OZ Top Spot #12 – Naracoorte Caves National Park, 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 …
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.
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 …
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!
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 …
- Naracoorte Caves National Park
- Wonambi Fossil Centre
- Naracoorte, and Naracoorte Visitor Information Centre
- Australian Megafauna
- MORE things to do on the Kanawinka GeoTrail
- MORE Limestone Coast Adventures
- MORE Photos on Flickr HERE!