Jenolan Caves

Jenolan’s Weirdest Cave Experience – The Jersey

November 26, 2019

 

As today's visitors explore the Imperial and Imperial-Diamond Caves, they pause at a steep and mysterious staircase that ascends from the pathway and appears to vanish far above their heads.  A trick of the electric light makes it seem that these stairs lead to daylight above. But instead, they lead into a tomb-like labyrinth, the Jersey Cave.

When the Jersey cave was uncovered for the first time in 1890, Jeremiah Wilson, equipped with only a candle, found two skeletons of what he first took to be large dogs. Further examinations revealed them to be the remains of Thylacines, proving that Tasmanian Tigers once roamed the local area. When scientists worked out the age of the bones, it was revealed that one skeleton was around 5,000 years old, whilst the other was possibly tens of thousands of years older. The older one still lies in the caves, where it died, whilst the younger – though still of great age - is now in the Australian museum. As the cave was deep underground and completely sealed by rocks before Wilson broke into it, how these Thylacines got in is still a mystery.

The crystal formations in the Jersey Cave hold a mystery as well.  In Jenolan’s other caves, 'Cave Coral' resembles undersea coral beds or old fashioned boiled lollies. But in the Jersey cave, Cave Coral looks like small fir trees, up to half a metre or more in size. And columns (joined up stalactites and stalagmites) look like iron poles, so smooth they could have been turned on a lathe.

The Jersey Cave was named in honour of George Villiers, the Earl of Jersey, newly made Governor of NSW.  The Earl, along with his wife, the Countess of Jersey, visited Jenolan in January 1893. On their visit, as the Oberon Band 'enlivened the proceedings with various selections', they inspected the Devil's Coach House cave, which was lit by coloured lights and magnesium lamps.  When they descended to the Imperial River, the Countess, a noted authoress, was so amazed, that she later wrote a children's adventure story about it. On January 13, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Vice Regal couple 'were delighted with the grandeur of the Caves'.

When discovered, the Jersey was described as 'the latest treasure trove'.  But it wasn’t long before the Jersey, with its ancient bones and extremely narrow passageways, was almost forgotten. Its mysterious treasures were gradually surpassed by those of the River, Orient and Temple of Baal Caves. Guide books of the time give it no mention at all. No ‘improvements’ were ever made to the Jersey Cave, apart from a large ship's ladder, for descending into its depths, and chicken wire, attached to hand-forged stanchions, to protect the extremely delicate formations from damage by visitors. (Graffiti of early visitors adorns the bare rock walls.) No lights were ever installed to vanquish the Stygian gloom of the enigmatic Jersey Cave. 

These days, the Jersey Cave is sometimes shown as part of Jenolan’s evening ‘Off the Track’ tour. Visitors lucky enough to be shown the Jersey Cave on this tour should be prepared for an experience similar to Jeremiah Wilson's first exploration. In some parts, the pathway is so low and narrow that one must walk sideways, with knees bent and back arched to avoid protruding limestone! The ‘Off the Track’ tour is a ‘soft adventure’ tour, where flexibility is a must, and where helmets with headlamps are supplied.

By the way, there is no record that the Earl and Countess of Jersey ever actually inspected the cave that was named after them. If you experience it, you will understand why.  The Jersey Cave is easily Jenolan’s weirdest underground experience – and one of its most memorable and rewarding.

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4655 Jenolan Caves Road, Jenolan Caves, Blue Mountains NSW. Ph: 1300 76 33 11 or +61 2 6359 3911
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