Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park   

What's special?

Dry prickly vine scrub and jagged limestone outcrops at Chillagoe conceal the breathtaking beauty of the limestone caves underground. Many of these caves are protected in sections of Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park.

About 400 million years ago, limestone was deposited as calcareous mud and coral reefs surrounding underwater volcanoes. Subsequent tilting, folding and erosion exposed and weathered the limestone which today towers over the surrounding plains. Fluctuating groundwater levels slowly dissolved some of the limestone, creating caverns and passages, some of which have since been decorated by calcite stalagtites, stalagmites and flowstones, deposited by surface waters penetrating through the rock.

Few animals can survive inside the dark caves. The common bent-wing, little bent-wing, little brown, sheath-tailed, eastern horseshoe and diadem horseshoe bats roost and breed here. Chillagoe is one of five known nesting sites for the white-rumped swiftlet which, like bats, uses sound waves or echolocation to navigate around the dark caves. The caves are also home to the spotted python and a variety of insects and spiders. Fossilised bones of many animals including the extinct giant kangaroo have been found in the caves.

Aboriginal paintings are protected in the park. The Chillagoe Smelter site preserves relics of the state’s mining and industrial heritage dating back to the 1890s.

Exploring Chillagoe

Spend some time in a country town and explore some limestone caves. Guided tours of Royal Arch, Donna and Trezkinn Caves operate three times daily except Christmas Day. The tours take about an hour and fees apply. Obtain your ticket beforehand from the Hub in Chillagoe. The Hub is open 8.30am–5pm daily and 8am–3.30pm weekends. Groups should make advance bookings.

You can explore The Archways, Pompeii and Bauhinia Caves on your own. Always take at least two torches when caving and never cave alone.

Explore above ground as well. See the brilliant red flowers of the bats-wing coral trees and kurrajong trees in winter. The ghost gum Eucalyptus papuana sheds its bark each year leaving behind white and yellow bark. See Aboriginal paintings at Balancing Rock and Mungana.

Discover the mining history of the area at the Smelter. Copper, lead, silver and gold were extracted here for a period of more than 40 years.

Go birdwatching. More than 75 bird species have been recorded around Chillagoe including pale-headed rosellas, apostle birds and blue-faced honeyeaters.

Camping is not allowed in the park but you can stay in the nearby township of Chillagoe. The winter months are a cooler time to visit, but the caves are a comfortable 22 degrees Celsius all year round.


Wear sturdy shoes and protective clothing when walking or caving. The limestone rock has sharp edges. Take drinking water.


There are no disability facilities but you can drive around the short interpretive trail at the Chillagoe Smelters.

Getting there

Chillagoe Caves is 215km or three hours’ drive west of Cairns via Mareeba and Dimbulah. The popular Royal Arch, Donna and Trezkinn Caves are just south of Chillagoe. The Archways is at Mungana, 15km north-west of Chillagoe. To reach the smelter site, take the Mungana Road and turn right at the signpost.

A bus service operates to Chillagoe from Cairns and Mareeba and charter flights operate from Cairns. Conventional-vehicle access is possible in dry weather. Check road conditions in summer as roads may be impassable in the wet season.

Sources & Further reading



Journey Back Through Time
Experience Australia
Aboriginal Australia
National Parks
Photo Galleries
Site Map
                                                                                           Author: M.H.Monroe  Email:     Sources & Further reading