Tasmania is the mecca of Australian Caving, and competes internationally for the beauty of its systems. There are many caving areas in Tasmania, but the most noteworthy are Mole Creek, in the north near Deloraine. Ida Bay & Hastings, which is further south. And Junee Florentine which is nearby to the rugged Mt. Field National Park.

Mole Creek – Generally simple technically and astoundingly beautiful.

Mole creek is mostly a collection of amazingly decorated caves, all of which are very different from each other – the variety is amazing. The main caves that tourists do are generally technically easy apart from one or two exceptions, although not recommended for beginners due mainly to the fact that they are pristine and it takes some degree of experience to move through a cave without touching anything (not touching things to steady yourself as you walk on un-even ground is actually quite hard). 

There are some obvious rules to Tassie caving – It is imperative that you follow the marked trails, or if there is no marking (usually tape) then you follow the obvious tracks in the cave. Do not follow leads, even if they look tempting. Use boot washing stations if you come across them. Take care eating not to drop food scraps. Do not urinate or defecate in the cave, even in running water. Take care to lock gates when you leave. Avoid touching anything unless it is absolutely needed. And most important – bring a good camera and a really bright torch, because you won’t believe your eyes. It is very different to caving in Victoria, or for that matter most of Australia, so be prepared.

Tasmania is COLD! So, dress appropriately. Wet suits are a good idea in many of the caves and try to arrange your trip in Summer. The water temperature is roughly 6 degrees and the air temperature is roughly 9-10 degrees all year round, so wetsuits are often worn in the caves that contain water.

There are a collection of about 10 caves in Mole Creek that are accessed most frequently by mainlanders (although many more exist), but due to how good those 10 are, and shortness of time for most visitors, the others are not often visited by non-locals. All but one or two of these caves are permit only, and gated, due to the fact that they are absolutely pristine, and the we all want it to stay that way.

Also worth noting is a cave called Wet Cave. If you enter this cave 100m in you will come across a tape saying do not go further. Please take note of this. Tasmania has centre of the earth deed which means the landowners own the caves below their property, and Wet Cave is strictly off limits by request of the landowner.

A cave frozen in time

Another cave worth quickly noting in Mole Creek is Baldock’s Cave which was a tourist show cave around 100 years ago, which they shut down by never removed the infrastructure from, and the whole cave was lighted by carbide! So, the result is this labyrinth of pipes and ancient rails and structures.

An old drum used to contain carbide which powered the lamps. Baldocks Cave, Mole Creek.

If you join a caving club no doubt you will have access to more information on Mole Creek. Interestingly Mole Creek is closer to Melbourne than Buchan is, but the bugger is getting there. Access to the Mole Creek caves is more strict that some states and they do individually check to make sure every member is an ASF member, and they are also strict on how many people can be in a cave at once. Kubla Khan which is considered the top trip in Mole Creek (and my favourite cave of all time) has stricter access conditions, including needing an official local leader.

My advice for getting to Mole Creek from the mainland (from Melbourne) is to load up a 4wd (with trailer if needed) with all the caving gear and one driver. That driver takes the ferry on his or her own, and all other participants fly to Launceston where everyone meets first thing in the morning. You can easily be underground by lunch. There is a campground about 30 minutes’ drive from all of the main caves which is perfect and even has a creek running through it to wash your muddy gear at the end of the day. Plenty of other accommodation options too.

If you never do another cave again, make sure you’ve at least gone to Mole Creek!

My advice is book early, especially in holiday periods, and don’t mess the rangers around. Make sure all cavers are reasonably experienced, and also forward the links for the ASF minimum impact caving codes, and other caving codes, which are found on the ASF Website. This really goes for all cavers, in all caves regardless of location, as it is insightful and encourages good underground practices.

Tom (Author) on the final pitch of Midnight Hole, Ida Bay, Tasmania. Photo by Doug Henry

Honeycomb Cave – The ultimate underground playground

The one other cave I will mention in Mole Creek is Honeycomb – This is the ultimate beginners cave, not needing a permit, and you can spend hours down there going round in circles and linking up different parts of the cave to each other. It is Swiss cheese!  It is multi-level and has a stream running at the lowest point, and has about 3 horizontal levels above that, as well as a spectacular daylight hole of about 35m which is bolted for SRT practice. Again I cannot give out the location of Honeycomb but again it is marked on some maps and you will probably be able to find it. A great cave for beginners and so much fun trying to make sense of its layout. As always if you do enter, have a call out time and person on the surface, and have appropriate equipment.

A friendly and knowledgeable local guide by the name of Deb Hunter runs tours in Honeycomb and other caves in Mole Creek. In fact as a local who has lived there for ages, she has access to amazing caves that most visiting mainlanders won’t see. This is her website:

Mole Creek Wild Cave Tours

Deb is a caving club leader who also does commercial trips for tourists.

I am also mentioning Deb as a safety issue. If you are planning a trip to Mole Creek to do wild caves and the weather is looking bad, it is worth contacting her on the safety of doing certain caves in wet (flooding) conditions. She knows what sort of weather patterns cause flooding, and which caves flood quickly, and is usually happy to help visiting cavers. She is a long-term friend of the author so feel free to email me if you would like an introduction, or if you would like to join one of her commercial groups.

Debs tours are terrific, and all of her customers have glowing reports. You don’t need any experience do go on her tours. She is also really involved with the Tasmanian caving scene, and the Mole Creek Caving Club, who are the one of the Tasmanian caving clubs. You can check MCCC out at:

http://www.molecreekcavingclub.org

Go check out Deb Hunter’s Wild Cave Tours in Mole Creek. I guarantee it’ll be the experience of a lifetime.

Ida Bay and Hastings

Ida Bay (and Hastings) is the next major area heading south, but is very different to Mole Creek. The major system in Ida Bay is Exit Cave. This is a long system and for a long time was the longest in Australia, and they battled Mammoth Cave in Jenolan NSW for a while each trying to out-do the other in length. (FYI the longest cave in Australia is now the Bullita Cave System, Northern Territory something like 120kms length but I don’t have an accurate figure for that). There is another major cave in Ida Bay called Mystery Creek Cave, and the surveys of both of these caves come very close to each other. They almost certainly join, but no human has yet passed from one to the other.

The beauty of both these caves is that they have vertical entrances where you can pull the rope through behind you as you abseil down, and you don’t have to prusik back up. The Mini Martin entrance into Exit has a 110m pitch (a rebelay at 10m and then straight down 100m) and the Midnight Hole entrance to Mystery Creek has 5 pitches the last and longest being 59 metres. Both land in gigantic spectacular and huge horizontal systems.

There are other caves in Ida Bay but they are the two main suspects that visitors do. Wolf Hole is another good cave and good to finish the trip on as it is a very straight forward horizontal cave, the only tricky bit being the 25ish metre entrance pitch (one hanging rebelay). And Wolf Hole is near the road so unlike the others I’ve mentioned getting there is easy (although finding it is not). All caves need permits.

If you really know what you are doing, both on the surface and underground, have the detailed maps and surveys, have a good level of fitness, competent SRT skills, and are generally an experienced caver then you can technically go to these caves without a local guide. However, I discourage it. There are too many variables, and the Tassie bush is an unforgiving environment. The STC (Southern Tasmanian Caverneers) are the local club for Ida Bay, so if you are interested they are the place to start.

Fitness is needed for Mystery Creek and Exit Caves as the trips are long and the walking to and from the caves is long and in dense hilly bush, with a lot of gear on your back. Not for beginners or the unfit.

Doug Henry in Midnight Hole. Photo by Peter Freeman.

Junee Florentine

The third area I will mention is the Junee Florentine area. This is hard, wet, technical, deep, cold and basically hard-core caving. The main system is Growling Swallet, which is an unforgiving cold hard and long cave. The deepest caves in Australia are Tachycardia Cave and Niggly Cave, both in this area. They are both of a similar depth of about -395 metres. It is not for the faint hearted. There are several other caves in the area that also approach that depth, and many of them have impressive pitches. They are deep caves for Australia but aren’t anything compared to the European super deep caves. Although to cavers who’ve grown up in Buchan, they are pretty amazing.

New caves, anyone?

Due to the remote location, dense bush and cold, there is much scope in Tasmania for new caves to be found. VSA spent a lot of time in Tasmania and found some of their classic caves back in the 1970’s including the popular Valley Entrance into Exit Cave.

There are other good areas too, but I won’t go into those. Tasmania is great – you can wake up in the morning and choose what type of caving you want. A gentle easy horizontal stream? Or a deep vertical? Or something with both? Anything is possible.

Decoration in Exit Cave, Tasmania. Photo by Doug Henry.

All three areas are must see in radically different ways. Mole Creek is the most beautiful collection of caves I’ve ever experienced, and it really is a must-do!! Ida bay is beautiful and also has the elements of big fun abseils with no need to ascend out for a few of the routes. And Junee has some good challenging stuff for cavers who really want to test themselves. Even if you have to fly from Perth, it’s still worth it.