Cutta Cutta Caves

Wildlife : Ghost Bat


Ghost Bat

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Name: Ghost Bat

Scientific Name: Macroderma gigas

Alternative names: false vampire bat

Distribution: caves and mineshafts in Northern Australia


Ghost bats get their name from the super thin membrane of their wings, which makes them look like ghosts when they’re flying at night.  These little pale-coloured bats grow up to 13cm in body length and weight up to only 140g but they have a huge wingspan of 60cm.


They use sharp little teeth, big eyes and huge ears to hunt, and find their food using echolocation.  The high-pitched sound they make rebounds of objects and the echo tells them where things are with reasonable accuracy.  Once they’ve locked on to a target, they swoop and wrap their big wings around it before killing it with strong bites.  They then take their dinner to a designated feeding place to eat.  Being Australia’s only carnivorous bat, they mainly eat insects, reptiles, frogs, birds and small mammals, including other bats.


Mama bats separate themselves from daddy bats by creating nursing colonies to raise their young.  They are pregnant for about 3 months before giving birth to one little critter.  Once they are old enough to hunt, they join their mum on food runs until they become independent.


Their conservation status is vulnerable due to the destruction of caves and mine shafts, and when one home is destroyed, up to 400 bats go with it.  Their feeding grounds are also being destroyed by agriculture.



Our Encounter:

The one and only time we saw a ghost bat was at the Cutta Cutta Caves, just south of Katherine.  We went on a tour and there they were, hanging about on the ceiling of the cave, occasionally chirping and flying over our heads.


Cutta Cutta Caves


Town Profile : Katherine

Knotts Crossing - Katherine

Located on the river of the same name, Katherine is 320km south of Darwin.  It started out as an outpost between Adelaide and Darwin for the Australian Overland Telegraph Line.  These days, it’s a simple town with one major supermarket, a few pubs and acts as the ‘Crossroads of the North’.


Fast Facts

  • With a population of just over 10,000 and 60% indigenous, Katherine is the fourth largest town in the Northern Territory.
  • It’s the closest town to the RAAF Base Tindal and provides services to Defence families.
  • Traditionally, Katherine was an important meeting place for the Jawoyn and Wardaman people.
  • In 1845, explorer Ludwig Leichhardt crossed what is now known as the Katherine River and is the first European to be recorded in the area.
  • On his 6th successful journey from the north to south of Australia, John McDouall Stuart crossed the Katherine River in July 1862 and officially named it.


We rocked up on Saturday morning, just in time for the markets.  We took advantage of the cheap food and listened to some music before getting down to business.  We found a van park to stay the night, did some work in the library, stocked up on fuel and food and then headed to the Stuart Hotel for cheap $10 jugs of TEDs.  Turns out the Stuart Hotel has a great tropical beer garden and we enjoyed the friendly guys behind the bar.  They also do food, claiming to be Katherine’s cheapest.




Points of Interest

Knotts Crossing

Located only 5km NE from the centre of town, Knotts Crossing is a lovely place to have a picnic and a splash in the waters.  If we had more time, we would have spent a whole afternoon here.   Knotts Crossing is actually where the originally settlement of Katherine started, when people came to work on the Overland Telegraph Line.


Knotts Crossing - Katherine


Katherine Hot Springs

A short drive SW from the centre of town brings you to the hot springs, a series of pools that sit at around 32°C.  We had a bit of a dip in the afternoon while we chatted with some other happy travellers.




Katherine Icon

Just behind the Information Centre is a bronze statue of Sabu Peter Sing, a stockman, horseman and bushman who represents all the men and women of the Outback. The erection of the statue was part of the Project of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association for 2002, Australia’s Year of the Outback.




Nitmiluk National Park

Accessible via Katherine Gorge or Edith Falls, Nitmiluk is the ‘jewel of the region’.  You’d have to spend a week in Katherine Gorge to do all the hikes, and also have the endurance because they can be tough.  We did three hikes there and were absolutely exhausted.


Edith Falls is a great place to camp and the plunge pool is wonderfully close to the campground.


Edith Falls


Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park

Located just 17km south of Katherine, the Cutta Cutta Caves are a unique attraction with beautiful rock formations.  Check out our post here.


Information & Accommodation

The Katherine Visitor Information Centre is located on the Stuart Highway at the southern end of town.


We stayed at Knotts Crossing Resort, very close to the actual Knotts Crossing, and paid only $24 in an unpowered site for the night.  Close by was a camp kitchen, amenities, and a restaurant bar.  We also had a long chat with some really nice Austrian guys, who filled us in on the non-existence of an Australian-Austrian working visa arrangement.


Cutta Cutta Caves

Natural Wonders : Cutta Cutta Caves

Cutta Cutta Caves


On our way out of Katherine, we stopped by the Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park.  While we had seen plenty of caves and sinkholes down in South Australia, we hadn’t really heard of any in the Territory so we were curious to find out more.


Our tour guide, Ethan was very friendly and super knowledgeable about the caves, and we soaked up as much information as we could.


Cutta Cutta Caves


The History

The main cave was accidentally discovered in the early 1900s by cattle drover Mr Smith, who was leading his cattle across the land when a few disappeared down a hole.  In the 1940s, soldiers would enter the cave and use the stalactites as target practice, but it wasn’t until 1967 that the area became protected and named Sixteen Mile Cave Reserve.  In 1979, the area was renamed the Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park and there are a total of 52 caves in the park.


The traditional owners of the land that the caves are located are the Jawoyn people, but there is no rock art or signs that they ever lived in the cave.  Apparently, living in the cave was seen as a bit of a taboo for local indigenous folks – probably because the caves would’ve been pitch black at night, echoes may have been mistaken for evil spirits and if any animals had fallen in and died the cave wouldn’t have smelt very nice.  The words Cutta Cutta mean place of many stars, probably named so because of the twinkling of the calcite crystals.  It was believed that stars would hide in the cave by day and explode into the sky at night.


Cutta Cutta Caves


The Caves

Cutta Cutta Caves are Australia’s first cave system to be lit by solar power, which we think is pretty cool.  The cave are in a subtropical climate, and as the main cave only has one opening, there is no ventilation so the atmosphere inside is quite dry and warm.  On our way to the main cave, we passed a large depression, and when it eventually collapses, will change the atmosphere within the cave completely because it will create another opening.


The caves are made of 570 million year old tindall limestone, which is only found in NT, but the actual caves are only 350 million years old.  The main cave is 650m long and reaches the water table at the far end, but the tour only takes you in 250m because going any further in would be very dangerous.  Our tour guide Ethan is an experienced caver and has been all the way to the far end.  He told us that the passageway gets so narrow at some points that you have to crawl through on your stomach, there are sinkholes that are 80m deep, and the ammonia from the bat droppings further in is enough to make you pass out!




Each chamber of the cave has its own microclimate; it was cool at the entrance and got more humid as we got deeper in the cave.  The spectacular cave contains the usual features – stalagmites, stalactites, columns where stalactites and stalagmites have joined up – but there were also flowstones that look like melted ice cream, pretty shoals, and super thin straws.  These formations are formed with calcium carbonate and water combine and dry to become sparkly calcium crystals.  In some places, tree roots have made their way into the ceiling of the cave by releasing a weak acid that dissolves the limestone.


The Critters

There are about 300 bats that live within the cave, including ghost bats, aka false vampire bats, are one of Australia’s biggest bats and can have a wingspan of over a meter. They have big eyes and huge ears that point upwards from their face.  When we first entered the cave, we saw a brush trail rock wallaby.  There are a few other microspecies that live within the cave too – mostly insects, but also pythons, tree snakes and huntsman spiders, as well as the occasional visit from echidnas.




The Essentials

The Cutta Cutta Caves are open from the 1st of April every year – they close during the Wet Season because the cave floods (from the bottom!).  Entry is $20 per person but if you have a group of more than 10 people, discounted entry can apply.  The tours run daily at 9am, 10am, 11am, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm.  Allow an hour for the tour and also a bit of time to check out the information in and around the office.


Phone number: 08 8972 1940


We found our time at Cutta Cutta Caves really enjoyable.  It’s a great way to learn more about limestone caves, how they were formed and used, and eventually protected so that everyone can enjoy them.  We’d also like to thank Ethan for showing us around and answering all our questions.