Visiting the Nullabor Caves has been something we have wanted to do for some time. It is commonly believed that there are only a few caves along the Eyre Highway and while most caves are within reach of the highway there are many more than you can count.
The most well known are the Konalda caves, which also has a free camping area at the old homestead. These caves were once part of the Konalda Homestead which was abandoned in 1988 and is now falls under the protectorate of the South Australian National Parks. The homestead still sits out on the vast Hampton Plain, in solitary isolation, a testament to pioneers who struggled with nature to tame the Oondiri. For decades the lakes of the Konalda caves fed the pioneering endeavours of the Homesteaders. Today you can visit the old homestead made of rail sleepers and the large shearing shed of yesteryear where you can still find fleece scattered around the pens, testament to industry of the pioneers.
Not far up the track is the main Konalda cave, which is now locked for safety reasons. It is a vast and deep collapsed Doline and nearby you can see many other depressions scattered amongst the mounds built by wombats. It is a charming step back into another world, one that has been defeated by time and isolation. However you can still visit the Murrawijinie caves that are open to the public and also within the Nullarbor Plains NP SA.
When considering which caves to visit and after much research, we decided that a sprinkling of the more accessible caves would suit us. We are not the fittest, nor healthiest of people and while the caves of the Oondiri attract many world-class cave divers they are not without their risks. People and animals regularly die down there in the vast dark rivers of the underworld.
We found the safest and most accessible of caves was the Madura Cave, which sits down on the Roe Plain and is open to a careful scramble. You can find out more about visiting the cave at Madura Roadhouse. Once more I stress… people and things have died in these caves. They are also commonly inhabited by the wild animals of the Oondiri. Kangaroos and dingo’s seek shelter from the fierce heat of the day, snakes inhabit the dark corners and colonies of bats are a common sight. It is the world of insects, of creepy crawlies and most certainly of serpents. Beware.
The vast limestone karst, which is the Nullabor, is a fragile and beautiful thing. It sinks deep below the surface of the plain and can be easily seen at the magnificent Bunda Cliffs between Eucla and the Nullarbor Road House. This limestone karst also goes to form the pristine fine white sands of the beaches along the Baxter cliffs and Roe Plains but beneath the tablelands it is treacherous.
For millions of years the surface water has easily seeped into the desert karst giving the plains the reputation of “the waterless lands”. This often treacherous runoff has built vast rivers and caverns in the dark zones of the earth and this can be seen in many of the collapsed Dolines of the region. Sinkholes are everywhere, as are the treacherous blow-holes when the Oondiri breathes, capturing its prey easily, sucking life into its dark world.
Presently the caves of the Oondiri are classed as “wild caves” which means they are largely unsupervised and extremely dangerous. Their very remoteness is their attraction to many however and many have fallen or been sucked to their deaths. This included the many different animals of the eons. Vast caverns have been discovered that hold skeletons of the megafauna of our prehistory.
Some of these creatures are unknown to science, other unseen on the mainland for thousands if not millions of years. As they are being excavated and examined they are understandably closed to the public as they provide a core of understanding about Australia’s little known pre-history.
They no longer name the caves, for their own protection they are numbered. Such is the vastness of their number that few people truly understand the nature of the caverns of the Dreamtime.
To quote one reference:
“The three caves have been open for the last 750,000 years, and during this period the caves have occasionally captured a stray animal that has walked too close to the edge, or has been caught in the winds when the caves breathed in. It all has to do with air pressure. Below the surface the caves hold a lot of air, which can only escape through a small opening in the earth. When a High Pressure system moves in from the west, over the Nullarbor, the air rushes into the cave at a speed of up to 70km/hr. When a low pressure system moves in, the cave blows out. The bigger the pressure gradient, the stronger the cave “breathes”. Once inside the cave, there was no return for the unfortunate animals who died in its depths to become fossils.
They are indeed a magical place, and it is a privilege to visit the caves of the Oondiri. Explorers must be aware though that it is essential to advise the Station Managers or Owners when you leave the main Road to explore their holdings. Please ensure you contact the correct people and gain the necessary permissions.
It is a world however that will leave an indelible memory in your thoughts. A strange realization of a world about which so little is known. To give you some concept of the caves I have picked one cave, known to adventurers as ‘Bush Camp Cave’ but which now carries a more recent name. It is a closed and dangerous cave having recently experience collapses and much movement but prior to this it was extensively mapped.
We were able to visit the collapsed Doline entrance and watch the emergence of wildlife at sunset and sunrise … in itself a memorable experience and one we will carry for some time. We are not cave explorers of a serious bent… climbing down into a collapsed doline was certainly not on our agenda and venturing into these places requires serious equipment. The caves are dangerous, unstable and prone to flooding in the quick movement of water within the caves of this vast Aussie karst. Attempt it only with experience and others to assist.
Novels About Australian Caverns:
I am an author and writer and I write from research and experience. I have written two series of fictional novels about Australian cavern and caves, those of the Dreamtime. You will find info on these in “The Dreaming Series” and the newer “Spriit Children” series.
The Dreaming Series is about traditional Aboriginal Lore, set in contemporary times. In this first series you can come to understand this ancient Lore as it introduces you to its mysteries slowly. The Spirit Children are those born of the Dreaming. The first book of this second series is about exploring this ancient Lore of the Dreamtime as young Jeremy, a child of the Dreaming in his culture, a boy wanting very much to become a man, becomes a young Shaman. He discovers this new and hidden world and you can take this journey with him.
Book 1 “Lands Edge” enters a world known to few and understood by even fewer. While book 2, “Though Other Eyes” reveals what is hidden to many teens just entering the world of adults. Tom, also a child of The Dreaming, who is now a man, will take you on the same journey as Jeremy took although it will be through the eyes of an adult. It will surprise you what the adult experience can reveal.
Announcing Book 3 “Fire Mountain”.This is Kirri’s story and will be released in 2016. Join in the adventure of a lifetime and discover a hidden world.