Jenolan Caves are caves in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia; 175 kilometres west of Sydney. They are the most celebrated of several similar groups in the limestone of the country being the oldest discovered open caves in the World. They include numerous Silurian marine fossils of great interest and the calcite formations, sometimes pure white, are of extraordinary beauty. The cave network is enormous - over 40 km of multi-level passages - still undergoing active exploration. Several kilometres of the caves have been rendered easily accessible to paying visitors and are well lit.
Jenolan Caves attracts over 250,000 visitors a year, making it the most popular tourist location in rural New South Wales.
The caves are a convenient 3 hours drive for day visitors from Sydney and Canberra.
In 2008 and 2009, Jenolan Caves won several tourism awards, from Blue Mountains Tourism and NSW Tourism.
Ten of the area's "dark caves" are open for regular guided tours every day (1 to 2 hours per tour). These 'show' cave tour sizes vary, for example the delicate Pool of Cerberus Cave can have only 8 on a tour, while the Lucas Cave (with its massive chambers) can have up to 65 people per tour. Tours also vary in difficulty, for example the Imperial Cave has the fewest stairs, while the River Cave is the most strenuous. However, the average tourist can tour any of these 'show' caves.
Several undeveloped caves are available for Adventure Caving (2 hours to all-day tours). The introduction to Adventure Caving is the Plughole Tour, which runs daily and includes basic abseiling. Other even more challenging Adventure Caving tours are available.
A self-guided tour of the huge Nettle Cave/Devils Coach House is also available - in 11 languages (including Klingon) plus an engaging commentary for children.
During NSW School Holidays, specially developed tours are available for children and teenagers.
Jenolan Caves has long been a popular destination for school excursions. For instance, Normanhurst Boys High School, Sydney, has been running an annual trip to the caves every year for the past 52 years which will soon become 53 years when the students go to the caves in August. This is arguably the longest continually running excursion by one school to one place in Australia, let alone the world.
Large portions of this extensive cave system are accessible only to cavers, especially those areas along the underground river system; but, there are ten caves at Jenolan that have been developed for regular tourism.
Lucas Cave: Discovered in 1860 and the most popular among visitors. The Lucas Cave (named after local politician John Lucas who pushed to have the caves preserved in the 1860s) features a number of large chambers including the Cathedral, over 50 metres high, and the vast Exhibition Chamber which contains the Broken Column formation. The Cathedral is also used for wedding ceremonies and recitals. The Cathedral Chamber, the highest Chamber within the Lucas Cave, is the venue for monthly cello and Gypsy music concerts, as well as other special concerts, including by local band Didgeridoo Dingo.
River Cave: Discovered in 1903, the River Cave is the most extensive show cave at Jenolan and includes some of its most famous features, including the Minaret, the Grand Column and the Queen's Canopy, as well as part of the River Styx. Until 1923 when a concrete bridge was built, a section of river in this cave was crossed by a small boat.
Imperial Cave: Discovered in 1879, this is the easiest cave to visit for tourists. The Imperial contains some of the best fossil deposits and several Tasmanian Devil bones. Note that whilst fossils may not be clearly evident to the casual visitor, in fact the bedrock in which the caves are formed is richly endowed with marine fossils. A side-branch known as the Diamond Cave is occasionally shown in combination with the Imperial Cave.
Ribbon Cave: Discovered at the same time as the Orient Cave, it was originally part of that tour but is now visited separately. The Ribbon Cave is only 60 metres long but is very richly decorated.