Monday, July 19, 2010

Okefenokee

In retaliation for making stops at beaches Andy insisted on starting the day at Tallahassee Automobile Museum. Gem and I didn't fancy it so waited outside watching people setup the grounds for a large political rally. We got off onto the highway again with a fairly long drive ahead of us into Georgia. We took a quick rest stop in Lake City a small town distinguished by it's having a lake in the middle of it.

We hadn't exactly decided where to stay and their was division of opinion on whether to go for a log cabin near the East entrance to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness Area. We weren't able to rustle up the owners of the cabins at all either on the phone or physically there, when we drove past, so the issue was decided for us.

Instead we ended up booking in to a pretty new looking motel outside of Kingsland. We paid 5 bucks extra to get suites, which was more than worth it as we had room to spread out. More so after we did some washing. I think every possible surface in our room was covered in drying pants. The pool in the motel was quite nice although I am not so sure about the extremely hot hot tub next to it.

We were up and off early back down the road to Okefenokee the next morning. We decided to do a guided boat tour first so we would learn a bit about the place and the wildlife. Thoroughly worth the money, we had about an hour and a half trip through various of the Okefenokee habitats, commentary on what we were seeing and ample opportunity for photography. I reluctantly gave my camera with the 70-300 lens on it to Gemma and used the kit lens on her D40 for a good portion of the trip. I think she got the best alligator shots too. Typical.

We smarted down a lunch of crappy Walmart sarnies before jumping in the car and heading off to check out some of the walks. There is a preserved homestead from the family who held out against selling up to the federal government that we went to first. The homestead itself was pretty interesting with lots of insights into what it must have been like to live in those parts before modernisation and roads. In a word, tough, but they had some fairly ingenious touches to make stuff easier. The volunteer guide there was a proper character and we'd had a bit of a banjo recital out of him by the end of it.

Back on into the nature we took a boardwalk. I rather stomped off ahead with Andy as the rest of the bunch were like a horde of elephants tromping along, not so conducive to seeing wildlife. Big spiders, lizards, dragonflies and another alligator all obliged by staying still enough for me to pop some shots off. At the end of the boardwalk was a raised viewing platform that offered a great view out over the swamp. Unfortunately the birds weren't as lens-friendly as the other critters and stayed over the other side of the water. I did spot egrets and ibis, but they were too far away to even bother trying to photograph.

The heat was getting to everyone a bit so we were glad to get back in the car for the air-con. Back at the visitors centre we hired kayaks for the afternoon and laden down with water bottles headed back out onto the canal. As Jo had never canoes or kayaked before I decided I would jump in with her and Gemma would go with Andy. Jo was a bit worried about being able to paddle properly but I went through the basics with her and we were soon motoring along. We were a bit confused by the instructions left to us by the hire people conflicting with the signage so missed the spot we were to turn off the canal into the canoe only natural channel. Even out on the canal the going was quite tough in the heat and I made an executive decision that we wouldn't take the long route. We managed to find the section that they had recommended to use and went down it the wrong way. The water levels in this section, which narrowed massively were quite low and I kept getting pulling bits of mud and weed up and depositing them on myself. I'd worn a white top too - not good. In trying to clear the paddle I managed to pass right by a big turtle out on a bank that Gemma and Andy got right up close to. We took the channel back to the canal that we had originally missed and the paddling immediately got better and invigorated us somewhat. The alligators still made regular appearances prompting me to stop the kayak and shout their direction out. I think Jo was getting a bit like, "okay, whatever, alligator", by that point but not me. I always feel insanely blessed by close encounters with wildlife like that. Being at eye-level to the alligators has only increased my desire to do a big canoeing trek, especially if setup with dry-bags for cameras.

Back on dry land I changed into the dry clothes that I had sensibly brought with me, although no-one else was as filthy and wet as me. I also e away with a bit of a catalogue of injuries; a big bit of skin ripped from near my thumb and the beginnings of a horrendous bruise on my back.

All feeling happily tired and with various sun, paddling and insect wounds, we limped back to Kingsland and got ourselves cleaned up before going for food. Our choice ended up being Sonny's BBQ Pit, where we ate a phenomenally large amount of meat between us. I could have probably done without sides - although my baked sweet potato was nice, the beans were far too sweet. We all almost fell over laughing when the waitress asked if we wanted dessert.

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