Deep Thrills

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By Julie Miller

Jenolan Caves is once again welcoming visitors, with extended hours this Spring giving nature-lovers a new perspective on this subterranean wonderland.

Nestled into a remote crevice amongst World Heritage-listed wilderness is a place where history collides with nature, an ancient landscape as tranquil as it is dramatic and where rare endangered species thrive.

But go deeper. Beneath the rugged karst peaks is Australia’s largest and most spectacular cave system, its delicate crystals, limestone shawls, mighty stalagmites and stalactites “hanging on tight” luring adventurers since the mid-1880s, when exploration was by candlelight for the very intrepid.

Known as Binoomea (meaning ‘dark places’) by the local Burra Burra clan, the spectacle of Jenolan Caves can these days be enjoyed by all, its collection of ‘show caves’ with electric lighting, paved walkways and handrails accessible even for those with limited mobility.

It’s been a tough few years for Jenolan Caves, however, with natural calamities hitting the precinct hard. Bushfire, flood, landslips – you name it, Jenolan copped it, with the collapse of the one access road into the valley forcing the attraction’s closure for more than 100 days.

Since reopening earlier this year, however, visitors have enthusiastically returned to Jenolan Caves, with caves damaged by flooding slowly being brought back onto the tour roster. Due to several landslips, access to Jenolan is via Oberon and Edith, with a Transport NSW escort from just past the Kanangra-Boyd turn-off – a spectacular journey through time as you approach historic Caves House and the prehistoric caves.

Jenolan by night

Jenolan Caves is an experience that shouldn’t be rushed; and from September 1, visitors have the opportunity to stay beyond sunset on Friday and Saturday nights, enjoying the stillness and beauty of the caves by night. The precinct will be open to the public until 10pm, with two tours on offer: 4.30pm and 7.45pm. Dinner reservations are also available at Chisholm’s Restaurant in Caves House from 6pm.

“Our event is called Spring to Jenolan – it’s not just for people staying overnight, it’s open to everyone,” says Leah Pippos, Visitor Experience and Marketing Manager of Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust. “The night tours will switch between the Chifley, Orient, Imperial and Diamond caves throughout Spring to provide visitors with a variety of options.

“Jenolan in the late afternoon and evening is a very different experience to the daytime; the fact that you are leaving Caves House in the dark, enter a dark cave and come out when it’s dark, it just seems really special and mysterious.”

Plughole adventure tour

Ever wanted to shimmy your way through a dark cave, squeezing through seemingly impossible spaces? Those with a sense of adventure won’t want to miss the Plughole tour, where you crawl deep into a “wild” cave with no man-made features like lighting or pathways.

“Each visitor is decked out in blue overalls, a helmet and a headlight, then you abseil down a shot way, through a hole into the cave.” Leah Pippos says. “There are tight spaces to wriggle through – you have to get down on your belly and really move your hips. It challenges your perspective of space, because you look at the gap and think there’s no way my body can fit through that, but it does!”

Another popular tour for children is Fossil Hunters, held every Sunday morning at 9.30am and during school holidays. For this interactive experience, children also don hardhats and head lamps, before braving a chamber of the Lucas Cave not seen on any other tour. Here, they learn about fossils, with hands-on experiments and a treasure hunt.

An overnight experience

Grand and full of character, a stay in Federation-era Caves House is an unforgettable experience, transporting guests back to its pioneering heyday. But for those who want more modern comforts, the motel-style Mountain Lodge has just reopened after extensive renovation, featuring smart TVs, a kitchenette, comfy beds and wi-fi. There are rooms suitable for couples and families, with breakfast included; while packages are also available offering a choice of a two- or three-course dinner at Chisholm’s Restaurant.

Also undergoing a recent revamp is Binda Bush Cabins, located near Hampton, 40 minutes’ drive from Jenolan Caves. These individual two-bedroom cabins are surrounded by National Park, and are a great base for exploring the region as well as the Caves. Secluded and quiet, they are an ideal choice for families, with a playground, firepits (BYO wood outside of fire ban periods) and wildlife galore.

“There’s so much amazing wildlife at Jenolan Caves – it’s one of the easiest places to spot the endangered brush tailed rock wallaby, and if you don’t see a lyrebird, you’ll definitely hear one,” Leah Pippos says.

“The main reason we want people to come here is to be educated about the environment; and we want to continue to protect this World Heritage cave system and precinct.”

Book your Spring to Jenolan cave tours (Friday and Saturday, 4.30pm and 7.45pm) and/or dinner at 1300 76 33 11 or visit www.jenolancaves.org.au

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