Southport is about another 20 minutes drive from Dover, which up until recently was the extent of my knowledge of Southern Tasmania, and is now the most southern place I’ve been to in the state.
Yay for me.
It’s a truly idyll place – sweeping orchards and what appears to be farmland bordered by forest, dilapidated houses full of character and my curiosity; continue a little further and you reach Cockle Creek with beaches, bays, and tranquil camping grounds full of tents and caravans tucked away behind the greenery. That’s probably about as close as I’ll get to those gypsy communities on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (which, I will add with absolutely no shame, I adore).
We stayed in the aptly named Southern Forest Accommodation: self contained cottage, sleeping up to 6, breakfast supplies provided and with its very own little walking track located in the bush directly behind. We got dusk and morning visitors in the form of sweetly chirping honey eaters and nibbling pademelons, and at one stage even caught sight of a female lyre bird (no, they are not native to Tasmania, but were introduced in the 1940s).
The main attractions were visiting Newdegate Cave in the Hastings Caves Reserve, and the lesser touristy known Mystery Creek Cave.
I haven’t visited Hastings since I was in primary school, so it was really nice to go back with adult eyes and a fresh appreciation for the marvel of the natural world below ground. After its discovery in 1917 by foresters, locals brought their own friends to the site, which sounds innocuous enough until you realise that back then people were descending into an unlit cavern in the ground with nothing more than a rope tied around their waist while holding an oil lamp.
OH&S would have a field day with that.
Initial explorers wouldn’t have even known where the ground was and how far down the cave went. It wasn’t until the years of the Great Depression that the state government stepped in and made a proper tourist attraction out of the cave, laying a road for easier access and building stairways within the cavern for ease of viewing.
To get to Mystery Creek Cave you need to take a jaunty trek through dense Tasmanian forest, about 2km, along sometimes quite boggy ground, past moss covered remains of notched tree stumps from forestry days, old leather boots, bottles and other paraphernalia, until you meet a T-junction at an old quarry, which stands out in starkly grey and dried contrast to the very dewy, cool of the forest. Turning left sees you through to the cave, to the right is the trail for the Southern Range.
The ground starts to dip in a decidedly downward trajectory and you end up scrabbling over large tree roots and boulders as you descend towards the cave mouth. Be prepared to skid along on your bum sometimes. Unlike Hastings, which is decked out with lights, safety rails and a gently murmuring guide, Mystery is pitch dark, yawning in its undocumented appearance, and au natural in an un-maintained way – only experienced cavers should attempt to navigate the underground system further than the first cavern, and after heavy rainfall there is chance of flash flooding.
As a result I psyched myself out significantly by the time we got down to the opening and I chose not to venture into the blackness initially. The husband had brought along a small pocket torch (on my recommendation) which turned out to be a godsend as he navigated the small body of water inside and rock hopped over various boulders of limestone. I could hear his excitement mounting every time he found something interesting within.
These pretty, more artistic photos don’t do the initial cavern much justice, and the final photo above makes it look like there was plenty of light within. However that image is courtesy of a tiny chink of light spilling through a hole in the rock at a 2 second exposure on the widest aperture of my prime. Camera nerds, you feel me?
Essentially all you can see is this:
Thanks to unforgiving flash (one of the few times the built in on the camer is actually useful), the cave actually looks like this:
I didn’t have a clue where the husband was when I just pointed and shot, but he is conveniently at the back wall to give you some perspective of scale.
After a while though and with a bit of encouragement and plenty of guidance from the said husband, I did end up venturing inside proper and was met with a ceiling of glow worms.
That alone was worth the wait and my over imaginative, anxious mind.