Monday, May 2, 2011

Adelaide Family Trip Day 13 - (Holes)

The first holiday we ever took as a family unit (Nick was just over a year old) was to Mt Gambier as (surprise, surprise) part of a brass band contest. Memories of that holiday are now faint, but we do recall:
  • not sleeping much as we were next door to a group from another band that didn't know how to sleep, just how to drink
  • Visiting the Blue Lake
  • Nick being terrified of the ocean when we ventured down to the water at Ocean Grove, on our way home.
 9 years later and not much has changed. The town is bigger than it was back in 2001 and the council is now a bit more tourism savvy, but the traditional attractions are still there.

First stop this morning was to The Lady Nelson Visitor and Discovery Centre. The Discovery Centre is the best and the worst of interpretive centres. The wetlands section looked like it should have been overhauled about 15 years ago, with bits of chicken wire sticking out from plaster near faded stuffed animals. The Lady Nelson Brig was closed for repairs (though we did get a reduction in the entry fee as a result). On the positive side the Discovery Room, showing details of European settlement, included a well made video in holographic form, and in the Geology Room, the section of volcanos included a mini light and sound show.  This was the section the boys enjoyed best.

The rest of the day was spent sightseeing various types of holes around Gambier.

The Blue Lake (sitting in an extinct volcanic crater) is a a natural phenomenon where between November and March each year the water in the lake appears a very vibrant blue colour. Our visit, being in May, meant the lake was less blue, but still blue enough for me to take some happy snaps:

Maybe the photos do not show the real blueness of the water.  Anyway, we did a tour of the Aquifer (Blue Lake is the source of water for domestic consumption). Not for the first time of this trip (nor for the last time today) our tour guide, Garry, made the tour special. We were the only people on the tour and it took a little while for Garry to get used to dealing with a very small group. Once he settled in to it, he was a fount of knowledge, as well as telling us things that SA Water probably didn't want him to tell us (the issues of introducing fluoride into the water in Mt Gambier for one thing). Thanks Garry.

After lunch we visited the Cave Garden, located in the heart of the town, an interesting garden created around a cavem surrounded by construction activity (and incidentally the Mt Gambier library, reputed to be one of the best small libraries in the world)

From there we travelled to the Engelbrecht Cave, an underground cave system stretching for about 400 metres, located under Mt Gambier. In what I consider to be an innovative move by the local council, the cave and surrounding land and buildings (including a cafe) have been leased for five years to a private operator. The lessee, and our guide, Brenton, had explored the caves as a kid (when it was still just glorified landfill) and after travelling the world has returned to his home town with his NZ wife to run a business and to generally raise the standards of the tourism industry in Mt Gambier. Our visit here was split into two sections. the first was the actual tour of the caves itself, fascinating in it's history (previously used as a dump for potato waste for a whiskey producer, then as an unofficial tip for the city, before being cleaned up by the local Lions Club). The caves are world renowned and are used as training bases for cave divers.  The second part of the visit was to discuss tourism strategies used by tourism operators in Mt Gambier, and how some of these amy be used back in Kinglake. I thank Brenton for his tour and our chat afterwards.

The last stop on our hole tour was the Umpherston Sinkhole, an elaborate garden built in a large sinkhole by someone a long time ago with too much time on his hands. The gardens themselves were a nice to look at, but once you got over the novelty of it being in a big hole, it was just another attraction to tick off on the list.

Am enjoying a bottle of Cab Shiraz purchased from Hundred of Comaum in Penola now. Looking forward to more sight seeing tomorrow.

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