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
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