Adventures in Technology and the Outdoors

Chillagoe Caves Expedition - 2006

This was a expedition to North Queensland Australia run by the Hills Speleology Club.
The trip involved a 4 day bushwalk over Hinchinbrook Island on the Thorsborne Trail.
Then up to Chillagoe (which is around 200KM west of Cains) for 10 days of caving.
I travelled in the group that went via road from Sydney.

Bushwalking Equipment

Trip: Chillagoe Caves Expedition - 2006

Posted at: 2006-08-05 @ 11:51:34

We were going to spend 5 days on the island, in terms on food we needed 5 lunches, 4 breakfasts and 4 dinners plus a spare meal in case of emergencies.

It was decided that the group should be broken up into groups of 2. In my case we both carried our own tents, shared the cooking gear and we each carried 2 dinners and did our own thing for breakfast and lunch.

The first dinner I took was pasta (enough for 2), 1 85g of tuna and dried mushrooms.
The second dinner was also pasta (enough for 2) with a powdered curry pasta sauce.

My lunches consisted of the large vita weat biscuits six per lunch, 2 sticks of salami (1/3 per day), 2 blocks of parmesan cheese, 1 mini tube of philadelphia cream cheese per day, one jar of semi sun dried tomatoes, 1 squeezable tube of vegemite.
Lunch Parmesan Parmesan
As you can probably see I took far too much food for lunch! I hardly ate any of the sun dried tomatoes and very little vegemite, I also took too much cheese!

Breakfast was 4 weetbix with some dried apple and milk powder all in a single zip lock bag.

I also took enough muesli-bars to have 2 each day, a few tea bags and some milk powder.
All dinners and lunches were in their own individual zip lock bags. With dinners being in one stuff-sack, and lunch and breakfast in another.

Sleeping Gear
The tent is a small two person tent and weighs in at just over 2KG.
Sleeping bag was a +5degree rated synthetic sleeping bag with a silk liner.
I took a thermarest camping mat which was great!

Cooking Gear
The stove was an MSR whisper-lite stove using shelllite. We took 1 litre of fuel which was far too much as we only used around 350ml. A single 650ml bottle would have been enough.
We used a small billy and trangia bowl along with our own cutlery, bowls and cups for eating.
I also took 2 cigarette lighters, 1 pack of matches in a water proof bag along with the cleaning equipment for the MSR.

3 shirts, 2 long sleeve and 1 short, 1 pair of shorts and one pair of long pants with zip off legs. 3 pairs of thick socks, 2 Pairs of underpants. 1 thermal top, 1 raincoat, 1 fleece top and a hat.

Having a good pair of boots is MOST important, they will be the only shoes you have and you want them to be very comfortable.
I have a pair of Scarpa ZG65 and I was very happy with them.

My pack is a macpac ravine which is around 70lt. The ravine which is very simple pack but functions very well. I also took a waterproof pack liner which was a lifesaver and a MUST TAKE! Some of the group took waterproof pack covers however the liners were better.

Misc gear
2lt drinking bladder with a wide mouth. First aid kit. Sunscreen and insect repellent.
toilet paper.
Toothbrush, deodorant
Light weight towel - I took one of those super absorbent ones
Sharp knife. Head torch. Length of cord

My pack weight was around the 17KG mark with water. Although I was aiming for 15KG and probably would have got that if my walking partner and I had not decided to carry separate tents due to the wet.

Caving gear

Trip: Chillagoe Caves Expedition - 2006

Posted at: 2006-08-05 @ 14:30:23

Not knowing the caves, we were not totally sure what equipment was required.
We took a lot of SRT, rope, rigging and laddering gear, however very little of it was used.

Rope gear
I took 2 ropes (30m & 20+m), 3 tape slings (5 metres each), 1 harness, 2 ascenders, 1 descender, 1 pulley, 1 cowstail, 15 karabiners and a few rope slings.

My normal helmet mounted 1watt luxeon LED light, with multiple sets of spare rechargeable batteries.
Petzl Zoom with 2 4.5volt flat battery.
Mini maglite plus matches.

General stuff
Helmet, cave pack, couple of zip lock bags, lunch box (stop lunch getting squashed), 1lt water bottle, box to store spare batteries - knife - garbage bag, couple of old pairs of sox, 2 pairs of old shorts and shirts and two pairs of overalls and an old set of boots.

Because the caves at Chillagoe are very sharp on the outside I should have also included a set of gloves.

The Road Trip North

Trip: Chillagoe Caves Expedition - 2006

Posted at: 2006-08-07 @ 02:14:59

After all the weeks/months of planning, wondering what gear to take and trying to keep life at home running, it was time to leave!

Packing the gear up (click photo to go to flickr page)
Storing it all out


All the gear packed up for the whole trip

We were going to walk over Hinchinbrook island first so we needed to get from Sydney to Cardwell where the ferry for the island leaves from.

I was travelling in a Pajero Inter-cooled turbo diesel 4wd with 2 others from the same caving group. We are also travelling in convoy with another 4wd that has another 2 members of the club.We had arranged to stay the first night at Kyogle with a mate of one of my travelling companions. Kyogle is a nice little place around 70KM short of the Queensland border.

From Kyogle, made for Bundaberg where we were able to stay with ex member of the club who was coming to Chillagoe but skipping the walk.
The change in country once we went over the border into Queensland was quickly noticeable. As we got near Bundaberg we saw the first cane fields. With the sun setting into the distance the roads leading into the cane fields looked like something out of a photograph. It seemed almost familiar.
By the time we got to Bundaberg we were all a little tired having covered around 1500KM in 2 days!
The next day was a shorter drive, however, it was not without its excitement. We got a flat tyre which was a little bit of a pest. We also discovered that the Queensland coast road is not really a coast road! You don't see the water the whole way up!
We found a caravan park around 50KM north of Mackay where we were able to have a shower and all those fancy things!

Day 4 of the road trip was just a short leg, as we only had to get to Cardwell. We got the tyre from yesterday fixed up along the way. The bad news was that the weather was starting to close in.
By the time we got to Cardwell it was really raining and the clouds were so low that we were unable to see Hinchinbrook from the road!!
We booked into the Caravan park are Cardwell, where we met up with the others who had decided to fly up.
After 2500KM in 4 days we had arrived!

Hinchinbrook Island - The walk

Trip: Chillagoe Caves Expedition - 2006

Posted at: 2006-08-11 @ 12:16:35

14th of July
Today was the day we were to catch the ferry for the island. Lucky the heavy rain from the night before had stopped although the weather looked anything but good.

The ferry left from the marina at Cardwell, first stop was the eco tourist resort on the island and then into mangroves of Missionary Bay where we were dropped off onto a boardwalk.
From the drop off point we walked onto the beach at Ramsay Bay. No turning back now! The weather was still overcast but the humidity was on the rise.
With all the rain even the normally dry creeks were flowing and made getting water a snap.

(click photos to go to flick page)
Ramsay bay
Photo: Ramsay bay

Some of us dropped our packs and walked up Nina Peak. Nina peak is by no means the highest point on Hinchinbrook island but none the less the view is amazing!
View from nina peak
Photo: Looking towards Missionary Bay

View from nina peak
Photo: Looking towards Missionary Bay

View from nina peak
Photo: Looking towards Mt Bowen

View from nina peak
Photo: Looking towards Nina Bay

View from nina peak
Photo: Looking towards Boulder Bay

Once we got back to the track we walked to Nina bay for lunch on the beach.
From there we walked along the beaches and boulders which would be best described as a beach with huge rocks that you need to hop along.

The next major stop was Little Ramsay Bay which is where we were going to camp for the night.
Little Ramsay Bay - Camp site
Photo: Little Ramsay Bay

Little Ramsay Bay - Camp site
Photo: Little Ramsay camp site

Little Ramsay Bay - Camp site
Photo: Looking towards The Thumb

Little Ramsay Bay - Camp site
Photo: Little Ramsay camp site

It was an amazing spot and we were even able to go for a swim in one of the freshwater creeks just before it ran out into the ocean.
However, it was not long before the native rats and mice on the island appeared. Each camp site has a "rat box". No, it's not a box to put the rats in, but a box to put your food in to keep the rats away. The boxes are around 1.5 metres long and 50cm wide.
As we were eating dinner I had a couple of mice running under the log I was sitting on only a little time after dark.
One group had 2 holes eaten in their tent, another forgot to hang his pack up and they ate a hole in the zipper and someone left a chocolate bar in their pants pocket from a walk a couple of months ago, the pants had since been washed however the rats found it and put a hole in the pants to get to the pocket.

We spent the rest of the evening sitting on the beach in the dark listening to the tide coming in and watching the lights of the fishing boats out to sea.

Hinchinbrook Island - The walk

Trip: Chillagoe Caves Expedition - 2006

Posted at: 2006-08-15 @ 15:46:22

15th of July
Today we were going from Little Ramsay Bay to Zoe Bay which is one of the longer hops on the walk.
After having a quick breakfast, we packed up and moved out along Little Ramsay Bay beach.
(click photos to go to flickr page)
Little Ramsay Bay

After an hour into the walk we stopped and again dropped the packs to do a short side trip down to Banksia Bay.
Banksia Bay

Banksia Bay

Banksia Bay

After a couple of hours of uphill walking we reached the "saddle". From the "saddle" is was possible to see Zoe bay in the distance.
Zoe bay in the distance

It did not look that far but as we were to learn you have cover a fair bit of country to get there!
From the "saddle" it was downhill into marsh country.
Once on the flat we came to North Zoe Creek which was the first major creek crossing. With almost everyone in my group removing their boots and socks I decided that I would do the same thing. Doing any walking even crossing rivers without ones boots on has never been something I was keen on. The rocks in the creek bed were very slippery and after treading on a sharp rock, recoiling and then treading a slippery one and almost totally falling over backwards into the water I got to the other side.
The sharp rock I had trodden on put a small cut in the inside of my foot, luckily walking did not seem to cause it any trouble. However that was the last time I took my boots off to cross a river!
With all the recent rain the island even creeks that normally don't have water were flowing, one we came to had amazingly blue water.

Blue water

It was not long before we came to more creek crossings, having learnt from last time I just walked right through and put up with the wet feet. A few others in the group were still trying to keep the feet dry and went through the taking boots and socks off deal.
The funny part was it was not the river crossings where everyone got their feet wet, but in-fact a wet marshy section of the walk.

After having spent most of the day walking through rainforest we suddenly came out into more open country.
Open country

Informing us that we were getting closer to Zoe Bay at last!
The Zoe Bay camp site is at the southern end of Zoe Bay, after walking up the beach into the camp site we found that the camp site was starting to get a little full!
Zoe Beach
After exploring the extensive camp we found that there were 2 "rat boxes", with the second one being further away from the beach back in the rainforest with no other people camping near by. So we made it our camp.
The Zoe Bay camp site did not have as easy access to water as Little Ramsay although it was still only a 10 minute walk away. After getting tents put up, we walked up to south zoe river (the water source) and collected water for dinner as well as having a swim. Boy was the water cold!!

After dinner we went to bed early, around 30 minutes later it started raining! Thankfully I had remembered to put my camera in the dry bag and my pack liner is semi water proof.

Hinchinbrook Island - The walk

Trip: Chillagoe Caves Expedition - 2006

Posted at: 2006-08-18 @ 11:50:08

16th of July
I awoke to the sound of rain on the tent. Seems the bad weather we had so far been lucky with had finally caught up with us.

After staying in the tent for awhile I heard the rain ease and I decided to getup and at least have breakfast, everyone else had the same idea.
Today was to be our "rest" day, where we would spend the day exploring Zoe Bay and generally being lazy. However with the rain we decided that we might as well get walking, we were also expecting that we might not be able to cross the Diamantina Creek due to the rain and may have to camp there until the water went down.

So we packed up the wet tents and luckily the rain stopped for just long enough to get the gear packed up which was very nice.
We then walked up past Zoe Falls in what was probably the steepest climb of the whole walk. With the rain clouds sitting very low on the hills and the look of the tress made this section of the walk look very like Tasmania without the cold!

Once the assent was complete is was basically back down towards Mulligan falls.
We passed the turn off to Sunken Reef Bay however we decided that was probably something we could walk back to, as we still had a spare day.
We came to Diamantina Creek which was flowing strongly but was no where near impassable. It was much like South Zoe creek which we had crossed several times during the day.

We had lunch at Diamantina and then moved onto the Mulligan Falls camp area. The rain seemed to really have set in, it was really starting to get wet and for the tropics a little on the cool side.
We arrived at Mulligan Falls mid-afternoon. After picking tent sites we had a look at the falls, which were amazing and really flowing! One of the group who has done this walk 5 times so far said he had never seen them like that.
The question was then raised what to do for the rest of the day? A couple of the group decided to go to bed and sleep the rain away. It was also decided that we would see if we could catch the ferry out a day early as there were others who were leaving tomorrow as well.

After cooking dinner in the rain there was not a lot else to do but head into the tent, which in my case was somehow still somewhat dry on the inside and go to bed.

I don't have any photos for the day as I put my camera in a dry bag to keep dry during the rain.

Hinchinbrook Island - The walk

Trip: Chillagoe Caves Expedition - 2006

Posted at: 2006-08-20 @ 20:55:33

17th of July
Today was supposed to be our second last day on the island, but due to all the rain we decided to pull out today.
Having booked the ferry off the island for the 18th we were unsure if we would be able to get on it. We had decided that we would walk to George point (the ferry pickup point) anyway and if there was room great! If not then we would camp the last night at George point
I awoke early as I take a long time to eat breakfast, the rain had stopped aside from the odd large drop from the overhanging trees.
After packing up the very wet tent and wondering if I would be using it again this trip we set off for George point which was around 8KM away.
The first part of the walk was in forest however it was not long before we walked out onto a beach (Mulligan Bay).
Mulligan Bay

Mount Straloch

George point

From there we walked right along the beach to George point, were it looked like we were really close to the mainland. In-fact we had mobile reception! We gave the ferry people a call and asked if they would have room, sure thing, they would run the ferry twice if need be.

Hinchinbrook island

Once off the island we had a short bus ride from Lucinda back to cardwell right back were we started 4 days earlier!

It was a great walk and even though the weather was at times less than nice, it could have been a whole heap worse! The views were amazing and the walk itself is not that hard.
I highly recommend it!

Chillagoe Town

Trip: Chillagoe Caves Expedition - 2006

Posted at: 2006-08-24 @ 11:10:51

Chillagoe is a town that was mainly fueled by the mining industry near by.
With all the mines closed now its main business is the cattle stations nearby and the tourist industry for the caves as well as a few other items of note.
One of those is balancing rock.
balancing rock

Chillagoe is a 2 pub town, with the main post office pub and another around the corner.
It has a general store which has all the normal stuff, although you have to pick the right day for the fresh bread trucked in.
It also had a laundry, hardware store, 2 public phone boxes, a tourist information centre (The Hub), caravan park, police station and the Queensland equivalent of National Parks and Wildlife.

Chillagoe Town

Chillagoe Town

Aside from the Caves another tourist attraction is the old Chillagoe smelters. The smelters were operated in the early 1900s and closed in doors in the 1940s. The smelters were used to extract silver and gold among other things from the ore. The slag still at the smelter site today seems to be rich in lead and is something that could probably be mined.
Queensland parks and wildlife have a good PDF document about the smelters.

Chillagoe Smelters

Chillagoe Smelters

For the trip we were lucky enough to be able to use the Chillagoe Caving Club's club house.

The club house

The club house

There are a few more photos on my flickr page.

The Towers

Trip: Chillagoe Caves Expedition - 2006

Posted at: 2006-08-30 @ 09:52:24

The whole idea of the trip was caving!
One of the things that is very different about Chillagoe caves is the "tower" the caves exist in.
The Towers

These towers rise right up from the flat savanna style plan and the caves infact are IN the towers.
A lot of the caves infact do not go below "ground level" with all of the cave being in the limestone tower

These limestone towers are surprisingly tall.
Its a long way down!

Another remarkable thing about these towers is how hard moving around on them can be.
One day we spent an hour and a half trying to find a cave. It should be noted that hour and a half was spent walking up one valley on a tower than then walking the 100 metres back to get into the other valley!
As if that's not bad enough the rock on the towers is really sharp! It has these ridges on the rock which will tear holes in you.

However this sharpness was also a saving grace as it made climbing the towers to get to the caves somewhat easier.
Tower Climbing

The Caving

Trip: Chillagoe Caves Expedition - 2006

Posted at: 2006-08-30 @ 16:41:10

We did a lot of caving up at Chillagoe and to document cave by cave would be very boring!
Aside from the whole tower thing the caves were a lot dryer than normal and they all have an abundance of daylight holes, which are basically holes in the roof. This is one of the many things that marks Chillagoe as somewhat unique.

We also discovered that there was a need to have good climbing skills. Because these caves are formed a little differently from most caves they tend to have a lot of vertical rift sections that either need to be climbed down or up.

The towers which I have talked about in previous posts make navigation above ground quite a challenge. Just finding the cave can take a considerable amount of effort and time and sometimes in the process you will find multiple other caves without it being the right cave!

The caves themselves are reasonably dry and dusty inside, for caves at least. There is also very little contact with water or mud.
Some of caves do reach to the edge of the water table however its rare and most systems don't even get muddy.

The actual decoration inside the caves is mostly inactive and it is rare to find a still active piece.
Chillagoe caves have an abundance of cave coral compared with almost any other cave system I have been in.

I am going to limit what I say publicly about the actual caves as they are permit only systems. The remoteness also helps to protect them from some less environmentally friendly people and hopefully help to preserve for future generations to enjoy.
If you are a member of a Speleological (caving) club, I highly recommend planning a trip. I know my club (The Hills Speleology Club will be planning another trip sometime in the future.

Below is a collection of photos I have of the caves. Click on any of the photos to travel to my flickr page.


Trip slide show

Trip: Chillagoe Caves Expedition - 2006

Posted at: 2006-09-02 @ 18:27:00

After much procrastinating I have finally done the photo slide show.
The truth of the matter is that the slide show has been done for weeks, however it took me awhile to get around to encoding it out.

The slide show comes in two formats.

H.264 (Quicktime)
Large 640x480 (35MB)
Small 320x240 (16MB)

WMV (Windows Media Player)
Large 640x480 (35MB)
Small 320x240 (29MB)

The highest quality video is the Large H.264 video.

This is also the last post about my great trip north. I hope you have enjoyed reading all the posts. If you are only new to the trip story visit the trip page

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