Sep 102012

Exploring in Great Nowranie

About the cave

Great Nowranie Cave sits within Camooweal Caves National Park in far north Queensland. Only a short distance from the Northern Territory border, the dirt is red, the flies are plentiful and it’s stinking hot. At this time of year the desert surroundings remind me of the flat Nullarbor plains, but dry creek beds across the landscape are a reminder of the huge rainfall this area sees every wet season. The limestone is much older and harder than down south, forcing the rain to run across the landscape until it can find a fissure. Concentrated force sees fissures open up and widen, funnelling the water underground and creating the caves below.

About the dive

This was our first dive in Great Nowranie, towards the end of the trip. We had spent the previous day rigging pitches and carrying gear down and in through big tunnels and small muddy restrictions. After time spent in other caves we were on a fairly tight schedule and Joel and I were attempting about 15 different tasks on this single dive. Joel carried a Contour camera strapped to his wrist to capture video of the dive, as well as a pinger to place at a designated spot in the cave. We both took a stage tank to drop a few hundred metres in for the following day’s dive. Joel took the reel you can see in the photo above, with plenty of fresh knotted line for when we reached new territory. And most importantly, I took the camera and Joel took the off camera strobes to bring you these pictures.

Tying in

The tunnels in Great Nowranie bottom out between 25m and 30m depth, so we had a limited amount of time as our deco obligation crept up. Given the number of things we were trying to accomplish, I think we were both a bit surprised when we reached the end of the line and tied in. The second shot here shows the end of the known tunnel and the start of the exciting part.

About the shot

The tunnels in Great Nowranie wind from right to left to right and back to left again. Combined with the pebbled floor, red mud banks and white limestone roof, it feels very much like swimming along a small streamway. The wet season flows bank the pebbles up behind each corner. Against the line there are gum leaves and twigs washed down from the desert above. The shot above shows the tunnel as it turns (again) to the left, with Joel pulling the line out from the reel to move around the corner.

The joy of exploration is that there could be anything around the corner. I love this shot because it’s the first I have of actual reeling into new territory exploration, despite coming close a few times before. Cave diving exploration is not easy to capture on camera, with explorers keen to rush off into the distance rarely prepared to make allowances for the photographer. Joel was not only reeling out, he also managed to keep the off camera strobe pointing in the right direction and these shots have come out better than I could have hoped. I hope they give a small sense of the feel of turning a corner that no-one has turned before, and going to see what’s next.

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