Janine Pittaway lets her imagination run away with her as she explores the magical underground world of Ngilgi Cave.
Ngilgi Cave is a fantasy fiction writer’s dream location. In its depths, my imagination was overwhelmed with ice kingdoms, flowing robes, sparkling jewels, deep sea creatures and secret hideaways.
Located on Caves Road between Dunsborough and Yallingup, Ngilgi is the northernmost of the popular caves inspiring the picturesque road’s name.
Ngilgi Cave is rich in history. Like its structure, it has layers of stories to reveal. From its creation a million years ago to the Indigenous legend of the spirit Ngilgi, and its discovery by local farmer Edward Dawson in 1899, which lead to it opening as one of the region’s first tourism attractions, you can’t help but think it still has more to unveil.
The local Wardandi people gave the cave its name, deriving from a battle between a good spirit of the ocean (Ngilgi) who summoned the spirits of storms, thunder, lightening, wind and rain to create a storm to fight to evil spirit who once lived in the cave (Wolgine).
Seeing the evidence of enormous rockfalls thousands of years ago, you can only imagine the tremendous noise and reverberation it created above ground, bringing to mind the dreamtime battle story that saw Ngilgi eventually win and drive Wolgoine from the cave forever.
I had previously visited Ngilgi Cave on a self-guided tour, giving me just a taste of what it offers. This time around I had a guide – the fantastically passionate Dominique – who has revealed Ngilgi’s mysteries to visitors for almost 10 years and shows no signs of stopping.
Throughout our three-hour Crystal Crawl Adventure Tour, her love and responsibility for the cave was apparent. While our energy levels were waning towards the end of the tour hers were only just firing up.
The Crystal Crawl Adventure tour ($110), along with the two-hour Ancient Riverbed Adventure Tour ($60), 2.5-hour Explorer Adventure Tour ($88), and the four-hour Ultimate Ngilgi Adventure Tour ($158) are the best ways to really do Ngilgi justice.
As well as the expected stalactites and stalagmites, of which there’s plenty of stunning examples, Ngilgi reveals a feast of formations, or speleothems, from sparkling crystals to hollow glass-like straws, shawls of varying sizes and shades, lava-like flowstone, and pillars and columns of creamy coloured, sparkling calcite crystal, made from limestone and rainwater. The only scientifically dated formation in the cave has been estimated at an astonishing 386,000 years old.
The tour commenced with a lesson on helmets, lights and gloves and how to negotiate the trickier parts of the cave before passing into the unassuming cave entry, down a number of stairs and into the beautifully lit public crystal encased chamber and amphitheatre where Dame Nelly Melba once performed.
As we ventured further into the cave and away from all natural light, the walkways used for self-guided and semi-guided tours eventually disappeared and it was time to test out our training.
We were now 40 metres underground where the air was more dense and headlamps a necessity.
Dominique led us towards an extremely narrow gap in the limestone where we were to carefully edge our way through. She expertly showed us where to position our hands and feet to negotiate our way through the ‘pinchgut’.
After some stretching, pirouetting, ducking and crawling we reached a magical cavern where Stalagmites were actually being formed in real time. The slow drips from above were the only sound in the peaceful quiet of the cave. As part of the tour, the group spends several minutes sitting in silence then letting eyes and imagination wander in the darkness. It’s a perfect place to meditate with no distractions, complete darkness and silence.
This part of Ngilgi is so worth the effort. Actually, the effort to reach this part of the cave is the adventure of the tour and is as much fun as actually taking in the magical caverns, making you feel like a true pioneer. Three hours passed by before we knew it.
You can only imagine what an adventure this must have been for visitors in the 1900s negotiating the cave while wearing petticoats, impractical frocks, suits, heeled shoes and carrying lit candles.
Despite hosting more than a century of visitors, Ngilgi holds up extremely well and the Adventure Tours allow you to enjoy some unspoilt beauty. It really is quite breathtaking in parts, where a 360-degree view sees you surrounded by what feels like an underground ice palace.
There are often special events in Ngilgi Cave and many ways to enjoy its mysteries. In June 2016 Noah Shilkin performed in Ngilgi Cave as part of the 2016 Jazz by the Bay festival. With tour guides Koomal Dreaming you can learn the ancient Dreamtime stories told to the sounds of the Didgeridoo using the amazing acoustics of the cave.
Ngilgi is one of more than 150 known caves beneath the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge, and one of four with self-guided and guided tours run by Your Margaret River Region. It’s open every day except Christmas Day from 9am to 5pm.