Just got back from a bit of a holiday, the first stop of which was to Jenolan Caves. There is lots of good information online about the Jenolan Caves (some of best at wikipedia) so I won’t rewrite it here.
My Jenolan experience started with the windy road to get there. Priscilla was driving so I was able to enjoy the view, but a tight twisty road on a damp day was a little nerve wracking. Then suddenly you come around a corner, see the gorgeous blue lake on your left and start looking for a parking spot. But there is none – at least on the northern side. You need to drive through the Grand Arch to get to the tourist area – historic Caves House, the information centre and the car parks a little up the hill.
Once you have parked you have a bit of a bushwalk back down to get your tickets for a guided tour – I had a gift voucher but for regular folk it is $23 for an adult. We did the Lucas Cave, named after the local federal MP for the area back in the 1860s as it has a good variety of formations as well as the biggest caverns.
The caves were very busy the day we were there – tours usually run every half hour but today they were going every 15 minutes. This meant that we had to keep moving but at least the group size was smaller than it could have been. We met our guide (Ted) and the other 30 or so people in our group and started walking up the stairs to get to our cave.
The passageways were a lot lower and narrower than I was expecting. I have been 400m underground in a copper/gold mine, all by myself in some pretty tight places, but at least you had freedom to move in most directions and stretch out. I admit to feeling a little claustrophobic inside some of those passageways. It was okay while we were moving, but occasionally a slow person would get in front of you and the queue would stop while they struggled up the stairs. At these times the heat, humidity and stuffiness started to encroach on your comfort and I was happy to get moving again. The other good thing about being in a mine (other than the 4m wide, 5m high smooth tunnels and the tunnel ventilation) was I had a map and could figure out where I was and where I was going – I was unfamiliar with the cave I was in and wasn’t that comfortable with the idea.
The first stop in the anteroom, but it is really just to catch your breath and have some of the basics of limestone caves explained to us tourists. Then it is off to the Cathedral – 51m high with about 10 or more different formations such as the pipe organ, the pulpit, the stained glass windows – which is experienced via a light and sound show that highlights each zone in turn. Apparently each month there are concerts within this cavern, a unique experience I’m sure but I’m not convinced you need to trick up a cave that is quite an effort to get to with such frippery.
From there you descend to the very wide exhibition chamber which has more features that I can recount. Lace curtains, broken column, the unicorn, wedding cake – beautiful white limestone which has trickled into formations that you wouldn’t choose to create but which nature has managed to render using water and limestone.
We took a diversion to the Mafeking Chamber as we were too close to the group in front. This is arguably the prettiest section of this whole cave and most tour groups miss out on it as it requires a backtrack.
You finish the tour walking on a bridge over the underground river (the Styx, though no ferryman in sight) and in the Bone Cave, which despite it’s ghoulish name only included one wombat skeleton and some coloured lights. Then your tour ends, about 90-100 minutes after you began it.
Jenolan Caves also give you entry to a self-guided tour of the Nettle Cave with your purchased tour, but Priscilla and I were in a bit of a hurry so we didn’t do that one. Also we were a little worn from all the steps and glad to see the sky again.