1894.  Laurie later sold his mine to a mining operation and it turned out to be one of the richest reefs of gold ever mined in Australia.  Way to go, Norseman!

 

PLACES OF INTEREST

Statue of Norseman

A monument to commemorate the horse that led to the establishment of the town.  A bronze statue of Norseman stands on the corner of Roberts and Ramsay Streets.

 

The Tin Camels

There are a few corrugated iron camels in town, but a herd of them stands on the Prinsep Street roundabout.  We did some silly poses with Tom and Bella before heading towards Kalgoorlie-Boulder.  The Tin Camels are a tribute to the camels that carried mail and freight in the early days.

 

Norseman Visitor Centre – Roberts Street, 08 9039 1071

 

Rolling yellow hills

TOP 5 THINGS ABOUT SOUTH AUSTRALIA

The Schnitzels

When we left Melbourne, we believed there were two ways to enjoy a schnitzel – plain or with a parmigiana topping.  However, once we crossed the border, our minds were blown and schnitzel horizons expanded as the options for toppings became almost endless.

 

Onion gravy, creamy garlic sauce, mushroom sauce, pepper sauce, even gluten free gravy, topping options were coming out of our ears, and while SA’s idea of a ‘parmi’ is the tomato sauce with cheese – no ham – it was still tasty.

 

 

Another great thing about the schnitzels in SA is the Schnitzel Night at the local pubs.  Pay anywhere between $10 and $15 to score a golden schnitzel with unlimited access to the salad bar.  We’ve had many occasions where we’ve walked out uncomfortably full.

 

Streaky Bay Hotel Motel 

Middleton Tavern

Edinburgh Hotel

 

Free Bike Hire

We thought this service was great and allowed us to explore Adelaide in a day!  Adelaide City Bikes, an initiative run by BicycleSA, works towards building a healthier, greener city.  There are heaps of places around Adelaide where you can hire a bike for free, and if you need your bike for more than one day, you can organise a multi-day hire at a small price.

 

 

Bicycle SA is the main body that encourages recreational and commuter cycling in South Australia to promote a healthier and more active community.  They are an independent, not-for-profit association that organises biking events, tours, trail rides and free bike hire.  Membership to Bicycle SA has heaps of perks, such as discounts to all BikeSA events, discounts at supporting cycling stores, a subscription to the quarterly Cycle! Magazine, as well as comprehensive personal accident insurance and public liability.  What an awesome association!

 

Rock formations

South Australia is full of sinkholes and caves, thanks to the limestone that was formed on the ocean floor millions of years ago.  The craters and sinkholes in Mount Gambier were dressed beautifully with floral gardens while the Naracoorte Caves were filled with ancient fossils.  The breathing caves of the Nullarbor that were open for exploration and the eroded caverns along the coast of the Eyre Peninsula – we loved them all.

 

 

Wildlife

We had so much contact with animals, whether it was in the wild or captivity.

 

We always saw kangaroos hopping around in national parks and on the side of the road (dead or alive).  Emus were also common, but mainly in the scrub where they could get some cover.  Those silly bush chooks loved running out onto the road as well.  The dingos we saw on the Nullarbor were special – we had never seen wild ones before, and it was awesome when that goanna crawled through our camp at Mount Remarkable National Park.

 

 

The animals in captivity were great to interact with, especially the greedy kangaroos at Urimbirra Wildlife Park and the Big Rocking Horse.  Curious emus pecking out of our hands were great fun and watching big salt water crocodiles gulping down chicken legs was really cool.

 

Yellow Rolling Hills

The roadside landscape was beautiful.  For most of the way, the view consisted mainly of rolling hills of dry yellow grass dotted with the occasional leafless tree or herd of black cows.  This, in contrast with the blue of the sky, was just beautiful.

 

Rolling yellow hills

The Victoria Fossil Cave findings

Top 5 Things on the Limestone Coast

Us with a thylacoleo carnifex

 

When you get there you’ll know, because most of the roads and houses on the Limestone Coast are a creamy white colour.  The limestone was formed by the accumulation of various deposits of marine life and shells over millions of years when the area was under the ocean.  About a million years ago, the sea retreated and allowed nature to take its course to create sinkholes, caves, salt lakes, and pockets of beautifully fertile red soil that is renowned for producing great wine and agriculture.

 

It took us about two weeks to complete the limestone coast from Nelson in Victoria to the mouth of the Murray River, and while we saw many things, here are our top five favourite destinations in this beautiful region of South Australia.

 

 

The Princess Rose Margaret Cave and Naracoorte Caves

These caves were both formed from limestone and exhibit excellent crystal formations that have developed over hundreds and thousands of years.

 

 

The Princess Rose Margaret Cave is a small gem with a fantastic story behind it, while the World Heritage Naracoorte Caves are historically significant as they contain fossils dating back to almost half a million years ago.

 

Coonawarra Wine Region

What’s not to love!?  This famous wine region is soaked in history and is considered to produce the best cabernet sauvignons in the country.  We recommend the small, boutique cellar doors instead of the big names.

 

 

Mount Gambier & the Blue Lake

Unlike the tap water, Mount Gambier does not leave a bad taste in your mouth.  The town is easy to navigate, has a great selection of pubs to tickle all fancies, and it is home to the beautiful Blue Lake.

 

 

Beachport & Post Office Rock

We weren’t expecting much of Beachport but it ended up being one of our favourite places on the Limestone Coast.  Go for a stroll on South Australia’s second longest jetty and explore beautiful Post Office Rock before having a refreshing dip in the Pool of Siloam, a salt lake that is seven times saltier than the sea.

 

 

Robe & the Mahalia Coffee Tour

There is an air of hospitality in Robe, with the main street lined with pubs, cafes, pizzerias and restaurants.  We ended up trying much of the fare and were thoroughly impressed with the goods – great coffee at Union Café, supplied by Mahalia Coffee, delicious pizza topped with fresh ingredients at VicStreetPIZZA, and a succulent ‘parmi’ at the Caledonian Inn.

 

 

We had a great time at the Mahalia Coffee Roasting House with a tour through the roasting house and a great chat with Mahalia that exposed her love and passion for coffee and providing a great product.

 

A war memorial park in the centre of Naracoorte

Town Profile : Naracoorte

After a spooked night at a roadside rest area (it’s amazing how your mind can play tricks on you), we entered Naracoorte tired, unwashed and with a bag of laundry.

 

The town was thick with the promise of rain, but there were still lots of people bustling about along the two main streets that run adjacent to each other, with the library and memorial park in between them.

 

 

Naracoorte was established as a government settlement in 1847, combining the two small towns of Kincraig and Naracoorte.  It grew as a service town for people travelling to and from the Victorian Gold Rush in the 1850s but these days, it’s just another relaxed town with a few pubs, and it’s main concern is conserving the Naracoorte Caves National Park and Bool Lagoon.

 

PLACES OF INTEREST

Naracoorte Caves

South Australia’s only World Heritage area, Naracoorte Caves is the location of one of the world’s most valuable fossil sites, dating back to around half a million years ago!

 

Check out our post on the Naracoorte Caves.

 

The Swimming Lake

The Swimming Lake is a free attraction that is open between December and March.  The lake is seven times bigger than an Olympic swimming pool and has surrounding barbeque facilities, playground and amenities block with showers.

 

 

The Laundry Hub

This colourful Laundromat lets you clean your clothes while browsing sweet-smelling homewares.  All the machines have built-in detergent dispensers so you don’t need to bring your own.

 

Washing a load is $5 and the dryers cost $1 for 7 minutes.  Internet is also available at a fee.

 

Library

The library was opened in 1978 and was also the visitor information centre until 1986.  Located in the centre of town on DeGaris Place, this quiet location is great for some reading or blogging.  They offer free wifi and temporary memberships.

 

We worked in the library for a few hours and watched the ceiling drip as it bucketed down outside.

 

FOOD & ACCOMMODATION

Van Leuven l’Artisan Bakery Patisserie

We stopped in at a bakery that looked heavily influenced by France, with blue, red and white flags fluttering outside the window. It was thoroughly charming inside – a very happy and smiley lady behind the counter with a thick French accent served us.

 

We shared a chicken and leek pie, as well as a sausage roll.  Both were flavorsome  succulent and devoured within minutes.

 

 

BIG4 Naracoorte Holiday Park

81 Park Terrace – 08 8762 2128

Centrally located, it has ensuites, air-conditioned units, both powered and unpowered sites, as well as mini golf and train rides.

 

Us with a thylacoleo carnifex

Naracoorte Caves

The only full skeleton they've found of a short-faced leaf-eating kangaroo

 

The Naracoorte Caves are one of 19 World Heritage Sites in Australia, being South Australia’s only World Heritage site.  It was officially recognised in 1994 and is one of the world’s most valuable fossil sites, providing insight into the South Australian landscape from 500,000 years ago.  The caves are approximately 5km long, with only 6 caves open to public today.

 

The first cave was found in 1845 and contained lots of bats and guano.  They used the guano as fuel and after the guano of the first cave ran out, they started to seek out other caves, stumbling across the next one in 1894.  The town of Naracoorte was established in 1857.

 

Today, tours operate daily, provide important information and history about the fossils and cost between $15-20. Adventure caving is also available.  The tours we didn’t do include the Bat Cave, Blanc Cave and Alexander Cave.  It would have been nice to see the Alexander Cave, as it has the longest ‘straw’ formation at 3m long.  These fascinating formations are caused by droplets of water that drip very slowly from the roof of the cave.  The droplet forms and holds still for a minimum of 15 hours before it falls, leaving a microscopic ring of calcite crystal.  Hundreds of years of accumulated crystal rings build a hollow straw.

 

The big and dopey diprotodon at the entrance of the national park

 

Here are the three caves we did explore:

 

Wonambi Fossil Centre

This self-guided tour exhibits the world of the species whose fossils were discovered in the caves.  Creatures include Tasmanian tigers, giant koalas (phascolarctos stirtoni) and giant short-faced leaf-eating kangaroos (procoptodon goliah), with a face only a mother could love.

 

The mechanical recreations move, snort and growl, and with the stormy background lighting and noise, the atmosphere was a little unsettling.  Repressing all instincts to run out of the place, we learnt a bit about the fossilised animals of around half a million years ago.

 

 

The Wet Cave

Another self-guided option, the Wet Cave is a short walk from the Caves Café and provides an insight into limestone erosion and cave formation.  The ceiling of the cave was covered with holes called avens, formed by acidic water that dissolved the limestone when the caves were full of water.

 

Victoria Fossil Caves

The beautiful Victoria Fossil Caves were discovered in 1969 by a young university student who was actually studying to be an engineer.  He noticed a 30cm gap in the rock and followed the breeze to stumble upon the fossils. He promptly quit engineering and began to study palaeontology.

 

Victoria Fossil Caves

 

Palaeontologists have been studying the deposits over the last three decades and have found that 75% of the animals whose fossils were found still live today somewhere around Australia.  The caves collect animals via pitfalls and solution pipes, and the animals either die on impact or are trapped to starve.  Soil deposits cover and preserve their bodies, which are officially classified as fossils after 10,000 years.  Carnivorous animals may have been attracted by the smell of rotting flesh and entered the cave.  They may have been able to come in and out of the caves or became stuck and ended up living underground.

 

There have been 100 difference species found inside the cave, 20 of them classifyied as megafauna, which are animals that are heavier than 45kg.  These include long-beaked echidnas (megalibgwilia ramsay), thylacoleo carnifex, diprotodon australis and short-faced kangaroos.  Megafauna went extinct after the arrival of humans in the area, about 60,000 years ago.

 

The Victoria Fossil Cave findings

 

The beautiful formations within the cave are formed around a limestone canvas that was formed 20 million years ago.  Acidic rainwater dissolves the calcite within the limestone and this driped into the caves to create crystals in the form of stalactites, stalagmites and kooky helictites.  Water takes about 2 weeks to leak into the caves but the crystal formations take hundreds, and even thousands of years to form.

 

The National Park surrounding the caves is a great place to stay for a picnic or to camp.  Contact Parks SA or visit the website for information on camping near the Naracoorte Caves.

 

Us with a thylacoleo carnifex

 

 

The last room in the cave where Keith and Bunny hosted their parties.

Experience : Princess Margaret Rose Caves

This humble natural wonder is located in the Lower Glenelg National Park and is possibly the most decorated cave per square metre in Australia.  Often referred to as the ‘the jewel in the crown’ of the Lower Glenelg National Park, the cave has a variety of geological formations, such as stalactites, stalagmites, and gravity-defying helictites.

 

The cave was formed over thousands of years by the constant drip of rainwater through the limestone. Formations with a grey colour have deposits from the ash of bushfires, while the caramel formations get their colour from the leaf litter above.

 

 

Two 17 year olds, Keith and Bunny, discovered the cave in 1936 while they were out rabbit hunting. They kept the cave a secret from their parents and the authorities, and used it as a hide out and function room for their parties with mates.  Eventually, they grew up and turned the caves into a tourist attraction.  They constructed the limestone stairs over 5 years and from 1941, Bunny became the first official tour guide for the caves.  They wrote a really nice letter to the Royal Family, asking if they could name the cave after the sister of soon-to-be Queen Elizabeth.  Permission was granted.

 

The 45 minute guided tour is really good and costs $14 per adult.  Our tour guide was cheerful and informative and the caves are refreshingly cool, especially if it’s a hot day outside.