At a depth of 401 metres, the ‘Delta Variant’ cave in southern Tasmania has taken the crown of Australia’s Deepest Cave. The new discovery bests the previous record holder ‘Niggly Cave’ by 4 metres and it takes little to imagine why explorers decided to name the cave after the dreaded ‘Rona variant – no one wants anything to do with it. Located in Mount Field National Park, the ABC reports that explorers set off to reach the bottom of the cave at 11am on Saturday morning and it took them until 1am on Sunday morning to do so. Here’s what they found.
How Did They Find the Cave?
How on earth does one even stumble across the deepest cave in Australia? The trick is, you don’t. The explorers found the newly discovered ‘Delta Variant’ cave back in January 2022 as it connects to the ‘Niggly’ and ‘Growling Swallet’ cave system.
In fact, the whole reason the explorers found the cave was due to a waterfall coming in from Niggly. Explorer Karina Anders told the ABC, “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?'”
How Did They Descend the Cave?
In addition to Anders, the caving team included some of Australia’s best caving experts; Stephen Fordyce, Ciara Smart, Jemma Herbert, Brendan Moore, Lauren Hayes, Ben Armstrong, Petr Smejkal and Rolan Eberhard.
The process of figuring out how to descend the cave took about six months and involved a huge amount of planning, from equipment, people placement, and navigation. And while you have gravity working to your advantage, the 401-metre cave is longer than Australia’s tallest residential tower, Australia 108, which we covered in this article here. The largest abseil in Delta Variant is 153 metres.
The process for descending into the cave was masterminded by Stephen Fordyce, who jokingly stated that he implemented the ‘Disney Princesses’ expedition theme, in a Facebook post.
“Team Rapunzel went ahead to do the rigging. The melting point of a hair is too low for abseiling, so we let down conventional ropes instead. Team Aerial played around in the water, setting up The Magic Beanstalk (a 150m counterbalance water-powered bag hauler). This still needs some tweaks but is shaping up to be my single best caving achievement ever.”
“Team Sleeping Beauty pottered around the upper reaches of the cave at a sleepy pace. Team Pocahontas didn’t go all the way to the bottom as they had the ancient (and highly respected) tribal elders of the caving fraternity. We merged to become Team Cinderella on the way out, but despite the late finish, nobody turned into a pumpkin. It was a near thing though.”
Other cavers such as Ben Armstrong described the experience as exceptionally strenuous, telling The Canberra Times, “It was extremely vertical, requiring hundreds of metres to be ascended and descended on ropes.”
Could There Be a Deeper Cave in Australia?
So now that they’ve found and navigated the cave, you’d assume there could be more in the pipeline, right? The answer is a resounding yes, with Anders saying “Until six months ago, no one even knew that this cave existed. Despite decades of exploration in the area, Tasmania’s caves still hold many secrets.”
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