Australia Excursion: Days 4-5 (28/2-1/3/2015)

It's Yue Chin again, here to report about the second part of our trip!

We left Canberra early in the morning to begin our journey along the South Coast, through Murramarang National Park. First stop, Depot Beach. Prof. De Deckker taught us not only about the geology of the area, but also past Aboriginal settlement on the beach and showed us pumice from a recent underwater volcanic eruption among other things.

Observing the gastropods living in the vesicular structures of honeycomb weathering

Geological evidence of an ancient meandering river

Getting a close-up look at flaser bedding

Spotted gums lining Depot Beach
After a productive morning, we had lunch in the Myrtle Beach carpark before heading on down to the beach proper which was quite a walk away. Our route took us past cycad plants of an ancient lineage dating back to when Australia was still part of Gondwana. We quickly discovered that the secluded nature of Myrtle made it conducive for being clothing-optional! The juxtaposition between us in our hard hats and hiking gear and the beach-goers was interesting, to say the very least. We soon forgot about that though once we started looking at the geology. Australia, being a relatively tectonically stable continent with low erosion rates, has much of its Palaeozoic geology well-preserved and intact. We saw Permian geology unconformable with underlying rocks dating back to the Ordovician which would be the oldest rocks we would see on this excursion. 

Change in depositional environment

After Myrtle, we stopped by Emily Miller and Wasp Head to observe the variation and extent of the formations we had already seen at the previous two beaches. Most of what we saw were from an underwater environment with varying amounts of bioturbation. Dropstones were observed in some areas, indicating that in those areas the environment of deposition was cold and covered by sea ice.

Looking at dropstones at Wasp Head
Happy faces after a full day of geology

We also happened across some eastern grey kangaroos near the beach (some of the undergraduates managed to get pictures with them!).

Beautiful Wasp Head

ANU's Kioloa Coastal Campus was our home for two nights. The 348ha area was a gift from Joy London to ANU in honour of her mother Edith London, for use in teaching and research of the field sciences. The place was positively brimming with biodiversity. Lots of kangaroos (too many in fact!) graze in the surrounds, vibrantly-coloured parrots nest in the trees and Banksia trees, endemic to Australia, line the driveways. Best of all, a pristine beach was less than 10 minutes' walk away from our apartments! 

An unsuccessful chase after the kangaroos

For dinner, we were all mobilised as Prof. De Deckker's sous-chefs to prepare a feast made all the more enjoyable after spending the day outdoors. That night we had a bonfire set up for us by the caretaker. After soaking up the warmth only a proper fire can bring some of us headed to the beach to gaze at the stars in our Milky Way. Indescribable feelings.

Profs. De Deckker and Yokoyama with enough food to feed an army

Everyone chipping in to prepare dinner 

To William Smith!

The next day we were at Merry Beach and got to see lots of bivalve fossils in the rock, including some massive scallops. We then drove up to Pointer Gap Lookout in Morton National Park to have a look at the Nowra and Ulladulla Formations.

Nowra Sandstone overlying Ulladulla Mudstone
Prof. De Deckker explaining the depositional environments

At our final stop of the day, Warden Head, a thunderstorm was on its way in so it got extremely windy. Despite the poor weather we managed to get a good look at an inconceivable abundance of fossils such as corals, crinoids and brachiopods in the rocks belonging to the Ulladulla Mudstone sequence. Faulting could also be observed, but these were caused by local slumping and not tectonic activity.

We had to head back to Kioloa to escape the storm but it was not in vain as Prof. Yokoyama gave us a 'bigger picture' talk on what we had learnt and seen over the course of the trip so far, helping us digest the information and put it into context. Not to mention the delicious pasta we had for dinner!

Sadly, we had to say goodbye to Prof. De Deckker the next morning and leave for Sydney (which I'll elaborate on in my next and final post). We really had an amazing time learning from him as he delivered his material in a clear, concise manner, always spicing things up with his sense of humour. Thank you Patrick-sensei!

Profs. De Deckker and Yokoyama