I’ve experienced a lot in my life, granted, not as much as many other people, but I’d like to think I’ve had some good times and fun experiences. After surfing for the first, second, and even third time, I never came out of the water thinking; OMFG, that was so awesome – I HAVE to do that again ASAP! I’m hardly a thrill-seeker either. I’ve been climbing, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking/canoeing, zip-lining, played numerous if not every sport imaginable in varying degrees of competitiveness and none of them gave me the same feeling as this most recent experience we just enjoyed. After visiting the Horne Lake Caves, I’m left wanting more for the first time in a long time!
If you have a chance to get to Vancouver Island for only a day, this is the one thing you should see and do. Forget Tofino and their chill-dude surf-vibe and cold-a$$ waves. And bypass Victoria and their whale-watching escapades, golf courses, and scenic gardens. If you want something truly unique, something you’ll remember, it’s a cave adventure at the Horne Lake Caves.
Let’s start with mind-blowing science of caves in general. If you’re a Geologist, or a rock enthusiast like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, you might know enough about geology to do a self-guided tour of the Horne Lake Caves. But for the rest of us who are more like Red from Shawshank and merely know how to get things, it’s advisable to go with the guided tour – be it an hour, or several hours. There are many cave tours to choose from, and you’ll learn about crystals, straws, fossils, stalagmites, stalactites, as well as why you shouldn’t touch formations within caves.
To make this experience even better, our cave guide, Alex, was a guide you don’t get very often. He is experienced in the sport of caving, personable, funny (not lmao funny, but definitely offered up some lol moments), and more important – he was extremely knowledgeable in the subject.
Why I’ve never done something like this, I don’t know. I had so much fun and could have stared in awe at the cave floor, the walls, the ceiling, the fallen rocks, the embedded stones under crystal formations, or just sit there in silent darkness listening to my heart beat – which we had a chance to do as well. Heck, I could easily have wasted another 10 minutes snagging some shots of George, the lone cave-dwelling bat who was left behind from last winter’s migration. Personally I’d have named him Bruce Wayne if he was the only bat living there, or Bobby (after Bobby Vinton who sings the song “Lonely”) but I can’t begrudge the name George, I’m assuming it’s a jungle-related thing.
Okay, about the tour. You can get by with runners, as I did, but resigned myself to the fact that feet were going to get wet (which they did). I had an extra pair of kicks in the car so I wasn’t too worried about a soaker. That being said, if you’ve got some Wellies or rubber boots…might be a good idea to wear those. And the gloves that Horne Lake provides at a nominal charge are well worth it too. They’ll keep your hands dry and allow you to grip rocks when necessary. These aren’t tours you show up in a pair of shorts and flip flops thinking you’re “good to go”.
Our group also had a child and an older adult (I’m going to say 50’s to early 60’s – the older adult, not the child) and both were able to manage their way through the main cave with relative ease. So a quick take-away; it’s not a tour that’s limited to young athletic people or contortionists. People of all ages can enjoy the caves.
If you’ve ever driven the Road to Hana in Hawaii, you know it’s not about reaching Hana, or plunging into the Seven Pools — those are merely stops along the way. It’s the journey across the island, the winding roads, the stop in a remote town for lunch, the waves crashing, the single lane bridges where locals will ensure you wait your turn (which is always after them). The same can be said for the Horne Lake Caves, as you enter a valley on a gravel road built for logging rigs and dump trucks carrying aggregates (yet still totally driveable for our little Nissan Versa), you wonder if you’ve made a wrong turn. There’s plenty of signage so you can’t get lost though.
The windy road to the windward side of Vancouver Island (Tofino and Ucluelet) can be a bit unnerving in wet or snowy weather, but the road to the Horne Lake Caves is actually a fun drive as you take it slow along the gravel road. And just as the road to Hana is full of sights along the way, so too is the drive to Horne Lake, with the bark-free Arbutus trees, a glass-like lake, and if you’re lucky – snow-dusted mountain tops!
Sadly, like many things that are left unattended, be it parks, caves, or other natural formations, they weren’t always treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. I’d like to think the people spray-painting and littering just didn’t know how frail the cave ecosystem is, and just didn’t know any better, like those who thought the earth was flat. But the team at Horne Lake Caves not only cleaned up the caves, they now educate people on said fragility of the caves.
Some other things we learned:
- Vancouver Island (or Cave island to spelunkers) is home to well over 1600 marked caves, and there are likely several hundred—possibly thousands—more undocumented/unmarked caves.
- Caves are an EXTREMELY fragile ecosystem, and even something as simple as touching a crystal formation can alter it’s appearance drastically, requiring several hundreds of years to recover from your KFC grease-laden finger.
- Seismic actively often has little affect both on a cave, and can rarely be felt while inside a cave too.
- The sensory deprivation a cave provides can only be experienced in three other places on earth (we’ve experienced 2 of 3)
- 1. In caves
- 2. The Ocean Floor
- 3. Sensory deprivation chambers
- This particular cave (Horne Lake Caves) started out as microorganisms on the ocean floor, became solid rock via mind-blowing science, and 150 million years ago started to make it’s way from Southern California to it’s current location through ice ages and tectonic plate movements. But it was only after the one kilometre thick glaciers receded that these caves and tubes were formed. Super-cool stuff!
The best part about cave exploration is that there is likely a cave system very near to you, or a few hours drive away. For Canada, visit cancaver.ca to learn more about caving or to visit a cave under your neck of the woods. For elsewhere underground, contact your state, provincial, county, or other government tourism board.
HUUUUGE thanks to Chris and Alex at Horne Lake Caves for the last-minute hosting!
Now go sell all your stuff and experience a cave near you!