Lewis' Exploring Oz

On and off the beaten track…………………….

The Dish, The Zoo, The Opals and The Guitar.

Posted by lewisfamilyexploringoz on June 8, 2011

The Dish and Michelle

The Dish - specs

Hi Everyone,

We lunched today in Forbes, near the park as you enter town. It was beautiful and sunny and the town looks lovely and clean. We pushed on to Parkes as we need to get a new battery for the car and it’s a particular type and Joel has managed to track one down in Parkes.  A quick change over, left the old battery in Parkes and off we went heading north.  We stopped in at the Parkes Radio Telescopewhich was where they made the Australian movie “The Dish”.  It is absolutely huge! There is a great display in the foyer area of the visitors centre about the dish itself, the history, the uses, all the specifications and some interesting astronomy facts. The dish was commissioned in 1961, has a 64m diameter parabolic dish and after a recent upgrade is now 10,000 times as sensitive as it was when commissioned in 1961.  It is still used quite extensively by astronomers, from all over

Whispering Dishes

Red Earth Cellar Door

the world who book in to visit and use the facility.  Interestingly the dish has just been upgraded to allow remote access to the dish, so astronomers can access the “dish” online rather than physically being at the centre.  There are two theatres; one shows a 21 minute presentation about the telescope, radio astronomy, the history of radio astronomy and some of the achievements of the astronomers who use the Parkes telescope and the other is a 3D presentation of a flight to Mars aboard the spacecraft Elysium 7 followed by a virtual tour of the telescope. We watched the 3D virtual tour which was pretty cool.  If you have the time there are other 3D features you can watch if you ask at the desk.  You can walk outside and see the dish up close but no where close enough to touch it.  We did get to see them re-aligning the dish and that was pretty spekky. There are a couple of whispering dishes in the front garden that the kids had a play around with and it was amazing how well they worked.  Daniel was at one dish, whispering into it and Joel and Wade at the other dish some 50-70m away and they could hear him as if he was standing next to them! Pretty cool!  We decided to watch the movie “The Dish” that night as a fitting end to our day!


Wade feeding Giraffes

Dan feeding Giraffes

We left “The Dish” about 4;30pm and decided to driving on towards Dubbo.  We didn’t really want to stop at the overnight stops along the way as they are all right on the highway and very noisy with all the trucks going past.   A luck would have it, I was trolling the forum on one of our favourite websites, http://www.exploroz.com and found out about a place that is just at the back of the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.  The place is actually a beautiful little winery and i rang ahead to see if it still allowed people to park on the property.  The answer was a resounding yes and it wouldn’t cost us anything unless we wanted power which we could have for $5. The winery is called “The Red Earth Estate

Black Rhinos

Winery” and the owners were very lovely.  They let us stay out the front of the cellar door, in the car park which is right in amongst the vines. It was beautiful.  We made a snappy spag bol then watched the movie “The Dish” for our evening’s entertainment.  It was so peaceful and quiet and the stars put on a fine show for us tonight. It was glorious.


We packed up early, thanked our hosts and headed off to the Taronga Western Plains Zoo.  They have great caravan parking with fresh water to fill your tanks and a dump point as well.  We had it on good authority to take our bikes and ride around the zoo, (Thanks Mel:)) and that’s exactly what we did.  The zoo was about a km or so from the winery so we were nice and early.  We packed our water bottles and some snacks and off we went.  You can hire bikes to ride around or you could hire a safari buggy, like a golf buggy but painted like a zebra:) Wade really wanted to hire one of these:) A family entry cost us $117.30 and we opted to feed the giraffes for an extra $20 for the family. The

Tiger on pole

tickets are valid for 2 days entry so if you don’t see everything on day one you can return for a second day.  Armed with our trusty zoo map and timetable of feeding and zoo keeper talks we began our safari.  The Zoo is a 300 hectare open-range sanctuary.  You can actually drive around the zoo but you have to park and walk to some of the exhibits whereas you can ride right up to the fences on

Siamang Apes

your bike.  We started at the Black Rhinos listening to the talk about the difference between the white and black rhinos.  They aren’t really white in colour, it’s more to do with their wide mouths which in Afrikaans is “weit” (pronounced white).  We headed around to the giraffes so we could get in line for the feeding.  They are just the most amazing creatures.  Big, very big, even the babies!  We each got a turn of feeding the giraffes some carrots and getting lots of photos. They have the most amazingly long, grey tongues and really, long eyelashes too.  We took our time stopping to see most of the animals.  A lot of the enclosures have a moat/trench at the outer edge, nearest to the paths

King Julian - Lemurs

and the paths are built up so the animals can’t get out but neither are they “fenced in” with traditional fences.  It was great as you felt like you weren’t really in a zoo! We saw some mountain goats and started the whole “You shut up, No you shut up” from the movie Brother Bear. It’s one of our favourites and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity, even if people did think we were a bit

African Elephant

strange:) We saw lots of animals; zebras, hippos, lion, cheetahs, meerkats, otters and rhinos.  We watched the Siamang Apes swing over to put on their show – OMG they make the loudest noises.  They have a throat that fills with air and balloons out and they use it to sing to each other. By god it was so loud! but they are very entertaining.  The Tiger keeper gave us a talk about the Sumatran tigers and then tied a taped-up box, with meat in it, up a very high pole.  She tries to come up with different ways to feed the tigers, trying to make it a bit difficult to get the meat.  We watched as the tiger stalked the ‘box’ then climbed with such ease up the pole to the top and stayed there for quite

UG opal mine tour

some time trying to rip the box open.  She didn’t succeed on the first go but managed to rip it down later on. We headed in to the cafe in the middle of the park for a late lunch. We then continued on around the park and came through the Australian section last. We decided to keep going around to see the lemurs as we have seen all of the animals in the Australian section, some of them in the wild.

Unpolished opals

The lemurs were on their own little island and looked just like “King Julian” from the movie “Madagascar”. The keeper even opened with her talk with “I like to move it, move it”. The kids all thought that was hilarious. As we were enjoying an ice-cream, we watched a wedding rehearsal for the next day.  What a magnificent setting for a wedding.  They also have packages where you can stay overnight in safari huts and listen to the sounds of the zoo at night.  Maybe another time:) The ride through the park was pretty easy, no big hills or anything like that. We got there at 10am and left at 4pm and still did not see everything, so I can see why they make the pass valid for 2 days. We

Hand Polishing of opals

filled our water tanks before we left and headed north out-of-town to a free camp, (Camps 5 # 934 Terramungamine Reserve) just north of Dubbo for the night. We arrived at about 5pm and the place was pretty packed already.  It is a fantastic spot, right along the river, with heaps of areas to pull up.

Polished Opal

Amigo's Castle

We headed off the next day heading north, stopping in Walgett for some fuel and a kick of the soccer ball. We were parked at a local reserve and the grass was full of bindis! We spent another 15 mins just getting the little buggers out of our thongs and shoes before we got back into the car!  We made it to Lightning Ridge just on lunchtime and set up at the Lightning Ridge Hotel Motel and Caravan Park.  It is the first time we have seen warm and sunny weather for ages!  We kicked back for the rest of the arvo basking in the sun and catching up with schoolwork and the blog. Lightning Ridge is home of the black opal and we decided to do a tour of the town with one of the local companies, Outback Opal Tours.  We had

Chambers of the Black Hand Mine


MJ and Dan

a very entertaining few hours being shown around the old diggings, the huge open cut mine and a tour into a working, underground mine. We stopped and looked through Amigo’s castle, an amazing hand-made castle, which is his home as well. It truly is a work of art.  Our guide was an old local fellow and he was full of stories about the place and the people.  After the tour we went to visit a place called “Chambers of the Black Hand“. This is an awesome place.  If you only get to see one thing while you visit here then this should be it.  In a 100-year-old mine Ron Canlin has created a walk in underground mine, about 11m down and has carved all sorts of animals, pillars and people into the walls of sandstone and painted

Wade mining for opal

some as well. It is just an amazing place. There are over 500 different carvings in the walls and he just starts from the top and works his way down.  He has no formal training in sculpting but by god you would think he had.  He has been carving for about 14 years and is now retired so he comes down to carve nearly everyday now. The rest of the mine is still worked for opal by his partners. These guys took us on a tour of the mine and explained what they

Sea scene with Nemo

are actually looking for down there.  It was fascinating to see the opal still in the sandstone and then see how they polish up later. They explained the difference between a real opal or a triplet, where one is the full stone and the other a thin layer of opal on a layer of quartz. The jewellery was just beautiful, as was nearly everything we had seen in different stores today.  There were two pieces that caught my eye though and i hinted that they would be lovely Mother’s Day presents.  One was a lovely ring with inlaid opal and the other a gorgeous necklace with a tear-drop-shaped opal.  We had a chat to the fellas and bought both pieces. I am one very lucky and happy lady:) although i cannot have them until Mother’s Day. After the tour Daniel, Wade and myself went over to fossick in the pile of tailings that is left at the Visitors Center.  We sat down for a couple of hours and managed to find a few small pieces of opal, not enough to retire on but nice to keep for a memento. Wade got a bit bored with it but Dan could see the money at the end of the rainbow and he found a couple of good pieces with colour too. There is a huge pile of rocks and tailings right at the Visitor’s Center and every so often one of the mines will dump some rocks and tailings there for anyone to go through.  After the tour the kids couldn’t wait to try their hand at fossicking for opal.

Cotton on roadside

Feral Koala

There are some local, self-drive tours of the town and are aptly named car door tours.  There are four; a green, yellow, red and a blue one. They are literally old car doors that signpost a trail around different parts of the town highlighting some of the local attractions and history of the town.  The story goes that the car doors have been used for years as signs but some bureaucrat in Sydney decided that they were illegal and needed to be removed. So the community got together and created the “car door tours” to validate using the doors and now there are even more car door signs than before! We visited the local Bowling Club for a delicious meal for our last night in town.

We left town heading eastward and stopped for a while in Gunnedah.  All along the road we’ve been seeing a lot of white, fluffy stuff.  At first we thought it was tissue but after seeing so much of it, we stopped and had a look and it was actually cotton. In Gunnedah, they supposedly have koalas everywhere in the trees in the streets, according to the tourist spiel but after talking to the tourist

The Big Golden Guitar

Camp at Moonbi Lookout

info centre and driving and walking around the town, we decided that it’s just a big farce! We didn’t see even one koala.  The closest we saw was when Wade climbed into a tree and pretended to be a feral koala!:) Not to worry we headed out-of-town and stayed at another free camp (camps 5 #329 Red bank Rest Area).

We headed off this morning to Tamworth and parked the van at the Tourist Info Center so we could explore a little of the town.  We had a few chores to do then we visited the Big Golden Guitar for a photo opportunity.  There was some interesting signage in there about the past winners of the Country Music Awards and even some Donald Bradman memorabilia.  We’re not that into Country music so we didn’t go into the museum there.  I imagine the place would be so different when the Music Festival is on though. Most attractions are geared towards or about Country Music (as Tamworth is the capital of Country Music) and as it’s not really our cup of tea we caught up on the shopping, etc and headed out-of-town for a free camp at a lookout (camps 5 #166 Moonbi Park and Lookout.) There was only one other car here so late in the afternoon but they were just taking photos so we had the place to ourselves.  There was heaps of room to park the van and car and great views to boot.  Joel went for a run, the kids did some exploring and I took some photos and caught up with some more of the blog.  We could have kept driving on further but then we end up tired and cranky and no-one is happy so sometimes it’s better to pull up early, have some fun and enjoy where we are, because we can.

We are heading into Port Macquarie today and the roads are very hilly and windy.  We stopped for lunch at a free camp area called Ellenborough Reserve (camps 5 # 318). It’s a great spot beside a river and we met a few other campers who had pulled up for lunch as well.  We always get people come over for a chat, usually to ask about the car, how much was it, who did the work, etc.  It’s a great talking point. After much chatting we head off for Port Macquarie.  We didn’t stay here on our way down last time as we were in a hurry to get to Victoria for Christmas, but we had stopped to pick up our mail and liked what we had seen, so we thought we’d stop in for a few days.

Till Next time



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: