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Published: February 4th 2011
Thursday 27th January and today we went back in time – half an hour to be precise! We left Portland and Victoria behind and drove the 80 kms or so into South Australia where there is a half hour time difference. Victoria is a beautiful state and we still have only visited a tiny part of it. As we left we hoped the expected flooding in Swan Hill in the north of the state wouldn’t leave too much damage.
We stopped in a rest area just outside a little place called Dartmoor for a break – the surrounding scenery was similar to the Dartmoor National Park back home. This Dartmoor has some special features but unfortunately the rest area was just a little too far from the village to walk in to it and with the caravan on the back it’s sometimes a little tricky to negotiate small places. So we resolved to return another time to find the things that have put this small village on the tourist hit list.
As we got near the state border there were warning signs telling us to bin any fruit and vegetables we might have – luckily there had been a
Details of how the lake formed
showing it was an explosive volcanic crater and one of the youngest in Australia
sign at the caravan park in Portland so I hadn’t stocked up and all we had was one apple to eat. Some of the Aussie states do this to try to control fruit fly disease. We sailed over the border but somewhat disappointingly there were no ‘border guards’ ready to search our outfit for illegal fruit and veggies!
Before long we had arrived at Mount Gambier where we intended to stop for a few nights – only the second place on this whole trip where we had stayed before. This time we booked into a different Caravan Park - the Top Tourist Kanganyi Holiday Park which was just on the northern edge of the city. For the first time in a long time Graham struggled to park Sweetie to his satisfaction. I couldn’t understand why he kept altering the position as it was a grass site with plenty of room and no concrete block to worry about. I think that was the problem – there was nothing to use as a guide. Anyway, I stood there shaking my head and being no help at all!! Eventually we got set up and feeling very hot and bothered I got some
ice-creams from the reception - I hoped the chap in the office hadn’t watched us messing about but he shrugged his shoulders when I mentioned it as they see it all the time and don’t take any notice. It proved to be an excellent choice of Park in a quiet location with a lovely pool and a well equipped games room and access to and from the city was easy. After settling in we did our usual tour of the area although it’s an area we remembered well from our previous trip. Mount Gambier has a beautiful blue (very, very blue) lake but has many other areas of beauty too so we knew we would enjoy it here.
Friday 28th - today is Sarah and Darryl's 11th Wedding Anniversary. Many congratulations and our best wishes to you both. They were having a day off work so hopefully they celebrated in their usual exuberant style!
Today we planned to visit Nelson where “the river meets the sea” and possibly do a river trip on the Glenelg River. We soon found our way to Nelson and were immediately impressed by it’s natural beauty. The setting was idyllic with access to
a rough ocean beach and a calm swimming beach, lovely walks, bird reserves and numerous fishing opportunities (we haven’t used our rods yet!) and a superb visitor’s centre for such a small place. What we hadn’t bargained for was the fact that the river trips don’t operate on Fridays!!!! We consoled ourselves by going to the local pub and having a huge “Chicken Burger and Chips” lunch each – probably most unhealthy but absolutely delicious. Not far from Nelson are the Piccaninnie Ponds and, because we recalled that Sarah and Darryl had called in there, we did too. There were a few chaps there with diving gear and then we remembered that this is a great place to go diving and snorkeling because of the crystal clear water and the underwater caverns. If we had been prepared and maybe more experienced we could have bought a permit for $10 each and had a snorkel – did S&D do that we wonder? We drove further along the track, parked and completed one of the marked walks. It went down to the wild and rugged beach and then along a board walk - it was pleasant but lacked wild life! We still
had plenty of time in the day so we made our way back to Mount Gambier via Port MacDonnell - what another pleasant surprise! Yes it was a busy port but it also had excellent beaches, cliff top walks from which odd shaped eroded rocks could be seen and signs suggesting a fairy penguin colony. Alas, we didn’t see any penguins and couldn’t work out where they would come in from the sea as everywhere was rocky. We drove on along the cliffs where there were numerous lookouts and eventually made our way back towards Mount Gambier. On the way we spotted a sign for “The Little Blue Lake” – a popular local swimming hole – so we went to have a look. It would have been an excellent swimming place but signs warning of “Algae” were everywhere - that didn’t stop some adventurous locals having a dive and a swim but we weren’t tempted. Back in MG we took our sandwiches (our intended lunch before we found the pub) to Valley Lake and enjoyed a really peaceful picnic by the lake with only the birds for company.
On Saturday morning we decided to go back to Nelson to
do the river trip so I phoned the company to make sure they were going. Yes they were and they told us to be there for 1pm Victoria time or 12.30 SA time – how confusing is that! Nelson, of course, is only a few kms into Victoria so they get lots of people like us popping over from SA.
We took some sandwiches and ate them on the river bank awaiting the departure time. While we were doing that a steady stream of people arrived and got on board the boat ahead of us. But it wasn’t a “busy” day so when we got on there was still some space on the shaded upper deck and we got two very good seats. The boat meandered gently up the Glenelg River with a running commentary from the owner/operator. We passed several remote get-away spots where people had moored house-boats or built riverside lodges. Most were pretty ramshackle affairs built for practicality rather than appearance but occasionally there was a real beauty. They were all perfectly legal and rent was paid for each location which were numbered in ascending order as we went up river. The numbers we passed eventually
went into the hundreds.
Our destination was The Princess Margaret Rose Caves about an hour upstream where the boat would stay plenty long enough for those interested to have a guided tour. Not everybody on board chose to do the tour but we did and we were so pleased we made that decision – it was fascinating. The cave literature says that it is ‘arguably the most decorated cave per square metre in Australia’ and we couldn’t argue with that statement. We’ve been in some huge caves and these were fairly small by comparison but they had many beautiful formations – stalagmites, stalactites, straws, pillars and very unusual formations that defy gravity called helictites that are thin, long and grow in any direction.
The history of the caves is interesting - an entry hole was found by two young lads, ‘Bunny’ Hutchesson and his friend Keith McEachern. They used to amuse themselves as kids by dropping things into the hole to see how long it took to reach the bottom. When they were a bit older Bunny was lowered down the narrow 17 metre vertical shaft into the cave on a rope but the pair didn’t tell anyone
about what they’d found. Eventually in 1936 they explored the caves when in their late twenties and the two friends secretly spent five years digging a better way in through the limestone and then got permission from THE Princess Margaret Rose (who was born on the same day as Bunny’s daughter) to name the caves after her. They developed the cave as a tourist attraction with “Bunny" acting as the first permanent guide, conducting tours from 4th January 1941. Since 1980, the cave has been part of the Lower Glenelg National Park.
The 300 metre walk up to the caves was steep and with over 80 steps and a lengthy walk to negotiate inside the cave, by the time we returned to the boat we were pleased to relax and enjoy the cruise back to Nelson. We sat on the top deck again, had cups of tea and a packet of crisps each – again unhealthy but very enjoyable.
We wound our way back towards Mount Gambier on a different road through acres and acres of pine trees of varying ages and heights and found our way to Dartmoor, the small village we passed through a couple of
days earlier. Much of the timber grown locally is dealt with in Dartmoor and the main street was dominated by a line of 9 wooden sculptures. Apparently, in 1918, 60 cedar trees had been planted to honour local servicemen and nurses who served in WWI but over time many of the trees had become unhealthy and unsafe. So in 1998, with the help of government grants, chainsaw artist Kevin Gilders got to work and created the magnificent sculptures on show today. In recognition of the remaining trees, small sculptures were created on the side of the road and in the park stand 3 more. The largest of these is a wonderful work displaying the main characters in famous nursery rhymes – it is amazing!
We’d had a fantastically varied day and made it back to the CP just before it got dark.
We had been warned it was going to be a very hot day on Sunday and so it was – over 40˚ for much of the day and the thermometer in Sweetie read 45˚ at one stage. We decided it was just too hot to go sight-seeing so just relaxed and swam in the pool.
Thankfully it was cooler in the evening so we went off to our favourite spot in MG overlooking Valley Lake for a picnic and then we walked up to Centenary Tower from where there is a fabulous view of the surrounding area.
We remembered that we had wanted to return to the Umpherston Sinkhole – a small crater which was formed from volcanic activity and which is on the outskirts of the city. It had been developed by one of the former land-owners (Umpherston) into a garden and novelty picnic area and has since become a tourist attraction. We had called in there fleetingly a couple of days previously. Apparently, possums are often seen clambering about in the early evening and they sometimes come to be fed so we thought that by leaving our visit a little later in the day we might see some. We got chatting to a couple who lived in Adelaide and were spending a few days in MG and they had brought bread to feed the possums. We strolled and looked but – no possums! We did see some interesting bees “nests” though which were similar in shape to some of the weird cave
Graham armed himself with a stick but it broke!
because he saw a green snake but fortunately it soon slithered off
formations we had seen. Eventually we gave up and left the possum hunters to it – hopefully they did come out in the end. It had been a lovely evening and a fantastic few days in Mount Gambier.
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