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Published October 1st 2018
Caving adventures for all ages and abilities
Entry to Capricorn Caves Source Facebook Capricorn Caves
In 1882, John Olsen tied a rope around his waist and crawled into a hole and unknown perils. He carried a candle that could easily have been snuffed out at any moment, leaving him shrouded in darkness.
Olsen opened the honeycomb of caves to the public in 1884. Then in 1988, after four generations of Olsen family ownership, the Olsens sold the property to Ken and Ann Augusteyn. So, today Capricorn Caves is still one of the largest privately owned cave systems in Australia.
Due to its longevity as a tourist attraction, Capricorn Caves is justifiably famous. Those of you who have taken a caves tour will know that your experience can be as secure or as adventurous as you wish.
Our tour guide Kath was a lot of fun -photo @nadinecresswellmyatt
For first-timers, there is the popular Cathedral Cave Tour. This begins at the magnificent cave entrance where tree roots cling to limestone walls. For those less adventurous (namely me), there is the assurance of knowing that while you feel underground the caves are in a limestone ridge that is aboveground.
It is a relatively easy walk uphill to the entrance and it was bliss to find instant air-conditioning for as our guide Kath Herring explained while it can be 37 outside, it is a constant 24 inside the caves.
The accessible caves have high ceilings and are well lit so there is no sense of claustrophobia. Five bat species roost in Capricorn Caves at different times of the year, but this tends to be in warm wet weather. They were not at home when I visited in August.
The most common are the bent-wing bats Miniopterus australis that visit in their thousands, but they are absolutely minuscule and harmless to humans. They are so cute I wouldn't have minded meeting one.
Evidence of their presence is everywhere, however. The hard compact and mostly level floor we trod on was the result of thousands of years of compacted guano (bat poo). While this may sound gross, it just like walking on a hard earthen floor.
Kath turned the lights off as we listened to the famous song Hallelujah . It was a moving even spiritual experience. Imagine sitting in an unknown cavernous space and listening to Leonard Cohen's poetic lyrics while you are immersed in darkness.
The Cathedral Cave is really quite special. As Amanda, the manager, later told me: 'Many cave systems have a cave commonly referred to as a cathedral but ours is the only one I know that has seating and a stage.'
This makes the famous Opera in the Caves. such a popular and captivating event. The next opera is in May 2019 and the natural acoustics are perfect.
On the way out, we spotted a hole in the rock that people doing more adventurous caving experiences somehow squeeze their way through. When I looked in horror, Kath said that it was amazing how flexible the human body was. 'I'd have to fast my way out,' I replied.
We were given two options for leaving the caves. The easy way or the 'passage of death' or at least that is what my ears picked up on.
I'll bet you have already guessed which one I chose. Although, I heard later that the dramatic way out along the Zig Zag passage was just a bit of a squeeze and you ended up on a swing bridge like something out of Indiana Jones.
The Cathedral tour is really the tamest of all the options. You learn a lot about the history of the caves, meander through a number of chambers ranging from smaller caves decorated with stalactites, cave coral and shawls to the huge domed Cathedral Cavern. But if you really want to test your mettle, there are far more adventurous options.
One is an adventure caving tour where you climb, crawl and squeeze your way upwards through the rocks with only the light of a torch. Eventually, you crawl out on the surface on the cave ridge and dust yourself off. Your reward is 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside
I did find one video of what it involves. However, these tours are adjusted to suit different age brackets. Family and adult only options are also available.
Capricorn Caves are continually expanding their range of tours so return visitors will always be greeted with new experiences and challenges. So if you have not been for a while, the following is what is in store for you on your next visit.
Their latest offering is the Geo Tour. They have a palaeontologist on staff to help you identify the marine fossils encrusted on the walls and tour members get to sift through a palaeontology dig site to find their own fossils.
While terms such as plate tectonics, calcite chemistry and limestone karst corrosion may have eluded you till now all, will be revealed on this tour. You will learn about biodiversity and the importance of protecting the vulnerable ghost bats Macroderma gigas and fern Tectaria devexa.
The two-hour tour includes a walk through the dry rainforest, where you'll learn about hardy and adaptive plant species, before climbing to the surface ridge for inspiring views.
This adventure is also part of the Dig the Tropics self-drive regional itinerary where get to visit sites such as the Stone House Museum, Age of Dinosaurs Museum, Lark Quarry, the Sapphire Gemfields, and Mt Morgan that is home to over 300 early Jurassic dinosaur footprints. For more information on this driving holiday with a difference, click here.
I had heard about this amazing phenomenon in Ireland. Newgrange is a prehistoric monument in County Meath and during the winter solstice, there is a dramatic event where a narrow beam of light penetrates the passage into the tomb.
I had no idea that we also have this phenomenon in Australia, except that it is the summer solstice here. And as Capricorn Caves were formed some 390 million years ago, it is a truly a natural rather than a manmade phenomenon
Around the 21st of December, the summer solstice midday sun shines a solid silver beam down. And it is so concentrated it can burn a piece of paper. See the YouTube video below.
The tour guides use a disco light ball to reflect a myriad of colours that dance around the cave walls in a spectacular light show. Some visitors recharge their crystals and couples kiss under the "beam of eternity". There has even been a wedding where the bride wore a sequined dress, and her sparkles lit up the cave in waves of colour.
And as it is so close to Christmas. Santa Claus has been known to abseil down in the beam of magical light.
Visiting during the summer solstice is not to be missed. If you would like to take part in this unique event, you can reserve a spot. But make sure you book the 11 am tour, as this is the only time you will see the summer solstice beam of light (weather pending).
The solstice is usually on the 21-22nd of December but the ray of light can usually be seen for two weeks before and two weeks afterwards. A time frame that fits neatly with the school holidays.
Staying at the Caves
Amanda Hinton, the manager, said there were lots of options to now stay at Capricorn Caves. 'There are cabins' she said, 'and a spot for caravans. Guests enjoy a dip in the pool, bushwalking, and sitting around communal campfires at night. People come to have a digital detox and connect back with nature.'
For more information on staying at Capricorn Caves click here.
One of the cabins at Capricorn Caves. Photo @nadinecresswellmyatt