Never fear, your dreams of doing some authentically outdoorsy things in Sydney (things that don’t directly involve wine) are about to come true.
We're talking caves—and not the rave kind. New South Wales is a state rich with caves to explore and many, luckily enough, are close enough to Sydney so you can easily knock them out over your weekend.
Keep in mind, some of these caves may be temporarily closed due to COVID-19 restrictions and bushfire damage, so check the NSW National Parks website for closures and alerts before you go.
Got your map? Your hat? Your headlight? A keen sense of adventure? Then here are the 10 best caves near Sydney.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first, shall we? Everyone knows the Jenolan Caves. You may have gone there on a family trip, school trip or cheeky getaway at some point, in which case you’ll know exactly why they’re so flippin’ popular. It’s like another world under here, with glowing waters and seemingly never-ending caverns of wonder. If you haven’t gone, go. If you have, go again. Next.
Mares Forest National Park
Stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, cave coral, breathtaking caverns and even underwater lakes—Wombeyan Caves has it all. The reserve takes in a number of different caves and cave systems, including but not limited to Wollondilly Cave, Junction Cave, Fig Tree Cave and, last but not least, Dennings Labyrinth (which is every bit as adventurous as it sounds). Some caves are only accessible as part of a tour, and some tours are currently on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions. Check here for more info.
Mutawintji National Park
This ancient site near Broken Hill is an absolute dream to visit. This cave is full of First Nations rock art and holds enormous cultural significance. It’s where Malyankapa and Pandjikali people performed initiations, rainmaking and other important ceremonies. This rocky overhang will completely blow your mind come sunset.
Kanning Cave is living proof that good things come to those that are patient and explore. The best part of this Kincumber cave requires you crawling through another part of the cave. It’s not an easy crawl, either, so only do it if you’re brave and curious. If you’re not (no shame in that), simply bask in the glory of the walk and enjoy cave numero uno.
Royal National Park
Filled with stalagmites and stalactites, this wondrous place is only about two hours from inner Sydney. We won’t spoil things too much, but let’s just say if you like waterfalls, you’re going to love it here. Was that subtle enough?
One super important thing to know about Lake Macquarie’s Caves Beach is that its caves are only accessible at low tide. So, unless you want to get yourself in a tricky situation like Kate Hudson in that very average movie she did about treasure hunting, make sure you play it safe and check the tides. This place is amazing, but it’s pretty much neverending, so be sure to go in with a friend and have a clear plan of attack. Once you’ve got that covered, the world is your oyster. Or cave.
Glow Worm Tunnel
Wollemi National Park
Two words: glow worms. Close to Lithgow, the Glow Worm Tunnel is an easy and favourite adventure among many. You can access this one via the aptly named Glow Worm Tunnel Track (which will take you around one to two hours return) and this one is completely dark inside so—bring a big torch. The tunnel spans about 400-metres and is home to thousands of glow worms that glow blue when there's no light.
Kosciuszko National Park
There are six epic limestone caves here that you can explore and they're open all year round. These stunning grottos are millions of years in the making. You can choose between some guided tours (to get all the know-how) or explore the likes of the South Glory Cave (the largest in the area) on your own.
Red Hands Cave
Ku-ring-gai National Park
This one is great for those that don’t have the time to be driving to the Blue Mountains, it will take you just under an hour to get there from inner Sydney. The walk is about 45 minutes if you don’t stop to look at things a lot, but you will, so add on at least half an hour. This magical cave is adorned with Aboriginal rock art, most notably ochre handprints, thought to have been painted between 500 and 1600 years ago. If you have the time, we highly recommend continuing on with the Aboriginal Heritage walk, an extra 4km, afterward.
Brisbane Water national park
Full disclosure, this is less of an Aladdin-style cave of wonder and more of an incredibly enormous cave-like overhang situation that will shelter you from rain and falling leaves and maybe even your enemies if they’re lurking up top. You can camp here, too, so dust off your sleeping bag and brush up on your fireside stories.
Keen to keep exploring? Here are the most beautiful lighthouses in NSW.
Image credit: Destination NSW, Vladimir Haltakov and Nicole Jerry