Plunging Through Tunnel Creek Western Australia

As much as we may admire caves, in geological terms they may not actually be all that old – perhaps 20 to 30 millions years at tops, but the Tunnel Creek Cave, near Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberleys of Western Australia, is certainly the oldest cave system in WA, as it has burrowed through a Devonian Reef that is between 350-375 million years old.

Located about 30 kilometres from Windjana Gorge, it has been known to local Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years, and was even used as a hideout for an Aboriginal hero, Jandamarra, who had declared a one man war against white settlers and police who had moved cattle onto aboriginal land, destroying water holes and sacred sties.

To enter Tunnel Creek national Park you follow the Napier Range, which is an impressive Devonian Reef, for a few kilometres until you reach the car park. This can only be done during the dry season as the waters are far too high and dangerous during the wet to attempt a traverse.

Tunnel Creek National Park is suitable for day visits only, and camping there in not permitted, although there is a good campsite at nearby Windjana Gorge.

The entrance to the cave is via a track which leads from the car park. You do enter the cave via a creek bed, which was dry when I did it, and the cave has a very narrow entrance which does involve negotiating your way around a very limited space between the rocks, whilst clambering down rocks to actually get into the cave.

The effort is well worth it, as once inside, the cave is magnificent, and consists of a system of large chambers. Be warned though. The only way to walk through the 750 metre-long cave is through water, so you do need sturdy, waterproof footwear. You will also need to take your own light as there is no artificial lighting whatsoever within the cave, and it is, in parts pitch black.

You also need to be ultra careful about how you walk through the cave as you will be negotiating a number of surfaces which ranges from soft sand through to hard, sharp rock and even thick mud, which does envelop your legs and makes it very difficult to walk through.

However, the, sometimes, tough walking conditions were not a deterrent, merely a reminder that you are plunging through (yep, the mud got me and I fell in) a very ancient cave system. The water is not cold, and is actually pleasantly warm. Inside the cave you can see stalactites and stalagmites; five species of bats, and various fresh water fish and crustaceans can also been seen in the torchlight. We didn’t see any, but it also possible to see freshwater crocs in the cave.

About midway through the cave a large section has collapsed, letting in light. Here, the colour of the rocks, and the reflected green colouring of the vegetation which bounces off the side of the chasm is quite beautiful.

As you reach the end of the cave you reach a quite beautiful narrow valley which engulfs Tunnel Creek. It is a very serene place, where eucalyptus trees overhang the stream, which gently meanders through a rocky culvert that is bounded on both sides by steep, foliage-covered hills.

There is only one way out, and that is to return through the cave on a journey which seemed to be far easier than the outward leg.

Nevertheless, it was a marvellous experience to actually visit a place that I had often read about. Thanks to Rory, from the Kimberley adventure tour company Adventure Wild, whose knowledge of the area is extraordinary, it was a very pleasing and meaningful way to visit an absolute wonder and ancient Kimberley cave system.

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