16 March 2006

Outback Tourist Traps

If I have learned one thing from traveling it's; tourist attractions are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are gonna get.
I have been down countless caves where the signs at the ticket office promised world class stalactites and Stalagmites. All the caves were originally found a hundred years ago by bush farmers that initially used it as their garbage dump until the advent of cars brought tourism to the outback.

The placards will tell of an extensive cave and tunnel system that goes on for hundreds of kilometers, most of still unexplored to this day. Some might even throw in an unlikely story of bushrangers using it as a hideout from the authorities. The short story is some farmer decides that the hole on his land would fetch him a lot more money if he puts a sign at the nearest highway; This way to The Famous Golden Crystal Diamond Caves, knocks up a ticket booth at the cave entrance and then wait for the suckers (me) to come running.
When you turn down that dirt road towards the caves you already know you will be taken for a ride, but there's nothing else to see and you are bored. After driving 20 Kilometers, just when you are about to turn around because you thought you might have made a wrong turn somewhere, you see the next sign; Golden Crystal Diamond Caves, 15 Km. At this point you are already past the halfway point so you really don't feel like turning around. Finally there, you find that you have just missed the hourly guided tour of the caves, so you hang around for another 45 minutes until the next tour. Once down there you will hear the usual stories of how long the dripstones have taken to form, about the white bats living there and how the temperature is always the same.
Don't get me wrong, I do find these thing interesting it's just that I've been to so many caves now that promised something special, but all look like carbon copies of each other.
Oh yeah, they only charge entrance fee in order to preserve the caves as they were before humans began their intrusions.

Another time, on one of our many outback treks, we followed the signs to a meteor crater called something like; The Spectacular Outback Meteor Crater. Only to find a ticket shed in front of a circular wooden fence about ten meters in diameter. A sign proclaimed that the crater was first found by aboriginals thousands of years ago and their original name for the crater was something uncommon as; Mungawoollatagua, meaning; Star that fell from the sky during Dreamtime. A closer examination of the name by a professor in linguistics or just by asking an aboriginal elder, would probably reveal that the name really means; Hole we use for our morning dump. Any way this enterprising individual only had one problem, his place of business was to close to the road, if we had driven 20 Kilometers to see his hole we might have paid his admission fee but in this case it was; Close, but no cigar.

This brings me to our Nullabor crossing trip. Made cynical by experiences like described above and it being late afternoon with onset of darkness closing in, I was almost inclined to give The Great Australian Bight Marine Park and the whale watching spot a miss, when we passed the sign on the highway. The whole thing is so remote that only people who crosses the Nullabor really ever come there. We expected a tourist trap but were positively surprised. A reasonable admission fee included a nice shiny booklet and a ticket were the top was shaped like the tail-fin of a whale, I still use it as my bookmark.

A walkway had been built from the visitors center down to the water, to protect the area from intrusion of humans. At first we didn't see much other than some rocks sticking out of the water way out from the coast. Suddenly one of the "rocks" blew a geyser of water up into the air. It was the Southern Right Whales that comes to this area to nurse their calves before heading south.

Even at this remote distance you could comprehend the size of these animals, in fact the distance probably was the key to realising the size of them. So far away and you could still make out the mothers playing with their calves and brushing off horny males out for one last fling before the big emigration.

Fantastic, my advice is to never pass up chance of seeing whales, it really is an incredible experience.

Want to know more?
Great Australian Bight
Southern Right Whale
Bushranger
Cave
Stalactite
Stalagmite

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