Day 107 – 60m Above and Below South Western Australia
We’d been less than 30-minutes late to do a cave tour yesterday, so today I made sure we were there for the first tour of the day. We were given advice that the largest of the caves in the area was Jewel Cave. Of course, largest doesn’t necessarily mean best, but large sounded good to us. There is a fancy visitor centre with lots of information about the history of this cave (which is actually interesting!). It remained hidden for quite some time due to the fact that the entrance was through a small hole in the roof (a hole left from a dead tree). They created the current entrance that is used by tourists with explosives and earth moving equipment!
The tour ($22/person) leaves every hour, on the half hour from 9:30-3:30. We were lucky enough to be the only people on this tour, so it was essentially a private tour. Sadly, tripods were forbidden… so, these photos are all sadly hand-held. We descended through the narrow passage and it eventually opened up into an enormous and rather cavernous, well, cavern. There were lots of very large stalactites and stalagmites, as well as hundreds of extremely delicate straws. One of these straws was over 5m long! It was suggested that it was in excess of 5,000 years old…
At first, we were disappointed because we thought the tour was just this cavern. It’s not to say it wasn’t impressive (it really was amazing), it just didn’t feel like it was worth the admission fare. We walked down near a smooth feature called the Bridal Veil (which is where the daughter, and recently the grand daughter, of the man who found this cave back in the 50s were married). We also saw some other features that resembled the trees in a forest remarkably well.
What we couldn’t see from above was that the pathway continued from here through to other smaller caverns. This made us happy. There were small sections that we had to squeeze through, and more large caverns. Lots of other interesting limestone features, including the mind-boggling stalactite-like structures that defied gravity and grew horizontally and even vertically upwards. They were the weirdest things, and in an unsettling way it reminded me of tapeworms….
There were several long and low tunnels that weren’t open to public, stretching several kilometres down. They actually found bones/footprints of thylacines (Tasmanian Tiger) down there, which they believe must have fell through the roof of the cavern and became trapped and eventually starved to death. Brutal. There was a short walk from the car park to enjoy some of the forest of this area, as well as being able to see the original (though, now quite well protected) entrance to the cave.
We made the short detour to Augusta just to check out the lighthouse, since it was recommended so many times. We waited in the car for the current shower to pass and went to explore… except, they wanted $5 just to walk around the grounds (and even more to join a tour)… so we didn’t bother. We did stop at the original water wheel that supplied fresh water to the lighthouse (though, now the lime rich water has calcified the wheel). Some of the rocks in the area had that lovely orange algae on them, really making them look beautiful. But, sadly, the weather wasn’t playing fair. It’d be sunny until I took out the camera, then it would hide behind clouds and rain…
The drive from Augusta towards Pemberton was incredible, but not due to the scenery. I barely saw another car in the two hours that we were driving it. I think the Plenty Highway was busier… (maybe I just wasn’t paying attention).
To break up the drive, we stopped at a small waterfall, Beedelup Falls. I thought with all this rain it would make for a spectacular sight. Well, there was certainly plenty of water flowing, but it wasn’t much of a waterfall. More like a (very) large rapid. Still, the suspension bridge was fun (for a while).
We drove through Pemberton to get to the Gloucester Tree. The town was perched on the side of a hill, and from a distance it looked quaint. There were old chimneys puffing smoke and a sprawl of almost identical cottages along the main street. It really had that old town feel about it.
The Gloucester Tree was just on the other side of town. I was expecting it to be like most other attractions – a fee, and a set of rules. To my surprise, there was neither (other than the usual Day Use fee for WA National Parks, except we bought a four-week pass). The tree was massive, and immediately distinguishable as to which one it was. It was clearly the biggest amongst a set of (very) large trees. It was originally used as a fire watch tower, but has long been decommissioned. To climb this 60m tree, a series of large metal pegs have been hammered into the side of the tree, creating a spiral staircase up into the canopy. They’ve created a semi-enclosure for this staircase, so it’s not as gnarly as it looks. But, it still feels pretty scary if you look down while climbing… I forgot to keep count of how many steps there were, but there’d have to be close to 150. At the top of the tree there was an enclosed observation platform that looked out above the canopy of the trees below. It was amazing seeing this bird’s eye view. It was also amazing how stable this platform was – even with the strong wind, there was only the gentlest of swaying. We were starting to feel uncomfortable being up so high, so we descended. Luckily there were only two other people climbing, so we could wait at a convenient location – I’d hate to be here when it was busy… There are a few other ex-fire tower trees in the area that can also be climbed, but we didn’t really feel the need to seek them out.
We stopped for the night in a national park campsite, mainly because it had a shower… the catch, we found out, was the hot water was heated by a wood fire, which we had to light! It wasn’t the easiest of tasks, but perseverance paid off, and we (eventually) had hot water. Already miss the luxury of a hot shower every night/morning… Dinner was some broccoli and bacon with pasta. Simple, healthy, cheap and (probably, since I didn’t actually help cook it) easy.