January 31, 2011
From ancient caves to cold war bunkers, old mines to underwater accommodation, there’s plenty going on underground. We scrape beneath the surface and excavate a few of the world’s best subterranean attractions”¦
Coober Pedy in South Australia is famed as the Opal Capital of the World, but its mines aren’t the only thing underground. Due to the stifling summer heat, most of the town’s population reside in subterranean, cave-like homes. The best place to see how the locals live is at Umoona Opal Mine, which alongside an opal shop and Aboriginal arts centre has an excellent, authentic show home. If you fancy a piece of the action after your tour, stay over in one of the town’s several accommodations with below-the-surface rooms.
While the world isn’t short of accessible limestone caves, few are as magical as the Reed Flute Cave in Guilin, Guangxi, China. Enhanced by incredible multi-coloured lighting, the stalactites, stalagmites and other formations inside take on the appearance of an alien landscape straight out of a sci-fi blockbuster. Tour guides meanwhile, will explain the ancient poetic naming of each structure, but whether you choose to believe your eyes or your ears, the atmosphere is definitely otherworldly.
Underneath an ordinary looking bungalow just outside London in Brentwood, Essex, lies a fascinating museum and remnant of a not-too-distant past. Beneath the unassuming entrance, the Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker is a huge labyrinth of underground rooms encased within ten feet of reinforced concrete. On standby all through the cold war and up until its decommissioning in 1992, the bunker was equipped to become the centre of government operations should a nuclear strike occur.
A visit to the tunnels of Iwami Ginzen in Japan’s Shimane prefecture is more than a look underground, it’s a glimpse into another, far off time. The mine, which began its development in the 1500s and once produced nearly a third of the world’s silver, has remained much the same since it closed in the 19th century. Surrounded by similarly unspoiled forest, the mine’s two narrow tunnels are incredibly well preserved, making the atmosphere extra spooky. The nearby caves containing 500 rankan (18th Century statues commemorating those who died in the mines) and the old unchanged town of Omori add to the old world eeriness of the site.
Going underground is one thing but staying underwater, that’s a whole different ocean of fish. Jules’ Underwater Lodge in Key Largo, Florida is America’s only sub-aquatic hotel, where guests are required to scuba dive to their rooms. Named after 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea author Jules Verne, the space also serves as a functioning research lab. The structure works like an artificial reef attracting plenty of marine life, making it the perfect place to cosy up and watch a very different world go by.
Log on to virginatlantic.com for our very best fares to all these destinations.