May 20, 1997
Today's cycle was beautiful, 90 km on rolling outback scenery. I think the other day I
mentioned about the outback being on a plateau? It is on a plateau, However, the landscape
is far from flat. The terrain contains several mountains. The outback's popular red dust
color comes from iron oxide. Usually at this of time the year the landscape is very dry,
but the area has had a higher rainfall percentage this year from cyclone Justin. As I
pedal along the outback one would assume it is boring. On the contrary, it is full of
life. The numerous birds are always singing tunes. Flocks of rainbow lorikeets bring color
and noise throughout the day. An awesome bird in flight is the wedge tail edge. They soar
effortlessly for hours in the thermals searching for a feed. In total, the bird life
species number over 75.
The days journey ended in Chillagoe, famous for its limestone caves of 500 plus. The
town of Chillagoe has a population of 200 and an elevation of 425 meters. This is only the
second town I rode through all day. The other was Almaden with a population of 50. The
only service in the town was a pub. That's Australian for ya, they don't care if they eat,
but don't take away their Booze! Hopefully, I can visit a few caves and gain some
education about these formations. Time to head to the local pub for a schooner. Timmy
May 21, 1997
Jagged outcrops of limestone towering above the surrounding landscape typify
Chillagoe. These towering quartz formations protect relic rain forest species which
contrast with the open eucalyptus woodland of the surrounding plains. Erosion has formed
extensive cave systems within pinnacles of limestone. Local Aboriginal groups knew of the
existence of cave systems in the limestone, but it has only been in the last 100 years
that extensive exploration of the caves has taken place. Since then visitors have been
attracted by their beauty and variety.
The bluffs form fire protected limestone islands that support a special range of
plants growing in the fissures. The plants are surviving vestiges of a wetter era and are
deciduous, losing their leaves to aid survival during the dry season. Deciduous species
include figs, kurrajongs, helicopter trees, batswing coral trees, and strychnine bushes.
Ironwoods and blood woods are the dominant trees on the undulating plains. The introduced
plants, rubber vine and chinese apple, are also very common. Animal life includes several
species of wallaroos and wallabies. Birdlife is plentiful, with over 75 species having
been recorded within a 20 km radius of Chillagoe. Blue faced honey eaters noisily feed on
insects and blossoms while metallic grating calls announce the presence of the black
cockatoos. The northern blue checked race of the paleheaded Rosella and cheeky mobs of
Apostle birds are also commonly seen.
The limestone caves are thought to be over 400 million years old. Limestone is a
common sedimentary rock with the chemical name of calcium carbonate. Falling rain combines
with carbon dioxide in the air to form carbonic acid. The acid and the limestone react to
form calcium bicarbonate which is soluble. The fact that limestone can be eroded by water
at the surface and underground in this way results in a set of distinct land forms called
karst. The limestone was deposited in calcareous mud and coral reef approximately 400
million years ago on the bed of a shallow sea. Since deposition, major earth movements
have resulted in the limestone's and other interceded sediments being folded and tilted to
an almost vertical position.
Cave decorations can form in two ways. In damp conditions the release of carbon
dioxide from the limey water causes the lime (off-white calcium carbonate) to be
re-deposited in brilliant sparkling crystals. Stalactites (hanging from the roof),
stalagmites(growing from the floor), shawls(draperies or bacon stone), helictites(growing
sideways), canopies, crystal flows, and rimstone(gourrs) all can be found at Chillagoe.
Under drier conditions after the wet and in areas of good ventilation, evaporation of
water produces knobby formations with chalky surfaces know as cave coral. The visiting of
several caves in Chillagoe is a must. Each cave has a unique structure and decor formed
over millions of years. Cave tours can be booked through the Department of National Parks
in Chillagoe for a fee of five dollars per cave. Hundreds of other caves are self guided
and free. With a torch one can be fascinated for hours at their beauty.
May 22, 1997
I explored the Mungana Caves 15 km outside of Chillagoe. The archway is a giant grike
cave system. The multiple side passages have had some very pleasant surprises. The caves
are noted for its garden of maidenhair ferns and fig tree. This flora is ancient remains
of the rain forest in this area from millions of years ago. An interesting fact about
limestone is that during the volcanic times, when heated to high temperatures, it formed
into marble. The area has several old marble mine site with rejects littering the
landscape. The process of mining for marble starts with digging underground and cutting
the marble into huge blocks. Then the marble is graded and shipped overseas.
Transportation is the biggest cost in the mining process due to its weight.
I enjoyed the evening tea with a few locals. The owners of The Cave Lodge (Cobber and
Marcia) invited me up for a BBQ with some friends. The evening conversation was
informative of the local politics and surroundings. I highly recommend a stop at The Cave
Lodge when in Chillagoe. The hospitality is sincere and relaxing.
May 23, 1997
Still chilling in Chillagoe. World Bike was the guest at the State Primary School in
town. I entertained the local school kids with details of my travels. The students
appreciated learning through a question and answer session. They were a very attentive
audience. The Primary School will be tracking my journey. I will also field questions from
the students via e-mail.
May 24, 1997
Well it was either run for mayor of Chillagoe or hit the road again. After four days I
was becoming a regular townie. The outback town of Chillagoe had people from a lost era.
The locals were open honest people, always willing to help. The area around Chillagoe
contains some rare gems and minerals found no other place. However, I will miss the
hospitality and warmth of Chillagoe the most.
The cycle was 90 km of off road rolling outback country. I stopped in Almaden to visit
Joe the owner of the Railroad Pub and only service for the next day and half. I'm
traveling in a southern direction towards Mt. Garnet. The biggest concern is managing
water. Presently, I'm camped in a cattle station. Well, the ruins of a cattle station. The
stars are some of the brightest I've ever experienced. The outback is BIG SKY country. At
the moment a bat is flying over my head. He's attracted to the light. So, good night!
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