On the feast of St John, my family and I travelled to South Australia, but to a relatively new location for me, to a place that I had not been for about 35 years: Mt Gambier. Yes, Mt Gambier is an “extinct” volcano, but that’s not the one the title refers to. I’ll get to that one soon.
The Blue Lake – in the crater of Mt Gambier – is famous for the odd fact that in summer months it turns from its usual grey-green to a beautiful cobalt blue. (The reason for this that might interest some of you – see here.)
My younger brother Gary and his wife Michelle and their two sons (the same age as my daughters) shifted there some time ago so that Michelle could take up a position as a teacher. They’ve been living in town, but as we were visiting they were in the process of shifting to a new home about fifteen minutes drive south of town on the edge of another “extinct” volcano, Mt Schank.
Their “new” house was built about 100 years ago and is on 20 acres that run up the slopes of the mountain. From the outside, Mt Schank is noticeable, but not astonishing. It is when you climb up to the top and look into the crater that you see a truly magnificent sight.
The crater is actually deeper inside than the outside ground level. There’s no water in it because the bottom is not below the water line as the Blue Lake crater is. None of my photos do the full view justice. It is huge. Here is a collage of a couple of photos pasted together:
We went for a walk around the crater – Mia went charging on ahead. This is a picture of her taken from the other side of the crater on 10x zoom!
You can also walk down to the bottom, which we didn’t do, but will save that for our next visit.
The whole area is a geologists dream. I am in fact assured by one of our commentators here at the table that the volcanoes of the Limestone Coast (as it is known) are not really “extinct” – they have just been dormant for a very long time. Gary reckons that at the first sign of smoke, he’s “out’a here”. A bushfire in the crater would give them a bit of a scare…
While we were so close, we took the opportunity on one day to do a day trip up to Penola, where St Mary of the Cross MacKillop entered the religious life and established her first school. Penola actually has a very good – and much more interesting and time absorbing than expected – centre dedicated to Saint Mary and to the co-founder of the Josephite Order, Fr Julian Tennison-Woods.
We spent so long there, that I had to postpone to a future time any visits to any of the Coonawarra wineries north of Penola (sigh…). We went through Coonawarra towards Naracoorte in order to visit the Naracoorte Caves.
I’m just going to write a bit here for the sake of anyone who has found this post via Google looking for information on the Caves. Choosing to go to the Naracoorte caves rather than to the nearer Princess Margaret Rose Cave was difficult as the latter were cheaper and, we were told, “prettier”. But a childhood memory told me that the Naracoorte system had something special to offer, and since we were already going to Penola, we decided to go the extra distance. I’m glad we did in the end. We spent three hours there, having chosen their “Cave Tour – Double Unit: Family” package for $71. They really have too many choices for the casual visitor, but this gave us two guided tours, one to Alexandra Cave and one to the Victorian Fossil Cave. Thrown in was an unguided walk in your own time to the “Wet Cave”. You must arrive in time for either the 9:30am or 1:30pm Alexandra Cave tour, and the Fossil Cave tour follows on directly after this (a short drive away). We had very well informed and friendly local tour guides on both our tours. Our girls had never been in any caves before and were over awed by the experience. Alexandra Cave has enough “pretty” formations, and you also learn a lot about how the caves formed. Some reviews I found on the web said that they found the Fossil Cave “boring” – but to reach such a conclusion you would have to have absolutely no interest whatsoever in fossils. My girls loved it. Personally, I found the three hours quite enough – I was foot sore afterwards.
On New Year’s Eve – which wasn’t as hot in Mt Gambier as it got else where that day, but still a good day to get out of the sun – I took the girls and their cousins to see “Gulliver’s Travels” starring Jack Black. An extended review would be unnecessary. Suffice it to say that it was perfectly designed for 10-12 year olds (I groaned when they laughed), and surprisingly kept a good amount of the original story.
On the way home from South Australia we “did” the Great Ocean Road. Victorians will be familiar with this area, but it actually takes a bit of time to stop and look at all the attractions – as we did.
It took us two days to travel home along this route. We stopped every now and again for a swim. One real treat was a swim at Cape Bridgewater, which I reckon is one of the best beaches in Victoria. Cooler than Queensland, but the sands were just as white and the water just as blue! At this stage of the journey – still in the far west of Victoria, the crowds were pretty thin, but they increased as we moved further east (it was the New Year weekend) and by the time we made it to the Twelve Apostles, the crowds were very thick indeed. At that stage, I would happily have driven straight(ish) back to Melbourne, but Maddy wanted to see the cliff-hugging section of road between Apollo Bay and Anglesea, so we went that way, stopping for dinner in Lorne. It is the slow way home, but very beautiful.
For those of you have never travelled along this road, here are some of the breath-taking scenes.