Popular Jenolan Caves offers spectacular underground experiences for all ages and abilities, including the adventurous.
Story By Nick Cook
The adventure begins before the group has even left daylight. One by one, each of the 12 people walk tentatively to the edge of a large hole, about 10 metres deep and several dozen wide, to be hooked onto the abseiling line. Then, helped by a constant string of friendly instructions from the two guides, they step backwards into the void. The smooth rock wall slides upwards past their face until they finally land with a bump, at its base. The abseiling isn’t strictly necessary, and only occurs during suitable weather conditions, but it’s certainly a nice touch. It heightens the sensation of literally descending into the earth.
This is ‘the Plughole’, a section of ground that collapsed several millennia ago and feels a little like the crater of a dormant volcano. The group is led towards a black hole in its corner and, one at a time, upon entering Jenolan Caves, each member is enveloped by darkness.
The caves, near Oberon on the western side of the Blue Mountains, NSW, are so vast that even now, well over a century and a half since their discovery, there are still sections that haven’t been explored. They were previously thought to be about 10-million years old but a recent study has proved they were actually formed a staggering 360 million years ago, making Jenolan the world’s oldest-known cave system.
Most of the 250,000 visitors who come each year are happy to wander around the large show caves, which have level footpaths and electric lights throughout, but today’s group is tackling one of the more challenging adventure tours.
Everything inside the cave is greyish brown, with deep black shadows highlighting the edges of all objects. The dull blue overalls worn by the group members are the only splash of colour in an otherwise sepia world. The only light comes from headlamps, which create a tunnel-vision effect, illuminating everything a person looks at, but leaving a ring of dark shadow at the periphery of their sight.
This story excerpt is from Issue #60
Outback Magazine: Aug/Sept 2008