Jenolan Caves, situated at the Western end of the Blue Mountains in Jenolan National Forest, is one of Australia’s most popular country destinations. Over a quarter of a million visitors visit the caves each year to marvel at their wonders and explore the many caves that are open to the public.
The extensive and as yet still not fully discovered network of Jenolan caves is what is known as “Karst Caves.” These limestone caves are formed over millions of years as water soluble limestone is dissolved away from surrounding insoluble rocks. The result is a spectacular labyrinth punctuated by stalagmites and stalactites. The early aborigines dubbed them “Binoomea” or dark places and did not explore them. The first European credited with exploring the interiors of the caves was James Whalan, who first entered them in 1838. However, James McKeown, an ex-convict, is widely recognized as having preceded Whalan. McKeown was not as interested in exploring the caves as he was in using them as a hideout, though, so Whalan’s credit is deserved.
Other explorers followed Whalan and his group and by the 1860s, several major caves had been discovered. Word spread and the Jenolan Caves became a tourist destination. The first tourists treated the caves with little respect and evidence of their vandalism remains to this day. Fortunately, it was made illegal to remove any material from the caves in 1872, so the damage has remained minimal. John Lucas, a local member of Parliament, is credited with this accomplishment and the Lucas Cave has been named in his honour.
Although there is no public transportation system to and from the Jenolan Caves, there are regular bus services from Katoomba in the Blue Mountains as well as tours from Sydney. Getting to the caves by road is as enjoyable as visiting the caves themselves as you pass through the spectacular Blue Mountains and wind your way down beautiful country roads on the hour long journey from Katoomba. Once there, you can take any of the regular guided tours of the caves that are held each day. After you have finished exploring, you can buy souvenirs and gifts at the “Things Jenolan” gift shop inside Caves House, the only hotel at the site.
There are places to eat at Jenolan Caves, but many visitors prefer to use the many picnic and barbeque facilities that have been set up around the parking lots. Those who prefer dining in style do so in grand style at Jenolan Caves House. This magnificent, rambling structure was rebuilt in 1898 after the original Caves House was destroyed by fire.
Jenolan Caves House is the closest Jenolan Caves accommodation to the park and is a landmark in its own right, but others can be found in nearby Oberon and nearby Jenolan Cabins, perched on a hill with breathtaking 360 degree views is another popular place to stay. If you wish to stay anywhere near Jenolan Caves, it is best to book your room well in advance, because there are few accommodations in the area and they fill up fast, especially during the peak seasons.