The Capricorn Caves are only 30 minutes north of Rockhampton and are Queensland’s longest running tourist attraction. Set in limestone that formed millions of years ago, the caves have been open for exploration since the 1880s. Marvel at hanging fig tree roots that have split rock in search of water, glistening limestone formations that have formed over thousands of years, or enjoy the acoustics of the Cathedral Cave.
Our tour of the caves started on the right foot, with plenty of light hearted jokes from our tour guide. She was knowledgeable and fun, answered all our questions about the caves, and we especially enjoyed our self-guided adventure out of the cave.
The caves were discovered in 1882 by the sons of a Norwegian man named John Olsen while they were out looking for some runaway horses. They told their dad, and John soon opened it as a tourist attraction. People from near and far would dress in their finest attire and go into the depths of the cave to explore with a lantern. Later on, the caves were mined for guano. Some chambers had over a metre of compacted guano and about 6 tonnes was taken out and sold as fertiliser.
In 1988, the Olsen family sold the property to Ken and Ann Augusteyn, who applied for an environmental management policy to protect the caves. The Capricorn Caves has an advanced ecotourism certification and has won several Queensland tourism awards.
The limestone in the caves is 390 million years old and was originally growing coral under the sea. When the limestone was exposed, acidic rain created cracks and dissolved the calcite in the limestone to form caves. The airflow through the caves makes them evaporative and therefore relatively dry, which means it takes stalactites 100 years to grow just one centimetre. There are more than 1.5 kms of underground passages connecting the caves together.
The various wildlife inside the caves includes butterflies, moths and microbats – sometimes even ghost bats and pythons that come in to eat the micro bats. There is also a rare fern – the tectaria devexa – that calls the caves its one and only home.
The Cathedral Cave is the most popular chamber – so popular in fact that they hold around 30 weddings there every year. There are pews lined up with an aisle that the bride can walk down, and many singers have visited the cave and commented on how perfect the acoustics are – comparable to the Sydney Opera house.
Another beautiful feature of the caves is the gentle beam of light that shines into the largest chamber. During the summer solstice, the sun lines up perfectly overhead, projecting a beam of light into the cave. It’s seen as a magical event – some people bring crystals to recharge, while others propose to their lovers, and occasionally, a disco ball is spun in the sunlight.
Capricorn Caves is open every day (except Christmas Day) from 8:30am to 6pm. The Cathedral tour runs every hour from 9am until 4pm, but if you’re after something a little more daring, they also offer adventure caving, abseiling and rock climbing. There’s even a high ropes course and geo tour.
They’re available for functions such as weddings and parties, and there’s a van park onsite for visitors wanting to spend the night. For more information, visit their website: http://www.capricorncaves.com.au/