“To mitigate the massive panic attack I’m almost having, I just need to ask how quickly you can get me out of here if I peak out?”
Darren chuckles and assures Lori that at any stage during the tour, she’s only two minutes from an exit.
“That makes everything okay. I’m good now,” Lori says, breathing deeply.
It’s only five minutes since we’ve entered Britannia Creek Caves, but things have already become quite claustrophobic. Darren says everyone feels it a little bit in the beginning, but it usually fades quickly.
We were well aware that this wasn’t going to be a typical tourist cave with lights and walkways, but I don’t think Lori was prepared for just how tight it would be. We’re lucky that Darren is an amazing guide and knows just what to say to encourage and reassure us, and it’s clear that he knows this cave system like the back of his hand.
We take turns squeezing through another tiny hole between two massive granite boulders, into the next cavern. It’s slow going with 10 people in our group, but this is more a positive than anything. The comradery and banter amongst our fellow spelunkers keeps us entertained, and we help each other decide on a plan of attack for each section, even giving each other a boost or a hand up when needed.
After a few more tight squeezes, we find ourselves about 15 metres under the surface. Darren encourages all to turn off our head-torches and we can immediately see hundreds of tiny glow-worms. I’ve seen glow-worms before but it’s different seeing them this far underground. It feels more like being on their turf. There’s something extra special about it.
The other thing we notice at this stage is the sound of running water. Apparently the caves have been formed by a landslide on top of a creek, and over many years, the running water has formed this honeycomb-like cave system by washing away all the dirt in between the rocks.
“We shouldn’t get too wet today because there hasn’t been much rain,” Darren informs us. “Sometimes there’s a few feet of water but there seems to only be a few inches today.”
Having had a pretty terrible experience with water and caves in my younger years, to say I’m relieved would be a massive understatement.
As we continue on, there’s a surprise around every corner. Darren mentions that some people are disappointed that it’s not a limestone cave system with stalagmites and stalactites, but I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s fascinating down here.
It’s not long before I find the aforementioned few inches of water when I misstep while squeezing through an awkwardly shaped tunnel and get my feet wet. It’s freezing cold but refreshing. This caving business is hot work. I emerge into one of the largest caverns so far, which Darren tells us is called The Beach. The creek flows through one corner of the cavern and its banks are slightly sandy. A huge granite slab angles up from the creek, where we all take a seat for a few minutes and enjoy the scene.
We soon leave The Beach, and it seems like no time at all before we emerge outside the caves again. Darren tells us it’s time for a break and a drink. I make the guess that this is an opportunity for anyone who’s finding it all a bit too much to pull out.
“So where did we go in?” Lori asks. “I’m so disoriented.”
I point back towards the exit and realise it’s less than 100 metres away. It’s hard to believe we’ve covered such a small distance.
We hang around for five minutes before the entire group is chomping at the bit to get back underground, and then we enter through a hole that Darren tells us is known as the Leap of Faith, or the Super Fun Happy Slide. It’s not too tight a squeeze, but we can’t see anything as we dangle our feet into the hole and slide down a near vertical slab of rock into the darkness. This is the perfect introduction to the next couple of hours we’re about to spend down below. If we had thought our first foray into the caves was tricky, we were in for a surprise.
It’s hard to tell for sure, but we seem to cover much more distance this time. At one point Darren sends us through something called The Wormhole, where one of the other group members who are the first cab off the rank helpfully suggests that we “really need to think like a worm”. Once I’m in there, with my arms jammed by my sides and nothing to push off with my feet, I see what he means. At the end of The Wormhole, we find ourselves right back where we started and I notice that Darren hasn’t gone through it himself at all. “You did that just to punish us, didn’t you?” I ask. Darren just laughs. I remark to Lori that Darren is surely some kind of sadist, but there’s no doubt he’s a super-fun guy to spend a day out with.
As we continue on there are loads of holes I take one look at and think to myself “there’s no way in hell my arse is fitting through there”. Fortunately, it always does. One of the roomier sections is equally tricky, forcing us to brace ourselves with our back against one rock and a foot against another, then somehow manoeuvre our other leg up to what feels like head-height, before pushing up and grabbing onto an exposed tree root to pull ourselves the rest of the way up and continue on. I certainly hadn’t imagined caving would be this physically demanding.
My favourite section of the whole day is called The Ninja because, in Darren’s words, you need to be “a badass ninja” to get through it. It consists of dropping through a hole between two boulders and lowering ourselves down so that we’re lying on our backs in a few inches of freezing cold, flowing creek water, then shimmying ourselves feet first through the water into another cavern. The water takes my breath away as soon as I’m all the way in, but there’s only one way to get out from there.
This is one of a few sections where there is a very simple way to avoid it by taking a slightly different route, but where both Lori and I give in to peer-pressure and take the more difficult but far more interesting option. We’re glad we did, every single time.
The cave exit that Darren has chosen for us is called The Rebirth. Lori and I are trailing very slightly behind the rest of the group and when Lori enters the final cavern she sounds slightly terrified.
“Oh, what the hell!?” (okay, maybe she didn’t say hell)
I freeze. How could anything be more troublesome than what we’ve already encountered?
“Are you okay?” I yell.
There’s a few seconds of silence before, much to my relief, she shouts back at me, “It’s okay. Not as bad as it looks. I’m through.”
I squeeze through into the final cavern and see exactly what she means. There doesn’t seem to be any way out. Then I notice that the exit hole is hidden by another rock. Diving over the rock into a muddy puddle, I drag myself back up into the light and emerge completely covered in mud and cave-scrapes.
I’m stoked when Darren tells us that the creek emerges a couple of hundred metres away (above the ground!), and it’s a good place to have a wash and get changed. We post for a final group photo, before heading off for a refreshing dip in the crystal clear fern-lined creek.
Kitted up with our helmets, life vests, and paddles, we sit together in our two person inflatable kayaks on the banks of the Yarra River, for a brief induction. Though I’ve done this once before, I’m thankful for Hannah’s refresher on general safety, the correct way to hold the paddle, and on how we work together to navigate the river. The basic explanation we’re given is that the person in front (me) is the engine and the one at the back (Lori) is the steering.
“This could be a good test for whether we should be getting married or not,” Lori jokes.
It’s not long before we’re lowering the kayaks into a gentle bend in the river and hopping in to paddle around and get a feel for things. The whole group seems to be going okay, so we paddle down the river for a few hundred metres, Darren and Hannah watching us intently to see how we’re going.
We come to a corner where we can clearly see our first rapid, and stop ourselves at the bank for some further instructions. Darren and Hannah give us a few tips on where they’ve seen us go wrong so far, before explaining how to read the rapid and then sending us off, one kayak at a time.
When it’s our turn, Lori and I seem to start well, but quickly find ourselves lodged on a rock. We eventually grab the sides of the boat and roughly shake it until we shimmy off and come out of the rapid sideways, laughing uncontrollably at our horrendous effort.
The group gathers again and Darren and Hannah tell us where we went wrong and give us some tips on different ways to dislodge ourselves from a rock. They have a good laugh at us, but in a fun way. Lori and I remark to each other how little pressure they put on us, and how fun they manage to make it, even when at times we seem to be completely ignoring their instruction. The slightest hint that they’re annoyed with us could ruin the whole experience but, if they are annoyed (they’d probably have a right to be), it never shows.
We continue downstream for a while, still managing somehow to occasionally end up sideways, even in the gently flowing waters, before coming to another rapid. This time, we approach it differently and with slightly more communication, yet still we end up stuck on another rock. We dislodge ourselves more easily, though, and we come out the other side feeling like we didn’t do so badly.
The next rapid we come to is called Bob’s Rock. A large rock juts out almost smack-bang in the middle of this rapid and we’re warned that we need to paddle either directly to the left or directly to the right of it. Any further out would be dangerous. Again, as we enter the rapid we seem to be doing okay, but the current pushes us straight into Bob’s Rock. Fortunately, if we’ve got the hang of no other aspect of kayaking, at least we’re good at getting ourselves unstuck now.
Darren tells us we can carry the kayak back up the banks and have another go. As we trudge through the scrub we theorise about whom this Bob is that the rock is named after. We jump back on the kayak just above the rapid and have another go, electing to go for the opposite side from before, but it’s like déjà vu. Humiliated we emerge from the rapid again.
“I don’t know who this Bob is, but I don’t like him,” I groan.
Our final rapid for the day is called Carnage Corner, and it’s as bad (or awesome, depending how you look at it) as it sounds. It’s the longest rapid we’ve seen so far, consisting of a zig-zag where we have to find the right line to allow us to head almost to the right bank and then turn hard left and then hard right again. The river is extra wide on this corner and filled with all manner of sharp, shallow-lying rocks of different sizes. Naturally, we stuff this one up completely, getting stuck multiple times.
It’s been a hot afternoon, so I’m glad when we finish our final rapid and Darren tells us we can jump out and have a swim. We find another gentle bend in the river and a few of us jump in. Darren sets a challenge that a few of the couples take up, where they have to stand up on the kayak and then jump together while flipping it over, the aim being to land on the bottom. There are some valiant efforts made, but nobody succeeds. There are plenty of laughs, though.
Soon it’s time to set our feet back on dry land. We’re sunburnt and exhausted, but sorry to say goodbye to Darren and Hannah, and our fellow adventurers. It’s been a great team building and bonding activity.
Yes, even for Lori and I. And we are most definitely still getting married.
Disclaimer: We were guests of Adrenalin on this adventure. This in no way influences the opinions I’ve expressed in this blog post.
Need to know
If, like me, you’re looking to expand your outdoor horizons and need some help, you should totally give this a go. The full day Kayaking and Caving Adventure can be booked through Adrenalin. It’s $210 and they’re currently offering $15 off (with a promo code – see the bookings page for a code if it’s still available) for a limited time.
Lunch is included for those doing the caving and kayaking. Adrenalin also ofter options to come for half-day caving or kayaking trips, or to do caving and then lunch at a winery.
Full details on what you’ll need to bring along on your adventre will be provided at the time of booking.
Done some spelunking or kayaking yourself? If you have any stories, or anything at all to say, please let us know by commenting below.