Monday, January 13, 2014

The Wonambi Fossil Centre and the Alexandra Cave

The gate guard at the Wonambi Fossil Centre is a wombat the size of a rhino ... long-extinct megafauna
But first, breakfast by the Naracoorte swimming lake. Bacon and eggs in the early morning light. Nice.
It was too chilly to take a dip, alas, but here's the history of the lake. Then -- off to the caves...
Welcome to the Naracoorte Caves National Park ... and there's that rhino-sized wombat!

The Wonambi Fossil Centre in the morning light --
-- the fun begins right inside. Wahoo -- we're here at last, and to prove it --
A truly gigantic, long-extinct, tree-browsing, koala-faced kangaroo dominates the foyer.
To give you a sense of the scale of this thing, here's Dave standing right beside it ... and Dave is tall!
Skeletons locked in mortal combat ... dang, should have taken notes here!
One normally gets excited about dinosaurs, but some of this megafauna is awesome.
Think sabretooth wombat! about the size of a horse! Who even needs raptors? 
Don't let the Disneyesque smiling face fool you. He's the size of a rhino, likely with a disposition to match!
Next on the agenda: let's get underground --
Here we go, the eager tour group following the guide. See the door inset into a hillside...
Just inside, you clamber down some steel steps, and pause in awe...
The Alexandra Cave is only one of many caves at -- under! -- the Naracoorte region.
Some of the tour group, illuminated by incessant flash photography.
Limestone Coast makes for limestone caverns, right? Makes sense ... remember the underground sea of
fresh water back at Keith; think about the Twelve Apostles (and we're going there soon!) ...
The hardest thing about getting great photos in a cave like the
Alexandra Cave at Naracoorte is -- duh -- the lighting...
Flash photography will certainly give you a sharp image, but the cost is, it burns everything out. So...
Cave photography means using flash judiciously,
choosing your subject specifically...

...and experimenting with a "masked flash." To get detail and color in the central
"wedding cake" here, Jade held a folded tissue over the flash to stop some of the light.
The masked flash gives you a happier medium between full-on flash and the "fun" of trying to hold
the camera still, by hand, through loooong exposures. 

Nitro-fingers! This shot was done by just holding the camera still for a loooong exposure.
In the Alexandra Cave you could take hundreds of shots. There's something new everywhere you look. 

When we stepped out the next morning, it was astonishingly chilly, and also humid. We could barely seen the car for a sea of condensation, and Jade was rugged up, scarf and all. Dave was not even 10 years out of Alaska at this point, and still careless of the cold -- and in any case the morning warmed swiftly.

First stop: a picnic area with a gazebo where one could set out a portable stove and cook breakfast. There's nothing like the smell of bacon and eggs frying in the open air, with a day of exploring ahead! We went back to the swimming lake, which had the gazebos (and bathrooms), and from there --

Straight on to the Wonambi Fossil Centre. The centre itself is a great destination, and we'd be returning to it for a hike through the subterranean display ... more about this later. This time through, we were just buying tickets for the guided tours of the tours of the Alexandra Cave and the Victoria Fossil Cave, and we weren't disappointed.

Jade at least had expected it to be cold underground, so wore a sweater and took a scarf, but in fact the whole cavern -- and it's vast! -- is at a uniform temperature, which felt like about 70 degrees; and it's very humid indeed. Jade soon wished she's layered a windbreaker over a teeshirt. Oh, well, she'd know next time!

And the cavern was amazing. Something like 500 pictures were taken between the two cameras, and some of the best shots are above, here, and also on Dave's blog. In fact, Dave zipped a Flickr slideshow of the best 50 of the pictures -- far more than could be displayed in any blog post. So long as you've got the proper Flash player, you'll be able to watch this:

Next, it was on to Bool Langoon, in the few hours we had spare before the tour of the Victoria Fossil Cave -- and this will be in the next post.

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