We laugh when our guide arrives. It is Michael again, so clearly there was no risk of us missing this tour after completing the River Cave. It is a small group this time. Ourselves, a family of five - three teenagers or maybe early twenties for the elder girl, the kids have all just got back from Plugholing. The elder girl who is very outgoing and vivacious reports that her brother and sister enjoyed it more than she did, but it was an experience! There is also a young couple, so it is a very small group. We have all been on tours earlier in the day, and Michael quizzes us as to the rules in the caves and re-emphasises critical points. We are heading west into the mountain this time and again, a long staircase is required to reach the entrance to the caves.
Given that we are not newbies to the caves, Michael adapts his commentary to suit. We head on in through the red door. Our first chamber is called the woolshed. It feels familiar and I think I must have passed through it before. Ah yes, it is confirmed that you also go this way for the Chifley cave, which we have toured previously. The woolshed is perfectly named. The major feature here is the classing table. For those who are unfamiliar with woolsheds, when the fleece is shawn from the sheep it is picked up and tossed in a rather expert manner onto what is called the classing table where the refuse, such as dags (wool matted with excrement) or burs etc are removed and the wool is examined to assess quality, fineness etc, before being baled with other fleece of similar quality. The crystal classing table has fleece hanging over the edge which somewhat resemble large dags. I bet you can't name another cave in the world that has a feature that is pointed out as a dag!!
With a chuckle we move along and down some stairs again.
We follow the river around some twists and turns. Unlike our interceptions with the river in the River Cave, this really feels like a river wending and winding it's path through the mountain. We pause once more to marvel at the water, it's stillness and the optical depth illusion. You can see a hand print where the cave divers have been. The water moves so slowly such marks remain for a long time. There are what seem to us to be tiny holes where the cave divers go down to explore. They must be insane, seriously. Apparently they even get to places where they have to take the air cylinder off their back and go through then pass the cylinder in after themselves. Lord! The water doesn't look deep enough to dive in. You would swear it was only 1 meter deep at the very deepest point, but no, that's just the illusion at work. The divers have figured out that the two underground rivers (this one is not the same one we visited in the River Cave) eventually find their way to the Blue Lake.
We pause in a locality known as Ridley's Shortcut. Our young companions point out that the rock stack above is where they were plugholing. Apparently This fellow Ridley fell when looking over and down into this chamber from above. Fortunately he bounced around off the walls and rocks a bit before landing on some wire netting that had been put in the chamber further breaking his fall. Badly hurt but luckily he survived. The things some people will do to have a feature named for themselves!
Was it here or another early chamber that we learned that when originally discovered the chamber was waist deep in animal bones? A wombat skeleton has been cleaned up and placed in the cave as a reminder. Apparently there's an entrance into which animals can and apparently did fall on a fairly regular basis. Somewhere along the way we disturb another small bat. Awesome!! We are having a lot of luck today!
As we have been through the geology spiel on our previous tours, this time we are learning how to navigate in the caves and are quizzed about what features we have passed and which way you turn to get out to the surface.
We come to the butchershop. Sure enough hanging from the ceiling is a feature that really does resemble a sheep's carcass with head intact. Above my head is a ham, and close by a chicken carcass. Memorable, that's for sure!
We move along and come to a stalagmite that is about the right height for an average woman. It is standing on it's own in the path surrounded by a protective cage. This is Lot's Wife. We hear that she has been through periods of rapid growth, and periods where there has not been much activity creating the uneven width and layering effect.
On again and with occassional periods where you have to watch your head, maybe bend a little we come to a ledge under which a landscape is revealed which without being told we know just has be named as a city or citadel of some sort. Rows of crystal like ramparts of a city are arrayed across the floor of the cave. Fascinating. We pause to hear the theory about how they are created, snapping our photos for posterity. This is another most interesting feature and one of a type we've not come across before.
From the crystal cities we pass clusters of richly glowing stalactites and columns before finally arriving at the Alabaster column. This enourmous column is completely untainted with the iron oxide and it has a luxuriant glow about it.
Soon we approach another ledge under which is a circular cluster of columns, there are a couple of similar features along the way, the more impressive of them is called the Birdcage.
One feature incites Michael to quizz us as to what sort of formation it is. Hmm. Column, as it reaches from the ceiling to the floor. Shawl from the shape of it... Fluted column is the correct term we are informed. It is most impressive. Very large.
On one of our rest stops as the rest of the group caught up, we stop at the display case with that contains the jaw of a tasmanian devil discovered in this cave. Apparently tassie devils were suriving on the mainland as recently as 600 years ago.
Moving ahead we are told to look out for the Giraffe's front legs. We spot them no touble. They really do look like a giraffe's front legs. I can't remember though exactly where they were. Were they in the shawl cave?
We move into the the Diamond cave and although it is beautifully decorated and we admire a number of features, the star of the show is a small alcove filled with dogstooth spa crystals. There is a double stair case to facilitate larger groups getting a look and we appreciate anew that we have such a small gathering today.
Laughter around the group as Michael points out a small protrusion of rock known as the dessert spoon.
Now we move in the upper Diamond branch which is protected by wire netting all around. We pause before we go in and are warned again not to touch when but to remember to look right and left and above also. We move on. Wow. There are gaps in the netting here and there to facilitate photography. This is a most impressive section. Awesome! We are coming to the climax of our tour. The Gem of the West, covered in helictites and dainty drooping straws. The photo cannot do it justice. This chamber has lots of helictites. They grow all over the place in varying sizes. There is crystal everywhere you look, coating the rocks. Flowing down over things like oooze. Some coated rocks are clearly visible through the crystal.
We admire a particularly nifty stalactite and stalagmite which are almost to touching stage. Around the corner is a section of rock eroded to form a sort of sharp pincer effect. Nifty. This is an entrancing cave and well worth the tour that's for sure.
Having taken our fill of these magnificent chambers we start on the return leg. We pause again at the tassie devil and here and there along the way. The main focus I remember was trying to recall the way out by memory of the features as we approach the butchershop. Maybe not such a star crystal wise, but I do have a particular fondness for the butcher shop and the woolshed.. plenty of crystal in the woolshed, but it is .. well.. dull and woolly looking! The bottleshop was another striking and amusing feature and very lifelike.
Once again as we near the woolshed we feel a drop in temperature as we near the red door, exiting the same way we came in. It has been raining while we were underground and everything has that hush of the wet, and the approaching darkness. With the air powerfully laced with the scent of eucalyptus Jenolan is simply superb! It has been a wonderfully enjoyable tour, and a most relaxing and reviving day. We really feel renewed as we make our way up the hill, up several more flights of stairs.
I am delighted to report the legs held up very well, never did get the jelly legs and was still feeling pretty good as we hopped into the car. Not a tinge of soreness next day. All bodes well for our next physical challenge as we try to figure out if we're up to Tongariro Crossing... Finally and with considerable regret that our visit has come to a close, we say farewell to the wonderful Jenolan Caves.
While I have done my best to give a feel for our experience, there is so much more that you hear and see as you clamber around these awe inspiring chambers. Colourful characters in the history of the caves, indigenous connections.. so much more...
WE WILL BE BACK!!