Mount Gambier Caves &Amp; Sinkholes

Submitted by: Charlotte Giles

As rain water passes through the atmosphere, it absorbs carbon dioxide and becomes mildly acidic. Limestone, when saturated under water, is slowly dissolved by the acidic solution causing cracks and fissures which gradually enlarge into caves. There are many fine examples of caves throughout the South East, some of which are now dry, others far reaching below the water table and are therefore water filled caves. Engelbrecht Cave, a large complex of caves under the City of Mount Gambier provides good examples of the processes involved in cave formation.

A fascinating tour of Engelbrecht Cave includes entry into two large chambers which expose the underground water table. These two chambers lead off into other water filled caves which can only be accessed by trained and experienced divers. Once a cave has been formed in the limestone and the water level drops, leaving the cave dry, the continuing slow process of water dripping from the ceiling sometimes forms stalactites and stalagmites. Small droplets of water can hang from the ceiling for up to 10 hours, and as the carbon dioxide is given off, minute deposits of calcite are left on the cave ceiling and floor, building up over a period of time to form the elaborate decorations as seen in some of the caves in the area.

Tantanoola Cave is a beautiful single chamber dolomite cave created in an ancient stranded sea cliff.The walking trail up and along the cliff face provides excellent views of the surrounding countryside. The cave situated in this park, believed to be “opened up” by the constant pounding of the shallow seas. Continuing dissolution has resulted in this beautiful highly decorated chamber where tours are offered daily

Princess Margaret Rose Cave is a unique tunnel cave of sculptured limestone and comprehensive decoration, it was formed approx 500,000 years ago by an underground stream deep within the cliffs of the Glenelg River Gorge. The Naracoorte Caves complex of caves formed within the ridge of what was once a stranded dune system.

Sinkholes are formed when the roof of a cave weakens and collapses in or falls to the bottom of the cave, leaving an opening at ground level and providing a natural window into the underground cave or water system. In the case of a dry cave, the topsoil which was above the cave ends up on the floor of the cave creating the perfect environment for a sunken garden.

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For those interested in diving and snorkelling there are numerous water filled caves and sinkholes in the Mount Gambier area that can be accessed for diving or snorkeling. However, most are situated on private land and are accessible only by permission of the landowner and within the regulations and training criteria as set by the Cave Diving Association of Australia (CDAA).

To protect the unique and fragile environment of Piccaninnie Ponds and to improve the diving and snorkelling experience, a permit and time slot system is operated by The Department for Environment, Heritage & Aboriginal Affairs which requires the completion of an indemnity and conditions form and payment of relevant fees.

Twenty minutes south of Mount Gambier is Hells Hole, venture out onto the viewing platform to appreciate the depths often explored by divers.

Choose between two walks at Penambol Conservation Park. From the main car park on Carba Road, take the short walk to Caroline Sinkhole where archaeologists have discovered evidence of Aboriginal habitation.

Dry Creek Native Forest Reserve provides opportunities to wander along the ancient creek bed, past dolines to the viewing platforms overlooking the Glenelg River.

Ewens Ponds Conservation Park incorporates a small bushland park and the three ponds which feed Eight Mile Creek. Snorkel or dive the underwater gardens to explore the fascinating natural springs which bubble up through the limestone at the bottom of the ponds. Follow the water flow through the creek to the ocean water levels permitting. Check at “The Lady Nelson” for snorkel and dive regulations.

Telford Scrub Conservation Park protects the remains of a vast area of native vegetation that had been cleared for forestry and agriculture. Two walking trails provide opportunities to view this “island” park, its forest and its inhabitants.

Discover and enjoy the diversity of Penola Conservation Park which provides a natural refuge all year round. Walk to the winter swampland where birds and frogs are prolific. In spring, see honeyeaters flock to wildflowers and echidnas shuffling under the low vegetation. In summer large red gums provide welcome shade, and in autumn, parrots can be seen feeding.

Walk along Tea-Tree Boardwalk to the heart of the lagoon where during the breeding season, ibis, spoonbills and other birds can be observed from the bird hides with the use of binoculars. Walk to the inlet channel or across the boardwalk to Hack s Island. The Lagoon has traditionally been a Game Reserve.

Naracoorte Caves Conservation Park situated on the limestone ridge of what was an ancient coastline, over 100 kms inland from the present day coast. The park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1994, recognising the universal value of the incredible fossil deposits found in the caves. BBQ and picnic facilities, a cafe and a camp ground compliment the tour that offers something to interest everyone.

Enjoy the guided tour in the beautifully decorated Alexandra Cave and the self guided tour through Wet Cave. Victoria Fossil Cave View the remains of marsupials and other long extinct animals at the largest deposit of fossils yet found in this World Heritage Site. Bat Cave/Blanch Cave Discover the amazing lives of Bent Wing Bats Learn the story of the Bent-Wing Bats by visiting the Bat Teleview Centre and Blanche Cave. In summer, visit the opening of The Bat Cave to see some of the 100,000 bats leaving the cave to feed on local insects.

About the Author: Charlotte Giles is a travel writer for

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– LastBeds. Charlotte is currently touring South Australia in search of great beaches and

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