I remember going caving as a kid in Margaret River, and while the first memory is of amazing crystal and limestone formations, a close second is all the steps, and my dad having to plead and cajole me up (and down) hundreds of tiny and sometimes slippery, steps.
As a parent with two of my own children in tow, I was unsurprised that absolutely nothing has changed.
Emerging into the light at the end of Mammoth Cave
There are a number of caves in the Margaret River area (more than 100), and all have different levels of accessibility and highlights. As a group of three adults (one with dicky knees) and four kids aged eight and under, we chose Mammoth Cave based the fact that the first cavern is apparently wheelchair accessible. I mean, how hard could it be?
Mammoth Cave is certainly not the most beautiful of the caves in the area. Even if you compare the caves run by the Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association (the not for profit who manages Mammoth, Lake, Moondyne and Jewel caves) the way the AMRTA describe them is a giveaway. Jewel Cave is a 'show cave', Lake Cave is 'stunningly beautiful' and Moondyne is 'magnificant'. Poor old Mammoth cave is simply described as 'gigantic'.
Everyone is given a headset and torch to take on their adventure
It's still awesome though and for first-timers it was still mind blowing enough. At the ticket centre you are handed headphones and a MP3 player for the self-guided walk. My advice is to check that they work before you leave the booth, otherwise you are just forced to try and steal one from someone else in your group (unsuccessful) or just listen to their edited version of the facts and figures they are learning (dubious).
Despite the fact that Mammoth Cave is advertised as being wheelchair accessible, this refers only to the entrance and there is still a lot of steps. Lots and lots of them; so be sensible when you choose your shoes and clothes. The cave is all boardwalked, and there is strictly no 'off roading' here, so you won't get dirty.
There are thousands of stalactites and stalacmites in the cave
From June to December every year, an underground stream flows through the cave, creating one of the most magical sights if you are lucky enough to visit at the right time, as all the stalactites are reflected in the water. We visited after the stream had dried up, and while it was a pity we missed the reflections, it was still a great experience.
Along with the headset, you are also provided with a tiny torch. The kids loved this naturally. Mammoth is lit from within, with strategically placed lights to highlight special features, such as ancient fossils of megafauna, last seen about 46,000 years ago.
There are some curiously shaped formations in the cave
We spent about forty minutes in total inside the cave, which is a linear journey except for a section with spurs off high into the cave. At the top you have to turn around and come back again.
Two warnings: the stairs are very steep, narrow and in places damp. Our five year olds managed fine, but I wouldn't recommend taking anyone much younger.
The other warning is about the exit of the cave. Once you drag yourself out of the beautiful dark cool cave into the searing heat and light, you discover you are actually about half a kilometre away from the ticket office. You need to cross busy Caves Road to get back to the car park, and since the path is located quite close to a bend, you need to exercise extreme caution - especially with kids - when crossing.
Then it is a ten minute (approximately) walk through the karri forest, which starts flat but then quickly becomes a steep descent down natural and man-made stairs through the bush. We weren't prepared for this (no hats or sun cream) and I wouldn't like to do it if it was raining.
It is not a cheap exercise, with adults costing $22 and kids aged 4-16 years costing $10, as well as are a few options for family and concession rates. As such, it cost our group of three adults and four kids almost $100 for less than an hour.
That being said, it was something very unique to the area and has now given a new generation of my family the fantastic memories of caving in Margaret River.