The ‘prehistoric world’ of the Son Doong cave
IMAGINE walking through thick rainforest in Vietnam, with large butterflies landing on your skin to drink your sweat, before climbing down 80 metres in darkness to spend four days trekking through the world's biggest cave.
It's not for the feint-hearted, it's not for the claustrophobic, and certainly not for those who prefer a comfortable hotel bed.
But that was a recent adventure that has inspired former Beerwah High School students and long-time sweethearts Sam Templar and Tessa Penshorn.
The duo, who started a relationship in their senior year and have continued through the same Environmental Science degree at the University of the Sunshine Coast, are fascinated by "the weird and wonderful attractions" of planet Earth.
"We've always had an interest - being enviro people - in seeing the natural wonders of the world," Sam said.
The duo developed a special interest in massive caves ever since exploring what was then the world's biggest known cave in Borneo - a wonder that has now been superseded by the discovery in 2009 of the monster Son Doong - a 9km long lime
stone cave in remote steep rainforest in western Vietnam.
Its main caverns are massive at around 350m wide and 250m tall.
"This was something that was going to be spectacular. It's like being on another planet," Sam said.
With Tessa working in Vietnam with the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development, and Sam working with Origin Energy on a two-week roster, he was able to spend his down time travelling to Vietnam to be with her.
While there, he set out to organise a cave expedition.
He tracked down Howard and Deb Limbert and their company Oxalis Adventure, which this year has conducted test tours of Son Doong before launching a full tourism venture in February next year.
The Limberts have hosted cave adventures across the world, including Mexico, Borneo, Australia, Europe and now Vietnam.
The Sunshine Coast duo pushed hard to be included in the test expeditions.
"(I said), 'Just tell us when you're ready and we'll be there," Sam said. "Just through me wanting to be there and pestering people, it worked out."
The resulting adventure has been described by Sam in his blog.
"With strong wind and the dull roar of the fast flowing river deep inside it is pretty easy to imagine that you are climbing into the mouth of a beast.
"Immediately we are faced with an 80 metre descent into the darkness," he wrote, also providing spectacular photos of underground caverns so huge as to be almost incomprehensible.
"Some parts of the cave are bathed in natural night due to gaping holes known as dolines - collapsed parts of the cave's massive ceiling.
"The vegetation is stunted and sparse on the rocky green surface and such little light makes it through that the landscape of the first doline appears to resemble a prehistoric world," Sam wrote.
"The constant breath of Son Doong - the breeze that seems to ebb and flow throughout the cave - is quite apparent at this point as clouds appear and disappear as if the cave were actually breathing."
It's an adventure that was awe-inspiring and unforgettable for the pair.
"It was quite amazing," Sam said.
Read Sam's blog at: http://samtemplar.blogspot.com.au/2013/09/sondoong.html.
*Oxalis Adventure, which hosted Sam and Tessa, say the 2014 tours of Son Doong are booked out, but it is still conducting tours to the nearby Tu Lan Caving System.