Deep into Australia’s Blue Mountains lies the extensive and impressive Jenolan Caves. These spectacular caves are well worth a tour. Visitors to Sydney without their own cars can get to the caves by taking a train to the mountain town of Katoomba and a bus tour to the caves from there. Katoomba itself is a touristy town with the Three Sisters rock formation as the best known sight there. Nearby Scenic World makes a great place to visit with the world’s steepest railway and a couple scenic rides.
Katoomba has hotels for those wishing to overnight in the area. The historic Metropole, Katoomba’s oldest hotel, sits just across the street from the train station. Besides reasonably priced spacious lodgings this quirky hotel has little sitting room areas, a library, and a game room. Some meals are available for an extra charge. Katoomba has other hotels and resorts and lodging is also available in a hotel and other accommodations at the caves. There’s also the option of a day trip on a bus tour straight from Sydney.
The Caves House Hotel has a restaurant and café. At lunchtime they also have some outdoor food stands. The caves are in a large nature reserve and some areas around the cave have picnic facilities for people who bring their own food. There are outdoor tables by the food stands. There are also some bushwalking trails for anyone who likes to hike or needs something to do while waiting for their cave tour besides looking through a couple small gift shops.
Cave tours can be booked online or by phone in advance, or on the spot at the ticket office near the caves. I’d recommend booking ahead to insure space is available on the tour of your choice, or on a busy day in any tour at all. We went on an off-day without prior reservations and found just one cave with any tour openings at the time we were there. We would have had to wait at least several hours for openings on any other tour.
Cave tours vary from the easiest caves with no age limit to some that require a bit more effort to get through with minimum ages of 6 or 10. For more adventurous sorts they do have adventure tours that require some actual caving through small openings and things. These have higher minimum age limits as well as higher prices. The show cave tours are all on pathways, some with many stairways going up and down throughout the cave.
We toured Lucas Cave. The tour started at a set time by meeting the tour guide at the foot of a stairway on one side of the drive-through cave we passed through while entering into the caves area. Parking was on the other side of the hotel and other buildings where there is another road leading to the caves. They put the road on a one-way loop shortly after we arrived, which meant leaving by the other road for a longer drive back to our hotel in Katoomba.
The group on this tour was pretty large, probably the only reason it still had tickets available since it is a beautiful cave. Throughout the tour the guide stopped in various wide open spaces to talk about history of the cave and formations in that area. Between the wider openings pathways that were sometimes quite narrow snaked up, down, and around the cave, often up or down stairs. Lucas Cave has over 900 total stairs.
People sometimes have weddings in one chamber of the cave. Some places have old ladders, once used for traversing through the cave, but now used only to change light bulbs. Without the cave’s lighting system visitors would find themselves in complete darkness.
From the walkway in one place we could see far below to the river that had once dug its way through rock, hollowing it out into the system of caves. Later rainwater seeping through formed the stalactites and stalagmites. If you’re not sure which is which just remember that stalactites hold tightly to the ceiling.
As water drips through the stone the minerals within form into icicle-like pinnacles hanging from the ceiling. Drips off these stalactites land on the ground below piling up into stalagmites. Eventually as both continue to grow they join together and form a column.
One of Lucas Cave’s most famous features is the broken column, split by water flowing through the cave and now appearing offset as if by shifts in the planet’s surface.
Some areas of the cave sparkle with the frosty appearance of newfallen snow, a look they obtain from the moisture of rain. Other areas have a thinner wet layer. All it needs is a bit of rain to sparkle for a year or so, but if it stays dry too long it loses the shine and looks more like a place where sealife once lived long ago. In fact actual sealife did live there long ago, but as the waters receded all they left behind were some fossils.
Cave exploration decades ago was quite different than today’s tours. In one place that now has stairs they showed a smoothly worn area where people once slid down to the next level. Probably more fun than walking down stairs, but no longer allowed. In another place they called a flat-topped rock Picnic Rock and said people used to have picnics on it. They also had a tendency to break off small stalactites thinking they would take them home as souvenirs, but often dropping them somewhere else in the cave. Even with the current rules, pathways, and boundaries in place vandalism isn’t completely prevented. One chamber had graffiti spray painted nowhere near the path. It’s so sad that some people have no respect for our planet or the wonders it provides.
In a couple places colored lights shone on some of the cave formations when the guide turned them on, but they look best in their natural color. The colored part near the end of the tour was above some sort of small animal skeleton lying on the rock.
Tours range from 1-2 hours in the show caves. Most tours pass through just one cave, but a couple of them include two. The way into and out of Lucas cave passed along a narrow ledge with a great view. One person tried to take a photo, but dropped the phone she was holding over the fence. The guide said she’d have to wait until the tour was over and talk to someone at the office because it wasn’t his job to climb the fence to try and get it back. Because it’s not worth risking his life over a cell phone, and of course visitors to the cave are not allowed on the other side of the fence so she could not try and get it herself even if she wanted to.
The road down to the caves is a bit narrow which is why traffic is limited to one direction during the peak of the day. It’s well worth the trip even if you just tour one of the many available caves.