Thursday, May 7, 2020


This is a very easy drive, with an overnight stop west of Sydney; and it offers a large number of options for extended touring in the western plains area of the state of New South Wales.

Depart Sydney heading west via the M4 motorway; which becomes The Great Western Highway as you cross the Nepean River, about 35 km west of Sydney. There’s a brief climb into the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, and after 40km (40 mins) you arrive at Katoomba. From there, it’s a 20km drive to Victoria Pass.

After descending the Pass, onto the Western Plains, it’s a short drive to the turnoff to Jenolan Caves Road, at Hartley.

From Hartley, to the Jenolan Caves will take about an hour (50km). As you can see by the vintage pix (below), it was much more challenging back in the day.

The caves have been known to white settlers for over 80 years, and the Jenolan Caves are currently listed as covering around 30 square kilometres underground, with more than 300 entrances and about 40km of walking tracks.

They are possibly the oldest cave system in the world. Geological dating found that the clay in the cave site is over 340 million years old. The cave complex is still being explored.

The historical occupants of the lands including the Jenolan Caves, are the Burra Burra people, a clan of the Gundugurra nation. It is a protected, heritage-listed wildlife national park, and home to a large variety of Australian animals including rock wallaby, platypus, kangaroos, wombats and lyre birds.

A water creature was at the heart of the original creation story of the Jenolan area in the Dreamtime. Gurangatch, part eel, part fish, engaged in a deadly struggle with Mirragan, a native quoll over the lands of the Gundungurra nation. Gurangatch rested in the caves, and his blood can still be seen on the rock walls as you leave the grand arch. 
The caves were first discovered by James Whalan, in 1838, during his pursuit of a local bushranger. 

However it was his brother Charles who first explored the complex.

The Caves came under the control of the NSW Government in 1866—becoming only the second area in the world reserved for the purpose of conservation.

Jenolan Caves are the most widely visited cave system in Australia.

If you plan on visiting a number of the caves, then overnight accommodation is available at the heritage-listed Jenolan Caves House, which was built in 1897 as a luxury getaway for the wealthy citizens of NSW.

Let me tell you, up front, it’s old and although well-preserved, but there are no telephones or television sets in the rooms, and it has endured the ups and downs of both good and bad management during lean and good times.

I first visited Caves House when I was eight-years-old, and later in life I have enjoyed excellent lunches in the main restaurant, Chisholms.

Instead of retracing your drive, you can depart the Caves to the west, joining Edith Road, which leads to the central west city of Bathurst, via the town of Oberon.

If caving is not to your liking, you can still sample a shorter, but hugely enjoyable drive through beautiful undulating farmlands between Hartley, and the turn-off to Jenolan Caves. 

This is at Ganbenang, just 27 km south from the Great Western Highway. Look for a turnoff to the right, called Duckmaloi Road.

And this is where the drive is really fun. You follow the beautiful curves and undulations of Duckmaloi Road into the town of Oberon, which is just 40 mins (50km) from Bathurst. 

There’s plenty of overnight accommodation choices in Bathurst – just don’t visit during the two long weekends (at Easter, and end of September) when the city is taken over by motor racing teams and their fans.

I have a few more suggestions of long and enjoyable drives out of Bathurst to the southeast and the southwest, but that’s for another time.

John Crawford

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