Review: Learn of ‘legends, mysteries and ghosts’ on a Jenolan Caves ghost tour in the Blue Mountains
Jenolan Caves is one of Australia's most cherished tourist attractions and has been for more than a century. However, this evening tour of the mysterious subterranean underworld is not for the faint hearted.
Strange sounds and sights have been witnessed in all of Jenolan’s show caves over the years, but the atmosphere can be even more unnerving when you’re in a dark cave — after dark! This evening Jenolan Caves ghost tour operates with a maximum of 20 guests, so you need to book well in advance. Duration: 2 hours (approx.)
When Jenolan Caves tours guide Anne Musser switches off her torch it’s an apt illustration of what Jeremiah Wilson must have experienced in the late 1800s prior to the advent of electricity.
Lost in the Jubilee cave after he misplaced his matches, Wilson, who was Jenolan’s ‘Keeper of the Caves’ from 1857 until 1900, was in a terrible plight. It was a sufficiently bad experience to stop the passionate caving enthusiast from exploring alone again.
Today, guests on an evening Jenolan Caves ghost tour get to spend a little time in Jeremiah’s shoes. The darkness is all consuming and the phrase ‘black as hell’ comes to mind. Here in the bowels of the earth, not even the tiniest atom-sized speck of light intrudes.
Deprived of visual cues, the soft tinkle of a subterranean river treads in the forefront of my brain. I’m focusing on Anne’s tale of the lost caver wandering about in the dark, and trying hard not to think about ghosts. For someone with a childish dread of nasties in the dark, it’s hair-raising to be taking part in this ‘Legends, Mysteries and Ghosts’ tour — one of the most popular of Jenolan Caves’ guided experiences.
Located three hours’ drive from Sydney on the western side of the Blue Mountains (within Kanangra-Boyd National Park), Jenolan Caves is a fitting setting for this tour. Modern civilisation has made few inroads here, and the shadows of visitors to the caves flit like spectres across an ancient landscape.
One of Australia’s most iconic and beloved places, the caves are the oldest tourist destination in the country and a treasure trove of the past. Compressed into limestone, torn through rock, and exposed in the tissues, sinews and arteries of the subterranean world, Father Time’s magnitude reigns here.
Huddling together and searching for any wisp of light, about twenty of us follow Anne through the underworld. Dominated by history, from the fossils of wallabies to the artefacts of the 1800-1900s, the past’s grip here is infallible.
According to Anne, each guide does the tour differently. One thing unifies them: a passion for the caves, and some have had experience with the supernatural side of Jenolan.
I learn from Cory Camilleri, another guide at Jenolan and the resident ghost specialist, that in March 2014 paranormal investigators conducted tests at Jenolan for a TV show. They claimed to have recorded electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) on a super sensitive recording device.
‘In a way I’m a true skeptic, in that I’ve not made up my mind either way’, Cory reveals. ‘I guess I’m just curious about it generally’. That’s a surprising statement, given Cory has her own personal ghost story to share: some shoulder tapping while she was conducting a tour in a cave!
Unlike many locations associated with ghost stories there’s no record of vicious or dreadful deaths at Jenolan. Cory and her colleague Kacy Zammit have a benign theory about the ghosts of Jenolan. They suggest passion for the caves rather than anything sinister is the motivation for the ‘hauntings’.
Kacy believes it’s likely the ghosts are former guides. ‘They’ve protected the caves and the history and they’re still here doing it’ she says. She tells me about her own ghostly encounter. ‘We were deep inside the cave. A girl was with me taking a photograph. As we came up the stairs we saw this black figure darting across the cave.’
Without doubt there’s a mystical air at Jenolan. Allusions to the spiritual world dominate in the naming of many geological features, such as the Temple of Baal, the River Styx, the chamber of Moloch and the Angel’s Wing (the longest single limestone ‘shawl’ in Jenolan Caves).
Who gave them these names? ‘James Wiburd, a freemason’, Cory explains. ‘Even though most of the interpretations and names are from the Old Testament, they’re probably more aligned with the forces of nature; the polarity of light and dark’.
Suitably creeped out, I spend the night at Caves House — Jenolan’s onsite Victorian-era guesthouse. It’s a sleepless night of ears straining for creaking floorboards and my head buried beneath the covers. As sunshine infuses the room the next day, I briefly wonder what the ghosts are up to.
Linda Moon is a freelance travel, health and lifestyle writer. Her work has appeared in Voyeur, the Sun-Herald, the Sydney Morning Herald, the NZ Journal of Natural Medicine, Nature & Health magazine, the New Daily, Essential Kids, Australian Family magazine, Weekend Notes, WellBeing magazine, and Retirement Living Today. Based in Katoomba in the beautiful Blue Mountains, Linda has been blessed to explore the wonderful cultures and magical lands of Vietnam, Cambodia, Switzerland, Tahiti and Moorea, Japan, India, Koh Samui, Vanuatu, Lifou and New Zealand.