Recently, on a short visit to the Blue Mountains we found ourselves with the opportunity to head out and explore Jenolan Caves. To be honest I knew there were caves in the Blue Mountains area but I really did not know much more than that. After a bit of Googling we realised it would be possible for us to do a half day visit, so that is exactly what we did.
After spending the morning at Scenic World in Katoomba, we jumped in our hire car and set off through the mountains, not before stopping at the grocery store to grab a few things for a picnic lunch once we arrived.
Jenolan Caves are arguably Australia’s most impressive limestone caves and possibly some of the most spectacular in the world. The drive out there is beautiful, and after the recent rain everything was looking fresh and green. It was a perfect day for a drive.
After the steep and narrow descent into the valley of the Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve, we arrived and my jaw dropped. Our arrival scene was the impressive blue lake to the left as this huge cave opened up in front of us and we realised we needed to drive through it to get to the car park on the other side! Already feeling as though I had been transported to another world, we drove out of the cave to see this quaint, European looking building surrounded by hills, it was just a spectacular scene.
After getting out of our car, we enjoyed our picnic lunch in the BBQ area next to the top carpark. There is a cafe in the hotel building (the cute one we had just driven past) however I am not sure what the food or the prices would be like being the only thing in the area. We were happy with our sandwiches!
We had arrived a couple of hours before our scheduled cave tour so we began wandering around checking out the area. We first wandered back through the Grand Arch cave which was the one we drove through. It was huge, and appeared to be the entrance to a few other caves. Something to note before heading out to Jenolan Caves is that you can only enter the caves with a guide and they only operate at specific times. It is best to call ahead and book your tour to ensure you do not miss out!
I wanted to get a closer look at the lake we had driven past so we began walking around the track beside the lake. It was a very hot and dry day, and we quickly wished to be back in the Grand Arch where it was much cooler. After walking past the dam wall, which is the source of the hydro power station, we wondered where the track would take us. We never did see the end of it however as Jarryd stepped inches from a brown snake which was enough for us to both jump and decide to head back the way we came! From then on, every lizard made our hearts race as we carefully scanned the ground as we walked.
When booking our tour, we had been recommended to do the 15 minute walk to Carlotta Arch. I can tell you there were many rest stops as we walked up the very steep path to the Arch. It was a beautiful view however of the blue lake through the archway and the valley below.
After returning by the path we walked up, it was nearly time for our guided tour to begin. We had selected the Orient Cave as it was supposed to be one of the most beautiful and great for photographers. We had originally wanted to visit The Temple of Baal for the same reasons but that tour only ran once in the morning so it didn’t suit our visit. If you have more time to plan than we did, it would be great to do a few different ones in the day however I felt that we still had a great experience just seeing inside the one.
No tripods or selfie sticks are allowed in the caves so I had spent some time in the Grand Arch practising my low light photography so I knew what settings to use, without the stabilising aid of a tripod, to get a crisp shot once I was inside. It was a fun experience and I loved putting into practise a few of the photography tips I have learn’t as well as testing the capabilities of my lens as I have not had much opportunity to use it in a low light situation and that was one of the reasons I bought it!
Our tour group was reasonably small which was good as I had a few reservations about being in a small enclosed space with strangers… I was also a bit concerned that I would feel claustrophobic but there was really only one moment when the lights were off and we had all been made to stand in the enclosed entrance way when I felt a bit confined. When we actually got into the cave, it was so grand that I didn’t have any issue at all. Also I think the fact that the caves are a cool 15 degrees all year round helped.
I had visited limestone caves before in high school so I thought I had a basic idea of what to expect. The detail of the crystal and the limestone formations were simply incredible and I can easily see why this cave is described as being one of the most beautiful at Jenolan. The guided tour is quite slow paced which was great for being able to take photographs. It is quite structured on the way in, but I most enjoyed the end of the tour when we could walk back more freely taking photos and appreciating the detail a little more in our own time.
I have said it before, but I think sustainable tourism is such an important issue especially to preserve the natural environment we are lucky enough to have available for us to explore. For this reason I am happy to pay a fee to reduce the quantity of people who move through the caves. There are 10 open to the public and several more still being discovered. I think our guide summed it up saying, “we have enough to enjoy, let nature keep the rest”. Be respectful of the environment around you, don’t touch the walls of the caves and don’t try and climb over areas you shouldn’t. Jenolan Caves is a national reserve so don’t forget to put your rubbish in the bins provided or take it with you. By respecting the environment we can be sure that future generations will be able to marvel in this natural wonder just as we are able to.
Jenolan Caves are around a 1.5 hour drive from Katoomba or 3 hours from Sydney.
Keep in mind the last 10km to Jenolan caves is very steep and narrow and due to the tour coaches that take groups of people from Sydney the road is closed to departing traffic between 11.45am and 1.15pm to give the buses more space when arriving. You don’t want to meet a coach on this road! There is an alternate route back to Sydney/Katoomba through Oberon if you do need to depart during this time however it is steeper and narrower.
We ended up arriving during the time when the outbound road was closed (the road into Jenolan Caves is always open) so we didn’t meet any other cars on the road. By the time we left at 5 pm the tour buses were all gone and again we had the road all to ourselves.
We visited in March, but beware if travelling in winter as this road is subject to snow and ice. Always check local conditions before heading out!
If you need more information about how to get to Jenolan Caves, visit this site.
We visited the Orient Cave which is about a 1.5 hour tour. There are 358 steps within the cave but you move a such a slow pace it is not that difficult (the walk to the Carlotta Arch is more strenuous).
Our guided tour of the Orient Cave cost $45 per adult. Tickets can be booked in advance online, or on the day by phone. Tickets can be purchased at Jenolan Caves but are subject to availability as the groups have a maximum amount of people allowed. I would book before making the drive out there to avoid disappointment. Find more information on pricing here.