среда, 29 апреля 2020 г.

A tunnel with glowworms

Waitomo caves in New Zealand are world famous for their glowworms. Insects of genus Arachnocampa ("spider worms") use their light as a bait for hunting. They catch their prey with web-like threads, which are well-seen on good photos.
This genus of insects is specific for Australia and NZ. The closest place to Sydney to see them are abandoned railway tunnels near miners' village.

Township Helensburgh was founded in a rocky country full of high cliffs and deep gorges. Firstly it was a stopover on the way from Sydney to pastures near modern-day Kiama, but in 1880-s they discovered numerous coal seams in this area. The Metropolitan Colliery, a coal-mining company, was established in 1888. It continues to work nowadays, which make it one of the longest still-operating businesses in Australia.

Mining required railway access, so several tunnels were opened by 1899. The length of some of them exceeded 1.5 km with the slope 1 to 40 (which is a lot even today). It made its extremely hard and torturing for the steam train crew to run through them.

This and increased traffic facilitated building of a new railway line in 1915, which works nowadays. Satellite images show nicely how does in wind in narrow gullies. An increased track length decreases grade of slope.

Entrances to old tunnels were sealed to avoid flooding of the coal mine or were buried under slope deposits. Some of the remaining tunnels were used in the second half of XX century for mushroom plantations.

In 1990-s the northern entrance to the Metropolitan tunnel was unearthed. Suddenly they discovered remains of the old Helensburgh railway station. The colliery and citizens helped to clean up the entrance and renovate the railway track.

A glowworm colony settled in the tunnel (great photos here). Thousands of them live just under the arch; their calm steady light resembles those of stars. First you even try to locate some constellations. When the eyes get adapted to the darkness, one may see a long stripe of light going somewhere far to the horizon, until it touches the other one made by its reflection in the water. Absolutely magic and unforgettable experience.

The glowworms made this place in 150 m from a modern railway station a very popular destination for tourists, including those with no respect to the environment (and vandalising the station remnants), and lots of ghost-hunters (of course, there are mystery stories around this place). Many of visitors come here just to shout and scream and nag about their pink sneakers in the mud. And most of them leave a second after they realise their smartphone can not take a bloody selfie.

Some reports say the size of glowworm colony decreases over time. Local authorities blame people activity, so they fenced the place leaving it free-access during daytime. Also they started to lock the tunnel during breeding time. And finally after the heavy rainfalls in February the closed in for indefinite time (and covid-19 restrictions are also in place).

Modern Helensburgh station. The two columns near the door frame show the time and stops for the upcoming trains. They are manually adjusted by the station guard. 
 This photo from Moss Vale station depicts the details of the mechanism

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