The Painted Cave – Niah National Park

The trail to the Painted Cave leads from one of the back entrances of the Great Cave, through some interesting scenery with cliffs on both sides, and up into the Painted Cave itself. Inside this pleasant cave are some interesting paintings on the walls, as well as some ancient boat-shaped wooden coffins. This is not a difficult trail, just make sure you have the time and energy to add it to the Great Cave walk.

At a Glance

Difficulty
3/10
Distance
300 m one way
4.1 km one way from Park HQ
Scenic value
8/10
Walking Time
20-30 minutes from the end of the Great Cave at Lobang Gua Kira one-way.
Flora & Fauna
5/10
Trail Markings
None – boardwalk

 

Trail Description

Note: This trail description leads on from the end of the description of the Great Cave, which finishes at the end of Lobang Gua Kira.

From Lobang Guan Kira, you emerge again into the sunlight, and it takes a moment to adjust to the light. As soon as you leave the cave, the boardwalk passes some amazingly tall pandanus trees (screw-pines). The area you are in is a small gorge which runs between the cliffs above the Great Cave, and the hill in which the painted cave is located. It is a bit more open and flat than the forest leading to the Traders Cave, and there are a few beautiful big trees growing in the swampy ground.

 

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After about 20 minutes of fairly flat traveling, the boardwalk climbs up to the mouth of the Painted Cave. Before the boardwalk was built, getting to the Painted Cave was not so easy, particularly during the wet season. While excavating there, Harrison reported that the whole area would flood, and the archaeologists literally had to swim out to the Painted Cave – at one stage deciding that it would be easier to camp out there rather than making the daily expedition from the Great Cave.


The Painted Cave is one of the most pleasant of the caves at Niah – it has nice light (it is open at both ends), smooth clean walls and floor, and is on a more human scale than the Great Cave. A breeze passes through it and there are also no bats or birds – so it is comparatively sweet-smelling.

The Painted Cave is also very significant from an archaeological perspective. Numerous artifacts were found here, including a collection of beautiful wooden boat-shaped coffins, thought to date from between 0 and 700 CE, just lying on the surface of the cave-floor (at the time of writing, there were still some just sitting there in the open). In winter time it could be a cold place, so make sure you’re bringing your sleeping bag, check out our best budget winter sleeping bags buyer’s guide here.

Large numbers of other objects were also found in the Painted Cave (60,000 man-made items and fragments were recovered in the 1961 archaeological season alone!). The nature of the finds in the Painted Cave led Barbara Harrisson to speculate those elaborate ceremonies had been held there, possibly including human sacrifices and mock-battles! This now seems hard to imagine, in its current serene state.

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But most interesting for the casual visitor is the cave paintings that give the cave its name. These paintings, in red haematite, run along a short segment of the cave wall at the top of a rise on the right of the cave entrance. They depict a number of fantastical and stylized beasts, men and funerary boats. Most of the paintings are now almost hidden behind a couple of layers of barbed-wire and are little hard to see from outside their enclosure (bring your binoculars if you have any). However, two small paintings can easily be seen on the cave wall to the left of the fenced-area. The museum at Niah also has a reproduction of some of the paintings, to give you an idea of what they look like from close-up.