The thermal spring - magical ambiance
After a scenic detour from the main highway - through ferns and schlerophyll forest - one arrives at the Hastings Caves site, a unique attraction worth putting on your itinerary.
Not only is it the location of one of the largest dolomite caves in the southern hemisphere, and one of the key experiences of Tasmania's far south, the reserve is also the site of a natural thermal pool (see above pic).
Quiet, untouched, and light on the tourist bustle, signage and stage-like lighting associated with more commercial caves like Jenolan (in NSW), the Newdegate Cave - the sole cave in the Hastings complex open to the public - provides one with a mesmerising and authentic experience of exploring the mystical underground realm. And if that isn't enough, the highway transporting one to the Hastings Caves travels through one of the most scenic drives of Tasmania - the Huon Valley.
The beautiful Huon Valley - one of many perks to visiting Hastings
At the Hastings Caves visitor centre, you can purchase your ticket, which includes complimentary entry to the thermal pool. The Newdegate Cave lies a further five to ten-minute drive through the forest. After parking your vehicle, the walk to the cave entrance - past giant trees and ferns - sets the mood for adventure and discovery.
Wilderness along the way to Hastings Caves
Walking towards the cave entrance.
At the entrance a spindly, long-legged spider hanging over the door of the cave doesn't inspire me to head inside. Our cave guide, Alice, informs us it's a Tasmanian Cave Spider
, a primitive, Gondwanan species that can live up to 30 years and is unique to Tasmania. Significantly, it predates the dinosaurs.
"They're making a film about it … a doco called Sixteen Legs," Alice says, revealing the spider - an important predator in the cave ecosystem - is hoping to catch a cricket or millipede in its web. "He could be waiting six months," she says. "They don't eat much."
Prepare to be spellbound
Following Alice through the multi-level cave, we're given the opportunity to view several large chambers decorated with vast numbers of stalactites. The quantity of them is astonishing, making the Newdegate Cave possibly the prettiest cave I've ever visited. The absence of bats and water, such as an underground river, has allowed for lots of fine crystal formation to exist here, Alice explains. It's more fairy grotto than hades. Peering into the shadows, I half expect to see a stumpy dwarf or troll.
Abundance of stalactites within the Newdegate Cave
Other delightful parts of the cave include "the stage",
where one can enjoy the rare experience of walking over and touching crystal called flowstone, and "the cave mysteries"
- crystal that grows upward instead of down, defying gravity. "It's similar to wicking," Alice explains.
The gorgeousness of flowstone - like a natural crystal floor.
The flowstone floor
With the lights turned off, we're instructed to hone our sense of hearing. As the group falls silent, far off drips can be heard deep within the bowels of other chambers. "As your hearing adjusts you'll be able to hear a long way into the cave," Alice says.
Experiencing this temporary blindness and the acuity of our hearing gives a taste of what life might be like for creatures living in caves, and is one of the highlights of the tour.
Large chambers filled with masses of fine stalactites.
Although the cave hasn't been dated, it's estimated to be around 630 million years old and dates to the pre-cambrian period, Alice says.
Extending 3 kilometres into the hillside, the cave entrance was first discovered by tree-cutters in 1917 and opened for its first tour in 1939.
One of the prettiest show caves in Australia
After roaming the underworld, it's relaxing to bathe under the sunlight in the thermal pool (located back at the Visitor Centre). With hardly anyone around, it's like bathing in your own private billabong amidst ferns and native trees. Overhead, clouds float by, wind rustles the trees and birds whistle.
While the 1.1-metre deep pool might look like an ordinary swimming pool, it isn't. Instead of the usual chlorine stench, the water smells earthy and mildly sulphuric. Beth Russell, Business Enterprise Manager at the Hastings Caves and Thermal Springs, reveals the water in the pool comes from a natural underground spring and is injected with a small amount of hydrogen peroxide to purify the water and kill bacteria.
A constant 28 degrees all year round, the water is naturally warm without being hot, and perfect for bathing on a cooler summer day. Beth says that many locals come regularly here to swim.
For those brisker days, there are luxuriously hot showers to warm up in afterwards. A log fire (maintained by staff) adds extra cosiness. BBQ's and picnic tables make the site perfect for an outdoor BYO lunch, and children are welcome here.
Before you leave, be sure to wander down the Hot Springs Circuit. Here you can see the wonder of warm water bubbling up to the surface from deep below the earth and the convergence of two streams - the cold and warm. These can be differentiated by their colour. The cold stream, coloured by tannins, has a brownish-red, tea-coloured hue. The warm spring water, coming from deep underground, is bluish and clear.
Check out the warm spring waters bubbling up from the deep underground and hopefully spot the platypus.
Along the Platypus Walk, tread quietly: you may be lucky enough to see the resident platypus. While I didn't see it, I was able to share in the delight of two walkers coming back from that direction who did.
Along the Hot Springs Circuit you can see the water bubble up from the underground.
The reserve offers not only the chance to view two varied phenomenons of the underground - caves and subterranean waters - but a relaxing experience in the Tasmanian wilderness.
The Hastings Caves and Thermal Springs Reserve is located in Tasmania's far south and is about 1.5 hours drive south of Hobart and 1 hour south of Huonville.
Accommodation close to the caves can be found in the small towns of Southport and Dover. Both towns are situated on the water and feature seaside ambience and village charm.
I can thoroughly recommend Castaway Cottage, a holiday house in the tiny seaside town of Dover. Think: views of the sea from just about every window, lavender and roses in the front garden, modern facilities and a big breakfast hamper of local ingredients including scrumptious Tassie jam, a fresh loaf and more - essentially the perfect ingredients for a holiday house. Ah, but that's another story.
Castaway Cottage - beachside views and charm at Dover.
- Amenities at the thermal pool include toilets, showers, picnic tables, BBQ's, open log fires. There is also a kiosk. These are all wheelchair and pram accessible.
- The cave has about 500 steps (includes the return journey). These aren't overly strenuous and include handrails.
- The cave temperature is about 9 degrees celsius - wear warm clothing.
- Arrive 30 minutes before your tour commences.