As I’m prone to being a little claustrophic, perhaps booking a cave tour called the Capricorn Caves Adventurer wasn’t the smartest idea. Especially when the Web site states “step beyond your comfort zone on our most immersive cave tour”… So I’m filled with a little trepidation as our small group heads up the path to the entrance to the Capricorn Caves.
So far so good, as we enter the cave system through the Vestibule on some solid timber ladder and steps.
We soon stop in a small chamber, where our guide Rory explains some of the features of the cave… and reassures me that no-one (so far, anyway) has managed to get permanently wedged in any of the passages.
He then points to the passage we’ll be taking next. Fat Man’s Misery, which looks exactly like the kind of passage I’m hoping not to be crawling through! Although this in case, I’m not so much crawling but slithering on my stomach on layer upon layer of guano (dried and compacted bat poo) towards the faint light I can see in the distance.
Having survived this passage followed by Skinny Man’s Misery – another passage which I found slightly less claustrophic as it’s a bit shorter – we end up in a larger chamber again. Here the limestone has collapsed, allowing in some light in and providing a glimpse of the dry rainforest outside.
Another passage takes us to Jack’s Beanstalk, a large chamber where the roof has collapsed.
A huge fig tree vine drops into the middle of the chamber; Rory explains that the roots can extend up to 30 metres in search of water.
From here we climb the outside of the Capricorn Caves, to reach the top of the limestone outcrop. Unlike many other cave systems, the Capricorn Cave system extends upwards, rather than going underground as is the case with most caves.
There’s great views from the top over Mt Etna National Park and Baga National Park and of the surrounding karst formations. Most of the vegetation you can see is dry rainforest, used to describe vegetation where rainfall is low because of topographic conditions or rain-shadows.
We descend further down the outside of the limestone outcrop, re-entering at lower point that where we came out – Rory explains there there are many different routes that the Capricorn Adventurer tour can take. Our first stop is High Dome, where there is an (optional!) super-tight squeeze.
My son and his friend somehow make it through, and declare this to be the most fun… I’m happy to take a few photos of the large cavern, and a nearby
I have to confess I’m a little relieved when Rory advises we won’t have time for Rebirth, the tightest passage that you can do on the tour. We head back through a narrow but tall passage, and along a series of timber bridges and boardwalks.
It’s definitely a “hike” I’d recommend, even though I spent roughly half the time questioning why I didn’t book the Cathedral Cave Tour! And the two kids (both 14 years old) – after initially sharing my trepidation as they stared down Fat Man’s Misery – ended up declaring this the best activity on our five-day Rockhampton holiday.
Getting to the Capricorn Caves
The caves are 23 kilometres north of Rockhampton and west of Yeppoon, on the Capricorn Coast of Queenslands. It’s about a 35min drive from Rockhampton (via the Bruce Highway) and a similar time from Yeppoon (via a partly unsealed route suitable for all vehicles.)
Staying near the Capricorn Caves
The caves are a very easy half-day trip from Yeppoon or Rockhampton – but you can also stay at the Capricorn Caves in self-contained studio and two-bedroom cabins. (Staying here means you’re close to the Mount Etna bushwalking trails and the evening Bat Cleft Tour in summer.)
More information on the Capricorn Caves
The Capricorn Caves system was formed from an ancient Gondwana reef under the ocean, when reef corals, calcified marine shells and limey mud were gradually compacted to form limestone. Rainwater seeping through the rocks dissolved the alkaline limestone to form the caves. The cave system was discovered by John Olsen while he was exploring this relatively remote area in in the early 1880s (both 1881 and 1882 have been cited as the discovery date), and he staked his claim to the area.
The Olsen family first tried to build a tourism business, which ultimately failed due to the remoteness of the caves and poor roads. The family then mined guano (bat poo) from the caves, which was also short-lived, with the heavy bags of bat droppings being hauled to the surface by hand. The caves soon returned to being a tourist venture. In 1988, after four generations of Olsen family ownership, the property was sold to Ken and Ann Augusteyn. The Capricorn Caves remains as one of the largest privately owned cave systems in Australia.
Three separate guided tours explore different caverns, caves and passages:
- Cathedral Cave Tour (45min) – visits the “signature” Cathedral Cave, which is the largest and most spectacular cave and features some special cave acoustics.
- Capricorn Explorer (90min) – takes you to more more remote caverns including the Deep Vault Cave and Flower Pot Cave, which are a bit harder to access.
- Capricorn Adventurer (2 hours) – the most challenging of the tours, as described above!