Tasmanian Adventurers Discover Deepest Cave in Australia

By Jessie Zhang
Jessie Zhang
Jessie Zhang
Jessie Zhang is a reporter based in Sydney, Australia, covering news on health and science.
August 4, 2022Updated: August 4, 2022

A team of Australian cavers have discovered the country’s deepest underground chamber, and at 401 metres (1,316 feet) underground, it breaks the previous record by four metres.

As part of a decade-long mission to unravel the mysteries of Australia’s deepest caves, nine elite cavers from the Southern Tasmanian Caverneers went underground on an expedition that wasn’t guaranteed to pay off.

“The cave was exceptionally strenuous. It was extremely vertical, requiring hundreds of metres to be ascended and descended on ropes,” team member Ben Armstrong told the Epoch Times.

“Water levels were high, and placing the final ropes required some very creative improvisation.”

Epoch Times Photo
Australian cavers celebrate after making the discovery on July 31st, 2022, in the Delta Variant cave system, in Tasmania, Australia. (Stephen Fordyce)

After six months of preparation, the team sent ropes down the cave and explored side passages from 11 a.m. on July 30, emerging just after midnight on Sunday, 14 hours later.

They used dye tracing techniques and laser surveying to gather information about the cave system through water flows.

Team leader Stephen Fordyce described the challenging vertical paths they “painstakingly climbed with heavy packs full of wet, muddy ropes.”

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

Luckily there were no flying mammals.

“There are few if any bats in this area of caves—it’s seven degrees Celcius (45° Fahrenheit) all year round, probably too cold for them,” he said.

Dubbed the Delta Variant as a nod to contemporary times, it is around 100 metres taller than the Sydney Tower, the tallest structure in Sydney and the second tallest observation tower in the Southern Hemisphere.

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Epoch Times Photo
Delta Variant cave system (Image provided by Stephen Fordyce and Ciara Smart)

‘Like Climbing a Mountain in Reverse’

The logistics of preparing for the expedition were complex.

“It’s been like climbing a mountain in reverse. Each trip, we have taken as much rope as we can carry, then descended down while exploring side passages, then we go back up,” caver Karina Anders said.

“The next trip, we bring more rope and go a bit further.”

Team member Jemma Herbert said this was a collaborative project building on the work of generations of cavers before them.

“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,” she said.

The cave lies just metres away from the Niggly System, which was discovered in 1994 and previously held the title of Australia’s deepest known cave.