Explorers uncover Australia’s deepest known cave in southern Tasmania, breaking previous record by four meters – Michmutters

Explorers uncover Australia’s deepest known cave in southern Tasmania, breaking previous record by four meters

After more than six months of preparation and 14 hours underground, a group of cavers has uncovered Australia’s deepest known cave, at a depth of 401 meters.

The newly discovered cave, named “Delta Variant”, is connected to the Niggly/Growling Swallet cave system north-west of Hobart.

Niggly Cave, at 397 meters, held the previous record for Australia’s deepest known cave.

The group from the Southern Tasmanian Caverneers, a speleological organization based in Hobart, began their descent at the mouth of the cave at Mount Field National Park around 11am on Saturday morning.

The cavers emerged victorious just after 1am on Sunday morning.

“It’s been a lot of work to get to the point where we are now,” said team member Ciara Smart.

“Yesterday, we made the breakthrough — and there was always the possibility that we weren’t going to make the connection, but we did.

“And excitingly, we’ve added to a bit of Australia’s caving history.”

A group of people smiling underground, wearing muddy overalls and helmets.
The team celebrated the achievement deep underground.(Supplied: Stephen Fordyce)

The experienced team faced challenging conditions during their seven-hour descent due to high water levels from recent snowfall in the area.

“Saturday’s trip involved an hour and a half bushwalk up a hill, then over 14 hours of abseiling, crawling, squeezing, and rope-climbing, then a long walk back down the hill,” said project organizer Stephen Fordyce.

“About 300m vertical meters was descended on ropes, then painstakingly climbed back up again, with heavy packs full of wet, muddy ropes.

“That 400m depth represents almost six Wrest Point Casinos stacked on top of each other, or three Sydney Harbor Bridges,” said Ms Smart.


The history behind the cave’s name

The team said they wanted to give a nod to the time the cave was discovered, during the era of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

A woman in red overall, white hard hat and a head torch, smiles
Muddy but smiling: Lauren Hayes is part of the successful team.(Supplied: Stephen Fordyce )

“The first section of the cave is called the ‘Test Station Queue’, which is a really annoying, long, windy, and tight 300m meander that is just so frustrating,” said Ms Smart.

“We’ve got a passage called ‘Super Spreader’, that’s because it’s a big, big passage and it’s got lots of different routes going off it, so that seemed appropriate,” said fellow caver Karina Anders.

“And then we called the giant 163m pitch ‘Daily Cases’, because at the time it seemed like the daily cases were just going up and up, and up,” added Ms Smart.

“The last pitch that we rigged yesterday is called ‘Freedom Day’, and I guess that’s more of a tribute to the Melbournians on the trip,” said Ms Anders.

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The journey down into the cave involves some very tight squeezes (Vision: Ciara Smart)

The team spent the past six months preparing for the record attempt by fixing ropes down the cave and exploring side passages.

“We’ve kind of always hypothesised that this cave existed because Niggly is this big cave system and it has this waterfall coming in, and for years cavers have been running looking at this waterfall and wondering, ‘Where has this water been running from? ‘ Ms Anders said.


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