My recommendation to a lot of people is actually to start caving with a commercial provider or outdoor recreation business. They will give you a gentle introduction to caving, organise everything for you, provide good gear, and give you a taste of what it’s all about. Most importantly, they will be very attentive to your safety so you’ll enjoy the experience more knowing you are safe.
The commercial groups usually frequent Britannia Creek and Labertouche which are two granite caves near Melbourne. However, if you pay a bit more you can go to Buchan or Wee Jasper. They are not cheap but their experience, good equipment, general caving knowledge, and often transport and lunch make it worthwhile.
While there is no affiliation or sponsorship, the author personally recommends David Chitty’s organisation ‘Adventure Guides Australia’. As he is not an official sponsor of Under-Victoria, I cannot supply his information, but he is easily located. He has been running outdoor adventures for years and will cater a trip to your needs. It’s my personal opinion that Adventure Guides Australia is the best commercial caving operator in Victoria. However, there are other providers who I am sure are just as competent and if you read the below you can research it yourself.
Most caving clubs do not want people who are caving to tick it off their list of extreme sports with sky diving and bungee jumping. Clubs only want people with a genuine interest in going underground, who are fit and able and enthusiastic, and will come back and eventually contribute to the club. When a club senses it is a one-off thrill seeker they are usually directed to a commercial outfit. Most if not all clubs run trips with or for beginners, and are not generally paid for their time, so you can understand the frustration of spending huge amounts of time for individuals who don’t ever cave again. In my experience its only around one in twenty beginners who come back and cave regularly for a significant period of time – and interestingly you can usually tell who will come back after only 30 minutes underground with them in their first cave – once you know what to look for you identify the keepers very very quickly.
SO… How do I choose which one to go with? Easy…..
There are many outdoor rec companies who will take you underground, but here are the questions you need to ask when choosing one:
What gear do you supply?
What qualifications does the leader have?
Do you provide transport to and from the caves and lunch?
How long have you been running this trip for?
As mentioned in a lot of this site, it comes back to the ASF Caving Standards, all available on their site.
If you are really keen to vet any commercial caving provider, then you need to look at the Victorian Adventure Activity Standards specific to recreational caving. These and an absolute gold mine of other information on outdoor recreation can be found at http://www.orc.org.au. The AAS Victorian Caving document details everything that a caving provider should be on top of to meet these standards, and any outdoor provider should be able to meet everything in the document. Further to that they should be very aware of these documents and be able to tell you off the top of their heads what the documents main points are.
In my first trip into Labertouche the so-called leader got completely lost and we had to sit, cold and wet for 20 minutes while he tried to find the way. Not fun. To top it off we had been given hand-held dolphin torches, which is ludicrous – when caving you need both hands free, for climbing and crawling etc, and he was charging $180 for the experience. My advice is to ask the above questions and shop around.
University Outdoor/Caving Clubs – A potential winner
If you are a university student of one of the larger well-known universities then I can guarantee that your university’s outdoors club goes caving at least once a year. Often more than once. I have seen Monash Uni, RMIT, Melbourne Uni and Latrobe Uni groups at Buchan on multiple occasions. At the end of 2020 I know that RMIT Outdoors Club are about to become an ASF member, and they are doing loads of caving in Buchan.
The uni clubs have a bad reputation with some people in Buchan due to several alleged incidents over the past decade. Nothing has been proven or admitted, though so I won’t say any more on that, and it’s all water under a bridge anyway. The uni clubs also often camp in the reserve, or stay in other accommodation such as Limestone Lodge instead of going to Homeleigh. Make sure you still use the intentions board at Homeleigh though – that is for everyone.
University Clubs are a great and cheap way to do your first caving. They probably won’t have the same in-depth knowledge about Buchan and it’s history, but that doesn’t matter if you are just starting out. My first Buchan trip was with RMIT, and I never looked back.
Give it a shot!
Give it a shot! I can pretty much guarantee a day to remember, and it might just change your life! The caves that the commercial vendors go to (being Labertouche and Britannia Creek) are just the very tip of the iceberg. They are granite and as such have no decoration (apart from glow worms) but if you find yourself loving it, make it a priority to contact your local club asap and tee up a trip to a limestone caving area.