Mole Creek Karst National Park protects the finest and most visited of natural caves in Tasmania. The jewels in its crown are Marakoopa Cave and King Solomon’s Cave.
It is located 40-minute drive south of Deloraine, in the north of the state. But there are more than 300 caves or sinkholes in this park alone. The word ‘Karst’ refers the natural process of chemical formations that led to the creation of these caves: the flow of acidic water eroded limestone, leading to the formation of calcite deposits and the caves.
Entry to Marakoopa Cave is through a serene rainforest, with giant man-ferns and eucalypts guarding its entrance. On our recent visit with our young French visitor, Edmee, we escaped the sleeting rain and Tasmanian winter chill outside into the deep cavernous interior- set at a cool nine degrees.
These limestone caves are millions of years old. Although known to Tasmanian Aboriginals for many years before, white man only discovered them just over one hundred years ago. The importance of preserving these caves for future generations was recognised, and so the caves’ existence were kept secret for many years more, until finally a plan was in place to protect them.
We first walked through the entrance tunnel into a huge space glistening with calcite deposits, with water dripping down from a myriad of stalactites. As we moved beyond this chamber there were even more delightful formations to be revealed.
A large white stalagmite candle, many thousand of years old, stood proudly on the cave floor. It is still growing, slowly fed by calcite-laden water droplets from above. In awe we stood and watched the next droplet fall...
We gazed at the absolute perfection of form of the reflection pools- limestone rendered in tan ochres and dusky pinks, and its crystal clear waters. The formation reminded me of an exquisitely layered wedding cake.
At one point, a steep seven metres drop below our path, was an interior gorge, its creek cutting a path through a rocky bed. Marakoopa is regarded as a live cave, for its underground streams feed the troglobites- species that have no eyes- including cave-spiders and a colony of glow worms- which are the larvae of a small mosquito-like insect.
Seeing the stream gushing with water reminded me of my first experience of caving was when I was fifteen, decked out with a helmet with a powerful flashlight, thick wet suit and boots. In a group we navigated for a day through a cave system, entering from the side of a teeming river.
We waded knee deep through underground streams, into passages where we squeezed- at times on our bellies, through narrow cavities to other chambers beyond. We tracked our path along safety lines to ensure we didn’t get disorientated or lost. It was claustrophobic, dark and confronting, but truly a wilderness experience, with its double-edged sword of wonder and risk.
After a while journeying underground at Marakoopa Cave, our eyes had adjusted sufficiently to the darkness for the culmination of our visit. Our gazes moved upwards to the ceiling of The Great Chamber, revealing in the dark, a myriad of tiny pinpoints- a colony of glow-worms- the delicate larvae shining their beacons of light to attract food.
A stillness and quiet washed over us, as we contemplated the layers of beauty we had just moved through in this cave. A pristine wilderness- that etched in our souls as we departed for home.