Several major caves of Chillagoe may be explored, some without a guide. Obtain information on guided tours and self-guided cave walks from the Department of Envirement and Heritage office, Chillagoe. Torches may be available for guided tours. Don't enter a cave before contacting a Ranger.
Strict limits apply for guided tours. Tickets are issued at the Chillagoe office of the Department of Envirement and Heritage and fees vary depending on age and tour option. Tours are conducted every day except Chrismas Day. Tour times are 9am, 11am and 1.30pm. Additional tours may be offered in peak periods such as Easter, school holidays and long weekends. Large parties should book in advance by letter or phone the Ranger.
Cave temperature is approximately 20 deg. C, so warm clothing is not necessary. Casual trousers or shorts and sensible shoes (sandshoes) are most suitable.
Royal Arch Cave
(guided tour 1¼hr, main cave tour)
An easy ramble through 1,5 Km of passages and some 13 chambers in one of the largest cave systems in the area. Hand-held lamps add to the excitement of exploring a labyrinth of tunnels and lofty caverns with an unexpected shaft of daylight or a mass of tree roots.
(guided tour 1hr, main cave tour)
Donna Cave is electrically lit and is a very pretty cave. Although the cave is small, there is much to see. Visitors must use several steep flights of stairs.
(guided tour ½hr, conducted occasionally)
A steel catwalk encircling a huge central mass of limestone provides access. There are several steep flights of stairs but the sight and a magnificant chandelier rewards the active visitor.
This open daylight cave system at Mungana is a giant grike system. Many side passages have some pleasant surprises. Wildlife is abundant, and the cave is noted for its 'garden' of maidenhair ferns and fig trees easily destroyed by the careless visitor. A touch is useful.
A short walk from Donna cave leads to a huge cleft in the rock, filled with large bolders. The occasional rock wallaby or possum may be seen. A short climb to the bottom reveals a dark passage and some low sandy tunnels known as crawls. A torch is useful.
The other self-guiding cave is the Bauhinia located between Pompeii and Donna Caves. Please contact the Ranger before visiting it.
A walking track over the hills between the Donna Cave and Trezkinn Caves or a walk to the lookout near the Royal Arch reveals the surface limestone features. Another walk leads from Donna Bluff to Balancing Rock and on to the Royal Arch Bluff.
The limestone area is covered by a scrubby type of vegetation containing many deciduous trees which lose their leaves in response to the harsh environment. However, unlike their northern hemisphere relatives, these lose their leaves to withstand the dry periods of June-July, not the cold. The bats-wing coral tree, on losing its leaves, develops a cover of red blossoms.
Several species of bottle trees can be recognized by thier bulbous trunks.
A native bauhinia, with its butterfly wing-like leaves is common on the limestone country and surrounding areas, and can often be seen with a species of Gyrocarpus commonly known as the 'helicopter tree'. Its 'winged' seeds spin as they fall and are carried by the wind.
The ghost gum sheds its bark each year. When this happens, the tree can be easily identified by the white and yellow new bark and the sparse foliage of the tree crown.
A number of species of fig trees, which attract birds and flying foxes at fruiting times, sprawl across the rocks. These can be identified by their fleshy leaves and earial roots which often hang through the caves or form a network around the rocks.
Wildlife in the caves
Caves provide an extremely stable environment as tmperature and humidity remain relatively constant. Only a few animals have been able to adapt to the darkness.
Bats with their sonic guidance system make use of the stable and protected conditions in these caves. Numerous species roost abd breed, often congregating in small areas to raise the temperature to a suitable level for a nursery.
Species include the common bent-wing bat, characterised by a very long last joint of the third finger, the little bent-wing bat, the little brown bat and the sheath-tailed bat with a long dog-like snout. Also present are the eastern horseshoe bat with very long pointed ears and a long horseshoe nose, and the diadem horseshoe bat, a pale brown and grey species with a pig like face. The two horseshoe bats and the little brown bat are known to breed in the caves.
A major bat predator is the spotted python, though no doubt the brown snake takes its share. Feral cats can be serious predators in some bat colonies.
Chillagoe is one of five known nesting regions in Australia of the white-rumped
swiftlet. Nesting colonies in the area are large by Australian standards.
Like bats, these birds have an echo-location system for flying in dark caves but can be distinguished by their sharp clicking sound. They nest in colonies of 50 or more breeding from November to February. Nests are made of congealed saliva and kangaroo grass cemented to sloping cave walls. When bat and swift colonies are raising young, minimisation of human disturbance is vital.
Many insect and spider species have been recorded.
The stable conditions and the carbonate-impregnated soil aid preservation of bone material. Bone remains of the dingo, wallaroo, brush-tailed rock wallaby, red-legged pademelon, marsupial mouse, short-nose bandicoot, noerthern quoll, sugar glider, phascogale and blue-tongued lizard have been found. Fossilized bones of the giant kangaroo and the giant (both extinct) and crocodile bones habe been found too.
Limestone is a common sedimentary rock with the chemical name of calcium cabonate. Falling rain combines with some carbon dioxide in the air to form carbonic acid. The acid and the limestone react to form calcium bicabonate which is soluble. The fact that limestone can be eroded by water at the surface and underground in this way results in a set of distinct landforms called karst. The limestone outcrops are locally known as bluffs or towers.
In north Queensland, limestone occurs in a belt 5 Km wide and 45 Km long from south of Chillagoe north-west to and beyond the Walsh River. Much more extensive belts occur as far north as the Palmer River.
The limestone was deposited as calcareous mud and coral reefs approximately 400 million years ago on the bed of a shallow sea. Since deposition, major earth movements have resulted in the limestones and other interbedded sediments being folded and tilted to an almost vertical position.
Today, this limestone appears above the ground in gaunt pinnacled 'towers' which project up to 70 m above the surrounding plains.
The Chillagoe karst results from heavy rainfall, particularly in summer, and the rugged limestone outcrops can be hard on the skin, foorwear and clothing of climbers. Narrow grooves with very sharp egdes in the rock are called kamenitzas. Large vertical flutes in the cliff faces are called rinnenkarren while clefts in straight-sided blocks of limestone are called grikes.
Below the surface, over long periods of geological time, the mild acid solution
has seeped through cracks and lines of weakness called joints, dissolving
the limestone to form underground caverns and tunnels and depositing material
in the form of cave decorations.
Cave decorations can form in two ways. In damp conditions the release of carbon dioxide from the lima water causes the lime (off-white calcium carbonate) to be redeposited in brilliant sparkling crystals. Stalactites (hanging from the roof), stalagmites (growing from the floor), shawls (draperies or bacon stone), helictites (growing sideways), canopies, crystal flows and rimstone pools (gours), all found at Chillagoe, form this way. Under drier conditions after the Wet and in areas of good ventilation, evaporation of water produces knobby formations with a chalky surface known as cave coral.
The limestone outcrops feature many unusual and weird rock shapes and the more adventurous will be able to walk among them for hours finding them a constant source of interest. They are of world scientific interest and significance as classic examples of tower karst.
Balancing Rock is approximately 1 Km from the Donna Cave; the road stops 200 m from the rock. Looking east from the centre of town a smooth white rock can be seen 2 Km away. This is Dome Rock, a town landmark of marble, a remarkable result of time and the elements.
A few small galleries of Aboriginal paintings occur in the area but most are accessible only by foot. The easiest to see are those signposted at Mungana, and those near Balancing Rock.
Chillagoe has a highly colourful history as a copper mining town and the chimneys of the disused Sate Smelters are a prominent landmark. They are a reserve under the joint trustship of the Department of Minerals and Energy and the Department of Environment and Heritage. There are over 150 old copper and lead mines known and, of these perhaps the most famous are the Girofla and the Lady Jane at Mungana.