Naracoorte Caves National Park
Naracoorte Caves National Park, a World Heritage site, has a sizeable number of caves that have acted as animal traps for over 500 000 years, leaving an amazing fossil record that spans several ice ages and the arrival of humans. The result is a network of caves of phenomenal scientific importance, as well as great beauty.
On Hynam–Caves Rd, 10 km south of the main township of Naracoorte
330 km south-east of Adelaide via Dukes Hwy and A66; park is 10 km south-east of Naracoorte
- Parks SA (08) 8204 1910
- Parks SA Naracoorte (08) 8762 3412
- Naracoorte Caves National Park (08) 8762 2340
Park entry is free; fees for cave tours apply
Naracoorte (08) 8762 1399, 1800 244 421
Featured Activities in the National Park
Tackle the Fox Cave tour - a 3 hour intense caving experience
Get up at dawn and see the natural flights of bats into the Bat Cave
See the life-size models of ancient fossils
A look at the past
The Naracoorte Caves were first reported by the Reverend Tenison-Woods in 1859, who believed the caves were proof of the biblical flood. At first, little attention was given to the fossils. The caves' beautiful stalactites and stalagmites were the major attraction, and the area made a popular venue for galas and balls. It wasn't until the mid-1960s that science began to take centre stage, with the South Australian Museum playing a major role in fossil finds. In 1994, the Australian fossil mammal sites were inscribed on the World Heritage list as outstanding examples representing major stages of the earth's evolutionary history, and as outstanding examples representing significant ongoing ecological and biological evolution.
Half a million years ago, megafauna such as the wombat-like diprotodon, marsupial lion and giant kangaroos roamed the area. Falling into well-hidden pitfall caves, their skeletons were preserved and fossilised, and today they give scientists a rare glimpse of this long-extinct animal life. Life-sized models of some of these animals can be found at the Wonambi Fossil Centre.
The caves provide evidence of the evolution of the fauna in this continent. The history of mammal lineages in modern Australia can be traced through these fossil deposits and, as a consequence, there is a better understanding of the conservation status of living mammals and their communities.
Prior to European settlement, the Naracoorte region was the traditional home of the Meintangk people, although the Boandik people, as well as the Pinegunga, Mootatunga, Wichitunga and Polingunga also lived throughout the south-east.
The word Naracoorte is believed to have come from the Meintangk people, meaning 'place of running water' although some suggest it means 'large waterhole'.
The Naracoorte Caves are part of the Naracoorte East Range, a ridge of ancient limestone which formed millions of years ago beneath a warm, shallow ocean. Since then, ground water has dissolved and eroded the limestone to create a network of underground caves. The caves that formed close to the surface became pitfall traps into which animals fell; their skeletons were preserved beneath layers of topsoil washed into the caves.
Palaeontologists have excavated and dated many of the fossils in the caves, and have reconstructed the skeletons of a number of the megafauna that inhabited the area so many years ago.
The above-ground scenery in this park is also of note. In the mid-1880s, a proportion of the area was cleared and a range of exotic species planted around the caves. Some of these plants have been retained in the established gardens around the park. Much of the landscape retains a semi-natural character and there is considerable conservation value, especially as habitat for native animals. Park staff work with local communities and schools to maintain the gardens and surrounds, and continue to replant native species.
The vegetation is predominantly brown stringybark on the limestone ridge, with river red gum lining the banks of Mosquito Creek. The understorey on the ridge is bracken fern over a diverse array of orchids that flower during spring.
Twenty-six native mammal species and seven introduced mammal species are thought to be present in this region. Western grey kangaroos are one of the more common sights, but keep your eyes peeled for echidnas, wombats and sugar gliders. As the sun sets you may be lucky enough to spot a brushtail possum emerging to go about its nighttime business.
Take a stroll along one of the park's walking trails and look out for thornbills, rosellas, kestrels, eastern yellow robins and honeyeaters. Cheeky blue wrens and honeyeaters flit around the Wonambi Fossil Centre and cafe. Eastern yellow robins and eastern spinebills are a rare treat for the patient observer, and owls are also seen in the region, including the southern boobook, whose main food source here is the bent-wing bat.
Most visitors to Naracoorte Caves National Park come to explore the caves, and there is a range of tours to suit all ages and fitness levels. Check with the parks office for tour times and fees.
Cave tours and caving
Wet Cave is self-guided and motion sensor lights allow you to see stalactites at your own pace. The Victoria Fossil Cave tour (1 hour, easy) passes through several chambers to the Fossil Chamber, where a guide explains the history of the fossil find and associated research. Longer tours can be booked for couples or small groups. A short tour of Alexandra Cave (30 minutes, easy) reveals delicate examples of stalagmites, straws and stalactites. The Bat Tour (1 hour, easy) visits the Bat Observation Centre and Blanche Cave.
Adventure caving is available, from novice tours through Blackberry and Stick Tomato Caves, to more challenging trips in Starburst Chamber, Fox Cave and Cathedral Cave. Overalls, kneepads and lights are provided for visitors. Entry to some caves is not permitted, but many are accessible and tours cater to all fitness levels.