View under the Devil’s Coach House of McKeowns Valley, Jenolan
Yesterday, the 13th, was my birthday. And what a full day it was. I woke up at 8am and went to bed at 2 this morning, and did not even have time enough to upload photos. Definitely feeling a little shady today. 😀
After the customary opening of a high end Kotobukiya model Zoid Ryan had disguised (quite badly) as a footspa, we headed off out of Bathurst, through Oberon, down a winding mountain to Jenolan Caves. The area was immediately distinguished by its bare limestone hills and plunging valleys. After a few close encounters with cars approaching from the valley, we arrived relatively unscathed in the upper lot. Getting out of the car, it seemed nothing was flat, or level; even the parking lot undulated in a series of low hills. Not to be deterred, we grabbed our day packs and headed into the valley.
Down, down, down we went. Lizards scattered from our path. Eventually we happened upon the hotel and restaurant, looking entirely like a chateau hidden away in the mountains.
Once down amongst the buildings and people, most there by bus from Sydney, we set about booking a tour to the River Cave, one of at least 11 show caves in the Jenolan system. We had twenty minutes before the tour began, so we had a look around at what the area had to offer, and found it surprisingly secluded and natural.
Before we knew it, the tour was ready to start. Our tour guide, Allen, led the group of 20 along a staircase up the side of the mountain and into the cave mouth. We had a great two hours in the cave. There were hundreds of bright white stalactites and huge stalgamites (remember tites hang down and mites push up) which looked like giant ice creams. The River Cave was 1298 steps, half of them down, the other half up, three ladders, and some truly incredible formations. Walking through the caves it was possible to get a real idea of how they were formed; as limestone caves, the rock is of course full of calcium from shells, coral, plankton and other sea life. Shifting plates moves the limestone to its current position, thrown up into mountains. Water moves down through the soil and into the limestone, gradually carving out channels. These channels, once open, become rapidly larger, and the water sinks further and further down. Without so much water, the growth of channels slows again, and instead the process of forming stalactites, mites and other formations begins. Calcium in the rocks reacts with carbon carried by water, to form these incredible, liquid looking rocks composed of calcite crystals. And so the water goes down and down, in rivers and pools, washing iron oxide into the rock to give it that orange lustre, while the dissolved calcites in the pools give it a distinctly cyan sheen. The rule of thumbs for caves is that since water follows the law of gravity, the lower you delve into a cave complex, the newer it will be.
My phone camera made the entire cave complex sinister rather than beautiful, so I’ll only include a few photos, and you’ll have to take my word that we were thoroughly impressed with what we saw. The Pool of Reflections especially was intensely beautiful, with the iron oxide rich roof reflected perfectly on a clear, blue, still pool. I really don’t envy cave explorers, at least not those who first went through Jenolan Caves a hundred and a hundred and eighty years ago. -_-; Of course I’m both acrophobic and claustrophobic, so cave diving is hardly my choice of career! Happily I had no trouble with either, as the passages were spacious, and though we were underground per se, the air pressure was different with the caves being inside the mountain than had they been underground. Or is that just madness? I think claustrophobia for me has a lot to do with the air pressure, that stagnant, cloying sensation of stale air hammered down from a distant surface.
Whoo, is that spooky or what? Some photos?
Yet the spookiest shot by all was this one…
So… is there someone hanging there, or what? ^_^;
Eventually we did see the outside world again. After a short chocolate break, Ryan and I thought we’d made use of the free self-guided tour to Nettle Cave which came with our tickets, and some of the extensive hiking tracks in the ranges. We passed through the Devil’s Coach House (pic of the day) to McKeown’s Valley and its walking track. Well, we had some time and it was nice to be out in the very green valley, so we kept going along the track. We passed plenty of lizards and kangaroos, the latter which we shouted out of our path. I wouldn’t usually bother scaring kangaroos away, but as the two groups we saw both had joeys, it was safer to convince them to leave of their own volition rather than risk a confrontation. We’ve all heard stories about protective kangaroos disembowelling people. No thanks! Clapping hands and shouting in a low tone of voice whilst very slowly approaching did the trick.
But luck was not with us. We hadn’t proceeded far down the track when it disappeared into a dry river bed and refused to return. I hit my leg across a spiky plant which was prolific in the area, and may have been the same one I encountered last weekend. Whatever the case, after stinging and itching aggressively, my leg came up in small blisters. Ryan and I decided to accept our misfortune and head back to the caves.
And luck was still not with us. We hadn’t gone far back the way we’d come, when, on a patch of level earth signed Mammoth Flat, I heard a fierce grunting and rustle of bushes. No, it wasn’t a couple of teenagers. Heavy breathing from a single animal, grunts, violent rustling – we’d disturbed a wild boar.
Now those things can be nasty. I pulled Ryan to a stop. He fished his K-bar from his bag. All I carry is a short knife unsuitable for self-defence, so I took up the biggest stick I could find. We waited. My heart was in my throat. We didn’t know the size of the animal, or if it would attack. I’ve come across a few wild pigs, one in Wee Jasper near my hometown. The pig was dead but it laid across the entire narrow road. The other was in Japan, on the island of Shikoku, in the mountains. I’d slowed for a sharp turn and had the window down, when allova sudden I heard this clattering like marbles being poured onto stone. Then I saw it – coming around the bend, this giant black pig being driven in front of a slow-moving van. The boar ran right past my car like hell was after it. It was a huge animal, and quick, and not something I’d like to cross.
Such were my thoughts when identifying the pig. However, it wasn’t long before we saw a flash of black higher on the hill, away from the trail. We waited, and listened, and after a few minutes when there was nothing we carefully continued towards the caves. I held onto the stick until we encountered yet another family groups of kangaroos, then I gave it up, not wishing to antagonise the roos (or any tourists coming the other way!).
Jumpy, yet unhindered further, we made it back to the caves. By then it was getting late and Nettle Cave was closed for the day. Didn’t matter! We made the very long, vertical trip back through the Grand Arch, past the hotel, and up, up, up to the parking lot. By time we reached the car the blisters on my leg had subsided. I will really have to be more careful of those plants in future!
All hiked out, we arrived home an hour later in time for a quick shower and a change of clothes. Friends started arriving at 7.30 for drinks and dinner. We bought pizzas and cakes, came back to our place to watch a movie, and played card games for the rest of the evening. Playing card games sounds pretty harmless, but it grows infinitely seedier as the night wears on. Finally we gave up cards in favour of that favourite Australian pastime; comparing poisonous animals you’ve encountered. Did I win with my spider infested house in Albury? Or Ryan’s family’s sailing boat with its sails full of white tailed spiders? No way! We’d all had too many encounters with too many dangerous animals to call it.
We were thoroughly exhausted by the end of the day. Thank you to all mah peeps who came around last night, and made the day so wonderful. I’m sure this is the first year I’ve had three birthday cakes. 😀