At the Growling Swallet
|Part of the slippery descent to the entrance of the Growling Swallet|
Don't you love that name and please note that I said ‘at’ and not ‘in.’ At 360m, the Growling Swallet is the second deepest cave in Australia, but requires you to be an experienced member of a Caving Club to enter. Looking over the rules and membership requirements – abseiling skills, proficiency in rope work, a rescue course, a high level of fitness and ability to carry lots of gear, with scuba diving skills as an optional extra, that’s unlikely to happen any time soon, though the importance of these skills was highlighted with the rescue of the Thai junior soccer team this week.
Fortunately, if the idea of being underground appeals, there are at least three sites around Tasmania which are not only spectacular, but open to the public and where you can view such wonders in complete safety. These are listed at the bottom.
Meanwhile getting to the start of the track to the Growling Swallet is no mean feat. Because it is in a Forestry Reserve you have to get the key from Parks and Wildlife at Mount Field. This must be booked in advance and requires a $300 deposit. After travelling three Km past Maydena you turn right onto the Florentine Road and travel another 16 Km. Though this is unsealed, it is wide and mostly good gravel with one or two potholes and slippery bits, so don’t take it too fast.
|Velvet red fungi|
After finding and turning off at the F8 East Road, which seems to take forever, things get a bit more difficult. ‘Road’ is a bit generous. It is a track that gets narrower and narrower with a deep boggy section and a high crown. Although my van has a high clearance and truck tyres, the vegetation closed in on all sides and I had to keep checking to see if my ventilator had been ripped off. I also had to keep my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t meet anyone coming the other way as there is simply nowhere to turn or move off the track. If the days were longer, I would have walked that section instead, but as it was it started getting dark before I left the forest.
|One of the warning signs|
There are warning signs signs at the start of the track. This is a Karst area with lots of sink holes, so it is not a good idea to stray. Parts are also prone to flooding and getting very slippery, so be especially careful if bringing children.
|A wonderland of ferns and mosses awaits those who dare to visit the Growling Swallet|
That said, the track is a mostly pleasant ramble through rainforest vegetation, home to tree ferns, mosses and lichens. Parks and Wildlife says it takes 20 minutes, but it probably took me a bit longer.
There were not many fungi about, but there were some very striking red velvety ones (probably Hygrocybe erythrocrenata) and I caught my first glimpse of tiny blue -eyed Mycena interrupta. The climax of the walk was the gully where the creek disappears into the giant rockface. All that rushing and roaring is what gives Growling Swallet its name. You get the distinct feeling that if there’s a hell that’s what the entrance would look like, albeit a cold and wet one. It is one of those breaks in the earth which truly inspires awe. However, not wishing to be swalletted by either the cave system or the encroaching darkness, I didn't linger long and didn’t really breathe easy until I was safely out of the woods and back on the main Forestry Road. Australia's deepest and most difficult caves are in this area and they have names like Niggly Cave, Tachycardia and Midnight Hole and no one is likely to come looking for you either, unless Parks and Wildlife run out of keys.
|It's a place of rushing, roaring waters that give the Swallet its name|
You can catch a bit of the sound here
|Stargate? Mayan Temple? Gates of Doom? This is as far as normal mortals can go|
Yes, it was impressive, but you can get almost as big a bang for your buck – i.e. slightly less spectacular rock formations, but a shorter drive and a less risky track, by going to Junee Cave - the road starts right in Maydena, where the same river emerges from the mountain 30 km later and after flowing through some 300 caves.
For those keen to go underground, there are publicly accessible caves at Mole Creek in the North, at Hastings Caves in the South and at Gunn's Plains inland from Ulverstone. Tripadvisor also has more information and better pics.