The Temple of Baal, Jenolan

A constant dripdripdrip of water falls onto this formation

On the 18th of April Hapsis and I visited the Jenolan Caves with the cunning plan of visiting two of the pay-to-enter caves (and the free one as well) all in the same day.

As it turned out we started at least two hours later than we should have, and were additionally delayed by road works on the downhill run from Mount Victoria into the Hartley Valley. When we finally arrived at 1130 we discovered that the cave tour we were most interested in attending, the Imperial Diamond tour, had started at 1030 and was not scheduled again until about 1530.

A wild Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans) munching on a potato chip, just metres from a "Do not feed the birds" sign.

We chose the Temple of Baal tour (the only one left that was not fully booked) and decided there was not enough time to visit a second guided cave and stop for pies at the Pie in the Sky Roadhouse at Kurrajong Heights on the way back. We’d visit the self-guided cave after the Temple.

A very wise decision! For the wrong reasons even!

The Binoomea Cut entrance which leads to the Orient Cave also leads to the Temple of Baal. By the time Hapsis and I had ascended the shallow-cut and irregular-length steps we were puffing and wheezing; it was the worst part of the Orient Cave Tour and I fervently hoped that it was to be the worst of the Temple tour as well.

We’ll take a break from my blah-blah-blah here as I quote from a Sydney Morning Herald article on the opening of the Temple of Baal which I acquired from the National Library of Australia’s Australia Trove site. The article was electronically scanned and transcribed. I’ve cleaned up all the scanning errors and typos in the original article as well. The original is here.

Pix are by me.

The Sydney Morning Herald
Monday, 1 November 1909
Page 8





There was opened on Saturday at the Jenolan Caves by Mr Oakes and a party consisting of no less than five Cabinet Ministers and several distinguished guests a new cavern 200ft long, 60ft wide and 100ft high. It contains a chamber as high as Milan Cathedral. One white stalagmite alone measures 30ft across. Above it on either side are white and red striped “shawls” hanging from the walls of a light chocolate colour. The western end of the cave and the passages to it are crammed with delicate formations and at least one huge stalactite, which has been said to look like a contrite angel with folded wings, hangs down the walls for no less than 40 or 50 ft.

The great cave opened by Mr Oakes on Saturday has been called “The Temple of Baal.” It was discovered in 1904. Mr. Wiburd the caretaker and Mr Edwards, the guide, who is since dead, determined to make their way, in 1903, down a narrow fissure which goes sheer into the ground near the Broken Column in the Lucas Cave. They lowered a rope down this, swung down it in pitch darkness, and not far from where they landed they found the underground river. The difficulty was to get to the spot a boat large enough to support them in this river, but it was managed in the end by carrying there a boat too small and shallow to float a man of itself, but made safe by being buoyed up with oil drums. More than once it upset. It has since been replaced by a big iron punt.

Everything here is a work in progress

White is something of an anomaly in iron-rich areas like this

Water drips from these continually-forming straws

The cave which the two explorers hit on in this way was called the River Cave. Leading out of it there appeared the openings of still further caves. One forbidding fissure was found near a formation called the Furse Bush, on the right of the River Cave. It was very narrow, but after making their way along its ominous windings they suddenly came out, in 1904, on an opening where they found that the roof rose above them out of sight, and an immense chamber was opened out before them. It was the cave opened on Saturday.

Straws and shawl

Straws and helictites

The River Cave was opened for inspection in June, 1907. But “The Temple of Baal” has been a difficult job because large loose rocks were found in the passage, and if the clearing were done from below there was an intimate danger of these falling on the workers. Accordingly the men had to make their way to above these rocks, and do the work from there, although there was a risk that any moment a rock might roll into the opening through which they came, and block them in. They took candles and provisions with them in case this should happen. But no accident happened, and exactly a year ago the approach to the cave was finished. Since then the lighting has been carried out, and has just been completed.

The lighting here looks somewhat exaggerated, but it is true that many of the formations are shades of orange and brown. There's a lot of iron oxide (rust) in the water that formed these structures.

A large shawl


The party which visited the caves on Saturday consisted of Messrs. Oakes, Waddell, Perry, Hogue, and J. Hughes, all members of the Government; Col. Vernon, Mr. Percy Hunter, and many other distinguished guests.

Mr Oakes, who made the opening speech, and other speakers, made a point of the value of tourist traffic to the State. The Jenolan Caves formed one of the best known tourist resorts in the world, as famous as the Yosemite Valley and as familiar as Niagara. Since the establishment of the Tourist Bureau, steps had been taken to give the caves a world-wide publicity and a comparison of the traffic in 1904, the year before the establishment of the bureau, with the present year, showed an increase of slightly more than 50 per cent. Taking the present year as a sample, the 7000 people who visited Jenolan Caves expended in railway and coach fares and hotel bills during their trip, £50,000; the Yarrangobilly Caves and Kosciusko tourists spent £23,000, and on three specially conducted trips from Melbourne to Sydney alone, the tourists brought to Sydney £5910. There were a large number of other tourist districts, such as the South and North Coasts, the Myall Lakes, the Hawkesbury, the National Park, the southern highlands, Wombeyan Caves, and others, where our visitors spent their money. The total sum represented in this traffic would run into many hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum; and it would thus be seen that the action of the Government in spending money in opening up and improving these tourist resorts was a wise policy.

       (end of quoted section)

A view from higher up (oh god, the steps)

The angel's wing


Lemonade bottle stalagmite, formed in record time from a lemonade bottle left here in 1954 by the man who constructed the stairways.

There’s one thing that they don’t tell you about the Temple of Baal: it’s a fairly narrow cave, which means that most of the movement within it involves going up and down those 288 (steep!) steps; and if you didn’t think it was too bad going down, going up at the conclusion of the 90-minute tour is a completely different story. By the time you’re back at the entrance you have something new to add to your wheezing misery: rubber legs.

There was no way we were going on to the free tour: we had to wait for 15 minutes or so for a reasonably steady gait to become possible, and then as we drove past the Grand Arch we saw the — you guessed it — looong stairway to the Nettle Cave. Urk.

My trip to the Orient Cave is recorded here. It’s been updated with a historical Sydney Morning Herald article from the National Library archive.

Date: 18 April 2011
Camera: Pentax K-5
Lens 1: Pentax DA 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 ED AL [IF] DC WR
Lens 2: Pentax smc DA L 55-300 mm f/4-5.8 ED
Ambient light only.
Conditions: Cave interior with artificial lighting (with one exception).
Hand-held only.
Cropping and resizing in Irfanview.


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