The Orient cave, Jenolan

Columns and stalagmites

The Jenolan Caves (S33° 49.280′, E150° 01.141′, 814m) in New South Wales are among the oldest caves in the world. Australian geologists have estimated their age to be 340 million years, which places their origins in the Carboniferous Era.

The Orient Cave is one of ten caves that are open to the public, and the most highly decorated of them all. All tours are guided with the exception of the Nettle Cave/Devils Coach House tour. Fees apply.

The Jenolan Caves are a 3-hour journey (178 km) from south-western Sydney via the M4, assuming no stops or detours. No maps are required; road signage is more than adequate.

The M4 morphs into the Great Western Highway at Penrith, at the foot of the Blue Mountains. We proceed along this road (beware of roadworks and speed traps) through Katoomba (yay! only 72km to go!) to Mount Victoria, at which point the ascent becomes a steep (1:8) descent into the Hartley Valley. The turnoff into Jenolan Caves Road comes shortly after, and the ascent to the Oberon Plateau begins. This is farming country, and the hillsides are dedicated to pasture. Watch out for wombats, wallabies and kangaroos, especially if travelling at dawn or dusk. In daylight, all you’ll probably see is roadkill (a wombat and a wallaby on this occasion).

A wind farm with two turbines is visible as we pass through Hampton, and shortly after the Duckmaloi Road intersection the Jenolan State Forest begins. Some of it is tightly-packed conifers on the left and disgustingly denuded hillsides (with discarded bits of tree strewn all over) on the right, but it all eventually reverts to sclerophyll forest.

As we enter the Jenolan Karst Conservation Area some 13 km from our objective, the road becomes very narrow and winding, at some points reducing to a single lane. The speed limit drops to a well-justified 40 km/h. No articulated vehicles are allowed here, and the direction is down.

The perennial question “are we there yet?” is answered (yes!) as we pass through the short tunnel otherwise known as the Grand Arch. On the left is Jenolan House and on the right the ticket office. The public car park is another 200m or so up the road.

As mentioned above, almost all tours are guided; you can’t just walk into a cave. The guy at the ticket office informs me that the tours take about 1.5 hours each and the prices are governed not by the size or beauty of the cave but by the size of the group that can be accommodated. There is only enough time to attend one tour, and today the Orient and the Lucas tours start at 1330. I pick the Orient.

The Persian Chamber

A look at the roof

Straws, stalactites and drapery-like structures that hang like strange fruit

Straws, stalactites and stalagmites

Brightly-lit stalactites




This plaque is located next to the cave entrance

Jenolan House

Jenolan House. The ticket office (not in frame) is on the right.

Which tour do I pick next?

Instead of going out the way we came (twisty! single lane with bidirectional traffic!), we take the alternative route to Oberon. The road is a little better, and there is something called the Kanangra Walls to see some 32 km away. Now that is a subject for another post

05 May 2011 edit:

The National Library of Australia’s Australia Trove site has a Sydney Morning Herald article on the discovery of the Orient Cave. I’ve cleaned up all the scanning errors and typos and reproduced it below. The original is here.

The Sydney Morning Herald
Saturday 3 August 1929
Page 11

The Orient Cave
Discovery and Discoverers.

(By W. L. HAVARD.)

On a Saturday evening in July, 1904, two , men with laurels already thick on their shoulders began to explore from dark cave corridors at Jenolan a long, difficult ascent, which led them eventually into that Jewel store of the hills, aptly named the Orient Cave. His appointment in October, 1903, as caretaker of the Jenolan Caves, gave to J. C. Wiburd , the authority and untrammelled interest which resulted in cave discoveries that provide today the most unique scenic interest of Australia.

Caretaker Wiburd was fortunate in his friend and assistant guide, J. C. Edwards. Together they set about solving long-standing problems presented by constricted passages leading off from the old Lucas Cave. Night after night, when cave visitors had departed, and the deep Jenolan gullies were lost in gloom, these men, with equipment crude almost beyond belief, developed that cat-like agility and keen cave sense which enabled them to exploit to the fullest such openings as were presented in the cavern confines.

From time to time important advances were made, particularly by the passage of the River Styx. Six weeks was the time taken to make holes and passages large enough to admit air-tight tins being taken through to make a boat out of a pickle box with which to cross the river. Beyond this permanent obstacle, across which it was necessary to ferry twice each night, the explorers penetrated first the long gallery now known as the River Cave, and then, after several weeks of veritable scratching in the narrow limits of its approach, the Temple of Baal Cave was discovered. At this stage exploration was interrupted by the flooding of the River Styx, but when the waters had subsided a large mass of fallen rocks was investigated opposite the entrance to the Temple of Baal Cave.


The two men’s interest was impelled by their belief that when rocks fall into a cave they leave a cave behind. “Curious to learn the secret,” says Wiburd, “Edwards climbed above the fall. I climbed between the fall and the main wall of the cavern, and found a passage (into the Orient Cave) too small to get through. Edwards found a hole large enough to get through, but it was blocked by a rock leaning against it inside, like the marble that closes the mouth of an old fashioned lemonade bottle. This rock had to be shoved back to enable Edwards to crawl through. Then he had to prize the rock, away before I could get through. The way the cave is opened now is the way I went first. The spot where Edwards and I first entered the Orient Cave is above the Empress Grotto, so in reality we climbed down (into the cave) before we could go up.”

Then followed a most difficult ascent, now negotiated by steep ladders known to all who have had the great good fortune of gaining admission to this richly-dressed cave. The first night saw the discoverers climb to the Indian Chamber which marks the general level of the Orient Cave. In the feeble flicker of candles socketed in that strange device which was at once the toy and the joy of those who visited caves in other days, the men were denied the full feast of beauty revealed today by electric light. Yet they stood on the threshold of a strange Jenolan wonder greater than before known. Only the necessity of going on duty next day drew them back from the enticing passage-ways so full of promise.

Entering shortly after tea, each time the eager searchers found advance so difficult, and the lure of approach to caves yet to be seen so strong, that in these days, or rather nights, they reappeared with time only to prepare for the morning exhibition of the older caves. No person had the least idea where they went, as they were the only guides employed, and they could tell no one where they were going, because they did not know themselves. Time in the new cave was reckoned by the flight of bats that flew out at night-fall, and returned to their dark retreats when day invaded the valley.

Exploration was not continued each night. Rest was needed, and two or three nights would be allowed to pass, after which the long night watch was again entered to result in deeper penetration of this beautiful cavern in the heart of the limestone. The company was sometimes increased to three by R. I. Bailey. In keeping with cave discoverers’ privilege, the initials of the men were pencilled on an unobtrusive helictite jutting from the lower slope of the Egyptian Chamber.


The new discoveries were surveyed almost without delay by Mr. Oliver Trickett, at that time Superintendent of Caves. Very few people were allowed into the caverns. Not only was it almost impossible to follow the guides, but it was the settled policy of the local authority to permit no activity which might lead to destruction of delicate cave forms. For nearly 14 years the faithful cave workmen — Joseph Luchetti, sen., and M. Whalan — were entrusted with the work of making the cement stairs which serve to scale the steep cave ways. Their labours in carrying along the tortuous approach heavy bags of cement, iron ladders wiring, stanchions, and other building essentials, are worthy of at least a feeling of gratitude on the part of every visitor. After the installation of electric lighting by the caretaker, the Orient Cave was officially opened for exhibition to the public on Saturday, December 28 1917.

Most regrettable was the accidental death, in December, 1908, of good “Jack” Edwards, who was denied the contemplation of the rapid development of the caves which owed so much to his interest and indefatigable energy.

The importance of the discoveries lay not in the increase in the number of caves known, but in the unusual variety afforded by caves contrasting with the older ones so charmingly in concentrated mineral colour, and in helictite formations. These more recently discovered caves, inasmuch as they admit relatively small parties, display their beauties more intimately than larger caverns. Their walls, thickly clothed with glistening formations, invite inquisitive examination from friendly visitors who walk beside them.


The present activity in the matter of advertising Australia recalls the meagre announcement of the discovery of the Orient Cave. Now the Mecca of foreign tourists to Australia, it owes in no small measure, its reputation to praises sung to others by admirers at home and abroad. In contrast with the reference to its discovery filling only a few inches of space in a Sydney daily, was the promulgation some five years ago in Australian journals and in famous magazines with a world-wide circulation of compelling pictures and letterpress relating to discoveries in thp Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico and in the Auvergne Grotto. Of such importance was the progress of discovery in the Carlsbad Cavern considered that ex-President Coolidge associated himself in no uncertain fashion with the announcement to the world of Amerca’s newly-discovered national monument.

Yet the old Persian monarch’s desire — a new pleasure — had been secured for the world in the Orient Cave at Jenolan.

My trip to the Temple of Baal is recorded here.

Date: 18 March 2010
Camera: Pentax K100D Super
Lens 1: Pentax DA 16-45mm F4.0 ED
Ambient light only.
Hand-held only.
Cropping and resizing in Irfanview.


One Response to The Orient cave, Jenolan

  1. Jen says:

    Thanks for the story. Jack Edwards was my great great uncle. My grandmother used to tell me that he died after falling asleep while smoking on a chair near the caves. He fell off the chair, down an embankment and broke his neck. If he was guiding all day and caving through the night it makes more sense how exhausted he must have been and how this could have happened.

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