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Ancient Lands Experience officially opens at Ngilgi Cave

Dianne Bortoletto -

A new $3.6 million Ancient Lands Experience has opened at Ngilgi Cave, situated on the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge in Yallingup, in WA's south-west.

First opened to the public in 1900, Ngilgi Cave was Western Australia's first tourist attraction.

The upgrade and new facilities were funded by $1.35 million from the federal government's Building Better Regions Fund, $365,000 from the Western Australian State Government through Tourism WA's Jina Plan, $100,000 from South West Development Commission's Regional Economic Development Scheme, a self-supporting loan of $1.25m from City of Busselton and Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association's (MRBTA) own funds.

Now, locals and visitors can glean a greater understanding of the 600-million-year story associated with the Margaret River Region and its people.

The Ancient Lands Experience is a series of interactive installations woven throughout the natural bushland that pay homage to the landscape's formation, the limestone caves, the 60,000-year custodianship of the Wadandi people, and the flora and fauna found in the region today. It also serves at a Meeting Place for Koomal Dreaming tours.

Wadandi Cultural Custodian and owner of Koomal Dreaming, Josh Whiteland has been running tours at Ngilgi Cave for 15 years.

"Ngilgi Cave, which means 'good spirit of the ocean', was the first tourist attraction to open in WA and one of the last to get upgraded," Mr Whiteland said.

"The information and knowledge have always been here on country, but to have it in an interpretive form for visitors to understand creates a whole connected experience.

Western Australian Senator Louise Pratt, MRBTA chair Stuart Hicks AO, Warren Blackwood MLA, Jane Kelsbie MLA, carpenter Eric Van den bergh, Wadandi Cultural Custodian Josh Whiteland, carpenter Jake Van den bergh and Federal Member for Forrest Nola Marino MP, officially open the new 'Ancient Lands Experience' at Ngilgi Cave. (Image: Abby Murray Photography)

"When I started running tours here, there was not much here, I built a little shelter and seating using recycled timber then moved a heap of limestone with a wheelbarrow to create a small meeting space and bbq area. It was very humble beginnings."

The cave experience that has captivated people for generations remains at the heart of the experience, with universal access pathways ensuring those who are unable to venture underground are able to gain an insight into the fascinating world of Ngilgi Cave.

"There's much more to the Yallingup story than just the cave. Visitors can now get a better understanding of the six Noongar seasons, all the native and traditional names of places, the geology and power of the water, flora and fauna, and there's a new nature playground, walking trails gallery and gift shop," Mr Whiteland said.

"The opportunity to create something this special is more than just another tour location that incorporates local stories, art and history allowing visitors to connect with country and culture."

Local not-for-profit organisation, MRBTA, through its Capes Foundation, has been entrusted to care for Ngilgi Cave for over 70 years and has crafted the new experience alongside a team of local contractors, artists, storytellers and Wadandi cultural custodians.

Capes Foundation Director, Steve Harrison, said that the south west corner of Australia has an immensely significant history, culture and natural environment.

"In geological terms, it is understood to be an island within an island, which offered a refuge for life to thrive during the ravages of the ice age," Mr Harrison said.

"We were inspired by the idea of travel being the best modern-day form of adult education, and our aim is to create a serene natural setting where visitors can completely immerse themselves and soak up the fascinating stories that are shared."

Bookings can be made via the Ancient Lands Experience can be made via the Capes Foundation website, with Koomal Dreaming cultural tours, with cultural tour bookings being accepted via the Koomal Dreaming website.

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