Tumbling caves and some odd left-turns
- Dominic Dietrich
- Thursday, 31 May 2012
Traipsing across Fraser Island
The pleasure of winter in New South Wales is the ease with which you can escape it. Simply journey north to the warmer climes of Queensland, say, Fraser Island – that expanse of sand and forest around 200 kilometres north of Brisbane.
A weekend of frost can be exchanged for a camping trip amongst the island’s flora and fauna. A World Heritage Site, the 123 kilometre-long and 22 kilometre-wide island includes pristine beachheads, over 100 freshwater lakes, reputedly some of the last pure Dingoes in Australia, a rich birdlife as well as some of the more exciting, if dangerous, animals such as snakes and, if the reported sightings are anything to go by, crocodiles.
The island allows for a variety of trekking opportunities, including the 90km Fraser Island Great Walk. Although banned in the island’s creeks and rivers, there is also the possibility for a spot of fishing.
Kingfisher Bay Resort provides a luxury base on the island, as well as organising guided tours and vehicle hire. Perhaps bookend a rough trip in the island’s extremities with a night or two of indulgence.
Kingfisher Bay Resort: www.kingfisherbay.com, 1800 072 555
The rough and tumble of caving
Caving is rough, tense, tight, dirty, a pleasure. A trip from years ago found a group of us arriving at a hole in the ground on the side of a hill. Running ropes through a nearby metal lattice and into our abseiling gear we each, in succession, edged into the gaping hole – lowered into the belly of the cavern. The bright day changed to pitch black.
After a ten-metre descent we reached the floor and the light on our helmets began catching the geological treasures. A single dominating stalactite puncturing the air. Stalagmites scattered across the damp rock, creeping to the ceiling. The air stale; echoed bats squeaks. That day we toured the myriad tunnels bending through the cave system. A rough day: tense, tight, dirty and a pleasure.
Caving, especially with the inclusion of abseiling, ranks as one of the more exciting land sports. One that amateurs can access with surprising ease. New South Wales is home to several rich caving sites, including Bungonia Caves and Jenolan Caves.
The Jenolan Caves is host to several caving experiences, including adventure caving (mud, tight spaces and maybe a spot of abseiling) in the Aladdin, Plughole, Mammoth and Central River Caves.
Jenolan Caves: www.jenolancaves.org.au, 1300 76 33 11
The unique wonder of Kamchatka, eastern Russia
Adventure is timid when it involves a path well-trodden. With that in mind, the idea of exploring Russia’s eastern peninsula of Kamchatka should serve well those intent on a flurry of wonder and excitement.
Kamchatka, which until the 1990s was banned to foreigners, is riven with the bubbling presence of more than 200 volcanoes and barren lava fields (the testing ground for Russia’s lunar vehicles). Brown bears stalk its lush forests, salmon swim its streams. The 1,000 kilometre long peninsula which snakes into the northern reaches of Pacific Ocean is often described as the “land of fire and ice.” The Lonely Planet considers it one of the most beautiful regions in Russia, if not the world. Isolated, dramatic, lush, spare.
To be certain, this is no easy trip but surely that is the rule for any real adventure. Two local Russian agencies provide tours in the region: Vision of Kamchatka and The Lost World. The Russian summer (conveniently our winter) is considered a prime period for bear and volcano tours, while a spot of salmon fishing is also available. Helicopter excursions are on offer, including – at other points in the year – heli-skiiing. Check out the “about” pages for both companies for more on the tour-guides – including their diverse backgrounds.
Vision of Kamchatka: www.kamchatka.org.ru
The Lost World: www.travelkamchatka.com
The small roads of the mountains and plains
A detoured road trip across the Blue Mountains and into the Central Western Plains provides the perfect fodder for some sightseeing fun. Many novel sights demand a left turn onto a small road – one you’re not sure the conclusion of.
Begin the road-trip simply: drive the Great Western Highway to Katoomba so as to spy The Three Sisters. On the way, though, swing by the Wentworth Falls. Then begin considering the occasional side-roads you find as you head further west. For instance, the Jenolan Caves Road – after the Victoria Pass – which wends along ridgelines, offering panoramic views of dipping valleys.
Go to Bathurst – drive through Mount Panorama – then take Sofala Rd. Be fuelled up. Petrol stations are a rarity along the road. The target is Hill End, an old mining town and the inspiration for much of Russell Drysdale’s work. The region’s afternoon light is mesmerising, its landscape beautiful. Watch for kangaroos though. Tanwarra Lodge provides quality accommodation.
On the return trip don’t bother with the Great Western Highway. Pick instead the Bells Line of Road. Though the route itself is charming, keep in mind the ‘left turn rule’.
Tanwarra Lodge: www.tanwarralodge.com, 02 6337 7537
The Panorama of Cradle Mountain
Far too often Tasmania is simply dropped from our travel considerations. But as one person recently put it to me, “Tasmania is one of Australia’s greatest secrets.” The sheer natural beauty of the island has captivated more than a few, with one place in particular attracting its fair share of attention: Cradle Mountain.
Cradle Mountain is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and sited on the northern end of the Cradle Mt – Lake St Clair National Park. The peak – so named because of its resemblance to a gold mining cradle – reaches 1,500 metres above sea level.
This unique feature of topography is itself located in a wild and beautiful landscape. Icy, crisp streams; ancient pine forests; glacial lakes. The mountain provides the starting site for the six-day Overland Trek – renowned for its inspiring panorama.
Two options for accommodation include Cradle Mountain Lodge and Cradle Mountain Chateau.
Cradle Mountain Chateau: www.cradlemountainchateau.com.au
Cradle Mountain Lodge: www.cradlemountainlodge.com.au, 1300 806192
The leaping gorges of Yunnan
It is the foundation for the mystical Shangri La, and host to the endearingly titled Tiger Leaping Gorge. It is a photographer’s dream, a travel enthusiast’s pleasure. It is Yunnan province in southwest China.
The geography, to say nothing of the history, of the province is startling. The Luoping valley in the province’s east is a visual feast in the northern spring and summer with yellow canola bursting from the farms. Impressive dark hills push out of the sea of gold. Yuanyang county in the south offers spectacular vistas across terraced rice paddies. Owing largely to the rich colours, photographers should have few gripes in these locations.
Then there is the previously mentioned Tiger Leaping Gorge – a world heritage sight. Follow the path of the Jinsha river (a tributary of the Yangtze) and stumble upon villages, green pastures, sheer cliffs and quiet forests.
If you’ve grown tired of physical beauty, perhaps tour the canals of the old city of Lijiang, or glimpse the Three Pagodas – a trio of tall, Buddhist pagodas.
Airfares to China are surprisingly cheap. Be sure to organise your visa ahead of schedule.
Image credit: SplutterBug (CC BY 2.0)
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