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Chillagoe Caves and Outback

Chillagoe Caves and Outback

Posted: 14 Nov 2012

At present the Outback is showing its true rich red colours in the landscapes and with clear skies the amazing limestone Karsts are picturesque. The Emus at present are rearing chicks and everything is getting ready for the first of the s...

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About Chillagoe

Chillagoe is located 140km west of Mareeba, so if you are contemplating a visit be aware that the drive can take more than 3 hours through arid landscape and remote regions; however once you arrive a sense of relief coupled with the warm feeling of discovery overcomes you.

There are three reasons for visiting Chillagoe:
1. Exploring the famous limestone caves and surrounding Australian scrub
2. Fishing on the Walsh River
3. Visiting the historic copper smelter ruins

CHILLAGOE
The limestone caves of Chillagoe are the principle attraction in the area, and have kept people fascinated for many decades. There are no other places in Tropical North Queensland that offer this kind of caving treat. The caves are the remains of coral that was once lived in a sea that covered this in-land area, about 450 million years ago. As the sea levels dropped and the earth crust shifted, the limestone reefs began to concertina forming the bluffs that form the landscape in this area. Volcanic activity later heated the limestone, turning it to marble which is hard and more resistant to weathering than pure limestone. Mildly acid water dissolved the limestone into calcium bicarbonate, signalling the formation of the Chillagoe caves. Air that flowed through the caves dried the solution as it seeped through cracks, resulting in the formation of stalagmites and stalactites.

600 caves have been documented in the Chillagoe region, and some of the larger and more accessible caves are open to the public. The National Parks Authority conduct tours with experienced guides many times daily. The caves are always much cooler than the outside air temperature, remaining at a constant 23 degrees Celsius.

The other significant attraction in Chillagoe is the historic copper smelter ruins. It takes approximately 4 minutes to drive to these ruins.

CHILLAGOE SMELTER
In 1901 a huge copper smelter was built to take advantage of the rich mineral deposits in the Chillagoe area, and created 200 jobs. A railway to Mareeba facilitated the transport of the copper to the coastal shipping ports of Port Douglas and Cairns. By World War One, Chillagoe was one of the largest metallurgical developments in Queensland.

In 1903 Chillagoe had a population of 723, swelling to 1,600 in 1907. At it’s peak in 1917, Chillagoe had a population of about 10,000 with at thirteen hotels, two newspapers, and a hospital. In 1943 the smelters closed, plunging Chillagoe into a decline it has never recovered from. The town became over grown with an introduced plant called ‘Rubber Vine’ and the only source of employment was from the limited cattle and rail industries. In 1953 tobacco was unsuccessfully trailed down. Electricity and sealed roads only came to Chillagoe In 1970. Today the population of Chillagoe hovers around 150. The only industries in the town are cave tours, and a small gold mine nearby.

The smelter is a fascinating sight, and information displays are a must-read so you can understand the history of this unique place.