Start - Off Caves Road
Length - 300m (Return)
Cost - Entry Fees Apply, see DBCA website
Rating - Green
Terrain - Metal Boardwalk
Max Depth - 27m
Time - 30 mins to 1 hour
Signed - Follow the Boardwalk
Date Caved - 8th August 2020
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Wardandi People
Directions - Located a 15 minute drive from the centre of Margaret River, take Boodjidup Road west from town and follow this all the way to Caves Road. Turn left and continue along Caves Road for another 5km until you see the signs for Calgardup Cave. There is a limestone road leading to the car park and the entrance is via the pathway to the main building.
The Cave - With a weekend away to the Margaret River region with my partner Caris organised for early August, we started looking at activities to fill up our long weekend. With Caris not enjoying hiking as much as me and not wanting to spend half a day doing something she wouldn't enjoy, I compromised and suggested visiting some caves instead. The plan was to do the self guided double of Calgardup and Giants but unfortunately Giants Cave is only open during school holidays and public holidays in the May to October period. With a weekend of bad weather expected, caving is one of those nature activities that can be enjoyed at any time with only a short stroll to the entrance required before you are undercover.
After visiting the obligatory Cheese and Chocolate Factory along with a lovely winery (shout out to Fermoy), we headed off to Calgardup Cave before checking in to our accommodation. The bad weather seemed to have put everyone off as the car park was empty when we arrived. After paying the entry fee ($19 per adult at the time of writing), we got a brief safety and equipment lesson from the friendly officer and set off towards the cave. Calgardup and Giants are self-guided caves where you are given a hardhat equipped with a torch and you are free to explore as you wish. The path leading down to the cave entrance was quite nice this time of year with plenty of Hovea, Buttercups, Karri Hazel and a wildflower that doesn't appear in any of the three books I bought while we were down there. Another treat before entering the cave was seeing a crackle of Black Cockatoos, specifically Baudins, in a nearby tree before they retreated in a wave of noise. I managed to get a quick snap of a male (noticeable thanks to the red eyes) flying off but the photo was a bit noisy. Finally descending down and entering the cave, the drop in temperature was the first sensation that hits you, along with the darkness that swallows your vision as you stare down into the depths. The cave is split into two sections, one to the right and one to the left. The man who handed us our hardhats suggested the left path was better so we left that until last.
Initially you still have a fairly decent amount of light thanks to the cave opening but the further you descend, the more your vision is limited to what you illuminate with your head torch. I hadn't played around with my torch and it was on the focused setting where only a small circle of light was showing wherever I looked. Annoyingly for Caris, that meant I was asking her to illuminate what I wanted to photograph and many hilarious arguments ensued. Walking along the metal boardwalk, it was fascinating to see all the different stalactites hanging from the ceiling, looking like a suspended bed of nails. The cave floor was reminiscent of the surface of the moon in the torchlight and the drops of water from the ceiling created a cool effect in the dirt. Making your way through a series of caverns, the patterns of the limestone formations was endlessly awe-inspiring and it very much felt like you were underwater exploring a coral reef at night. We reached the end of the boardwalk after a series of impressive formations and this is where we found a lot of the tree roots that fight their way through the limestone and break into the cave from above. as Jeff Goldblum once said "life will find a way" and I'd love to see if the roots ever reached the ground and kept digging. This is also where we were told to turn off our lights and experience the darkness in it's entirety. With no natural or artificial light around, breathing in the damp air and listening to the silence, this was a really cool experience. Caris wasn't a fan so it didn't last long but I encourage everyone to enjoy the natural deprivation tank.
Doubling back, we made our way to the start ready for the next section. This was billed as the better leg thanks to the crystal cave found here and I was excited to photograph it with my new camera. Reaching the stairs back up to the entrance, we continued on and was soon in the largest cavern of the cave. There was a small speck of light coming from the ceiling above and this must be where you can abseil down into the cave (advanced bookings required). A landing platform can be found below and here you find some more Marri tree roots hanging from the ceiling, these ones much longer and more impressive. After another little up and over section of the boardwalk you reach the entrance of a low section of the cave where it's impossible to stand if you're an adult. We were told the best method was to sit on the railing and butt scoot along as you marvel at the wonderful formations all around you. I was having a lot of fun and Caris was enjoying not having to light everything up for me as I'd played around with my torch and also switched to live view on my camera so I could position my head properly. The narrow section lasts for a while and can be a little uncomfortable if you spend a lot of time there like we did but eventually it opens up and the boardwalk ends in a large cavern.
I had brought along a very small tripod for this trip so I could get some semi-stable long exposure shots of the caves and hopefully showcase more than what I could shooting by hand. Setting it up in the large cavern, I pointed the camera deep into the cave where it continues and with the help of Caris we painted the cave with light from our head torches. I was pretty happy with the results, although there was still some shake from the tripod because it was just one of those rubber travel jobs that have the bendy legs. Caris had seen enough of the cave so left me in the cavern where I took a few more photos. I could hear a couple of people heading our way so I waited for them to reach the cavern before heading back as I wanted some time to do more long exposure shots from the narrow section. These were a bit hit and miss as I was rushing and painting the light was super difficult in an already restricted area. Caris was waiting for me near the entrance and we exited together, both agreeing that it was a very good experience. All up we were in there for almost an hour and with better photographic equipment and lighting, I could have spent a lot longer snapping away.
Final Thoughts – The limestone caves of the Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park provide something different to a trip down south. While there is lots of hiking and mountain biking to do, this is an experience that is very unique.
I like that there are two self-guided caves you can explore as I really like to take my time and I enjoy having spaces free of people, especially in an area so tight.
This is definitely an activity you should add onto your next visit to the area, the kids will love it and it will bring out the inner kid in most adults. Please be respectful of the cave, stick to the boardwalk and do not touch any of the limestone formations.
Get out there and experience it!
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