Australia – Day 13 – Blue Mountains (part 3)
As mentioned in my previous post, we kind of rushed our morning at Katoomba Blue Mountains because I wanted to go to Jenolan Caves. There are quite a few day tours that take you to both Three Sisters/Scenic World as well as Jenolan Caves, but I found that a lot of people do not recommend it that you do both on your own (that made me nervous for trying to do both on our own).
From Scenic World we drove an additional hour and 19 minute drive (without traffic according to google maps). I think it took us a little over an hour and half to get there because as we got closer to Jenolan Caves, the roads got scarier. At one point there were even some one way road. (The one way road actually stays one way from 11:45am to 1:15pm to make sure there is enough room for the big tour buses.)
The Jenolan Caves are largest, most spectacular, and most famous caves in Australia (according to the Jenolan Caves website). And since we were already half way there, I felt that we had to go.
And then you know you have arrived when you literally drive through one of the caves; called the Grand Arch.
I’m actually not sure if we are even still in the Blue Mountains or the nearby Oberon area.
And once we drive through the tunnel, we see the Caves House Hotel. This is actually an iconic hotel that was originally build to be a wilderness retreat.
We had lunch at Jenolan Caves Cafe Bistro, which is located in the Caves House. It’s a cafeteria style bistro that serves light meals, sandwiches, etc. We picked up a few sandwiches, a pasta salad, and a meat pie.
The food did it’s job. I personally though we should just packed our own lunches.
The Jenolan Cave Village Directory actually lists out a description of all of the caves, the difficulty level, as well as the schedule for tours.
I read the descriptions at home as well and kind of selected a few that I though would be interesting, but in the end it really depended on both our schedule and their schedule. We went and bought our tickets for our cave tour.
Yes, we headed to the left to one of these caves. Tour prices range from $35 to $220 per person depending on the cave you select and the more expensive being adventure caving tours.
We got to choose one of the two 2:00pm cave tours (each $35/person tours):
- Lucas Cave (harder fitness level, 1.5 hours) and
- Chifley Cave (average fitness level, 1 hour)
Which one do you think we selected? (but then you should already know from my title, haha)
Our tour started inside of the Grand Arch, and after meeting up with our tour guide and the many people on our tour group (there were about 50 people?) we headed up the stairs into the cave.
From the top of the stairs we got glimpse of the blue lake below. It is a really pretty colored lake. If we had planned to be here all day, I would have taken a hike along the river and the Blue Lake, you can apparently see platypus in the lake (if you’re lucky).
What we were really lucky to see was a wallaby right at the entrance to the cave sitting by one of the lights. Our tour guide made sure that everyone stayed as quite as possible so that everyone can see it. I didn’t manage to get a picture of it though. sad…
“If you have time to visit only one cave, the Lucas is one of the most amazing, offering variety, our highest and widest caverns plus a glimpse of the pure underground river.” (source)
With that kind of a description, how can I skip it (even if the fitness level is hard).
After a few flights of stairs and reminders that we cannot touch the limestone that’s to make sure to preserve the beautiful and very very old limestone, we finally entered the Anteroom. I don’t remember anything special though. I think it was just an opening/landing area before we entered a much more magnificent room.
The Cathedral Chamber is over 54m high. With its tall ceilings and amazing acoustics, weddings and concerts can actually be held in here. When looking up, it really does remind me of being inside an old and fancy cathedral.
Our guide actually gave us a little example of how the acoustics sounds in here (along with a light show). I had my camera on for it at first, but I realized that I didn’t want to watch it through my camera so I turned it off.
And then we continued on to other parts of the cave. Our tour guide gave us a bit of history regarding these caves. They were once sacred caves for aboriginals, and then with European exploration it turned into a sort of tourist attraction.
I guess Australians have always been looking for things to do (i.e. Scenic Railway). Here in the Lucas Cave people could take a whole day to explore the cave. Part way through, they even had a slide! People would sit on a sac and slide down a large passageway (while holding a candle light).
Without the pretty spotlights throughout the cave, it really is pitch black. We got a little taste of that thanks to our tour guide.
But when the lights are on, there are plenty of pretty limestone formations. Some make take some imagination (and I guess that’s why we’re on a tour), that way formations are just pointed out to us.
The formation in the picture above is called “The Curtain” and was actually one of my favorite formations. It can be seen from a couple different locations on the tour and was easily spotted.
But the most famous formation in Lucas Cave is “The Broken Column”. This is also considered to be the most photographed formation at Jenolan.
And what we see the most of throughout the caves are limestone icicles. Technically that’s what the (broken) column is formed from. These limestone formations are come from thousands of years of dripping and somehow turning into limestone. Sorry, that is my interpretation of what I learned from our tour guide.
As long as the limestone is protected, it will remain this beautiful white color. Apparently the oils in our skin actually kills/damages the limestone and it loses it’s white color and turns black. Our skin is like poison….
Before Jenolan became well protected by the government (as it is today), people used to actually break the limestone formations and take them home as souvenirs. Some pieces were also just broken off, then left behind in the cave because the limestone is actually really really heavy.
It is now illegal to break the limestone (well, we can’t even touch it now), thanks to Mr. Lucas. Lucas Cave is named after him.
It really was not easy taking pictures in the dark cave. The lighting was enough for us to look, my camera managed to let me take a few shots and with a big group I had a little bit of time to play around with my camera (I have a Nikon J1). But in the end it was my Dad’s point and shoot camera that took my favorite pictures.
Towards the end of the tour, we approach an underground river. Our tour guide tried to scare us to say that he wasn’t sure if this bridge would hold all of us (haha) and had someone test it out.
Below the bridge is a beautiful blue-green river. I couldn’t get any pictures with the color of the water, so I gave up. This water is part of what created this cave, and is probably some pretty pure and clean water.
1.5 hours, 860 meters, 910 steps (252+ stairs) later, we walked out of the Lucas Cave and back into the Grand Arch.
It was still bright outside! Well, of course since it was only 3:30pm. But after being in the dark cave for over an hour, it felt like we were in there for a much longer time. To be honest, there were moments where I felt as though I was just seeing the same thing over and over again, walking in circles over and over again.
The caves are absolutely stunning and worth exploring though. My friend BH was not impressed when I told him I wanted to see these caves cause he said that we something similar in the US and he didn’t think it was worth it…But I think it was well worth it. It’s not like I see this stuff all the time.
Obligatory family photo after our hike. I had to use my selfie stick, otherwise I was carry it for no reason. Bad lighting though…
We walked back to the bistro/cafe to meet up with Auntie.
And then before it got dark we decided to head back to Sydney. The road to Jenolan Caves was kind of scary and I wanted to make sure we headed out before it got dark.
It’s a 3 hour drive back to Sydney. After days of road trips I finally got the “Welcome to Sydney” sign.