After traversing the Blue Mountains from Sydney, one arrives at the historical village of Hartley. Heading westward on the Great Western Highway, about 1/2 km past the village is the Jenolan Caves Road, turn left (south). From there it is about 48 kilometres (3 hours from Sydney).
The history of the caves dates back about 400 million years as the limestone that formed them was laid down over many years. Limestone comes from the skeletal remains of coral and sea shells that lived on the sea floor.
Within the cave system there are numerous fossils within the caves, from sea animals that lived when the ocean covered this region, to ice age animals such as the apex predator, Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger or Wolf).
The caves had been used in pre-historic times by the Gundungurra and Wiradjuri peoples for ceremonial purposes as well as reputed health benefits for many thousands of years. They would bathe their sick in the blue waters of the cave river system.
The caves were discovered by the NSW colonialists sometime between 1839 and 1841 by James Whalan who was in pursuit of an ex-convict, who had made off with cattle, tools and clothes. His brother, Charles Whalan, began exploring this amazing complex of caves.
The caves were declared a conservation area in 1866, becoming the 2nd in the world to be declared as such for the purposes of preservation. Although initially difficult to reach as it only could be done on foot, a bridle track to there was completed around 1885.
Attracting tourist visitors since 1840s, there are tours available of the 11 caves that are open to the public and well lit. The tours range from the Mammoth Cave Tour, a full day of exploring (min. age 12), to shorter tours such as the Orient Cave and the River Cave (min. age 6). There are also night tours available and special tours for children.
During school vacation holidays and long weekends, it is recommended to book ahead, as the tours can become busy.
On tour, it is expected to not touch the rocks or crystal, no smoking or eating and of course, no littering. All these rules are designed for the preservation of the caves for generations to come.
There is also wonderful bushland around the cave entrance that you can explore. You can even see native animals that wander about freely about the grounds, as they are in a protected area, do not feed them.
Visit their website, you can also book tours and see the photos:
More about the historic:
Map Showing Hartley:
The nearby city of Lithgow:
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