What lies beneath
Kosciuszko caves reveal their treasures
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