Jenolan Caves

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Jenolan Caves
Tharawal: Binoomea, Bindo, Binda
Fish River Caves
Large stalagmite with straws.jpg
The Grand Column
Map showing the location of Jenolan Caves
Location of the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve, shaded in red, on the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area
Location Oberon, New South Wales, Australia
Geology Limestone
Entrances 300[1]
Access Public; eleven show caves open daily
Lighting LED
Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve
New South Wales
Jenolan Caves Imperial Cave 3.jpg
The Imperial Cave at Jenolan Caves
Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve is located in New South Wales
Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve
Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve
Nearest town or city Oberon
Coordinates 33°49′14″S 150°1′17.2″E / 33.82056°S 150.021444°E / -33.82056; 150.021444Coordinates: 33°49′14″S 150°1′17.2″E / 33.82056°S 150.021444°E / -33.82056; 150.021444
Established 6 December 1997 (1997-12-06)[1]
Area 30.83 km2 (11.9 sq mi)[1]
Managing authorities
Website Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve
See also Protected areas of
New South Wales

The Jenolan Caves (Tharawal: Binoomea, Bindo, Binda[2]) are limestone caves located within the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve in the Central Tablelands region, west of the Blue Mountains, in New South Wales, in eastern Australia. The caves and 3,083-hectare (7,620-acre) reserve are situated approximately 175 kilometres (109 mi) west of Sydney, 20 kilometres (12 mi) east of Oberon and 30 kilometres (19 mi) west of Katoomba.

The caves are the most visited of several similar groups in the limestone caves of the country, and the most ancient discovered open caves in the world.[3][4] They include numerous Silurian marine fossils[5] and the calcite formations, sometimes pure white, are noted for their beauty.[6] The cave network follows the course of a subterranean section of the Jenolan River. It has more than 40 kilometres (25 mi) of multi-level passages and over 300 entrances. The complex is still being explored. The caves are a tourist destination, with eleven illuminated show caves open to paying visitors.[7]

The caves and conservation reserve are one of the eight protected areas that was inscribed in 2000 to form part of the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Greater Blue Mountains Area.[8] The Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve is the most westerly of the eight protected areas within the World Heritage Site. The reserve forms part of the Great Dividing Range.

In 2004, the caves and reserve were listed on the State Heritage Register with the following inscription:[1][9]

Jenolan Caves Reserve is of state significance for its historical, aesthetic, research and rarity values. The caves and karst landscapes developed as important scientific and tourist destinations throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, and the Reserve is highly significant as the first public reserve set aside in NSW for the protection of a natural resource – in this case, the Jenolan Caves.


The word Jenolan is believed to be an indigenous word for "high place";[2] derived from the Tharawal word, Genowlan, for a "high place shaped like a foot". An alternative (although highly unlikely) meaning comes from the name "J E Nolan" that was found smoked by a candle on the roof of a cave .[2]



By measuring the ratio of radioactive potassium and trapped argon gas, which was produced when the potassium decayed, scientists determined the age of the clay in the caves to be approximately 340 million years old, thereby making the cave complex the world's oldest known and dated open cave system.[10] The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in association with the University of Sydney and the Australian Museum lead the efforts in scientific research into the caves.

Indigenous culture[edit]

For thousands of years, the Jenolan area has been part of the culture of local indigenous peoples. The area holds significance to the Gundungurra and Wiradjuri peoples, who knew it as Binomil or Bin-oo-mur, and a variety of similar names.[1] A Dreamtime creation story of the Gundungurra people describes how the countryside came into being, and involves a struggle between two ancestral creator spirits – one a giant eel-like creature, Gurangatch, and the other, Mirrigan, a large native cat or quoll. In the early years of the 20th century, the Gundungurra people penetrated the caves as far as the subterranean water, carrying sick people to be bathed in this water, which they believed to have curative powers.[citation needed]

European discovery[edit]

There are no known contemporaneous accounts of the discovery of the caves by Europeans – though Charles Whalan is attributed as the first to conduct visitors to the caves in the 1840s.[11] However, in Charles Whalan's obituary and other sources, credit for the caves' discovery is given to his brother, James Whalan.[11][12] Though most accounts were written some decades after the initial discovery, and differ somewhat in the details, it is generally accepted that in 1838 (or possibly 1841), James Whalan was in pursuit of an ex-convict and active local thief named McKeown, who had stolen livestock, tools, clothing and a flour grinder, was tracked to the area.[13] In this pursuit, James Whalan discovered the cave system and reported its existence to his brother Charles – who further explored the caves.[14][15][16]

The caves, originally known as the Fish River Caves, came under the control of the NSW Government in 1866 – becoming only the second area in the world reserved for the purpose of conservation. The following year, Jeremiah Wilson was appointed as the first "Keeper of the Caves".[13] Wilson not only explored the already known Elder and Lucas Caves but later discovered the Imperial, Left Imperial (now known as Chifley), Jersey and Jubilee Caves.

The caves were open to tourism early, but there was little protection from visitors damaging formations until the collection of souvenirs and the writing of graffiti was banned in 1872. In 1884 the name Jenolan Caves was adopted.[1]

The road to the caves originally went via Tarana, which meant that travellers from the south had to take a long, roundabout route of about 90 miles (140 km) from Katoomba to Oberon, and, from there, to Tarana. In the mid-1880s, hotel keepers in Katoomba wanted to improve business by constructing a road to the Caves from their town, but the steep, rough ground between the caves and town was a major obstacle, and several attempts failed. However, representations were made to the Premier by Peter Fitzpatrick of Burragorang, who was connected to some mining operations near Katoomba. In April 1884, William Marshall Cooper, Surveyor of Public Parks for the State Government, was assigned the job, and worked out a horse-and-carriage track in a 10-day trek from Katoomba to the Caves. The route was, he remarked, 26.5 miles from the Western Hotel in Katoomba. "... Anyone accustomed to walking can do it comfortably in 12 hours... when the proposed horse track is completed, it will be a very enjoyable ride of five hours." It became known as the Six Foot Track.

By 1885, Parliament had approved A₤2,500 for the construction of Cooper's bridle track, with the work starting at the most difficult area, the Megalong Cleft, where a zig-zag had to be cut, partly in solid rock, to reduce the grade to 1:5.5.[17] The first recorded passage of the completed bridle track from Katoomba to Jenolan was by the Governor, Lord Carrington, in September 1887. Lord Carrington also made the first official visit to the caves at the completion of his journey, accompanied by Wilson.

In 1898 the current Jenolan Caves House was built, replacing the earlier wooden accommodation house built by Jeremiah Wilson, which had been partially destroyed in 1895 by fire.

J. C. (Voss) Wiburd became "Keeper of the Caves" in 1903 and discovered (with fellow guide and friend Jack Edwards) five more caves within eighteen months: the River, Pool of Cerberus, Temple of Baal, Orient and Ribbon Caves. He remained Keeper until 1932, when he left due to the Government's policy at the time of compulsory retirement at the age of 65.

The Chifley Cave, originally known as the Left Imperial Cave, was renamed in 1952 in honour of Ben Chifley, the recently–retired Federal local member of parliament and former Prime Minister. This cave was the first of the caves to be lit with electric light, as early as 1880. In 1968, the Orient Cave became the first in the world to be cleaned, due to contamination by mud from the previous access route and a nearby coal boiler. The soot from the boiler was entering the cave via a new tunnel blasted 400 feet through to the Orient cave in 1954 to allow easier access (entering at Bat End). Steam cleaning was found to be damaging to the crystal formations, due to the rapid expansion and contraction caused by the heat from the steam, and these days water from the caves' own underground rivers is used if cave cleaning becomes necessary.

Since 2011, the CSIRO in association with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation began using a new hand-held mapping system to map some of the caves in three-dimensional detail.[18]


Large portions of this extensive cave system are accessible only to experienced cavers, especially those areas along the underground river system.

Eleven show caves have been developed for regular tourism and are open to the public.

List of show caves accessible to the public
Cave name European discovery Image Accessibility Lighting Description Source(s)
Lucas 1860 Popular among visitors LED Named in honour of John Lucas MP who pushed to have the caves preserved in the 1860s, this cave features a number of large chambers including the Cathedral, over 50 metres (160 ft) high, and the vast Exhibition Chamber which contains the Broken Column formation. Due to its size and acoustics, the Cathedral Chamber is also used for wedding ceremonies and recitals.
River 1903 Large very white stalagmite.jpg Extensive show cave; most strenuous LED Includes some of its most famous features, including the Minaret, the Grand Column and the Queen's Canopy, as well as part of the River Styx. Until 1923 when a concrete bridge was built, a section of river in this cave was crossed by a small boat.
Chifley 1880 CHIFLEY CAVE - JENOLAN CAVES.jpg Extensive show cave LED The Chifley Cave was the first cave in the world to be lit by electric light, in 1880. Two of the cave's chambers are still decorated with historic coloured lights.
Imperial 1879 ImperialCave.jpg Easy for tourists LED The Imperial contains some of the best fossil deposits and several Tasmanian devil bones. Note that whilst fossils may not be clearly evident to the casual visitor, in fact the bedrock in which the caves are formed is richly endowed with marine fossils.
Orient 1904 Jenolan Caves Orient 6.jpg Opened in 1917 LED This cave contains some of the grandest formations in the complex and was steam cleaned to preserve them in 1968. Until 1954, this cave, along with the Temple of Baal and Ribbon Caves, were only accessible through the River Cave. That year, the Binoomea Cut was constructed near Caves House to facilitate easier access to these caves. An LED-based lighting system was installed in this cave in 2009. [19]
Ribbon 1904 LED The Ribbon Cave is 60 metres (200 ft) long and is richly decorated. This cave is known for particularly good examples of 'ribbon' helictites.
Pool of Cerberus 1903 LED This cave is a lower arm of the River Cave. The major formations here are the Bath of Venus and part of the underground river system that forms the Pool of Cerberus itself. It also includes rare aragonite formations.
Jubilee 1893 LED The Jubilee Cave is the longest show cave at Jenolan. It takes the longest amount of time to visit as it is fairly remote from the other caves. Of the caves shown at Jenolan to the public it is the least visited due to the length of the tour and the small tour groups that can be taken there.
Temple of Baal 1904 Angel's Wing, Temple of Baal, Jenolan Caves.jpg LED This cave consists of only two large chambers, one of which is dominated by the huge 9-metre shawl formation called the Angel's Wing. The cave is also noted for a high incidence of the peculiar formations known as Helictites. The name derives partly from the biblical story of Baal and other more obscure ancient mythology. The feature names in the cave also partly relate to the bilical story, as well as Esoteric Freemasonry. Recent 2006 development work has upgraded the lighting and added an audio accompaniment to the cave experience.
Nettle Cave 1838 Crayfish back.JPG Self–guided audio tour LED The Nettle Cave lies between the Grand Arch and the Devils Coach House. The cave takes its name from the nettles which grow near its entrance (note that raised walkways protect visitors from their stings); an upper part of this cave can be seen from inside the Devil's Coach House. Originally shown as a guided tour, the cave was closed to the public in 1932 and re-opened in 2006, combined with the adjoining Devil's Coach House. The Nettle Cave hosts "Crayfish backs", stromatolites shaped by cyanobacteria, light and wind. They are estimated to be at least 20,000 years old. [20]
The Grand Arch 1838 Assembly point for tours The road from Sydney passes through the Arch and six of the cave tours leave from assembly points within it. Adjacent to the Grand Arch is the Devil's Coach House, a vast open-ended chamber that forms part of the many nature walks in the area. High above both of these is Carlotta Arch, a free-standing arch that is all that remains of a higher cavern system long since eroded and collapsed. Along with these areas, there are several other caves in the area, some of which are available for special tours.
Elder Cave 1848 Adventure caving Named from the Elder tree, visitors would climb down to enter the doline (sinkhole). The Elder Cave was the first of the caves at Jenolan to be found and opened to tourists. It was later considered too difficult to develop adequately and tours eventually ceased; however in the late 1990s the Elder Cave was re-opened for adventure caving, and is sold as the Plughole Tour. It is not as decorated as the regular show caves, but features signatures left by early visitors and includes a short section of the Imperial Cave.
Aladdin Cave 1897 The Aladdin Cave was first explored in the hope of developing a shorter path to the Jubilee Cave. It has similar decorations to the Jubilee Cave.
Jersey Cave 1891 An extension of the Elder Cave. One of the features is a fossilised thylacine skeleton.
Arch Cave 1838 This cave lies above Nettle Cave and part of it can be seen from the Devils Coach House. The entrance to this cave is at the base of Carlotta Arch (hence the name) and the stairs and locked gate can still be reached although the Arch Cave.


The Jenolan Caves are located three hours drive from Sydney and Canberra. Private coach companies operate day tours from Sydney and from Katoomba railway station. There is no public transport to Jenolan Caves. The caves attract over 250,000 visitors a year, making it one of the most popular tourist locations in rural New South Wales,[citation needed] and has won numerous tourism awards.[21]

Ten of the area's "dark caves" are open for regular guided tours every day (1 to 2 hours per tour). These show cave tour sizes vary. For example, the delicate Pool of Cerberus Cave can have only 8 on a tour, while the Lucas Cave (with its large chambers) can have up to 65 people per tour.

Tours vary in difficulty. Imperial Cave, for example, has the fewest stairs, while the River Cave is the most strenuous. The average tourist can tour any of these show caves.[citation needed]

A self-guided tour of the huge Nettle Cave/Devils Coach House is also available. The self-guided tour gives visitors a choice of many languages. One of the choices on the self-guided tour is an Aboriginal culture commentary.

Night tours run every night except Sundays, including the popular ghost tour, 'Legends, Mysteries & Ghosts'.

Several undeveloped caves are available for adventure caving (2 hours to all-day tours). These adventure caving tours include the Plughole Tour, which runs daily and includes basic abseiling. Other more challenging adventure caving tours are available.[citation needed]

The Cathedral Chamber, part of the "Lucas Cave" is famous for its acoustics. Underground concerts take place in this chamber. Concerts also take place in the Grand Arch, including the annual 'Carols in the Caves', which raises money for charity.

During school holidays, specially–developed tours are available for children. Jenolan Caves has long been a popular destination for school excursions.

Tourists visiting Jenolan Caves can stay at the heritage-listed Jenolan Caves House. It was designed in 1897 by government architect Walter Liberty Vernon as a resort or retreat for the wealthy. To cater for the expectations of the well-to-do, Vernon included a ballroom and grand dining room, now Chisolm's Restaurant. Chisolm's is open for dinner every day, serving modern Australian cuisine. Facilities include an hotel/motel complex, self-contained cottages, restaurant, bar, and cafe.


Climate data for Jenolan Caves
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 25.6
Average low °C (°F) 11.6
Source: Australian Bureau of Meteorology[22]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve: Draft Plan of Management" (PDF). NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service (PDF). Government of New South Wales. October 2013. ISBN 978-1-74359-215-1. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "Jenolan Caves". Geographical Names Register (GNR) of NSW. Geographical Names Board of New South Wales. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  3. ^ "Tests show Jenolan Caves among world's oldest". ABC News. Australia. 25 July 2006. Retrieved 18 May 2014. 
  4. ^ Colchester, D. M.; Osborne, R. A. L.; Pogson, R. E.; Zwingmann, H. (2006). "Carboniferous clay deposits from Jenolan Caves, New South Wales: implications for timing of speleogenesis and regional geology". Australian Journal of Earth Sciences. 53 (3): 377–405. doi:10.1080/08120090500507362. 
  5. ^ Monroe, M. H. (11 May 2008). "Australian Silurian". Australia: The Land Where Time Began. Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  6. ^ "Cave Formations (Speleothems)". Jenolan Caves. Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  7. ^ "Jenolan Caves". Visit NSW, Destination New South Wales. Government of New South Wales. Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  8. ^ "Greater Blue Mountains Area". World Heritage List. UNESCO. 2014. Retrieved 31 August 2014. 
  9. ^ "Jenolan Caves Reserve". State Heritage Register, Office of Environment & Heritage. Government of New South Wales. 15 June 2004. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "Jenolan Caves 340 million years old: study" (Press release). CSIRO. 25 July 2006. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  11. ^ a b "The Late Charles Whalan of Oberon" (PDF). Bathurst Free Press and the Weekly Advocate (Sydney). National Library of Australia. 1887. attributes discovery of cave mouth to James Whalan in 1838, while in pursuit of the theif [sic?] James McKeown, but the exploration and opening up of the caves to visitors to his brother Charles Whalan (who lived nearby) 
  12. ^ "Extract from submission to Lithgow Mercury by Jeremiah Wilson on 4 April 1899". 7 April 1899. Clarification on the Discovery of Jenolan Caves by Jeremiah Wilson (first "official" guide) written 50 years after discovery 
  13. ^ a b "The History of Jenolan Caves". 
  14. ^ "NEWS FROM THE INTERIOR.". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 25 April 1853. p. 2. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  15. ^ "Police Office". The Bathurst Advocate. NSW: National Library of Australia. 13 May 1848. p. 3. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  16. ^ "THE FISH RIVER STALACTIVE CAVES". The Empire. Sydney: National Library of Australia. 26 February 1857. p. 5. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  17. ^ "Track from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves" by W. M. Cooper, Surveyor of Public Parks, published in Sydney, Australia, 1885, copy at National Library of Australia (
  18. ^ "Jenolan Caves sheltering climate secrets". The Sydney Morning Herald. 16 December 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  19. ^ "Orient Cave re-opened after upgrade". News Limited. 20 August 2009. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  20. ^ "Self-guided, Audio, Multi Lingual Tour". Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust. Government of New South Wales. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  21. ^ "Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust. Annual Report. 2008 - 2009" (PDF) (PDF). Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust. 2009. p. 3. Retrieved 4 April 2013. 
  22. ^ "Monthly climate statistics: Oberon (Jenolan Caves)". Bureau of Meteorology. Australian Government. 31 August 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 

External links[edit]