Mammoth Cave, Western Australia




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One of the highlights of the Margaret River Region about 300 kilometres south of Perth, Australia is a series of caves stretching from Dunsborough to Augusta. There are over a hundred of them and four have been developed as tourist attractions.  These are the Ngilgi Cave near Yallingup, the Mammoth and Lake Caves not far from the town of Margaret River, and the Jewel Cave down towards Augusta.

Entrance to the Mammoth Cave near Margaret River, Australia

On our recent visit to Margaret River we visited the Mammoth Cave.  The name is ironic because, as caves go, it is on the small side. It runs 500 meters with a depth of 30 meters, although there is a side passage to explore as well. The Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, by contrast, has the longest network of surveyed passageways in the world – 640 kilometers of them!

The first chamber you see on entering the cave.

But despite its compact size, this is an interesting cave to visit. It is the most easily accessible of the four public caves in the Margaret River region and we had no trouble trekking our two year old grand daughter with us. The trail through the cave consists of wooden boardwalks with steel handrails. The first chamber is accessible by wheelchair, though subsequent chambers and passages require the navigation of stairs.

The four public caves are all connected by the aptly named Caves Road. You can get tickets for a single cave or for two or more of them. The distance between the two farthest apart, the Ngilgi Cave and the Jewel Cave, is 83.8 kilometers so all are easily accessible in one day. And Caves Road is one of the nicest drives in the region passing by rolling meadows and sheep and cattle farms in the North to magnificent marri and karri forests in the south.

A marri forest surrounds the Mammoth Cave.

The Mammoth Cave is one of the few in the region to have fossils and was an active paleontological dig in the early 1900s for its record of the Pleistocene era. This includes the Zygomaturus, a pre-historic marsupial that looked like a pygmy hippopotamus.  There is a fossil of a jawbone of the creature in the cave but I had a hard time distinguishing it from the surrounding rock.

Inside the cave, on the other side of the first chamber,  you’ll find a set of stairs leading to an upper chamber.

A set of stairs take you to the top of the chamber to see the area beyond.

All along the cave walls beautiful stalactites hang down like icicles.

Beautiful stalactites are everywhere in the cave.

The cave is interesting in that its stalactites and stalagmites do not all point straight up and down. This is because parts of the cave ceiling have broken off and fallen to the floor below over the years and, of course, they didn’t land straight.

Note the stalactites on the left and the ones on the right point in different directions. Two giant rock masses collapsed off the ceiling here resulting in this odd formation.

One interesting formation in the cave is a yellow-orange flowstone. You can only see it from a distance but such sheet formations are not uncommon. The colours derive from tannins in the water flowing over the rock.

A colourful flowstone in the Mammoth Cave.

I was at a bit of a quandary taking pictures in the cave as the cave is fairly well lit and you can take pictures with flash off. But pictures using flash show up quite differently. Most of the pictures I took with flash off. This is what you actually see when visiting. But using a flash removes the effects of the artificial lighting and shows the rock formations in their actual colour – a whitish-grey. Note the difference between the picture above, taken without flash, and the one below of the same flowstone with flash.

Same photo of the flowstone taken with flash.

The Mammoth Cave is a bit different from the other three publicly accessible caves in that the others are all single access – you go into the cave, explore it, and come back out. The Mammoth Cave is a through cave. You go in one end and come out at a different location.

It used to be a single access cave but a collapsing sinkhole created an egress about a half a kilometer from the entrance.

Towards the sinkhole egress, natural light allowed  moss and lichens to cover the rocks along the stream that runs into the cave.

The sinkhole is a deep one and a series of stairs go up 160 steps to the top.

The top of the sinkhole from down below.
Looking into the sinkhole from the top of the stairs.

The sinkhole covers a large area and you can see the limestone formations surrounding the hole.

Limestone formations surround the sinkhole. This is a composite of three photos.

Emerging from the cave we arrived at an exit gate and found out we had come out on the other side of Caves Road. We crossed and had a choice of two walks back to the visitor center, a long one – 600 meters, and a short one – 200 meters. With a toddler in tow we opted for the shorter one. Both take you through a beautiful expanse of marri forest, a lovely walk to end an interesting visit.

Along the walk through the marri forest.

We enjoyed our tour and on a return visit, I’d like to explore the other caves as well.  This was the first cave I had seen since 1980 when my wife and I visited the Oregon Caves.  Some day I’d like to see some of the really big ones, like the Carlsbad Caverns or Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave.

Be sure to check out the Photo Gallery for more pics.

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Photo Gallery: Mammoth Cave, Western Australia




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Here are some additional photos from our visit to the Mammoth Cave in Western Australia. The one above is looking at the sinkhole from near the exit.

The first chamber we entered. This photo was taken with a flash. Compare it to the one without flash in the original blog post.
Some of the limestone formations in the cave.
More stalactites.
Stalactites and stalagmites reaching towards each other.
Large stalactites.
The ceiling of one of the chambers.
With flash, the rock formations show their true whitish grey colour.
There is something surreal and beautiful about caves.
The exit from the cave.
Looking down into the sinkhole.
The staircase into the sinkhole. This is a composite picture.

That concludes our look at Mammoth Cave.



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Perth’s Playground




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Back in 1984, Perth businessman Dallas Dempster had a smart idea. Let’s get rid of this dump! Burswood Island, an island in the Swan River just a couple of kilometres from Perth’s city center, was the site of a large landfill. Dempster suggested to the Western Australian government that the site could be better used for a resort casino. The government agreed and Dempster and a Malaysian business partner were granted a casino license in 1985. The plans called for a casino, a 400 room hotel, a golf course, a convention and exhibition centre, an amphitheatre and more.

The casino, of course, was finished first and opened in December 1985. The third largest casino in the world at the time, it was an immediate success, so popular it netted $1 million a day in gross profit in its first two months of operation! The rest of the complex was finished over the next two years. This included the ultra-modern Burswood Island Hotel.

The Crown Metrepol, originally the Burswood Island Hotel, features a covered courtyard with bars and restaurants and a set of external elevators.

The casino was expanded and the theatre renovated in the 1990s. Further expansion in the 2000s saw another hotel added (a Holiday Inn, now the Crown Promenade) as well as some residential apartment complexes nearby. The complex underwent various ownership changes as well, ending up in the hands of Crown Limited in 2007. In 2011 the resort was rebranded as Crown Perth to coincide with the building of the Crown Melbourne resort. $750 million was pumped in to refurbish the resort. And in 2012 a third hotel was announced, the Crown Towers, which opened in December 2016. (The photo heading this article is of the Crown Towers and Crown Metrepol as seen from across the Swan River.)

The lobby that forms a hub connecting Crown Perth’s hotels and various ballrooms, convention centers and the Crown Theatre.

Crown Perth is the jewel in Perth’s entertainment business and Janis and I had the pleasure of staying a couple of nights there recently to celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary. The place is world class with over thirty restaurants, several convention centres and ballrooms, a first-class theatre, spas and swimming pools, several upscale shops (including Paspaley Pearls and Rolex Watches), a night club and, of course, the casino. We had dined at three of the restaurants on previous trips, the top-notch Silks Japanese restaurant, the Merrywell and the fabulous Epicurean which serves a buffet on par with the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, maybe even better. During our stay we dined at three more including the Modo Mio Italian Restaurant and a couple of moderately priced restaurants. For an inexpensive but superb meal, I recommend the 88 Noodles oriental restaurant which is inside the casino. We also had drinks a few times at the Lobby Lounge in front of the Crown Metrepol.

Janis and I relaxing at the Lobby Lounge.

We’re not much into gambling but we did spend an hour at the slots coming away ahead by $30. Not bad since we only played two cent slots.

The best part of our stay was the production of Disney’s Aladdin at the Crown Theatre. In its previous incarnation as the Burswood Theatre, it has featured a wide array of entertainers as well as major productions like Cats. Aladdin was a Broadway touring company production and was amazing. The staging and choreography were excellent.

The theatre itself is on par with Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre and similar venues. I liked it a bit better, actually, because each seat has a generous amount of legroom.

Lobby of the Crown Theatre Perth. There are snack and souvenir shops on the second level as well as this one.

Not far from the Crown Perth complex there used to be a domed stadium known as the Dome at Crown Perth, formerly the Burswood Dome. This venue had a long history of performances by such stars as AC/DC, Kiss, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Pink, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, Elton John, Iron Maiden, Britney Spears, Beyoncé, The Black Eyed Peas, Guns N’ Roses, Christina Aguilera,  Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and Roger Waters. It also hosted major sporting events. The Dome was demolished in 2013 to make room for a parking lot for the new Optus Stadium which opened on January 21, 2018.

The new Optus Stadium opened in January 2018.

The stadium was built on part of the old golf course. The remaining part of the golf course now forms a park between the stadium and Crown Perth. It is about a twenty minute walk to the stadium.

Part of the stadium project included the building of a pedestrian bridge across the Swan River connecting the Burswood Peninsula to East Perth. The bridge is a beautiful piece of architecture. Three interlacing arches of white and black form the bridge. The Matagarup Bridge, after an indigenous name for the area, was opened to the public on July 14, 2018 so we were fortunate to have arrived back in Australia just after its opening.

The Matagarup Bridge connecting East Perth and Burswood. Perth (Optus) Stadium is at the other end.

Some have said the arches resemble swans. In any event, each arch has a staircase going up it and plans call for the stairs to be open to the public. The center span soars 72 metres (256 feet) high and is about half a kilometre in length. Scaling bridges must be an Aussie thing as the Sydney Harbor Bridge is famous for its accessibility by visitors. (See my earlier article on Sydney for pics) There will likely be a charge to scale the bridge but I’d certainly do it. Maybe on my next visit it will be open for climbing! Oh…I should mention that they are also considering adding a zipline from the top of the bridge to the ground! Wouldn’t that be cool!

Stairs to the top of the center span may be accessible to the public in the near future.

Perth’s downtown business district is served by several free bus services known as CAT (Central Area Transit). There are two lines that run along Waterloo Crescent just up Nile Street on the other side of Gloucester Trotting Park. About a ten minute walk from the stadium, a half hour from Crown Perth. Crown Perth and the Stadium are both also accessible by train on the Perth-Townslie line though the Stadium Station is only open when events are on at the stadium. If the weather is nice, it is a great walk and free. The train will set you back $3.20.

Here are a few more photos of Crown Perth and the bridge.

The Crown Metrepol has a sloping glass window covering the courtyard.
The other side of the Metrepol. There is a large parking lot there and last Christmas they had huge tents set up for a children’s Christmas festival.
One of the lobbies at the Crown Towers. The place reeks luxury.
The stairs going from the lobby to the outdoor swimming pools.
The elevators at the Crown Metrepol
One of the ballrooms
The front of the Matagarup Bridge. There is still some work going on as of this writing but the bridge is open to the public.

 

The Gloucester Trotting Park, home of harness racing in Perth and just across the river from the Perth Optus Stadium. Nearby is Perth’s cricket pitch.

Crown Perth

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Historic Fremantle

The City of Fremantle in Western Australia teems with history. Founded by Swan River colonists in 1829, it officially became a city a century later. Indeed, much of the architecture in downtown Fremantle dates from the 19th century. The Esplanade Hotel shown above, for example, was originally used to house convicts while the Fremantle Prison was built. In 1892 it became a hotel. It underwent numerous renovations and expansions over the years including 1985 for the America’s Cup. It now has 300 rooms and is designated as a heritage site.

Fremantle is a quaint little city of just 27,000, but it is a bustling one. Located at the mouth of the Swan River, it serves as the seaport for the metropolis of Perth about 18 kilometers upriver.

Downtown Fremantle is compact with all major venues within walking distance. In the map below, for example, the distance from Fremantle Prison to the WA Maritime Museum is just two kilometers or a 25 minute walk.

In a previous post I related our night time tour of the Fremantle Prison which served as a maximum security penitentiary until 1991. But there is much more than the prison to see here.

On our first visit, we parked near the Fremantle Oval and visited the Fremantle Markets. Founded in 1897, these public markets feature farm fresh produce, a variety of artisans and crafts, restaurants featuring Aussie cuisine, and, of course, buskers. We were much amused by a young woman on stilts in an emu costume that day.

The emu lady strutting around the Fremantle Markets

One of the fast food joints called itself the Bush Food Cafe and featured roo dogs, croc dogs and a sample stick containing roo, croc and emu!

On our first visit we saw  a busker playing a lively rag on the piano and on another visit we saw a seven year old guitar prodigy.

Outside there were a variety of street entertainers and promoters of various causes, including the Falun Gong.

Advocates looking for support for the Falun Gong

On leaving the markets we walked down a street of wall-to-wall restaurants towards the waterfront. We passed through Esplanade Park across from the hotel on the way. A permanent Ferris wheel is tucked into a corner of the park.

A number of craft breweries lined the shore road (Mews Road) and we ate at one of them that first visit. Passing between a couple of them brings you to the wooden boardwalk that goes around the inner harbor. This is a popular venue for its many fine restaurants. One notable eatery is Kailis Fish Market Café, serving “award-winning fish & chips” since 1928.

A wooden boardwalk surrounds the Fremantle harbor.

We were surprised to find a statue of Bon Scott, the lead singer of AC/DC who passed away in 1980. The base of the statue hails the singer as “the greatest frontman of all time” as noted in the magazine Classic Rock.  Although born in Scotland, Scott moved to Australia with his family at age six and grew up in Fremantle.

Bon Scott, one of Fremantle’s favorite sons

On our second visit to Fremantle, Janis and I had taken the train to Perth and then a cruise down the Swan River to Fremantle. Not far from the railroad station is Bathers Beach. Atop a bluff beside the beach you’ll find the Round House.

Built in 1830, the Round House was the first permanent structure in the Swan River Colony. It was built as a small prison with eight cells and a jailer’s residence.

The Round House sits atop a bluff near Bathers Beach
The Whalers Tunnel and the Round House

Those of a philosophical bent will be interested to note its design was based on the Panopticon, a blueprint for an ideal prison  designed by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The cells are arranged in a semi-circle so one jailer can observe all prisoners at once. Bentham theorized that since the prisoner never knew if he was being watched, he self-regulated his behaviour.

Inside you can see the cells as well as a stocks. A placard indicates the offenses that could land you in the Round House as well as remarking that only one prisoner was ever hanged at the Round House – sadly the condemned was only fifteen at the time.

The stocks at the Round House

The detailed information sign for the stocks tells you that the prisoner was held immobile by the hand holds and leg-irons. Sometimes the subject’s ears were nailed to the frame so he could not move to avoid rotten tomatoes and other debris thrown at him by the jeering crowd.

We walked on through the town taking in a variety of city sights. We passed the University of Notre Dame and its beautiful red brick buildings, past shops and iconic hotels like Rosie O’Grady’s which was undergoing some renovations.

The University of Notre Dame
Rosie O’Grady’s (formerly the Federal Hotel)

We ended up at Fremantle Oval, home of the Fremantle Dockers football (soccer) team.  One of Janis’s friends from work was a huge Dockers fan so we thought we’d get a souvenir for her. When we got there, a few players were on the field being interviewed by a television news reporter.

The Fremantle Oval, practice field for the Fremantle Dockers

While Janis was busy buying the souvenir, I popped out and noticed the players coming off the field. I approached them and explained that my wife’s friend was a Dockers fan in Canada and asked if I could get a picture of them with my wife. They kindly agreed. I quickly got Janis and the picture.

Janis and three players from the Fremantle Dockers – big fellows all!

Needless to say, her friend loved the picture and had it blown up and posted it on the store’s bulletin board.

Fremantle is an old city which has managed to maintain its colonial charm. No buildings are more than a few stories in height and many sport period architecture, including some with sweeping second floor balconies. There are a lot of restaurants, several craft breweries, a marvelous waterfront, historic prisons and a fair amount of public art. You can easily spend a day or two exploring the old town.

You’ll find a couple of photo galleries linked after this article, but I leave you with one final iconic building – the Norfolk Hotel. The building is pretty non-descript but is notable for the haunting mural on its side – the face of  woman.

The Norfolk Hotel

Built in 1887 as the Oddfellow Hotel, the building was refurbished and re-opened as the Norfolk 100 years later in preparation for the America’s Cup. It has a long history as one of Fremantle’s favorite watering holes. Indeed, for over fifty years it was owned by the Swan Brewery.

After a succession of owners, the hotel is now owned by a noted hotel company and the lease has been held since 1989 by the partner in another brewery. The mural is actually a bas relief sculpture by Portuguese sculptor Vhils of Australia’s first female senator, Dorothy Tangney.

Mural of Dame Dorothy Tangney, DBE, first female Australian senator

Below are some additional links, including two photo galleries. If you are on the front page of this website, you just have to scroll down to see the photo galleries.

 

Photo Gallery: Places and Buildings Around Fremantle

Fremantle has many interesting places and buildings.  The photo above  shows the Whalers Tunnel and the Round House from the city side. Here are a few more.

Bathers Beach
The Whalers Tunnel – a plaque says the tunnel was excavated by the Fremantle Whaling Company in 1837 “to facilitate the transport of whale oil and merchandise between Bathers Bay and the town of Fremantle”.
Going through the Whalers Tunnel
A mannequin in one of the cells in the Round House
Janis and I on the gun parapet at the Round House
The distinctive Maritime Museum seen from the river. We never did get around to visiting it.
A typical street looking towards the river. You can see gantry cranes in the distance.
The National Hotel
Balcony and sign at Rosie O’Grady’s. This sort of architecture makes me think of New Orleans.
The Fremantle Technical School
Another street scene near the University of Notre Dame
Fremantle Presbyterian Church
One end of the Esplanade Hotel
Esplanade Park
The Ferris wheel
And on the outskirts of town while driving in, I was much amused by this iconic flour mill. That’s a terrific logo!

Photo Gallery: The Fremantle Markets and the Waterfront

The photo above shows the harbor as seen from the outdoor patio at Kailis’ Fish Market Café. Below are some more photos from the waterfront and the Fremantle Markets.

One of the craft breweries along Mews Road. The path between the two buildings leads to the boardwalk along the harbor.
Inside the craft brewery
You can order a sample tray of all their different brews
The boardwalk at Fremantle Harbor

 

This is an active harbor. Fish boats constantly supply fresh fish to the restaurants
Lunch on the patio
Seagulls hover near by looking for scraps
The back entrance to the Fremantle Markets (across from the Fremantle Oval)