Last Updated on 20 February 2024 by Ariana Svenson
One of the ‘must do’ activities in Western Australia is a visit to the Margaret River Caves. These spectacular natural formations are all different and remarkable at the same time. The area from Busselton to Augusta along the Cape Naturaliste Ridge is one of the most cave-rich areas in Australia with over 100 caves beneath its surface.
The Caves of Margaret River provide a good range of options for visitors – some are a lot easier to get into than others! We have also addressed the question of which is the best Cave in Margaret River for kids.
We have visited the different Caves in Margaret River on different holidays in the area – both pre-kids and then with the children at different ages, stages, and abilities. Our thoughts and advice on which cave to visit and why are based on our personal experience!
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Which Margaret River Cave is Best for Me?
Where are you staying? The Margaret River region extends from Busselton and Dunsborough in the North right through to Augusta in the South. In other words, there is about a 1 hour and 15 minutes driving from Ngilgi Cave to Jewel Cave in the south. Might I add this drive is along the winding, picturesque Caves Road, dotted with wineries, art galleries, and lots of things that might just cause you to stop!
Therefore if you are staying in Busselton, Dunsborough, or Yallingup I would suggest that the Ngilgi Cave is your closest cave, and you can save a lot of driving time. For other attractions in this area, please visit the Best Things To Do In Yallingup WA.
- Ease of Access
In our experience, all the caves do require some physical fitness and ability! Some have ladders, others sections where you need to crawl, and others a lot of steps! Walking out of Lake Cave or Mammoth cave for example there are hundreds of steep steps up.
The Mammoth Cave does have wheelchair accessibility (or a pram) that could be used for the first cavern.
- Suitability for Children and Families
As I mentioned above, we’ve visited the caves at different ages and stages of the kid’s childhood. A guided tour underground for smaller kids (preschool and early school) is likely to be long-winded. Mine were ok during the short tour at Ngilgi cave at 2 and 5, but a little bit fidgety. Later when they were 7 and 4 we opted for the Mammoth Cave as the most family-friendly cave – more explanation of that further on in this post. Oh – and inside the caves, every sound is amplified so kids complaining is louder than ever!
Why Visit the Margaret River Caves?
The caves in Margaret River are both beautiful and fascinating! They are an interesting outing for all ages of people, and we have visited the caves on different occasions with the grandparents as it’s something that captures their interests too! Visits to places like the caves are part of our world schooling philosophy – basically, the kids learn as we explore.
Finally, we consider the caves one of the best things to do in Margaret River in winter. Their underground caverns are the same temperature year-round (slightly damp!) and if you are underground you are not getting wet! In the heat of the Australian Summer the Margaret River Caves also make a great option for a visit – but this time because they are cooler than the surface!
How Many Caves are Open to the Public in Margaret River?
While there are only 7 caves in Margaret River open to the public there are over 100 caves – maybe up to 150 caves along the Cape Naturaliste Ridge. The information differs depending on which source you consult! The caves are visited in different ways, which range from self-guided tours to full-blown spelunking tours! Did you know that spelunking refers to the hobby of exploring caves!?
Who knows, your kids might love exploring the Margaret River Caves they become regular spelunkers!
How Were the Margaret River Caves Formed?
The Caves of the Margaret River region were created through the action of water dissolving through young (soft and porous) limestone of the Leeuwin Naturaliste Ridge.
It is this same porous limestone that creates the beautiful coastal formations that Margaret River and Yallingup are famous for. For example, the beautiful rocks at Canal Rocks and the sublime Sugarloaf Rock (definitely head there for sunset if you can.)
While they all might seem like ‘caves’ each of the different caverns have a different story about how they were formed. For example, Ngilgi Cave is a stream cave formed over time through water wearing the limestone away. Or, the Lake Cave was once a massive underground cavern that then collapsed.
Visiting Caves Post Covid-19 Pandemic
As with many things, visiting the caves of Margaret River has changed since the Covid-19 Pandemic and it is important to note the following:
- Caves have reduced the number of people on semi-guided and guided tours.
- There is increased cleaning of all high touch areas (like handrails).
- There are hand sanitizer stations around the caves.
- Staff have completed Covid-19 specific hygiene training.
For Visitors to the Caves – Margaret River
- Pre-book your visit online to avoid disappointment
This is really important as we visited the Lake Cave during the July 2020 school holidays, typically one of the quietest times of the year in the South West. More than a few tours were booked out.
- Register with the SAFE WA app upon arrival
- Respect the social distancing of staff and other guests when you visit. While the caves are quite cozy, it is important to keep your space!
A Review of the Margaret River Caves, North to South
As mentioned above, in our experience, choosing the best cave for your Margaret River visit has a lot to do with location. To make things easy for you we have started in the North and traveled south!
Ngilgi Cave, Yallingup
“Guided tours operate every half hour from 9.30 am – 4.00 pm daily.”
- Note the information above, since the Covid Pandemic numbers on tours have been reduced meaning that these tours DO book out.
Discovered in 1899, the Ngilgi Cave was the first cave open to tourists and was known as Yallingup Cave. It can even be reached via a beautiful walk trail through the forest from Caves House Hotel.
Pronounced Nil-gee cave, one of the reasons we visited with our kids is that it is semi-guided which means that after a short tour you are free to go on your own. This 15-minute introductory talk was the perfect length to learn about the history of the cave, and the Dreamtime story of Ngilgi “the great spirit of the ocean” that lives within the cave.
After this talk, the guide remains in the cave but you are free to explore. We were with Grandpa who was in his late 70s at the time and he used the handrails and moved slowly.
Make sure you find out what times the tours leave, so you don’t have to wait for the next one. Check here for more information on the Ngilgi Cave Tours.
** You can combine a Ngilgi Cave Entrance ticket with a Cape Naturaliste lighthouse entry. **
Mammoth Cave, Margaret River
“Entry is at any time, there are no time slots.”
We chose Mammoth Cave to visit when our kids were 4 and 7 because of two major reasons: it was unguided, meaning we could turn up at whatever time we preferred, and also there would be no tour group for the children to disturb.
It is also the easiest of the caves to access. The first cavern is a boardwalk and suitable for wheelchairs and prams. However, to go deeply into the cave you need to climb lots of steep stairs.
As Mammoth Cave features self-guided tours, you are able to take an audio player and headset and listen to different points around the cave. The kids found several of these very interesting and worked well for their age and attention level at the time!
One of the interesting things about Mammoth Cave is that it contains fossils from Australia’s megafauna. We also enjoyed the pretty walk through the forest on the way out.
Lake Cave, Margaret River
“Fully guided tours operate every 40 minutes from 9.20 am to 4 pm daily.”
I was very excited to visit Lake Cave as the photos show incredible mirrored lakes and it looks very beautiful! Having already done Ngilgi Cave and Mammoth Cave with the kids, Lake Cave was the next we chose to do. This time the kids were 9, 7, and an 18-month-old – and Nanna in her 70’s came with us. From the moment you begin to descend into the deep sinkhole that is Lake Cave, which is surrounded by beautiful Karri trees, you feel excited. This cave feels like a real adventure!
Lake Cave is the most challenging of the four accessible Margaret River Caves. It’s a whopping 350 steps down – and then back up again. Nanna in her 70s was slow but completed it. I was carrying the 18-month-old on my back and was also slow!
Inside the cave, you are rewarded by the magic of the lake – the only permanent lake in a cave in Margaret River. There are some stunning reflections in the lake, as well as some pretty jaw-dropping hanging formations.
The guide did switch the lights off for a full minute which was amazing! The baby was fine with it – as were the other kids, but you might want to consider if that will work for your baby. In the darkness, all the sounds of the cave are enhanced, and it was one of our favorite parts of the tour.
If you have poor health or fitness, or very small kids, you might want to consider one of the easier Margaret River Caves would be a better option.
We also enjoyed the Lake Cave Eco Interpretative Centre which helps all ages and abilities learn about the formation and history of caves. There is a life-like cave model and replicas of some of the more impressive formations in the Margaret River Caves. My kids loved the “cave crawl” tunnel and went through it a number of times. Check here for information on the Lake Cave Guided tour.
Jewel Cave, Augusta
“Fully guided 1-hour tours, departing every hour from 9.30 to 3.30 pm daily, with extra tours at peak holiday times.”
Most of the reviews online describe Jewel Cave as the best of the Margaret River Caves as it is the largest cave on display in Western Australia. It is also home to one of the longest straw stalactites in Australia. In the three caverns that you pass through, there are some breathtaking crystal formations – this is a very beautiful cave.
There are fewer stairs at Jewel Cave than Lake Cave or Ngilgi Cave. The only way to visit Jewel Cave is a full guided one-hour tour, and this is the reason that we have not yet personally done this cave.
More Adventurous Caves- Margaret River
The next two Margaret River Caves are managed by the Department of Parks and Wildlife and are significantly different (some would say more natural) caving experiences than those offered by the Caveworks group and listed above.
Upon arrival at Calgardup Cave, you are supplied with torches and headlamps – the cave is easily accessed on boardwalks with handrails and stairs.
The cave is 27 meters deep and about 300 meters long, which means as you go deeper into the cave the light diminishes. Though they are not colorful, you can see stalactites, stalagmites, and walls of flowstone. There are seats along the way to rest. We went with a small baby and she was ok in the depths of the cave (she was in a carrier).
Location: Calgardup Caves is located on Caves Road (like the other caves) just south of Bob Hollows Road and just one minute north of Mammoth Cave.
Giants Cave, Margaret River
If you are looking for adventure, then Giants Cave might be for you. You get to experience vertical ladder climbs and rock scrambles, tight spots (where you wiggle through) and enormous chambers, natural cave floor, and constructed walkways for more than half a kilometer in the 86m deep cave. You are provided with headlamps and equipment at the beginning of the cave experience.
The official information states that children under 6 are not permitted – so this is not for everyone. Having done this cave in my 20’s I remember it was both a physical and mental challenge and I was pretty glad when I was out on the surface again!
Location: Giants Cave is located 4 minutes’ drive south of Mammoth Cave, and 5 minutes south of Calgardup Cave. So you can see that while the caves are located close together, the experiences vary dramatically depending on how the cave is presented.
Western Australia’s best-known bushranger Moondyne Joe discovered this cave in 1881 (before Yallingup Cave!) and the cave now bears his name. Like Giant Cave, this is an adventure cave! After a complete cave restoration program, the Moondyne Cave opened for cave awareness tours in 2012. Visitors are supplied with basic caving equipment including electric lights (miners light), helmet, overalls, and souvenir gloves. Solid walking shoes plus clothes suitable for climbing are recommended.
This wild cave experience has two large chambers. There is a crystal pool in the lower chamber. While the upper chamber contains many large columns and stalagmites that feature very long straws.
I think that the Moondyne Cave experience sounds perfect for adrenalin seekers or families with teens that like an adventure. It’s definitely on my radar for when the kids get a little older. I was not able to find current pricing information (eg, for 2020). However, it looks like a few years ago the Moondyne experience costs $150 per person and $120 for children 12-16.
Location: Tours leave from Jewel Cave Preservation Centre off Caves Road, Augusta, and include lunch at the center.
Further Tips for the Margaret River Caves
- With new Covid19 restrictions be aware guided tour capacities are less than before – make sure you book ahead online!
- Look out for school holiday works shops like the Megafauna Workshop held at Mammoth Cave.
- Wear good walking shoes as surfaces can be slippery.
- Be aware that the temperatures are quite strange in the cave – cool yet humid. Wear a t-shirt and pack an extra layer in your bag if you get cold. Obviously, this also depends on what the outside temperatures are like!
- For families, prams or pushers are not suitable in any of the caves. For my 2020 visit to Lake Cave, I used my Ergo Baby carrier. I started out with her on my back but later switched her around to the front. I nearly knocked her head on a few lower sections of the cave and thought it would be better to protect her on my front!
More Things to do in the Margaret River Region
If visiting the caves is on your itinerary of a longer stay in Margaret River, we suggest you read our post Things To Do Around Margaret River. And, don’t forget, Margaret River has some amazing wineries and breweries! Check out our Foaming! The Best Margaret River Breweries that you NEED to visit for the top must-visit breweries in Margaret River. If you’re on the lookout for captivating Margaret River hikes and scenic walking trails to enjoy with your family, don’t miss out on our blog post dedicated to just that.
Perhaps you also want to get out and explore the amazing cities around the Margaret River region? We have spent plenty of time in this area and have so much information to offer. If you are visiting Busselton, make sure to read Things To Do In Busselton. Also, our The Best Restaurants In Busselton is a must-read. Additionally, Visit a Busselton Winery and the Best Busselton Breweries! is a great resource as well.
Staying in Busselton? Then An Excellent Guide to the Busselton Caravan Parks and A Review – The Exclusive Beachfront Abbey Beach Resort Busselton are good reads.
Don’t miss the great cities of Yallingup and Dunsborough! You can find all the best information in The BEST Things To Do In Yallingup WA and Best Things To Do In Dunsborough WA. Each one is packed with tips and information on the must-see sites, top restaurants, and the best accommodation recommendations.
The Verdict – Which is the Best Margaret River Cave For Me?
There is a lot to do in the Margaret River region. From wineries to breweries, spectacular coastline, white sand beaches, and vineyards for miles. Your biggest problem is figuring out what you want to do! That’s why we have worked hard to take the guesswork out of the question, “Which is the best Margaret River cave for me?’ by providing this comprehensive guide to the Caves Margaret River. Have you visited any of these caves – with or without kids? We always appreciate people’s feedback, so please don’t hesitate to drop us a comment below!
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