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August 17, 2001
Dubbo: a return trip (Gail)

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Gail and friend

About five years ago Russell had a business trip to Australia and the rest of us tagged along with him.  On that trip we also rented a motor home.  One wonderful experience we had was our trip to the Western Plains Zoo.  We enjoyed it so much we decided to make the five-hour drive from Sydney to go again.  This time we took a different route going through just a small part of the Blue Mountains on the way.  The Blue Mountains has the scariest railroad I have ever been on, straight down and seemingly off the edge.  When we passed by this time I refused to go.  I have done my brave thing by crossing the swing bridge in NZ, believe me that is enough for this trip.

The Blue Mountains are beautiful but not terribly high (about 4-5,000 feet), though I could never sit and let anyone else drive while I sat in the passenger seat, the drops are long.  We hoped to make it to the city of Dubbo, home of the zoo but we made it only as far as Wellington, about one hour from Dubbo.  There's not much of a city or town there but there is a caravan park.  .  It was late, dark and we were all hungry and tired.  After checking in Russell and I had our usual discussion about the best way to park (we're working on this), we ate dinner and collapsed.

Wellington is the site of the Wellington Caves and The Phosphate Mines.  Since we had missed the Jenolan Caves we thought we would treat ourselves in the morning to both tours.  The caravan park is on site of the caves making it very easy in the morning.  The cave tour lasts about 45 minutes.  The boys both seemed to enjoy it, Joss mainly because he could pick up mud from the floor and roll it into little balls.  In one he found a small "diamond" and was very proud.  Cameron, who seemed to understand the tour, enjoyed it all.  The Cathedral Cave has the southern hemisphere's largest/tallest stalagmite at about six stories tall; it's massive.  The cave has been used as a prison, a church and now for tours.  At the end each boy was given a piece of cave crystal as a gift from the guide.

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The biggest stalagmite in the southern hemisphere

We then almost immediately went on the mine tour.  After being outfitted with hard hats and white gloves off we went in generally good spirits.  The white gloves are to remind you to not touch the walls of the mine.  Why?  Well, this mine also has a huge deposit of fossilized bones embedded in the soft dirt of the walls.  Paleontologists come from all over the world to study and dig here.  One note: this is a one and one-half hour tour and food and drink are not allowed.  Remember this.

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Hard hats and white gloves

Immediately upon entering we saw what looked like a rat running along the beams.  Assurances that it was a marsupial something-or-other didn't help.  It looked like a rat.  A few meters onward and there were swifts nesting on the walls.  A bit further on a tiny little bat was hanging mid-ceiling, not minding us at all.  We were all very interested in him.

The mines were at the site of another set of caves and phosphate was discovered mid 1800's and put into use around 1938 when the European supply of phosphate for fertilizer dried up due to the impending war.  The phosphate wasn't very high quality so the miners found another way to increase the acid levels in what they produced.  They secretly dug into the area where the scientists were digging.  They had an elaborate tunnel system dug right into the area of the big bones.  They ground the bones and added it to the phosphate.  They were able to hide the activity from the mine inspectors by back-filling the tunnels to look like a cave in.  Tunnelers will not re-dig into a cave-in area.  No one knew about this until 1996 when they followed a map to the cave in and discovered train tracks going into a blank wall.

I found the mine to be very fascinating Joss however had a meltdown of the usual sort, hungry, how much longer, etc.  Even all the fossils, jawbones and tiny teeth embedded in the walls did nothing to quiet him down.  Cam was a trooper and seemed to enjoy the whole tour; he even tried to help with Joss.  Once I showed Joss on the mine map where we were and how much longer we had to go, he was much happier and finally sprinted for the daylight at the end of the tunnel.

After lunch we headed off for the next stop: the Western Plains Zoo of Dubbo.  An hour's drive brought us into town where we stopped to pick up a few essentials at the store, and yes, we did check the parking lot entrance for obstacles.  Once we were settled we realized just how tired we were after the tours and the drive.  I had a bit of a breakdown of my own after the boys were in bed but ultimately all was well.

This morning we headed off early to the zoo wanting to be there when the gates opened at nine. We arrived at 8:10 and had the first spot in line.  We all had our breakfast sitting in the relative comfort of the motor home.  We were ready to go, the backpack packed with small snacks, when the gates opened.  The boys wanted to rent bikes so they picked out just the right ones and we pedaled off for a fun-filled, satisfying day at the zoo.

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Rented bikes ("before")

This zoo is an amazing place.  You can walk it, drive your own car, rent bikes or electric carts.  It is not very large but the feeling of space is incredible.  The animals are in huge areas with no fences or bars and you feel you are walking right up to them.  We were very lucky to see most of the animals up and moving or playing.  There were no crowds.  The weather was beautiful and warm.  Everything started out just fine, the boys racing ahead of us the whole way.  We stopped often to walk out to the animal paddocks and watch for a while.  The boys were great until about one third of the way around then the bikes suddenly were no longer fun and the boys were hungry and tired.  To be fair the bikes were heavy and there were a few small hills.  What is a parent to do?  I pulled out the snacks and that helped for a short while but by the time we got to the elephants all seemed to be lost.  It was now about 11 o'clock.  We promised them a short cut back to the food (which is at the front gate area only) if they would get to the halfway point.  They grudgingly agreed.  On the way they spotted the Siamang exhibit (a type of monkey) and watched them playing for the longest time all thoughts of hunger gone.  Go figure.  We then started out through the center of the park but got turned around.  We decided to split up and meet at the food kiosk.  Cam and I to stay on the path; Russell and Joss to go cross-country.  We would meet at the food kiosk.  Cam and I got lost.  I won't elaborate but when we finally figured out where we were and got headed in the right direction, Russell and Joss were already waiting for us at the end.

We turned in the bikes and while watching the spider monkeys play, ate lunch.  Russell then went off to rent an electric cart.  Joss then asked if we could have bikes again!  Go figure.  The rest of the day went beautifully, the park was nearly empty; we had the animals to ourselves.  We had happy boys fed, chauffeured and curious once again.  We revisited the first part of the zoo, then on to new territory.

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The electric cart ("after")

We got incredibly lucky at the Fallow Deer enclosure.  There is a dry moat to keep in the deer; the people are up on a rise.  The deer walked up to the moat wall and we hand fed them grass and leaves.  We watched the Eland males sparing with their horns, discovered that Tapirs swim and pet a Giant Galapagos Tortoise on the head.  We fed and pet the wallabies, listened to the Siamang calling loudly to one another and even walked up on a wild wallaby feeding in the bush.  After our visit with the sleeping wombat we headed off to get ice cream and wander the park for the last hour.  We watched the black and white ruffled lemurs playing, Joss doing his best imitation of them by climbing up into a tree.  We opened the park and when we left at 5 pm. only one gate was open.  It had been a good day after all.

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Feeding the fallow deer

Next we head to Parkes, famous for its role in the first moon landing.


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