The Western part of Victoria has a large coastal dune limestone deposit, which goes from roughly Portland all the way to the South Australian border. 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 and Drik Drik.
Bats Ridge – Victoria’s second main caving area
Bats Ridge is a section of quaternary limestone near Portland in Western Victoria. 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! However, Bats Ridge is an excellent place for beginners, as pretty much all the caves are easy, small and don’t need gear of any kind. All these caves are a rating of one on my difficulty scale. It is easy to get lost due to the complex nature of the caves, but you won’t be lost for long.
When we say Bats Ridge, we are talking about the public reserve only. There are other caves nearby on private property (see below). My knowledge of Bats Ridge is not fantastic, as I haven’t caved there much, but the main public caves reserve has several caves of note, which are:
Hut cave is probably the most frequently done cave at Bats Ridge. This is because it is near the car parking area and not far off the main path. Hut has at least two entrances and makes a good through trip, although on my last trip there I couldn’t find the exit despite being in the right area, so I suspect it may have collapsed. Like most of the Bats Ridge caves, unfortunately it is pretty trashed with a lot of graffiti and much damage to decoration. There is at least an hour or two of fun exploration in Hut Cave, with spacious chambers on many nooks and crannies.
Chimney Cave is also frequently explored, again because it is easy to find, but also because it has a very interesting .. you guessed it! A chimney! Which is actually a solution tube from the surface. The tube is fenced off on the surface for safety. For some time, people used it to practice abseiling, but this is now strictly forbidden due to the damage it was causing, and safety issues in general. Chimney is also a good through trip with at least 2 entrances. Watch for snakes at the bottom of the solution tube. Last time I was there, we found at least a dozen frogs at the bottom of the solution tube too. Food for the snakes, I suppose.
River Cave is my favourite. It is the longest in that part of Bats Ridge, with a surveyed length of 1.25km according to the Karst Index. But, the reason I like it is because it has real character, with some sections that obviously have taken water in the past and look like they would be at home with a stream running through. There’s lots to see, and it feels more like an eastern Victorian Limestone cave than the others. Definitely a few hours to see the whole thing.
Another interesting and extensive cave with karst index indicating surveyed length of 900m. This one is a little harder to find. Again, like River Cave it feels a bit like an Eastern Victorian limestone cave. Plenty to see. Hut Cave is not far from Nearby Cave and they may technically be the same cave. That can be said for lots of caves in Bats Ridge.
The other caves of note in the Bats Ridge reserve are: Hammer Cave, Stalactite Cave, BR65, Peter’s Pit, Remembrance Cave and Coulson’s Batt’s Cave, however they are smaller and less significant. There is some good decoration to be found at Bats Ridge but it is sparse and in some instances significantly damaged.
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.
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 GPS is pretty much essential in Bats Ridge, due to the confusing nature of the thick scrub and the fact you can be 10m from a cave and not be able to see it. The foliage is spiky and at the lower elevations dense, and it’s generally tough going.
Davies Cave System
Davies Cave is directly adjacent (and sort of part of) the public Bats Ridge reserve described above. The Davies System is a relatively recent project by VSA members, led by Peter Freeman. 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) at 3750 metres surveyed length.
There is still scope for new cave to be found also. Due to the soft limestone, the area is a digger’s 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.
Davies Cave also takes in Big Cave and Old Cave which have now been linked to the whole system. Big and Old are sometimes described as being on the Bats Ridge public reserve.
Jones Ridge Cave – Drik Drik (DD31 and DD4)
Drik Drik is really known for one system, comprising of two parts. DD4 is the upstream section from the entrance, which is a long stream passage ending in a terminal unpassable sump. Well known sump and cave diver Agnes Milowka dived the sump and was able to add 55m from the furthest roof-sniff-able 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, and the area in general, 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.
Only fairly recently, the downstream part of the system was finally entered, 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 serious trip, with a variety of climbs, squeezes, roof sniffs, and significantly long with a return trip being roughly 7 hours. DD4 and DD31 together also make it one of the longest caves in Victoria. DD31 also ends in rockfall which has not been passed, and what happens to the water is not totally confirmed yet. Recently the DD31 entrance collapsed so work on this cave has paused.
Heading further West
There are lots more small features in the area. The Glenelg River flows through an area of karst and this is being sporadically looked at, some interesting caves are being looked at there. There are many 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.