Jenolan Caves Conservation Reserve
Jenolan is most famous for its underworld, and for good reason. The caves are some of the most extensive in Australia and renowned around the world for the richness of their decoration and their beauty.
The above ground landscape is also very important. The reserve joins the western edge of Kanangra-Boyd National Park and protects types of vegetation that are only found on limestone. You can explore this landscape on scenic walking tracks that wind through limestone outcrops and past natural rock arches.
Beneath the surface, slightly acidic waters have seeped through cracks in the limestone and slowly dissolved the rock to create some 22 kilometres of caves and passages. Although only a few square kilometres in area and surrounded by other rocks, the Jenolan limestone is densely cavernous, like a Swiss cheese. Visitors can explore this exciting world of darkness and crystal by taking a guided tour through one of the many open caves, with evocative names like Orient, Diamond, River and Temple of Baal. If you’re a bit braver you can put on overalls and helmet and crawl through unlit passages on an Adventure Tour. And a self-guided tour through Nettle Cave and the Devils Coach House can be enjoyed with commentary from a digital handset.
Jenolan Caves began their story some 430 million years ago, as a deposit of calcium-rich mud on the floor of a shallow sea. The Jenolan limestone, and a number of similar deposits in the Greater Blue Mountains, was later uplifted, along with other rocks, then twisted and folded and exposed by erosion. Recent research has revealed something amazing: the caves began to form some 370 million years ago. This makes them the oldest open caves in the world, and may account in part for their complexity and density of decoration. They are home to a number of rare animals that are adapted to live in complete darkness.
The caves were known as Binoomea (‘dark places’) for many thousands of years by the local Aboriginal people, and feature in an important creation story. The first recorded visit by Europeans was in 1838, and it wasn’t long before the caves were attracting tourists. In 1866 the Fish River Caves (as they were then known) were protected in a small reserve. This historic event made the caves the first part of what would be the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area to be permanently protected.
The reserve has always been publicly managed, by a changing parade of agencies until the National Parks and Wildlife Service took over most recently. The caves are one of the most popular attractions in inland New South Wales, and receive 250,000 visitors a year.