Cave Access and Restrictions

Caves access can be divided roughly into 4 categories:

Public caves that anyone can enter without permission

Caves on public open access Parks Victoria Land, including areas such as ‘The Potholes’ near Buchan which is a specific reserve set aside intentionally for caving. All of the frequently explored caves on these reserves still have access guidelines, set by Parks Victoria. The guidelines are available to download below.

One of the conditions of the publishing of this web site was to highlight to the public that there are access conditions to most of the more frequently done caves. The guidelines are for both the caves preservation and for your safety. Further to this that you familiarise yourselves with the ASF (Australian Speleological Federation) standards found at http://www.caves.org.au/index.php/administration/codes-and-standards

There are a set of about half a dozen caves in and around Buchan which are the ‘usual suspects’ and are done most frequently, and they are quite trashed for this reason. So it is logical that the caves with outstanding value of any kind be protected so the same doesn’t happen to them. The potholes caving area in Murrindal (20 mins drive North of Buchan) was only set aside when the VSA proved over a long period and a lot of work that the caves were worth protecting from the quarry. The discovery of Exponential Pot, which is considered by many the best decorated cave in Buchan, was what clinched the argument to save the land. A real win for cavers, given that there are hundreds of caves on the reserve, and it is the most frequented chunk of Karst in the entire region.

Bats huddled in the roof of Dicksons A Cave. This cave is off limits in the colder months as the bats hibernate, and waking them up can kill them. A good reason for access guidelines. Photo by Naomi Dickinson.

Bats huddled in the roof of Dicksons A Cave. This cave is off limits in the colder months as the bats hibernate, and waking them up can kill them. A good reason for access guidelines. Photo by Naomi Dickinson.

Gated Permit Caves controlled by Parks Victoria

Caves on Parks Victoria Land that is not open access. The major example of this is Caves Reserve in Buchan, which is the campground and site of the 3 tourist caves, but also which has 5 or 6 good wild caves that are all gated. Access to these is strictly controlled for a number of reasons, including conservation but also to make sure unprepared and potentially dangerous people can’t wonder in and cause any number of problems.

Trips into these caves are usually in off-season and encouraged to be as discreet as possible. Unfortunately, most of these caves have been open for nearly 100 years but were not gated until much later, so damage occurred in these caves too. Interestingly Spring Creek Cave has signatures in it dating back to around 1920, although I doubt it could be proven they are legitimate. Parks also own The Potholes and have gated several caves there including the pre-mentioned Exponential Pot, another which was found to be a second entrance to Exponential, and others with outstanding decoration, and one with an unstable entrance doline. Again, all good reasons to restrict access.

The entrance to Exponential Pot - Open only for surveying or other work. A rare occurance. Photo by Topaz Aral

The entrance to Exponential Pot – Open only for surveying or other work. A rare occurance. Photo by Topaz Aral

Caves on private property

3) Caves on private property. Access here is totally up to the landowner. People do trespass from time to time and often get caught, which understandingly angers land owners.  Landowners are also often concerned that they could be held liable if there was an accident in a cave on their property, even though this would never happen in reality. There is more than 50 years of caving history in Buchan and a lot has happened to make bad blood and a lot has also happened to repair damage. VSA are concentrating largely on repairing caver-landowner relationships and have made good progress, having added 2 or 3 properties to the access list recently. The partly local club VLCT have excellent cave access on private property due to being both local and also very easy to get along with and personable. Both VLCT and VSA have been actively supporting and assisting with this website. VLCT and VSA also worked together for the 2009 ASF Conference when the post conference trips were held in Buchan.

Caves on sites of other kinds, such as businesses, quaries.

4) Caves on business sites, specifically usually quarries. This is no access no matter what you do or say. The prime example of this is Dalley’s Cave in Buchan, which is on quarry land. The quarry management are not willing to discuss access. VSA members have been taking steps towards convincing Parks to buy a small plot of land where the entrance is, but no luck at this stage. Many people believe Dalley’s is the best cave in Buchan, which makes the situation even more frustrating. It is probably the most trespassed cave, due to the fact that it is special and not hard to get to. Dalley’s was originally owned by the Dalley family but sold the land to the quarry, and now lease the land back FROM the quarry. It actually swallows the Murrindal River and is a proper Tasmanian-esque or even British style stream cave.

It should also be noted that there is a fifth, unusual, category! Rimstone, who own the caving lodge ‘Homeleigh’ in Buchan, bought two caves. And not just any caves – Scrubby Creek cave, and Shades of Death Cave. These are two of the best caves in the entire Buchan region. It is the first time a caving club has purchased a cave. The Cave Divers Association of Australia purchased Tank Cave, so they did beat us to it, but no other dry club has ever bought the land at a cave entrance. Scrubby Creek is a long active stream passage, protected by a roof sniff sometimes down to about an inch of airspace normally, with only your nose out of the water. It has perhaps the most spectacular chamber in Victoria – Christmas Hall. The cave ends in rockfall which despite many attempts has never been passed. Scrubby has a strict leadership system and more leaders are slowly being trained. It also contains ‘Trogs Wallow’ – a very difficult 300m wallow through waste deep mud that saps every ounce of strength from your legs. The wallow is in reality worse than the roof sniff. But it is all in all a very good cave.

The other cave owned, Shades of Death, is also excellent. Shades is an ex show cave, but has not run commercially in decades. The first couple of hundred meters are in the old show cave infrastructure of ladders and pathways. A small chamber goes to a squeeze and the rest of the cave begins. Opinions differ, but the whole cave may be as long as 4kms in surveyed length. As of mid-2019, a new project has started to re-survey Shades, and prove it’s length for sure.

Reading and interpreting the access guidelines

If you read the guidelines to cave access you will see several columns:

Cave Classification – This is what type of cave, EG a wild cave or a show cave.

Maximum group size per trip – How many people are allowed in at once.

Total no. of trips permitted – How many trips allowed per year.

Season restrictions – Is the cave off-limits at any time (usually due to bats) or high water, or tracks not passable in Winter.

Other guidelines/conditions – Any other access issues or statements on what types of parties are allowed, EG only for monitoring and research purposes.

These guidelines were written in 2002 and do need updating which is happening slowly. It contains guidelines for approximately 35 of the more frequently explored or desired caves. More importantly it contains a description of access, including the purpose of these access conditions, the legislative framework cave access falls under, how to apply, general guidelines for all caves including those not in this document, application process, and even what to do in discovery of bones or artefacts.

‘Buchan’ often refers to a number of areas, near to the township.

When we talk about Buchan as a caving area, we generally mean Buchan township with the Caves Reserve, but we also infer that we are including the satellite areas including East Buchan, Murrindal, The Basin, New Guinea Ridge, etc. If you count all of the karst within reasonable distance, there are over 1000 karst features documented. Only perhaps 150-200 are caves that have any significance and interest, but that is still a lot of caves.

Cave access regulation also tries to ensure that cavers are aware of and follow the ASF caving codes, particularly minimal impact caving, to ensure no damage is done. Some of the caves in Buchan on open land have seen many thousands of trips, with groups going through nearly every weekend, and are now quite trashed –we consider these our ‘sacrificial’ caves, such as Wilson’s Cave which is actually marked on the map of the area, which gives you an idea of how open the access is to that particular cave. However, there are also caves that are pristine largely due to these access guidelines. So even though people complain about difficulty getting permits, there are good reasons why the access guidelines exist.

Applying for access to Parks Victoria Caves

Parks Victoria are perfectly reasonable in the way they handle permit requests. All they demand is to follow the protocol as set in the guidelines document, meet the requirements of all the participants, apply through an ASF member caving club for insurance reasons, have knowledge of the ASF codes, and have a legitimate and truthful reason for the access request. For some gated caves recreational caving is a good enough excuse. For other caves of higher significance, the reason for access might need to be surveying, geological study, etc. But Parks Victoria do not stop access for no reason. If access is not granted, then it is for a good reason. An example of this is Moon’s Cave on Caves Reserve, which has a platypus living there which we don’t want to disturb, so no access has been granted recently.

Cave Crickets - Access guidelines protect little critters such as these. They look scary, and will give you a nip if you mess with them, but they're not dangerous.

Cave Crickets – Access guidelines protect little critters such as these. They look scary, and will give you a nip if you mess with them, but they’re not dangerous.

The only cave system that Parks control that has a no entry (barring extreme circumstances) is the show cave system (Royal, Fairy, Federal). This system is long and large parts of it are the tourist routes. Parks, understandably, want to keep these caves as pristine as possible. Friends of Buchan Caves are largely responsible for maintaining Federal Cave, so joining them on one of their Federal trips will give you an up close with that particular cave. Fairy and Royal are maintained by Parks Victoria.

If it weren’t for access guidelines it would be a messy free-for-all. The caving clubs that frequent Buchan keep good relations with the ranger, and mutual respect and good faith are fostered. Hopefully the situation with caves on private property will slowly improve, but Parks, for now, are doing a great job of managing their gated caves, of which there would be approximately 15. Those 15 all have good valid reasons for being gated with everything from amazing and fragile beauty, to platypus homes, to aboriginal heritage, to bones of ancient megafauna, to unstable entrances, etc. All valid reasons.

Please download and read this file:

Please find below the link to the current guidelines from Parks Victoria. Please follow these guidelines at all times. They are there for a good reason. Interim Guidelines for caving activities in Buchan -Murrindal area

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