Next on our list of things to do for the day was a visit to the Wellington limestone caves, the old Phosphate Mine, the Japanese Gardens and whatever other place of interest we might happen upon on the way. To reach the caves we headed east, along Highway 32, for about 1.5km until we saw a sign instructing us to take the next turn on the right to the Wellington Caves Complex.
We parked the car under a shady tree in the carpark and entered the administration office/café/ticket office and booked in for two tours:
- The 12.30pm tour of the Cathedral Cave, and
- The 2.30pm tour of the Phosphate Mine.
We had about 20 minutes before the first tour, so we bought a couple of ice-blocks and fed the natives birds that were in a cage near the BBQ area just outside the door. At 12.30pm on the dot the guide was waiting for us at the small gateway that would lead to the path that would take us to the cave entrance. And off we went, all parties happily chatting amongst ourselves. At the entrance to the cave we immediately came across steps descending down into the cave, which we gladly went down for two reasons:
1. To escape the searing heat of the day outside – the cave was a delightful 18 degrees.
2. To see the wonders that we promised to us in the broacher and to find out more about the cave.
The cave, apparently, was not formed by underground rivers, as most cave systems are, but was formed by rising and lowering ground water over many, many, many years.
The cave was discovered in the 1800s by the white settlers in the area. Unfortunately, the early visitors to the cave didn’t think to far ahead and caused quite a bit of damage to the stalagmites and tites by breaking souvenir pieces of them.
There is one main chamber, in the cave, at the base of the stairs, called the ‘Cathedral’ and at the back of the chamber is a large limestone formation called the ‘Alter’. This formation was once thought to be the largest stalagmite in the world but then they discovered it was not a stalagmite at all. Whatever it is it’s still a sight to see.
The original settlers used to use this chamber as a dance hall/church and had even gone to the trouble of carting buckets of dirt down there to make a smooth floor. There is even a bible, perched on a section of the ‘Alter’ that has been left behind.
Most interesting was the fossils that can be seen in the walls of the lowest cavern we visited in the bottom part of cave system. There is also a second, smaller cave, but it wasn’t open on the afternoon we went. This cave is called the Gaden Cave and is supposed to be the nice of the two to go and view – not that the Cathedral Cave was uninteresting.
Upon exiting the cave we had 1 hour until our next tour, so we headed of in the direction of the Japanese Gardens – located, conveniently, just across the car park. The gardens are a relatively new addition to the complex and the trees still have a bit of growing to do to reach their full splendor.
It was nice to slowly stroll around the stone paths, through arched trellis’s, past gardens planted with many small shrubs and flowers. Birds were chirping and whistling and we sat on the red bench seats, under the pergola, watching the coy fish swim in the small lagoon.
Not an unpleasant way to spend an hour. At 2.30pm we positioned ourselves at the same gateway that lead us to the Cathedral Cave – we were ready for the mine tour – hard hats and all (yep, they’re the yellow fashion accessory they everyone must have).
The Phosphate Mines were dug out in the early 1900s but failed because such a small amount of phosphate was found. The guide went into great detail on how investors were conned out of their money be the money hungry owners of the mine. The old skip tracks still exist in some sections of the mine as do other items of equipment left behind – like an old bucket, cartons that used to contain dynamite and the like.
The main star of our tour had to be the small bat that we discovered, clinging to the rock ceiling, not 6 inches above my head – so cute, although I wouldn’t say that if it bit me. Bones of long lost, extinct, mega fauna animals (we’re talking 2 tonne wombats, large kangaroo type creatures, etc.), from Australia’s ancient past, have been unearthed in the caves and the Phosphate Mine – man this is truly fascinating stuff.
The mine has had many excavations done in some parts and many bone pieces can still be seen in the walls and floor. If you want you can even stay at the caves complex – there are hotel type cabins, caravan and camping sites available at different prices.
The Wellington Caves Complex is open every day except Christmas Day.