New St. Michael's Cave

This cave was discovered as a result of a tunnelling operation in 1942 that was initiated to provide access to the lower level of Old St. Michael’s Cave, where an operating theatre was being constructed. In the process of blasting operations, the engineers noticed, when the dust had settled, that all the rubble had disappeared down a hole in the ground. Further investigation revealed the system now known as New St. Michael’s Cave. Since the discovery, the Royal Engineers, as the custodians of the cave, installed a lighting system and improved the safety of the cave with a network of ropes in the chamber known as the boxing ring. They also provided ropes around the lake and along difficult areas. They allowed public access only under supervision of one of their guides, normally a Royal Engineer. However, in the 1970s, some local residents were included in the guide unit.

In the late 1980s the responsibility of the cave passed on to the Gibraltar Tourist Office (now the Gibraltar Tourist Board) and they now control maintenance and provision of guides through their cave co-ordinator Mr. Ernest Vallejo. The cave itself is a prime example of the wonders that water can produce, percolating and dissolving limestone over thousands of years to create remarkable formations, coloured in shades of yellows, whites and browns, reflecting the light of the torches and leaving visitors spellbound. The cave runs north to south for a distance of approximately 370m. The entrance is located beneath a trapdoor 20m from the tunnel entrance. Here, the visitor descends a flight of steps and arrives in a small debris-strewn chamber. From here, a small crawl and a 3m descent brings one into the wet and live surrounding of the initial part of the cave.

Immediately, one is aware of the constant flow of water down the sides of the walls. Curtain formations and flowstones are also immediately noticeable. A small passage opens up into the Great Rift or boxing ring, a large chamber with an intricate network of ropes to ensure the safety of visitors. Here, formations are scarce and the pattern of large blocks of rock cemented together by the precipitation of calcium carbonate indicates a more recent history than the rest of the cave. Below this, a narrow passage drops down into another small chamber that is rich in formations and includes a pool of water. The cave now proceeds south through three magnificent stalagmite halls each bearing the most outstanding flowstones, curtains, helictites, stalagmites and stalactites that can be found in the surrounding region.

As if this was not enough, the visitor is presented with beautiful reflections of the formations on this exceptional lake present within this cave. Incredibly, you can traverse the lake by walking along a narrow rim of up to 20cm around the edge of the lake. This rim is the result of deposits of calcium carbonate floating on the water and adhering to the edges of the lake over millennia. The final chamber, known as the southern chamber, narrows considerably at its southernmost point close to where is found a perfect palette. This unusual formation is reminiscent of a painter’s palette, at an angle of 45º. The development of this formation cannot be explained. Three other perfect palettes can also be found in Pete’s Paradise Cave. Due to the presence of lighting installation within the cave there are colonies of green algae growing on the walls close to the light bulbs. Other flora or fauna have not been discovered within this cave.

Perez, C.E. & Bensusan, K. (2005) The Upper Rock Nature Reserve, A Management and Action Plan. The Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society. Gibraltar.