Jenolan Caves, NSW - Weekend Getaway
Why spend the weekend in the city when you can go bush? To start the New Year we packed the car and headed out towards the Blue Mountains, a stunning part of Sydney that’s filled with new adventures around each corner.
This weekend we are checking out an old historic part of the Blue Mountains that locals should really check out, because all the tourists are.
Located about 2.5-3 hours west of the Sydney CBD. Jenolan Caves is the worlds oldest tourist cave system and the largest in Australia. With a section of naturally beautiful crafted experiences, Jenolan Caves has something for everyone. And not just caves, up to 6 bush walks are also on offer at this historic location.
As you arrive into Jenolan Caves you pass through the awe-inspiring Grand Arch. This will be the meeting point for all your caving adventures. As you pass through the narrow cutting in the rock, the other side opens up into a beautiful old hotel known as Caves House, the main accommodation.
The heritage listed hotel was built in stages between 1879 and 1926 and designed by Colonel Walter Liberty Vernon, who notably also designed the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Central Railway Station.
The room we had was their Caves House Classic, located on the third floor. With no internet, no aircon and no fridge, our small suite room on the third floor was extremely basic. On the plus side the room did have an en-suite. This hotel won’t be to everyone’s taste.
Set that aside as we’re here to adventure down the most ancient discovered open caves in the world.
Today we will be heading down Chifely and Luca caves. They have bundle deals on their website so be sure to see if a bundle works for you.
We started our guided tour in the massive Grand Arch, the starting point for many of the cave walks. With our guide Scotty, teller of lame jokes, we started on our way. The tour is one hour long and like all caves there are stairs involved. So it you're not a stairs fan, it might be best to choose another adventure.
The Chifley Cave has a fascinating history and was the first cave in the world to be lit with an electric light in 1880. The cave displays stunning limestone formations including delicate straws and one of Jenolan's best examples of exquisite crystal. This cave is also a short walk so it is easy for those young and old.
Our other cave today is the Lucas Cave at 2:30pm. Our guide was not very friendly or maybe personality was just not her thing. To be honest, looking back, none of the guides seemed to like actually doing the tours.
The Lucas Cave is the best of the two caves we saw that day, with massive chambers such as 'The Cathedral' and breath taking limestone formations. This is truly the cave that is a must see. This one hour and a half tour takes you up and down around 900 steps and is recommended for those who enjoy walking.
After the final tour we went for an afternoon stroll around the Blue Lake which is located next to the entry of the caves.
This spectacular blue lake, which is given its colour from the minerals from the limestone surrounds and is striking amongst the background of lush green bush.
As the sun started to set, we headed back to Caves House to rest and prepare for dinner in the hotel restaurant.
Dinner tonight is in Chisom’s Grand Dining Room, but before our dinner reservation we headed to Jeremiah’s Bar and Lounge for a pre-dinner drink. The staff was very new and drinks took a little while to be made but it wasn’t like we were in a rush. I enjoyed a strong Long Island Ice Tea and my partner enjoyed a Spiced Rum on the rocks. Let’s say drinks aren’t cheap, but where else are you going to go?
Image courtesy of Chisom's Grand Dining Room Jenolan Caves
Dinner time rolled around and we headed into the dining room. The room is straight out of the late 1900’s and boasts a large open grand dining room and fire place, while the grand piano looks like it hasn’t been touched in decades. It features a stunning ceiling with modern upgrades like fire sprinkler systems and large modern fans, that were thankfully on during this warm January night. This room is certainly a sight to behold.
Image Courtesy of NSW State Archives and Records
As Caves House was designed in 1897 by Walter Liberty Vernon as a retreat for the wealthy landowners of NSW, he wanted to included an enormous grand dining room, which was completed in 1924.
Chisolm Grand Dining Room is one of Australia's two remaining "grand dining room. The ambience and historical significance of the room is an experience in itself.
The meals, we were advised, are huge. So it doesn’t matter if you order from the main menu or the light meal menu.
We started with an entree of Pork Belly and Garlic Sourdough Bread. The main meals we chose were the Lamb Shank and Crispy Barramundi.
The entree came out quickly. A small slice of pork belly on a bed of vegetables with a gravy on top with a side of white rice. The pork belly itself has a soggy skin, little fat, but the meat was cooked perfectly. The blob of thick gravy looked more like a large drop of Vegemite but had a strong lime flavour to it. The side of white rice was a un-usual choice, but was nothing special.
The garlic sourdough was nice. The garlic was not over-powering at all and it wasn’t drowned in oil.
The main meals came out long after the completion of our entrees.
The lamb shank was served on a base of mashed potato, swimming in a pool of red wine and garlic liquid with chunks of capsicum. The lamb shank itself was slow cooked to allow the meat to simply fall off the bone as you made your way through it. The sauce and mash were nothing to write home about, bland and favourless, I left most of it behind.
After dinner we wandered around the first floor of the hotel to see what else was on offer. Since the area is in a valley and a far drive from the closest town, finding entertainment is hard. The hotel offers a pool table, a large function/reception room which is setup with chairs as an in-house movie theatre, which featured Grease on the night we were there. I would suggest downloading your Netflix movies or shows to watch before you leave home, like we did.
The next morning we woke up and headed out for a walk around the village before it became busy with tourists for another day. The walk was peaceful and we got to see some wildlife that we wouldn’t normally get to see due to the noise from cars, buses and tourist during the day.
From a distance and whilst peaceful, The Caves House looks like a site straight out of Disney, the building full of character and old world charm.
After our morning walk we headed to the Grand Dining room for a buffet breakfast. For $20 per person it’s the best hot breakfast around, simply because you have no other option. The cafe located within the hotel on the ground floor doesn’t open till after 9:30am. Breakfast in the hotel is available from 7:30 - 9:30am.
After breakfast we packed up our room and checked out.
Before leaving Jenolan Caves we drove up to the second car park, further up the hill to adventure a little more on the surrounding bush track walks.
After adventuring to a few look-downs we headed back to the car to start our drive home back to Sydney.
Since the main road into Jenolan Caves is a tight single lane drive, we decided to drive out a different way and headed home via Oberon.
Just as we arrived into Oberon we stopped at Oberon Lake, near the dam. It was great to be able to stretch our legs one last time before the long drive back.
The drive home was very easy with no dramas. It was nice to be able to spend some time out of the city. Something everyone should do every now and then.
For more information head to the Jenolan Cave's website