Day 2 in the Mount Gambier shenanigans began with us deciding not to go to Mount Gambier but to visit Mount Schank.
Trundling along in our little not-very-gutsy car on the way to Mount Schank we passed a rather large hole in the road. Literally. In the centre of the main road to Gambier was a fenced off hole. This turned out to be the Allendale Sinkhole, apparently once known as the 'Middle of the Road Hole' (well imagine that... can't think why!). There was no access to it but then again I'm not sure I'd really want to get that close. Popular with properly licensed and equipped thrill seeking cave divers, or in other words, lunatics with a death wish, but not with me. I get claustrophobic in a sleeping bag. But here for your reading and learning pleasure is a short history lesson!
The Allendale cave was used in the early years of settlement to water the teams of horses and bullocks that made their way to and from Port MacDonnell. It was difficult to extract the water so a hand pump and trough was installed to make it easier. In later years a stone wall was built around the cave as a safety measure. At one time an attempt was made to fill the cave so they could build the road over it, but the filling subsided and the cave remains open. It is now a popular spot for cave divers.
Photos : Allendale Cave and legends
After our little side trip (or rather straight through trip since it was totally in the centre of the road along which we were travelling) we headed towards our ultimate morning destination and the only visible point on the near landscape that wasn't cow shaped, Mount Schank. Get ready for it.... Lesson 2!
Photo: Mount Schank panorama shot.
Mount Schank (previously spelled Schanck) is a dormant maar (a circular volcanic land-form resulting from explosive ash eruptions) volcano in the south-east of South Australia, near Mount Gambier. It was named by James Grant in 1800 after Admiral John Schank who was the designer of Grant's ship, the HMS Lady Nelson (the replica of which is outside the information centre). Mount Schank is believed to be amongst the youngest volcanoes in Australia (less than 5,000 years old). Because the volcano base is above the water table, it doesn't hold water, unlike the volcano in which the Blue Lake now exists.
We puttered our way to the volcanic Mount. As we travelled along the approach road, still about a kilometre away from the car park and with nothing but roadway for the past kilometre, I saw a very tanned, athletic looking young couple and their dog. I knew they were serious walkers as they were decked out in fluoro green and yellow from cap to Nike's and everywhere in between. It was a sunny day and the glare off of them almost seared my retinas. I had a feeling I would be seeing them soon.
In the carpark an unusual sight came as small groups of tourists sat around card tables in front of their various and scattered hire vehicles and ate breakfast. I felt decidedly out of place without food in my hand. One couple (I hypothesised that they were German since they spoke German) walked with a sandwich in their hand towards a low fence and it was then I noticed that there were horses. Now, I don't usually like horses but these were super friendly and probably use to being given treats by the many people who frequent Mount Schank so I got in a couple of pats when I could which was just as well because they totally ignored me when they found I wasn't laden with goodies. Drat, I didn't think to pack the chaff, silly me.
Photos : Horses at Mount Schank
Photo: Loo visit # 188 (or 189 , who knows, I can't keep up) where some of the the breakfast feasters can be seen
After patting the horses, visiting the loo and reading every information board I could find, I knew that I had actually done everything I could to delay the approaching task at hand, which was climbing the side of the volcano. I looked at the steps. They were tall and uneven and rough. Oh, the fun I was going to have, especially when I read that the climb to the rim, though not far (about 450 metres) had steep sections. Right, sleeves up, sunscreen on, hat pulled tight. Let's go!
Photos: Up we go
Photo : Views along the way.
Half way up and sure enough, we were passed by the peppy fluoro twosome and their perky little dog. Oh to be young again but I never want to be so young that full fluoro is an acceptable form of attire. Even in the 70's it wasn't on, and that's the decade that fashion forgot!
I watched them disappear from view and as I continued to climb it didn't take long before the knee goblins started setting off firecrackers under my kneecaps. I courageously fought through the hurt and swore death to all hobs via demise by toothpicks if I ever caught them. As it is the threats of goblin annihilation did nothing and my knees continued to bicker with my kneecaps the whole way up. Reaching the crown was all worth it though as I looked down on what was, not long ago by Earth standards, a big hole spewing lava and rocks hither and yon, all watched on by the local Aboriginal Bunganditj people. How incredible it must have seemed. Now it was a giant, peaceful divot filled with grass, trees, birds and tranquillity. What was the best thing to do up here? Fly the kite of course!
Photos: At the top!
I snapped a few pictures (keeping well away from the edge, which has no barrier and some really steep falls) as Dave unpacked the kite and got it ready. On the other side of the rim I could make out the acerbic luminescence of the dayglo duo pacing themselves in perfect rhythm. In the meantime the kite was ready to go. The wind wasn't too light so a good launch seemed imminent. The kite was tossed up, the wind caught it. Up, up it went and down, down it also went. Okay, take two.... up, down. Crap. Once more... toss and down. Hmmmm.... it was going to be more difficult than we thought getting the kite out over the crater, mainly because the wind was in the wrong direction but no one could accuse us of not persisting for at least another 3 goes. The best we did on the side was when the wind finally took it about three metres over the inner edge of the rim before dumping it. Yay! At least we got photos. Flying it out over the outer edge was easier. We managed at least 15 metres, and with a daylight moon in the frame before it came crashing down again. I totally call that a victory.
Photos: 1) Kite flying over the rim. 2) Flying with the moon
By the time the kite had been hauled in and packed away, the dayglo duo were back at the steps and heading down, but not before telling us that, although tricky in places and the fact that it snakes around a bit (but no REAL snakes laughed the girl, with a toss of her blonde ponytail), the walk is worth it. I saw something light up in Dave's eyes and I knew we were going to walk the rim, but about that, I wasn't worried. It was fairly flat and had a well defined, if narrow path. At least for the first couple of hundred metres and then a sign informed me that the path beyond that point was not maintained and that it was a 'use at your own discretion and risk' type sign. So, throwing discretion to the wind (which went further than the kite) we ventured forth at our own peril. It really wasn't that bad, at least until the ¾ mark of the circumference when it did get a little tricky when the path disappeared and all there was to follow was a foot-width fissure in the rock, with nothing but spindly shrubs on one side to slow down any tumble we might take and a sheer drop down the lava and rock face on the other, with absolutely nothing to slow you down. Such fun (actually it really was!). Along the way though, the views out over the plains and towards the ocean were amazing and through the no-path-anywhere bits, skinks darted back and forth in front of us. One even 'followed' me in order to take a bit if a rest in my shadow. I moved, it moved. It was really kind of cute.
Photo : The path narrows.
Photo : Skink trying to enjoy my shade.
Photo : A tad too narrow.
The last hundred metres of the rim was the most difficult because even the fissure disappeared and it was a case of very carefully stumbling over rocks and boulders and trying not to tip sideways.
Photo : We did it!!
A sigh of relief was felt when I saw the rough stairway again and I rejoiced the fact that I hadn't fallen into the volcano. What a plus. Now the only thing I was dreading was going down because I knew those bloody goblins were rubbing their gnarly little hands together and setting up the fireworks again, but Dave made a suggestion that shut the little sods up. Take the stairs sideways instead of walking straight. Yes I was dubious and was worried that my occasional less-than-sure-footedness would somehow cause me a come a cropper at some stage of the descent but no. I actually made it down safely with no hurt stops, no exploding kneecaps and in great time. Well done Dave, you saved yourself a lot of my ahhhhing and ouching noises.
Photo : Almost down.... yay!!
Having conquered the Mount, and consulting the rudimentary map that we had, the next stop was going to be Little Blue Lake, some foresty thingy on the same road and another thing that was supposedly nearby (the reason I sound vague on the two following the LBL is because we never managed to find them and as such, I've forgotten what they were). The Little Blue Lake was actually fascinating in itself. A natural water filled sinkhole that was obviously used for swimming (except there was a warning sign about possible blue-green algae), with steps and platforms. What a wonderful place it would have been after school on a hot day.
Photo : Little Blue Lake.
With a diameter of around 45 metres the Little Blue Lake is a sinkhole and is popular with divers and local swimmers.. The walls are sheer and undercut all the way around. The Lake used to turn blue annually, however, pollution from agricultural fertilisers has increased the nutrient levels of these lakes to the extent that they now remain a year-round green colour. Swimming is allowed, but discouraged. The depth ranges from 25m to 36 metres or deeper. The first reference of this sinkhole was in June 1961, although it is almost positive that scuba divers came here in the late 1950s.
After snapping a few photos and driving in circles trying to find the other places, we gave up and headed towards the interesting sounding Blackfellows Caves. I was looking forward to seeing the caves but was disappointed when we followed the signs into a small town named, you guessed it, Blackfellows Caves. So where are the caves? Well apparently there are some small caves along the limestone coastline that you can see at low tide but they're nothing special so after that slight disappointment we instead turned our attention to another wonderful sounding place that smacked of rugged shores and crashing seas, Carpenter Rocks. As we followed the signs, and with camera poised in anticipation of another of nature's marvels, my excitement mounted only to be dashed like Morse code without the dots. The road to Carpenter Rocks ended abruptly at a carpark in front of a small bay that moored about 15 - 20 fishing boats. Beyond the boats, waves surfed in against some reefs and rocks, but apart from that, the view was a little underwhelming and again I realised that the name, like Blackfellows Caves was merely the name of the town, not an actual representation of the surrounds. Again disappointing. Nearby was a small shop and at this stage the suggestion of junk food was a brilliant one, and so one demolished potato pie, bottle of Coke and a chocolate doughnut later we perused the map and were again on our way to (hopefully) more interesting locations. This time, the Tantanoola Cave.
Photo : The not-so-thrilling Carpenter Rocks
On sealed back roads from Carpenter Rocks, we tootled to town of Tantanoola, all the time keeping an eye out for the signs to the caves. Not a single sign has been spied when we actually drove down the main street in the town and on the third run it was becoming frustrating. Where are the Caves?? At one end of town I noticed some young men clearing tree cuttings in front of a house so we pulled over and, winding my window down and in my most polite manner said "Where the hell are these bloody caves?" I could see by the mirth on their faces that this was perhaps not an uncommon question in these parts and the lady-of-the-house kindly gave us directions to the main highway. Ah, that's where the confusion lay.... the Tantanoola Caves were not actually situated IN Tantanoola. Got it.
Finally, after about 10 minutes driving, we spied a sign for the caves. Huzzah!! Into the carpark and out of the car, I couldn't wait to see it. I love caves and rocks. Maybe I was a geologist in another life. However I dislike dark, tight places (need I remind you of my previous comment alluding to sleeping bags?) so I couldn't have been a spelunker. So, rocks yes, holes no. And history lesson time .....
Photo : Finally at Tantanoola Caves
Photo : Me and my buddy.
The Tantanoola Caves is a large chamber of 30m width and 8m overall height. However, it is one of the smallest caves in South Australia that has numerous stunning speleothems and several helictites. Its limestone and pink dolomite caverns are within Up and Down Rock, which is a prehistoric marine cliff near the highway and are one of Australia's most beautiful and magical limestone caverns. The cave was discovered purely by accident in 1930 when 16 year old Boyce Lane's rabbiting ferret went down a hole and didn't come back. The boy scrambled down after it and discovered the cave. Though there are 7 caves altogether but only one is safely accessible. The main chamber with its wheelchair ramps makes the Tantanoola Cave one of the most accessible in the country
Photos : Tantanoola Caves!!
On the left, the 80 year old 'drip'!
The 'Wedding Cake' or 'Chocolate Fountain'
Our wonderful personal cave guide filled us in on the history of the caves and then left us for our self guided tour, complete with encouragement to take heaps of photos. It was a beautiful and completely fascinating place. There were so many different formations and Tantanoola Cave is what is known as a 'working cave' where the limestone laden water still seeps and trickles and deposits, making the most minute changes every moment, most of which wouldn't be noticed for hundreds of years. When it was first discovered and later when the caves were opened up to the public, quite a few straws and stalactites were broken off but these are very slowly growing. In my photos you can see one such stalactite with a 'drip' on the bottom. This 'drip' is approximately 80 years old. Pretty amazing. We spent almost an hour slowly wandering the small space. I just love caves and it was so worth the hassle of finding it.
Time was marching on and we had one more place to see before our car had to be returned.... Piccaninnie Ponds.
The Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park borders Discovery Bay on the Limestone Coast and conserves a wetland fed by freshwater springs in a karst (a geological formation shaped by the dissolving of a layer or layers of soluble bedrock, usually carbonate rock such as limestone or dolomite) landscape.
Piccaninnie Ponds are known as being of global significance for several bird species. The Ponds contain three main features of interest to cave divers and snorkellers. The 'First Pond' is an open depression about 10m deep with a silt floor and an abundance of aquatic life, the 'Chasm' is a sinkhole with a depth of over 100m, and the 'Cathedral' is an enclosed area with limestone formations and a depth of about 35m. Underwater visibility is excellent and may go beyond 40m. Permit only.
Dave hazily remembered the ponds from a much earlier time in his life (well pre-me) when he was with Greenpeace. Foggy memories of possibly camping next to the ponds along with hippie type people all smoking funny stuff, and of maybe swimming in the absolutely crystal clear water whilst rather mellow. At least that one recollection. I can only imagine what a time it must have been.
On arriving at Piccaninnie Ponds we followed the main road around (noting several side roads) to its end and found nothing but a carpark and a sand track up the side of a dune (strictly 4 wheel drives only as was evidenced by the huge one we saw disappearing over the top) that led onto the beach. Since we couldn't see the ponds, a trip to the beach was the next best thing at the moment so we scrambled up the track, hoping that a 4WD didn't come barrelling over the top towards us. Down the other side we found ourselves on a long, wide, sandy stretch of beach. Judging by the many tyre tracks it was a popular 4WD haunt.
After we'd walked a while and collected a sea shell, we once again hopped in our far-from-4-wheel-drive car and took a roundabout way to find the ponds. Dave's recollections of where they might be in relation to the tracks were muzzy to say the least. We followed one track that petered out after a few minutes, backtracked, followed another and were about to give up and were in fact heading to the exit of the conservation park when we saw another track. Out of this one came a car, so we figured that there may indeed be something along there. Besides, this seemed to be the only road left so it couldn't hurt. When we saw a carpark with a couple of cars in it, and an information sign next to a gap in the overgrowth and a fancy little building that turned out not to be a bird hide or viewing platform, but a really cool looking toilet we knew we had found something at least. When we further spied a teenager in board shorts and clutching a towel sitting on a bench about 3 metres inside the narrow opening, and given that the sign we had spied gave us information about Piccaninnie Ponds, we cleverly surmised that we were in the right place.
Photo : The right place.
Photos : Beautiful Piccaninnie Ponds
Through the gap and past the damp teenager (who somehow managed to look sullen even though he was wearing sunglasses) was a lovely sight. A small pontoon was attached to shore and from there the cerulean blue ponds spread out before us, interspersed with islets of reeds. The crystal clear, but quite frigid water was home to a huge variety of grasses, weed and fish. Three brave young souls were sitting on the end of the pontoon, readying themselves for a snorkelling expedition. Another young couple were launching a small rubber ring canoe. It was such a thoroughly peaceful place and watching the young snorkellers quietly gliding away, floating atop the barely rippling water was a lovely thing to see. Mind you, it got a little noisy when the female half of the canoeists began squealing. It seemed that she hadn't done this before and wasn't too sure (I know how she felt) but he reassured her and the squealing died down to giggles.
Photo : Snorkellers
We stayed a little longer, got some underwater photos and video and decided to leave when more young people turned up for a swim. There was limited space at the pontoon and we decided to leave the kids to their fun. Better them than me. It'd have to be 40 degrees before I'd go into water that cold.
Photos : 1) Getting ready for the watery stuff. 2) From above 3) In the water.
We took an extremely leisurely drive along the coast road back to Port MacDonnell (we were typical Sunday drivers.... 40 in the 80 zone but at least he pulled over when he saw a car coming up behind). Part way back we stopped at a little beach where some massive limestone boulders had been stacked up in the car park. Initially I was going to grab some of the smaller bits that had fallen off (for carving) but decided it would probably be better if I actually used up what was already on the boat (soapstone) before I added more ballast. Instead we walked along the beach, found another couple of shells and then went on our way again.
Just one more stop occurred before returning the car, and this came about because of the different approach into the town. There were more awesome limestone sculptures that we hadn't seen previously and it was one last chance to snap a little more of this gorgeous artwork. I wish I knew who the artist was.
Photos: Sculptures at Port MacDonnell.
Back in the fisher fellow's carpark at last and waiting for the hire car people, I took one last opportunity to take a picture of the pelicans. It had been a really long day and was going to have to be an early night because in the morning (dead early as usual) we were setting out for Port Fairy.
Photo : Pelicans. A last goodbye.