OZ Top Spot #12 – Naracoorte Caves National Park, South Australia

Last Updated on June 20, 2017 by Red Nomad OZ

Thylacoleo carnifex, Australia's lion! Naracoorte Caves, South Australia
Thylacoleo carnifex, Australia’s lion! Naracoorte Caves, South Australia #

The dim yellow light cast a long dark shadow flickering balefully over the seeping rock as we descended deeper into the gloomy cavern. Treading carefully over the uneven rock floor, we dodged the oozing columns towering high above as we rounded the corner to leave the daylight behind.

Channelling ‘Becky’ to Pilchard’s ‘Tom Sawyer’ in a weird re-enactment of Mark Twain’s classic*, I half expected ‘Injun Joe’ to materialise from the shadows and scare us witless. But here, the menace was far more sinister …

Victoria Cave, Naracoorte, South Australia #
Victoria Cave, Naracoorte, South Australia #

Did I mention we were in a cave?

A light flickered to life and I gasped involuntarily as an ominous silhouette emerged from the semidarkness.

Stalagmite, Naracoorte Caves, SA
Stalagmite, Naracoorte Caves, SA

Thylacoleo carnifex, Australia’s own lion, bizarrely amplified by the shadow of his skeleton, face frozen forever in a snarl of despair. As it would if one’s prehistoric life had been cut short by falling through the roof of this subterranean system of limestone caves. At least, that’s probably what happened …

Did I mention we were on a tour??

Those who, like me, find the concept of Ice-Age Megafauna both fascinating and terrifying will likely find the Naracoorte Caves National Park – and Australian Fossil Mammal site – an intriguing glimpse into the past. And one not seen by many! Despite its World Heritage Status, this little-known National Park with Australia’s most complete fossil record of Pleistocene megafauna tucked away in the wilds of South Australia is unknown to many Australians.

Did I mention that megafauna are now extinct???

But it wasn’t megafauna that posed the biggest threat to our equilibrium during our April 2009 visit. Just down the road from the Wonambi Fossil Centre, the well maintained campground has all sorts of native fauna up close – including the voracious and unwelcome mosquitoes!! Plugging the gaps in our camper trailer canvas with tissues kept most of them out in the end – although happily, Pilchard’s mosquito magnet qualities kept them from me anyway …

Wonambi Fossil Centre Campground, Naracoorte SA
Wonambi Fossil Centre Campground, Naracoorte SA

Although the nearby – and aptly named – ‘Mosquito Creek’ should have provided a clue when we set up camp for a few days!!

While it’s unknown why megafauna no longer roam this corner of the continent, the well preserved skeletons of over 120 vertebrate species found so far in the caves may one day provide a clue. However, while the risk of death by megafauna is now nil, the good old Aussie Wombat– smaller descendant of Diprotodon – provides a more subtle threat to the unwary. While this benign looking marsupial is unlikely to attack**, stepping in its underground burrow may result in a nasty injury!

Reflections in Victoria Fossil Cave, Naracoorte, South Australia
Reflections in Victoria Fossil Cave, Naracoorte, South Australia#

Far better to explore the four main caves and Wonambi Fossil Centre – part of Australia’s biggest Volcanic Province, the Kanawinka Geopark; and all within easy walking distance of the campground. The variety of self-guided and guided tours will meet most visitor requirements. With the possible exception of the very claustrophobic …

Back in the Victoria Fossil Cave, we left Thylacoleo behind to admire a mirror-like pool and the magical stalagmite and stalactite formations. The malevolent megafauna menace had passed. Peace reigned.

Until we emerged back into daylight and to a nasty yapping little dog disturbing the peace in the carpark, and we wished that the megafauna would arise once more!

Just for a moment …

** Although I’m the only person I know who’s been bitten by a wombat!!
# Pix by Pilchard

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  1. @Gemma – Your comment makes me realise how few caves I’ve actually seen! But I’d never be able to bring myself to crawl through a tunnel to get to the next cavern!! The fossil extravaganza makes this one unique!
    @Anonymous – Really? But who ARE you?!?!
    @Magical Mystical Teacher – And thanx for using one of MY faves – ‘frisson’!! And SOOO jealous of your poetic ability!
    @Joan – Thanx! Come back anytime!

  2. “balefully”

    What a delightful word! Thank you for using it…as a frisson of terror traverses my spine!


    When you see the shadows dance,
    Be it Mexico or France,
    You may join the shadow fun,
    Dancing till the day is done!

    © 2012 by Magical Mystical Teacher

    Shadowy Choices

  3. Even though I have a touch of claustrophobia, I so love caves! I visited Jenolan Caves when I was quite young, but my only other experience was Marracoopa and King Solomons Caves at Mole Creek in Tasmania! They were so intriguing because they represented fairyland, glow worm underground caves and weirdly shaped above ground cave worlds! I did not venture into the “wild” caves involving self-guided tours!

    But these caves you feature here are so fascinating for their odd shadowy shapes! Quite eerie!

  4. @Betty – thanx! One day I’ll go on an adventure tour and take pix of the bigger, better stalactites & stalagmites further in!!

  5. @Andrew – Even more wonderful up close & personal!!
    @Marsha – I found your blog while visiting Diane’s – I wasn’t on the same tour, but we have visited some of the same places!!
    @Sandra – Welcome and thanx!
    @Kay – Welcome to you too! I look forward to showing you more of OZ!! Look forward to more ‘virtual visiting’!

  6. Hi.
    Just wanted to say think you for stopping by my blog and leaving a message. I hope you check out my other two blogs also. I have links for them on the blog you visited.
    I like the photos on your blog. I have signed up to join your blog so I can follow you.

  7. @Diane – I won’t tell your husband that you’ve been unfaithful!!! And nothing is paltry unless you make it so!!
    @Mary – ARRRGGHH!! I’m SO with you on that, and SO not there to help total strangers through their phobias!!! But lets keep that our secret, OK??!!
    @TMW Hickman – I’m sure Pilchard DREAMS of caves (or anywhere, really) without mosquitoes …
    @NixBlog – So do I, but that’s pretty much all I’ve got!!!

  8. @Ann – Welcome! I don’t like too much closed in space – but it was SO worth it! And yes, that’s our camper trailer!
    @Friko – Never say never, but virtual touring is better than not at all!
    @George – Thanx! The limestone has many beautiful tones, all in the ‘warm’ range!
    @PDP – Hey, never thought of that!! Now … if only I could somehow tie that in with our love of bakeries!! Glad you’re happy!!!
    @Al – Well … Pilchard did, but I was kinda expecting it!!!

  9. @Angela – Oh I LOVE the pictures on your link! But I think Thylacoleo is ONLY found in OZ!!!
    @My Journey with Candida – I’m a big coward – this was really low-commitment caving, so it was fine!
    @Dianne – Set yourself a challenge to take better pix than I when you go!! It shouldn’t be too hard …
    @River – This isn’t too bad – no crawling through tunnels or squeezing through gaps! Otherwise I wouldn’t have been there either!
    @Jayne – Well … SOMEONE has to do a Naracoorte Bakery run!!!!

  10. Thanks for a fascinating and entertaining tale of your visit to these caves. Your photo of the pool in Victoria Fossil Cave is marvelous. The colors are warm and rich.

  11. that tent is yours? I have een to caves, and it always intrigues me. Next time go to Mulu caves in Borneo. It was once the biggest cave in the world. But now, they found bigger ones in Vietnam.

  12. It just so happens that my mother grew up right across the river from Hannibal, Missouri, the home of Mark Twain. I’ve actually been to that cave! I don’t remember any mosquitoes, however.

  13. The one time I was in a “real” cave someone else there freaked into a major panic attack & would not let go of me(a total stranger by the way…& I hate being touched. good times). So caves scare me but for all the wrong reasons. ~Mary

  14. I would love to see this. We’ve been to Lewis and Clark caverns in Montana many times and I still get a shivery delight from stepping down, down, down into the darkness. But there are no skeletons there (unless you count the odd lost tourist . . .) and certainly no Megafauna. Now I’m disappointed in our own paltry sights (May my husband forgive me!) 🙂 and even more determined to visit the great land of Oz!

  15. If you ever get short of cash Red, you could hire Pilchard out at barbies and such as a mossie magnet much more environmentally friendly than all that spray stuff!! And yeh, I’m going to have to enjoy any and all the caves vicariously through you eyes, claustrophobia is a curse!! Excellent post, made me very happy!

  16. I’m claustrophobic but I can never resist a pre-historic cave with pre-historic remains. Fascinating. I have visited them in many European countries.

    Australia is a fascinating continent, such a pity that I’ll probably never get to visit.

  17. The Feral teen has this on his MUST do list of bajillion things.
    Love the pics, I think I’ll enjoy your photos and let HIs Nibs explore underground on his own lol.

  18. I’ve always wanted to go caving, but being slightly claustrophobic I’m not sure I should. Thank for the wonderful pictures.

  19. Frabjous story Red! And so interesting about the fossils. The Beckky Thatcher reference made me want to pull my Tom Sawyer off the shelf… You got really good cave pictures; we’ve toured several US Nat’l parks that feature caves and I have never been able to get much of a picture.

    I had to laugh about the yappy dog. There are times here when we wish for an Eagle to swoop down.(Slightly more likely to actually take care of the problem than your wish.) (And yeah, ducking, in case somebody besides you reads this comment, I know it’s the owner’s fault………. pet

  20. Hard to believe I live in the same state and have never visited these world renown caves – great captures Red!

  21. I love caving, we learn so much when we go. There are not any really close to us so when we do go, we have to travel a distance.

    You got some GREAT pictures.

  22. @SFlaGuy – I know this might be a difficult concept, but ‘bigger’ isn’t always ‘better’!!
    @Beach Bum – I think I’ve heard the asteroid strike theory downunder as well! Of course, the other theory is climate change!!
    @Magsx2 – Caves and skeletons – a tourists dream!!!
    @Windsmoke – Well, you’re two up on me! Haven’t been to either of those … YET!

  23. @Saucy Kod – Haha, it WAS a creepy adventure … I don’t think I’ve shown you the Wombat before – but just take the link in the article!! Have a great weekend!
    @Sallie – OMIGOD!!! Don’t tell me I got the story wrong … it WAS Tom Sawyer, wasn’t it?!?!?! And eagles, we can do – but a rising megafauna apocalypse would have been so much more exciting!!
    @Kath – 3 things back at ya! 1 – Come travelling with us ANYTIME!! I want to see who out-magnets who! 2 OMG, am SOOOOO glad I wasn’t on the 10 yo school excursion tour … 3 Haha, you win! My wombat bite didn’t even break the skin …

  24. Walked through the Genolan (Not sure if the spelling is right) Caves in the Blue Mountains and a coal mine in Koorumburra both were very interesting and absolutely enjoyable just like these caves are :-).

  25. Was recently watching a show about megafauna that lived here in North America around 10,000BC. There is a somewhat controversial theory that an asteroid stroke around that time might be the cause of their extinction. I wonder how that theory works with extinct Australian megafauna?

    Great pictures and post!

  26. Three things:

    * like Pilchard, I too am a Mossie Magnet. I have often contemplated hiring myself out at BBQs because if you stand near me, you will be safe and I will end up with more bumps on me than a side street.

    * Naracoorte caves was The. Most. Exciting. School. Excursion EVER. Dark, scary skeletons, mega fauna and stalactites. Perfection for ten year olds.

    * I may not have been bitten by a wombat but one has pissed on me. Year ago I was given a baby wombat to hold and it curled up on its back, in my hands. It then issued a stream of wee which fortunately ran down the side of my rain coat and into a pocket!

  27. This was like a creepy adventure, the beginning and end of a story and I loved the “Huck” twist. Really great article Red – very well written. CONGRATS
    The photos are entrancing, the shadows add flavour.
    NOW< I am going to GOOGLE to look at a WOMBAT, although I think you shared one with us a while ago, but I cannot remember what it looked like.
    Thanks tons for sharing this blog with us – it was GREAT !!!!!

  28. @Pearl Maple – well … it makes a change from the sweeping outback vistas, and tropical panoramas I usually post about!!
    @Andrew – there’s a continual tension between ‘leave wanting more’ and ‘we may not pass this way again’!!
    @Toni – If there were spiders, it was likely too gloomy to see them! YESSS!! But either way, it’s SO worth a visit!
    @FruitCake – It’s my pleasure! I was enthralled by Thylacoleo!! But the wombat saga remains untold … probably because it lurks in the mists of time!
    @diane b – I CAN believe that! I nearly put in that those who loathed caves could always visit the wineries! Of which there are many and varied AND well known!!

  29. Believe it or not we visited Naracoorta caves on a wine tour . The mega fauna was interesting. I love your shot of Thylacooleo with his shadow looming over you.

  30. Thank you both for taking your camera down into the bowels of the earth for me. Not for any kind of treasure would I be lurking in caves myself.
    I’d no idea Naracoorte had any attractions at all let alone someone with the imagination required to bring our prehistory to life.

    Have you posted the story of the Great Wombat Attack somewhere?

  31. Last year we stopped off in Naracoorte. We didn’t go to see the caves. Sounds like we should have. Always leave yourself wanting.

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