Chillagoe - The Outback in the Tropics
Where is Chillagoe?
Chillagoe is in Northern Queensland, Australia. Chillagoe is situated 140km west of Mareeba. Chillagoe was once a thriving mining town for a range of minerals however Chillagoe now only boasts a small zinc mine and some marble quarries. Just out of Chillagoe is the Chillagoe-Mungana Karst Caves National Park containing limestone caves. There are between 600 and 1,000 caves in the Chillagoe-Mungana area. Chillagoe is a surprising mix of outback landscape, mining heritage, significant aboriginal art sites and fantastic world class limestone caves. Chillagoe was once a booming mining town and is now one of the favored haunts of mining buffs tracing the heady days of the 1870's to the 1920's mining boom. Chillagoe even has its own caving club house where you can borrow caving items and stay in the accommodation overnight for a small fee.
Why should I go to visit Chillagoe?
It has been stated by leading geologist Professor Ian Plimer that the Chillagoe region has the most diverse geology in the world.
Chillagoe is the Australian outback on the doorstep of Cairns - an amazing destination in a spectacular landscape spread with fantastic Karst cave systems and the debris of numerous mining ventures. Chillagoe is a haven for wildlife, with dozens of bird and animal species. Chillagoe also has many marble mines, producing marble known for its array of beautiful colours and exported throughout the world. The township of Chillagoe is still dominated by the smelters which were built at the turn of the century by miners. There are only a small number of mining sites in Queensland historically comparable to Chillagoe - Mount Morgan, Mount Isa, Mount Perry and Mount Elliott, and only Chillagoe retains the evidence of history of the smelting process.
The museum is another attraction in itself when visiting Chillagoe. The small local museum displays the history of Chillagoe, including: mining, smelters, caves, natural history, Aboriginal artifacts, old projectors and a mineral and marble display. Chillagoe museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm. The history is not the only is not the only reason to visit Chillagoe, and it would a shame to leave without sampling some of the other Chillagoe attractions.
The limestone caves at the Chillagoe-Montana National Park, about one kilometer from the town is a fantastic walk and the caves feature spectacular formations of stalactites and stalagmites. The limestone caves in Chillagoe can only be entered as part of a tour, which are well managed and very informative. From the Chillagoe limestone caves there's a walking track to the nearby Balancing Rock formation and some Aboriginal rock art. These Aboriginal artworks are estimated to be around 3500 years young according to the records of the Australian Museum. The Chillagoe Caves have even revealed fossilized bones of crocodiles and extinct giant kangaroos and giant wombats in the carbonate-impregnated soils.
Another fascinating feature is 'The Archways' which is a stunning limestone attribute of Chillagoe. To view the Archways you will need your own vehicle and will need to travel west out of Chillagoe for 14 kilometers and you will find the amazing Archways.
Billy Tea Safaris: One Day Chillagoe Caves and Outback Day Tour
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One Day Chillagoe Caves & Outback Tour
Child (0-14) $160
Family (2 Ad 2 Ch) $625
Extra Child $115
Naturalist guide, Courtesy pickup and return Cairns City and Northern Beaches. Ellis Beach, Thala Beach and Port Douglas will incur a extra transfer fee. Mareeba Wetlands & Morning Tea, Delicious Aussie Pub Lunch Guided tour of Chillagoe caves, Tour of Chillagoe Smelters, Ultimate day in the outback.
Chillagoe Guided Cave Tours
Park Ranger-guided tours to Donna, Trezkinn and Royal Arch Caves depart each day at 9.00 am, 11.00 am and 1.30 pm daily except Christmas Day and tickets must be purchased in advance from the information centre the Hub in Chillagoe.
Royal Arch Cave tour—1.6 km return (1.5 hrs) Grade: easy/moderate
From the Royal Arch Cave car park, about 6 km from Chillagoe central, a short 200 m walking track leads you to the cave entrance. This caving tour is a 600 m walk through passages and 11 chambers in one of the largest cave systems in Chillagoe. Now and again you will be hit with shafts of daylight that appear in between karst formations, and you will see cave dwelling bats echoing their way around the cave roof tops. The Royal Arch cave has been described by some as grand and impressive. It is a horizontal cave and probably the easiest to explore.
Time taken to explore this cave is around one hour and thirty minutes
Torches are given to everyone to add to the excitement of exploring the tall limestone karsts and enticing tunnels and to ensure you are able to see where you are walking. There are low overhangs in some places within the Royal Arch Cave so you may be have to be fit enough to stoop low in several sections.
Donna Cave—440 m return (1 hr) Grade: moderate
The Donna Cave car park is 1.8 km from Chillagoe. This cave features beautiful limestone columns, calcite crystals and a cave decoration in the form of the Madonna. During the 200 m walk through the cave, visitors are required to climb several steep flights of stairs; about 200 steps in total so make sure you are wearing the right feet attire and you are moderately fit. No need for hand held torches this spectacular cave has been fitted out with electricity.
Trezkinn Cave—590 m return (30–45 mins) Grade: moderate
From the Donna Cave car park, located 1.8 km from Chillagoe, a boardwalk leads to a shelter shed at the entrance to the cave. From here enjoy outstanding views of the Chillagoe landscape. Access to Trezkinn Cave is provided via a steel catwalk encircling a huge central mass of limestone. The walk through the cave is about 150 m long, with several steep flights of stairs. The sight of a magnificent 'chandelier' formation rewards the visitor. No need for hand held torches this cave has also been fitted out with electricity
Are You Keen To Go On A Self-Guided Cave Adventure?
Well here is your caving adventure opportunity but just make sure you are well prepared with the right caving attire, have plenty of water and torches with new batteries and you have notified someone of your journey and what time they can expect you to return.
The Archways—220 m return (30 mins) Grade: easy
This self-guided cave commences at the Mungana Archways car park. Follow the rocky trail that meanders through deciduous vine thicket as you navigate this semi-open cave and all its side passages. Wildlife is abundant here and in the green season this cave is well known for its Maiden Hair Ferns that line the walls. You will need to bring along a torch to explore this cave.
Pompeii Cave—600 m return (50 mins) Grade: difficult
Pompeii Cave can be accessed from the Donna Cave car park, 1.8 km south of Chillagoe. From the car park a well-formed track with many steps leads you to Pompeii Cave—a cleft in the rock filled with large boulders, the obvious remnants of a previous limestone collapse.
Inside this small dark cave, look for bats sleeping high in dark crevices and rock-wallabies scampering from boulder to boulder. A short but steep climb to the bottom reveals a dark passage and some attractive formations. You will need to bring along a torch to explore this cave.
Bauhinia Cave—300 m return (20 mins) Grade: difficult
Bauhinia Cave is accessed from the Donna Cave car park, 1.8 km south of Chillagoe. From the car park a short walk brings you to the entrance of Bauhinia Cave—a dark, narrow crevice requiring a steep scramble down large boulders. Look for interesting formations such as cave coral in this small cave. You will need to bring along a torch to explore this cave and you will definitely have to be fit to negotiate this one.
Chillagoe is situated approximately 215 kilometers west of Cairns and approximately 140km west of Mareeba. Travel time from Cairns is approximately 2.5 hours and from Mareeba around 1.5 hours. The roads are sealed to Almaden and then the last 32 klms are made up of sealed and unsealed roads. Rent a cars can access this area during the dry season but you will need to re-asses it in the green season and you will need to check with the rent a car company if you are allowed to drive on unsealed roads. The best way to visit the Chillagoe Caves is with a professional day tour operator like Billy Tea Safari's. You ride up high in the purpose built overland vehicle and you get to listen to the commentary about the history of all the regions that you pass thru and taken directly to all the places of interest in an interesting historical Cairns day tour.
Chillagoe Caves Map
Below are two options when self driving form Cairns or Port Douglas.
From your accommodation make your way onto Sheridan Street and continue along the Captain Cook Highway. Continue along the highway until you reach the Smithfield roundabout, take the first exit, you will now be on the Kennedy Highway follow the range to the top and travel for approx 48 kilometers. As you approach Mareeba you will see the signs to Mareeba turn right onto Byrnes Street. From Byrnes Street turn right onto the Dimbulah-Chillagoe Road , then veer right onto the Burke Developmental Road continue along this road and for approximately 83km where you will then arrive at you destination Chillagoe.
Port Douglas –
Travel along the Port Douglas Road at the intersection turn left and travel south along the Captain Cook Highway you will go past Ellis Beach and Palm Cove, continue to travel straight through all the Northern beaches roundabouts. Continue along the highway until you reach the Smithfield roundabout, take the first exit, you will now be on the Kennedy Highway follow the range to the top and travel for approx 48 kilometers. As you approach Mareeba you will see the signs to Mareeba turn right onto Byrnes Street. From Byrnes Street turn right onto the Dimbulah-Chillagoe Road , then veer right onto the Burke Developmental Road continue along this road and for approximately 83km where you will then arrive at you destination Chillagoe.
Please note there are no wheelchair facilities, but you can drive around the interpretive trails of the Chillagoe Smelters. Also please make sure you wear appropriate clothing for caving and covering uneven ground and you carry lots of water.
Guided Tours to Chillagoe
If you are after a guided tour and wish for someone else to do the driving while you enjoy the scenery why not let Billy Tea Safari's take you on an informative day tour of Chillagoe Caves and the outback. Guided tours depart every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. With a small personalized group of 16 you will be sure to experience an amazing day and learn about the Mareeba Wetlands, Copper smelters, Cave tours and even visit a local distillery.