Named by the Archer Brothers (who settled in the Rockhampton area in the 1850s) after the volcano in Sicily, Mount Etna Caves National Park is characterised by limestone outcrops and deep caves. These caves are the roosting site for more than 80% of Australia’s breeding population of little bent-wing bats, and also support a colony of vulnerable ghost bats. You can watch (and smell!) the bats as they stream out from the caves in summer from Bat Cleft, and explore the limestone caves through guided tours.
The landscape of Mount Etna includes the highest tower karst hills (steep or vertical sided limestone towers) and the most accessible examples of tower karst landforms in Australia. The limestone bedrock, harsh terrain and a dry climate creates a varied and unusual habitat that supports helps conserve endangered and rare plants. A significant proportion of the park is covered by dry rainforest vegetation (semi-evergreen vine thicket), a vegetation type once widespread throughout Queensland and now found only in isolated pockets.
The relatively small national national park has an interesting history, being nearly destroyed by mining before the entire area was protected in 2008. The area was mined for guano (bat poo), a natural fertiliser from 1914 to 1939 and for lime from 1925. In World War II the area was used for commando training. Between the 1930s to 1962 a quarry was operated by G.M.Pilkington & Co, with stone hewn by hand. In 1963 Mount Morgan Limited and Central Queensland Cement Limited (CQC) started mining on Limestone Ridge which was the start of the longest environmental conflict in Queensland that lasted until 2008. A national park was established in 1975 to protect the caves but mining didn’t cease until 2008, when Cement Australia (formerly CQC) formally relinquished its mine site to be incorporated into Mount Etna Caves National Park.
Bushwalks in Mount Etna Caves National Park
There are only a couple of bushwalking tracks in the Mount Etna Caves National Park – and some guided underground tours you can do at Capricorn Caves, which adjoins the national park.
A self-guided walk through remnant dry rainforest, which clings to the limestone karst. Interpretative signage explains the battle between limestone miners and conservationists, and how the dispute was eventually resolved. There’s also a picnic area here (electric barbecues, picnic tables and toilets).
Length: 0.6km circuit
Mount Etna Trail / Bat Cleft Tour
A trail in the Mount Etna section of the national park ascends (steeply at times) to a baordwalk along the eastern side of the pyramid-shaped hill. There are some great views from here of Limestone Ridge and the historic Pilkington Quarry. A series ff steps descends to the Bat Cleft; from December to February when the bats are acive this last section is restricted to ranger-guided tours.
Length: 2.4km return
Capricorn Caves Tours
Three guided tours are available through the limestone caves, which are on a private property adjoining the national park. The longest and most challenging of these takes you through narrow squeezes and large caverns, and all the way up to the top of a limestone tower.
Length: Approx 2km loop.
Accommodation near Mount Etna Caves National Park
The national park is only a short drive from Yeppoon or Rockhampton – but you can also stay at the Capricorn Caves in self-contained studio and two-bedroom cabins. This means you’re close to the caves tours as well as bushwalking trails and the evening Bat Cleft Tour in summer – and you can get some great sunrise or sunset shots photos from Mount Etna.
Getting to Mount Etna Caves National Park
Mount Etna Caves National Park is about 28km (30min drive) north of Rockhampton on Queensland’s Capricorn Coast, near the township of ‘The Caves’.
- Queensland National Parks – Mount Etna Caves National Park
- National Parks Association of Queensland – Mount Etna: Queensland’s longest environmental conflict
- Queensland Historical Atlas – Pilkington’s Quarry, 2009