“We hope you’re fit”, an older couple (maybe in their late 60s) said to us as we walked towards the Yarrangobilly Caves. “A bit steep, is it?”, I replied, prompting a further response from the woman that they were “just taking a little rest”.
The caves are about eighty kilometres from Tumut, in the Kosciuszko National Park. As we headed out this morning, we didn’t really pay much attention to how long it took to get there, as we stopped along the way to take in the sites. There are parts where you can drive at a normal pace, but also parts where you need to slow down significantly, due to the narrow winding road.
Our first stop was roughly halfway, at the small town of Talbingo. Famously, Talbingo is home to a power station, parts of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, and is located on the shores of Lake Blowering. The town has a police station, a school, a caravan park, and a small shopping centre.
As you enter the “main store”, there are lots of signs outside declaring they sold “fat bait” for fishing. “Even if the power station closed down, I think there would still need to be a place for tourists to camp and shop”, I said to Sue, though I can’t be sure.
As I stopped to pay, I noticed there was a sign on the counter that one of the co-owners of the store was running as an Independent in the forthcoming local council elections. Maybe the town’s future is something the big bloke with the bushranger beard behind the counter, making coffee, will be running on?
It was great to see the author, Miles Franklin (born here) had the main street of Talbingo named after her.
After this brief stop, we headed off again, taking in the extraordinary sites of the landscape.
As we drove, we noticed the line-markings on the road transitioned from white to a golden yellow, which presumably is easier to see when there is snow on the road.
The road down into the Yarrangobilly Caves is narrow and winding. When the woman at the National Parks & Wildlife Service office told us there was only one way in and only one way out we were relieved. There are moments when you’re driving along, almost hanging off the road of the mountain, and the idea of having another car coming around the corner would have been too much to consider.
Only about 500 metres from the parks office is the entrance to the South Glory Hole (yes, really) Cave. Due to COVID, this was the only cave open to the public. Additionally, it’s not school holidays right now, and there weren’t all that many people in the park anyway.
We were the only ones walking through the caves, so it was wonderful to be able to experience this without the presence of others. “There are no sounds of screaming kids”, Sue noted.
The only sounds you hear are the sounds of dripping water.
You step in puddles of water from time to time. I held tightly to the guard rail, as I slowly walked through the cave. We stopped to read the signs, take photographs, and chat about our experiences.
There were a few moments when I felt slightly claustrophobic. I don’t have many fears in life, except small enclosed spaces. I remember once having dinner with friends who LOVE going into caves, and when they began to describe going into an especially small hole within a cave, I had to tell them to stop, as it made me feel very uncomfortable.
The first moment I felt this way was when went into the first “dark enclosed spot”. We were headed upstairs into a space where only one person could walk through. The second moment was when I began to contemplate drowning in the event of a rush of water coming through the caves. And then finally, there was another “dark enclosed spot” towards the end.
Despite those dark spots, the cave is well-lit. I’m not talking “Hollywood” lighting. Rather small lights (LEDs?) which turn on and off according to where you walk. A sign along the way declares the artificial lighting in the caves has a negative impact on the environment. It was reassuring, nonetheless, to be able to walk along and be able to see where you were walking.
Truly, a wonderful experience, and highly recommended. We spent about 30 minutes walking through.
From there we headed down to the river and thermal pool. As we walked down the 700 metres from the caves, we chatted briefly with an older American couple. “We’ve been to Kosciusko many times”, the woman told us, adding they had never been to the caves before and never to the pool. “We have our own mobile home, so we have our swimwear with us”, she told us.
Though I had brought swimwear with me on this trip to the area, I hadn’t bothered to pack it today. I thought it would be too cold to swim but was wrong. We dipped our feet in the pool, while about ten others actually jumped in. There was the American couple, other people similarly aged to us, and a group of early twenties who all seemed nervous at first about jumping in, but very quickly adapted to the surroundings.
There are two pools. One is very shallow and quite warm, but the floor was covered in moss. The other (main) pool is over two metres deep and has an average temperature of around 27 degrees celsius, warmed through the rocks deep within the ground.
Also nearby, there’s a river walk and a campground, and you could easily imagine how people could spend the whole day there.
As we walked back up the hill we stopped from time to time, to take in the sights, the wild-flowers, and to catch our breaths, much like the couple who we chatted to on our way down to the caves and pool.