The beds were so comfortable and the temperature of the house just right, and we all slept really well. I got up and had a shower then worked on the computer for a while, the others gradually woke up and played on the iPad then went out to have breakfast with our hosts. We had a relaxed morning, watching the Olympics and chatting some more, and I finished the 8th Harry Potter book. We packed the car quite easily as we’d taken very little out, then spent quite a while saying goodbye to the dogs. We were ready to leave around 10am.
We drove straight to Naracoorte Caves and bought tickets for the Bat Cave tour (how could we resist!?), then we had an hour to wander through the fossil centre and look at all the animals that have been discovered in this cave system, and learn about how old the caves were and how paleontologists figure this stuff out. Seeing the megafauna that used to live in this area was pretty cool and exciting. The fossil centre had a cave in it, with a tunnel to crawl through – we all had a go and it was just slightly claustrophobic for some of us. Caitlin loved it, and is keen to come back here to do some adventure caving one day (in the real caves, not the manmade one in the fossil centre). We had a sandwich and the kids bought commemorative coins of the fossil centre.
We started off on the tour and went into a room set up with TVs that display the footage from infrared cameras in the bat cave. We could see little bats on the wall of the cave, and then found an area where lots of them were flying around. It was cool to be able to see them without disturbing them at all. We also got to look at pictures of bats and at a couple of real bats that have been preserved. Nice to be able to see the actual size of them (these guys are Southern Bent-Wing Bats).
From there we went into Blanche Cave. The guide had offered the kids one of the torches to carry, so there was fierce negotiation about who would hold it when and for how long, which resolved itself fairly well. Blanche cave started as a large open chamber, with entries at both ends. It was quite light and airy inside, it was more like a massive open room. There were lots of columns, and holes up in the ceiling (caused by carbon dioxide bubbles when the cave was full of water in ancient times), and interesting patterns on the walls – there were places where we could still see shells and coral and tubeworms making up part of the limestone. There were also a coulple of preserved animals who had died down here, a possum and a turtle, adding to the depth of knowledge that the animal remains are providing to the scientists around here.
We went further into the cave, through a little garden area and into another chamber that only had the one entrance, so it was quickly much darker. The temperature dropped significantly as we walked in. There was another preserved possum here, probably 150 years since it died, and it still had a full pelt of skin, the cold dry air and darkness helping it decompose very very slowly. There were areas of the ground here littered with tiny little bat bones, which will eventually turn into fossils. I was impressed with the way we were allowed access to safe areas of the cave, and they had cordoned off any areas where people walking would harm the history or heritage of the cave. We went off the main path, with the guide, into the Bat Chamber – no Batman here, and we only saw one little bat, hiding in a crevice. Cool formations on the walls and floors though, and some very old graffiti – burned into the ceiling with candle smoke, or carved into a column in the middle of the chamber – dates as old as 1885!
Leaving that chamber we went further into the cave and found where most of the bats were hanging out (the Bat Cave is their breeding cave, the one we were looking at through the infrared cameras, and no one goes in there. This cave is one of the places they hang out during the winter when they are in torpor and not going out to feed much. We were allowed to shine shuttered light at them unless they started chirping then we needed to leave them alone. We found 4 clumps of bats up on the ceiling, all huddled together. They were cute, just moving around a little bit and checking us out then deciding we were no threat. (I think LiAM and I, and maybe the girls, were the only ones who thought they were cute. We loved them.)
We walked back out, chatting to the guide, then did a quick toilet stop and got on our way. Today we drove through the Coonawarra wine region, very prettyy again and quiite different from home or the Barossa that we saw yesterday. The vineyards still stretched as far as the eye could see, but they seemed to be owned by more wineries, lots of small allotments of vines rather than just a few big ones owned by few companies.
We turnd left at Penola and were soon back in Victoria. After most of our border crossings on the trip – either quarantine stations or at least big signs and rest stops and a bit of fanfare, this one was very tame. Just a blue sign along a winding country road saying ‘Welcome to Victoria’. Everyone felt quite comforted to be back, and home is seeming ever closer.
The drive was beautiful once again. The land was very green, at this end of winter. Areas of massive gum trees throughout the fields (and low lying areas full of water, there’s obviously been a lot of rain here this season) soon gave way to rolling hills, with few trees, covered in green grass. We saw lots of cattle, and sheep, and windmills. The road was much windier than most of the roads we’ve driven on in this trip, as well as hillier, and Caitlin felt a little carsick.
We drove through Casterton and Coleraine which were beautiful little towns. We stopped for petrol in Hamilton and Tony and I remembered it from when we were here before Caitlin was born. The last bit of the drive to Camperdown went fairly quickly – Tony was in familiar territory now and we all felt a bit like we were nearly home when we reached Camperdown.
We went to Tony’s Nanna’s first. She had just popped out to see the nurse so we chatted to Tony’s uncle until she got back, comparing travel stories and catching up on family news from home. Nanna came back and we had a cup of tea with her and Tony’s aunt, and ate some of Nanna’s sausage rolls. It was great to see her and she was thrilled to see the kids again, it’s been a couple of years. The kids played with her dog and her cat and it felt so cosy and comfortable to be there.
Eventually we said goodbye and went to Tony’s uncle’s house (a different uncle). We met their dogs and had a drink and settled down to chat while dinner finished cooking. We watched some Olympics and caught up on everyone’s news. We had a delicious roast lamb for dinner, then Tony got out the computer and showed his uncle some of the old photos we’d copied over from his cousin in Perth, he really enjoyed seeing them and they reminisced for a good while.
Millie was tired so w the kids and I went to the bedroom and we read the last chapter of Inheritance, so fitting that we finished it on the last night of her trip. I stayed with her until she went to sleep, then went to bed myself. The kids stayed up a while longer, LiAM did some drawing in Paintbrush and made an awesome picture of a horse, Caitlin played on her iPad and showed Tony’s uncle how to make videos. Eventually everyone headed to bed for our very last night away.