Murrindal

Murrindal, North of Buchan township by about 15 minutes car ride has the highest number of regularly visited caves in the area, and is the location of the Potholes Reserve, and across the road Wyatts Reserve. It is like swiss cheese within hundreds of karst features and caves, and many dolines that would undoubtedly be caves but have not been dug (by the way – digging is strictly forbidden unless you go through Parks Victoria and your club with an official plan and full description of how it will be done).

Baby Berger

This is a very well-known Buchan (Murrindal) cave, in that it has a top horizontal level with potential for some exploration and some nice decoration, but also has one of the deepest pitches not requiring technical rigging. The cave has a short and confined entrance pitch of about 5 metres which can be climbed (but the author recommends a ladder with a belay, as always – see Laddering under ‘advanced caving’, look out for a well-known massive shall called the Shark Fin. The cave heads downwards to the top of a 40m (approx) metre pitch, one of Buchan’s deepest and largest pitches – which is well worth doing. The pitch is blind though. If you get to the bottom you’ll see a small pool of water, which often contains frogs! Strange. Towards the bottom of the pitch the wall goes onto a slant of about 70 degrees. This creates a rub point where the 70-degree section starts, but it’s not a bad one and is generally ignored.

Tom (Author) on rope in Elk River Cave

Tom (Author) on rope in Elk River Cave

Elk River Cave

Elk River is thought to be the main drain, or one of the drains at least, for the Potholes Area. Dye tracing has led it to Dalley’s Sinkhole which is a really long way away, and this connection also makes it the deepest cave in Buchan. Elk River was first accessed through a freshly collapsed doline that VLCT found, but this entrance has been filled in and is not used due to concerns around stability. To get into Elk River, you have to go through Baby Berger. However I’m not going to tell you on this website how to do it, because you really should have a guide for this. Without SCUBA gear you won’t get that far anyway, once you reach the stream. There are roof sniffs both up and down stream which lead to sumps, and the passage between them is not that long, and fairly low. I forget the exact number but something like a dozen sumps have been dived in a long and massive amount of work led mostly by Peter Freeman, and they have pushed the cave a long way, but the connection to Dalley’s has never been made. That connection would make it easily the longest cave in Buchan. It is worth doing, and worth pushing further if you have good sump diving skills and the motivation!

The bizarre 'Elk Antler' formation, which has NO explanation and has baffled even the most knowledgeable speleo-scientists! Found in the Elk River stream passage. Photo by Doug Henry

The bizarre ‘Elk Antler’ formation, which has no confirmed explanation and has baffled even the most knowledgeable speleo-scientists! Found in the Elk River stream passage. Photo by Doug Henry

Baby Pierre

Another good but typical potholes cave. A tight-ish vertical entrance that needs to be rigged from the surface drops down to a ledge at about 10 metres. This can be rigged as a rebelay with no rub points if you are careful enough. This is about 20 metres down to a small chamber. From here there are two more pitches side by side. One is a really nice and wet tube of about 10 metres that is beautifully sculpted. The other is a tight entrance into a spacious drop with some beautiful decoration that needs to be carefully avoided. Both of these bottom pitches are blind, although if the survey is correct, they both lie very near the Elk River streamway, and digs have been considered here. RATING: 3

Junior Berger

A straightforward vertical cave with an impressively large spacious pitch and several rebelays, the first of which is a proper hanging rebelay off an obvious stalactite. The cave lies near to Baby Berger and is similar in its characteristics. The nice thing about this cave is that the pitch head is very near to the entrance so there is not far to carry rope etc. A really nice vertical pot. RATING 3

junior berger me and pete low res

Tom (Author) and Peter Freeman at the bottom of Junior Berger, using scaling poles to try and get to a hole half way down the pitch. Photo by Doug Henry NB: This cave is JINXED – Every trip into it has had something strange or near miss!

Black Rift

A recent dig. Vertical in nature, nothing else known. RATING: 3

Rabbit Trap

A recently discovered cave which is relatively deep containing some tight pitches. This cave frustratingly chokes down to a narrow rift and a small stream can be seen from where the rift becomes impassable. It is in the approximately 25metres from the Elk River stream passage and if the rift was passable it would almost certainly connect. RATING 3

Stirling’s

This cave has several short pitches down to a short passage that may have at some stage carried water. However, it is renowned for having CO2 like many other caves on the Western side of the main road that goes through the Potholes reserve and Murrindal region. RATING 3

Honeycomb – A not to be missed open access cave!

Honeycomb. Whilst this cave is VERY frequently visited by outdoor rec providers, scouts, cadets, and defence forces training sessions, it remains very beautiful in parts and has much pristine decoration, most of which is out of reach hence it has remained pristine. The cave has a 7-metre ladder pitch to enter.

It then lands in an extensive horizontal system with leads galore. A good 4 or 5 hours can be spent in Honeycomb, especially if you choose to bring in SRT gear and venture into the lower layers of the cave. There are at least 2 pitches in Honeycomb, one of which is called the IRA pitch due to how it kills you kneecaps as you enter the tight part of the pitch, (in reference to the IRA knee-capping people). Please don’t complain – I didn’t make the name up.

A fantastic round trip can be achieved called the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ which takes in a good portion of the cave and has several challenging squeezes and a very challenging climb (not high or exposed, just nothing to hold onto).

Whilst beginners are frequently taken into Honeycomb, my opinion is that is not really for raw beginners unless they have shown some competency in another cave or have rock climbing or some other experience.

RATING 2 if you don’t do the pitches, RATING 3 if you attempt to get to the bottom of the cave. For visiting competent cavers this Is one you should do. It is one of the best horizontal caves without a permit being needed.

Jam Pot

This is a purely vertical pothole. A moderate squeeze at the surface is quickly followed by another VERY awkward squeeze a few more metres into the cave. The awkward squeeze is more or less at the top of the pitch head for a 30m pitch, but the squeeze is so tight that doing it with SRT gear already on is nearly impossible. Best technique is to wear a load bearing belt or just a bowline knotted rope around you, connected to a safety line from the surface, get through both squeezes, get comfortable and then gingerly put your SRT kit on. Don’t drop anything!

There is a well-placed bolt several metres down the pitch for a rebelay and from there it is a magnificent pitch down to a short traverse and then another short pitch where the cave chokes off. It is one of the better vertical pots in terms of the nice long open pitch. Prusiking back up and then when tired from the prusik having to get back through both squeezes is very challenging so fitness is required. VSA Literature on the cave states (and I quote) that “a rescue from this cave would be nearly impossible” which made me a bit nervous when I did the cave. Rating 3

Perfidy Pit

Another vertical pot, which like the others chokes off at about 60 or 70 metres. Perfidy pit contains several very tight vertical squeezes whilst on rope and is difficult to bottom. RATING 3

Aptly named – Razor – With the sharpest, tightest, most annoying squeeze in the entire Buchan Region!

Razor

Razor is another frequently visited cave, due to the fact that it is one of the few open access caves in Buchan that doesn’t require a permit and is totally horizontal and needs no gear of any kind. A fairly tight vertical slot entrance (which is easy on the way down and a pain on the way up) and following the obvious route, including a 3 metre chimney climb down, for a little while brings you to two very tight and very sharp squeezes which defeat many cavers, and have been the scene of 3 pseudo rescues where people have become quite stuck.

Beyond that it is a straightforward cave with some decoration in upper levels and some interesting climbing. An hour or two of caving. A lower level can be reached with a handline. Rating: 2

What's down there? :) Photo by Topaz Aral

What’s down there? :) Photo by Topaz Aral

Oolite

A very interesting cave. A short ladder entrance leads to a classic example of a phreatic cave system and the sculpted limestone is beautiful. The top level looks radically different to any other potholes cave. It is a horizontal maze which can provide some entertainment connecting different passages to other passages and realising you were back where you were before, etc. Totally suitable for beginners as long as they are belayed on the ladder entry.

Further down the character of the limestone changes and there are two pitches. One of the pitches has a very tight and awkward pitch head and is about 15 – 20 metres. The other is deeper, with an easier pitch head, and has a well-placed bolt for rebelay about 2/3rds of the way down, and chokes off at a narrow rift at about 25 metres. RATING 3 if you do the pitches, or 2.5 if you only do the horizontal section.

Ian’s Hat

Another vertical pot which is quite deep (same depth, choking off around 57m) and has two tight sections which are sometimes done using a ladder when there is not enough room for prussiking. If done with no SRT, and only ladder there is actually 70 metres of ladder needed due to the fact that the rift is on an angle Rating: 3

Twig-in-ya-ear

A cave hardly worth mentioning and not worth doing. A tight entrance leads to a crawl into a small chamber. No depth or length or decoration. A waste of time. Only listed as it has a name. The only fun thing in this cave is turning your lights off in the chamber and trying to get out which is surprisingly challenging. For some reason, a lot of people do this cave, probably just to fill in time. RATING: 1

M120 – Carpark Cave

Another very short cave with an awkward entrance/exit helped by running a tape in from the surface. No significant depth or length. RATING 1.5

Enfield

A very interesting cave. Tight entrance often overgrown leads to one main pitch, which leads down to a horizontal level, where you then have five pitches of varying depths and characteristics to choose from, or do them all. One in particular is very tight and defeated myself and my caving partner. A good workout for your vertical skills. RATING 3

Goanna – If you just love your vertical pots, go in this one!

Goanna

Another fairly new cave, totally vertical and very impressive. One of the best vertical pots in Buchan. Cave consists of three pitches, totalling the normal potholes depth of about 60m, although I would classify it more as one big pitch with 3 standing rebelays. Big impressive pitches, some nice decoration. Rating 3

Sundial

Several short pitches. This cave is not quite as deep as the other vertical pots. The entrance can be done the hard way or the easy way, and the easy way is NOT the obvious path, so take care to make sure you are entering the right way. Watch for snakes. Rating 3

Rift Cave

A rarely done but horizontal cave which is hard to find. Awkward entrance leads to a small horizontal system, and to get to the bottom you must chimney a fairly exposed (7 or 8 metre) rift about 6 or 7 metres. A little unnerving for beginners or those who don’t like exposed chimneying. No gear needed though. Scared the crap out of me as it was my second ever limestone cave! Rating 2 due to the chimney traverse.

Dickson’s A – Note OFF LIMITS in the colder months due to bats

Dickson’s A

An absolutely EXCELLENT beginners cave. No gear needed at all, and a good round trip can be achieved which sees the whole cave and has some nice climbs, rimstone pools, a bit of decoration, and usually bats! The cave is closed in Winter from 1 June to 30 September due to the Bats being in hibernation, when being woken up disturbs their fat stores and they die, but in the other months the cave is open (see the access guidelines document under the ‘access’ menu).

The bats congregate in two specific chambers, and when you disturb them, they all fly to the other chamber. There are literally thousands of them and sitting while they fly around you is a surreal experience. You will cop the odd bat in the face and wingtips brushing you, but they are pretty good flyers.

I would recommend to be on the safe side that you check with the ranger prior to entering Dickson’s A, to make totally sure that there is no risk to the bats wellbeing.

Unfortunately, Dickson’s A was used as a rubbish dump for many years and has a pile of broken glass and metal to be taken care of. A brown snake was also spotted in the cave a one time. RATING: 1.5

Dicksons A Entrance Chamber. Photo by Topaz Aral

Dicksons A Entrance Chamber. Photo by Topaz Aral

Dickson’s B

A plain cave with two interesting features only. One is a keyhole squeeze which due to being high up off the ground can be a fun challenge. The other main attraction is a 5-metre free climb up and over a wall. Normally a handline is rigged around a stump at the top of the climb. A rock-climbing manoeuvre will get you down if that is your style, but an easier way can be found on the left side. Take care, a fall would hurt. RATING: 1 apart from the 5-metre climb which is a 2.

Dicksons B Main Chamber. Photo by Topaz Aral

Dicksons B Main Chamber. Photo by Topaz Aral

M4

Another classic cave, and another of the few open access caves that needs no vertical or ladder. M4 is a long stream cave which is almost all hands and knees crawling, punctuated by 2 very pretty chambers. However, there are 2 sumps that need to be passed first. The water level can be anywhere from bone dry (very rare) to totally sumped off in which case you have to turn back. More often than not there is water in the sumps, and it is either a roof sniff or you might have as much as 20cm-15cms of air. The water is fairly cold (although warmer than Tasmania) so two layers of thermals or even a wetsuit is needed. If you keep moving you are fine, but stopping for more than a minute or two will make you cold, so be careful.

M4 is thought to be an overflow from another cave and the amount of water in it varies widely. It can be nearly bone dry or it can be a raging torrent (I’ve seen both). It is a fun cave to splash around in. The final sump was dived by Netherwood and Ackroyd back in 1983. They penetrated to 6.5m to find an impenetrable horizontal slot. RATING 1.5

Shades of Death

Shades is an ex show cave, although the show section is fairly short. Beyond that is an excellent and long horizontal system with lots to see and some seasonal water. It is on property that has been bought by the Rimstone Cooperative (owners of Homeleigh) and permission is needed for entry, but trips in are fairly frequent. Not a particularly hard cave. According to one source the surveys length is over 4kms, which would make it the longest in Victoria, but this has not been verified. An estimation from a source that knows the cave well estimates more like 2kms.  RATING: 2

Random cave shot with good lighting. Shades of Death Cave, in Murrindal (Buchan). The first 100m or so is an ex show cave, but beyond that are several kms of excellent cave. Access by permission of land owner only. Photo by Topaz Aral

Random cave shot with good lighting. Shades of Death Cave, in Murrindal (Buchan). The first 100m or so is an ex show cave, but beyond that are several kms of excellent cave. Rimstone owns this cave. Photo by Topaz Aral

Lilly Pilly

Another ex-show cave which is very close to Shades of Death and M4. This is one of my favourite caves in Buchan. It is absolutely spectacular and also very spacious, with plenty of big chambers. At times it has Tasmania quality decoration. Frustratingly it is not a wild cave, and the paths and handrails make it feel artificial, but it is a great cave nonetheless. I have been told it is used as a show cave a few times a year with special guided access, but I’ve not personally seen a trip take place. Get into this one if you possibly can! Rating 1 as it is a show cave.

Murrindal Cave – Closeby to Lilly Pilly, M4 and Shades of Death shares the same system and was also a show cave some time ago. Another good cave with some great decoration, especially some incredible gypsum flowers not far from the entrance. Permit only. If you get access to Lilly Pilly, try and do this one aswell. Rating 1 as it is another show cave.

Dalley’s – The best cave in Buchan, but TOTALLY off limits

Dalley’s Sinkhole

In my opinion and the opinion of many others, Dalley’s is the best cave in the entire Buchan cave regions. It swallows the Murrindal River! The cave has amazing stream passage the likes of the big systems in Tasmania and England. It has great decoration and also has a sump dive called ‘divers dalley’s’. It is a classic wet sporty cave. Unfortunately, it is totally off limits. It is now essentially owned by the local quarry. Attempts have been made to get Parks Vic to buy the small chunk of land where the entrance is, but that may never happen. Rating is 3.

Canyons

Canyons is on private property and there is strictly no access to members of the public. It is reported to be a good cave. Local cavers gain access periodically so any request for access should be forwarded to them, but it is by no means guaranteed. Rating 2 – Have never done it though.

Sub-Aqua

Sub Aqua is a VERY wet and requires a swim through to a decorated and large chamber. A wetsuit or floatation device is recommended. Rating 2 due to cold and wet.

Gyorgidig – The best cave for training beginners in SRT

Gyorgidig. This is another classic vertical pot. It is a good one for SRT beginners as the pitch heads are easy, the pitches (4 in total) are no longer than about 10-15 metres each, and the one rebelay on the last pitch has stumps you can stand on to pass it. It chokes off at the 50m point like the other vertical caves on the Potholes. Awkward entrance is helped by rigging a handline. RATING 3

Storm Water Tunnel

This is another wet cave that carries water in wet conditions and feeds into Scrubby Creek Cave. The entrance to storm water tunnel is on the same plot as Scrubby that Rimstone purchased, so access should be easy to obtain. Not much known about this one, except that it carries a lot of water in wet conditions. Rating unknown

Barb wire Fence

Unknown. Rating unknown

Scrubby Creek – The cave that has been bought! It is owned by a collective mostly made up of cavers and ex cavers.

Scrubby Creek

The first Australian cave ever bought by a caving club & accommodation service (Rimstone). Many argue that Scrubby is the best cave in Buchan, and this may be true. It is a long stream cave, but it is protected by a savage roof sniff. Up until recently the sniff usually had an inch of air space so only your nose is out of the water, but it has been lowered and I hear has become easier. To make things more difficult it is not in a straight line, and the sniff actually bends around slightly. To deal with this there needs to be one caver at each end of the sniff, to yell at the caver if they go off course. There have been several serious near misses in this roof sniff.

Beyond that it is a marvellous cave, with one of the biggest chambers in Buchan and plenty of decoration. A long trip if you go to the end and back (8ish hours including photography time). It ends in a tantalising rock fall which has never been passed despite many attempts. Access into Scrubby is only allowed with a trained Scrubby leader and unfortunately these are dwindling. RATING 3.5 due to roof sniff, length, and the torturous ‘Trogs Wallow’ which is 200m of energy sapping thick gloopy thigh deep mud.

Exponential Pot

Perhaps the most beautiful cave in the entire Buchan region. It is gated and access controlled by Parks Victoria, but access has been granted recently to update and complete the survey, and attempt to have more people that know the cave. It is a very complex horizontal system with a 20m entrance pitch (very tight gated entrance, not too bad entering but getting out is a  pain). It is absolutely amazing, crystals, straws, stals, etc are everywhere. Up until recently it also needed a trained leader, but due to there being only a few left new leaders are being trained up. Access is only given for surveying though, no recreational caving allowed in this one. Exponential is considered in the top three caves of Buchan, alongside Scrubby and Dalley’s. It is also quite long at around 2kms surveyed length and further re-surveying and exploration may well yield more. The problem is exploring the cave and pushing leads that are covered in decoration – obviously a no go – which means there are many leads that simply off limits. Frustrating, but that’s the way it is. RATING: 3

Decoration in Exponential Pot. Photo by Topaz Aral

Decoration in Exponential Pot. Photo by Topaz Aral

 

Just a few stalactites? Photo from Exponential Pot by Topaz Aral

Photo from Exponential Pot by Topaz Aral

Hades

In Wyatt’s reserve over the road from the Potholes. This is a small cave, which was the site of Buchan’s only serious cave rescue, many years ago when a scout was given bad directions by the leader and had a serious fall, complicated by heavy rain and fear of rising water. Rating: Not known.

Ragnarok – Has a tight vertical rift entrance which drops down 7metres to a small chamber with a further 17 metre pitch to a large chamber with some good decoration. At the far end of the chamber is a vertical rift which is accessed by a short climb, this leads through to another large chamber with a small stream flowing through an impenetrable hole with a good size pool of standing water that appears to have some depth to it. The cave looks like it might go on beyond the pool but it is too tight to enter. Typical Buchan. Thin cavers have it easy in this place!!

Flower Pot – A very tight entrance that nobody I know has ever fit through. Also probably has CO2 due to the environment it is in. RATING unknown

Carolina – A very awkward vertical entrance (a 90-degree twist while in a squeeze whilst on rope with SRT gear on – not easy – I tried and couldn’t do it) down to a horizontal system. Breathtaking decoration was found in a chamber at the bottom of the pitch which it was felt deserved to be protected so cave is gated. Rating: 3 due to hard entrance and gate.

Nightshade

A permit dig site of the VLCT. The name Nightshade came about due to the clumps of Deadly Nightshade growing around the entrance VLCT just left off the Deadly bit.

SUMMARY

There are more caves on the Potholes reserve and Wyatt’s reserve, but these are the main suspects. All up in Murrindal there are now around 400 tagged features. Some include the caves described above and some are just a little hole in some limestone. And everything between the two extremes.

However, digging by various parties continues, especially seeking another way into Elk River Cave, and once you walk around the Potholes you will see the potential, with the number of blind dolines and caves too tight to enter – hundreds of them. Generally, cavers who are pushing new cave are very secretive until the cave is totally exhausted and every lead checked.

There are many more dig sites in the whole Murrindal area some of which are near or above Elk River. Email Parks Victoria or the VSA Digging Committee to discuss how to apply for a dig.