Friday, May 17, 2013

Thursday Adventure: Jenolan Caves, Australia

Between recovering from jetlag, scrambling to get back up to speed at the day job, and taking yet another plane trip last week so my son and I could spend a little time with my own mom, things have been pretty quiet around the ol' blog.  Happily, my traveling days are now done (for a month or two at least!), and at last I've had the time to sit down and put together a real Thursday Adventure post.

Today I'll show off some pics from one of my favorite experiences on our recent Australia trip: a trip with my husband to Jenolan Caves, on the western side of the Blue Mountains.  (Our first weekend alone together since our son was born - the kiddo stayed back in Sydney with my awesome in-laws.  Any parents out there will understand just how wonderful it was to have the chance to focus solely on each other for a few days!)
Sandstone cliffs rise over eucalyptus forest in the Blue Mountains

I haven't done that much caving before. Colorado's reputed to have some great caves, but I've been too busy spending my time playing on top of the mountains rather than under them.  I did once do a little spelunking with friends in the Grand Canyon's Cave of the Domes, and my husband and I did a pretty nifty cave trip in New Zealand's Waitomo area - all of which I thoroughly enjoyed.  So when my husband told me Jenolan offers both incredible cave formations and the chance for a little "adventure caving," I was eager to check it out.

I wasn't disappointed: the caves are indeed spectacular.  The Jenolan cave complex is quite large, extending far beyond what's available to casual tourists.  Clay in the caves has been dated at 340 million years old, making it the world's oldest known and dated open cave system.  The complex is still undergoing active exploration today by scientists and caving clubs.  If we'd known any cavers, we'd have tried to gang up with some experienced folks on a permit (they're only granted to club members), but lacking that, we simply signed up for a few of the guided tourist trips in the show caves, and one "adventure caving" trip that would let us get a bit dirty.  My favorite of the show caves we saw was the Orient Cave.  I don't have many pics of it, since cave photography is a bit challenging for my little digital camera, but hopefully the ones I did take will give you some idea.

Cave tour guide unlocks a passageway into the Jenolan cave system
Formations in the great chamber of the Orient Cave
Curtains of stone in the Orient Cave
Beautiful flowstone and pillars
I think this formation should've been named Cthulhu's Tentacles
Exploring the massive open-air "Devil's Coach House" area was also pretty neat.  It's considered a "twilight cave," and has some neat formations colored a strange blue-green from cyanobacteria.

The Devil's Coach House - a "twilight cave"
We did a hike up the valley beyond the Coach House and saw plenty of kangaroos hopping about through the forest.

Kangaroos in the bushland outside the caves
My favorite part of all was the adventure caving (of course!). We suited up in overalls, helmets, and headlamps, and branched off from the main tourist path to climb up, through, and around one of the first-discovered caves.  We squeezed through all manner of entertainingly tight spots, saw ancient fossils, nifty rock formations...and a few disturbingly huge cave spiders (near some holes that led to the surface).  

Our little group of spelunkers entering the cave
Fascinating formations

Robert shows off his spiffy caving coveralls

Robert squeezes through a very tight spot (his head is pretty much taking up the whole passageway)

Crawling through the cave

I had a great least until I looked up and saw a spider so big all its mutiple eyes were reflecting red from my headlamp.  No pics of the spider, sorry - I was too busy hyperventilating and squeezing the hell out of there.

Robert hasn't seen the spider yet
Spiders or no spiders, it was a ton of fun.  The most interesting thing to me about caving is how three-dimensional it is, compared to climbing on a cliff.  Through, up, over, around...and it all looks so different when you're coming back!  We didn't have any worries here, traveling with a guide, but I can imagine when spelunking solo you need a very good memory (or a spool of string, as we used in the Cave of the Domes) to keep from getting lost.

Below the main cave area is a lake with gorgeously blue water (the color comes from the caves' calcite), inhabited by a family of platypuses.  We took a walk there near sunset and got to see the platypuses swimming around.  Before I first saw one in Australia I always imagined them as beaver-size, but they're much smaller than that.

Blue lake below Jenolan caves

Platypus swimming in the water
All in all, Jenolan is a beautiful, unique area, highly worth a visit.  If we'd had more time, we'd have continued on from Jenolan to Kanangra Walls in Kanangra Boyd National Park, site of some great bushwalks and cliff climbs.  Next time!  


  1. Wow. Nobody sneeze!

    Really, I think I would've hung out with the platypuses, with an open sky over my head, but caving is definitely an adventure.

    And this: Robert hasn't seen the spider yet. LOL. That would also make a great first line to a story. :-)

    1. Yeah, I'm all about expansive views so I prefer mountaineering, but the sense of discovery in caving is pretty nifty - kind of reminds me of canyoneering in that way. Even if plenty of other people have been there before, it still *feels* like you're the first to see it - thanks to the lack of official trails and crowds.

  2. Oh, wow, pretty pictures. I really like the twilight cave. I've not been in any hardcore cave situations, as yet (just more touristy ones), although I'm tempted to go on such a tour of a cave in southern Minnesota.