Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

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September 17th 2017
Published: September 18th 2017
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Breakfast this morning consisted of a well stocked buffet at our accommodation in Grobisce. We ate heartily (our hosts even sourced out GF bread for Kim) from the produce which was mostly prepared and cooked in-house, to sustain us for our journey today to the centre of the earth.

Our first port of call was Postojna Caves, which lies within the town of Postojna, and, along with Predjama Castle, is one of the leading tourist attractions of the south-west region of Slovenia. The cave system is 24.34 kms long and is the second-longest cave system in the country. The caves were created by the Pivka River. The cave was first described in the 17th century by the pioneer of study of karst phenomena, Johann Von Valvasor, although graffiti inside dated to 1213 indicates a much longer history of use.

In 1872, cave rails were laid along with first cave train for tourists. At first, these were pushed along by the guides themselves, later at the beginning of the 20th century a gas locomotive was introduced. During WW1, Russian prisoners of war were forced to construct a bridge across a large chasm inside the cave. During WW11, German occupying forces used the cave to store nearly 1,000 barrels of aircraft fuel, which were destroyed in April 1944 by Slovene Partisans. The fire burned for seven days, destroying a large section of the cave and blackening the entrance.

After 1945, the gas locomotive was replaced by an electric one. About 5.3 kms of the cave system are open to the public, and at any one time, there are several of these trains ferrying passengers through the cave system, on time scheduled tours in your chosen language.

We commenced our tour of the cave by jumping aboard our designated “english speaking” train, and rumbled through the tunnels for two kms to reach the destination of our walking section. I am assuming that our long train journey into the cave was due to the early parts of the cave being destroyed by burning aircraft fuel during WW2, although this was never mentioned by the guide.

The cave system that we viewed on our tour was vast and pretty amazing compared to the many Australian limestone caves we have visited. There were a multitude of different limestone formations including stalactites, stalagmites, curtain and spaghetti, in three colours, white, red and grey, the colours dependent on the minerals present in the soil above. White is pure calcium carbonate, red is from iron oxide and grey is from manganese. The cave was very wet due to the heavy rain the region has experienced in recent weeks.

We finished our very interesting tour of the cave with another train ride out of the cave, where we said goodbye to our friends Liz and Darrol, who were driving to Ljubljana.

We drove back to our accommodation to prepare for our next mission, a visit to Skocjan Cave, which is located near the village of Divaca, some 29 kms away. Skocjan Cave is a UNESCO heritage listed cave, due to it’s exceptional significance, and is run by the Slovenian Government, whereas Postojna Cave is privately owned.

Our tour guide was a young uni student named Ana, who was the best guide we could hope for. I suspect she was a geology student, as she was very passionate above the environment and the cave system, as well as being knowledgeable and informative. She was also very witty, and had us in stitches with some of her comments.

Ranking among the most important caves in the world, Škocjan Caves represents the most significant underground phenomena both on the Karst Plateua and in Slovenia. International scientific circles have acknowledged the importance of the caves as one of the natural treasures of planet Earth. The first written sources on Škocjan Caves originate in the era of 2nd century B.C. by Posidonius of Apamea, and they are marked on the oldest published maps of this part of the world; for example the Lazius-Ortelius map from 1561 and Mercator's Novus Atlas from 1637.

Explored length of caves is 6.2 kms. The Reka River disappears underground at Big Collapse Doline into Škocjan Caves. The exceptional volume of the underground canyon is what distinguishes Škocjan Caves from other caves and places it among the most famous underground features in the world. The river flowing through the underground canyon turns northwest before the Cerkvenik Bridge and continues its course along Hanke's Channel. This underground channel is approximately 3.5 kms long, 10 to 60 m wide and over 140 m high. At some points, it expands into huge underground chambers. The largest of these is Martel's Chamber with a volume of 2.2 million cubic metres and it is considered the largest discovered underground chamber in Europe and one of the largest in the world. A visitors' book was introduced 1 January 1819, which is the date considered to be the beginning of modern tourism in Škocjan Caves.

We entered the cave through a long downward sloping entrance tunnel, before emerging into the actual limestone cave. On our descent some 190 metres into the cave system, I thought initially that this was very similar to the formations in the Postojna Cave. As we descended deeper into the cave, the roar of the Reka River became louder and louder, and then we rounded a corner and we encountered a scene from Lord of the Rings, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Dante’s inferno, Indiana jones and In the Hall of the Mountain King rolled into one. In the distance was a huge chamber, with a seemingly bottomless chasm, a narrow bridge in the distance spanning the chasm, and the roar of the Reka River below, spewing mist into the chamber. Our guide commented that we had descended into hell. Kim was sure she could even cross the bridge, the sight was so daunting.

Ana pointed out the path that the early cave guides followed. It was something out of an Indiana Jones movie, narrow slippery steps, some sections with only a cable to cling to over a bottomless chasm, narrow planks crossing deep ravines etc. WHS was definitely not covered off in these early tours.

Slowly we crossed the bridge over the chasm, exited the cave, and began our ascent up the steep incline, back to the car park. Visiting Skocjan Caves was an awesome experience, one that we couldn’t possibly have envisaged back in Australia would be as interesting as it was, made particularly memorable by our guide Ana.

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