Jenolan Caves

Cave House, Jenolan Caves, Australia. Public Domain.
Cave House, Jenolan Caves, Australia. Public Domain.
Cave House, Jenolan Caves, Australia. Public Domain.
Cave House, Jenolan Caves, Australia. Public Domain.

The Jenolan Caves lie to the southwest of the Blue Mountains in the region which is called Central Tablelands. They are located in a 2,416 ha reserve for plants and wildlife named Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve. There are many caves in New South Wales, but these are the most famous ones, and the most visited show caves in Australia. According to Cigna/Burri [2000] they have 240,000 visitors per year.

It seems to be a typical thing in Australia, that cave systems are developed to have multiple show caves. Jenolan is the mother of all those show cave agglomerations, as during the almost 200 years of history numerous branches were developed as show caves. But as this is an ongoing process, the number of show caves changes now and then. When we first wrote this page in the 1990s, there was a number of nine caves available for public viewing,

The center of Jenolan is the area around Blue Lake with the natural bridges ShowcaveGrand Arch and Carlotta Arch. The third natural bridge is the ShowcaveDevil's Coach House. Very interesting is a living fossil, a blind white shrimp, found in Jenolan Caves.

In 2006 the age of cave sediments was determined by geophysical methods, and an age of 340 Million years was found. This made the Jenolan caves by far the oldest caves of the world. The second oldest known cave at that time was located in the Guadelupe Mountains in New Mexico, U.S.A. and is 65 million years old. Since then other old caves were found, some formations in the Sudwala Caves in South Africa have been dated to be 200 Ma old. Most karst caves on Earth are (only) up to 5 million years old.


1838 Grand Arch discovered by James Whalan.
1838 Charles Whalan and his two sons unofficial keepers.
1838 Nettle Cave and Arch Cave discovered.
1848 Elder Cave discovered.
1860 Lucas Cave discovered.
1867 N.S.W. State Government took control, Jeremiah Wilson first official keeper.
1879 Imperial Cave discovered.
1880 Chifley Cave discovered.
1891 Jersey Cave discovered.
1893 Jubilee Cave discovered.
1897 Aladdin Cave discovered.
1903 River Cave and Pool of Cerberus Cave discovered.
1904 Orient Cave, Ribbon Cave, and Temple of Baal Cave discovered.
25-JUN-2004 designated a State heritage.


In 1838 James McKeown, an escaped convict, robbed Blue Mountain settlers. James Whalan, one of the victims, decided to track and find McKeown's hideout. He followed him more than 30 km into unexplored mountain country. Then he saw a hidden valley through a huge rock archway. Whalan told later: "I felt I had entered the Devil's Coachhouse". This sentence lead to the name of the huge natural bridge nowadays called ShowcaveDevil's Coach House. He found traces of James McKeown and returned the following day with troopers who arrested him. On this day Charles Whalan (the brother of James Whalan) and his two sons where also with the party. They became the first caretakers of the caves and made numerous discoveries.

The year 1838 is the official date of discovery by the English settlers. But as the robber James McKeown used this area as hideout at this time, he must have discovered it earlier, how long is unknown. And of course the Aborigines knew the caves for a very long time and called the area Binoomea, meaning dark places.