Thursday, September 8, 2022

A weekend in outback Chillagoe, eating out, exploring the famous Mungana caves, the Smelters and the rest

Chillagoe township is 2.5 hours west of Cairns, in Far North Queensland. It's a small, country, outback town, best known for the many underground Mungana caves, locally mined slabs of marble, volcanic landforms, charming buildings and outback pubs, and the friendliness of the residents. At one stage, millions of years ago, the whole area was submerged under the ocean. The complex geomorphology of this area is fascinating.

Balancing Rock, an attraction near Chillagoe

These rocks located on the way to Balancing Rock will cut you to pieces if given the chance, they are not to be scrambled over. 

The vistas near Chillagoe containing the caves, looked like this. Austere and stunning in their cragginess.

Here is our tour group, walking toward the Royal Arch Cave.

The Queen Victoria rock formation on our way to the Royal Arch Cave. Can you see her?

The Royal Arch cave, which was supposedly easy/moderate grade, and 1.3 km return, still held a few surprises, a narrow passage to sidle through, being careful not to bump our heads in a few spots, ouch, a low shelf to squeeze under, and another tunnel to squeeze through and drop from to the ground as an optional extra. However, the tour guide's excellent commentary, the small bats, the fossilised small plants and the limestone formations made the experience very worthwhile for 1.5 intriguing hours. 

In the Royal Arch cave, we were all given our own torches to help us see where we were going which worked well, however it was quite difficult to take quality photos in the cave because of the dim light, which was to be expected.

Can you spot the Elephant in this limestone formation? There are many examples of where our imagination runs riot and pictures animal and bird like shapes in the formations.

Mr. HRK is taking the photos as he enters the Trezkinn Cave. Inside the cave it's a 230 m walk, with 250 very steep ladder-like steps at the entrance. He handled these like a pro, but it's not for the faint hearted. The 'chandelier' to be found inside this cave, a spectacular cluster of stalactites bathed in spotlights was the ultimate reward.  Our caving odyssey reminded me that every cave potentially has narrow openings to squeeze through, low ceilings to scramble or crawl under, a labyrinth of passages, but spectacular clusters of limestone formations, not to mention darting small bats, fossilised plants and animals. The very rare and protected White Rumped Swiftlet bird is found in these caves, however they are very difficult to spot. 

We didn't take a tour of the Donna Cave. The entrance involved descending through a narrow cave entrance into the hidden world, and another 330 very steep steps. Perhaps next time. However, this experience reminded me of back in the days when I lived in Rockhampton, and aged about 18 and quite small, I scrambled with friends through the Capricorn Caves underground caving system there, through very narrow tunnels and small cave entrances, enjoying the adventure. Amazing!

In this caving network, there are also some self-guided caves to explore. The Archways Cave is 15km from Chillagoe, and we enjoyed exploring this one. To explore any of these self-guided caves, remember to take your torch.

Most of us who have explored caves recently, can't help but think about the schoolboys who were stranded in the caves in Thailand, and how frighteningly dark it would have been and how on earth they survived for so long. It's such a miracle that they were rescued and survived.

Here's some Aboriginal rock art at Mungana near Chillagoe. Recently touched up we thought. 

One of the highlights of the excursion for me was exploring the country village of Chillagoe, and it's main street, named unsurprisingly Queen Street.

There were lots of treasures to be found in the Chillagoe Gallery 29 and I was prepared to take the time and look for them. It's open most days.

Inside the coffee shop/gallery.

The gardens with a rustic influence presented a peaceful haven in which to enjoy our coffee and delicious Portuguese tarts, a specialty of the house. More about those splendid tarts later. They warrant another post when I make some. Unfortunately I didn't take a photo of the custard tarts, we were too busy eating them.

Chillagoe is also famous for its slabs of marble.  The uniquely coloured marble is the result of volcanic activity and intense mineralisation in the area. Everywhere we walked in Chillagoe there are beautiful examples of the locally mined marble used to advantage. Some marble slabs are discreetly tucked away in gardens, and others are very large and on view in the tourist areas. At one stage, apparently Chillagoe marble was being compared favourably with the famous Italian Carrara Marble, and some of the latter was used in the new Parliament House in Canberra.

Marble used as a tabletop.

What do you do in Chillagoe on Saturday night, a pub crawl of course to the two country pubs, to find the best TV on which to watch our beloved football team, the Cowboys play. Let's just say the TV in our accommodation didn't work.

We ate a delicious steak at the iconic outback Post Office Hotel for dinner on Saturday night. We also popped in for a cold beer at lunch time and watched Aussie tennis player Ajla Tomljanovic defeat Serena Williams at the US Open. So memorable.

This is how we ate steak and chips and salad in Chillagoe.

Mine is the smaller steak. On the menu, it gives a summary of the local cattle property where the beef was raised. 

We then moved onto the very unpretentious Chillagoe Hotel Motel to watch the footy match, and were treated to the authentic Aussie country pub experience.

They even have a courtesy bus for the hotel patrons and motel residents next door, and the country folk. Rhonda was very happy to have a chat and share some Chillagoe experiences. True country hospitality.

I found the Chillagoe Public Library tucked away behind The Hub, the building where the cave tours are booked. Of course I had to take a couple of photos through the window as the library was closed being the weekend, I have a very soft spot for libraries.

A country church open to the public always lures me in. 

The Chillagoe Weir is a favourite spot to cool off for the locals.

I love old buildings, and the Chillagoe Guest House in Queen Street is a real treasure. Formerly the Post Office, it is still proudly standing opposite the Post Office Hotel. The business is up for sale, or why not buy it to live in? Are you interested? We were tempted for half an hour.

The Chillagoe Smelters were once the centre of a thriving mining industry that brought wealth and development to the Chillagoe area. Today they are a fascinating ruin on the tourist trail. Between 1901 and 1943, a gritty bustling workforce, heavily-loaded ore trains and large-scale innovative industry was supported by the distinctive chimneys. Those were tough times.

I hope you enjoyed your vicarious tour of Chillagoe. That's another bucket list item ticked for us.

Warm wishes



  1. Pauline, thanks for sharing your "bucket list" journey. Fascinating area to visit. In all my biz trips to Brisbane I never allowed my self time to go North. But such is life...

    1. It's a huge country Ron, difficult for overseas tourists to see it all. Thanks for reading, so pleased you enjoyed it

  2. wow how fascinating pauline. yep libraries, galleries and old buildings are some of my fave things too. For some odd reason i have been watching lots of youtube videos about people dying in caves! gives me the shivers. i celebrated my 29th birthday in a cave in the then Yugoslavia. Fascinating stuff! I didn't realise we 'grew' marble here in Aus - tee hee. That steak is ginormous!!

  3. So many amazing caves around the world, we toured impressive ones in Slovenia quite a few years ago. Without light, you are basically done for. Thanks Sherry.

  4. Those caves are amazing - and the landscape is beautiful, too. And that steak Yes, please!

    1. Thanks David, it is such an interesting area to visit. The steak was so good.


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