We had wanted to see Lake Mungo in western New South Wales – famous for Aboriginal history and palaeozoology – for many years.
An early start from Adelaide and a very sleepy look at Australia’s largest river- the Murray
By the time we got close to Lake Mungo it was obvious we were now truly in the outback, especially the last 60km or so along a bumpy dusty road with saltbush and other semi-arid shrubs to either side.
Well, it used to be a lake, until about 20,000 years ago, when it rapidly dried out. You can still clearly see the ancient sand dunes along the edge (even from the air – I saw them on a flight to Adelaide earlier in the year).
Before then it was alive with active Aboriginal communities as well as diprotodons and other now-extinct megafauna (and some not so mega). 20,000-year-old human footprints surprised and intrigued researchers and others. There was even more surprise when the remains of Aboriginal people found there (especially Mungo Man and Mungo Lady) which proved to be 40 – 45 thousand years, and decorated to suggest a ritual burial. Two surprises here – first that humans had been in Australia for such a long time (recent discoveries elsewhere have now suggested over 60,000 years) and secondly that ritual burial had such a long history.
The remains of Mungo Man have recently been returned to his home country of Lake Mungo.
20,000 years ago saw an episode of climate change causing Australia to become colder, drier and windier, gradually drying up the lake
Our main purpose was to spend 4 days meeting travel agents from around the world and explaining our tours to them, at Australia’s biggest annual trade show, the ATE. It is very tiring, a bit like four straight days of speed-dating, but also very enjoyable meeting a lot of friendly and interesting people, making potentially valuable contacts and gleaning new ideas, and also sampling foods from the various states and territories.
After the ATE we collected my grandson (Darren’s nephew) Axel from the airport after his first-ever flight in a large plane so that he could have his first-ever meeting with his Adelaide cousins and first-ever experience of Australia’s outback on our drive back to Queensland.
We met my niece Britta and her two boys Niki and Alex at the Adelaide Zoo . Lovely see them again. The boys seemed to quickly make friends and enjoy exploring and playing together.
Then a family reunion dinner
Next day a family visit to the SA Museum, which I was forever dragging my mother to as a child and later exploring frequently ion my own, followed by the art gallery and a stroll through Adelaide city streets.
SA Art Gallery
Rundle Mall, Adelaide
Next day we (3 generations: myself, Darren and Axel) met with lecturers from the new ecotourism course being offered at Adelaide University (where I graduated with Honours in zoology many years ago), followed by a personal tour of the University, especially the science areas and library, some of which I remembered but much of which was new.
Next day it was off towards that site so famous for Aboriginal history – Lake Mungo …….
See previous post for travel to Pilliga and Siding Springs
On to the Flinders Ranges
We settled into the quaint and cosy hotel “The Mill” in Quorn and took a walk just before sunset along a very small section of the 1200km Heysen Trail.
I was pleased to find we could still buy my favourite ice cream – Golden North honey – in the region. At the time I used to visit, many years ago, it was the only place you could in fact buy it. It arrived in Adelaide some time later.
Next day was devoted to a whirlwind trip to Wilpena Pound and Brachina Gorge in the FlindersRanges, where ancient rocks have been uplifted and folded into dramatic shapes.
I had very often camped and hiked here with the Adelaide University Mountain Club many years ago but Darren had never visited. I was glad he immediately fell in love with these rugged ranges and started missing them as soon as we left
To Wilpena Pound
To Brachina Gorge
I wish we could have had a day or two to explore the time trail here, and just to wander around, and sit in the gorge taking in the whole atmosphere .
Instead of simply heading by plane to the Australian Tourism Exchange in April 2018, Darren and I decided drive to some places we’d never been to and re-visit some we had. I also arranged for my grandson Axel to join us by plane and drive back with us for his first-ever flight in a large plane and first-ever visit to the outback, plus a first-ever meeting between cousins (my brother’s grandsons)
Our first stop: the Pillaga
This is the largest remnant of dry woodland in NSW, on Jurassic-age Pilliga sandstone, and the traditional country of the Gamilaroi People, about halfway between Narrabri and Coonabarrabran.
Here we had out first glimpse of the world’s largest model of the solar system:
Planet models and the distances between them are all to scale, and you drive many kilometres between them. We found most of the others on our way to Coonabarrabran and on to Siding Springs Observatory.
Hot and tired when we reached the entrance to the caves walk, we decided to just walk as far as there first cave, but when we saw it we were rather tempted to goon to the second, and continued on to visit them all.
Various etchings can be seen in some spots – e.g. of emu and kangaroo tracks
Are you starting to see why we kept walking from cave to cave?
A few of the birds we saw in the Pilliga:
White-eared honeyeater (one of the study species during my Honours Zoology research on Kangaroo Island years ago – it does eat nectar but also many insects gleaned from leaves and -more unusually for honeyeaters – very often from bark)
Common bronzewing pigeon:
Apostlebird (they and Australian choughs belong to a family with no other members, and both are exclusively Australian)
Fracking for CSG
All may not be well for the Pilliga in the future. Santos has been doing some quite extensive searching for CSG extraction possibilities, and already has established pipelines through the area. Potential problems include excessive water usage in an area already subject to drought and possibly increasingly so as climate change progresses, possible contamination of water sources (including underground), habitat destruction and noise of fracking stations disturbing wildlife
After the Think Tank near Kruger NP, I had to find my way to my second conference, Frugivory and Seed Dispersal 2015, in the Drakensbergs
All went well for several hours, although I was slowed down a bit by lengthy detours from roadworks, until I left Bergville, close to sunset, and the longer I drove the less it looked like I was going the right way. Finally it was quite dark and I was driving down narrow country roads with people, goats and cows occasionally wandering along on them. I stopped to ask directions from some ladies, but we had some language problems, or perhaps they just hadn’t hard of my destination. Finally when driving through a small village I saw a shop that was open, pulled up to the door and called out to the shop attendant. He was friendly and helpful and told me I had to travel the 20 km back to Bergville and take the road out the other side. When I finally got to the right road and saw a sign pointing to Alpine Heath Resort I actually called out ‘thank you’ to it.
The Alpine Heath Resort is in a dramatic setting in the Drakensbergs.
People from all over the world presented fascinating papers over the next few days on seed dispersal by frugivores (fruit eating animals), from insects to elephants. I presented a report on some work-in-progress on what determines whether native fig seeds and seedlings germinate and persist after being dispersed by birds and bats.
There were symposia on ecology and evolution, the chemical ecology of seed dispersal, international networks, patterns and processes in frugivore-plant interactions, understanding seed dispersal, see dispersal and plant recruitment in a changing world, anthropogenic impacts on seed dispersal, seed dispersal by animals as an ecological filter, movement ecology and genetic effects, and conservation of environmental services, with many good talks presented within each.
A mid-week fieldtrip took us to the Nambiti Game Reserve where I had my final chance to see lions, elephants, giraffes, hippos and rhinos, as well as my first hartebeest and oryx (the oryx is Namibian rather than South African, but have been released into the reserve)
After the conference I booked for a horse ride that included a wild gallop up a hill and my first view of an eland. During the conference I had also seen jackals and small antelopes at night, plus a number of birds, and heard that someone had seen secretary birds flying over. I suggested n my feedback form to the resort that they mention the wildlife in their promotion, and they have responded that they will try to fit it in to their website.
The next International Frugivory and Seed Dispersal Symposium will be held in India in 2020.
I’ve left Kruger, and am staying at the Protea Hotel ready for the BEST Education Network Think Tank XV: The Environment People Nexus in Sustainable Tourism: Finding the Balance. I’m still just across the river though, so can look across into Kruger and still hope to see elephants and hippos, and there are monkeys and birds in the garden. We’ll also be having a conference field trip back into Kruger tomorrow for a sunset drive.
I have to switch my mental faculties now from wildlife-watching mode to conference and networking mode. I would have liked another month or so of the wildlife watching, but this should be a very worthwhile conference. Because I’m representing Wildlife Tourism Australia at the Think Tank, I’ll now switch to recording events, including interesting bit of information and ideas from the conference and notes on our field trips, on the Wildlife Tourism Australia blog: http://www.wildlifetourism.org.au
(NOTE: this is not one of our own tours: I’m exploring Kruger NP before attending two conferences in South Africa)
I’m really going to miss Kruger! I could easily spend a couple of months here. Or more.
Visitors to my on table (and no, they didn’t get a feed) included glossy starling, yellow-billed hornbill (known locally as the ‘flying banana’) and female and male red-winged starlings
I made a sound while drinking my sparking marula juice which seemed to arouse this giraffe’s curiosity
As I said, all animals have right-of-way here, and with some you don’t get much choice anyway!
My ‘home’ for my last two nights: a cabin at Skukuza, with its own fridge and shower/toilet (my hut at Pretoriaskop didn’t have these, but its communal ablution block had a bath tub with plenty of hot water: great for relaxing before bed)
You don’t have to be in one of those very expensive luxury safari lodges to enjoy a hearty, leisurely breakfast while watching hippos, elephants and a variety of birds from your dining table
Quite an eventful morning (16th June)
First there was a small pack of wild dogs on the road towards Lower Sabie. One somehow became separated from the others, stood near my car, occasionally whimpering like a domestic dog, looking for his fellows and finally took off back into the bush
Soon after, I heard impalas making a fuss about something, so drove down a gravel road in their direction. There I watched two lionesses stalking a giraffe. The giraffe was understandably looking very nervous, and part of me wanted to reassure him that everything’s okay, he’s not about to be killed. On the other hand, those lionesses probably have cubs to feed, and it would take a lot of impala to equal the food supply in one giraffe. I had no desire to see something killed, but I was rather fascinated as to what they intended to actually do. The giraffe’s legs are so long, they could easily walk under its belly even if one was riding on the back of the other. A kick from a giraffe can kill a human, so it can probably do a bit of damage to a lion. How do you tackle something that big?
They finally seemed to decide it was too difficult after all.
Further along the road there was a traffic jam. The cause was a big male lion and two lionesses relaxing by the roadside, creating great excitement amongst visitors.
By now I was feeling a little peckish, and called in at the same picnic stop that had trouble with baboons a few days ago. I bought a cup of tea and a bag of chips, and the lady had to let me out the other (till now locked) door, as there was a large baboon waiting outside the door I’d come through, ready to leap at my chip bag.
(NOTE: this is not one of our own tours: I’m exploring Kruger NP before attending two conferences in South Africa)
Animals at picnic areas are a problem, not just for the humans, but for the animals themselves. If they get too demanding, as they can do after learning how profitable picnics can be, the rangers may have to remove them, even putting them down if they are dangerous (as large baboons certainly can be, and hyenas even more so: the strength of their jaws is second only to crocodiles).