Chillagoe Caves in Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park is one of Outback Queensland’s best-kept secrets. The caves are located in Chillagoe, a small town in the Mareeba Shire, just over 200 kilometres west of Cairns in Far North Queensland. Deep underground, Chillagoe Caves is made up of a labyrinth of caves, caverns, and passages. The caves were formed by the dissolving of limestone bedrock over 400 million years.
Chillagoe, once a thriving mining town is now reduced to a small zinc mine and some marble quarries. Its biggest attraction is the world-famous Chillagoe Caves. Visitors take self-guided tours to the Archways, Pompeii, and Bauhinia caves, but to access the impressive Donna, Trezkinn and Royal Arch caves you need a ranger-guided tour. Once an inland sea, the fossilised remains of these ancient coral reefs are a spectacular sight to see.
Leading geologist Professor Ian Plimer boldly proclaimed that the Chillagoe region has the most diverse geology in the world, and it’s not all underground!
The landscape above ground is stunningly rugged with its limestone outcrops and bluffs towering above the dry Queensland Outback. Chillagoe is also known for its mining history and significant aboriginal art sites and is a haven for wildlife, with dozens of bird and animal species. Most people however head to Chillagoe to trek underground and explore the spell-binding natural beauty of the mysterious Chillagoe Caves.
The three main tours to Royal Arch, Donna and Trezkinn caves are under the guidance of a park ranger and each cave has something magical to share.
Royal Arch as the name suggests is grand and impressive. This horizontal cave is easy to explore with a 600m walk taking you through eleven chambers to one of the largest cave systems in Chillagoe. You’ll catch glimpses of darting bats, naturally sculptured limestone formations and ancient marine fossils.
Donna Cave is renowned for its ‘false floors’ and features beautiful limestone columns, calcite crystals and a cave decoration in the form of the Madonna.
At the entrance to Trezkinn Cave, take a moment to enjoy the outstanding views of the Chillagoe landscape. Once inside the cave, a steel catwalk encircles a huge central mass of limestone. The walk is about 150m and includes 520 steps, some very steep. There is a reward for the hardy trekkers though, with the sight of a majestic 'chandelier' formation.
Chillagoe Caves have a rich Indigenous and European history. Indigenous peoples have known about these caves for thousands of years and consider them culturally significant. European exploration began in the mid-1800s, and the caves were used for various purposes, including mining of minerals like marble and copper. The remnants of these activities can still be seen in some of the caves.
While some caves at Chillagoe can be explored independently, it is recommended to join guided tours for a safe and informative experience. These tours are led by experienced guides who provide insights into the caves' geological formations, history, and ecology. Some caves may also have restricted access to protect their fragile ecosystems.
The Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park area boasts between 600 and 1,000 limestone caves and is the main tourist attraction in the small township of approximately 250 people.
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