Saturday, February 16, 2013

Margaret River Underground

Margaret River is a beautifully unique area of the world. It is home to a myriad of species indigenous only to here, amazing wine, great beaches and surf, and unique geology. Contained entirely within the Margaret River region, Leeuwin-Nauraliste National Park is home to several hundred caves. The majority of the region's caves are highly protected by the Australian government, and either cannot be accessed or are accessible only by experiences cavers and scientists holding permits.
Fortunately, six have been opened to the public.

I've been fortunate to tour through several caves around the world. It's such a magical experience entering into these structures that have been slowly growing for thousands and thousands of years. So, visiting Margaret River's caves was definitely on my pre-vintage to-do list; I opted to purchase an Ultimate Pass from the Margaret River Tourism Association; this gives entry to 3 caves and a tour of the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse anytime during a seven-day period, all for just $85. Since everything is so close,  I decided to get an early morning start and make a day of it.

Mammoth Cave - This is the first cave reached when traveling south from Margaret River township along the aptly named Caves Road. This was also the region's first cave discovered in 1850 and has been open to the public since 1904. You can explore the cave via a self-guided tour using an MP3 player. I was least impressed with this cave, though it was beautiful and is the only one where explorers have discovered fossils from animals and humans (aboriginals used the cave as a safety from poor weather, etc.). Actually, the highlight of this cave for me was the adjoining Marri Trial; the cave's exit drops you off right at the trial head that leads through a really nice Jarrah-Karri forest before looping back to the car park.
Lake Cave - Just a few kilometers south of Mammoth Cave can be found Lake Cave. I scheduled on the next tour and had a half hour to spend enjoyying the CaveWorks information centre here; this provides a history of caving in the region, the geology of caves, and a nice view into the massive doline (cave entryway). When it was time, I descended the long staircase dropping past massive Karri trees; the doline is estimated to have open only 1,000 years ago and some of these trees inside our hundreds of years old. Lake Cave is the smallest but most stunning cave of the three I toured; it is the most active cave in Margaret River and is the only one home to a permanent lake. Its 'suspended table' is the largest of only a few examples of this type of formation in the world; several tonnes of rock are suspended above the lake floor by 2 columns.
Jewel Cave - This the largest cave open to the public in Margaret River and composed of four massive chambers. It was only a 15-minute drive down from Lake Cave, so I enjoyed the adjacent Karri Trial before the next tour began. Jewel Cave's main claim to fame is one particular pencil-thin structure called a straw; it is one of the longest in the whole world and has been actively growing for over 55,000 years. Along with this, a myriad of amazing structures compose this cave.
 After my caving adventure, I continued south from Jewel Cave to the small town of Augusta. I'll discuss my afternoon there in a following post.

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