New South Wales’s Jenolan Caves: Way Down Under
The Blue Mountains are simply glorious. It’s not something you appreciate about your home country until you’ve been away for some time. Then – when you experience the vastness of the valleys, smothered in green eucalyptus and flooded with golden light, you realise the majesty and awe that Australia can produce. Hidden within the mountains, just outside the small town of Oberon, are the incredible Jenolan Caves. Now, whilst you might be of the opinion that caves are nothing without the adrenaline rush of donning a wet suit and a helmet and riding down rushing rapids in darkness – don’t give up hope just yet. Let me show you the absolute wonder of these ancient underground spaces.
The Jenolan Caves
First – a sprinkle of geology. The nine limestone caves that make up the collective ‘Jenolan Caves’ are estimated to be 340 million years old. This makes the cave complex the world’s oldest known and dated open cave system. Impressed yet?
Protected by both UNESCO World Heritage and Australian National Heritage, the caves have been welcoming tourists since 1884. Each year, they receive over 250,000 visitors – despite having no dedicated direct public transport. Unfortunately, the only way to reach the caves is either by private car or a dedicated tour (with coach tours available from either Sydney or Katoomba). Don’t fear – it’s worth it.
Hey! Why not use the Travltalk app to arrange a group to head in together?
On reaching the site of the entrance to the caves, you’re greeted by the spectacular Grand Arch, before approaching The Caves House – complete with café, restaurant, guides office and hotel. Here you’ll face the challenge of which cave to visit. Keep in mind many of the area’s “dark caves” are open for regular guided tours every day (1 to 2 hours per tour). These show cave tour sizes vary. For example, the delicate Pool of Cerberus Cave can have only 8 on a tour, while the Lucas Cave (with its large, impressive cathedral like chambers) can have up to 65 people per tour. Each tour also varies in cost – from $42-55/adult, depending on the cave. Tip for budgeters – book online for the best deals – i.e. buy a Lucas cave tour, get an Imperial cave tour half price.
The Lucas Cave Tour
We opt for the Lucas tour, given its flashy appeal. Ooo – Cathedral cave! Ahh – Exhibition Chamber and the famous broken column! Stay with me here.
It did not disappoint. We join the tour group of around 30 others and follow our guide up, over and into the cave system. Once inside, the mammoth complexity of limestone stalactites and stalagmites becomes immediately apparent as we duck and weave along the track. The guide intermittently stops and explains the formation of the caves, the role of water and minerals in the almost extraterrestrial grotto-esque configurations of each room. Crystals sparkle and droplets of water fall, forming an incredibly calm and surreal environment.
This is only made more dramatic with the choreographed light and sound shows that accompany some of the caves larger chambers. The Cathedral is particularly astonishing, with a ceiling 54 metres high and enormous ladders reaching high up into the adjoining spaces – all for the purpose of changing the light bulbs!
From the cathedral, we enter the vast Exhibition Chamber. This is notably the largest chamber at Jenolan – the size of a small football field. Around each corner is a new beautiful feature. From translucent stone curtains falling like velvet from the ceiling to the beautiful ‘Procenium’ with its stunning, colourful cave shawls. I honestly never thought I would be so in awe of rocks! Keep an eye out for the names of cave visitors from the Victorian era, burnt onto the roof with the candles they used to find their way through what would have been a suffocating darkness.
The final leg of the tour takes you over a high bridge, the underground river far below – still, pure and blue. You then enter one of the last caverns at Jenolan to be lit with unadulterated 70s disco vibes. A cave fit for Ariel’s treasure trove – “Look at this stuff. Isn’t it neat?”
The Jenolan reserve also plays host to some fabulous natural wonders once you’re outside of the caves. From the very Instagrammable Blue Lake – home to a few playful platypus – to the spectacular Devil’s Couchhouse and Carlotta Arch. It’s well worth your time to take a wander through the surrounding bushland. You may even catch a glimpse of the colony of rare brush tailed rock-wallabies that call the caves home.
Leaving Jenolan we feel like we only scratched the surface of the wonders lying dormant ‘down under’ – having not taken the opportunity on this occasion to venture into the other caves. Whilst slightly pricey and a little ‘out-of-the-way’, the Jenolan Caves are a magical, must-see destination during your time in Australia – and I think are well worth the trip across the Blue Mountains.
So, splunking fans – did I win you over?
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