Wombeyan Karst Conservation Reserve boasts some of NSW’s most impressive show caves, including Figtree Cave, widely regarded as one of the state’s best self-
The reserve is an easy drive from Sydney, Canberra and Wollongong, so it’s a great place to escape to on a weekend getaway. You can bring your caravan, tent or motor home to camp out overnight or you can book into one of the cabins or the cosy Post Office Cottage. You might find you have some visitors to the campground; the kangaroos can be quite inquisitive.
Extra cave tours are scheduled for most public holidays and can be booked at the time of your visit.
Distance & direction from Sydney: 179 Klms W SW
Wombeyan Caves Road, Wombeyan Caves
The Wombeyan Caves area was known to local Aboriginal people long before colonisation. Many of the show caves and visitor facilities today have names that are adaptations of local Aboriginal words. For example, Wombeyan means "grassy valley between mountains".
The first official report of the existence of caves at Wombeyan was recorded by the Surveyor General of New South Wales, John Oxley in 1828. Oxley had been appointed to lead an expedition to search for grazing land for John MacArthur, the pioneer of the Australian wool industry. After five days travel on horseback from Berrima, the party reached the Wombeyan valley and set up camp near an archway (now known as Victoria Arch). During the night their horses strayed into the arch where they were found the next morning.
There is little record of the early history of Wombeyan Caves; indeed some records appear to be a little conflicting. A clergyman by the name of Denning provided the first official entry into the dark sections of the caves in 1842. The Reverend J S Hassall (1902) described his excursion to the caves around the same year. He was part of group of seven which travelled from Camden and visited "The Church" (Victoria Arch).
In 1865 a section of land (650 acres) was set aside for the protection of the caves and a caretaker, Charles Nicholas Chalker, was appointed. Charles Chalker is credited with many of the early cave discoveries and the improvements to allow safe visitation. Records from 1887 indicate that 152 people visited the caves during that year, a interesting contrast to the 35,000 annual visitors of today. The popularity of Wombeyan Caves has steadily increased since these early visits.
One description of a trip to Wombeyan Caves in 1893 tells of a journey that took about twelve hours from Goulburn. The approach roads to the caves were very rough and winding in the early years with the final descent into the valley undertaken on horseback or foot. The western approach from Goulburn was finally completed in 1890, allowing coach travel into the Wombeyan valley. The road from Mittagong was completed circa 1900 and winds its way through some spectacular sandstone country.
Construction of a guesthouse commenced in 1889 and was completed with the addition of new extensions in 1900. Unfortunately the house burned down in 1934, the fire destroying most of the documented history of the area to that time.
From as early as 1865 with the appointment of the first official guide, the caves at Wombeyan were shown to visitors by candle light and magnesium flares. At that time four of the main show caves had been explored; Wollondilly, Fig Tree, Mulwaree and Kooringa caves. The Mulwaree Cave was the first of the upper level caves to be opened for public inspection. It was later closed, but reopened for inspection in 1962. The Kooringa, another upper level cave, was opened in 1875, and the Wollondilly Cave in 1885. The Junction Cave was discovered by Thomas Michael Chalker in 1897 and sections of it opened to the public by 1906.
The Figtree System, first entered by Reverend Denning in 1842, was opened to the public in the 1870s until its closure in 1928; the cave was not used again until 1968. Its re-
The caves were first lit by electricity in 1928, the power supplied by diesel generators until 1962/63, when the Department of Tourism rewired and modernised the lighting. There have been major lighting upgrades in recent years.
In 1915 it was noted that white sacchoroidal marble occurred at Wombeyan in enormous quantities and in 1941 a lease was granted to mine the marble on the western reaches of the reserve. Mining continued under different leases until 1997, when the operations ceased due to environmental concerns for the well-
Aside from the show caves, many enhancements to the reserve have taken place for the comfort and convenience of Wombeyan's visitors. A caretaker's cottage and post office were erected in 1939, kiosk in 1954, tennis courts in 1956 and weatherboard amenities blocks constructed in 1960 to provide for campers and day-
Visitors to the reserve will notice a sharp contrast between the natural eucalypt bushland surrounding the area and the varied exotic tree species that have been planted on Wombeyan flats since 1948.