The Queensland Outback offers many surprising gems in the rough, one of which is the wild and infrequently-visited Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park. This is a great trip for people who love the outdoors but aren’t huge fans of hiking.

 

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Countries on which these adventures take place who have occupied and cared for these lands, waters, and their inhabitants for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.

Quick Overview

Three hours west of Cairns lies the historic Queensland Outback town of Chillagoe. It’s surrounded by epic rock formations, gorgeous desert sunsets, and a turquoise swimming hole.

About Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park

Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park is known for its collection of spectacular limestone caves, Aboriginal rock art, and historically significant mining sites. An added bonus is Bogey Hole, a great spot to cool off just outside of Chillagoe. Two to three days is enough to cover this park and its surroundings.

 

Almost too pretty to swim in… almost!

History of Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park

This park is part of a very old shallow sea, where mud and coral reef sediment was deposited 400 million years ago. The resulting limestone eventually shifted with the Earth’s movement to a vertical position, then began to erode. Above ground, the formations became bluffs towering up to 40m above the plains. Below ground, rain combined with CO2 dissolved weaker areas to form underground caverns, now caves, that are open to explore. 

The presence of Aboriginal people in this area dates back as far as 37,000 years. European settlement began with prospecting and a gold rush in 1876, causing Aboriginal people to be forced out as European settlers took up land for grazing. Despite much conflict, many Aboriginal people went to work on nearby stations. 

In 1886, William Atherton established Chillagoe Station. As the area became more accessible, Atherton also began guiding people to Donna and Royal Arch Caves. An initial cave trust was formed in the 1920s, a national park created in 1940, walking tracks and cave lighting systems installed in the 1960s and 1980s, and the boundaries reset in 1998. 

 

He tall!

 

Deposits of copper, silver, lead, mica, and some gold were found in the area in the late 1880s. Machinery was brought in from Port Douglas and the railway extended, creating a thriving mining town from 1901 to 1943. You wouldn’t know looking at it now, but at times the mine, railway, and smelting operations provided work for up to 1,000 people. 

Ownership of the smelters passed to the Queensland Government in 1919. Reports of corruption came to light, and actually ruined the political careers of two former Queensland premiers. 

Easier access to other smelters put Chillagoe Smelters officially out of business. In 1983, local residents successfully campaigned to preserve the associated structures as a historical site and tribute to the early settlers.

How to Get to Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park

The easiest way to get to Chillagoe is to drive west from Cairns on National Route 1 and State Route 27. The road is mostly sealed, with some gravel areas, especially within the park boundaries. Travelling from Cairns, it takes about 2 hours 40 minutes to reach Chillagoe.

A 4WD isn’t needed for this adventure.

 

Parking is pretty spacious too

Where to Stay in Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park

Unfortunately, camping isn’t permitted in Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park. There are some nearby camping options available on camping apps and Hipcamp.

If you’re in a self-contained caravan, the Chillagoe Cockatoo Hotel Motel will let you stay overnight in the car park.

There are a number of regular hotel/motel/cabin accommodation spots in town. Some options include the Chillagoe Cockatoo Hotel Motel, the Chillagoe Observatory and Eco Lodge, and the Chillagoe Tourist Village.

Where to Eat in Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park

It’s pretty slim pickings out here, so come prepared!

The Chillagoe Cockatoo Hotel Motel is a pretty typical country pub. There’s also the historic Post Office Hotel and the Chillagoe Tourist Village Café. Make sure you check the hours and days of service before counting on these options.

For those hankering for their daily caffeine fix, Chillagoe Gallery 29 is the local coffee shop.

 

Ok, you can’t eat this – but look how far you can see!

Best Things to Do in Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park

  • Stop at The Hub to sign up for a ranger-guided cave tour
  • Explore the three self-guided caves
  • Walk a short distance to the Wullumba Aboriginial art site
  • Visit the Mungana Rock Art Site and The Archways rock formation
  • Cool off in Bogey Hole

 

Not many places legitimately offer something for everyone

Essential Gear for Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park

There aren’t any Kmarts or gear shops out here, so come prepared with whatever you need for your adventure. There’s a general store but it has a fairly limited selection of goods.

  • First aid kit
  • Plenty of water
  • Sun protection
  • Swimmers
  • Head torch – for use in the caves, otherwise you’re at risk of dropping your torch or mobile while rock scrambling
  • Food – Bring most of your food along, as there isn’t much in town

 

…and clothes you don’t mind getting dusty!

What it’s Like to Visit Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park

The main attraction within Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park is the natural limestone caves, but there are also some unique spots on the opposite side of town.

Explore The Caves

Your first stop should be the Chillagoe Hub Information Centre, open 8am–3:30pm daily. This is where you can get information about the park and sign up for daily ranger-guided cave tours to Donna, Trezkinn, and Royal Arch caves. Make sure you book at least one guided tour while you’re here, because everything else is free!

We arrived the day before and were only able to book Trezkinn. If you’re coming during the busy season, we recommend calling ahead. Collect your tickets at The Hub and arrive at the cave on time to meet your ranger. Tour lengths vary between 30 minutes to 90 minutes, and there are multiple tours per day.

Head torches aren’t necessary here, as the caves are lit by electrical lighting. Trezkinn Cave goes down a steep, narrow shaft with quite a few steps before opening up into a large cavern with intricate formations.

 

‘Hello-o-o-o-o…’ (When in a cave…)

 

There are three self-guided caves in the park (this is when you’ll need your head torch). Two of them are right by the ranger-guided caves, perfect to kill some time while you wait. These two would only take an hour to explore if you’re relatively good at rock scrambling!

Drive to the Donna Cave car park and follow the paved sidewalk until it ends.

  • The furthest cave is Pompeii, with a short scramble into a large cavern full of boulders. Climb to the bottom and into a low squeeze if you dare!
  • Bauhinia Cave is a steep, slippery scramble down a narrow chute with a few large caverns below
  • The third self-guided cave is in the Mungana section of the park. The Archways is just 15 minutes from Chillagoe

Watch for colonies of bats that live in the caves. You might smell them before you see them… Fossilized crocodiles and extinct giant kangaroos and wombats have also been discovered down here.

Hikes and Rock Art

Plan to spend some time admiring Balancing Rock, a short 20 minute (440m return) hike with a stunning view, especially at sunset. Don’t miss the Wullumba Aboriginal art site, just a 5 minute (about 350m return) walk from the Balancing Rock car park.

If you have some extra time, drive 15 minutes further up the road to Mungana Reserve. Here you’ll find the Mungana Rock Art Site and The Archways rock formation.

Read more: Remember to leave no trace

 

But seriously… don’t miss this. It’s really special

 

Swim at Bogey Hole

If you’re in need of a cool-down, take a two-minute drive down Weir Road to the Chillagoe Swimming Hole, known to locals as Bogey Hole. This little oasis looks small but has enough waterfalls and swinging ropes to entertain everyone. There’s a picnic table in the parking lot and another next to the water, but bring your insect repellent!

Read more: Staying Safe Around Swimming Holes and Waterfalls

 

Dare I say that this is the best reward for a two-minute detour…ever?!

 

Take in the History

When driving out to the swimming hole and weir, the Chillagoe Smelters can be seen in the distance. You can drive down Smelters Road and hike to overlook points, but part of this area is restricted access due to asbestos and other toxins.

There’s also the Tom Prior Ford Museum in town, a must-visit for antique car aficionados.

 

Honestly, there’s history everywhere you look. Appreciating as you go is another solid option

Tips For Visiting Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park

  • If you’re visiting during the busy season, book your caves tours ahead of time. The Hub is only open until 3:30pm, so if you get a late start make sure you arrive in time to pick up your tickets
  • Bring a head torch if you’ll be exploring the self-guided caves
  • It can get a bit chilly in the Outback at night, even if you’ve been sweating it out in the humidity of Cairns a few days prior. Bring layers!

 

Oh look, it’s rock-hop-o’clock!

FAQs Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park

Where else can we go for rock art, wild swims, and hikes?

If you’re near Cairns, you can’t miss checking out Davies Creek National Park. It has everything on your wish list plus an infinity pool! Whaaaaat?!

How far from Cairns is Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park?

The Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park is approximately a three-hour drive from Cairns.

What accommodation is available in Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park?

There are a range of accommodation options available in the town of Chillagoe (not the national park!) from tents and caravans to cabins, motels and hotels. If you want to visit, there’ll be some digs to suit you.

Do I need a 4WD to access Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park?

Nope. It is easily accessible by 2WD. Grab the keys to the Yaris and get going!

What’s the best time of year to visit Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park?

The national park is open year-round but during the wet season (December to March) the roads can get pretty boggy, right through to impassable. Probably best to time your visit outside of these months, particularly if you’re coming from interstate.

Are there crocodiles at Bogey Hole?

Freshwater crocodiles are also fans of swimming at Bogey Hole, yes. While these water lizards are not considered particularly dangerous to humans, I wouldn’t recommend swimming alongside one. They’re more active during the wet season so if you want to avoid them, aim to visit outside of December to March.

Read more: How To Stay Safe in Croc Country

 

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