The Chillagoe Caves offer a unique experience in North Queensland. The chance to go exploring beneath the ground on Ranger guided tours through a limestone landscape of stalactites and stalagmites, which have been slowly ‘growing’ over millions of years. There are underground pools, cave corals, shawls, fossils and so much more, which are all revealed as you traverse pathways, passageways and staircases on Ranger guided tours of the Chillagoe Caves. So come caving with us, and let’s explore, it’s easier and closer than you might think.
There’s 3 Ranger guided tours of the Chillagoe Caves. Each tour is of a different cave. The Donna Cave, Trezkinn Cave and Royal Arch Caves are on offer. We’ve done them all and are excited to share our adventure with you.
A dominant feature of Chillagoe’s landscape above the ground are the limestone karsts. These large, naturally formed monuments rise 40m into the air, their jagged edges creating structurally interesting shapes against the skyline and surrounding country. They are the remnants of a coral reef that once thrived here in an inland sea, over 400 million years ago. Over time the land shifted, the sea disappeared, and the limestone has been slowly eroding ever since, to create the distinctive karsts you see today. However, this erosion was not just happening on the surface, it was also at work beneath the ground, the result of which are the spectacular Chillagoe Caves you can explore today. As to how many Chillagoe caves there are, it is believed to be in the hundreds, but no one can be 100% sure as more are being discovered all the time.
“Chillagoe Cave tours allow you to safely explore these subterranean caves, which are home to bats, snakes, spiders, snails and white-rumped swiftlets. They also provide the opportunity to learn more about the history, formation and more recent discovery of the caves, from the super friendly Ranger guides. Each cave offers a different experience and while they were all interesting, I’d have to say our favourite was the Donna Cave.” – Julie Johnston
Our favourite of all the guided Chillagoe Cave tours is the Donna Cave, so named for a naturally formed piece of limestone that resembles a Madonna face in profile (see photos above), at the start of the cave. This tour begins with you climbing down a steep staircase to the platform below, which sets the tone for adventure from the outset. Your journey through the passageways and chambers of the Donna Cave are illuminated by lights, showcasing the amazing array of stalactites, stalagmites and sparkling calcite crystals. A highlight for me was the Fairy Grotto a very well illuminated section that sparkled with crystals and had many beautiful stalactites, appearing in ‘waves’ across the ceiling. Adjacent to this section, we also saw some pretty spectacular cave corals, which reminded me of the reef. When we visited the Donna Cave, we also saw several microbats roosting on the ceiling by the exit.
The Donna Chillagoe Caves tour starts at 9am and takes around 1 hour, during which you will climb up and down staircases, ramps and pathways, so you need to have reasonable mobility. There’s also a low section within the cave (1.1m tall), which most people need to crouch to pass through, that is around 12m in duration. There are 283 steps in this Chillagoe Caves tour, that includes a tight spiral staircase you use to ascend at the end. The Donna Cave is about 1.8km from Chillagoe and the Ranger guided tour starts at the cave ‘gate’, which is an 830m return walk from the car park. The Ranger will meet you at the ‘gate’, so do not wait in the car park: allow around 10 minutes to walk from the car park to the Donna Cave.
Trezkinn Cave is another of the Chillagoe Caves with Ranger guided tours. The Trezkinn Cave is located in the same area as the Donna Cave, you park in the same car park and use the same boardwalk to get there. These tours start at 11am, so many people book them to happen straight after the Donna Cave tour which ends around 10am. The start of this tour is ‘higher’ than the Donna Cave, with 136 steps to get to the start of the tour, which is at a shelter adjacent to the cave entrance. As with the Donna Cave tour, the Trezkinn tour kicks off with a steep staircase descent into the cave – the stairs continue throughout the tour, with 520 steps in total.
A highlight of this Chillagoe Caves Ranger guided tour is the appearance of several stalactites, which resemble impressive chandeliers hanging from the cave ceiling. As is traversing the maze of pathways and staircases, offering glimpses into the many different levels of this impressive limestone cave which are illuminated with electric lights. The Trezkinn Chillagoe Caves tour is more strenuous than the Donna Cave tour and most of the internal steps are quite steep. There are two low overhangs which you will need to duck underneath. Some of the passageways are quite narrow in places too. The Trezkinn Chillagoe Cave tour lasts around 30-45 minutes, pending group size and fitness.
Last, but certainly not least, the Chillagoe Caves Ranger guided tour at the Royal Arch Cave. The Royal Arch is located in a different area from the Donna and Trezkinn Caves and is around a 6km drive from Chillagoe. The tour starts at the shelter shed in the car park, which is where you will be met by your Ranger guide and issued with hand-held lamps (exciting!). From there it’s a 250m walk to the entrance of the Royal Arch Cave, which is one of the largest in the area, consisting of over 11 chambers. While there’s no internal lights, hence the lamps, there’s lots to see including a large light filled interior space, which was once a preferred picnic venue for early Europeans and mine workers. Other highlights of the Royal Arch Chillagoe Caves tour include seeing cave corals, fossils and a ‘slide through’ which the kids love doing. This tour takes the longest time, lasting around 90 minutes, but is the least strenuous; as while there are still staircases and steps, not to mention some narrow and low sections, there’s plenty of time between these areas to pause and catch your breath.
So, which is the best of the Chillagoe Caves? If I was to rank the three, Donna takes out first place and Royal Arch comes second, with Trezkinn sitting at third. Why? The Donna and Trezkinn Caves are very similar in offerings, while the Royal Arch Cave is longer and using the hand-held lamps gives a different experience, which makes you feel like more of an explorer. That of course is based on our own feelings and experience, yours may different, so make sure you do them all.
In addition to the guided Chillagoe Caves tours, there’s also the option to do some unguided exploring. Highlights for us included a visit to Balancing Rock, which has great views and is a popular photo destination, and spending time at the Mungana Aboriginal rock art gallery, exploring the local caves and karsts in that area. These are 15km past Chillagoe on the Burke Development Road and are easily accessible on foot, with clearly marked pathways. Hand-held lamps are not required but take your cameras, as this is a really pretty area with unusual rock formations and colours.
During our visit we stayed in our hybrid offroad caravan, at the Chillagoe Observatory and Eco Lodge. They provide observatory and astronomy tours (pending weather) which we didn’t do this time, but we have done in the past. They have great shaded sites and an abundance of birdlife. We had lunch at the Post Office Hotel – dog friendly, so we could take our border collie – and stopped into the local museum, which is right by the Chillagoe Police Station. There’s lots of things to do in Chillagoe and we love the relaxed vibe of this small country town, so if you haven’t been yet – add it to your list.
There is no definite number available to answer this question, as there are more caves being ‘discovered’ in the Chillagoe region all the time. There are three Chillagoe Caves you can do tours in – the Donna Cave, Trezkinn Cave and Royal Arch Cave.
Yes, as above, you can do Ranger guided tours at three of the Chillagoe Caves – the Donna Cave, Trezkinn Cave and Royal Arch Cave. The Donna Cave tour starts at 9am. The Trezkinn Cave tour starts at 11am. The Royal Arch Cave Tour starts at 1.30pm. The guided Chillagoe Cave tours are definitely worth doing, as you learn more about the history and geology of the caves.
Lots! Inside the Chillagoe Caves you are guaranteed to see stalactites, stalagmites, cave corals and calcite crystals. You may also see some of the cave critters – which includes micro bats, spiders, snakes and white-rumped swiftlets – although these are ‘wild’ creatures and as such, sightings are not guaranteed.
Yes, you should pre-book the Chillagoe Cave tours. There are three tours per day, one of each cave, and numbers are limited so book ahead to avoid disappointment. They can be booked by calling The Hub in Chillagoe on (07) 4094 7111 or email email@example.com For more information, visit the Queensland Government Department of Environment and Science website.
Yes, there are several Chillagoe Caves you can explore by yourself. That being said, it is not recommended you go by yourself, always aim to go with a friend, stick to the pathways and take plenty of drinking water and sun protection. This is for your safety.
Yes, the Chillagoe Caves are definitely worth doing! We’ve done all three guided Chillagoe Cave tours and have previously visited the Jenolan Caves in New South Wales. In our opinion, the Chillagoe Caves are just as good as those in Jenolan.
Other than the guided cave tours, there’s lots of things to do in Chillagoe which we have also written about on this site. If coming from Cairns, then we recommended a minimum 2 night stay in Chillagoe to provide sufficient time to see and enjoy this lovely little town.
Yes, Chillagoe is definitely worth visiting and if you haven’t been already, add it to your list.
Chillagoe is approximately 135kms south-west of Cairns as the crow flies, but it’s a 2.5 hour drive, on a journey that takes you from the coast with its cane fields, up the Kuranda Range Road, and out to the savannah plains on the Burke Development Road. The stretch between Mareeba and Chillagoe is called The Wheelbarrow Way. Most of the road between Cairns and Chillagoe is now sealed, with only a little bit of graded dirt roads.
Our top tip, would be to visit Chillagoe in the Autumn, Winter and Spring months. This is just for your comfort while exploring. Summer is hot out there and sometimes weather results in the cancellation of guided cave tours. That being said, the tours run every day (except Christmas Day) so you can go whenever you like.
Chillagoe is a 2.5 hour drive from Cairns, with no stopping.
Inside the Chillagoe Caves you are guaranteed to see stalactites, stalagmites, cave corals and calcite crystals.
There are three Chillagoe Caves with tours – the Donna, Trezkinn and Royal Arch Cave – each offer something different to see and do. The tours run every day, except Christmas Day, and are truly adventurous as you explore underground pathways, passageways and staircases with Ranger guides explaining the geology and history of the caves. The Donna Cave tour starts at 9am. The Trezkinn Cave tour starts at 11am. The Royal Arch Cave Tour starts at 1.30pm. The tours are Ranger guided and need to be pre-booked at The Hub in Chillagoe. There are Family Rates and Concession prices available. Numbers are limited, so make sure you pre-book to avoid disappointment. This can be done by calling (07) 4094 7111 between 8am and 3.30pm or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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