Picture of people exploring Kelly Hill Caves, Kangaroo Island, South Australia

A guide leads a tour through Kelly Caves on Kangaroo Island.

Photograph by Daniel R. Westergren

Peter Turner

Limestone defines much of the geology of South Australia, so it’s no surprise the state has hundreds of caves formed by the cracks, erosion, and collapses of this porous sedimentary rock. Naracoorte Caves National Park in the southeast is the state’s most important cave system, but other tourist caves with impressive formations are found near Mount Gambier and on Kangaroo Island. Naracoorte and Kelly Hill Caves offer introductory adventure caving tours, but the state’s extensive cave networks provide plenty of opportunities for experienced cavers and speleologists.

Map of South Australia

Naracoorte Caves

These are South Australia’s showpiece caves, and they are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for their significance. Over time, these limestone caves—which were once part of the seabed—formed, creating sinkholes. The caves have acted as pitfall traps that collected animals for hundreds of thousands of years, preserving the most significant fossil records of Australian Pleistocene megafauna.

The Victoria Fossil Cave is the highlight of the four tourist caves at Naracoorte. Hour-long tours cover the impressive cave formations and the fossil chamber, where you learn about the discoveries made here and see fossil reconstructions of species like the marsupial lion.

The three chambers of the Alexandra Cave have impressive speleothems—stalactites, stalagmites, and columns—and Blanche Cave is home to rare southern bent wing bats. A tour of the Blanche Cave includes a visit to the Bat Observation Centre, where visitors can view the bats’ maternity chambers via infrared cameras when the bats are in residence. The Wet Cave has two caverns that can be explored on self-guided tours.

The Wonambi Fossil Centre at the park headquarters is a must for budding palaeontologists, and adventure trips cover some of the 28 caves at Naracoorte. Booking in advance is essential for these tours.

Tantanoola Cave

This impressive pink-and-brown dolomite cave, which sits at the base of the imposing Up and Down Cliffs, was formed by the pounding of the ocean, which now lies well to the west. National parks guides explain the cave, which is wheelchair accessible, then leave you to wander on your own. A walking track along the top of the cliff affords panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

The cave is a 20-minute drive from Mount Gambier. Visitors to the Mount Gambier region can tour the area’s more than 500 caves, including the Engelbrecht Cave, part of a much larger system popular with cave divers. The many water-filled sinkholes of the region attract divers from around the world.

Kelly Hill Caves

Kangaroo Island has numerous caves along its coastline, many in and around Kelly Hill Conservation Park. The tourist caves can be visited by a steep staircase ladder on 45-minute guided tours leaving from the visitor center. These caves are unusual because they are dry limestone caves, and the speleothems rely on intermittent rainfall to form. Adventure caving tours follow the original 1920s tourist section of the caves. Participants don overalls, helmets, and headlamps before climbing down a ladder into a sinkhole, from where they crawl through smaller caverns.

There are short walks leaving from the visitor center, or a day hike that goes to Hanson Bay, passing freshwater lagoons, mallee eucalyptus woodlands, and coastal dunes.

TRAVEL TIPS

Practical Tip: Experienced cavers looking to join an expedition can contact the Cave Exploration Group of South Australia. The Cave Divers Association of Australia is an important reference for cave divers.

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