As we clambered into Westmorland Cave, our hands and feet searching for holds in the fading light, I lost all sense of the world outside. Cool, clear water hurried past us, sparkling in the beams of our head torches. Chasing the stream as it disappeared like a mole into the depths of the cave, we came across glowworm cities, godly shafts of sunlight that shone down through holes in the ceiling and tiny alcoves of jewel-like condensation. This is what it’s like exploring Mole Creek Caves.
Mole Creek is a little country town in North West Tasmania renowned for its “wild” caves. (Incidentally, there are no moles in Tasmania, and never have been; Mole Creek was so named because it flows underground and returns to the surface several times along its length, just like a mole.)
Mole Creek Caves
Unlike “show” caves (Mole Creek has two of these as well, Marakoopa and King Solomon) which have permanent lighting, man-made paths and guided tours, wild caves offer a genuine insight into another world, a chance to see more than just a few stalactites and stalagmites.
But first, you need a guide. Because they’re generally unmarked and dangerous to the inexperienced, wild caves can really only be accessed (short of literally stumbling into one, which can happen to unwary bushwalkers in this part of Tasmania) with the aid of a qualified speleologist or caver – like Deb Hunter, our wild Tasmania cave tour guide.
Mole Creek Cave tours
One of the most experienced “speleo”s in Australia, Hunter has been running wild cave tours in Mole Creek for more than 20 years and has an almost spiritual appreciation for the wild cave environment.
“Caves aren’t just another aspect of the great outdoors,” she says as we gear-up for the adventure ahead in blue overalls, red helmets fitted with headlamps and white gumboots.
“They demand more respect than other natural places. There’s something about being underground that puts our emotions on high alert because we’re out of our natural habitat. That’s what makes them feel special.”
Soon we’re wading knee-deep through freshwater streams made deafeningly loud by the closeness of the cave walls.
It’s an awe-inspiring environment. Some of the rocks we grab hold of are 500 million years old and have seen eight Ice Ages.
It’s also exhilarating.
Splashing through pools and streams (it’s safer, Hunter explains, to walk through water than to try to keep your feet dry by balancing on slippery wet rocks), I feel like a kid again.
We crawl through tunnels and “squeezes” on our hands and knees (wild caves are not for the claustrophobic) and slide down muddy slopes on our butts, thankful for the sturdy overalls and helmets.
When we finally turn back and resurface where we’d entered the cave, it feels like we’ve been underground for days, not hours, thanks to the disorienting nature of the cave environment.
Back where the sun does shine, Hunter serves us morning tea, lights her pipe and hands around some of her home-made pineapple cake.
Westmorland Cave delights
“One of the things that distinguishes wild caves from show caves,” she says, “is that it’s a personal journey for each individual.
People come to it thinking it’s just going to be a physical experience, but you’ve got to confront yourself in some way to explore this part of the natural world.”
Westmorland is just one of Mole Creek’s many wild caves. Choose your level of difficulty: easy or squeezy. Some caves are ideal for photography, others for peaceful underground wilderness experiences.
You can get wet and muddy, or stay high and dry. And if you’re really lucky, as we were, Hunter might take her flute out of her backpack, ask you to turn off your head torch and serenade you in the dark, adding yet another dimension to Tasmania’s unique wild cave experience.
Where is Mole Creek?
Mole Creek is about an hour’s drive west of Launceston, Tasmania. Mole Creek is a destination that can be visited all year round.
Mole Creek Caves Tours
There are two types of cave tours in Mole Creek: tourist caves and wild caves. The Mole Creek Caves for tourists are suitable for most people and are available daily. Each tour is 45 minutes and you might even get to spot a Tasmanian cave spider, that lives in these caves without light.
For adventure seekers, half-day wild cave tours (9am-1pm) cost $150 and include all caving equipment, overalls, helmet and head torch, waterproof boots, an experienced guide, environmental interpretation and morning tea. Full day tours ($300) can be arranged. Bring comfortable, sturdy shoes with ankle support, a change of clothes and a towel. Phone Wild Cave Tours on (03) 6367 8142.
What else is there to do in Mole Creek?
Mole Creek is a top spot for nature lovers. See crystals, rivers and glow worms. Trowunna Wildlife Park is the place to see Tasmanian Devils. Visit the Mole Creek tourist caves For more information about the area, visit the Mole Creek Tourism Association.
What to do in Tasmania
Visiting Tassie in winter? Here are some ideas for Tasmania in winter. Looking for the Southern Lights? You’ll love this read. Launceston has amazing restaurants and is a charming city with lovely architecture.