The region’s peak tourism body has opened its signature Aboriginal heritage experience at Ngilgi Cave near Yallingup. A star-studded opening last week saw the Ancient Lands Experience unveiled as part of a $3.6 million project described by the Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association as a chance for “locals and visitors to embark on a journey to discover the 600 million-year story associated with the Margaret River region and its people”. A purpose-built meeting place at the cave would host Aboriginal tour operator Josh Whiteland’s Koomal Dreaming at the site touted as WA’s “first tourist attraction”. The region’s caves have seen visitors from Perth make the trek down south since the late 1800s, with Ngilgi Cave open to the public since 1900. For the past decade, tourism authorities have sought to harness visitor interest in Aboriginal heritage as part of the region’s tourism offering and also as a way to add low-impact attractions that showcase the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge’s scenic beauty. MRBTA’s Capes Foundation director Steve Harrison said the tourism group had acted as custodians for Ngilgi Cave for 70 years. “This far South West corner of Australia has an immensely significant history, culture and natural environment,” Mr Harrison said. “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. “It is home to the Wadandi people, who have cared for this part of the world for over 60,000 years,” he said. “We feel incredibly fortunate to call this place home, and through this project, we wanted to pay homage to all that makes it special.” Mr Whiteland said the Ancient Lands opening represented an “incredible journey from humble beginnings, working with inspiring people in tourism”. “The opportunity to create something this special is more than just another tour location,” the Wadandi custodian said. “Incorporating local stories, art and history allowing visitors to connect with country and culture — such an amazing way to create awareness and respect for this beautiful place we call home.” The project integrates the cave with the surrounding landscape through a series of platforms and paths as well as the meeting place, bringing together fun activities as well as education through interactive displays. The centre covers the vast scope of the site’s history, including the geological formations featured in the cave — as well as the cave system itself — and explores cultural connections to the region’s flora and fauna as well as other sites of significance. Mr Harrison said conservation was at the heart of the Capes Foundation’s values. “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,” he said. For more, visit capesfoundation.org.au.