Many of the limestone caves found in the Naracoorte Caves system contain
Pleistocene fossils. The richest of these deposits are those being
unearthed in a section of Victoria Cave known as the Fossil Chamber.
It is believed that over a period of more than 500,000 years, the sediment and animal bones filled the
Fossil Chamber through an opening in the ceiling, forming an enormous
cone-shaped pile. The cave acted like a huge natural pitfall trap, as
the animals that fell in were trapped in a tomb with no escape. Over
time this pile of skeletons grew with more animal remains and sediment,
until eventually the sediment pile reached the ceiling, blocking the
entrance. It is believed that the cave became blocked about 15,000 years
ago until its discovery.
The pile contains the greatest number, most
diverse and the best preserved fossils of this time period in Australia.
So far, with over 30 years of excavation and research, there have been
over 5,000 specimens catalogued, with only about 4% of what is estimated
to be 5,000 tonnes of bone-rich sediment. Over 90 different animal
species have been identified including the 2-3 metre Giant Short-faced
Kangaroo (Procoptodon goliah), the Marsupial Tapir (Palorchestes azael)
and a giant snake (Wonambi naracoortensis). Fossil remains of modern
animals have also been found, such as the wallabies, bettongs, possums,
mice, bats, snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs, and Tasmanian Devil and
Inscription on the World Heritage List recognises the value of the
vertebrate fossil material, dating back perhaps 500,000 years. These
deposits provide an opportunity to study the impact of climate change on
biodiversity before and after the continent was populated.
The bones of extinct megafauna such as
Thylacoleo, Diprotodon, Zygomaturus and sthenurine kangaroos have been
found within the caves and represent the most complete fossil record we
have of this period. Research has provided many insights into the
appearance and behaviour of these extinct animals, but the answer to one
question remains elusive, why did these large animals disappear?
Perhaps the Naracoorte Caves hold the answer.
The vegetation is predominantly brown stringybark on the limestone
ridge, with river red gum lining the banks of the Mosquito Creek. The
understorey on the ridge is bracken fern over a diverse array of orchids
that flower during spring.
Some of the park was cleared for pine forests in the mid 1800s, with
other exotic species planted around the caves. Some of these plants have
been retained in the established gardens around the park.
The most common marsupial seen at Naracoorte is the western grey
kangaroo. At night, brushtail possums emerge from the caves and trees,
and sugar gliders can also be found if you are lucky. Echidnas are
commonly seen and if you catch a glimpse of a small rodent-like animal,
it may be a yellow-footed antechinus. The antechinus is an insect eating
Bird life is abundant, especially around the gardens of the Wonambi
Fossil Centre where they regularly feed. Some of the more frequently
seen birds include New Holland honeyeaters, little wattlebirds and
several species of thornbills. Owls are also seen in the region such as
the Southern Boobook, whose main food source is the Bent-wing Bat.
Wonambi Fossil Centre
Step through the doors of the Wonambi Fossil Centre into an ancient
world where megafauna once roamed. The display in the Wonambi Fossil
Centre brings to life the megafauna fossils found in the Naracoorte
Caves. The self-guided walk through the simulated forest and swampland
is wheelchair accessible and suitable for all ages.
The Flinders University Gallery has information panels depicting the
various sciences studied at Naracoorte, and touch screen computers to
answer questions you may have relating to the Wonambi Fossil Centre and
the fossils of Naracoorte Caves.
Enjoy the wildlife along the parks walking
trails that winds through remnant bushland. A short walk from the exit
of the Wonambi Fossil Centre takes you to Wet Cave through a small patch
of stringybark scrub. In spring, there is an abundance of birdlife and
keep your eyes out for the many varieties of orchids to be seen.
The World Heritage Walk takes you to Victoria Fossil Cave from the
Wet Cave entrance, identifying several sites of World Heritage
significance along the way. This trail is 1.2 km long and takes about
30 minutes to complete.
From the Victoria Fossil Cave car park, take the trail to Stoney
Point picnic ground and enjoy the ancient limestone cliffs, stringybark
scrub on the range and river red gum flats along the way.
Accommodation can be found at Wirreanda campground
and Wirreanda bunkhouse.
There are picnic tables throughout the park, with
coin operated BBQ located on the large lawn area adjacent to the car
park. A shelter and BBQ are located at the Stoney Point picnic ground,
1.5 km from the Victoria Fossil Cave car park.
Refreshment and a meal can be had in the comfort of The Caves
Cafe, just 30 metres from the Wonambi Fossil Centre.
Naracoorte Caves National Park
and Australian Museum Online
Images AusEmade PL ฉ 2003 (unless indicated otherwise)