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  • Writer's pictureKaia Colestock

Day 6: Chillagoe Caves

Updated: Jan 6

Elias has had a lifelong interest in swifts. A side-trip to Chillagoe was necessary to find swifts near their preferred breeding sites: caves. The Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park is a perfect place to start. About three hours west of Cairns, jagged limestone had been dissolved, weathered, and reformed to create a network of passages. Deposits began to form about 400 million years ago. The caves are home to white-rumped swiftlets (Aerodramus terraereginae), spotted pythons, and numerous bats. Even fossilized bones of extinct giant kangaroos have been found in the caves.

The Mungana Rock Art site is one of two publicly accessible Aboriginal art sites in the Chillagoe area. It is near ground-level sheltered by high, limestone cliffs. Motifs are typically painted in red or white, with depictions of snakes, and various vertical and horizontal shapes. Some shapes are painted in charcoal in a style similar to artwork found on the east coast further south in New South Wales.

A short walk up to Balancing Rock in Mungana National Park.

We passed a number of little and noisy friarbirds on the way up to the rock.

Elias looking back in one of the self-guided caves in Chillagoe-Mungana National Park.

We signed up for the guided tour in Royal Arch cave, and it’s a good thing it is guided. A few young 12-yr old boys went caving in Royal Arch and dropped their only headlamp. They had to stay two days in pitch blackness. The boys finally found one of the lit open sections, and one of them climbed a vertical wall without shoes to get help. He then had to hobble with cut feet 2.5 miles back to town. All the boys survived, but I wouldn’t be in their position for anything in the world.

The sections of cave below is where the white-rumped swiftlets nest. We didn’t detect any vocalizations either inside or outside of the cave.

Sheath-tailed bats roosting at the top of one of the main caves. Four miles of passages have been mapped underground at Royal Arch. Many of them were closed off to visitors because it’s easy to get lost.

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