#31 – Dive in the world’s cleanest water
The Piccaninnie Ponds on the Limestone Coast have the purest cleanest waters in the world – dive right in.
South Australia’s Limestone Coast is home to more than 140 caverns, caves and sinkholes that are attracting considerable attention from the world’s diving community.
Visibility in these waters can often extend for more than 40m – extremely unusual for underground cave systems and chasms – making this one of the most spectacular sites in the country, if not the world. And it’s that clarity of water that draws divers from all over the planet.
According to the UK’s best cave diving explorer Martyn Farr: “The exceptional visibility in the Mount Gambier region comes about because the waters that emerge at Piccaninnie and Ewens Ponds, close to the coast, are drawn from a vast area of limestone which is very sparsely populated. This 14°C water is almost certainly the purest, clearest water on Earth.”
“YOU’D HAVE TO BE BRAVE BUT IF YOU HAVE THE COURAGE AND ARE WILD ABOUT ADVENTURE, THIS SOUNDS FANTASTIC.” – Sandra Sully
And Piccaninnie and Ewens are just two of the prime attractions.
There’s also Tank Cave, Australia’s longest submerged cave system at more than 7km, the famous Shaft, a monster cave lurking beneath a nondescript 1m hole in a grassy field in the middle of nowhere (like descending through a shoulder-width hole into a below-ground airplane hangar), and the far more dangerous and intricate passageways of Engelbrecht Cave beneath the very town of Mount Gambier itself.
But it’s Piccaninnie that’s perhaps the surprise experience of the region: a small, purpose-built pontoon hovers over a fairly calm pond-like area, which then leads to a natural drop-off to nowhere.
A sheer Chasm in which other divers can clearly be seen 36m below at the safety point, bubbles winding their urgent, erratic way to the surface, before the trench disappears for a further bone-chilling 85m.This is not a dive for the faint-hearted, and permits and guides are required for all dives in the area.
WHERE // Mount Gambier is in SA’s far southeast, near the Victorian border. The entrance to The Shaft is in a field around 3km west of Allendale East, while Piccaninnie Ponds is 30km further southeast near Port MacDonnell.
DID YOU KNOW? // SCUBA diving aside, it’s possible to snorkel (with a permit) at Piccaninnie Ponds – and other spots on the Limestone Coast – which means even the casual swimmer can float above The Chasm and peer into her eerie depths .
#32 – See the world at 300m per second
The ride of your life at Rockhampton Airport
Ever since Top Gun roared across cinema screens in 1986, there’s been a certain sector of the community (loosely defined as “males”) that has wondered what it’d be like to take that highway to the danger zone and flick round the sky at 1000km/h.
It’s a dream that’s beyond all but a tiny, tiny fraction of society. Unless you count the experience offered by Mig Jet Adventures, which allows you to come aboard a Polish-built MiG 15 for the ride of your life.
“We begin the experience with a brief history of the aircraft and its previous life when it engaged Sabre jets over Korea,” says pilot and owner Richard McDonald.
The purpose-built USSR combat MiG 15’s top speed is 1170km/h. With a wingspan of only 10m, you feel as though you’re strapped to a missile.
“It’s basically one enormous turbine engine,” adds McDonald.
Full Monty packages (an all-out thrill ride) are $2300, which buys you 25min of flight time and an hour of prep. Most of the high-speed cruising and aerobatic manoeuvres are done off the coast near Great Keppel Island – 25km away from Rockhampton, which takes about 60sec to reach.
Once you’ve wrapped your head around that, we suggest you decline the free tea and coffee offered. Unless you’d like to be wearing it at some point during the flight.
WHERE // From Rockhampton Airport in Qld. (07) 4921 1525 or http://migjet.com.au/
DID YOU KNOW? // Top Gun was riddled with tiny errors. Eg: when you take a Mig Jet flight, please don’t embarrass yourself by calling everything a “bogey” like they do in the movie. A bogey is an unidentified aircraft that, once identified, is either a “friendly”, a “bandit” (non-friendly) or a “hostile” (non-friendly that may be fired at).
#33 – Go extremely remote in Oz
The most remote part of Australia, the Cobourg Peninsula in Northern Territory.
The Cobourg Peninsula is as remote as it gets. Most people fly into one of the wilderness resorts, which means you miss out on the adventure of driving across the great wild expanse of Arnhem Land, where the world’s largest remaining wild herds of Banteng roam the monsoon forests and crocodiles watch as you splash your way through rocky creeks.
The Garig Ganuk Barlu National and Marine Park includes the entire peninsula, and was the first area in the world to be listed by the Ramsar Convention, which ensures the conservation of important wetlands. It’s also the site of the Victoria Settlement ruins, perhaps the first serious European settlement attempt in northern Australia.
The breathtaking coastline is home to some of the world’s best – and most exclusive – fishing spots, since access to the area is extremely limited. One good way to experience this special area is with Venture North, which operates tours from Darwin and Jabiru. This really does feel like the ends of the Earth.
Where Around 570km northeast of Darwin on the Cobourg Peninsula. Venture North tours depart from Darwin and Jabiru (www.northernaustralia.com).
Did you know? NT consists of 95 different protected areas within 53,505km2. Ten are National Parks, four are Aboriginal National Parks and four more are Commonwealth National Parks.
#34 – Find Food for the Soul at Flames of the Forest
Flames of the Forest, traditional Aboriginal meal
The smells and sounds of the rainforest at night, thousands of twinkling candles, friendly company, a fabulous three-course meal, Hors d’oeuvres and champagne on arrival and a private Aboriginal storytelling . . . what could be more magical?
The atmosphere alone of dining under a protective covering, with a Port Douglas rainforest canopy above that and only stars beyond, is amazing enough. But this is the perfect mix of theatre, spectacular nature and nocturnal animal life, storytelling and socialising, with a rippling mountain creek close by.
“GET THE WEATHER WRONG AND YOU’D BE AS HAPPY AS A SOCK. BUT WHEN IT’S GOOD, THIS IS TRULY MAGICAL.” – Catriona Rowntree
It truly is food for your soul, satisfaction for all senses and a unique hideout from the rest of the world. Flames of the Forest will be an unforgettable memory at an extraordinary natural venue.
WHERE // 15min from Port Douglas, 40min from Palm Cove and 1hr from Cairns in Mossman, Tropical North Queensland. $184 per person all inclusive, (07) 4099 3144 or www.flamesoftheforest.com.au for more info.
DID YOU KNOW? // For every person who signs their guestbook, Flames of the Forest plants a tree. To date they’ve planted more than 10,000 to help reforest the local area.
#35 – Stride Among the City of Gnomes
Gnomesville, the City of Gnomes
From humble and mysterious beginnings more than a decade ago (no-one knows for sure who started it), what was once a couple of meek lawn ornaments plonked onto a roundabout near Dardanup in southwest WA has grown into a sprawling citadel, a virtual world of more than 1000 roadside gnomes.
Garden variety gnomes, sports-playing gnomes, fishing gnomes, partying gnomes from all corners of the globe – they’re all left here with accompanying names and messages, usually richly pun-related. (Like Greg Gnoman, The Rolling Gnomes, the Gnoman Empire, even Assgnoma Bin Larden in a tiny gnome cave.)
The still-growing gnome community in tiny Ferguson Valley is self-protected by the rumour that incredible bad luck will befall anyone foolish enough to steal from or damage Gnomesville, and in fact wishes are granted to those who add to the collection when they visit.
The trick, when dropping off a portly statuette of your own, is coming up with a gnome-related pun that hasn’t already been taken (a lot harder than you think).
Quite aside from the sheer whimsy involved in visiting Gnomesville, there are several other sites worth checking out, including nearby Wellington National Park, home to the 36m tall King Jarrah Tree, one of the oldest jarrahs in the world at 500 years.
WHERE // Southwest WA, about a 15min drive from Bunbury, near Dardanup, surrounding the roundabout joining Ferguson Rd and Wellington Mill Rd in Ferguson Valley.
DID YOU KNOW? // Vandals (whom AT are officially putting a curse on) once tore a path of destruction through Gnomesville in past years, smashing and decapitating several dozen gnomes. Locals were outraged, Bunbury police were baffled and a reward was offered by the State Emergency Services Volunteer Assoc for their capture.
#36 – Watch the colours of Blue Lake
Changing colours of Blue Lake, Mt Gambier
If ever you needed evidence that spring’s arrival is celebrated by the living and the – well, the inanimate, then Mt Gambier has it. Every year as spring arrives, the town’s moody body of water – the Blue Lake – celebrates with a brilliant change of colour.
To see the lake in its two stages is something else, as though you’re at two very different places on Earth. The summer version sparkles like Lake Como, only more Australian. The winter version is a depressed former Soviet state.
During hibernation it’s the Grey/blue Lake. Then, in November, it changes to a brilliant sparkling blue.
Only recently have the lab coats revealed why: organic material clouds the water in winter, then as the water warms, it precipitates a greater amount of calcite, which changes the water pH and organic material levels.
It’s also the main source of water for the town of Mt Gambier, so don’t pack your bathers expecting to have a dip.
WHERE // 450km southeast of Adelaide and 426km west of Melbourne. The Blue Lake is on the southern outskirts of the town.
DID YOU KNOW? // If you needed any further evidence of traditional owners’ length of tenure, the Boadnik people’s oral history of the area alludes to ancestors witnessing the volcanic activity that created the many lakes in the area more than 4000 years ago.
#37 – The Sound of Music at Mt Scoria
Musical Mount Scoria near Rockhampton
As a famous failed nun turned governess once sang, those hills most certainly are alive with the sound of music. And nowhere is this better expressed than our tiny but impressive hill of Mount Scoria, south of Rockhampton.
Billed as one of only three “musical mountains” in the world, and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere, the 150m high Mount Scoria is a rare, prehistoric rock formation that was the core of a volcano about 25 million years ago.
The curious and interesting thing about Mount Scoria, however, is not its complex volcanic history but the fact that, when struck (carefully, you understand, as this can cause damage), its long, six-sided basalt columns sound musical notes that ring out over the sparsely vegetated plain.
“FOR THOSE SEARCHING FOR TRANQUILITY AND AN UPLIFTING EXPERIENCE.” – Sandra Sully
The diminutive mountain has the distinct appearance of a naturally occurring staircase, reaching up in awkward stages from its 2km base.
It’s also known to be a fierce attractor of the elements – when thunderstorms rage in the area, Mount Scoria’s summit lights up with strike after scorching strike: an incredible experience if you’re in the area in grim weather, since the acoustic quality of the mountain turns regular thunder into a sound show that trembles the very Earth. (Just keep a respectful distance during these times.)
And for those of you keeping score at home, the only two other musical mountains in the world are located off the coast of Scotland and Sicily.
WHERE // Just 12km from Biloela and 127km southwest of Gladstone, Qld.
DID YOU KNOW? // According to the British tabloid The Sun (and imdb.com) The Sound of Music was chosen by BBC execs as a movie to be broadcast after a nuclear strike, to improve morale of survivors. The BBC did not confirm or deny the story, saying, “This is a security issue so we cannot comment.”
#38 – See Blind Shrimps and Stars at Cutta Cutta Caves
Cutta Cutta Caves and its rare residents
Blind shrimps. Yep, they do exist. In two places in the world: Madagascar and one itty-bitty cave in the NT. Cutta Cutta caves, just south of Katherine, have a lot more going for them but in terms of pure “get outta here” factor, the blind shrimps have it.
The cave system isn’t extensive compared to some of the larger southern states but pack a massive punch for their size and interest.
The blind shrimps share their habitat with two species of rare and endangered bats: the Orange Horseshoe and the more spooky Ghost Bat. Both are incredibly timid, so public access to the system has been limited to leave the poor critters alone.
And to make sure there’s something to spook everyone, the harmless brown tree snake hangs out on the ledges in the cave system.
As you descend the short 15m into the cave you notice the temperature starts to rise; the cave system averages about 35° and humidity hovers at a sweaty 80-90 percent. So while you explore, you can also sauna.
While westerners are spooked by bats and snakes, the stalactites and stalagmites gave the traditional owners of the land, the Jawoyn, the heeby jeebies; they never enter the cave system as they believe that’s where the stars live during the day.
“Star” in the local Jawoyn dialect is Cutta – hence, Cutta Cutta, the cave of many stars.
Where 27km south of Katherine.
Did you know? Cutta Cutta Caves were the site of a World Record attempt – an antisocial Territorian spent 60 continuous days living there in the ’70s to break the world record.
#39 – Flying Tour of Ancient Australian Art
Flying tour to Aboriginal art centres in the Outback
Have you ever been to an art gallery (or, more often, a touristy gift shop), taken a look at the Aboriginal works on display there and wondered to yourself at the – how can we put this – at the authenticity of the pieces?
One great way of knowing for sure that what you’re looking at is the real deal is to take an aerial Aboriginal Art Tour. Fly to incredibly remote outposts to watch works of extraordinary beauty and complexity being produced right before your very eyes.
Trevor Wright from Wrightsair, based in William Creek in outback SA, runs tours to three major art centres, all of which – Ernabella, Fregon (Kaltjiti) and Indulkana – are more than 1300km from Adelaide by road, deep in Anangu Pitjantjatjara lands. Which is why it makes far more sense to fly there.
Once there you’ll have a chance to view artists working in their own environment and to learn about a culture that stretches back more than 3000 generations.
All permits are handled by Wrightsair, who are very passionate about the art and culture of these remote communities, and who point out that buying art direct from the community is incredibly important, as all monies go straight back into that community.
WHERE // Aboriginal Art Tours depart from William Creek, 168km east of Coober Pedy, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 8am. Pickups are available from Coober Pedy and Olympic Dam airports. More info on (08) 8670 7962 or at www.wrightsair.com.au
DID YOU KNOW? // The people of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara lands have a strong tradition of contemporary art practices, and in fact Ernabella Arts is thought to be the longest continually running Aboriginal art centre in Australia.
#40 – Visit our Most Haunted House, Monte Cristo Homestead
Stay the night in Australia’s most haunted house – Monte Cristo Homestead
Boarding school kids would’ve heard many terrifying ghost stories in their time. But these leave those for dead.
Reg Ryan and wife Olive, owners of Monte Cristo Homestead, have lived at Monte Cristo for 40 years and subjected themselves to a lot over the years.
The presence of others in their home, their children grew up with a man dressed in work clothes peering into their bedroom window, family pets have gone berserk and run away, and the property was once illuminated with lights streaming from every window and doorway of the home – long before electricity was connected in the house.
“ASK AROUND THE GETAWAY OFFICE AND THIS PLACE GETS THE NOD AS THE ULTIMATE SPOOKFEST.” – Catriona Rowntree
Mediums tell of weird and wonderful occurrences from years gone by at Monte Cristo, and for those who dare accommodation is on offer at the beautiful Victorian home, elaborately decorated with cast iron lace and furnished with early 1800s antiques collected from every corner of the globe, some of which are also said to be haunted.
Reg is passionate about his property and if you reckon you’re brave enough to take a nighttime tour around Australia’s most haunted house, this place will send shivers up your spine.
WHERE // Monte Cristo Homestead is in Junee, NSW, around 4.5hrs from Sydney and 5hrs from Melbourne.
DID YOU KNOW? // Reg Ryan paid £2000 all up for the homestead (half in 1959, half in 1963). Now the contents of the home alone are said to be valued at $6 million.