Thursday, December 27, 2012

Great Southern Land (Part 1)

The geology business is a funny one. One minute the industry can't get enough geologists to help them explore for coal, gas and minerals. And then commodity prices drop and the first thing to be shelved is exploration. The result is a lot of unemployed geologists, quickly. I still have a job, but the company I work for hires out geologists. Right now the demand has dried up, so my boss sent us off on unpaid leave for a few months. I got to keep my company car though, so hatched a plan - go camping!

First stop was Sydney to drop off some mining gear to a colleague. That done, I spent the next two weeks meandering northwards through rural New South Wales. I mainly camped in National Parks. As always, if a spot looks interesting or unusual on a geological map, it's usually pretty spectacular in real life.

Sydney Harbour

The road west from Sydney weaves through the Blue Mountains. Two things to note: they aren't mountains but gorges. And they aren't blue, exactly, it's an effect of haze and distance. Other than that, it's a perfect name.

I may have gotten a bit close to the edge here...

Next stop was the town of Bathurst. Most of the year it's a quiet rural town, but every October, a 1000km race is run on the nearby Mount Panorama circuit. You can drive around it at 60km/h (and yes, the speed limit is policed!). Driving around gives a good idea of the steepness of the climb up and down the mountain. It certainly isn't your average flat race track. One day I will be back in my Triumph Herald or GT6.

There's also a great museum near the start-finish line, which has a pretty good cross-section of cars which have raced at Mt Panorama, as well as other famous race cars. The only Triumphs were motorbikes, all impressively restored and waiting to roar off into the sunset.

Not sure our fleet-manager should see this one...

West of Bathurst, I found a place called Wellington Caves. Being a geologist, anything with the word 'cave' is irresistible. So I pitched my tent at the caves' campground, and next morning took tours of all three caves. The rock's a Devonian limestone or marble (marble is just baked limestone) with some impressive fossils and formations. It was also a nice cool 18C, instead of the high thirties outside.

One cave was mined for phosphate during WW1. The phosphate was from bat droppings and coated the cave floor and walls. How much phosphate was produced isn't known, and it was suggested that the mine was a good way for a few chaps do do their bit for the war effort without having to go France for target practice. Who knows if that's true?

The best formation in Cathedral Cave, naturally called 'The Organ'.

After the cave tours it was early afternoon, so I set off for the town of Dubbo. The town's most famous attraction is the Western Plains Zoo, which is a part of Sydney's Taronga Zoo. A zoo visit takes most of a day, so the next day was spent watching animals. Elephants, bison, giraffes, hippos, tigers, lions, all sorts of Australian animals (most of which I've met in the wild), lemurs.  I hired a bike and cycled around - a brilliant, green plan that seemed a little less clever as the temperature neared 40C!  Most of the African animals were happy to be out in the summer sun, but some were happier spending their time snoozing under trees. They were obviously the smarter ones. Of course animals can't stop for an iceblock, but I certainly could. Phew!

The end of a memorable, fun day was marked with a beautiful sunset. Australia does sunsets well.

The next day I headed north-ish again. Here's a taste of the next stop:


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