Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park
Getting there and getting around
Chillagoe is 215km or three hours' drive west of Cairns via Mareeba and Dimbulah on the northern end of the Atherton Tableland. The road is sealed all the way except for about 25km of gravel just before Chillagoe. Chillagoe can also be accessed via Herberton from the southern end of the Atherton Tableland, although there are more gravel roads along this route. Conventional-vehicle access is possible in dry weather but roads may be impassable in the summer wet season. Contact the RACQ to enquire about local road conditions (see tourism information links below for RACQ contact details.
A bus service operates to Chillagoe from Cairns and Mareeba and charter flights operate from Cairns.
Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park is spread over the Chillagoe area. The Royal Arch Cave is located 7km south-west of Chillagoe while the Donna, Pompeii, Bauhinia and Trezkinn caves are located 1.5km from the centre of town. Another cave, The Archways, is at Mungana, 15km north-west of Chillagoe. The Chillagoe Smelters are located 2.3km from town. To reach the smelter site, take the Mungana Road from Chillagoe and turn right at the signpost.
Several caves can be explored without a guide but others — the Royal Arch, Donna and Trezkinn caves — can be visited by guided tour only. Rangers conduct guided tours at 9am, 11am and 1.30pm every day except Christmas Day. See Guided tours for details.
There are no wheelchair-accessible facilities but it is possible to drive around the short interpretive trail at the Chillagoe Smelters.
Limestone has been weathered, dissolved and reformed by water to create spectacular caverns and passages, decorated by stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones.
The landscape around Chillagoe began to form about 400 million years ago, when limestone was deposited as calcareous mud and coral reefs surrounding volcanic islands. Subsequent tilting, folding and erosion exposed and weathered the limestone which today towers over the surrounding plains. Fluctuating groundwater levels slowly dissolved some of the limestone, creating caverns and passages, some of which have since been decorated by calcite stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones, deposited by surface waters penetrating through the rock.
Few animals can survive inside the dark caves. Several bat species roost and breed here and Chillagoe is one of five known nesting sites for the white-rumped swiftlet. The caves are also home to spotted pythons and a variety of insects and spiders. Fossilised bones of many animals including those of the extinct giant kangaroo have been found in the caves.
Aboriginal paintings are protected in the park. The Chillagoe Smelter site preserves relics of the State's mining and industrial heritage dating back to the 1890s.
Camping and accommodation
No camping is permitted in Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park.
Motel, hotel, caravan park and camping accommodation is available in Chillagoe. A range of accommodation and camping is also available on the Atherton Tableland (about 110km east of Chillagoe). For more information see the tourism information links below.
Things to do
Several walking tracks allow you to explore above ground and you can also explore The Archways, Pompeii and Bauhinia caves on your own. Always take at least two torches when caving and never cave alone. Wear sturdy shoes and protective clothing when walking or caving. The limestone rock has sharp edges. Carry drinking water.
Balancing Rock track — 440m return (15 minutes) Grade: Moderate
From the Balancing Rock car park, located 2.8km from Chillagoe, a rough track climbs up the rock formation to view the spectacular limestone outcrop and the surrounding landscape of open woodland. Balancing Rock is an example of tower karst, a feature of world scientific interest found around the Chillagoe area. Balancing Rock can also be reached from the Donna Cave car park, via an easy 2km return walk meandering through open woodland.
Royal Arch track — 9km return (2.5 hours) Grade: Easy
From Donna Cave car park, this pleasant walk passes Balancing Rock then winds behind the outcrop to cross the picturesque Chillagoe Creek, lined with huge, old, paperbark trees. The track continues on through open woodland featuring bloodwoods, Cooktown ironwood, teatrees and grevilleas, before reaching Royal Arch bluff, an imposing jagged limestone outcrop rising abruptly from the surrounding woodland. Here the vegetation changes once more to the deciduous species common on all limestone outcrops. Look for agile wallabies and the larger wallaroos and listen for the many different species of birds along the way.
Pompeii Cave — 600m return (20 minutes) Grade: Moderate to difficult
(Self-guiding cave — torches are required.)
From the Donna Cave car park, located 1.5km from Chillagoe, a well-formed track through deciduous vine forest and many steps leads to Pompeii Cave, a huge cleft in the rock, filled with large boulders. A short climb to the bottom reveals a dark passage and some attractive formations. Allow at least 45 minutes if you want to explore inside the cave.
Bauhinia Cave — 300m return (10 minutes) Grade: Difficult
(Self-guiding cave — torches are required.)
From the Donna Cave car park, a short walk brings you to the entrance of Bauhinia Cave, a dark narrow crevice requiring a steep scramble down large boulders. Please contact the Chillagoe Hub Information Centre before visiting this cave as it is a difficult climb.
The Archways — 220m return (15 minutes) Grade: Moderate
(Self-guiding cave — torches are required.)
The turnoff to The Archways is located at Mungana, 15km along the gravel road west from Chillagoe. Drive a further 2km along a gravel track to reach the car park. This open daylight cave is a giant grike system. A rock-strewn track meanders through deciduous vine forest and huge limestone formations to The Archways. Allow about 45 minutes if you want to follow the tracks around the feature and explore the many side passages inside the cave system. Look for trunk-fruiting fig trees forming a canopy inside the open caves. Wildlife is abundant, and in the wet season the cave is noted for its "garden" of maidenhair ferns. The ferns are fragile so please don't touch.
Rangers conduct guided tours of Royal Arch, Donna and Trezkinn caves at 9am, 11am and 1.30pm daily except Christmas Day. Fees apply. Tickets must be obtained beforehand from the Chillagoe Hub Information Centre. Groups should make advance bookings.
For cave tour details, fees and bookings, contact the Chillagoe Hub Information Centre.
Royal Arch Cave — 3km return (1.5 hours ) Grade: Easy
From the Royal Arch Cave car park, located 7km from Chillagoe, this tour is an easy ramble through 1.5km of passages and some 13 chambers in one of the largest cave systems in the area. Some hand-held lamps are provided to add to the excitement of exploring a labyrinth of tunnels and lofty caverns. Children may like to bring a torch. Unexpected shafts of daylight, glimpses of darting bats and sculptured limestone formations are highlights of this tour.
Donna Cave — 440m return (1 hour) Grade: Moderate
From the Donna Cave car park, located 1.5km from Chillagoe, this cave, although small, is very pretty. During the short 200m walk through the cave, visitors are required to climb several steep flights of stairs; about 200 steps in total. Electrical lighting is provided in this cave.
Trezkinn Cave — 590m return (45 minutes) Grade: Moderate
From the Donna Cave car park, located 1.5km from Chillagoe, access to the Trezkinn Cave is provided via a steel catwalk encircling a huge central mass of limestone. The walk through the cave is about 150m long, with several steep flights of stairs but the sight of a magnificent "chandelier" formation rewards the active visitor. Electrical lighting is provided in this cave.
Picnic and day use areas
Picnic tables are provided at Donna and Royal Arch car parks and at the Mungana Aboriginal art site.
Go bird watching. More than 75 bird species have been recorded around Chillagoe including pale-headed rosellas, apostle birds and blue-faced honeyeaters. Listen for the black crow's raucous call drifting across the woodland in the heat of the day.
Many agile wallabies live in the surrounding woodland and can easily be seen along the walking track, especially around dusk. The larger wallaroos are also common. Look for rock wallabies around rocky outcrops.
Several species of bats live in the caves including the eastern bent-wing bat and the common sheathtail bat. Two horseshoe-bats and the eastern cave bat breed in the caves. Look for white-rumped swiftlets circling over the limestone towers. Similar in appearance to swallows, they nest in the complete darkness of the caves in colonies of about 50, between November and February. The nests are made of congealed saliva and kangaroo grass cemented to sloping cave walls. Like bats, these birds use echo-location for flying in the dark. Swiftlets are very sensitive to disturbance in their nesting chambers. Avoid disturbing bat and swiftlet colonies at all times.
In the caves, you also may find evidence of other animals. Spotted pythons and brown tree snakes prey on the bats. The stable conditions and the carbonate-impregnated soil help to preserve bone material — bones of dingoes, wallaroos, brush-tailed rock wallabies, red-legged pademelons, marsupial mice, short-nose bandicoots, northern quolls, sugar gliders, phascogales and blue-tongued lizards have been found.
Other things to do
Chillagoe Smelters interpretive drive
Take the interpretive driving trail around the Chillagoe Smelters. Drive 1km west along the Mungana Road to the turnoff, then a further 1.3km along a gravel road to the smelter site. Follow the signposts, keeping to the route indicated by the arrows, and discover the highly colourful mining history of the area on a series of interpretive signs. Copper, lead, silver and gold were extracted here for a period of more than 40 years — the site preserves relics of the State's mining and industrial heritage dating back to the 1890s. This industrial site includes pits, tanks and contaminants. For your safety, and to preserve this historical site, please do not walk or climb on the structures and do not interfere with historical relics. Take note of the regulatory notices indicating restricted access areas which must be observed.
View Aboriginal rock art
A few small rock galleries of Aboriginal paintings are found in the area but most are accessible only on foot. At Mungana, a small gallery is located 1.2km along the gravel road to The Archways. Another gallery, with viewing access provided by a small boardwalk, is located at Balancing Rock.
Things to know before you go
Essentials to bring
Preparation is the key to a safe and enjoyable visit. Make sure that you bring:
>>sturdy non-slip shoes for walking on rough or slippery surfaces
>>hat and sunscreen
>>cool, protective clothing — the limestone rock has sharp edges, so protective clothing is advisable, and cave temperature is approximately 22 degrees Celsius, so warm clothing is not necessary
>>torches for exploring the caves
>>rubbish bags, as no bins are provided.
Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park is open year round, although roads may be impassable in the wet season, December to March.
For cave tour bookings and tickets, the Chillagoe Hub Information Centre is open 8.30am–5pm daily and 8am–3.30pm on weekends.
Climate and weather
There are two seasons in the Chillagoe area — the wet season from December to the end of March, and the dry season from April until November. The mean annual rainfall is 800mm. Summer (wet season) temperatures usually range between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius. October and November can be very hot and dry while the winter months from May until August can be cool at night. Thunderstorms and rain depressions at the end of November usually herald the approaching wet season. For more information see the tourism information links below.
QPWS Cairns Information Centre
5B Sheridan Street, Cairns
PO Box 2066, Cairns QLD 4870
ph (07) 4046 6600
fax (07) 4046 6751
EPA Customer Service Centre
160 Ann Street, Brisbane
PO Box 15155, City East QLD 4002
ph (07) 3227 8185
fax (07) 3227 8749
Information for this National Park has been supplied courtesy of Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service