In America, they call it spelunking. It Britain, it’s pot-holing. Here in Australia, we simply call it caving – and one of the coolest places to explore nature’s underground kingdom is at Capricorn Caves near Rockhampton.
This incredible cave system has attracted curiosity since it was discovered by John Olsen in 1882. And if that seems long ago, contemplate the fact that the primeval caverns he stumbled across are more than 390 million years old.
Visitors can take one – or more – of several guided tours. During the Cathedral Cave tour, weave through dimly lit limestone corridors, festooned in stalagmites and stalactites that look a little like candle-drip sculptures. Eventually, you emerge from the near-darkness into stunning Cathedral Cave, a soaring space that’s popular for weddings and performances.
You may spot the dangling roots of a figtree, descending from the cavern roof some 60 metres above. It’s nicknamed the Cathedral’s “bell rope” but an enduring joke is that it’s the groom’s last chance to shinny up and escape before putting his neck in the marital noose.
Tour number two is less ‘bride and groom’ and more ‘pick and shovel’. The Geo-Tour takes visitors to an underground dig site. If calcite chemistry, plate tectonics and limestone corrosion don’t float your boat, then the prospect of playing palaeontologist and unearthing ancient fossilized bone might just do it. Plus you get to wear one of those cool miner’s helmets that come complete with their own little lamp.
True dare-devils – and definitely those unfazed by confined spaces – can join a two hour adventure caving experience. Squeeze and shimmy through super-narrow tunnels and shafts (one is aptly called Fat Man’s Misery) and emerge into the daylight, possibly a little slimmer than you when you first started.
To make the most of your caving experience, there’s the option to stay at the Capricorn Caves site. BYO ten, campervan or caravan and stake a claim at the bush campsite. Or choose a two-bedroom deluxe cabin, packed to the rafters with the kind of modern comforts that would make your average caveman grunt with envy.