Paris Catacombs

Below the streets of Paris in the Catacombs is an explorer’s wet dream. (Wet in that you’re between knee and ankle deep for hours on end.)

Starting in the late 1700s, officials in Paris were faced with the growing problem of overflowing cemeteries. In May 1780 a property adjoining a cemetery in the center of Paris had a nasty surprise. The wall of their basement collapsed and the bodies packed into the mass graves at the cemetery next door, overflowed into their basement.

A Parisian policeman who’d previously been tasked with starting the mine inspection service, suggested using the vast network of mines and quarries below the city to store the human remains. By re-purposing the quarries and mines of Paris as an ossuary, the Paris Catacombs began.

The first few years of operations saw the catacombs used as a bone dumping ground, but soon the head of the Paris Mine Inspection Service undertook renovations that would transform the underground caverns into a visitable mausoleum. However the ossuary is only a small part of the sprawling network of tunnels reffed to as the “Catacombs”.

Armed with energy drinks, snacks and torches we headed through abandoned subway lines to reach our entry to the Catacombs. That began a 12 hour trape through the vast network tunnels that serve as the final resting place of 6 million Parisians.

The catacombs are more than just a home to dead folk. It’s a home to statues carved out of the soft rock, cataphiles, miniature cities etched into the clay, dumped bicycles, telephone lines, glimpses up to the city above, and, if you know where to look, still a butt ton of bones…

JPL Elevator Testing Tower

Fear of elevators is fairly common. Each time I’ve been in one and it’s made strange noises or lurched around, everyone inside wonders if maybe the elevator’s going to plummet to the ground.

It doesn’t plummet to the ground.

But they sure do here!

Built in the 70’s this elevator testing tower was designed to test the safety functions of elevators.
They’d see how fast they could get them to go before falling apart.
They’d test how hard they could stop.
Ultimately, after running the car to the top of the tower, they’d cut the cables and see what happens as it plummets to the ground.

Sounds like a good place to elevator surf.

Mothballed Battleships

As we rowed up to the mothballed battleships in the darkness; the water behind us began to glow, and a stream of electric blue seawater trailed us. To this day, that Bio-luminescent algae is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my life.

Mothballed FleetAfter getting the van bogged we scrambled down a cliff face towards the beach. Sharp coral everywhere, and an inflatable boat. This was going to be an interesting endeavor.

We paddling out into the calm pre-dawn water & began exploring the dozen mothballed battleships that would be our playground. Our day started on a troop transport ship, but our main target was sitting tantalizingly close to us. Weighing in at 11300 tonnes, the Colbert was ours for the taking. Once home to two and half thousand men men, she towered above anything else, her red dome just itching for our visit.

Just getting onto her involved climbing across several other ships to get high enough to reach her, but soon enough we’d found ourselves on the deck of the Colbert, weaseling our way inside.

Mothballed Fleet

So many levels, so much to see, so little time. The photos paint a better description than anything else. The whole adventure made more fun by the welded hatches between levels, leaving us with only one way to get up and one way to get down.

Mothballed Fleet

The highlight was finding an Exocet missile left behind in the munitions room, priced at $3,000,000 a pop. I’d like to hope it wasn’t active.Mothballed Fleet

After exploring all of the abandoned ships, we began paddling back, fighting the current and the web of steel cables below the surface. When mere meters from the beach our inflatable boat snagged on a piece of coral and began to sink. Despite our best efforts we waded the rest of the way, and our little inflatable joined the other forgotten boats.

Mothballed Fleet


Climbing The Omega Tower

We’ve explored some fairly tall places in the past, but none compare to the Omega Tower at VLF Woodside.

It’s the tallest structure in the southern hemisphere. She towers over Q1 and Eureka Tower, clocking in at 427m from the ground to the topmost point. It took only 30 days to build the tower itself.

Built as the precursor to GPS by the US Coast Guard, the Omega Navigation system broadcast “Pings” at set times from each of the 9 Omega Stations around the globe. This enabled Ships & Aircraft to find their location down to about 2km.

Following the shutdown of the Omega system in 1997, the Omega Tower was gifted to the Australian Navy. They used it to send orders to Submarines until 2004, and “classified” transmissions until 2008, when the tower finally fell silent.

The tower itself, still stands, towering half a vertical kilometer in the sky, totally abandoned. At the base lies the transmitter (almost 15,000 times as powerful as your mobile phone), power generation, offices and the Helix Building – a giant Faraday cage containing a wooden helix coil, engineering porn at it’s finest!

With the sun peaking over the horizon, and some light fog, we made our way past the signs reminding us that this was a military facility, past the radiation hazard signs, past the electrified fences and guard cows, to the base of the tower.

We entered a climbing trance as we climbed up the inside of the tower. Continuously saying “Oh look, we’re only 2 platforms off the top.” from about the 5th platform to the 9th, it’s hard to judge distance.

At the top, we wasted half an hour taking in the view & dropping little parachute army men. At some point it was decided it’d be a good idea to go sliding out and down the guy wires.

After a little jaunt out onto the guy wires, we all clipped on and started the 2 hour long section-by-section rappel back down to the ground. We waved a goodbye to the Omega Tower, and a brisk run for the few K’s back to the car, hoping to god we wouldn’t find any MPs waiting for us at the base…

As we pulled back out onto the main road, and started the 3 hour drive back to Melbourne, knowing we’d done something rather special. For 30 glorious minutes we’d been on top of the world.