The Castlereagh Highway was the route we chose driving from Mudgee to Oberon. We stopped for morning tea at a rest area near the Mount Piper Power Station (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Piper_Power_Station) about 20 kilometres north of Lithgow then pressed on through the city to join the Mid-Western Highway until we turned on to the Jenolan Caves Road at Hartley.
Once on the Jenolan Caves road we started climbing almost immediately as we travelled up the Great Dividing Range to the Oberon Plateau to our ultimate destination of the town of Oberon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oberon,_New_South_Wales) which is incidentally the highest town in the Blue Mountains region with an elevation of 1113 metres above sea level. The higher we travelled the thicker the swirling fog seemed to become and when we reached the Halfway Hotel (http://www.halfwayhotel.com/) at the hamlet of Hampton visibility was down to about 30 metres.
Reaching the turnoff for Oberon the fog seemed to clear and by the time we arrived in Oberon, while it was still heavily overcast, the fog had cleared completely. We eventually found the Jenolan Caravan Park (http://www.jenolancaravanpark.com.au/) and registered for our stay of several days while we explore the area.
After setting up the caravan and having some lunch we took a walk through the main street of Oberon to see what was to be seen and then did a lap of the area immediately adjacent to the caravan park in the area of the High School, Council Depot, SES Headquarters, Sports Oval and Swimming Pool before returning to the caravan to escape the cold weather that started to make its presence felt (top of 14 degrees Celsius on Friday).
Oberon is an interesting place with a seemingly buoyant economy. According to a real estate publication we picked up in the street “Timber processing is the major industry sourcing raw materials from radiate pine plantations throughout the district. Prime lambs and beef cattle are the main rural industries. Oberon boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in NSW.”
There is a lot to see in the Oberon / Blue Mountains area not the least of which is the Jenolan Caves (http://www.jenolancaves.org.au/) and it was the caves that we decided to visit on Saturday morning as the weather was still wet and other venues would be more affected by the rain.
Ten caves are available to be viewed in the Jenolan Caves complex and guided tours are conducted through each of these on a regular basis – of course a fee is charged for each guided tour and it could be quite costly to see the lot in one go. We’ve included a series of photos of the interior of the caves but these photos do not reveal the real majesty of the caves that is experienced by those who view them.
We chose to see two of the caves and shortly after arriving at the complex found ourselves on a tour of the Temple of Baal Cave with four other folk and the cave guide. This cave has a length of 365 metres, 288 steps within the cave (there are a number of additional steps involved in climbing up to reach the entrance to the cave); the tour takes one and a half hours to complete.
The official Jenolan Caves website indicates – “The Temple of Baal Cave is renowned for its beauty and spectacular features. Although this cave is often used as a wedding venue, it is not a ‘temple’. Rather, the unusual name was inspired by limestone formations which reminded early cave explorers of the Biblical story of ‘Elijah and the Prophets of Baal’.
Visitors enter the Temple of Baal Cave via the ‘Binoomea Cut’ a long man-made tunnel. Then, they travel down the ‘Dragon’s Throat’, via a dramatic winding staircase. There are 2 massive chambers, one 42 metres high and filled with beautiful formations. One of these formations, the 9 metre tall ‘Angel’s Wing’ shawl, is one of the largest cave shawls in the world. The cave also offers beautiful examples of crystal helictites.
This cave tour includes evocative light and sound, taking you back in time, to the creation and discovery of the cave.”
Our next tour commenced at 11:30am and was of the Lucas Cave described in the website – “Large groups can easily view the massive chambers of the ‘Lucas – our most visited cave. This spectacular cave includes the most photographed limestone formation at Jenolan, ‘The Broken Column’ and displays a wide range of huge cave formations.” This cave has a length of 860 metres and includes some 910 steps which are traversed over a tour time of one and a half hours.
Unlike the earlier tour which included on 6 people and the guide, the Lucas Cave tour included about 60 people many of them families with young children and was a much slower and noisier experience. After the tour we knew we had covered so many steps as our knees and legs were telling us so. We were in need of sustenance so went to the Bistro at Cave House for a light lunch.
There is quite a lot of accommodation at the cave complex in the form of Caves House and much more accommodation off site in nearby cottages and lodges plus other venues in Oberon and similar locations. One would need to stay for several days if intending to view all the available caves. Perhaps several visits over a period might be convenient – having purchased one cave tour ticket holders are issued with a pass which enables a 50% discount on subsequent tours for the ensuing 12 month period.
Sunday morning has arrived and the weather is reasonably warm and not raining. This morning we decided to take a look at Mayfield Garden (http://www.mayfieldgarden.com.au/) which is situated about 15 kilometres out of Oberon. “Mayfield Garden near Oberon began to take shape in the mid-1990′s and today is one of the world’s largest privately owned cool climate gardens. Owned by the Hawkins family, Mayfield Garden extends across more than 160 acres (64H) and sits within a 5,000acre working farm. Numerous follies and features are blended into the landscape: the breath-taking 80metre cascade, the walled kitchen garden; the stunning tourist destination the Water Garden; the aviary, chapel, rose garden and Islamic style pond and much, much more.”
While parts of the garden are open all year round the private gardens are opened only for short periods in autumn and spring. Sunday was the last open day for this autumn so we made sure we visited the property. It is quite spectacular what has been achieved and I hope the photos included (we took over 400) give a fair indication of the grandeur and beauty of the gardens. If you are in Oberon, the Mayfield Garden is very well worth a visit.
After visiting the garden we took a look at Oberon Dam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oberon_Dam) (https://www.statewater.com.au/Water+delivery/Dams/Oberon+Dam) and Lake Oberon. The dam feeds the Fish River Water Supply and provides water for the town of Oberon just a few kilometres away. Lake Oberon also provides recreation pursuits for the locals with fishing and boating opportunities.
Monday morning was damp and drizzly and not conducive for drying washing so a couple of loads went into the driers – of course the sun came out around lunch time but by then the clothes were dealt with and stored away. The rest of the day was spent leisurely doing very little.
Part of the reason for coming to Oberon was to see the Blue Mountains so we trucked ourselves off to one of the most well-known spots in the Blue Mountains – Katoomba (http://www.bluemts.com.au/info/towns/katoomba/) on a very windy Tuesday morning. The journey from Oberon to Katoomba was about 80 kilometres and it took us about an hour to drive down the windy range roads and negotiate the road works on the Great Western Highway around Hartley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Western_Highway).
Once we arrived in Katoomba we followed the tourist route around the escarpment visiting various lookouts along the way from Cahill’s Lookout to Gordon Falls Reserve. Probably the best known of these spots is Echo Point where a great view of the Three Sisters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Sisters_%28Australia%29) can be achieved. This spot is extremely popular with tourists and people from many nations visit this location and tourist coaches line the street.
We stopped at Echo Point (and many other locations) braving the extreme wind to take many photos to record our journey, visited the Information Centre and grabbed a coffee at one of the local establishments. We took in the sites of the main street of Katoomba and enjoyed a delightful lunch at one of the many cafes – The Hatter’s Cafe (http://www.hatters-cafe.com.au/) – in town. This establishment is adjacent to The Hattery (http://www.bluemts.com.au/11842/the-hattery/) an establishment stocking a very extensive and interesting array of head gear.
By three o’clock we had seen all we needed to and headed back to Oberon to prepare for our departure on Wednesday.