Prehistoric Australia

21 04 2012

at the entrance to the Naracoorte Caves National Park - perhaps fossils from the iron age????

Naracoorte is a small town in the south-east of the state of South Australia. It is about four hours drive from Adelaide, so more of an overnight stay than a day-trip, if being attempted with children.

Naracoorte was one of my favourite holiday places as a child – and more specifically, the Naracoorte Caves. These massive caves are naturally formed from the actions of water on limestone, and as well as featuring spectacular stalagmites (from the ground up), stalactites (from the ceiling down) helicotites (sideways!), columns and curtains (as they sound), they also feature fossils from prehistoric animals.

While there are no massive dinosaurs here, there are a large number of smaller fossils ranging from lizards and small rodents up to megafauna – giant prehistoric kangaroos and wombats, and my favourite, thylacaleo carnifex – the marsupial lion. The caves are still under excavation by archeologists so who knows what other animals will be found in the tonnes and tonnes of material yet to be sifted through.

The underground caves have guided tours while a few caves which have larger openings to the surface are self-guide. One of the caves is now home to a large colony of bats.

The rate of petrification in these caves is much (much) slower than the caves we visited in France, where the rate of water flow and the calcium load in the water was such that they could use it to petrify objects for the tourist trade. Here the stalactites, stalagmites etc grow at a miniscule rate.

another "iron age" fossil!

a banksia outside the caves

fairytale castles.....stalactites reflected in a perfectly still pond underground

these stagmites look like a nativity scene

stalactites formed along a crack in the ceiling

stalactites formed along a crack in the cave ceiling

a "curtain" stalactite feature

sink hole to the surface (looking upwards). These sorts of holes were how the animals fell into the caves and then were unable to get out again. Underneath these holes would be large piles of silt and rubble, unless a flood event had washed the rubble further into the cave.

Thylacaleo carnifex (marsupial lion)

Thylacaleo Carnifex (marsupial lion)

archeological dig

"Stanley" - megafauna kangaroo

thylacaleo carnifex - "Leo"

the archeological dig

Wet Cave

thylacaleo carnifex battling a giant snake

megafauna

megafauna kangaroo (model)

columns in White Cave - look like architectural columns

Flinders University archeology digs in White Cave - each stripe in the soil indicates a different period of time

leaving White Cave

Want more pictures of Australian sites? Try….
Adelaide Botanic Gardens
In the red hot centre
Old Melbourne Jail and the Melbourne Aquarium





Bicentiennial Conservatory

9 04 2012

At the north-eastern end of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens is the Bicentennial Conservatory – a nautilus-shell-shaped glass and steel structure which is visible from certain western facing points of the Adelaide hills. Designed by South Australian architect Guy Maron, it was opened to celebrate the Australian bicentenary in 1988. It is the largest single span glasshouse in the southern hemisphere, and one of the largest in the world.

I remember visiting it shortly after it opened, when most of the plants were not much more than seedlings. Twenty-four years later and I have to ask….what are they going to do with the trees that are now touching the roof?

No pictures of the outside of the shell – but some of the detail of the rainforest within.


The (rather civilised) way into the jungle…


More pictures from Australia? Try
Melbourne Jail and the Melbourne Aquarium
In the red hot centre
South Australian Museum





In the red hot centre

1 04 2012

waiting for sunset at Uluru

Despite having lived in Australia almost my entire life, I had never been to the Northern Territory prior to 2008. My family, as English immigrants, had spent every school holiday for my entire childhood driving about the countryside visiting almost everywhere except the Northern Territory and Tasmania. So when my then-workplace sent me to Alice Springs for a conference, I was thrilled!

I took the opportunity to visit Uluru (formerly called Ayres Rock) and Kata-Tjuta (formerly the Olgas), as well as attending the conference. Uluru-Kata-Tjuta National Park is 461km from Alice Springs – you can get there by flight, bus or driving – I opted for bus, which was a whole-day experience, leaving very early in the morning and getting back about midnight (because of course you have to stay and see the sunset over Uluru).

The Centre lived up to its reputation. In Alice Springs, don’t forget to pop into the bar Bojangles which is a tourist icon – every spare piece of wall or ceiling has something nailed to it – old farming implements, hats, horse-shoes, whips, animal skulls, skins etc. I suggest going early in the evening as it has a reputation for getting a bit rough later at night. And there are many galleries selling original Aboriginal artworks ranging from about $40 to $40,000 – a price for every pocket! Make sure you get authentication papers with whatever you buy.

Enjoy!

Table-top mountain on the way to Uluru - flat horizon

Singing (and piano-playing) Dingo at a road-house on the way to Uluru

first sighting of Uluru from the bus

rock formations that look like faces in profile, carved into Uluru

The following photographs are of Kata Tjuta – a rock formation consisting of 36 “forms”, approximately 50km from Uluru.

Kata-Tjuta on the horizon (from the bus)

the flat horizon from a gorge in Kata-Tjuta

from the bus - farewelling Kata-Tjuta

Then we headed back to Uluru to wait for sunset. The rock is reputed to change colour several times during sunset. The postcards you can buy display these changes very effectively. The colours were not so strong when I was there (no bright rose-red or blood-red). No filters or effects have been used on this photographs.

waiting for sunset at Uluru

"not alone" waiting for sunset at Uluru. We were in fact parked at a bus carpark and lookout, surrounded by other buses and barbecues as we all enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and a sausage, while setting up our camera shots.

the horizon glows...

almost dark

The conference dinner was set up at a venue slightly outside Alice Springs as a venue called Ooraminna Station Homestead (thanks to Shelley for reminding me of the name). The venue had buildings around the edge built like farm out-houses but were actually the kitchen, bar, shelter for the band and the toilets. It was surrounded by some high-land which protected it from the wind, but it was still freezing cold at night, as deserts are. However, set up for a silver service dinner setting and with candles and fairy-lights, it was an amazing venue.

Conference dinner venue - near Alice Springs, under the stars

Comedian Anh Do, his brother and former Young Australian of the Year (2005) Khoa Do and my friend Shelley. The Do brothers talked about their journey from Vietnam to Australia as refugees and making their lives here.

Like some more photos of Australia? Try…
At the Edge of the Ocean

Life is a Beach

Melbourne Jail and the Melbourne Aquarium





Saumer

18 03 2012

Chateau Saumer

Chateau Saumer was another accidental find. Built on the high ground in the town of Saumer overlooking the Loire Valley, the remnants of the original castle walls can be spotted in the town below. When we visited the castle was under renovations and hence large sections were off-limits, but it was interesting to see the walls undergoing a “before and after” process. As with many of these castles, the initial approach is up a staircase that was originally a drawbridge. Saumer is built on a square, and there is a spacious courtyard in the centre of the building. The large underground kitchens / dungeons were open for inspection.

What appears to be an Orangerie (a building into which fruit trees such as oranges were moved to protect them from frosts and snows in winter) has been transformed into a restaurant and gift shop.

More information on the castle and the town can be found here.

a fairy-tale castle

overlooking the town of Saumer and the River Loire, in the Loire Valley

overlooking the town of Saumer and the River Loire, in the Loire Valley

the church next to chateau Saumer

from under the drawbridge


Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac
Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues
An unknown Chateau
Chartres
La Seine
Theme Parks, French Style
Where Da Vinci lived
Pretty pictures en France





Château Langeais

18 03 2012

We happened upon this castle – and it really is more a castle than a château – by happy accident. It is situated in the midst of the town of Langeais on the River Loire. Built of a dark grey stone it has sheer walls and high towers – truly a medieval-looking castle to keep invaders at bay.

The castle is now restored for tourists and features life-size tableaux made up of mannequins depicting important scenes in history that occurred on the site, such as the marriage of Anne of Brittany to King Charles VIII. Like many of the restored châteaux, the original elaborate tiles are on the floor, the patterned wallpapers are exquisite and the original furniture and tapestries are gorgeous. Unlike some of the royal châteaux, there is less gilding, marble and ostentation and more beautifully carved wood, stone and generally the detail is in the fixtures such as the furniture and tapestries rather than in the actual structure. Having said that, there is also detail carved into the stone door frames, the edges of the roof and around the windows.

If you happen to visit it, of note is an excellent chocolatier across the road from the entrance.

one of the many original paintings

feasting table set in front of a stone fireplace

gothic furniture and elaborate tapestries - the tapestries kept the rooms slightly warmer through blocking drafts and providing a level of insulation to the stone walls

elaborate patterned tiles on the floor

view of the town from the castle courtyard (presumably the original castle walls would have blocked this view)

the only remaining part of original "keep"

my continuing obsession with the geometry of spiral staircases

view over the town from the top

view over the town from the top

view over the town from the top

view over the town from the top - the chocolatier is under one of the red striped awnings

view over the town from the top

view over the town from the top

view over the town from the top

door into the internal courtyard

Across the road from the castle - not the chocolatier, but a boucherie (butchery)


Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac
Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues
An unknown Chateau
Chartres
La Seine
Theme Parks, French Style
Where Da Vinci lived
Pretty pictures en France





Another mystery château

12 03 2012

view of the château from the driveway

On a personal note, I am amazed that I have managed to remember the names of most of the many châteaux, villages and other sites we visited in our recent trip to France, particularly given that…

a) I didn’t write the names down
b) some of them were places we just came across and stopped, so they weren’t planned visits
c) some of our photographs were accidentally deleted by a small child, so some of the place-markers may have been deleted.

However, my memory has failed me on this one.

What I think I know……

In my photographs, this set of photographs comes immediately after Château de Jumilhac and immediately before
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac

The château was set up on a hill with the carpark at the bottom of the hill.

It was quite large and had very large dungeon/kitchens underneath.

There was an historic chapel that was a part of the main structure of the château .

Is that enough to go on? I am sure someone will know the name of this château – if you know the answer, please put the name in the comments section below.

Meanwhile, enjoy!

the approach to the château, featuring what used to be a drawbridge and a dry moat below

What to do with a dry moat? (viewed from the drawbridge)

in the dry moat

the chapel

elaborate gardens viewed from the château

elaborate gardens viewed from the château

corridors between the rooms and sections of the château were open to the elements. But I love the geometric perfection of the smooth stone arches.

gardens viewed from the château

view from the château

view from the château


Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac
Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues
An unknown Chateau
Chartres
La Seine
Theme Parks, French Style
Where Da Vinci lived
Pretty pictures en France





Troglodyte village of Rochemenier

11 03 2012

Rochemenier is a tiny above-ground village in central France but it has an amazing tourist attraction in the centre of the village. Until 1920, some of the rural-dwellers of this village lived underground in caves. Troglodyte living – literally meaning cave-dwellers – occurs all over the world (notably in Coober Pedy in South Australia, where, to escape the heat, much of the town is built into underground caves).

The caves at Rochemenier are not quite so modern as the dwellings in Coober Pedy, but they show a functioning farm and several houses which formed the cave-dwelling community, including communal halls, wine-making presses and enclosures for the animals. Photographs on display show large families in full 18th century dress, weddings and other community gatherings. They might have lived in caves but their lives were probably not so different from other rural folk at the time.

The dwellings and halls were built into caves in the walls of a very large pit in the ground. Various holes and openings allowed light in and smoke out while protecting inhabitants from the worst of the elements. The paths and open spaces between the dwellings were open to the sky. The front of the houses were built across with stone, leaving doors and windows (the latter were glazed), but the inner rooms had rough-hewn walls of stone, where the caves had been extended and cut back into the rock.

The caves have been restored and are open for tourists to visit. A quiz for children is available at the front counter, with a prize for children who complete the questions. In the photographs above and below, ground level is usually at the top of the picture (they were taken from the bottom of the pit within the village). Surrounding the caves on the ground level was an orchard which belonged to the original form, and the village of Rochemenier.

The website for Rochemenier ishere.


Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac
Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues
An unknown Chateau
Chartres
La Seine
Theme Parks, French Style
Where Da Vinci lived
Pretty pictures en France