Exploring the caves south of Mandurah | Passport to the Peel

ADVENTURERS: Steven Hooper and Michael Draper inside Morfitt's Cave. Photo: Daniela Cooper.
ADVENTURERS: Steven Hooper and Michael Draper inside Morfitt's Cave. Photo: Daniela Cooper.

One of my most thrilling childhood memories was wriggling into limestone caves with head torches south of Mandurah.

These caves had no signage, no entry fees, no steps, no lighting. And definitely no engineer checking for safety, like they would in a Ngili Cave or Mammoth Cave that you might explore around Margaret River.

Most of them had no room to stand.

Some of the entrances were so small I wondered as a child whether I could get in. These caves were thrilling and terrifying.

I always wanted to re-live this but it hadn't happened.

I think it was a combination of late onset claustrophobia, many years living far from WA and simply the fact I had no idea how to find these caves again.

When I returned to WA last year, I decided I would find a way so that my own children, all avid adventurers, could explore.

But it turns out that locals who know about these caves are a bit 'hush hush'. After all, no-one wants one of the Peel's best kept secrets turned into a commercial tourist attraction, or worse, have the ancient structures littered or destroyed.

NO WRIGGLE ROOM: Mail editor Daniela Cooper enters the second cave. Photo: Steven Hooper.

NO WRIGGLE ROOM: Mail editor Daniela Cooper enters the second cave. Photo: Steven Hooper.

Finally I found a friendly local adventurer and filmmaker called Steven Hooper who said he would show me through some as long as I didn't give away the locations.

So nearly all the stars were aligned. I had done some inner work and overcome my claustrophobia. (I developed it in year three when a boy in my class told me his baby sister died in her cot underneath a blanket. As an adult, I understand this was SIDS but all my child brain learned from that schoolyard conversation is that it's not safe to have something too close to your head.)

But then I met and dated David and he told me his former partner had lost a whole bunch of childhood friends when a limestone overhang collapsed near Gracetown.

So it was back to sitting with my fears for a couple of months until I contacted Steven.

Steven has a YouTube channel on which he documents his adventures, mostly with his mate, Michael Draper.

Their locations are mostly around Mandurah and the videos are all awesome, so if you think you're stuck for options when travel restrictions force you to stay in WA - or even if we have another Peel/Perth lockdown - check out his channel.

It was finally time to go caving and the first cave Steven and Michael took me to was off Estuary Road in Bouvard.

It was an old Aboriginal birthing place known as Morfitt Cave and is perhaps the best known cave in Mandurah, with this year marking 100 years since it was first discovered by white people.

There has ancient engravings thought to be 12,000 years old but Steven and Michael haven't been able to find them yet.

In November the duo visited this cave with a speleological team, air compressors and high pressure cleaners and spent more than six hours clearing rubbish and graffiti.

Even though many of the straws have been broken off from the cave roof, it looks spectacular.

I had my four-year-old with me on this visit so we didn't venture far but I came back a few days later and wriggled my way several dozen metres down. It brought back all the same childhood thrills but definitely also a very healthy of dose of respect and fear, with no idea whether my $2 Kmart headtorch would hold out.

There is no wriggling required to get into the entrance of Morfitt's Cave, making it a great 'starter' cave but Michael tells me I won't be so lucky with the next location they plan to take me.

This second cave connects with Morfitt Cave via a 15-metre tunnel of belly crawling and definitely required some wriggling to get through the entrance but once inside it was roomy and fascinating.

We even found a new type of funghi which could be unique to this cave, and some animal remains - probably a kangaroo that fell into the entrance and couldn't get back up.

Topics Steven covers on his YouTube channel are really diverse and include everything from shark fishing to finding WW11 bush army camps and smoking cheese. He also shows discoveries of new caves that have not previously been documented.

"We're always doing stuff in the bush. I was raised in the bush so it just comes naturally," Steven said.

One of Steven and Michael's favourite adventures so far was discovering hand dug lime tunnels in Lake Clifton.

They were out bush walking when they stumbled upon the old mining ruins in the middle of the bush.

It is believed that they were dug out during a search for lime for the old Rotary Lime Kiln in Lake Clifton which only ever operated for two days after being opened in 1922.

It was closed down again because the kiln wasn't suitable for cement manufacture - but you can now visit the historical site just off the Old Coast Road.

The Mandurah Mail's Passport to the Peel series highlights some of the region's best travel experiences as we encourage you to play tourist close to home.

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We would love to hear your recommended travel experiences around the Peel. Email editor@man durahmail.com.au