Chillagoe, a small town in Northeast Australia, is about three hours northwest of Cairns. Having decided to visit Cairns prior to the International Congress of Speleology in order to see the Great Barrier Reef the pre-congress trip to see the caves in Chillagoe was a great fit.
I had managed to pick up an Australian sim card for my cell phone while shopping at the mall in Cairns so I gave the trip organizer Paul a call to let him know I was in town. He answered that several people who were going to Chillagoe were meeting for dinner at a restaurant on the pier and I was welcome to join them. since this was a short walk from where I was staying in Cairns I agreed. I was a little late since I underestimated how far a walk it was to the botanic garden but It was nice meeting a lot of people who I’d get to go caving with over the next few days and dinner was good.
The morning came all to soon and once more I got up before the sun to pile in a van, now we were on our way to Chillagoe. Geoff and Jean who I had met at the Texas ICS were on this trip , and a number of new-found friends from Germany, UK, the US, and Switzerland. Kim who had been on the Barrier reef trip with me was going on this one as well, George however, was driving down to Sydney so wouldn’t be joining us.
Our first stop was for snacks at an interesting site- Camp 64. This shop in Dimbulah featured a variety of memorabilia, items for sale and delicious meat pies. several people opted to try the locally grown dragonfruit and I spotted passion fruit growing on the fence outside.
Then it was on to Chillagoe. Most of us would be staying at the Chillagoe caving club house. The club was an impressive setup. They have an old schoolhouse converted into sleeping quarters, principal’s house converted into the kitchen and dining hall, and a newly built bathroom and shower block. This was at the base of a hill that provided an excellent view of the surrounding town.
The karst of the area was fascinating the caves are strangely above ground formed in limestone which through faulting followed by volcanic activity and secondary mineral deposits were shaped over time into karst towers that were some of the sharpest limestone I have ever climbed over exhibiting rillenkarren, rinnenkarren and grikes. You can read more about the terrain and wildlife at the Chillagoe-Mungana parks website.
Club members had brought three landrovers, which with the rental vans made getting to the caves simple as all the caves we visited were within an easy drive from the clubhouse and accessible by a short walk through the bush. I had not brought any SRT gear as the large amount of photo gear I was lugging around made my pack heavy enough. Fortunately there was plenty of cave to see without climbing though they did have a cable ladder and rope belay for one of the sections I went through, and Valentin seemed to really enjoy the parts of the trip where he got to repel and climb. Cave temperatures were warm, reminding me of caves in Mexico and Guatemala, though not as humid there was enough to cause my glasses to fog up.
After this first day of caving Winifred announced he’d be happy to take people caving at night after dinner. I was the only one who took him up on this but we had a great trip. He spotted a tarantula which was so still we wondered if it was alive but while I was photographing it it took off convincing us it was indeed alive. We also spent some timephotographing the night sky through an opening in the cave and came across some roosting swiftlets. We backed out of the chamber so as not to disturb them but one bird continued to follow us through most of the cave. Eventually while photographing formations I actually caught some pictures of the bird in flight. The best result is at the top of this post.
During breakfast the next day at the nearby eco lodge this guy dropped in for a visit on someones chair.
Then it was back to caving.
A big thanks to our organisers- the Chillagoe caving club for leading us on some wonderful trips and allowing us the use of their clubhouse. It really was a great and memorable time.