Magic and light of Rocky caves Ex­plor­ing the great out­doors does not nec­es­sar­ily mean get­ting baked in the sun, as one mag­i­cal ac­tiv­ity near Rock­hamp­ton proves for GEMMA PHILLIPS

Townsville Bulletin - - Weekend Extra / Travel -

JUST as the North Queens­land fur­nace starts to kick in, some­thing al­most mag­i­cal hap­pens in a cave out­side Rock­hamp­ton.

De­cem­ber is the be­gin­ning of the sum­mer sol­stice in Aus­tralia, mean­ing the year’s long­est days and hottest tem­per­a­tures.

But in the cool of the Capricorn Caves, the sol­stice is also the time of year when the sun passes di­rectly over a nat­u­ral chim­ney in the roof of one of the largest cav­erns, beam­ing a shaft of light down into the cen­tre of the cave.

Time it right and you can walk into an al­most pitch black space which is then il­lu­mi­nated by an in­cred­i­ble light show.

And the guides have learned ex­actly how to make the most of the spec­ta­cle, us­ing mir­ror-balls and coloured ma­te­rial to light up the whole cave.

The amaz­ing acous­tics of the Cathe­dral Cave also at­tract choir con­certs and even cou­ples seek­ing wed­ded bliss. The domed cham­ber is lit with 100 can­dles to cre­ate a unique wed­ding venue.

Since be­ing dis­cov­ered and ex­plored in 1882 by farmer John Olsen, the cave com­plex has now de­vel­oped into one of Queens­land’s top tourist at­trac­tions.

Vis­i­tors can choose from an hour’s tour of the Cathe­dral Cave, tak­ing in the ‘Sum­mer Sol­stice Light Spec­ta­cle’, to three-hour wild ad­ven­ture cav­ing tours.

Al­though the sol­stice only lasts through to early Jan­uary, the cav­ing it­self is worth visit­ing year-round. For those who imag­ine cav­ing as the chance to be low­ered into a dank, smelly hole, the ex­pe­ri­ence here could not be much dif­fer­ent.

Around 90 per cent of the com­plex is ac­tu­ally above ground, and en­trances on ei­ther side means a fresh breeze blows through.

Guides set var­i­ous chal­lenges, in­clud­ing ne­go­ti­at­ing a twist­ing pas­sage­way with­out us­ing lights, or con­tort­ing your­self through ‘squeeze holes’— crevices in the rock — which have names like en­trap­ment, nut cracker or re­birth. Those who have done it com­pare it to be­ing hugged by the rock.

Work­ing your way through the caves is also a sur­pris­ingly good work­out.

As re­mark­able as the caves are, the own­ers have added a range of other at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing climb­ing and ab­seil­ing walls, rope climbs and a large bar/ restau­rant. A fly­ing fox zip wire is also planned to take peo­ple down the 25-30m from the top of the cave roof back down to the car park.

A suc­cess­ful school pro­gram util­is­ing on-site ac­com­mo­da­tion brings chil­dren of all ages from across the State, and the chil­dren in turn bring their par­ents.

Schools pro­gram co-or­di­na­tor Barry Pryce takes groups of up to a dozen pupils through the caves in camps de­signed to build con­fi­dence and team-build­ing skills.

‘‘It is amaz­ing to see the change in some of the kids just in the time they have been here,’’ he said.

‘‘For some of them it is the best thing they have ever done, ac­tiv­ity-wise.’’

IF YOU GO.........................

Un­til April 2007, a one-hour Cathe­dral Cave tour costs $20/$10/$50 for adults/ chil­dren/ fam­ily groups; a two-hour fam­ily ad­ven­ture tour costs $25/$12.50 for adults/chil­dren; a three-hour wild ad­ven­ture cav­ing tour is $60 for adults. Book­ings are es­sen­tial, and there is wheel­chair ac­cess into the Cathe­dral Cave. Con­tact Capricorn Caves on 4934 2883 for more de­tails. UN­DER­GROUND BRIL­LIANCE . . . the ef­fect is spec­tac­u­lar when Rock­hamp­ton’s Capricorn Caves are lit up

Guide Barry Pryce

Townsville Bul­letin

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