The History of the Jenolan Caves

The Blue Mountains are one of Australia’s premiere tourist attractions. They harbour a fascinating amount of history and natural beauty, including plenty of aboriginal heritage and geological wonders.

The Jenolan Caves form an important part of the region. These limestone caves can be found in the heart of the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve in the middle of the Central Tablelands region. As one of the most-visited set of limestone caves in the country, the Jenolan Caves proffer a fascinating and lengthy history that covers both Aboriginal legend and a fascinating geological timeline. Today, they remain the most ancient, open caves that have been discovered on the planet.

Within their ancient depths, you can spot marine fossils and calcite formations which are often pure white and incredibly surreal. Underground, the caves follow a network of tunnels and caverns that run alongside a subterranean section of the Jenolan River. Beneath ground level, there are around 40 kilometres of multi-level passages and more than 300 entrances along its route. Even today the many different cavities of the cave system are being explored and, for tourists, there is a small section that is lit up and open to the public to discover.

Jenolan Caves Inside

The Geological History of the Jenolan Caves

Scientists have determined, through the examination of the clay found in the caves, that the Jenolan subterranean system is around 340 million years old. This makes it the oldest known and dated open cave system in the world, and it is still being heavily researched today.

The caves themselves have been formed over millions of years due to erosion and the natural weathering from the Jenolan River and its natural surroundings.

The Jenolan Caves are in an area where karst forms. This landform is categorised by having a complex cave system filled with underground rivers and natural archways. Karst is found in areas where limestone is the primary rock surface and is a result of limestone rock eroding away in freshwater. You’ll find a range of stalactites, stalagmites, columns and straws in the caves at Jenolan.

Stalactites are growths that protrude downwards from the ceiling of the cave, though they start off their life as a straw, impurities can sometimes block the straw and from it, a thicker stalactite will develop. The next unique rock formation is the stalagmites. These are the opposite of stalactites in that they grow upwards from the ground, created by drops of water that fall from the ceiling.

The Indigenous Culture of the Jenolan Caves

Jenolan Caves, NSW

Like many of the geographical wonders in the Blue Mountains and the rest of Australia, the Jenolan area has long formed an important part of the culture of the local Indigenous people, holding particular significance for the Gundungurra and Wiradjury people who originally referred the area as Binomil or Bin-oo-miur among other names.

There is a Dreamtime story that belongs to the Gundungurra people that describes how the area came into existence; there was a tussle between two ancestral creator spirits, a giant eel known as Gurangatch and a large native cat known as Mirrigan. The caves still remain a significant part of Indigenous culture. In the past, the Gundungurra people travelled through the caves to the subterranean water where they bathed their sick because it was believed that the waters of the Jenolan River have curative powers.

Visit Jenolan Caves

The Jenolan Caves

The oldest and largest caves in Australia, the Jenolan Caves offer just about everything for its visitors. Accommodation is available for any budget including cottages, a lodge, houses, and rooms for large groups. The variety doesn’t stop there. There are several dining options at the caves depending on your what you’re in the mood for. They have a fine dining restaurant, casual dining, BBQ & picnic areas, and leisurely lunch spots.

To see the caves is an experience on its own! You have the option to choose a tour guide, what time of the day, and the caves you want to see. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure at its best! Experience the caves at night, watching the caves glow, or take a self-guided tour during the day and see multiple caves.

Out of the ten show caves, the Lucas Cave is one of the most popular show caves in the Jenolan area as it’s home to the Broken Column and other gorgeous rock formations. Here is where you’ll also find the dramatic Cathedral Chamber, which boasts the highest ceiling out of all the caves. It’s 54 metres of height allows for perfect acoustic, which is why many music concerts have been conducted in this chamber.

One of the most popular features of the Jenolan Caves is the adventure caving option. There are a couple of different adventure options which include abseiling down a small hole into a large abyss, squeezing through small crevasses and crawling up and around the cave floors. It’s a full-on adventure for any level of fitness. These adventure cave tours range in duration with the shortest being two hours.

If you think you are fit, there is another adventure caving tour that takes you deep into the cave, using your agility and strength to climb down a steep descent and squeeze through small cracks. Through this tour, you get to climb a rock ladder, slide down a natural slide, and use every ounce of energy to climb back up to the surface. It’s not for the faint-hearted or claustrophobic!

The longest tour of six hours takes you well into the cave to explore large crystal formations, an underground river, and natural beauty you have never seen. This tour is exhausting and only for the people who are up for the ultimate adventure.

Jenolan Caves is a great destination for all ages and continues to attract new visitors each year with its amazing cave of wonders.

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