Category Archives: holidays

Southwest Tasmania day 2 (part 1)

This morning’s plan was to wake up early—well, as early as I’d need to when the sun rises close to 8 am—and take some sunrise photos over the lake. This plan was somewhat thwarted by the fact that everywhere was enveloped in fog and the sun was nowhere to be seen.

20180712-011 Silhouettes in the fog at the lookout

At the Lake Pedder Lookout

Never mind, I’d heard that fog was good for photos so I was excited for what the morning might present.

Our plan was to go to Gordon Dam, which is at the end of Gordon River Road, about 12 km from Strathgordon.

A little bit of context. Lake Pedder was once a natural lake but has been in its current form since 1972 when the Gordon, Serpentine and Huon rivers were dammed as part of Tasmania’s hydro electric development. The power scheme includes the Gordon Dam on the Upper Gordon River and the three dams that form Lake Pedder (aka the Huon-Serpentine impoundment): the Serpentine Dam, the Scotts Peak Dam, which dams the Huon River, and the Edgar Dam. It’s 242 square km and 2960 million cubic metres in capacity. It’s 16 metres deep over the original Lake Pedder and 26 metres deep at its deepest part, just behind the Serpentine Dam.

The water from Lake Pedder flows into Lake Gordon through the McPartlan Pass Canal, a 2745-metre long canal between the two lakes, and is used in the Gordon Power Station, which is built 183 metres underground.

The original Lake Pedder had been a National Park but the Tasmanian Government revoked that status in 1967 to enable the Hydro development to proceed. There was considerable opposition to this development from the conservation movement both in Australia and internationally and it saw the birth of the first Green political party in the world. Then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam also opposed the dam and offered compensation to Tasmania to preserve the area. Since then there have been calls to drain the artificial lake and restore it to its original state.

We left the lodge in the fog and continued along the Gordon River Road. Our first stop was the Lake Pedder lookout, about two km up the road. It had one of those cool directional signs that tells you what mountains you’re looking at. All very well when you can actually see the mountains but not when everything is immersed in fog.

Nevertheless, there were some cool fog photo opportunities.

20180712-003 Silhouettes in the fog at the lookout

Sunlight and fog

Continuing along Gordon River Road for another seven km, you reach the turnoff to the Serpentine Dam. From there, it’s a short drive to the boat ramp. By now, the fog was starting to lift, so it was amazing to make photos half in fog and half in clear blue sky.

20180712-035 Serpentine Dam

Serpentine Dam from near the boat ramp

There was no wind and only a slight ripple on the water so the reflections were amazing. Parts of it reminded me of the reflections in the River Derwent along Boyer Road.

20180712-028 Serpentine Dam the other side

Serpentine Dam

This dam was constructed in 1971. It’s a concrete-faced rockfill dam, which is basically a compacted rock wall that is made waterproof by a thin layer of concrete on the upstream face (the left side in this picture). The wall is 41.5 metres high at its highest point and 134 metres long. It contains 114 000 cubic metres of rockfill.

20180712-043 Serpentine Dam wall

Serpentine Dam Wall

Our destination was literally at the end of the road, the Gordon Dam, a further three km from the turn off. Completed in 1974, it’s 140 metres high and is the highest arch dam and the largest storage dam in Australia. It’s curved both horizontally and vertically, which apparently allowed them to use less concrete to construct it, reducing the overall cost. The horizontal arch is apparent from the photos, the vertical one not so much, but the dual arch explains why it doesn’t look straight.

Lake Gordon, created by the dam, was still shrouded in fog so it was impossible to see how big it was, but we could see the dam wall itself, which is pretty impressive.

20180712-060 Lake Gordon

Lake Gordon

Apparently, people abseil off it.

I thought that sounded cool.

When I was at home in my lounge room.

When I got there and looked at it I was grateful I hadn’t decided to book in to do this. I was petrified just walking down the steps to get to the top of the wall where you’re allowed to walk.

20180712-100 Looking down on the Gordon Dam wall

Don’t look down! They are people down there . . . yes, you are going down there

I was glad when I got to the bottom of the steps. Walking on the wall wasn’t anywhere near as scary as walking down to the wall. It’s an amazing structure.

20180712-092 Looking down on the Gordon Dam wall

Gordon Dam wall

The climb back up is a lot less terrifying than the climb down and there’s a nice lookout at the top that you’d probably get great views from on a clear day. This was not a clear day. Still, it was a good experience and we were glad we’d made it.

There are more photos of the Serpentine Dam and the Gordon Dam on my photoblog.

 

Southwest Tasmania Day 1 (part 2)

In the first week of the school holidays, we took a few days off and travelled to Strathgordon on Lake Pedder in the southwest Tasmanian wilderness.

You can read about our first stop on the way, at The Needles, here. Or if you just want to look at some photos, they are also here.

Not much further down the road towards Lake Pedder is another spectacular range called The Sentinels. It’s a quartzite range about five km long and one km high.

It would seem the most common reaction of people seeing it for the first time as they drive round the bend is, “Wow!”

That was certainly my reaction, and I insisted we stop immediately so I could take some photos.

20180711-057 The Sentinals copy

Wow!

20180711-062 The Sentinals copy

The Sentinels Day 1

That had to be the most jaw-dropping thing I’d seen all day and I certainly got my huge rock fix!

This was one of several photo stops here over the next couple of days. You can find the complete series of photos on my photoblog Straighlinesgirlimages. Or stay tuned for more posts here.

Our accommodation was the Pedder Wilderness Lodge at Strathgordon. Strathgordon was constructed in 1969 to accommodate the workers on the hydroelectric scheme (more on that in the next post). Apparently, it accommodated about 2000 people when the scheme was under construction but the population now is about 70.

We’d booked one of the self-contained units at the very reasonable rate of two nights for the price of one. Winter travel has its benefits. Our plan was to self-cater for breakfast and lunch then splash out at night and have dinner at the restaurant. It was a good plan. Because who wants to cook on holidays? Not me.

20180711-068 Lake Pedder at the lodge

Lake Pedder behind the lodge

20180711-078-Helipad-at-the-lodge

The helipad. No unauthorised landing.

I managed to capture some images of the lake in the afternoon sun as well as seeing the beautiful light on the hillside as the sun was setting.

20180711-092 Hills near the lodge

Beautiful afternoon light on the hills

20180711-084 Hills near the lodge

More giant rocks

The lodge has become popular with the local ravens, who seem to have no fear of people and are quite happy to pose for photos. And steal food, we were informed.

20180711-109 Raven at the lodge

Raven shows no fear

We ended the day with dinner at the lodge and were all looking forward to the next day’s adventures.

 

 

The Needles—Southwest Tasmania Day 1

This week we had a three-day break at Lake Pedder in Tasmania’s southwest. None of us had been before so we were all looking forward to it and had several short walks planned.

From Hobart, we headed to New Norfolk and turned onto the Gordon River Road at Bushy Park.  After a coffee stop at Russell Falls, we resumed our journey. The Gordon River Road takes you past the Florentine, an area I am very keen to go and explore more, and into the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.  The area was listed on the World Heritage List in 1982 and covers approximately one-fifth of the area of Tasmania (1.584 million hectares). It incorporates eight of Tasmania’s National Parks, including the Southwest National Park, where we were going.

Our first stop, about 16 km from the town of Maydena, was the walk to The Needles. This is described as 2-3 hour return medium grade walk. According to the information we got from the motel, “this steep and muddy track takes you to a series of jagged rocks at the top of a beautiful ridgeline known as The Needles. It is one of the most rewarding, and seemingly unknown, short walks in the Southwest National Park.”

It sounds pretty cool, right? The description goes on to say “this steep 3 km return walk offers uninterrupted panoramic views from rugged mountainous terrain”.

Do you get the feeling it’s steep?

I’d read the description and thought the views sounded spectacular so was very keen to do this walk. The word “steep” obviously hadn’t registered in my mind, and when we got there I had to look a long way up to see the top of the hill. The walk starts at the highest point on the Gordon River Road, 651 metres, and the summit point is 1020 metres. That’s a 400-metre climb spread out of about 1.5 km. It looked fairly imposing for a non-hiker.

View from the road

The Needles from the road

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We’re going up there

As we set off it was nice and muddy underfoot. (So far, the description was spot-on.) I was grateful for having bought some new walking boots a couple of weeks ago rather than wear my old non-waterproof shoes that had holes in them when it became apparent the track was more of a watercourse than a track. The tracks I’m used to in my city-girl bushwalks come from the 60 Great Short Walks book. There were no formed paths, no duckboard over the muddy bits and no steps here. Thank you, past me, for the new boots.

It was very heavy going and I was regretting the multiple layers I’d put on in the morning to prepare for the cold. It was a sunny day and climbing was hot work once we got out of the bush and into the sunlight.

The view got progressively better as we climbed.

sw-03

Excuse the blown-out cloud there

sw-04

Getting to the top

sw-05

A  bit closer

Getting to the top was amazing and totally worth the slog. I’m a big fan of huge jagged rocks and here they were in abundance, everywhere I looked.

sw-06

Started to climb this. Didn’t finish.

sw-08

One of my favourite photos from the walk

The views off into the distance were stunning.

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Seeing for miles

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Snow!

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It was a perfect day for this walk

The sky was gorgeous and I felt a sense of having come somewhere special. The other thing was that it was absolutely silent up there. I don’t know if I can remember the last time I experienced such total silence and I didn’t want to leave. Giant rocks, blue sky, fabulous clouds and the complete absence of noise. I dragged it out as long as I could to soak in as much of this feeling as possible but we had to leave eventually.

sw-11

Stunning rocks everywhere

Going down was equally challenging because it was very easy to lose your footing and fall over into the mud. A girl we’d passed on our way up had done exactly that. I had no desire to do the same and managed to retain my footing the entire way down.

This was a fantastic way to start our trip and I couldn’t wait for the next experience.

You can find more about The Needles here.

What I learned this week

30 days of yoga is going well. I’m now 14 days into the challenge and I haven’t missed a day so far. I’ve had to incorporate my back exercises into my practice, because whatever I did to my back has either stirred up my old injury or resulted in a new one, and it keeps flaring up again.

I’m being Very Careful, especially with the back bends, and I haven’t been game to try any twists. My normal class starts up again this week so I’m looking forward to seeing if it will be easier to get back into it after almost three weeks away than it was last time when I didn’t do anything during the holidays.

Now onto what I learned this week.

1. In my drawing lessons, I’ve been learning about two-point perspective. This was fun. Lots of straight lines here!

lesson-25

2. I read the book The Road to Lower Crackpot by Brian Inder, the Laird of Lower Crackpot. It’s a fascinating read. In the book, Mr Inder says,

“The name Crackpot comes from a real village in Swaledale, Yorkshire. It means ‘a low place where crows gather’. I added ‘Lower’ because we are in the southern hemisphere’.

 

This interested me because my mother’s family emblem is the crow. I asked her if any of her ancestors came from Swaledale, but she doesn’t believe that they did.

3. If you see something in a shop you want, buy it when you see it. It might not be there when you go back to get it.

In the same vein, take photos when you have the chance, because you might not go back that way again. We went to Freycinet National Park on the weekend. I took lots of photos.

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Stepping on the cracks: Day 45

If you’ve been following my Travelpod blog, you’ll know that we’ve just got back from a family holiday in Victoria and South Australia.

As you might have suspected, my attempt to holiday-proof my routines and continue the Stepping on the Cracks project was a spectacular failure. I ate more, drank more, went to bed earlier and later, didn’t sleep well, woke up early, slept in, didn’t drink enough water, didn’t find opportunities to go for a walk – pretty much everything fell in a heap and it was a massive waste of space in my bag taking my walking shoes.

We were on the move every day, so there wasn’t really any time to settle into anywhere. I didn’t read much, didn’t think much, and spent most of my time taking in everything around me. Being in a different bed every night played havoc with my sleep, so I never felt especially rested.

I had a great time! We went to some lovely places, ate some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life and had some great experiences – but it simply wasn’t the sort of holiday where I could have bedded down routines and spent time thinking and learning.

So I’ve decided to draw a line through the first 15 days of the evening routine challenge and the last 15 days of the growth mindset challenge, and start them again now that we’re home. This just means that my “habit change” challenges will start on the 15th instead of the 1st of each month, and my more substantial challenges will start on the 1st instead of the 15th. So I still have 15 days to go of the growth mindset challenge, and there are at least a couple of exercises from Carol Dweck’s book I want to do in that time. I don’t want to finish this challenge without giving some thought to some of the ideas she discusses.

I think that makes sense, and I’m ok with doing this, because I think I would have had a miserable holiday if I’d spent the time beating myself up for not sticking to my original plan. And I still have three more days before I have to go back to work to resettle myself.

Here are some photos!

Cold weather blues

Cold weather blues
Adelaide, Australia

Adelaide, Australia


Us, when planning the holiday: “Let’s go in winter. Then there won’t be too many people around.” Enter the worst storms in the region for 30 years. An excellent plan indeed.

We could hear the wind whistling down the corridor of the hotel last night, and the wild weather continued this morning. We hadn’t planned on driving anywhere after we arrived yesterday until it was time to go to the airport, but the weather was so bad we couldn’t face walking around all day. We drove out to Glenelg to have a look at the beach, and I wasn’t even prepared to get out of the car for a photo. If you know me, you will know this was hardcore weather.

Having very little idea of what might keep a nine year old amused (museums and art galleries were out), we took a trip to one of the visitor centres (after having recaffeinated), where the staff gave us a few ideas.

We had a wander through the Rundle Mall and I was quite taken with the four pigs. Apparently they’ve been there since 1999, and were the winning entry in a national sculpture competition when the mall was being upgraded. They are the work of South African-born and Sydney-based sculptor Marguerite Derricourt. The title of the work is “A Day Out”.

The weather had improved, so we took the car back to the hotel and grabbed beanies and rain coats before heading back out. The receptionist asked us if we were sure we wanted to go out. “Pfft,” we said, “We’re from Tasmania. This is nothing!” She was probably crossing Tasmania off her travel wish list as we bravely went outside, Kramstable in shorts as usual.

The Adelaide Central Market is in between Grote and Gouger Streets (I just wanted to write “Grote Street” somewhere. That is the best street name ever.) It was our first stop. I love the story of its first day: “On 23 January 1869 at 3.15am, a small but noisy procession of market gardeners found their way from the East End Market to the site between Gouger and Grote Streets. In only a few hours about 500 purchasers quickly bought out the entire stock of goods for sale, so that for those hurrying to the scene of activity after 6.00am, there was nothing left to buy. . . . Today the Adelaide Central Market is home to 80 stalls and is visited by more than 8 million people a year.”

We wandered round there for a while taking in the sights and smells, before heading back out onto the street. Gouger Street is home to Chinatown, but in a block full of Asian restaurants, who else but Kramstable would choose to have pizza for lunch in an Italian restaurant.

After lunch we made our way back to the Victoria Square/Tarntanyannga tram stop to catch the free tram a couple of stops closer to town. This is Adelaide’s only tram service and it runs out to Glenelg, with the main zone in the city being free to travel in. We’d seen some information about the Alpine Winter Village that was set up on the Torrens Parade Ground. The man at the visitor centre hadn’t known a lot about it, other than there was ice skating, so we thought we’d have a look. Really all that was missing was snow. And, you know, Alps. But it looked like it would be a fun little precinct to hang around in and imbibe winter beverages and eat winter food. A bit like Winterfeast. We wandered through the little market, which featured local craftspeople, and stopped for a drink in the Après Ski Lounge.

There were piles of woodchips being shovelled in all the time to try and keep the ground as dry as possible. None of us was game to try ice skating! On the way back to the city we stopped to have a look at the Boer War memorial.

Dinner tonight was at Nola, which is (among other things) “a New Orleans inspired dining bar with a focus on Creole and Cajun soul food, a curated selection of Independent and Craft Beer on our 16 taps”. We’d googled craft beer bars and this came up. It’s in a slightly hidden section of laneways off Rundle Street, so it was a bit of a walk from our hotel and ended up being a bit harder to find than we’d thought (but on the plus side, this made it one of only two days on the whole holiday I met my step target). But it was totally worth it!

Who would have thought Brussels Sprouts could be (a) a main dish and (b) edible? Everything about this place was fantastic and now I want to come back and spend a week in these laneways.

I’m looking forward to going home tomorrow. If we get there. Winds permitting. And I think I’m done with driving holidays for a while. I’d like to take some time to explore a place or two instead of rushing from town to town. I’ve loved everything we’ve seen – and I’ve really enjoyed it all – but I think next time I want a slow ride.

Kensington Road runs straight for a while

Kensington Road runs straight for a while
Adelaide, Australia

Adelaide, Australia


The weather was no better this morning than it had been yesterday. In fact, it was probably worse. The wind is horrible and we’ve seen reports of some severe damage having been done across the state. I’m beginning to think this is a consequence of us being here, because there were huge storms across central South New Zealand when we were there last year.

We left Victor Harbor (the lack of a “u” is apparently a spelling error by an early surveyor that was never corrected), a bit disappointed to have missed the activities that we’d gone there for.

Never mind. There was wine just up the road, and we set our minds to finding some wineries in McLaren Vale. Not that this is especially difficult to do. Tempting as it would have been to visit lots, we had picked out just two (I know). First up was Maxwell Wines, the attraction of which was their maze. They make the Maxwell Mead that I’ve seen in bottle shops at home, as well as a decent selection of reds and a few whites. As usual, Slabs went for the reds and I tried the whites. All of them.

We didn’t get lost in the maze, so that was a bonus!

We thought we’d call in to Goodieson Brewery on the way to Fox Creek, but they weren’t open, so that was a no go. Slabs had chosen Fox Creek because he’d had one of their wines in Hobart, and I really enjoyed their Vermentino, which is an Italian grape variety I’ve never had before. They only sell that one through their cellar door.

Once wine had been tasted and procured, it was time for the last leg of our toad trip. On to Adelaide. With visions of Paul Kelly singing “All the king’s horses, all the king’s men . . .” we set out in search of Kensington Road where, according to the song, Mr Kelly was raised and fed. On the bend.

It’s a long long road, and it does run straight for a long while before turning. There’s a roundabout there, at the bend. We drove all the way to the end of the road, which ends on top of a hill. The view of the city would have been good except for all the trees in the way!

There were no sightings of wisteria on any back verandahs, or great aunts, either insane or dead, so we said farewell to Kensington Road and went to look for our hotel. The numbering on South Terrace is interesting, to say the least, with odd and even numbers on the same time of the road. This is right up there with the 30 minute time difference and schooners actually being middies for “things that are different in SA”. Also 25 km/h roadwork and school zone speed limits, which are probably a very good idea.

We checked into the hotel. Its restaurant is being renovated so we had to go to the restaurant at the Chifley down the road, Hanuman, which was amazing. I want to stay here for a week so I can try everything on the menu.

Don’t pay the ferryman

Don’t pay the ferryman
Victor Harbor, Australia

Victor Harbor, Australia


And so the predicted bad weather came upon us like torrential rain and gale-force winds, and we were safely tucked up in a cabin at the caravan park feeling not the least bit sorry for the people in campers. It really was foul weather and we were grateful that it hit after we’d done the almost 400km drive to Meningie. Because it would have sucked to have been driving in this.

We had breakfast in a cafe the town (and the carrot, turmeric and bacon soup was very nice) before we left. I was interested in the wood carving across the road, which was by sculptor Ant Martin from the nearby(ish) town of Millicent. It’s a 6.4 meter high pelican being fed a Murray cod by two children, and is said to symbolise reconciliation between Indigenous Australians and European settlers.

And then we were off on the (relatively) short drive to Victor Harbor (no u) on the Fleurieu Peninsula. We had to cross the Murray River at Wellington East. The ferry (which is operated by the SA Government free to punters) isn’t so much a boat as a motorised bit of road that floats back and forth across the river once there are enough cars to go. In our case, three. It was a strange experience. We were on a ferry but we hadn’t left the road!

We passed through some (of many) wine districts on the way but decided not to stop. Actually we did stop in Langhorne Creek, but the winery we’d wanted to visit wasn’t open, so we kept going. We had a brief stop at Middleton Arts & Crafts before finally getting to Victor Harbor.

There’s a lot of funfair rides and attractions set up for the school holidays and Slabs and Kramstable had a go on the dodgem cars. Unfortunately due to the wind, the ferris wheel wasn’t going because that would have been cool to go up above the town. The horse-drawn tram, which is a well-known attraction of the town also wasn’t running today because of the weather, which was disappointing as that’s one of the things that Slabs had seen when he was planning the trip that had made him choose here as a stop.

We had lunch at Nino’s Cafe, which seems to be a bit of a local institution, and were glad to have arrived and ordered just before a party of 14 kids and 16 adults arrived. The pizza was really good. As was the wine. What? Right, back to the story.

Kramstable had seen a brochure for the Cheeky Ratbags Play Cafe in the tourist centre and said he wanted to go. He has been great on this trip. There hasn’t been a lot of specific kid stuff for him to do and he’s put up with being dragged around to things he hasn’t necessarily been interested in himself and has had to sit in the car for very long stretches. This part of the trip was for him with the school holiday stuff happening, and the shithouse weather has put paid to a lot of that. So we took him out to the play centre and he had an absolute ball. It was great to see him enjoying himself with absolutely no constraints (even if I did have the worst headache and had forgotten how loud kids can scream when they’re having fun).

After we checked into our hotel we went for a wander over to the SA Whale Centre, where there are some fascinating displays, including a actual whale skull that is oozing whale oil and smells quite vile. There’s a interesting 3D presentation on whales, as well as an exhibit on the work of Sea Shepherd. Kramstable had fun fossicking for fossils and pretending to be eaten by a shark.

We’d missed the last Cockle Train to Golwa, so we wandered through the town before coming back to the hotel to rest up before dinner.

I did a quick walk around the harbour and had a look at the Encounter Poles, which is a monument commemorating the meeting of Matthew Flinders and Nicolas Baudin in 1802 in Ramindjeri Ngarridjeri Waters, presenting three worlds and three cultures, connected through wind and water.

And it was a very very nice dinner, topped off with some lovely local wine. I think I rather like South Australia.

The long and (not very) winding road

The long and (not very) winding road
Meningie, Australia

Meningie, Australia


You know what a great idea it had been to get up early and see the Twelve Apostles in the morning light? Well for the Blue Lake of Mount Gambier, this didn’t work as well. We saw the sun rise, but the lake looked less blue than it had appeared yesterday. Still there was a pretty cool effect of fog appearing to be pouring into the lake, so that made the early start worthwhile.

We also discovered that the Leg of Mutton lake, so named for its shape, was actually now called Leg of Mutton Lake Crater because, well, to be a lake I imagine having water would be a requirement.

So that’s two of the four lakes dried up since 1979.

We then began the search for a cafe open at 8am. A quick lap of the main street revealed nothing, but trusty Google found us at Cafe Melzar, carefully hidden away in a side street, which opened at 8am. We arrived at 7.57. It was the best breakfast of the trip so far (yes I did have southern fried chicken with waffles and maple syrup and it was delicious), and the best coffee. Recommended.

Today was to be the big drive through the Coorong so we wanted to be on our way as early as we could. Driving out of Mount Gambier it was kind of cool to know we were driving over the top of the Engelbrecht Cave.

We took an accidental detour into Beachport, which is a pretty little town boasting the second longest jetty in South Australia. 772 metres, but it was originally about 500 metres longer. (Port Germein has the longest one; at 1532 metres it’s still not longest jetty in Australia – that honour goes to the Busselton jetty.)

We walked to the end and back, had coffee and hit the highway again. We decided not to go to Robe, but stopped in Kingston SE for lunch. We saw the old Cape Jaffa lighthouse, which had been constructed in the 1870s and when it was decommissioned it was taken apart and reconstructed in Kingston in the 1970s. There was also a life boat from the Southship OLIVA that ran aground in the Nightingale Islands in 2011, and the lifeboat washed ashore in the Coorong two years later.

Then it was time to hit the Coorong. You can’t actually see much (anything) from the highway. I can’t remember where we went in 1979. There’s an old dirt road between the highway and the beach, and a 4WD track on the beach and I can vaguely remember driving along something like that. Unfortunately circumstances dictated that we didn’t do any of this, and so we ended up driving straight through to Meningie, on the shore of Lake Albert.

It’s a tiny town and we stayed at the caravan park. In a cabin, thankfully, after the wild weather that his us during the night. I went for a walk along the lake and was happy to see pelicans, since we missed the pelican observatory on the Coorong.

We had dinner at the restaurant that was part of the museum complex over the road. I had Coorong Mullet, which we’d seen advertised for sale at several places on the drive. It’s also called Yellow Eye Mullet and it was very tasty.

And that was it for a quiet Saturday night. Our longest drive was over and we kicked back after dinner with a couple of fantastic beers from local brewery Robe Town Brewery.

I’m on a foggy highway

I’m on a foggy highway
Mount Gambier, Australia

Mount Gambier, Australia


We had breakfast at the Surf Club on East Beach in Port Fairy. It was a magical view out to sea and the light house. After a final stop in town for some last-minute souvenirs, we began making our way to Mount Gambier.

Slabs had asked the lady at the motel what there was to see or do on the way. She said, “nothing”. It certainly looked that way. There weren’t any tourist brochures overflowing with information on place to stop on this drive, so we figured that she was right.

We did see a wind farm offering tours, and we could have called in to Portland, but we wanted to get to Mount Gambier early enough to see some things. We could see Portland from the highway. It looked like a giant port (strangely enough, given the name) and a mass of huge turbines or towers. What I didn’t get was why the highway goes so far out of its way to go close to Portland but doesn’t actually go to the town. Apparently Portland is the oldest European settlement in Victoria, and is home to a large wind farm project.

Anyway, we didn’t go there.

Driving along the Princes Highway it became very foggy, which was just like being at home. Then we got stuck in roadworks, so tantalisingly close to the South Australian border. I decided that one job I don’t ever want is to be driving the vehicle that leads all the other vehicles through the roadworks, back and forth each way, all day.

Our first stop in Mount Gambier was the tourist centre, which has a free exhibition of local history and geography, including a very cool volcano eruption that Kramstable set off over and over again. We got some ideas of what to do while we’re here, and we set off for the Engelbrecht Cave, which sounded interesting. We thought we’d be just in time for the 1 pm tour. We hadn’t set our clocks back half an hour had we?

I can just imagine the conversation of the people who set time zones, way back in the day:
“So, should South Australia be in the same time zone as the East of Australia or should they be an hour behind?”
“Gosh, that’s a tough one. I don’t know.”
“I don’t know either. It’s all so hard. Screw it. Let’s just shift them half an hour behind and then we don’t have to decide where it should be.”

We went to have lunch instead. Just quietly, my laksa was really really good.

After lunch we headed back to the Engelbrecht Cave, which is a fascinating place. It used to be owned by Johann Karl Engelbrecht, who had opened the first bacon and ham factory in Mount Gambier, as well as a distillery, which he had purchased and had sent out from Europe. Due to public health concerns about the waste from the distillery, he began using the cave as a dump for the by-products (the staining from which you can still see in the cave), as well as allowing local butchers to dump bones and meat offcuts into it. Over the years it was increasingly used as a dump and it wasn’t until the late 1970s when volunteers began to clean up the mess (which was huge by this point) and made it possible for people to go inside.

The cave is in a sinkhole, which is a common feature of the landscape around the Mount Gambier area. On the way down to the entrance, you can see a couple of solution pipes, which are are almost perfectly round holes in the ground. The cave itself really big and spreads a long way underground, including under the highway, but most of it is underwater and can only be accessed by very experienced cave divers (it takes 6 years of training to get to the level where you can go into this cave).

It’s interesting because it’s the opposite to typical limestone caves. It’s dry, not wet, and there are no stalactites and stalagmites. Instead there are holes or domes in the roof of the cave called Avens. (This is an interesting blog post about the cave if you want to know more.)

I found the whole area fascinating and, coming from an area where caves are found in very remote areas, I was blown away by the fact that this cave is under the city itself.

Our next stop was the Blue Lake, just out of town. This is the one I remember being such a vivid blue from my childhood trip here. Unfortunately, the blue colour is at its most intense in summer and about March each year it slowly returns to a grey colour. This is apparently due to the calcium carbonate crystals forming in the warmer weather and scattering blue wavelength light whereas in the colder months, everything is more evenly distributed so colour is a more normal lake colour. Today it was blue, but not brilliantly so.

Blue Lake is one of four crater lakes in the area that I remember seeing when I was here in 1979. Apparently one of them, Browne’s Lake, is now dry. We were a bit disappointed by the views in the late afternoon sun (are you detecting a theme here) but decided to come back in the morning to see if we could get a better look.

On the way back, we called into the Main Corner complex town and had a look at the art gallery and the history displays. There’s a garden in a sinkhole there too, which we’d been told to go and see, but it was all closed, so all we could do is look down into it.

It’s been an interesting day in a fascinating landscape.