What lies be­neath

Kosciuszko caves re­veal their trea­sures

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AUSTRALIA - PENNY HUNTER

The vis­i­tors’ book at Yar­ran­go­b­illy Caves House gives a glimpse into the past — and a por­tent of the in­ter­net age. In an en­try from 1917, the Ball­hausens from Coota­mundra wax lyri­cal about the beauty of the Kosciuszko re­gion’s lime­stone caves and the newly opened two-storey hotel wing. It’s all “rap­ture”, “de­light” and “splen­dour” in elab­o­rate cur­sive. How­ever, they do ask if any­one might sug­gest “a more sat­is­fac­tory way of get­ting here than by way of road” from Tu­mut. To which, a guest has bluntly writ­ten in re­ply: “Try walk­ing.” And with those two words you are fast-for­warded to the age of the in­ter­net troll.

It’s not the only point dur­ing our three-night stay in Kosciuszko Na­tional Park that we ex­pe­ri­ence a cu­ri­ous kind of time travel. Yar­ran­go­b­illy Caves House was com­pleted 100 years ago, and with its tongue-and-groove tim­ber walls, grand stair­way and high ceil­ings, it has the feel of a his­toric home. Yet it con­ceals some mod­ern se­crets. Hid­den from vis­i­tors’ view is Yar­ran­go­b­illy’s own minia­ture hy­dro-elec­tric­ity plant, at the heart of which is a stead­fast old tur­bine, or Pel­ton wheel, stamped with the year 1936, which works in har­mony with a fu­tur­is­tic new $170,000 bat­tery bank. Up the hill be­hind the house is a state-of-the-art, chem­i­cal-free sewage treat­ment plant that feeds an alpine grass nurs­ery. Be­neath the house’s pretty Blue Room, where in olden days gen­tle­men re­tired to smoke their pipes, is an im­pos­ing wall of hi-tech hot wa­ter tanks. Yar­ran­go­b­illy, it seems, has cre­ated a happy mar­riage of old and new.

But it is the past that draws peo­ple here, specif­i­cally a 12km-long strip of lime­stone es­ti­mated to be 440 mil­lion years old. Once the ocean floor, it was pushed to the Earth’s sur­face and sculpted by na­ture to cre­ate a net­work of 300 cav­erns and tun­nels. The fan­tas­tic alchemy of car­bon diox­ide, wa­ter and lime­stone has pro­duced a stage set of sta­lac­tites, sta­lag­mites, pil­lars and cave co­ral that has lured vis­i­tors to Yar­ran­go­b­illy since their dis­cov­ery in the 1830s. Six of th­ese caves are open to the pub­lic, thanks to NSW Na­tional Parks.

We wake on our first morn­ing in the cosy Caves House to an in­sis­tent knock­ing on our gue­stroom door. It’s one of our chil­dren, and the source of her ex­cite­ment? It’s snow­ing. We look out our win­dow to see a cur­tain of fat, white flakes float­ing down past the gums. An un­ex­pected si­lence cloaks the morn­ing, and guests de­lay their break­fasts to go out­side and revel in the magic of win­ter in the bush. When our fam­ily of four sets off for a tour of Cas­tle Cave, a gen­tle 2km walk away, guide Regina Roach in­sists we pro­ceed ahead of her, crunch­ing the first tracks in the vir­gin snow.

Cas­tle Cave is one of the park’s trea­sures rarely seen by vis­i­tors. We are decked out with hel­mets and head­lamps, and Regina has an abun­dance of torches in her

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