Chillagoe Caves in Far North Queensland have been enticing people below the surface for many years.
Story + Photos Ken Eastwood
Voices hush and eyes widen on the descent into Trezkinn Cave at Chillagoe. Down narrow stairs and tunnels past huntsmen spiders as big as adult hands, the group of 20 enchanted tourists trickles into the huge cavern. Shafts of light somehow make their way into recesses of the cave, and modern electric spotlights pick up the extraordinary calcite features – columns like melted wax and Gaudi sculptures, iron-rich red and orange shawls, and an extraordinary stalactite like a huge chandelier. Elsewhere, imaginative visitors have bequeathed monikers such as ‘the vegetable patch’ and ‘the fairy grotto’, and the nearby Donna Cave is named after a virginal-white, face-like outline that reminded some of the Madonna, mother of Jesus of Nazareth.
Trezkinn is one of many underground treasures at Chillagoe–Mungana Caves National Park, 3 hours’ drive west of Cairns in Far North Queensland. “We’ve 572 caves here. One of them is 11km long,” says Colin Wagner, who runs Chillagoe Cabins and Tours with his wife Wendy. Colin picks up overnight visitors from the Savannahlander train at Almaden, and gives a quick tour on the way to dropping them off at their accommodation. Most do a cave tour the next day before reboarding the train.
Only a handful of the caves is available for most people to see. Permits and special caving skills are required for some of the others. So-called ‘false floors’ are a common feature in these limestone caves, with sometimes only a thin platform of calcite and silt over what can be a large drop underneath. Rangers in the park offer guided tours of 3 of the caves – Trezkinn and Donna under electric lights, and Royal Arch by torchlight – and Bauhinia and Pompeii are available for self-exploration.
This story excerpt is from Issue #147
Outback Magazine: February/March 2023