Chillagoe, north Queensland, Australia
Jan (and his beast of a 4x4)
Weekend Trip 18/19 October 2003
On the Friday evening a few quick phonecalls to the President of the Chillagoe Caving Club a guy called Alan Cummins, the Secretary Mark Tischler who was staying in Chillagoe and Carol the caretaker of the hut, and I had arranged a caving weekend. Left Cairns Saturday midday on the Kennedy Highway west, with 250km to make into the outback. Report and Pics by Jan.
As we climbed down into the hole I couldn't help noticing lots of spiders, with distinctive black and white markings. Are these spiders poisonous? I ask. Well they aren't agressive, so don't worry, is Mark's reply.
Cairns to Chillagoe
Leaving Cairns involves a very windy slog along Kennedy Highway up over the great dividing range to Karunda. I was just getting used to driving the large 4x4 and locals were trying to climb into my exhaust pipe every few Kms. Then its a boring drive to Mareeba where I stopped for a coffee and supplies. I also e-mailed some people to tell them what I was doing and when I would be back, just in case. It was then just 130km to Chillagoe and the local caving club where I had arranged with Carol the care-taker to stay the night. The women in the cafe reckoned it was 2 hours and I had just that before it got dark. I knew some of the road was dirt track and I didn't want to meet any road trains, especially at night.
Apart from the cows, which you didn't know when to expect - you could come round a corner and they would happily standing in the middle of the road, the route to Almaden about 50km from Chillagoe was pretty fast. There were a few dead wallabies by the roadside aswell, some pretty big, probably taken out by the road trains with their huge fenders, without even noticing. From Almaden it was dirt track, but quite well graded, until the rains come that is. There were a fair number of flood ways crossing the road.
I arrived in Chillagoe just as it was getting dark, Carol had cooked dinner for me. I was pretty bushed so after quick beer in the local I headed to bed.
"...consciousness hadn't quite reached my brain, I gulped down my coffee and we headed off..."
At 7am, Mark the club secretary and guide for the morning, arrived to take me caving. Consciousness hadn't quite reached my brain, I gulped down my coffee and we headed off on the gravel roads at high speed. In his battered 4X4 along the way he explained there were about 500 surveyed caves in the area, but we couldn't do the main caves as they were inside the national park and we didn't have permits. But he was keen to explore a shaft he had discovered with is son he didn't think anyone had been down. We eventually came off the road onto a vague track into the bush weaving through big termite hills, headed towards two lumps of tower karst. When we reached the right hand lump we continued on foot, around the base there were several holes which Mark looked at with interest, and I looked at with unease. The holes were all guarded by webs, spanned right across and about 5 deep, each holding a fat spider with distinct black and white stripes. We then turned and started clambering through thick bush and over rocks making our way up to the left hand lump, it was pretty spiky stuff, on a couple of occasions I was walking over rocks which would have quite happily diced me up if I slipped. We eventually found the shaft and chimneyed the first bit, the rock was very grippy. A very convenient natural then allowed us to rig the ladder down, with another bit of a climb at the bottom. At the bottom Mark had good and bad news, the cave seemed to continue under a rock arch unfortunately there was a cairn, someone had already been and surveyed the cave probably coming in from a different way.
We explored the cave for an hour or so, it was quite extensive and we found another entrance, but it was a vertical chimney choked with some rocks.
After de-rigging Bridge Cave we had a quick look at another walk in cave with some good formations. Which included a large mushroom. By the time we came out it was getting really hot we headed back to the truck and drove back to Chillagoe. Withsuch an early start and despite the long return journey ahead I felt an overwhelming urge to do some faffing, this is of course a natural reaction. I made a cup of coffee and sat chilling in the garden eating biscuits.
Back to Cairns
I was just leaving Chillagoe when a big truck pulled up, about 15mins down the road it reappeared in my rear-view mirror and going a lot faster than I was. I pulled off the road and it shot past in a cloud of dust, this is recommended because the truck's generally take up the whole road would rather squash you than risk there cargo. Continuing back I turned North at Mareeba, towards Mossman, dry bush gave way to mountains and rainforest a road called the Rex Highway brought me back over the dividing range and wound steeply down with amazing views of the sea. Randomly I decided to stop in Port Douglas and ended up going for an evening swim off 4-mile Beach. The rest of the journey back was interesting in the dark, along captain Cook Highway, another excessively winding road right along the coast. My final stop before Cairns, was an exposed lookout on a headland, to look at the stars and listen to the waves crashing on the beach below, boat lights blinking out on the barrier reef.
Many thanks to the Chillagoe Caving Club for allowing me to stay in their club hut, and giving a guide of the local caves.