Tasmania

Tasmania is the mecca of Australian Caving, and competes internationally for the beauty of its systems.There are many caving areas in Tasmania, but the most noteworthy are Mole Creek, in the north near Deloraine. Ida Bay, which is further south near Hastings. And Junee Florentine which is nearby to the rugged Mt. Field National Park.

Mole Creek – Generally simple technically and astoundingly beautiful.

Mole creek is mostly a collection of amazingly decorated horizontal wet caves, all of which are very different from each other – the variety is amazing. The caves are generally technically easy apart from one or two exceptions, although not recommended for beginners due mainly to the fact that they are pristine and it takes some degree of experience to move through a cave without touching anything (not touching things to steady yourself as you walk on un-even ground is actually quite hard).

There are some obvious rules to Tassie caving – It is imperative that you follow the marked trails, or if there is no marking (usually tape) then you follow the obvious tracks in the mud. Do not follow leads, even if they look tempting. Use washing stations if you come across them. Take care eating not to drop food scraps. Do not urinate or defecate in the cave, even in running water. Take care to lock gates when you leave. Avoid touching anything unless it is needed. And most important – bring a good camera and a really bright torch, because you won’t believe your eyes. It is very different to caving in Buchan so be prepared.

Tasmania is COLD! So, dress appropriately. Wet suits are a good idea in most of the caves and try to arrange your trip in Summer. The water temperature is 6 degrees and the air temperature is 7-8 degrees all year round, so wetsuits are often worn.

There are a collection of about 10 caves in Mole Creek that are accessed most frequently (although many more exist), but due to how good those 10 are, and shortness of time for most visitors, the others are not often visited by non-locals. All but one of these caves are permit only, and gated, due to the fact that they are absolutely pristine, and the locals want it to stay that way.

Usually it is desirable to have a local guide in Mole Creek (And Tasmania in general). There is one cave in particular that rates in the top 10 trips in the world (according to some) but due to recent vandalism and forced entry the author is not going to mention it by name.

Also worth noting is a cave called Wet Cave. If you enter this cave 100m in you will come across a tape saying do not go further. Please take note of this. Tasmania has centre of the earth deed which means the landowners own the caves below their property, and Wet Cave is strictly off limits by request of the landowner. And trust me, getting caught is easy.

A cave frozen in time

Another cave worth quickly noting in Mole Creek is Baldock’s Cave which was a tourist show cave around 100 years ago, which they shut down by never removed the infrastructure from, and the whole cave was lighted by carbide! So, the result is this labyrinth of pipes and ancient rails and structures.

An ANCIENT drum used to contain the raw Carbide to light up the show cave. Baldocks Cave, Mole Creek

An ANCIENT drum used to contain the raw Carbide to light up the show cave. Baldocks Cave, Mole Creek

If you join a caving club no doubt you will have access to more information on Mole Creek. Interestingly Mole Creek is closer to Melbourne than Buchan is, but the bugger is getting there. Access to the Mole Creek caves is more strict that some states and they do individually check to make sure every member is an ASF member, and they are also strict on how many people can be in a cave at once, and how long there needs to be between 2 groups that want to do the same cave (EG, from memory most of the caves require 48 hours between trips).

My advice for getting to Mole Creek from the mainland (from Melbourne) is to load up a 4wd (with trailer if needed) with all the caving gear and one driver. That driver takes the ferry on his or her own, and all other participants fly to Devenport where everyone meets first thing in the morning. You can be underground by lunch. There is a campground about 30 minutes’ drive from all of the main caves which is perfect and even has a creek running through it to wash your muddy gear at the end of the day.

If you never do another cave again, make sure you’ve at least gone to Mole Creek!

My advice is book early, especially in holiday periods, and don’t mess the rangers around. Make sure all cavers are reasonably experienced, and also forward the links for the minimum impact caving codes, and other caving codes, which are found on the ASF Website. This really goes for all cavers, as it is insightful and encourages good underground practices.

tom-midnight-hole-pitch smaler

The Author on the final pitch of Midnight Hole, Ida Bay, Tasmania

The one other cave I will mention in Mole Creek is Honeycomb – This is the ultimate beginners cave, not needing a permit, and you can spend hours down there going round in circles and linking up different parts of the cave to each other. It is Swiss cheese!  It is multi-level and has a stream running at the lowest point, and has about 3 horizontal levels above that, as well as a spectacular daylight hole of about 35m which is bolted for SRT practice. Again I cannot give out the location of Honeycomb but again it is marked on some maps and you will probably be able to find it. A great cave for beginners and so much fun trying to make sense of its layout.

As always if you do enter, have a call out time and person on the surface, and have appropriate equipment. A friendly and knowledgable local guide by the name of Deb Hunter runs tours in Honeycomb for a small fee. She is not a sponsor of Under-Victoria, so I am unable to give details, but she is easy to find. I am however also mentioning Deb as a safety issue. If you are planning a trip to Mole Creek it is worth contacting her on the safety of doing certain caves in wet (flooding) conditions. She knows what sort of weather patterns cause flooding, and which caves flood quickly, and is usually happy to help visiting cavers. She is a long-term friend of the author so feel free to email me if you would like an introduction, or if you would like to join one of her commercial groups.

Ida Bay and Hastings

Ida Bay (and Hastings) is the next major area, but is very different to Mole Creek. The major system in Ida Bay is Exit Cave. This is a long system and for a long time was the longest, and they battled Mammoth Cave in Jenolan NSW for a while each trying to out-do the other in length. (FYI the longest cave in Australia is now the Bullita Cave System, Northern Territory something like 150kms length). There is another major cave in Ida Bay called Mystery Creek Cave, and the surveys of both of these caves come within about 200 metres of each other. They almost certainly join, but no human has yet passed from one to the other.

The beauty of both these caves is that they have vertical entrances where you can pull the rope through behind you as you abseil down, and you don’t have to prusik back up. The Mini Martin entrance into Exit has a 110m pitch (a rebelay at 10m and then straight down 100m) and the Midnight Hole entrance to Mystery Creek has 5 pitches the last and longest being 59 metres. Both land in gigantic spectacular and huge horizontal systems.

There are other caves in Ida Bay but they are the two main suspects. Wolf Hole is another good cave and good to finish the trip on as it is a very straight forward horizontal cave, the only tricky bit being the 25 odd metre entrance pitch (one hanging rebelay). And Wolf Hole is near the road so unlike the others I’ve mentioned getting there is easy (although finding it is not). All caves need permits.

If you really know what you are doing, both on the surface and underground, have the detailed maps and surveys, have a good level of fitness, competent SRT skills, and are generally an experienced caver then you can technically go to these caves without a local guide. However, I discourage it. There are too many variables, and the Tassie bush is an unforgiving environment. The STC (Southern Tasmanian Caverneers) are the local club, so if you are interested they are the place to start.

Fitness is needed for Mystery Creek and Exit Caves as the trips are long and the walking to and from the caves is long and in dense hilly bush, with a lot of gear on your back. Not for beginners or the unfit.

Doug Henry on rope at the bottom of the sixth 59 metre pitch of Midnight Hole, which is the vertical pulldown entrance into the Mystery Creek cave system, a Tassie classic! And the beauty is you don't have to prussik back up, you simpy pull the rope down as you go and walk out at the bottom! Photo by Peter Freeman.

Doug Henry on rope at the bottom of the sixth 59 metre pitch of Midnight Hole, which is the vertical pulldown entrance into the Mystery Creek cave system, a Tassie classic! And the beauty is you don’t have to prussik back up, you simply pull the rope down as you go and walk out at the bottom! Photo by Peter Freeman.

 

Photo of some typical amazing Tassie decoration (straws and stals). This one is in Exit Cave, Ida Bay, which is the second longest cave in Australia. Simply amazing. Photo by Doug Henry

Photo of some typical amazing Tassie decoration (straws and stals). This one is in Exit Cave, Ida Bay, which is the second longest cave in Australia. Simply amazing. Photo by Doug Henry

The third area I will mention is the Junee Florentine area. This is hard, wet, technical, deep, cold and basically hard-core caving. The main system is Growling Swallet, which is an unforgiving cold hard and long cave. The deepest caves in Australia are Tachycardia Cave and Niggly Cave, both in this area. They are both of a similar depth of AROUND -395 metres, however there is a 20 odd metre error margin, so it is hard to pick which is really deeper, and it won’t be by much. It is not for the faint hearted. There are several other caves in the area that also approach that depth, and many of them have impressive pitches. They are deep caves for Australia but aren’t anything compared to the European super deep caves. Although to cavers who’ve grown up in Buchan, they are pretty amazing.

New caves, anyone?

Due to the remote location, dense bush and cold, there is much scope in Junee for new caves to be found, and likewise in Ida Bay there is karst that has not been closely looked at. VSA spent a lot of time in Tasmania and found some of their classic caves back in the 1970’s including the popular Valley Entrance into Exit Cave.

There are 3 or 4 other good areas, but I won’t go into those. Tasmania is great – you can wake up in the morning and choose what type of caving you want. A gentle easy horizontal stream? Or a deep vertical? Or something with both? Anything is possible.

All three areas are must see in radically different ways. Mole Creek is the most beautiful collection of caves I’ve ever experienced and it REALLY is a must do!! Ida bay is beautiful and also has the elements of big fun abseils with no need to ascend out. And Junee has some good challenging stuff for cavers who really want to test themselves. Even if you have to fly from Perth its still worth it.