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  • Writer's pictureClaire

30/01/24 Goulburn to Oberon

Grey skies this morning but still warm. We left the site hung a left and located the Giganric, concrete Marino Sheep with the biggest set of swinging balls we've ever seen. We sat Bob underneath them and he was looking mightily uncomfortable with the whole situation.. The Gigantic sheep is outside of the Merino wool museum and is a symbol of the towns wool production. Goulburn itself is one of the first established inland settlements and is considered to be a rural town with the city feels. Its history is there for all to see, with the old buildings preserved and still utilised.

Once all the jokes had been exhausted and the giggles dried up, we headed for one of todays destinations, Jenolan Caves. For thousands of years the area has provided the Indigenous people with healing water they call Najung, medicine and natural resources. They are apparently world famous, some of the largest ones in Australia and visited by thousands of people a year.

The road to get there was pretty straightforward and somewhat similar to our roads, loads of potholes and patches all over the place! Heavy fog came down and with it rain. The scenery was again very much like home, especially in the fog. The NSW Police training college is up in the hills not far out of Goulburn, bloody hell, it was a massive set up very modern guarded gates etc. just down the road from it was their Driving school. It looked like they could have done all their driving courses on the plot, it was huge. There were some very steep hills to drive up and down and we were experiencing squeaky bum bends along with the "if I go over the edge right here, I ain't coming out alive" drops on either side. There had been an accident recently judging by the bright blue police tape wrapped around a tree. It's ok, we were on the opposite side of the road, clearly it was the safer side to be on. More amusing signs appealed to our warped and childish sense of humour, one in particular Bumaroo campground, had us chortling away for quite some time ! We had to turn off the main highway onto Edith road to get to the caves, and it's the only way in and out. The road went from being two lanes to single track, narrower than our lane at home.

There were several warning signs for steep descent , well they were not kidding. We were in crawling mode going down them, even slower due to the rain. Several signs warned us of road works ahead and to slow down. We came across them about 5 minutes later. They weren't roadworks, they were the control lights for the caves. Due to the nature and condition of the road, all vehicles have to be escorted down. We'd got there a few minutes after the guy in charge had sent a load down. He helpfully directed us towards toilets on the side of the road if required and requested we turn on our hazard lights. We were about 25 minutes there waiting and then the lights changed and off we went in a convoy following a truck. I wasn't sure what to expect, but what followed was way beyond even my imagination! The escort truck took us down the narrowest, steepest sharpest bendiest road on the planet. The poor brakes on the van were stinking and it took a good 10 minutes to get down to the bottom of the ravine. We finally got there, (alive) and because the brakes were so hot, they weren't working quite as they should and we got very close to the car in front of us. I could see an insurance claim heading our way it was that close. Fortunately the brakes kicked in and we were saved from that particular delight. There is a hotel just above the cave mouth, we had a look at it just out of curiosity, it's $450 a night and booked up solid until the end of May. It looks like an Alpine home, very pretty, nestled down in amongst the rocks and trees, but it also looks a bit tired and unloved. Our tour wasn't until 1530 hours and we arrived well in advance. There is a very nice coffee shop serving snacks and a gift shop as you'd expect. We asked if we could get on to an earlier tour, and we could have, except there were over 300 steps down which obviously meant a similar number back up, way way way out of my range. Also that tour didn't take in the underground river so we decided to wait until our tour. We were lucky to get in to tour today as it was closed yesterday and is closed again tomorrow. Because we had to hang around we returned to the cafe for a other brew and to use their wifi until it was time for the tour.

1530hours and our guide came to collect us. An odd little individual but very knowledgeable. One of her first sentences was "don't eat or drink anything in the caves, because the bush rats get a sniff of them and come looking for nice things to eat. If they don't find it they eat through the electric wires and that's not good" so cheers for that Mrs, I was the one spending the entire visit searching for bloody bush rats. The reason that there is only one road in is because in 2021 flooding caused a massive landslide and the road is now closed. Unfortunately there is nothing there to make a road out of and they have only now started work on replacing it. The estimated time scale is around the 4 year mark due to the fact that they have to dig into the mountain to create the foundations for the new roadway. Prior to that, in the horrendous 2019 bushfires everything had to shut down because no one could get in or out. Once it was declared safe and the fires under control, the guides were allowed back in to check over for damage etc. the cave mouth catches a wicked breeze and once they had got into the first chamber, they couldn't see a hand in front of them because it was full of smoke from the bushfires. It took a few weeks to clear it out from there, because the wind was the only thing that could do it. The effects of the smoke turned the limestone caves black in the first two chambers. The difference between the damaged ones and the ones unaffected was massive, the stalactite and stalacmites were so different in appearance you would be hard pushed to think that they were the same base substance. The area also had an unprecedented amount of rain which caused all the water to sink down through the mountain and flood the caves out. The water left visible marks and where it had been tiny stalagmites have started to form and features that I can only describe as looking like a twirl or a flake, with that wavey appearance. When the caves are dry they look a bit woolly, the wetter they get the more they sparkle in the lights. Some of them looked like hot melted chocolate of the white variety but I can't remember why that was!!! Sorry!! There are also what were called Ribbons, and they were my favourite, they looked the shells off a razor fish and appeared translucent in the lights which highlighted al their different colours.

Further inside the cave was the Imperial underground river. It was crystal clear and you couldn't tell how deep it was. Our guide said that it wasn't actually as clear as normal because they'd had heavy rains which disturbed the silt in the bottom which then makes the water really milky and you can't see the bottom. The river provides the towns water and passes through a UV filter before being piped out. There is a narrow causeway over the river which we were instructed not to take photos on because Felicity, the un funny guide didn't want anyone going in. Some time ago a tourist with a massive camera declined to follow the rules set out at the start and was taking photos in some pretty dodgy areas. I'm not a huge fan of rules, but I was happy to go with them in this case because it was an environment I'd never been in before and my reasoning was that Felicity probably knew what she was talking about. The tourist, claimed to speak no English when asked several times to desist with the photo taking at the unsafe spots. As she was on the causeway, she took not just the one photo and each time was getting further out over the river, she and her big old swanky camera ended up in the water. To me it looks about ankle deep, but the tourist who wasn't a short woman was up to her armpits in the freezing river. Her big old swanky camera was stil around her neck but was ruined. Shame. The act of her falling in caused the water to be like milk for weeks, thus ruining it for other people.

When they were opening the caves up and locating new chambers they came across a skull of a Tasmanian Devil that has been out ant being a couple of thousand years old. They didn't live in the caves but upstairs in the bush. It's skull washed in during a flood and they have aged it as being a couple of thousand years old, what exactly, I can't remember.

The caves were first explored in the early 1800's and discovered by one of three men who were working topside. He dropped his hard hat down a hole and tied off a road and slid down to retrieve it. When he got to solid ground and looked around he saw he was in a large chamber with open tunnels leading off it either side into further chambers. His buddies, wondering what was going on, were peering down through the hole he'd disappeared into. He told them of what he'd found and they decided they would run a tour of the cave system. They set up some rickety old bridges and tied off ropes as hand rails and took people down. The cave was the first one in the world to have electric light bulbs and that proved to be a huge selling point for the dudes running the tours. Everyone thought that it was much better than the candles which used to blow out when the wind blew through the caves. It's subtly lit now and there are concrete walkways metal hand rails and wire mesh fencing for safety now.

The experience was good, I'm pleased to be able to report that not one bush rat was spotted, and don't you worry i was looking in every little nook and cranny. It was almost as if I was made of eyes!! One of the group was a bit of un arse but besides him the rest seemed pretty much ok.

It was nice to get back into daylight, and we made our way to the car park where we had to get in the Que to be escorted back up and out of the valley. We were the last of 12 vehicles and it took quite some time to get to the main road. As we climbed upwards out of the valley we were enveloped in a blanket of mist. Visiblity was down to 5 metres and we were travelling at snails pace. We broke through the mist just as we came to the main road and were able to pick up our speed a bit. Our bed for the night was in Oberon. The Jenalon Caves caravan park. They'd very kindly sent me the check in details as I'd advised them we'd be arriving after reception closed so all we had to do was find it. Oberon is a strange little town, all the eating establishments were closed, so we decided to have a pub meal for supper. The pub was called the Royal Hotel. Sounds very grand doesn't it? Well there wasn't a banjo in sight, but there was definitely banjo potential when we walked in. The whole place went silent and eyes followed every step to the bar. The bar man was friendly enough but the natives were still eyeing us with suspicion. We went and found a table and orderd some food which was actually very nice. We left not long afterwards both knackered from the day and went to find the site. It was pretty close by, but oh boy did it have a funny vibe about it. Just really really odd. The facilities were great and they even supplied bath mats to use, with a note requesting the dirty ones be put in a basket to be washed! I was impressed by that. Showers piping hot too so that's me about sorted. Booked tickets for Dubbo tomorrow, our passes for the Blue mountains and hunting for accommodation in Sydney from Saturday. It's all go!

Much Love


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