Tim and his crew explored the marble structures of Wombeyan Caves on a chill weekend out of Sydney. Only 3 and a half hours from the big smoke you can enter otherwordly subterranean caverns and forget life on the surface.


Highlights

  • Explore incredible marble caves just below the surface
  • Swimming in a limestone gorge
  • Chill camping under towering acacias
  • No reception

Wombeyan Caves At Easter – A Complication

‘Guys, nothing’s gonna be open but servos tomorrow. Is anyone home who can save our asses?’

I lobbed this verbal, chocolate-coated hand-grenade into the group chat dead on 9.00pm the night before our trip. I then slid my phone into my pocket as These New South Whales began their set and pizza gurgled in my stomach. Was it my last meal for the weekend?

But Mitch and Aido managed to squeeze a shop in and at the leisurely hour of 10.30am the next day we hitched up the trailer, piled into the Jackaroo and hit the road south for the long weekend.

By early arvo we were onto the Wombeyan Caves road, passing beneath the iconic rock arch, peering down the embankment at the valley below and becoming well-acquainted with corrugations. The road in is a bit of a slog, but it’s in great condition for a dirt road so hatchbacks should have no trouble.

Exploring Wombeyan Caves // A Spelunkin’ Marbleous Weekend (NSW), photo by Tim Ashelford, wombeyan caves road, 4wd, camper trailer, nsw

Canyonerooo! – Photo by Aidan Howes

Or anyone for that matter. As we pulled in to Wombeyan Caves campground we confronted the horde. A sea of Easter campers as far as the eye could see. I made some joke along the lines of ‘Welcome To Wombeyan Festival’ but the laughter died in our throats as the ranger literally gave us wristbands and a young girl shot past on one of those wheeled hovercraft thingos. Had we made a massive mistake?

Thankfully, we got a spot up the back of the campground that was actually pretty protected. Firewood: burning. Hammock: strung. Snags: sizzling. How’s the serenity?

Exploring Wombeyan Caves // A Spelunkin’ Marbleous Weekend (NSW), photo by Tim Ashelford, slacklining, camping, easter, nsw

Aidan slackin’ off on a Friday, what’s new?

Fig Tree Cave

Wombeyan Caves in the Wombeyan Karst Conservation Reserve has been under protection since 1865 and features an elaborate series of marble caves. The region is part of the traditional lands of the Gundungurra People and ‘wombeyan’ itself translates to ‘grassy valley between mountains’. Guess that’s the campsite then – though it’s thought that the Gundungurra people would have used the reliable shelter of the caves.

The park also protects a bunch of species including the Eastern bentwing-bat, wombats, lyrebirds and eastern whipbirds.

Exploring Wombeyan Caves // A Spelunkin’ Marbleous Weekend (NSW), photo by Tim Ashelford, fig tree cave, nsw

Fig Tree Cave’s entrance is token operated.

Fig Tree Cave is the only one you can explore without a guide and it costs about $20 (you can combine this fee with one of the guided tours to increase your dollar/cave ratio, nice). It’s totally worth the money. Once you slide your token into the door and enter the cave you unlock another world.

The cave is a series of massive caverns, full of intriguing, ancient formations that manage to flow before your eyes. I was spellbound, struggling to keep up with my crew as they moved through, reading the signs and listening to the ocker voiceover defining stalactites.

Exploring Wombeyan Caves // A Spelunkin’ Marbleous Weekend (NSW), photo by Tim Ashelford, fig tree cave, nsw

Formations of interest are lit up, you don’t even need to bring a headtorch.

Eventually the cave opens out into Victoria Arch. It’s the big daddy cavern with a roof over 20 metres above and a dry creek bed below the pathway. There are two major openings and we talked about the kinds of incredible photos you could take if you lined up the sun just right.

Exploring Wombeyan Caves // A Spelunkin’ Marbleous Weekend (NSW), photo by Tim Ashelford, Victoria Arch, fig tree cave, nsw

Victoria Arch – apparently there are no records of observed rockfall, not one!

Wollondilly Cave

We were pretty amped for the Wollondilly cave tour after Fig Tree Cave, even moreso after a rousing introduction by Tommy Wiseau-esque guide John Mango. Seriously, the bloke was full throttle with roleplay, accents, fake accidents and rambling, borderline incoherent asides that always ended with ‘Ha, nah, that’s just crazy Mango talk.’

Exploring Wombeyan Caves // A Spelunkin’ Marbleous Weekend (NSW), photo by Tim Ashelford, john flippin' mango, npws, tour, wollondilly cave, nsw

Mango in the flesh.

Despite a tour group of 41, we were all spellbound by Mango as he discussed ‘the crys-tals’, the way water seeped through the marble to continually grow the cave formations, and occasionally, the under-funding of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Exploring Wombeyan Caves // A Spelunkin’ Marbleous Weekend (NSW), photo by Tim Ashelford, wollondilly cave, crystals, nsw

Crystal formations in Wollondilly Cave.

While this form of spelunking is as tame as speleology gets, there were still a few tight squeezes as we descended 80 metres below the surface. Despite being only a few hundred metres from Fig Tree Cave, Wollondilly Cave seemed completely different, and we found ourselves wishing we could see them all.

Exploring Wombeyan Caves // A Spelunkin’ Marbleous Weekend (NSW), photo by Tim Ashelford, wollondilly cave, tour, ladder, nsw

Wollondilly Cave descended a chilly 80m below the surface.

As we left the cave, John Mango was already striding over to his next tour group. Godspeed my friend. Godspeed.

Mares Creek Forest Walk and Tinted Cave

Only 3km from the main campsite (and less from the caves) is the limestone gorge, sometimes known as Wombeyan gorge. Somehow, on a saturday afternoon, on the busiest camping weekend of the year, we had the place to ourselves!

Then we dove into the frigid water. Ooft, I could barely feel my fingertips.

Hot tip: time your visit with midday.

We were all set to power back to the campsite for a campfire, campfire-cooked garlic bread and campfire…beers, when I discovered the entrance to Tinted Cave.

Exploring Wombeyan Caves // A Spelunkin’ Marbleous Weekend (NSW), photo by Tim Ashelford, tinted cave, limestone gorge, wombeyan gorge, nsw

The view from Tinted Cave into Wombeyan Gorge.

It’s the only cave you can explore for free, with two push button lights and only a few features, but it has one insane highlight. A natural balcony that opens out on the side of the gorge wall, nearly 30 metres up. A worthy detour.

Wombeyan Waterfall Walking Track

The next morning consisted of slacklining, double decker hammocking and a sunlit yoga class led by Maggie in full view of all the bogan campers on site. Is my aura showing?

Exploring Wombeyan Caves // A Spelunkin’ Marbleous Weekend (NSW), photo by Tim Ashelford, camping, hammocks, nsw

‘If we hang enough hammocks they won’t be able to see our grubby camp kitchen!’

By lunchtime we were itchy again, so we decided to do one last bushwalk. The 4km Wombeyan Waterfall walking track is a relaxed, rolling track through a gorgeous, fern-adorned valley. Thanks to the drought the falls weren’t running, but the towering rocks were pretty beautiful nonetheless and the alternate return route took us past an old quarry that gave us an insight into how marble was mined in the region.

Exploring Wombeyan Caves // A Spelunkin’ Marbleous Weekend (NSW), photo by Tim Ashelford, Wombeyan waterfall, nsw

Wombeyan Falls feat. Frog Men

Somewhat ambitiously, we decided on Ribs & Burgers back in Sydney for dinner, but by the time we reached Mittagong we’d ‘caved’ and were chowing down on burritos at Zambrero. Well deserved burr-eats mind you, we were spelunked.

Essential Gear

  • Your car camping setup
  • Headtorch
  • Swimmers
  • Esky full of refreshing beverages
  • Slackline
  • Firewood
  • Hammock
  • Frisbee

Wombeyan Caves campground has flushing toilets, showers, coin-operated BBQs and even cabins available. Unpowered sites are $24 for 2 adults, and $12 for each additional adult.

How To Get There

From Mittagong – Take the Old Hume Highway, then turn off onto Wombeyan Caves Road. It’s about 60km of winding road, much of it bumpy (but manageable in a 2WD). If you think you’ve hit the campsite and there’s heaps of water around then you’re probably at Wollondilly River Station, keep going!

From Goulburn – Drive north along Taralga until taking a right onto Wombeyan Caves Road (north of Taralga). This route is under 2 hours from Canberra!

Activities

  • Spelunking (exploring the caves)
  • Wild swimming
  • Hiking
  • Trail running
  • Whatever else you bring with you!

Skill Level

Beginner – There were young kids on our cave tour and the hikes are pretty easy.

Distance / Time Taken

Mares Forest Creek walking track – 3.2km return / 1 hour

Wombeyan Waterfall walking track – 4km loop / 1.5 hours