Jenolan Caves in New South Wales

The Blue Mountains west of Sydney are renowned for the magnificent vistas you can enjoy from places such as Echo Point and the Megalong Valley, but deep inside the Blue Mountains you’ll find Jenolan Caves, a series of subterranean caves, tunnels and chambers that are estimated to reach 40 kilometres in length.

Situated 175 kilometres west of Sydney Jenolan Caves is the best known cave system in Australia.  The caves were known to local aborigines, but it is thought that they avoided them.  Jenolan is an aboriginal word meaning `dark places’.  Rumours of the caves were first noted in about 1835, but the first cave to be discovered by European settlers, Lucas Cave, was first discovered in 1860 and named after John Lucas.  He was a politician who lobbied hard for the caves to be preserved.  Lucas Cave features a huge chamber called the cathedral, where the acoustics are so good regular concerts are held.

Imperial Cave was discovered in 1879, and is the easiest cave to visit.  Many fossils have been found in Imperial Cave, including Tasmanian Devil bones which proved that these carnivorous marsupials used to thrive on the Australian mainland.

There are eleven caves that are open to the general public, as well as some that are accessible only by cavers, or speleologists.  Each of the caves has some aspect that is unique to that cave.  For instance, the Temple of Baal cave has an abundance of peculiar formations called helictites; these are unusually angled and look like they were grown in zero gravity.  River Cave is so-named because of the River Styx which runs through it.  Jersey Cave contains a fossilized thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, which is now extinct.  

There are some caves for which you must join a tour to see and others that you can investigate on your own.  There are also audio commentaries available to listen to whilst exploring the caves, and these come in a variety of languages, including Klingon.

Some of the caves are more pedestrian friendly than others, but all are lit to both making walking easier and also to highlight the best features of each cave.  Many people stay at Caves House, a heritage hotel that is adjacent to the caves.  The hotel holds special events and has special packages for those wanting to stay a few days to more fully enjoy the cave experience.  For a scarier experience, each Saturday Night you can join a Ghost tour.

Jenolan Caves are thought to be amongst the oldest cave systems in the world, and are presumed to be about 340 million years of age.   They are in an area called a karst landscape: one in which the formation of an area has been predominantly formed by water.  The spectacular Li River area of Southern China is one of the most picturesque examples of a karst landscape.

Jenolan Caves are about a three hour drive from Sydney.  There is no public transport to the caves, but there are tours which depart daily from Sydney.  The other alternative is to catch the train to Katoomba and a bus from Katoomba to the caves.  Or, if you are particularly fit there is a 48 kilometre walk called the Six Foot Walk which runs between Katoomba and the caves.

Jenolan Caves is part of the Jenolan Reserve, which is a national park and the Blue Mountains is a World Heritage Area.  Even is you have no particular interest in caves, the surrounding countryside is wonderfully lush and interesting.  It is also an area where you have the opportunity to see some of the native fauna, such as kangaroos and platypus, in their natural environment.

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