Delving into southern China's cave of wonders
WITH every drop of water trickling down the jagged limestone mountains, Mother Nature is carving away at a masterpiece, five million years in the making.
After dotting her canvas and molding the edges, she finally unveils the Reed Flute Caves of southern China.
On a muggy and humid day, we take much relief in stepping inside the caves where it is a welcomed few degrees cooler.
Located about 30km from the city of Guilin, the caves offer a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime look at what nature can offer to humans.
Drip. I touch the rocks surrounding me. They are smooth and curved yet wet with pools of water.
Drip. There she goes again, adding her finishing touches.
The caves have formed over many millions of years by underground rivers depositing calcium carbonate in the rock.
Jazzy up-lighting creates a rainbow of colour beaming to the roof to highlight the rock formations. Our guide Maggie skips down the rock stairs to turn on the switch to proudly illuminate the cluster of shapes in a hue of pink and blue. She tells us most formations in the 240-metre long cave are named after objects. A snowman, vegetables, the Statue of Liberty even. Tilt your head to the right angle and you'll see it…eventually.
We reach the end and step outside. We readjust our eyes and our body temperatures to delve more into the beauty of the region.
Guilin is located in southern China and is best access via Hong Kong with a direct, one-hour flight on Dragonair to Guilin Liangjiang International Airport.
When people think of China, their mind turns to bargain warehouse buys, the hustle and bustle of big cities and the overcrowded tourist attractions. But there is so much untapped beauty yet to be discovered by many Australians.
Some of the best views apparent as we cruise the Li River toward Yang Shuo.
The seamlessly endless rows of mountains jut from the landscape creating what has been dubbed the "10 mile art gallery". Fishermen putter past on rafts, constructed from piping, some even have motors fixed to the back for quick journeys.
From boat to car, we watch the landscape change as we arrive at the Longji Terraces.
Reaching back into their imaginations, the Chinese people have dubbed the terraced rice paddy fields Dragon's Backbone.
We weave up the worn cobble stone pathways leading up the Longji Mountain where rice paddy fields coil their way to the summit.
I run my fingers through a miniature waterfall trickling down each layer of the terrace and keep moving upward. I must admit. I'm not one for exercise, I don't climb mountains for fun. For the rice terrace fields, I make an exception.
A butterfly flutters past my face and I step to the left to allow a friendly traditional Zhuang woman past. "Ni hao" I greet her as she walks past with her woven basket strapped to her back. "How does she do it?" I think to myself. The minority woman is long gone. She's quick. This is a journey she's done many times before. There are no roads leading to the Ping' an village and supplies are carried on the backs of the people or by horse.
We amble past scores of brightly dressed minority women selling their wares as we continue along the path. It's a hot day, I buy a bottle of water for about $3 and scull it down before making the final trek to the summit.
Calm envelopes me when I take off my shoes and step onto the balcony to take in the views from the guesthouse at the Ping'an village. I fall asleep to the soundtrack of cicadas chirping through the night, with the bright full moon, peeking through our window and illuminating the bottom of my bed.
With one final brushstroke, Mother Nature puts down her tools. She can be proud her work in this picture-perfect postcard part of the world.
* The writer was a guest of Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, Wendy Wu Tours and Guilin Municipal Tourism Bureau
Winner of Skytrax Airline of the Year award 2014, Cathay Pacific flies 11 times a week from Brisbane to Hong Kong and from there connects to daily flights to Guilin with its regional airline Dragonair. Return economy airfares start from $1,007 from Brisbane. Visit www.cathaypacific.com.au.
Wendy Wu Tours has a range of fully escorted group tours of China, as well as a selection of itineraries for independent travellers. An example of the latter is the Guilin, Yangshuo and Longji short stay package is priced from $650 per person twin share and includes four nights' accommodation with daily breakfast, private touring with local English-speaking guides, including entrance fees and some meals. Book your trip visit www.wendywutours.com.au
A pre-arranged Visa is required to travel to China which must be obtained from a Chinese Visa application centre. Visit Guilin without a Visa on the new 72-hour traVisa-free transit policy. First introduced in July 2014, the system means passengers can enjoy short sightseeing trip if they have a passport and valid ticket for another country. Find out more visit www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/