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What is there to do in Chillagoe?

Chillagoe is a small town in the Australian outback. It’s about a 3 hour drive inland from Cairns, on a mixture of dirt and paved roads. Last September the Douglas Photographic Society organized a weekend trip there.

Some of the club members had already visited Chillagoe and were therefore excited to share the wonders it had to offer. The main attraction and reason for us to visit was the collection of limestone caves. There are a few different caves to explore. Some of the caves are easy to enter and can be explored by yourself. Others such as the Donner cave, need a guide. We managed to organize a private guide to show the club members around Donner cave in the morning, then went out to explore some of the self-walk caves in the afternoon.

Donna Cave

Donner cave is named so because of a rock formation inside the cave which looks like the famous “Madonna and Child” painting. This can be seen to your left as you descend the steep entry steps. At the bottom of these steps you find yourself inside a massive chamber filled with stalagmites and stalactites of many shapes and sizes. As you move through the cave you pass through many small passages, curtains, pillars and crevices. Photographing inside this cave was a challenge as there was often little space for a shot and no sunlight. Although the cave features and pathways are lit with artificial lights, it is not enough light to capture many of the features. This resulted in needing to use an on camera flash. I don’t like to do this inside a cave as the images can often come out quite flat and a lot of the depth and textures within the rock get lost. Maybe one day I can go back and persuade a guide to let me stay longer in the cave. I would then be able to use multiple flashes placed around the cave to create interesting lighting and composition.

Donna Cave Photos

The Archways Situated 15km west of Chillagoe is the best of the self-guide caves. These caves were not underground, but were primarily cracks and crevices between boulders at the base of a cliff face. Here I was amazed by the different colors within the rocks and how the light was falling through all the cracks. We visited here in the afternoon, but I would love to go back in the morning to see how the light is different.

The self walk caves photos

Chillagoe Smelters

The town of Chillagoe developed around a smelters at the beginning of the 20th centaury. It was used to smelter copper, silver, lead and gold. The smelter is no longer in use, but the ruins remain. Unfortunately you cannot enter the site as it is unstable and contains asbestos. However you can view the site from a nearby hill where the factory manager lived. It is possible to see the offices, pretreatment area, slag heap, powerhouse, furnaces, ore and coke bins, and the three chimneys which are still standing. To photograph this scene you will need a long zoom lens as many of the details are far away from the view points. I would love to get inside the site and have a proper explore, but I am not sure if that will ever be possible.

The Smelters photos

I really enjoyed this weekend away with friends from the photo club. I enjoy being out with other photographers, sharing tips, discussing ideas and inspiring each other. I hope we can do it again soon.


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