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Jenolan Caves set to reopen with limited capacity after fires, floods, pandemic and landslides

Sunday May 9, 2021 - 20:23 EST
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Cameron Chaffey says it will be good to have visitors return. - ABC

It has been a horror two years for the Jenolan Caves, but the popular New South Wales tourist attraction has fought back to reopen.

In March this year, the access road to the Jenolan Caves precinct was severely damaged by record-breaking rain, which caused flooding and landslides, and forced the prolonged road closure.

But from today, part of the Jenolan Caves Road, known as the Two Mile Road, will be reopened to visitors hoping to see the world-famous stalactites and stalagmites of the caves.

The acting manager of the Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust, Cameron Chaffey, said tickets would be capped to about 300 a day?a significant decline from up to 2,000 per day for busy weekends pre-pandemic.

" It's quite a few less than we normally would invite down to Jenolan, but at least we will get our doors open and can start getting people back in," he said.

Main road still dangerous

However, the main Five Mile Road, accessed by tourist coaches via the Great Western Highway, suffered serious damage and will remain shut. 

The Minister for Regional Tranposrt and Roads, Paul Toole, said there was a very real safety risk.

"[Repairing the Five Mile Road] is going to take a huge engineering task to be able to rebuild it," he said.

"Underneath the road itself, it's washed away in various locations."

Slimmed down approach

Funnelling all traffic through the Two Mile Road will limit how visitors access the caves, as nothing bigger than a 12-seater bus will be permitted on its tight bends.

"It is tricky and it's limited, but we'd much rather be open and welcoming guests into Jenolan then staying closed," Mr Chaffey said.

He said the potential of future rainfall causing further damage could not be ruled out, and future short-term closures were possible.

"It is something we're watching, something we're very mindful of, and we need to work and operate with that restriction in place."

Disaster after disaster

The caves area, including the historic Caves house, narrowly survived the Green Wattle bushfire in early 2020.

Only weeks later, in February 2020, a 1-in-100 year flood event damaged buildings and dumped tonnes of sediment in the unique Blue Lake. 

The following month, the pandemic hit and all cave tours and visits were cancelled. 

Mr Toole said he was "really pleased" to see the caves reopen.

"This is important for tourism, it's important for the local economy, it's important for businesses in the local area," he said.


© ABC 2021

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