Saturday, 9 March 2019

Calgardup Cave (Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park)

A short but enjoyable cave walk, Calgardup Cave is one of the few self-guided caves in Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. Descending to a middle junction point, the trail explore the two caverns of Calgardup Cave. Almost completely boardwalked, the trail explores undergrounds streams, low ceiling caverns and impressive cave formations throughout. While small, this is an excellent short walk option in the Margaret River region

Distance: 300 metres (return)
Gradient: Some moderates ascent and descents over the entire length of the cave, with some low ceilings in sections
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained throughout, with boardwalks throughout
Quality of Signage: Clear and easy to follow signage, with a map at the junction platform and information panels throughout
Experience Required: No Previous Experience Required
Time: 30-60 minutes
Steps: Many steps throughout. Not wheelchair accessible
Best Time to Visit: All year round
Entry Fee: Yes; tickets must be purchased to enter the cave
Getting There: From Margaret River, take Boodjidup Rd west to Caves Rd and then turn left onto Caves Rd. Continue 5.2 kilometres down Caves Rd to the Calgardup Cave car park

With my public holidays lined up with Victoria rather than Western Australia, a return visit to the Margaret River Region seemed like the perfect way to both spend the long weekend and to celebrate Alissa's birthday. While we had only just been to the area two weeks earlier, there was so much more that we wanted to do and a longer stay meant being able to explore a bit further afield.

Although Alissa and I have visited most of the caves in the Margaret River area, they have always been the show caves with their dramatic lighting and guided tours. It was only fairly recently that it dawned on us that we'd never explored the lesser known self-guided caves in the area. Having thoroughly enjoyed our three day cave trek on the Wild Tu Lan Cave Explorer in Vietnam in 2018, we decided to check out the two self-guided caves since the more independent approach made the experience more similar to a gorge walk than the stop-start nature of a tour.

Closer to Margaret River, we decided to check out Calgardup Cave first. A relatively small cave, Calgardup Cave is north of the more famous Mammoth Cave. Following a short boardwalk from the ticketing office, the trail leads down into the cave via a series of steps.

To protect the cave from damage, the entrance is carefully locked to prevent unauthorised entry.

From the gate, another series of stairs lead down into the main junction platform in Calgardup Cave. From the platform, Calgardup Cave splits off into two there and back side trips. Knowing that the more crystal-filled cavern was to the left, Alissa and I decided to go explore the right side of the cave first.

Alissa, always having a keen eye for the smaller details, stopped me before I went down the stairs upon seeing a little frog a few stairs below the main platform. Perhaps due to poor eyesight or being used to human visitors, the frog seemed completely unfazed by our presence and allowed me to get pretty close to photograph it.

After photographing the frog, Alissa and I continued down the considerable flight of stairs to the main open part of the right side's chamber. The presence of amphibians is unsurprising when you realise that this main chamber is a sometimes filled with water thanks to a seasonal stream. Being early March, the stream was not flowing at the time of our visit but we could see how large and impressive the wet chamber would be during the wet season.

Down in the stream chamber, the lack of water didn't take away from the area's beauty. The cave was covered with stalactites and straws, which showed that this is still an active cave.

A major feature of this chamber is a massive formation that looks like the shard from a snapped column. The huge shard-like formation seems to defy gravity and Alissa and I were glad that people weren't allowed to just walk through the cave as this formation would almost definitely be destroyed by careless people.

Leaving the stream chamber, the cave's ceiling lowers as the cave becomes a narrower passage.

After rising briefly, the boardwalk descends thought an even narrower section of the cave on the way to the far end.

The formations in this chamber are large an excellent, with quite a few stalagmites growing upwards along with the plentiful stalactites above. Unfortunately, some of the discolouration along the walls reveal the impact of visitors having touched the formations in years previously. If visiting caves, please remember that touching the formations discolours and can stop its growth.

The next section of the cave is entered by ducking down and/or crawling through a section with a really low ceiling.

While the low ceiling shows unfortunate signs of damage from people breaking the formations as they pass under, the intricate details and mix of rough and smooth formations makes it a great spot to stop and appreciate the finer details.

This is exactly the reason why hard hats are a really important piece of safety equipment when exploring these self-guided caves, even though the overall experience was way less adventurous than the Wild Tu Lan Cave Explorer we did in Vietnam.

Reaching the end of the right cavern, the formations on display were easily the best so far, with the cauliflower/karri forest-shaped formations along a stalagmite that had relatively recently become a column. With plenty of stalactites hanging from the ceiling, this was a great way to finish the first half of Calgardup Cave.

Additionally, some roots could be seen growing through the cave roof at this end. While interesting, the roots here would be greatly overshadowed by the even more dramatic roots in the left cavern.

Having reached the end, Alissa and I retraced our steps back through the stream cavern and back to the platform in the middle near the entrance.

Walking over the frog on the stairs we had seen earlier, Alissa and I were delighted to see yet another frog resting on the railing! As with the first frog, this second frog was entirely unfazed by our presence, and allowed me to get pretty close to photograph it.

Continuing along, Alissa and I made our way into the left side of the cave.

Heading down the stairs, the walls featured a lovely green colour that was been referred to as 'natural wallpaper' and is caused by a combination of algae, moss and lichens. The moisture from the stream and the sunlight coming from the nearby openings creates the perfect conditions for the green 'wallpaper' to grow.

Further along the left passage, another hole in the roof features a landing below. This narrow entry is used as an abseiling entry point. While Alissa is not a fan of abseiling after being dropped by an inattentive spotter as a child, I'd love to do some caving with abseiling involved.

Continuing further into the cave, Alissa and I entered what is quite possibly the cave's most impressive chamber.

Hanging from the ceiling is the most perfect chandelier of tree roots growing down into the cave. With the massive Karri forest located overhead, this is one of the more incredible looking features of Calgardup Cave.

Leaving the tree roots behind, Alissa and I made our way to the next section of the cave as we once again ducked down to head through another stretch of low ceiling walking.

This low ceiling section was possibly even more impressive than the first, with this side of the cave appearing to be more active.

Even with some damage from previous visitors, the number of stalactites and stalagmites were impressive, and the wet ground was a clear indication that the formations are constantly (if slowly) being formed.

Reaching the very end of this excellent section of cave, Alissa and I took a moment to appreciate the beautiful formations surrounding us before turning out our lights and experiencing the pitch black darkness before making our way out of the cave.

From the end of the left chamber, Alissa and I retraced our steps back up the stair to the central platform and then back out along the trail to the ticketing and info office.

While a dawdle of a walk at an easy 300 metres, Calgardup Cave is one of the better ultra-short walks Alissa and I have done. While I often criticise 300 metre walk to lookouts as not truly being trails so much as a path to a place, I feel like caves are usually filled with enough excitement and interest to be worthy of being explored and considered as a trail experience, and Calgardup Cave did not disappoint due to it plentiful cave formations. While I would say the even more exciting Giants Cave has the edge over Calgardup, the fact the two can be done together for a package rate make them the perfect pair of walks if you're looking for a cave experience that is a bit more wild and intrepid that the more famous show caves.


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