Saturday, 11 October 2014

Day 23 - Three States, Desert and Bent Wing Bats

Big Lizzie
The Langston roadshow left Mildura at about 8:30am but didn't get far before Sue called us to a sudden halt on the southern outskirts. There, sitting under a specially constructed cover in a park in Red Cliffs, was Big Lizzie, herself specially constructed in 1920 to cart wool from Broken Hill to the Murray River. Caught by flood waters, the stranded mechanical giant was then drafted into clearing land for what would become the largest soldier settlement in Australia.

Powered by a 60hp crude oil engine, she would race through the scrub at her top speed of between 3 and 4 km/h, dragging chains and ball and pulling anything out of the ground that got in the way. She had a carrying capacity of slightly more than 80 tonnes and if needed, she could turn on a sixpence ... a very bloody large sixpence that was sixty metres in diameter.

We continued south to Ouyen, before turning west on the Mallee Highway and stopping at Underbool for morning tea in a purpose built park which was park of their centenary celebrations. Gas bbq's, drinking water, clean toilets with disability access and hotwater showers and power make it a comfortable stop for a break or for overnight. The pub serves good counter meals and the cafe/post office is just across the road. A local group of senior male locals were holding court at the cafe this morning. If only a few more small communities would take as much pride in providing opportunities for travellers to stop a while.

We crossed the border into South Australia, soon after arriving at Pinaroo for fuel and toilet break. At that point, we had travelled in three different Australian states since leaving Gol Gol that morning.

Turning south again, we stopped fifty kilometres later in a truck parking area beside the Ngarkat Highway, with the Ngarkat Conservation Park on both sides of the road. Ngarkat seems to be very little else but desert, with low scrub, stunted eucalypts and sandhills. We stopped because we were certain we had missed the rest area we had been looking for, but then discovered, soon after returning to the road following lunch.

Lunch stops on long driving days - days which Sue's delinquent back have made few and far between these days - happen to a fairly strict routine to which we both contribute. I park, lift the lid on the Cruiser, turn on the gas, put the kettle on, get out plates, cups, cutlery and all the lunch makings and then make the tea. Sue goes for a walk. Afterwards, I pack and clean, drop the lid, turn off the gas and check the rig. Sue has another walk. It's through sharing the load that life on the road fails to become a burden on one or the other.

The landuse changed fairly quickly after leaving Ngarkat CP behind. Closely settled farms started appearing with frequent letter boxes and an increasing number of sheep and then cattle. The soil seemed to be limestone based, which should have come as no surprise. The unchanged landscape was resplendent with grass trees - kangaroo tails of white rises up to four metres from the centre of their green floppy spikes, which fall about like a grass skirt. We bypassed  Bordertown and headed by secondary roads to Naracoorte and on to the Caves.

St Pauls Anglican and St Thomas, Catholic
- same carpark!
What a delightful place Naracoorte NP is! A World Heritage Site because of the megafauna in several of the caves, its hasn't rested on that unique claim but seems to deserve its rating as South Australia's most popular national park.

The camping area is too good to be true and caters for all types of overnight stay without one infringing on the other. Hot water showers, power, mains pressure water, picnic tables and shelters, bbqs, grass campsites; even motel style rooms and dormitories for groups ... it as the lot. We found a nice spot not far from the amenities but still shielded from other campers by a vegetation screen.

Supplies were purchased back in Naracoorte which seems well equipped as a commercial centre. While Sue shopped, I went for a walk, camera in hand and discovered one of the more unusual sights I have seen. On the top of a hill, immediately above the main business district, is not one but two churches: St Pauls Anglican and St Thomas, Catholic. They are side by side, separated only by a joint carpark they share! The Anglicans opened for business in 1880 and the Catholics in 1937. What an amicable arrangement!

Watching Bent Wings by braille
Returning to Naracoorte Caves, we went to the information centre to book cave tours for the next day and struck a very friendly guide - Desma - who not only gave us the good oil on which tours to do but threw in two extra items for the price of the two tours and also suggested a nice end of day activity. She has live here since she was a child and like all the local children, used to crawl around in the caves before the national parks took over.  So it was, that we made our way at dusk to the Bat Cave (cue the Na-Na, Na-Na, Na-Na, Na-Na, Na-Na, Na-Na, Na-Na, Na-Na sting). After the sun left and the cold arrived, we stood beside a large hole in the limestone which dominates the rock structure of the area. It serves as the opening to a cave which is home to 30 000 Bent Wing Bats .. one of only two caves in Australia where Bent Wings give birth to their young. After watching some Brush-Tailed Possoms take up position in precarious spots around the opening in search of a feed of Bent Wing Bat and in the belief we had missed the show, we probably would have left had we been the only ones there. As it was, there we only four of us to witness first one and then who knows how many more zoom from the cave in search of insects. We could certainly hear them and occasionally caught a glimpse of one as it zapped past a a great rate of knots. By holding our torch beams at about 45 degrees above the opening, bats would flip quickly through the beam.

It might sound like an anticlimax because of the limited vision and Sue certainly was disappointed.
Having been told 30 000 bats lived in the cave, she expected a mass exodus as if they were a swarm of bees departing a split hive. It was still impressive. One of those wonderful experience that can't really be described, just lived.

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