The Fantastical Caves of Australia

it is rarely that I manage to take an overseas holiday without ending up in a cave of some sort during my travels however obscure it may be. The cave encountered on my recent trip to Australia is the most bizarre yet.

I found it in the 'Atherton Tablelands', a high plateaux situated inland from Cairns the main town of northern Queensland. The elevation of over 3000ft provides the area with a very pleasant climate and it has become popular with tourists and dairy farmers alike; a temperate island surrounded by tropical rainforest.

The area is mainly volcanic in origin and the nearest limestone is many miles away but in spite of this, at 69 Main Street in the little town of Atherton, there is a showcave with a difference - The "Crystal Cave".

This is not some nasty cold, wet and dark natural cave. Nothing so unsophisticated. This is an all mod cons clean and comfortable artificial cave. Its creation is the culmination of 30 years work by its owner, a mineral and fossil collector and dealer. Not content with indulging a passion for rock and mineral collecting by opening a gem and rock shop to feed off the thriving tourist trade in the region, he has developed the business into the cellar where an artificial series of cave passage and chambers has been fashioned in brick and plaster, subtly adorned with crystals, fossils and semi precious stones.

So breathtaking is this display of Australian good taste that I am speechless to describe it. Perhaps it is best to let the advertising literature speak for itself:

"Caving in comfort. The beautiful and bizarre creations of Mother Earth are brought together and displayed in their natural environment (!)... Prepare yourself for a world where Snowhite and Cinderella have never been... Journey through chambers and passages into the most spectacular grottos and let your eyes feast on a kaleidoscope of colour... Stand in awe and look around... Above you the stalactites shuffle, beneath you the dolomite volcano is about to"

"Feel the underground - breath the beauty of the Crystal Caves and descend into Stalactite Gallery, past the Fossil Face, through Split Rock and into Fairytale... Seeing is believing. At first glance you sec dull almost boring rocks, but at the blink of an eyelid everything changes. Crystals begin to glow... You never knew such colours existed. It's not your imagination however and it's not a trick, under black light (!) minerals such as fluorite and aragonite actually glow."

"The underground mini expedition through the Crystal Caves takes approx 45 mins (helmets and light supplied)... The ultimate experience for you and your family... Suitable for all age groups and incorporates wheel chair access... Not to be confused with LIMESTONE CAVES!"

Say no more!

Allan Ockenden