Located only 56km from Lakes Entrance is the beautiful High Country town of Buchan, home to Victoria’s best cave system. Not only that, the Buchan Caves Hotel is Australia’s first crowdfunded pub, meaning you have the perfect place to quench your thirst after exploring the subterranean splendours.
Where once a shallow sea covered the lands, the geology of Buchan is predominantly limestone that formed almost 400 million years ago. When the Earth’s crust was thrust high above sea level the limestone caves were formed. In fact, the formations that you will find within the Buchan Caves are between one and 10 million years old.
The Buchan Caves Reserve is jointly managed by Parks Victoria and members of the Gunaikurnai nation, who are the traditional owners that used Buchan as a significant meeting point when they travelled from the sea to the mountains. It’s great to see traditional owners getting more involved in running our parks and teaching us more about their culture.
The only way to explore the caves is on a guided tour through the Royal and Fairy Caves and these are conducted daily. You can purchase tickets directly from the Visitor Centre; however, it’s recommended that you pre-purchase tickets online so that you won’t be left disappointed. The tours can get very busy, especially on long weekends and during school holidays. You can choose to tour a single cave but the one I recommend is a double cave tour, as each cave is different and the double tour provides the best Buchan experience.
Our tour guide was Jennifer, an experienced cave guide who learnt her trade in the USA. There are a few rules to enter the caves, no water or food, no tripods or selfie sticks and definitely no touching. The caves need water to grow and the oils on our fingers create a barrier that redirects or prevents water from having a natural flow, affecting growth.
The caves were first discovered in 1907 when Frank Moon found a small hole emitting a cool breeze while searching for caves on behalf of the Victorian Government. Having used some dynamite to blast a larger hole, he descended into the darkness using a rope, he was alone. Frank was gobsmacked by what he found, the most amazing wonders of the Fairy Cave.
Frederick Wilson, an experienced cave manager, was lured from the Jenolan Caves in New South Wales and he immediately installed paths, ladders, protective fencing and handrails into the Fairy Cave, the same ones you see today. The first tourists were invited to explore the Buchan Caves in 1917.
When Fred Moon later discovered the Blackwood Chamber, a tunnel was eventually dug using wedges to split the granite (instead of dynamite) so that the Blackwood Chamber was linked to the rest of the Fairy Cave, creating a one-way walkway for tourists.
The formations within the caves system are made from calcium carbonate that is found in limestone. As the water drips from the roof, it creates hollow straws that grow to various lengths. When the straws become blocked, the water drips down the sides and creates a stalactite. If the water is dripping too fast, it forms stalagmites on the cave floor. When a stalactite meets a stalagmite, it’s called a column. You’ll also find calcite rimmed pools, shawls, bacon and loads of other formations.
The Royal Cave is another of the world-class caves within the Buchan system. Here you’ll discover the Princess Royal Room where Frank Moon’s daughter was married, as well as cupcakes, upside-down New York City, a crocodile jaw, pillars and much more.
The underground temperatures don’t change much and were sitting at a comfortable 17°C. It also felt muggy due to the amount of moisture around. Of the two cave tours, the Fairy Cave is easier going as within the Royal Cave there are a lot of tight sections where a duck waddle works well, and you’ll constantly be watching that you don’t bump your head.
There are also several walks within the Buchan Caves Reserve. The F J Wilson walk covers 2km from the Visitors Centre, over the top of the Royal Cave and across the hill to the entrance to the Fairy Cave. The Moon Hill Walk is 1km return, offering a couple of highlights, Moon Cave (take a torch), Devil’s Punchbowl and then scenic views across the Buchan Valley from the top of the hill.
Buchan Cave Reserve also offers several accommodation options with 41 powered and 21 unpowered sites, two self-contained cabins, five Wilderness Retreats (low-impact safari tents) or you can live it up in the historic Caves House, once home to the Moon family. Bookings are essential. There is also a camp kitchen, toilets and hot showers and the campsites are shady and grassed. You’ll be visited by the resident western grey kangaroos and pied currawongs, but please don’t feed them.
A trip to Buchan isn’t complete without stopping in at the Buchan Caves Hotel. The first pub was built in the 1800s and began trading as the “Buchan Inn” in 1882. Tragically, on 8th April 2014, the hotel was destroyed by fire and the owners didn’t have the funds to rebuild. Being such an important hub in the community, locals launched the “Let’s Build A Pub” crowdfunding campaign, raising $605,146. The new Buchan Caves Hotel was completed in 2016 and the community has its hub back. Pop in, have a cold one and check out what the generosity of so many people has created.
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