Sunday, 10 March 2019

Giants Cave (Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park)

An excellent cave walk, Giants Cave is the larger of the self-guided caves in Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park. Descending 87 metres beneath the surface, the cave features large cavernous chambers and tighter squeezes through ladder climbs and scrambles. Exiting on the other side of Caves Rd, the finish is a short walk back across to the ticket office. One of the more exciting and adventurous cave walks in Margaret River

Distance: 1 km (loop)
Gradient: Some moderates ascent and descents over the entire length of the cave, with some steep, near vertical ladder climbs and scrambles
Quality of Path: Largely clear and well maintained throughout, with a mix of boardwalks and natural surfaces
Quality of Signage: Clear and easy to follow signage. The way out of the cave is marked with reflectors
Experience Required: Some previous bushwalking experience recommended
Time: 45-90 minutes
Steps: Many steps throughout as well as several ladder climbs
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 10.4 kilometres down Caves Rd past Calgardup, Mammoth and Giants Cave. Car park turnoff is poorly signed in a sharp bend

When buying our tickets for Calgardup Cave the day earlier, Alissa and I decided that the two caves package of Calgardup and Giants Cave was too good to pass up on. After enjoying the morning meeting the friendly stingrays of Hamelin Bay, Alissa and headed back up Caves Rd to check out a cave I had always thought I had already explored but only recently realised is a completely different cave to Mammoth Cave!

After donning our hard hats and being given our briefing about what to expect, Alissa and I began our journey into Giants Cave. Similar to the nearby Lake Cave, the first part of Giants Cave is a walk down into a doline. This open amphitheatre was once a large cavern that has since had its roof collapse in on itself. The fern-line area with its spectacular Karris is a great start to the walk, even if it is smaller than the huge doline at Lake Cave.

After stopping to take in the beauty of the doline, Alissa and I continued down the stairs and into the darkness of Giants Cave. With its wider opening, Alissa and I were definitely getting flashbacks to our time in Phong Nha on the Wild Tu Lan Cave Explorer tour in 2018.

Heading down 87 metres underground, Giants Cave is one of the deepest caves in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge Cave System, and as such Alissa and I were not surprised by the extremely long series of stairs we had to head down to get to the bottom of the cave.

Once we reached the bottom of the endless stairway, Alissa and I found ourselves in a large cavern known as Twilight Cavern. While clearly smaller than some of the massive caverns we encountered in Vietnam, this was more impressively large than Calgardup Cave and one of the more impressive caverns in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste cave system.

Climbing up the stairs and in the cavern, Alissa and I were able to take in the outstandingly beautiful and massive stalactites growing from the ceiling of the cave. This definitely brought back memories of Ken Cave in Vietnam, where I swam into the cave looking up at massive stalactites that looked almost like teeth.

Similarly large stalagmites had formed from the floor of the cave. While having less formations than Calgardup Cave, the size of the formations here in Giants certainly impressed us, and we still had some of the more exciting parts of the cave to come.

We had thought we had reached the bottom of the cave when we descended the main flight of stairs but once clearing the first major chamber, Alissa and I found ourselves descending even further into Giants Cave.

At the bottom of the stair, Alissa and I found ourselves in the Ballroom. Another massive cavern, Alissa and I were again reminded of our Vietnam caving experience given the sheer size of this large cavern.

While the cavern was less active overall than some of Calgardup's more crystal-filled sections, there were plenty of interesting formations along the walls of the cavern, including the cauliflower formations that are a more pronounced feature in Calgardup Cave.

Looking to the top right side of the Ballroom, Alissa and I noticed what looked like a narrow passage running the top of the cave. Remembering some of the somewhat sketchy scrambling we did in Vietnam, Alissa joked that if this was the Phong Nha tour, that is the way we would now be going to get up and out of the cave!

Instead, Alissa and I continued walking along the Ballroom's broad cavern as we made our way to one of the more exciting sections of the cave.

Ascending from the Ballroom, we made our way from one of the most massive parts of Giants Cave to one of the narrowest.

Reaching the top of the stairs, Alissa and I encountered the first of several ladders up through a narrow vertical passage in the cave aptly known as the Chimney.

If you're a fan of adventurous hikes, than this will be right up your alley. While not as high as the huge 15 metre ladder we climbed in Hung Ton Cave or the very sketchy ledge walking we did in Hang Kim Cave, this was far more adventurous and solidly Class 5 walking that most trails in this risk-averse state. As you can see from Alissa's reaction, we were really loving this cave experience.

Clearing the first ladder, we had to immediately climb a second slightly shorter ladder through a similarly narrow vertical passage.

Clearing the ladder, the next section required us holding onto a chain as we made our way through a slightly awkwardly slanted, narrow section before yet another ladder ascent.

After the third ladder, we had one more relatively easy obstacle as we crawled through a low section of the cave.

Once the successfully up the Chimney and clearing the low crawl, the cave opens up to the Arborite Chamber.

Presumably named as such due to the roots growing through the cave, the roots were far less impressive than the cave formations, and paled in comparison the roots growing through Calgardup Cave.

That being said, the stalactites in this section were some of the largest and most impressive we saw through the entire cave, and it made up wonder if perhaps the reason we didn't find the roots particularly impressive is because they were concealed underneath a layer of calcium carbonate.

Having risen through much of the cave through the Chimney, the trail descends from the Arborite Chamber into the next adventurous portion of the walk.

Rather than ladders, this next section required Alissa and I to hold onto a metal cable through a very slippery, slanted section of cave. Don't be deceived by the relatively easy gradient; the slipperiness of the rock makes the cable a real help through this section.

The penultimate chamber of the cave is a small, active and crystal-filled section of the cave with a wet floor. This section of Giants Cave used to feature a permanent lake similar to Lake Cave, however the cave has sadly lost its lake due to the lowering of the water table. Nevertheless, this is still probably the wettest and most active part of the cave.

Clearing the former lake cavern, the cave enters another adventurous section, with the unmodified landscape relying on some scrambling, with reflectors along the cave marking the way to go.

The formations through this section feature a lot of discolouration due to the need to use hand holds to get through the cave. A sign at the rope section of the cave suggests that Parks and Wildlife have aspirations to do more track work through this section which will have the positive effect of limiting human impacts, but sadly take away some of the adventurousness that makes this a great walking experience.

The scramble leads to the last major chamber of the cave - the Column Chamber, so named due to the above column. 

Near the middle of the chamber are a number of large formations, including several stalagmites that look like they will in time form some fairly massive columns, providing that the caves remain active into the future. 

From the Column Chamber, the trail continues to another series of ladders. Alissa and I surmised correctly that we must be nearing the end of the cave given that we started to encounter a number of blow flies at this point!

After the ladders, the journey out of the cave is a fun scramble using a handrail to climb through the exit.

Leaving the cave, the return journey back to the start of the walk is through the Karri forest. This almost as long as the time though the cave but is traversed at a far faster speed. The forest here is excellent; the proximity to the famous lookout at the Boranup Forest means it is of a similar quality and a nice way to transition out of the spectacular cave. 

Walking through the cave, Giants Cave actually runs under Caves Rd, and the return journey requires crossing Caves Rd. Once back on the other side, the circuit is completed as it reaches the ticketing and information centre. 

For years I'd been confused and thought Giants Cave was the same cave as Mammoth Cave, however after completing Giants Cave I'm disappointed that we never visited it earlier! This is an outstanding cave walk that is filled with interesting formations, but is made all the more memorable due to the adventurous scrambling, ladder climbs and ropes/chains that makes it similar in character to the scramble-heavy gorge walks in Karijini. Given that Margaret River has a dearth of interesting day walks, this is one that should easily be a contender for one of the region's best. Highly recommended.


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