Among the many opportunities for adventure that Tasmania offers is the chance to go down under: literally. At the Hastings Caves State Reserve you get to see a very different side of Tassie.

Located about 10 km northwest of Southport at the southern end of the Huon Highway, the Hastings Caves make for an easy day trip from Hobart. The drive down from the Tasmanian capital takes about an hour and a half to two hours. The easiest route is to take the Southern Outlet, also known as the A6, via Kingston to Huonville. From here, the A6 is known as the Huon Highway and for much of the way it runs along the western bank of the Huon River. About 30 km after Geeveston, you’ll find the turn-off for the Hastings Caves Road, or C635, to your right. This gravel road continues for about 8 km to the Hastings Caves Visitor Centre and Thermal Springs, where you get your admission tickets and can book a cave tour. Then it’s another 5 km or so to Newdegate Cave, the star of the show.

Unlike most of Australia’s large caves, Newdegate Cave wasn’t formed in limestone but in dolomite. It is in fact the largest of this type of cave in the country. Newdegate Cave’s spectacular formations include stalactites and stalagmites but also helictites, which seem to have grown without the constraints of that silly little thing called gravity.

The caverns at Newdegate Cave began forming about 40 million years ago. They were only discovered in 1917 however, when timber workers stumbled upon the cave entrance. The cave was named after the Governor of Tasmania at the time, Francis Newdegate. As part of a construction drive during the Great Depression, steps in the cave and the road leading up to the complex were built and the Newdegate Cave was officially opened in 1939.

The cave is home to some unique creatures that have adapted to living underground, in the dark and in the constant temperature of about 9 °C in the caverns. The area around the cave teems with more familiar Tasmanian wildlife too. There are short and easy trails leading through the forest and you may spot echidnas in the undergrowth or platypus in the streams.

When you visit the Hastings Cave State Reserve, you’ll need something warm for Newdegate Cave itself, since it’s cold underground. Luckily you can warm up afterwards by taking a dip in the thermal pool, which is a swimming pool fed with naturally warm water from a nearby creek. There is a café here and you can also opt for a picnic or a BBQ.

There are five cave tours a day in summer and four during the colder months from April to September. Opening hours and tour times vary throughout the year, so it’s best to check before your visit. You may also want to book your tour ahead, since tour groups are kept small.