Mammoth Cave, Western Australia




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One of the highlights of the Margaret River Region about 300 kilometres south of Perth, Australia is a series of caves stretching from Dunsborough to Augusta. There are over a hundred of them and four have been developed as tourist attractions.  These are the Ngilgi Cave near Yallingup, the Mammoth and Lake Caves not far from the town of Margaret River, and the Jewel Cave down towards Augusta.

Entrance to the Mammoth Cave near Margaret River, Australia

On our recent visit to Margaret River we visited the Mammoth Cave.  The name is ironic because, as caves go, it is on the small side. It runs 500 meters with a depth of 30 meters, although there is a side passage to explore as well. The Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, by contrast, has the longest network of surveyed passageways in the world – 640 kilometers of them!

The first chamber you see on entering the cave.

But despite its compact size, this is an interesting cave to visit. It is the most easily accessible of the four public caves in the Margaret River region and we had no trouble trekking our two year old grand daughter with us. The trail through the cave consists of wooden boardwalks with steel handrails. The first chamber is accessible by wheelchair, though subsequent chambers and passages require the navigation of stairs.

The four public caves are all connected by the aptly named Caves Road. You can get tickets for a single cave or for two or more of them. The distance between the two farthest apart, the Ngilgi Cave and the Jewel Cave, is 83.8 kilometers so all are easily accessible in one day. And Caves Road is one of the nicest drives in the region passing by rolling meadows and sheep and cattle farms in the North to magnificent marri and karri forests in the south.

A marri forest surrounds the Mammoth Cave.

The Mammoth Cave is one of the few in the region to have fossils and was an active paleontological dig in the early 1900s for its record of the Pleistocene era. This includes the Zygomaturus, a pre-historic marsupial that looked like a pygmy hippopotamus.  There is a fossil of a jawbone of the creature in the cave but I had a hard time distinguishing it from the surrounding rock.

Inside the cave, on the other side of the first chamber,  you’ll find a set of stairs leading to an upper chamber.

A set of stairs take you to the top of the chamber to see the area beyond.

All along the cave walls beautiful stalactites hang down like icicles.

Beautiful stalactites are everywhere in the cave.

The cave is interesting in that its stalactites and stalagmites do not all point straight up and down. This is because parts of the cave ceiling have broken off and fallen to the floor below over the years and, of course, they didn’t land straight.

Note the stalactites on the left and the ones on the right point in different directions. Two giant rock masses collapsed off the ceiling here resulting in this odd formation.

One interesting formation in the cave is a yellow-orange flowstone. You can only see it from a distance but such sheet formations are not uncommon. The colours derive from tannins in the water flowing over the rock.

A colourful flowstone in the Mammoth Cave.

I was at a bit of a quandary taking pictures in the cave as the cave is fairly well lit and you can take pictures with flash off. But pictures using flash show up quite differently. Most of the pictures I took with flash off. This is what you actually see when visiting. But using a flash removes the effects of the artificial lighting and shows the rock formations in their actual colour – a whitish-grey. Note the difference between the picture above, taken without flash, and the one below of the same flowstone with flash.

Same photo of the flowstone taken with flash.

The Mammoth Cave is a bit different from the other three publicly accessible caves in that the others are all single access – you go into the cave, explore it, and come back out. The Mammoth Cave is a through cave. You go in one end and come out at a different location.

It used to be a single access cave but a collapsing sinkhole created an egress about a half a kilometer from the entrance.

Towards the sinkhole egress, natural light allowed  moss and lichens to cover the rocks along the stream that runs into the cave.

The sinkhole is a deep one and a series of stairs go up 160 steps to the top.

The top of the sinkhole from down below.
Looking into the sinkhole from the top of the stairs.

The sinkhole covers a large area and you can see the limestone formations surrounding the hole.

Limestone formations surround the sinkhole. This is a composite of three photos.

Emerging from the cave we arrived at an exit gate and found out we had come out on the other side of Caves Road. We crossed and had a choice of two walks back to the visitor center, a long one – 600 meters, and a short one – 200 meters. With a toddler in tow we opted for the shorter one. Both take you through a beautiful expanse of marri forest, a lovely walk to end an interesting visit.

Along the walk through the marri forest.

We enjoyed our tour and on a return visit, I’d like to explore the other caves as well.  This was the first cave I had seen since 1980 when my wife and I visited the Oregon Caves.  Some day I’d like to see some of the really big ones, like the Carlsbad Caverns or Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave.

Be sure to check out the Photo Gallery for more pics.

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Photo Gallery: Mammoth Cave, Western Australia




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Here are some additional photos from our visit to the Mammoth Cave in Western Australia. The one above is looking at the sinkhole from near the exit.

The first chamber we entered. This photo was taken with a flash. Compare it to the one without flash in the original blog post.
Some of the limestone formations in the cave.
More stalactites.
Stalactites and stalagmites reaching towards each other.
Large stalactites.
The ceiling of one of the chambers.
With flash, the rock formations show their true whitish grey colour.
There is something surreal and beautiful about caves.
The exit from the cave.
Looking down into the sinkhole.
The staircase into the sinkhole. This is a composite picture.

That concludes our look at Mammoth Cave.



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Where Two Oceans Meet




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How many oceans are there and can you name them? Most people can come up with three – the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. They are, in fact, the largest. But there are two more – the Arctic Ocean and the Southern Ocean.

The Southern Ocean is sometimes called the Antarctic Ocean. It is so-called because it blankets the southern hemisphere, encircling the continent of Antarctic. The boundaries, however, have shifted over time.

The_shrinking_Southern_Ocean
By Cruickshanks (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The first map published by the International Hydrographic Association in 1928 had the northern boundaries touch Cape Horn, the southern end of Africa and the entire southern portion of Australia. That’s the area marked as the Great Australian Bight on the map. Since then the boundaries have been progressively moved south. Australia, however, still considers the body of water to their immediate south as the Southern Ocean.

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

In any event, the last place we visited on our Margaret River road trip in March 2016 was to the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse near Augusta. This historical beacon was opened in 1895. Today it is a fully automated lighthouse. While the tower itself is closed to the public, the grounds are not. For a nominal fee you can get headphones for a guided audio tour.

The colorful history of the site is related on the audio tour as well as on signs along the way. The numerous outbuildings are explained. They include the lighthouse keeper’s cottage.

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The lighthouse keeper’s cottage. Now just a relic as the lighthouse is fully automated.

But what is of particular interest is that Cape Leeuwin is the most south-westerly point in Australia. It marks the point where the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean meet. Like the folks who denounced the deplanetification of Pluto, the Australians will tell those who deny the Southern Ocean borders their country, “Bight me!”

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Although you can walk around the lighthouse, you cannot go up the tower. But there are walkways all around.  And signage describes the history and the landmarks to note.

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Two oceans meet. That’s no ocean, you say? Bight me!

We took the steps down to the rocks below. Access is blocked but it is easy to get through the fence. The wind and the waves are a beautiful sight.

Looking out at the junction of two oceans
Looking out at the junction of two oceans

On our walk back we once more passed an interesting piece of pop art – a cow with a telescope. It’s called Moorine Marauder. A nearby sign tells the story: From March to June 2010, 85 cows were positioned across the Margaret River Region as part of the world’s largest public art event “Cow Parade”. In July 2010 the cows were auctioned off with the proceeds going to regional beneficiaries and charities.

Moorine Marauder
Moorine Marauder

Similar pop art festivals have been held in Vancouver and other cities. Of the 85 cows, a great many ended up in the town of….. Cowaramup, of course. Pictures will show up in a future post.

And always with an eye out for the weird and whacky, it seems their were some hippy wannabes visiting the lighthouse. At least if their van is anything to go by!

The Dope Fiend Van. Note the good advice on the back panel.
The Dope Fiends Van. Note the good advice on the back panel. A company called Wicked Campers rents out these colorful vehicles.

The lighthouse marked the end of our road trip and we headed back to our rented house for the night and back to Perth in the morning. But we encountered one more interesting sight on the drive back. Tree huggers! Literally! We were driving through a heavily forested area and came across several dozen people standing in the woods hugging trees.

A bunch of tree huggers! Literally!
A bunch of tree huggers! Literally! Note the two at the far right.
Cutaway close-up of two tree huggers from the earlier photo.
Cutaway close-up of two tree huggers from the earlier photo.

We didn’t stop to chat, just snapped a couple of quick pics as we passed, so I don’t know what this was all about. There was a parking lot with some cars and a bus. A school outing perhaps? Some eccentric back-to-nature group? We don’t know.

We’ll close off with a few more photos. We enjoyed the drive out to Augusta. It’s only about 50 kilometres from the town of Margaret River but much of it is windy road. And there are other stops along the way. On the way out we stopped for lunch at a berry farm that sells home-made jams. More on that with pics in a later post.

Looking up at the lighthouse
Looking up at the lighthouse
A spectacular and rare two ocean view
A spectacular and rare two ocean view
Another view of two oceans
Another view of two oceans
Looking back at the lighthouse from the rocky shore
Looking back at the lighthouse from the rocky shore
A plaque commemorating early Dutch explorers to the region
A plaque commemorating early Dutch explorers to the region
A last look at the forest full of tree huggers though only a few are visible here
A last look at the forest full of tree huggers though only a few are visible here

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