Extra-curricular activities in Australasian tourist caves

Kent Henderson


Many karst systems in Australia and New Zealand, whether containing tourist caves or not, permit a range of human usage in addition to traditional public tours, or caving activities. These include weddings, concerts, church services, social occasions and lodge meetings, to such things as search and rescue training.

Some management authorities have definite policies on these "extra-curricular activities", while others have no policy, or grant access on an ad hoc basis. Some have commercialised these activities and have a scale of fees, with attendant regulations, governing their application.

Policies in this area, where they exist, vary widely and an attempt is made here to plot, describe and compare practices across the Australasian cave and karst management scene, with particular reference to tourist caves.


Where extra-curricular activities are permitted in tourist caves, there are several common policies employed. Firstly, they are not permitted during normal opening hours or at least during scheduled tour times. Secondly, the usual regulations applying to the public usage of caves - no smoking, drinking, or touching speleothems - are enforced.


The attendant chart outlines the situation at 25 karst and cave locations in Australasia, collated from a survey of managers. Three cave locations, Yarrangobilly and Wee Jasper in New South Wales; and the Western Australian section of the Nullarbor karst, have no policy on extra-curricular activities in their caves, largely because requests have been non-existent in the past and therefore no response has been necessary.


On the other hand, a number of cave locations have limited or undeveloped policies. Buchan, for example, while permitting weddings in its Cave Reserve, prohibits any extra-curricular activity inside its tourist caves. Kelly Hill, Engelbrecht, Princess Margaret Rose, Margaret River, Yanchep, Ruakuri and the South Australian-administered Nullarbor karst have similar prohibitionist policies.

There are yet others which allow restricted access. The two main Tasmanian locations, Mole Creek and Hastings, have very little call for extra-curricula activities. Hastings gets a rare wedding request, and a staff member will be married in the Marakoopa Cave at Mole Creek this year - the only time such will have been requested or have occurred. Both Tasmanian locations have no policies on other types of extra-curricular activities, undoubtedly as no requests have yet been received.


A few cave locations permit weddings, but rarely get requests, such as Ngarua, Yallingup, and Wombeyan. There are, however, six cave locations where weddings and other extra-curricular activities are not that uncommon, and it is useful to examine the management policies at each.


Jenolan has a definite policy on weddings underground. Indeed, of all Australasian Caves, extra-curricular activities are the most "commercialised" at Jenolan, expect perhaps at Olsens in Queensland. At Jenolan, a "handout" is available to the public setting out the details and arrangements for weddings, etc. Jenolan charges a flat rate of $150 per wedding during the day, and $250 for weddings held after 6.30pm. Weddings must be booked with a $50 deposit. Most larger chambers are permitted to be used, based on the set tour capacities. The Cathedral Cavern in Lucas Cave can cater for up to 100, while the maximum party size in the Orient, Temple of Baal or River Caves is 25. The Cathedral Cavern is most used because of its size and permitted capacity, and because it has built in music. Jenolan gets about 4 - 6 weddings per year.

Jenolan also permits concerts and recitals, etc. in the Grand Arch, and Lucas Cave, with charges the same as for weddings. Masonic Lodge meetings are also held in Lucas Cave at irregular intervals. While religious services are also permitted, there has not been one in the Jenolan Caves since the late 1950s.

Not surprisingly perhaps, a number of famous entertainers have visited and/or performed in the Jenolan Caves in the past including Dame Joan Sutherland, Donald Smith, John Denver, and the Vienna Boys Choir.


Abercrombie probably has the largest variety of extra-curricular usage of any Australasian cave system. There are unique historical reasons for this. The "gold diggers stage" in the Hall of Terpsichore in the Grand Arch has been the focus of district community activities since it was constructed in 1854. It is frequently used for community events such as concerts and church services. For example in 1994, a school group used it for performing a play in January, a scouting ceremony was held in the Hall of Terpischore in September, and in December it was used for community Christmas Carols (an annual event).Concerts are common featuring noted entertainers, such as Jack Thompson. An interdenominational church service is held every Easter. Recently, the Grand Arch was used for an Art Exhibition.

Any reasonable community or private function proposal is considered by Abercrombie management. The only restriction is that any event is away from tour times, and preferably outside school holiday times. Abercrombie charges $50 per hour per 100 people to a maximum of 200 people, and schedules one guide on duty at any function. Weddings are also not uncommon and they are regulated similarly. The last wedding at Abercrombie was in May 1994.


Naracoorte is the other cave location in Australia which has a traditional extra-curricular usage. The first chamber of Blanche Cave at Naracoorte has been a focus of community activity from the earliest days of European settlement. It is equipped with historic wooden tables and benches, and in the past has hosted a wide variety of community events. In the modern era, management has restricted usage. The chamber is available for weddings, with the maximum party set at 100. A negotiable fee is payable, while any preparation or clean up time by staff is charged @ $25 per person needed per hour. Three weddings were held in Blanche Cave during 1994.

For any other extra-curricular activity at Naracoorte Caves (other than that occasionally arranged by staff, such as a centenary celebration) is organised under the aegis of the Naracoorte Community Arts Council. Such activities invariably involve a concert, with the council meeting management staffing costs. There is a usual charge of $2 per person, per hour. Either or both of the first chamber of Blanche Cave and the self-guided Wet Cave can be used. The Council, which is a non-profit community organisation, makes it money through ticket sales.

For example, an Underground Music Festival is proposed for Blanche and Wet Caves over a weekend in late October this year, featuring classical, folk and popular music, and sponsored by several local businesses. It would seem that management at Naracoorte has found that by restricting extra-curricular activities (other than the occasional wedding) to the Community Arts Council it satisfactory meets the historical expectations of the local community with respect to the caves, at the same time adequately restricting and controlling usage.


Wellington Caves has no firm policy on weddings, but they have been occasionally held - averaging one every three years or so. The main chamber in Cathedral Cave is used, but only out of tour hours. Musical concerts are a more common feature at Wellington, both choral or orchestral. A annual Christmas Eve church service is held, and other user groups are Apex with their public speaking competition, rostrum, toastmasters, and the occasional masonic lodge meeting. A "live to air" radio broadcast was held in the Cathedral Cave in June 1993. Wellington generally charges a $100 flat fee for an extra-curricular activity, except for religious or charitable groups. Normally, two or three staff are rostered to be in attendance. As with Abercrombie, any reasonable community or private function proposal is considered.


Olsens is one of Australia's few privately-operated tourist caves and its policies towards extra-curricular activities somewhat parallel those at Jenolan. Such activities are only permitted in Cathedral Cave, which is equipped with bench seating and has a music system available. Olsens charge $200 per wedding, with the wedding reception invariably occupying the above-ground functions area in the Caves Reserve. Parties in the cave are limited to 120, and an average three weddings per year are held.

Concerts are also held in Cathedral Cave on occasions, as are other activities such as carol singing, school drama productions, etc. Usually, no charge is made for non-profit or charitable organisations using Cathedral Cave for special events.

Olsens permit a wide range of meetings, conferences, social and cultural events at its above ground function area in the Caves Reserve, and encourages a normal guided cave tour as part of these activities. However, cave usage itself for extra-curricula activities is restricted as just outlined.


Chillagoe Caves permit weddings in any tourist cave on request, outside tour times. No fee is charged. However, requests are rare at about one every ten years. Concerts are also permitted, and about one per year is held, while a religious service is held in the caves about once every 18 months, such as Carol Singing. As requests in all categories are not frequent, Chillagoe has no formal policy but negotiates conditions on a case-by-case basis.

The recently enacted Queensland Nature Conservation Act (1994), sets out a schedule of fees for organised group activities in a protected area, such as a "concert, religious activity, wedding or organised sporting activity." A "group activity permit" is issued under the Act, with the fees being $20 per application and $1 per person where supervision is needed (as in a cave).


A fair number of caves systems handle the matter of extra-curricular activities in their caves simply by prohibition, although in most where this is the case pressure for such usage would appear, at best, small.

The large majority of Australasian cave locations have little call for extra-curricular activities and have therefore, for the most part, not found it necessary to formulate a policy response. In these cases, the rare request that is received is dealt with on an ad hoc case-by-case basis. The main concern of management is to ensure that the general tourism usage of their caves is not interrupted and that all environmental restrictions are met.

Two cave systems, Abercrombie and Naracoorte, have an historical/traditional usage pattern by their respective local communities. Managements at these caves locations have developed specific responses to meet local expectations.

Only two locations, Jenolan and Olsens, deal with extra-curricular activities in a real "commercial" sense. The reasons for this response in these cases have probably been determined by several factors. Both locations have a nominally large-capacity chamber which is viewed as suitable for these activities. As a consequence, one would suspect that they have probably both come under pressure historically to allow these activities - Jenolan perhaps through the weight of its visitation, and Olsens perhaps as a spin off of its commercial encouragement of above-ground social and cultural activities.

The final question might be, perhaps, the desirability or otherwise of these extra-curricular activities in caves. Clearly, some managements think such activities to be not appropriate, while others hold a more liberal view. It could probably be argued that there is no difference, in terms of impacts, between a cave tour of 100 people and a wedding party of the same number. At locations where there is long standing community use of a cave, for an annual carol singing service perhaps, one could argue that such a use was just as legitimate as cave tours which have a similar long term utilisation.

Overall from a management point of view, where historic pressure does not exist it is quite easy to interdict extra-curricula activities in caves. Environmentally, it is probably hard to justify an increase in human impacts on any cave in excess of that historically accepted by the community. The consideration managers will need to face in this area is that the more extra-curricular activity they permit in their caves, both in terms of type and frequency, the more the public will probably expect it to be made available in the future.

Table: Extra-curricular activities in Australasian tourist caves

CavesWeddingsChargeFrequencyRestrictionsConcertsLodgesChurch ServicesPrivate FunctionsMaximum
Party Size
Jenolan Permitted $150-250 4-6 annually Outside tour times Permitted Permitted Permitted Not Permitted 100
Wombeyon Permitted No charge rarely Victoria Arch (Fig Tree Cave) only Permitted Permitted Permitted Not Permitted not set
Abercrombie Permitted $100 min fee once Hall of Terpsichore (Grand Arch) preferred Permitted Permitted Permitted Permitted 200
Yarrangobilly No Policy N/A N/A N/A No Policy No Policy No Policy No Policy N/A
Wee Jasper No Policy N/A N/A N/A No Policy No Policy No Policy No Policy N/A
Wellington No firm policy $100 occasionally Cathedral Cave only, outside tour hours Permitted Permitted Permitted Not Permitted Not set
Buchan Permitted No 1-2 annually In caves Reserve only, NOT in caves Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted N/A
P.M.R. Not Permitted N/A N/A N/A Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted N/A
Chillagoe Permitted No charge rarely Arrangements negotiable Permitted No Policy No Policy No Policy N/A
Olsens Permitted $200 3 per annum Cathedral Cave only, after 4pm Permitted Not Permitted Permitted Permitted 120
Naracoorte Permitted $25 per hr. 3 per annum 1st chamber, Blanche Cave, only restricted Not Permitted Permitted Not Permitted 100
Kelly Hill Not Permitted N/A N/A N/A Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted N/A
Englebrecht Not Permitted N/A N/A N/A Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted N/A
Nullarb.,SA Not Permitted N/A N/A N/A Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted N/A
Marg.River Not Permitted N/A N/A N/A Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted N/A
Yallingup Permitted Approx $60 rarely Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted N/A
Yanchep Not Permitted N/A N/A N/A Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted N/A
Nullarb.,WA No Policy likely no requests   No Policy No Policy No Policy No Policy N/A
Mole Crk. Permitted No firm policy once   No Policy No Policy No Policy No Policy 50
Hastings Permitted $50 rarely   No Policy No Policy No Policy Not Permitted 30
Waitomo Not Permitted N/A N/A N/A restricted Not Permitted restricted Not Permitted N/A
Ruakuri Not Permitted N/A N/A N/A Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted N/A
Lost World Permitted $700 very rare   Permitted Permitted Permitted Not Permitted 4
Te Ana-au Not Permitted N/A N/A N/A Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted N/A
Ngarua Permitted No charge rare   Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted Not Permitted 25