The Naracoorte Caves Local Business Open Night was an exciting networking session featuring representatives from the Naracoorte Lucindale Council, the Naracoorte Caves, and local businesses.
The venture was a joint initiative between the caves and the council, with the express purpose of encouraging regional businesses to think about how the cultural tourism appeal of the caves can socially and economically benefit the town.
Mayor Erika Vickery, who gave the welcoming address, said the longer tourists stayed on-site at the Naracoorte Caves, the longer they were likely to stay within Naracoorte.
The caves and Naracoorte businesses need to work together to have a comprehensive economic plan for the town’s tourism economy.
Initiatives that have already been undertaken by the council and the caves include locals being allowed to enter for free, and Naracoorte High School in partnership with council producing an interactive play, ‘Footsteps around the campfire’.
The caves, with the assistance of the CWA Limestone Ladies branch, have also filed a successful ‘Fund My Neighbourhood’ application to have a playground created for children on the grounds.
Tom Shortt, a tour guide at the caves, spoke more about the plan to increase Naracoorte’s tourism, with the idea being that if there were more people on-site, then inevitably there would be more economic benefits to the town, in areas such as service, retail, hospitality and accommodation.
The group was taken on a tour of the caves, with the first destination being the Alexandra Cave, where Dr Liz Reed gave an informative presentation about the potential of the caves to bolster “paleontological tourism” and the exceptional preservation of fossils at the caves which makes the Naracoorte deposits significant on a global scale.
Dr Reed, who has been studying caves, particularly fossils, since 1995 and was formerly a tour guide, explained the caves hold some of the oldest natural artifacts in the world.
The history of the continent, as well as the evolution of ancient global time periods, can be traced through rock and bone and dirt.
“These are chapters in the world’s most interesting history book,” Dr Reed said, as the group looked around at the various stalactites and rain pools.
“We have an embarrassment of riches,” Dr Reed continued. “It is a quintessential science tourism site.
“You can discover the history of life on earth in South Australia.”
The beauty of a site such as the caves, explained Dr Reed, is that they offer a unique product, drawing in the attention of the media as well as tourists.
The caves already offers an interesting experience for tourists, but with the potential for more discoveries through research, there’s the potential for even more publicity.
The University of Adelaide has recently received a Australian Research Council (ARC)’s Linkage Projects grant, which will fund a four year research project focusing on the rich fossil history of Naracoorte Caves and cement its place on the world science stage.
The project is looking at the best methods of utilising excavation technology and techniques to learn more about biodiversity, sediments, fossil dating/recording, ancient DNA research, and how to communicate these scientific findings to the public sphere effectively.
According to Dr Reed, researchers have excavated less than one per cent of the Victoria Fossil Cave.
The project, which is set to begin early 2018, is a joint venture between the University of Adelaide, the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, the Council, and various other institutional and political bodies.
As Dr Reed explained to the group, the swaths of academics visiting the caves will also be an economic boost to Naracoorte, as they will have their families either visiting or with them.
The research on the Naracoorte Caves has the potential to not only be broadcast through traditional media, but also through academic journals, which will increase interest within a specialised demographic.
Dr Reed also praised the guides for their ability to communicate scientific facts about the caves, and Mr Shortt also assured the group that every guide has a detailed knowledge of the caves.
Other ideas for increasing interest and financial potential of the caves was the possibility of specialised package tours, with research in tourism showing that travelers increasingly being drawn to exclusive, individualised experiences.
More broadly, Dr Reed explained that other towns that have scientific sites such as the Naracoorte Caves will often highlight this individual natural wonder through marketing.
In Canada and Spain, tourists and town visitors were alerted to scientific tourist attractions through billboards, themed cuisine, and even dinosaur-shaped bins.
Moving on from the Alexandra Caves, the group went to the Blanche Cave, exploring both above and below.
Above the Blanche Cave, acting director of the Naracoorte Caves Neil McIntyre explained that the dining area could be used for specialised catered events.
Below, in the cave, the group observed that not only was it lit up with natural light, but it had excellent acoustics, with Peter Majoros performing an instrumental solo that everyone could hear clearly.
As a concert and event space, the exterior and interior of the Blanche Cave was ideal.
The final tour destination was the Bat Cave, which had specialised “bat cams” so that tourists could watch the bats in their natural environment.
Described as “Big Brother for bats and bugs”, many of the female bats are giving birth to pups, which makes this time of year popular for bat-watching.
Tourists can even watch bats come and go from the caves, without needing to go on a tour. This experience does has the potential to become bigger, as the Naracoorte Caves could take inspiration from Queensland, which has ‘Bat Festivals’ in Cairns and Brisbane.
The group then retired to the caves cafe, where there were local wines available, and chef Rosslyn Jones created hors d'oeuvres from regional produce.
RECOMMENDED: Vote for Naracoorte Caves playground.