Western District and Limestone Coast

The Western part of Victoria has a large coastal dune limestone deposit. All the way up and down it is spotted by small caves (often not bigger than a wombat hole, but some are more significant). The most noteworthy are at Bats Ridge.

 

Bats Ridge – Victoria’s second main caving area

Bats Ridge is a moderately large section of quaternary limestone near Portland. The limestone is so soft that it can usually be scratched away with a fingernail, as is most of the limestone in Western Victoria. This softness is both good and bad. It is good for digging as you can chip it away so easily – but it is bad when you are in rockfall with boulders the size of cars above you that will probably fall one day!

The main public caves reserve has several caves of note. These are Chimney Cave, River Cave, Hut Cave, Nearby Cave. There about half a dozen more that are also interesting.

These caves were not exactly named imaginatively. However, they are moderately interesting. There is very little vertical development and no gear is required. The caves are totally suitable for complete beginners and none of the above rate above a level 1. Navigation is easy.

The main problem with Bats Ridge is the local fauna! On one 2-day trip to Bats Ridge, from walking through the dense scrub, we picked up at least 100 leeches each. And these are big tiger leeches which get massive when they have fed. I am unlucky as these leeches make me quite sick in the week following being bitten, but I have not come across anyone else with this problem. The other local to be wary of is tiger snakes, which are especially aggressive at certain times of year, and I’ve known people who have actually been chased by these snakes. Be careful, and take the appropriate medical gear to deal with leech and snake bites.

Diging in Bats Ridge. The soft limestone is a diggers paradise, but watch for unstable rock above you! Photo by Saeamus Breathnach

Diging in Bats Ridge. The soft limestone is a diggers paradise, but watch for unstable rock above you! Photo by Saeamus Breathnach

The other issue is that the scrub is so dense that finding the caves can be difficult. If you do go caving in Bats Ridge please ensure you have a callout to specify the general area you’ll be exploring and leave a marker outside the cave entrance to indicate that’s where you are. A compass is a good idea too, as you will almost certainly lose your sense of direction in the scrub.

Davies Cave System

The Davies System is a relatively recent project by VSA members. It was a poorly explored area when cavers first found it, due to the assumption that it was lots of little caves. But recently VSA have linked up several dozen entrances which were originally not connected, mainly through digging. The system is now the longest in Victoria (see the section on longest and deepest caves). There is still scope for new cave to be found also. Due to the soft limestone, the area is a diggers paradise (with care that you don’t cause a collapse). The system is on private property but VSA has excellent relations with the owners. It is adjacent to the reserve mentioned above although it is not dense scrub and there are less (but still lots of) leeches.

Decoration in Davies Cave, Bats Ridge. Photo by Topaz Aral.

Decoration in Davies Cave, Bats Ridge. Photograph by Topaz Aral

DD4 DD4 is a stream cave in Drik Drik, Western Victoria that has been well explored and ends in a terminal unpassable sump. It is otherwise known as Jones Ridge Cave. Well known sump and cave diver (now deceased) Agnes Milowka dived the sump and was able to add 55m from the furthest roof-sniffable point. Another attempt was made when they took in a pump and some hose to try and drain the sump, which did not work. The limestone is slightly harder than the surrounding limestones but still quite soft. But unlike Bats Ridge DD4 has some excellent decoration. I was lucky enough to be on the trip where we discovered the chamber in DD4 that we later named ‘The Crystal Dome’ which is a magnificent chamber of shimmering pristine calcite.

Only fairly recently, the downstream part of DD4 was found, which is DD31. DD31 is one of the best caves in Victoria according to many, and is a classic sporty long stream cave with plenty of water. It is a very long trip.

Heading further West over the border….

There are more caves just over the border towards Gambier but I won’t detail them as they aren’t Victoria! :) See the menu on South Australia. Everything on this side of South Australia is more of the same – soft young shallow limestone with little to no decoration and little or no vertical development.

Gambier is interesting in terms of cave diving but the dry caves are small, trashed, plain looking, shallow and generally average. Although i will say that a trip to Gambier is good if you are a SCUBA diver as well as a caver, as you can dive in Ewen’s Ponds with a basic open water qualification at any time free of charge, which is amazing!! The visibility is almost perfect – at least 40 metres and the max depth is only about 14 metres in the first pond. Just remember you are less buoyant in fresh water so adjust your weight otherwise you’ll sink like a stone and stir up the silt! Plus it is cold all year round, but a wetsuit does the job.

And you can also snorkel in Piccinninie Ponds which is a dive site over 100m deep, but also amazing to snorkel in. There are lots of wineries too for post caving shenanigans. See more in the South Australian Menu

So between SCUBA, Booze, Dry caves, and Snorkling a trip to Gambier is a nice varied time, instead of just caving for the whole time. Permits are required for all of the caves and times need to be booked for Piccinninie Ponds, with limits on the number of people allowed in at once. And do not dive in Piccinninie unless you have your deep cavern certification. The SA Forestry and Parks folks do come from time to time and check if you are diving illegally. They also check how deep the qualified divers go, as the site is limited to 50 metres – they apparently check your dive computer to see exactly how deep you went.