Although it’s a fairly long day-trip from Cairns to the Chillagoe Caves, there’s a fair bit to see and a few short bushwalks, which makes the drive worthwhile. If you’re a bit more organised than I was, book a guided tour of the caves – although you can also visit two self-guided caves.
The Caves at Chillagoe Caves
There are four different caves you can visit in the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park; the first four are all accessed from the Donna Cave carpark.
- Donna Cave: ranger-guided tour. Beautiful columns, calcite crystals and a cave decoration in the form of the Madonna. 830m return with lots of steep steps.
- Trezkinn Cave: ranger-guided tour: Magnificent ‘chandelier’ formation. 835m with some steep steps.
- Bauhinia Cave: self-guided. A large, open chamber reached via a dark, narrow crevice. 300m return. Very steep scramble/climb into cave.
- Pompeii Cave: self-guided. Intricate cave formations and bats roosting in dark crevices. 600m return with a short clamber into main chamber.
- Royal Arch Cave tour: ranger-guided. A labyrinth of passages and lofty caverns in one of the largest cave systems in the area. 1.3km return with steep ramps and steep flights of stairs.
- The Archways: self-guided. Semi-open cave system with some dark tunnels. 220m return and easy walk.
The landscape around Chillagoe was formed around 400 million years ago, with limestone being deposited as calcareous mud and coral reefs on the bed of a shallow sea. Tilting, folding and erosion created the limestone outcrops that now tower over the Chillagoe plains.
The Bauhinia Cave (graded as “difficult”) starts with a very steep scramble down a narrow crevice.
I only go a short distance. It is a very steep entry – and while I have a hand-held torch, you really need a head-torch to safely navigate the entrance to this cave.
By comparison, the Pompeii Cave (also graded as difficult) also has a rather foreboding entry.
But while the way in requires some clambering over slippery boulders, there’s some natural light and the route is not as steep as the almost vertical passage into the Bauhinia Cave.
Once at the bottom of the cavernous main chamber, some dark and narrow passages lead to interesting cave formations.
A short and level 1km walk from the caves take you to the start of the Balancing Rock bushwalk, past hundred of termite mounds.
The loop Balancing Rock walk climbs gradually up a small hill, past a few rock outcrops that provide a bit of shelter.
It’s only a few hundred metres to the star atraction: Balancing Rock, which is part of a large group of rocks called the Tower of London. The enormous limestone tower or boulder looks like it is balancing on an improbably small base.
Although it’s a relatively gently ascent up to the base of Balancing Rock, there’s a nice view over some of the surrounding limestone outrops.
The walking track circles around the base of Balancing Rock, before returning to the carpark at the bottom. A very short walk from the carpark along the Royal Arch Track takes you to the Wullumba Rock Art Site, one of two accessible Aboriginal rock art sites at Chillagoe. The site is located at the base of a tall, limestone cliff.
The art consists of red and white drawings, and deep but narrow vertical grooves. The Chillagoe area borders the traditional lands of three Aboriginal groups (Wakaman, Wakara, and Kuku Djunga), and over 50 rock art sites are recorded on the limestone cliffs and cave walls.
How to get to Chillagoe Caves
The Chillagoe Caves are in the Chillagoe – Mungana Caves National Park, which is around 215km (about a three hour drive) west of Cairns. Access is via the National Route 1 and State Route 27 (Burke Development Road) – between Mareeba and Chillagoe the Burke Development Road is also called the Wheelbarrow Way, named after the pioneers who wheeled their belongings through the area in the 1800s. This section of the route is mostly sealed, but has some gravel sections which are a bit rough, but suitable for 2WD vehicles.
More information on Chillagoe Caves
- Qld Parks – Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park – Ranger Guided Tours
- Qld Parks – Chillagoe Discovery Guide [PDF
- Nicola Bliss Winn, Boundaries, Connections and Cultural Heritage Management, Challenges: The Rock Art of the Chillagoe – Mungana Limestone Belt, Queensland, Australia – PhD thesis [PDF]
This walk is part of Waterfalls, Caves and Aboriginal Rock Art – the best day trips from Cairns