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Jenolan Caves

Discover one of the world’s most exceptional and ancient cave systems just a few hours’ drive from Sydney. 

Nestled in the Blue Mountains, these caves offer more than just a journey through time and geology—they invite you to an exploration of nature’s masterpieces. 

With 11 show caves, underground rivers, and remarkable rock formations, the Jenolan Caves feature over 40 kilometers of multi-level passages and 300 entrances.

Guided tours cater to varying fitness levels, allowing exploration of limestone caves dating back hundreds of millions of years. 

Delve into the prehistoric past on a fossil tour or marvel at crystal formations on the Imperial Diamond tour. 

Operating daily from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm and with accommodation options nearby, you can explore the extensive cave network on an overnight retreat. 

Read along to learn all about the cave formation, discovery, native wildlife, tour experiences, and essential visiting information. 

Embark on a private full-day tour from Sydney, exploring the Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves in a comfortable Volkswagen minibus. 

Other highlights include Katoomba Falls, Echo Point Lookout, The Three Sisters, and Scenic World. 

Experiences 

Jenolan Caves Australia promises an array of experiences, from challenging adventures to family-friendly explorations.

This underground world is rich in geological wonders and historical significance.

Here are the different tour experiences you can opt for on your trip to one of the largest cave systems in the world.

1. Imperial Cave

The Imperial Cave tour provides the easiest cave exploration, following an ancient river bed with mostly level terrain and short sets of stairs. 

This 1-hour tour with 260 steps offers a chance to marvel at the pure blue waters of the underground river, making it an excellent choice for those with mobility considerations.

2. Imperial Diamond

The Imperial Diamond tour invites exploration of the Imperial and Diamond branches, showcasing pure white crystal formations tinted with shades of pink. 

The tour concludes with the mesmerizing ‘Gem of the West,’ an astonishing crystal formation featuring helictites, stalactites, stalagmites, shawls, and wave crystals. 

This easy, 1-hour and 30-minute journey with 430 steps accommodates groups of up to 25 people.

3. Fossil Hunters

This family-friendly adventure is designed for school holidays. 

Geared towards kids, this interactive tour takes little adventurers on a journey through Lucas Cave, where they learn about fossils and caves through hands-on experiments and a treasure hunt. 

With a moderate difficulty level and a duration of one hour, this tour includes 550 steps, ensuring an educational yet enjoyable experience for up to 12 children.

4. Night exploration 

For those who want a different perspective, the Night Tours offer a completely unique experience, taking place on Fridays and Saturdays at 7.45 pm. 

The cave’s atmosphere transforms in the evening, providing a mysterious and captivating ambiance.

5. Orient Cave

Known for its visual impact and rich crystal formations, this cave provides a moderate 1-hour and 30-minute journey for groups of up to 25. 

Featuring the famous ‘Pillar of Hercules’ and the enchanting ‘Crystal Basin,’ this tour includes 358 steps.

6. Temple of Baal

The Temple of Baal, a dramatic and evocative ancient cave, invites exploration of two huge, stunning caverns. 

With a moderate difficulty level, this 1-hour and 30-minute tour for groups of up to 25 showcases spectacular crystal formations, fossils, and the ethereal ‘Angel’s Wing’ crystal shawl with 290 steps.

7. Lucas Cave

The Lucas Cave tour begins with a 300-step ascent, offering breathtaking views of the Blue Lake. 

With a strenuous difficulty level, this 2-hour adventure for groups of up to 50 explores the vast chambers of the Cathedral, featuring music, lighting displays, and acoustics.

8. Plughole

For those seeking an adrenaline rush, the Plughole tour provides a unique challenge, requiring participants to abseil, squeeze, crawl, and climb deep into the mountain’s heart. 

With only a headlamp to guide the way, groups of up to 12 individuals embark on a strenuous 2-hour and 30-minute journey of climbing and crawling.

 9. Grand Tour

The Grand Tour is a challenging yet breathtaking journey through two of the most spectacular caves, the Orient Cave and Persia. 

Participants descend into exotic India and Egypt, passing through the enchanting Crystal Basin and the black depths of the Mud Tunnels. 

The tour culminates with a climb up the dragon’s throat, emerging into daylight after a 2-hour, 600-step strenuous adventure.

10. Custom tour

Groups looking for a customized experience can opt for the Custom tour, tailoring their underground adventure to specific preferences. 

Whether it’s a conference, meeting, or a large group gathering, you have variable options to create a bespoke tour as part of a package.

Wildlife 

In the heart of the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve (JKCR) you will find a number of enchanting native wildlife of Jenolan Caves. 

Spanning 3,085 hectares within the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, this sanctuary harbors a variety of native flora and fauna. 

Keep an eye out for elusive creatures like the Brush-tailed rock wallaby and the Spotted-tailed Quoll, both rare and threatened species. 

These shy animals are nocturnal and tend to stay away from cave areas but observe patiently, and you might catch glimpses during the day. 

Make sure never to approach or feed these wild inhabitants. 

You can also meet the resident wildlife expert, Dr. Anne Musser, and observe the Jenolan’s biodiversity through captivating photographs. 

Enjoy a day trip from Sydney to the Blue Mountains Jenolan Caves along with a Parramatta River cruise. 

In the company of a Certified outdoor instructor, learn all about the 360 million-year-old cave system. 

History 

Jenolan is a treasure trove of diverse cave types, each narrating a chapter in geological history.

The history of Jenolan Caves begins a staggering 430 million years ago, in the Silurian period. 

During modern human history, the caves were explored for more than 160 years, illuminated by candles and magnesium lamps.

Formation

So, how were the Jenolan Caves formed?

The Jenolan Limestone, formed from marine organisms like seashells and corals, created a sedimentary rock by decomposing on a shallow sea floor.

Identified fossils, including brachiopods and corals, offer a glimpse into the ancient offshore reef’s history. 

Uplift events during the Carboniferous period tilted the limestone, setting the stage for cave formation. 

The karst landscape, shaped by underground water dissolving limestone, reveals the intricate network of caves. 

The ancient Jenolan River, flowing below and above ground, played a pivotal role in the caves’ evolution, starting over 200 million years ago.

Another feature of the caves are speleothems—cave crystal formations—that offer a unique appeal to the underground realm. 

Crafted by slow drips of mildly acidic water-dissolving limestone, these formations include stalagmites, stalactites, and shawls. 

Beyond their aesthetic appeal, these geological gems play a scientific role. 

Stalagmites, for instance, offer a glimpse into bygone eras, holding essential information about past environments. 

As water drips from the cave ceiling, it paints the formations in captivating hues like gold and amber.

Exploration 

Before the colonial exploration in 1838, the local Gundungurra people knew the caves as Binoomeal, or ‘Dark places.’

James Whalan, a local pastoralist, made the first recorded discovery, but James McKeown, an ex-convict, may have been the first European to encounter the caves. 

Over time, caves like Elder and Lucas were explored, with Lucas Cave named after John Lucas, who played a pivotal role in preserving this fragile environment. 

The 1872 legislation marked a turning point, making destructive practices illegal.

The late 1800s saw Jenolan emerge as a tourist destination, witnessing the discovery of Imperial Cave and the Chifley Cave. 

Accommodations and pathways were developed, and caves like the Jubilee Cave were uncovered. 

In 1903, J. C. Wiburd, appointed as Superintendent of Caves, led significant exploration, discovering the River, Pool of Cerberus, Temple of Baal, Orient, and Ribbon Caves.

The challenges of early cave exploration, relying on candles and magnesium lamps, gave way to the era of electric lighting. 

Thomas Edison’s vacuum light bulb and Australia’s first hydro-electric power, the Leffel Wheel, marked milestones in illumination. 

In the 21st century, the C-Bus system, a microprocessor-based control, brought energy-efficient lighting to the Imperial Cave.

Opening hours 

Jenolan Caves welcomes visitors with varying opening hours throughout the week. 

From Monday to Sunday, the caves are accessible from 9 am to 4.30 pm.

However, on Fridays and Saturdays, the adventure extends into the evening, with the closing time set at 10.30 pm. 

Even on holidays like Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day, cave tours and the cafe remain open. 

However, the accommodations and Chisholm’s Restaurant are closed on Christmas Day. 

There may be some occasional closures, such as the monthly staff training on 11 December 2023.

How to reach

To reach Jenolan Caves, driving provides a scenic journey. 

If coming from Canberra, the fastest route is via Goulburn, Taralga, and Oberon. 

From Sydney, take the Great Western Highway, and turn left onto Jenolan Caves Road.

Or, opt for a picturesque detour by turning right onto Duckmaloi Road, left onto Titania Road, and left onto Edith Road. 

Another option from Sydney is to turn off the Great Western Highway at Magpie Hollow Road for a longer countryside drive through Tarana and Oberon. 

For a scenic route through Bathurst, turn onto Littlebourne Street before Bathurst, passing through O’Connell to reach Oberon.

Upon reaching Jenolan, there’s a one-way descent, and escort vehicles operate every 30 minutes, with the last departure at 5.30 pm (extended to 10.30 pm on Friday and Saturday nights). 

To make your tour on time, arrive at the barrier 1 hour before your activity. 

Leaving Jenolan, escort vehicles regularly accompany vehicles back up the hill.

If you prefer walking down to the caves and hotel, a lovely 500-meter scenic walk from the upper car park leads down to Caves House Hotel, Caves Café, and the cave tour meeting spot. 

Alternatively, a complimentary shuttle bus service is available for those who prefer not to walk or have mobility concerns, ensuring convenience for all visitors.

Accommodations

Jenolan Caves offers a range of accommodations, ensuring a comfortable and memorable stay amid the natural beauty of the Blue Mountains.

Caves House Hotel, an architectural gem designed by Walter Liberty Vernon, stands as an icon of Blue Mountains accommodation. 

With ‘Classic’ rooms featuring a queen-size bed and ensuite, and ‘Grand Classic’ rooms offering a king-size bed and ensuite, you experience the charm of the alpine ‘Federation, Arts and Crafts’ style within a heritage-listed building.

For families seeking a tranquil retreat, Mountain Lodge, built in the 1980s, provides modern comfort in a traditional Jenolan-style structure. 

This Jenolan Caves hotel, located 100 meters behind Caves House, offers rooms with air conditioning, Smart TV, Wi-Fi, and fully stocked kitchens.

With a focus on family-friendly amenities, Mountain Lodge provides a quiet haven set apart from the main precinct, making it an ideal choice for those wanting a serene escape.

For those looking for a more secluded experience, Binda Bush Cabins provide self-contained cabins surrounded by eucalyptus forest. 

The cabins offer a technology-free escape, complete with indoor gas fires for winter coziness. 

While lacking TV reception, the cabins provide TVs with DVD players, ensuring entertainment.

It’s worth noting that the cabins don’t include linen, so guests should bring their bedding and towels.

Binda Bush Cabins are ideal for families, groups, or a romantic getaway, offering a retreat from the modern world. 

With no phones and limited mobile reception, you can truly disconnect, although Wi-Fi is available.

Located amidst lush farmland, the cabins require a longer drive to the caves, but the scenic route offers beautiful views and wildlife encounters.

As for dining, Jenolan Caves provides various options, including Chisholm’s Restaurant, Caves Cafe, and Jeremiah’s Bar.

You can enjoy meals and refreshments while taking in the unique atmosphere of this natural wonder. 

Tips 

To ensure a smooth and enjoyable visit to Jenolan Caves, consider these helpful tips. 

Pre-book your tickets to secure your spot and avoid disappointment. 

Arrive at least 45 to 60 minutes before your tour to allow time for parking, restroom visits, and relaxation. 

Plan your travel time accordingly, and if staying overnight, check-in is from 2 to 5 pm. 

For dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, reservations are open to everyone. 

Wear comfortable and appropriate shoes for cave tours (no thongs or high heels). 

Pack snacks and drinks, but remember no food or drinks are allowed inside the caves. 

Be mindful of the temperature difference inside and outside the caves.

You can access the Jenolan Caves map, weather alerts and other visitor information on the official NSW National Parks (NPWS) website

FAQs

Where is Jenolan caves located?

Jenolan Caves are situated in the Central Tablelands region, west of the Blue Mountains, in Jenolan, Oberon Council, New South Wales, Australia. 

The limestone caves are part of the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve within this picturesque and geologically rich area.

How old are the Jenolan caves?

The Jenolan Caves are approximately 340 million years old, establishing it as the world’s oldest known and dated open cave system.

Scientists determined this age by measuring the ratio of radioactive potassium and trapped argon gas within the clay formations of the caves.

Featured Image: Dean McQuade on Unsplash

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