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Home > Travelogues > 2010-2017 Travelogues Index > Augusta > Jewel Cave and Caves of the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge

Caves of the Augusta Margaret River area - The Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge

The Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge in the Margaret River Region is dotted with over 150 limestone caves, most of which are not open to the public.  Other caves in Western Australia are listed on Wikipedia Caves of Western Australia, although most of these are not open to the public.  Those listed as Augusta, Cowaramup, Margaret River, Witchcliffe, and Yallingup are all in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste karst area.


Those that are readily open to tourists are:


Ngilgi Cave at Yallingupwhich was the first cave I ever toured, is the most visited.  Even though I was a pre-school child, I still remember the fascination of seeing the formations, walking into a dark cavern and the guide turning a light on The Shawl, the guide telling us to remember that Stalactites are the ones that have to hang on tight and that Stalagmites are the ones that might reach the Stalactites one day.  Ngilgi Cave offers a stunning display of stalactite, stalagmite, helictite and shawl formations plus an interpretive area detailing the Cave's rich history. Today you can enjoy semi-guided tours and a range of other experiences including awesome adventure caving and torchlight tours. Ngilgi Cave is the northernmost cave open to the public in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste karst. This cave was officially opened to the public in December 1900, being the first cave open to visitors in Western Australia.  See the Story of Ngilgi.


We visited Jewel Cave which is 37 kilometres south of Margaret River and nine kilometres north of Augusta, this cave sinks to a reachable depth of 42 metres and is 1.9 kilometres long.  It is the largest cave open to the public in Western Australia, but only 40% has been developed for display.  Tours are guided.  High carbon dioxide levels are present in Jewel Cave. 


Jewel Cave was discovered in 1957 by Augusta local Cliff Spackman who lowered himself through a small hole in the top to the floor 42 metres below. It was officially opened to the public in May 1960 and Cliff served as Chief Guide for the next 24 years.


Jewel Cave has one of the longest straw stalactites found in any tourist cave in the world at 5.4 metres, a huge area of flowstone that resembles a karri forest, and a stalagmite weighing some twenty tonnes. There are, in addition to stalagmites and stalactites, tectite’s (which run sideways), straws, flowstones, shawls, and the unusual pendulites (lumps on the ends of straws which form when the straw reaches water level). 


In 2011, cavers discovered the footprints of the extinct Tasmanian tiger in a cave in Western Australia. The extremely rare footprints were found in soft mud in Augusta’s Jewel Cave while taking water samples in a remote area of the cave. They were discovered right next to where the bones of a Tasmanian tiger or thylacine were found in the 1960’s.


The man who made the discovery, caver and environment project manager for Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association Lindsay Hatcher said finding any type of footprint in a cave is extremely rare. "Thylacines footprints have never been found in any other cave in WA and probably not in any other cave in Australia," Mr Hatcher said.


Animals can fall through holes in the roof of a cave.  If they survive the impact, they are trapped and starve to death.  


Striped like a tiger and with powerful jaws that opened up to an unusual 120 degrees, Tasmanian tigers were the size of a kelpie dog and one of only two marsupials the other a water opossum with pouches in both sexes.


Lake Cave and Cave Works Discovery Centre  is eighteen kilometres south of Margaret River along Caves Road. 


At  Cave Works Discovery Centre, visitors can walk through a cave model featuring a flowing stream. Interactive touch screens allow visitors to explore subjects such as cave speleothems (formations), bones of our distant past and historical information. Universally accessible boardwalks lead to a viewing platform where visitors can glimpse into the depths of Lake Cave.


Lake Cave has a series of stairways and paths that descend through a large doline or ‘crater’ with huge karri trees growing from its depths.  The cave’s lake never dries up. It is heavily decorated with fragile white calcite straws, shawls, stalactites and stalagmites. A prominent feature is the Suspended Table, a large flat area of flowstone supported just above the lake from above by two large columns. Guided tours can be taken. 
Bride Cave: Bride Cave access track is around 700 metres north of Giants Cave, on the west side of Caves Road, and it is not signed.  From the Bride Cave viewing platform, you look down into the thirty metre diameter doline containing the cave entance. The only way in is to abseil down 42 metres to the entrance.  Abseiling is by permit only and is managed by the Department of Parks and Wildlife. Groups of school students or outdoor adventure camp participants abseil down from either of the purpose-built metal platforms. A hundred years ago, Bride Cave was a tourist cave that had an impressive set of wooden stairs into it. 

Giants Cave is nineteen kilometres south of Margaret River along Caves Road.  Giants Cave is one of the biggest and deepest caves in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge.  Giants Cave is a self-guided and unlit cave and visitors walk through and leave the cave the other side of Caves Road.  Negotiate vertical ladder climbs and rock scrambles, tight spots and gigantic chambers, natural cave floor and constructed walkways, for 575 metres in the 86 metre deep Giants Cave.  


Special features found in Giants Cave.  The entrance to Giants Cave is an impressive doline 100 metres in diameter, formed by the collapse of the cave roof.  The Ballroom is a highlight of the cave, a forty metre long chamber with a sandy floor, which is a former stream bed.  The floor was once coated by a fine layer of calcite crystals, but those fragile crystals were destroyed by the feet of the cave visitors. From the Ballroom a rather narrow and steep passage leads upwards through a rockpile, a collapsed part of the cave. This connection was discovered in 1958, but it became dangerous by numerous visitors climbing through the rockpile, dislodging rubbles. In 1993 ladders were installed to bypass the danger zone. The rockpile ascend leads to the Arborite Chamber with its impressive size and decoration. Arborites are massive calcified tree roots hanging from the roof of this chamber. The word arborite is a combination of arbor, the Latin word for tree, and stalactite. These formations are coloured by minerals and tannins from the plants. There also many speleothems made of moon milk, a white and soft stalagmite, which is very porous.


Calgardup Cave is a self-guided unlit cave. Torches, helmets and a safety briefing are provided by the Visitor Centre staff before entering the cave. It is an easy cave to visit with elevated platforms, stairs and railings to descend 27 metres into this 300 metre long cave.  A seasonal lake with mirror-like reflections can be seen from spring through to summer. After winter rains when you can also hear the seasonal stream trickling through the cave.  Calgardup Cave is thirteen kilometres south of Margaret River along Caves Road. 


Coming soon:  A visit to Calgardup Cave 2018.


Mammoth Cave is fifteen kilometres south of Margaret River along Caves Road, and has a self-guided audio tour.  Entry is made via a wide boardwalk which allows some disabled access into the first cavern. Formations include the Mammoth shawl and the “Karri Forest” flowstone which seems to resemble the unique karri trees of the Augusta Margaret River region. Mammoth Cave is home to the largest Megafauna (large extinct marsupials) fossil deposits in Australia. Ten thousand specimens were recovered by the WA Museum in the early 1990s. The jawbone of an extinct marsupial Zygomaturus about the size of a cow is visible in the wall of this cavern.  If you visit during winter, you will see a stream flowing through the cave which is stained red from natural tannins.

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Above photos taken in the Jewel Cave.  A closer photo of the large stalactite (above) further down the page.
Jewel Cave is rich in a broad variety of speleothems including stalagmites and stalactites, helictites of irregular shape and direction, tectite’s which run somewhat horizontally, straws, flowstones, shawls, and the unusual pendulites.  We chose to visit the Jewel Cave.
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This horizontal crack was as a result of an earth tremor in Jewel Cave.  There are some past fractures evident in columns. 
The tip of a large sparkling and multi coloured shawl.  Colouration come from vegetation stains in the water seepage that has formed the shawl, such as tannin from leaves. Calcite crystals give the sparkle.
This flowstone is known as the Karri Forest flowstone due to the shape.  Look at the top of the formation central in the photograph, and see the tree-like shapes, like tall straight tree trunks with branches at the top.   
Delicate shawls hanging with the appearance of soft fabric rather than the hard stone that comprises these formations.

Photo on display of boating in a water filled cave.  The water table has lowered so much that Jewel Cave remains a dry cave. Aquatic cave life is at risk with the drying climate diminishing water levels in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste caves.    


Jewel Cave was named after a smaller section known as the Jewel Casket and its crystal formations. Here the formation at centre is called the Frozen Waterfall. 


Fascinating and beautiful pendulums formed on the ends of these dedicate straws.  These are formed when the growing straw hit the water level.  This shows how high water levels used to rise to in Jewel Cave. 
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There is other evidence of past earth movements in Jewel Cave, such as tilted stalagmites and rock falls.
Karri tree roots penetrate the roof of the cave and reach the floor 42 metres below.
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