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West Australia 2000

by Mr. Wilson

Rich Long and myself, plus our respective wives decided to visit W Australia in March 2000.  The plan was to visit the various relatives, go walking and fit some caving in.  Rich was going to stay somewhere near Rockingham (south of Perth) and we were staying with Hillary's sister at Yanchep (north of Perth).  As it worked out I never did find out where Rich and his wife managed to stay but I am sure that they really enjoyed themselves!  Hilary and I plus Pat and Neville went down to the Stirling Ranges and camped at the only site there.  I managed to fall foul of "JOYCE" the idiot site owner who seemed to think that customers were there to be patronised.  This was a shame because the site was in a good location in a National Park (hence the monopoly).  Her name was not Joyce but she reminded us of Joyce Grenfell of St Trinians fame.

Hilary, Neville (the brother in law) Pat (the sister in law) and myself managed to ascend two of the major peaks.  Neville did really well - he just took two of his live longer pills and then proceeded to climb (Bluff Knoll 1073m and Tolbrunnup 1052m) Tolbrunnup was the hardest of the two.  These mountains are very much like the Snowdonia range in Wales, but they have their own eco system which is totally opposite to British mountains.  The approach walks are fairly dry and featureless but as you get to the 500m mark the undergrowth starts to sprout, getting more and more lush until the top is reached.  This is due to the cooler temperatures and cloud and rain around the top of the range. It is possible to have difficulty pushing through the thick lush growth on some of the lesser-walked peaks!  This range stands alone in the south west of OZ as the highest points, but 60k south of the Stirlings lie the Porongorups which resemble the Malvern hills, these hills have many more roads leading to the start of the routes and have several camping and caravan sites on or nearby. The region is basically a farming area, mostly cattle on a grand scale probably like the small American ranches.

We liked this area and would have been happy to spend a couple of days more exploring the soft and accessible hills, in the end we managed to ascend two routes here, Castle Rock a super route with a boulder finish and good views, and a short Karri Tree walk through the forest towards Devils Slide.  For those who have an interest in forests the Karri tree walk in Walpole is a must, you walk 30m up on a walkway high in the treetops, we really enjoyed our afternoon there.

Having toured the south coast a little, Hilary and I visited Jewel Cave on a private tourist trip.  This is a stunning cave, very well decorated and well worth a visit.  There are many caves nearby which I visited later. North of Perth in a National Park is Yanchep, a caving area (mostly small caves similar to Burrington). Hilary and I went on a very good walk in the National Park which encompassed most of the caving area (we also found a really superb bunkhouse in the middle of the bush, which would make a good base for cave exploration, see photo).  The major caves in the region are for the tourists, that is Crystal and Cabaret Cave, not overly long.  There are 500 caves in all, mostly numbered.  The principal explorer of the region, Lex Bastian told me that it would be impossible to name all the sites and caves, so you have this quaint situation where someone says we are going to visit no. 54 today, meaningless to anyone else, but very practical!  For example Carabooda Cave (yn 485, the largest cave in the area to date from my map would be 260m 027deg magnetic from yn 484.  This cave is a short distance out from the western foot of a fairly steep ridge, the entrance being the largest solution pipe in the centre of a solution doline with several exposed pinnacles.

The Western Australia Speleo Society were very helpful to me and I managed to spend a busy long weekend with them at Margaret River, the principal caving area at the moment with 300 caves listed at this time!  Their shed is big and roomy but has no water or sanitation plus no lighting, this means every thing has to be brought with you (it also has these quaint tree squirrels that run up and down the tin roof at night - very noisy)!  The toilet consisted of a spade and a beer crate with a toilet seat attached to the top, the plan being to walk as far away as possible, dig a large hole, place the crate on top, sit on the seat and perform, backfill hole and return to shed with crate under your arm.  "No one would possibly know where you have been." The club took me to the flat roof extensions in Jewel Cave, a totally wonderful place with floor to ceiling pretties everywhere.  The cave itself is a fairly easy trip but the high humidity and CO2 levels can make it seem hard going, the series is about 40m deep and in total 3k long.  The water table has been dropping for about 12 years now and there is a great deal of discussion as to what is the cause (it is now a good metre lower).  Our next visit was Moondyne which is an "adventure cave".  It was also well decorated and contained some extremely good cave coral, it used to be called Coronation Cave for many years but has now reverted back to its original name. The cave would not put anybody to the test but is worth a visit.  It has fairly high CO2 levels and is only approx. 400 m long.  The next day I visited Easter Cave. This was the highlight of my trip (I have subsequently discovered that this is the most well decorated cave in Australia).  We spent some time wandering in the bush trying to find the entrance.  This is not surprising as the cave is only open 4 times a year to parties of 4 (very tight access).  I was privileged to get a trip on this visit many thanks to WASS.  It is a superb cave, stunningly decorated, 2k long and about 40m running depth.  There were some small lakes and ducks, but the steady drop in the water table has made the trip easier and dry with a lovely draught.  We have nothing like this in Great Britain, 15 to 16 degrees temp and 80% humidity. There is more beauty lying on the floor than in the whole of GB cave on Mendip; the crowning glory being the LEMON, a wonderful rounded stalagmite with a reddish coloured base.  Apart from the 10m entrance ladder pitch and several dry crawls the trip was not hard as we know it.  I sincerely hope that the tight access arrangements keep this cave safe from mindless idiots.  Deepdene was my next cave which involved a walk in the bush but we found it first time. WASS have been doing access checks with little trigger machines powered by batteries.  This was basically a trip to help them retrieve the kit.  The person who is conducting this survey is a WILLET CLONE right down to beer pot smile and general build, I couldn't believe my eyes so I head butted him and got a Willet result "GRUNT GIGGLE hit me again."  This guy John is Willet's doppelganger!


Hilary Wilson in the hut at Yanchep

We had a look at the cave which at one time must have had some really superb gours they have now all dried up.  The whole system was only 160m long.  Years ago people used to light fires to illuminate the formations (in the 1890s it was common practice to illuminate the King's Chamber with burning rushes. They would then retire from the cave and watch the smoke drifting lazily from the entrance!).  Luckily this practice has died out now!

My last cave visit was Brides, a 50m deep hole doline with a small cave at the bottom right hand side. There used to be a wooden ladder / staging which served as access, but it burnt down in a bush fire (probably the same fire that demolished the first WASS hut).  Perhaps this was the same fire that burnt the BEC hut down!  The access is now a 50m abseil via some bollards - quite pleasant.  This concluded our tour of West Australia and I drove back to Perth in the borrowed 4 - wheel drive Nissan Patrol. (Thanks Neville I could not have managed without transport).  We intend to return in the near future and go north where there are even more caves and good walking.  I cannot thank all the Western Australia Speleo Society cavers enough for their efforts and the Retirement Rellies who we sponged off for four weeks (so they say!).

Mike Wilson.

NB I am going to buy some of the brother in law's livelong pills just in case they work.

Ross (WASS member) in Easter cave

Mike Wilson’s Map of the area visited in Western Australia

 (Apologies for the quality – Ed.)