DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
There are plenty of 4WD tracks in the NSW Blue Mountains region. We’ve picked out some of the highlights.
The NSW Blue Mountains area has been a holiday makers’ paradise for more than a century. The first city-based visitors came by train to guest houses and hotels, and these venues are still very popular. However, 4WD enthusiasts love to camp away from the established resorts.
Note that this is an alpine area that can be bitterly cold in winter and snow and ice-covered roads aren’t uncommon.
The drive into Newnes, in Wollemi National Park, starts on Route 86, the road that connects Lithgow and Mudgee. The turnoff is signposted at the hamlet of Lidsdale. The road is narrow bitumen as far as the spectacular Wolgan Gap.
Just south of the Wolgan Gap lookout is a sign-posted turnoff to the right, leading to the politically incorrect Blackfellows Hand Trail. This trail can be followed all the way through to Bungleboori, but there’s no through way to Newnes on the road north from Bungleboori.
Blackfellows Hand Cave is a short distance along this track and is a steep walk from the car parking area. Sadly, many of the hand paintings have deteriorated through weathering and vandalism, but it’s still worth the short side track from the road to Newnes.
From Wolgan Gap the Newnes road drops steeply down to the Wolgan Valley. It used to be more fun when it was slippery clay, but today’s bitumen surface has obvious safety advantages.
The road is good quality bitumen from the base of the climb to a point only nine kilometres from the campground at Newnes. From there it’s an easy corrugated-dirt run into the Newnes campsite, where there is ample space, except during school holidays and on long weekends.
The old Newnes Hotel is still standing, but has been moved from its former site to an uphill location on the other side of the road. It’s a museum as well and is being restored. Three holiday cabins help pay for the restoration job.
You can drive across the shallow crossing at Capertee Creek and travel part of the way towards the shale oil mine ruins, and there are additional riverside camp spots on this road. From the locked gate it’s a walk to the ruins.
There is no through road at Newnes, so it’s a matter of retracing your tracks back to Route 86 when your visit is over.
You can break the drive with a stop at Koopartoo, for a three-kilometre stroll up to one of the old railway tunnels – now populated by glow worms.
The shale oil mine site has been civilised and there’s now a marked walking track through the ruins, with explanatory signs at significant points.
If you’re into bushwalking you can camp at Newnes and walk the Pipeline Track to Glen Davis. The less aerobically advantaged can retrace their tyre tracks to Route 86 and drive out to Glen Davis via Capertee.
You can get fuel and supplies at Lithgow, Wallerawang, Cullen Bullen, Ben Bullen and Capertee. There’s designated camping at Newnes and in lakeside areas at Lake Lyell and Wallerawang
Lithgow Information Centre 1300 760 276 is a useful number.
Shale oil mining
Shale oil mining at Newnes started in a small way in 1873 as a kerosene extraction busines run by Campbell Mitchell. A larger-scale operation was in place by 1903 and in 1905 the Commonwealth Oil Corporation Ltd was formed.
Products coming from Newnes included lubricating oil, paraffin, kerosene, naptha, candles, coke and ammonium sulphate.
People and products came and went on a railway spur that connected Newnes with Newnes Junction – a construction feat of some note.
Production ceased in 1911, because of low commodity prices and the high operating costs of outdated technology.
The Great War of 1914-1918 spurred a reopening of the mine works and the addition of new equipment, but even that couldn’t keep the operation viable beyond 1922. The newfangled electric light system in towns and cities saw a drop in demand for kerosene and candles.
Glen Davis was the site of the next shale oil mining venture, in 1937. Some of the Newnes equipment was transported over a mountain track – today’s Pipeline Walking Track. The railway link to Newnes Junction was abandoned and pipes were laid along its length.
The Glen Davis operation had no more financial success than the Newnes plant, but World War II ensured the short-term future of the works. Although production was limited, supply was more secure than that of imported products coming to Australia along dangerous sea routes.
Today, both Newnes and Glen Davis are fascinating ruins.
Gardens of Stone
Pagoda rock formations are prominent features of the 15,230-hectare Gardens of Stone National Park. The Park preserves terrain that ranges from 400-million-year-old limestone outcrops to sandstone escarpments.
Erosion has carved the sandstone escarpment edges into fantastic bee-hive domes and weird shapes.
Stunted banksias and she-oaks grow among the wind-carved stone outcrops, giving parts of the Park a garden-like appearance.
The Park was a created in 1994 and was absorbed into the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area in 2000.
The Gardens of Stone National Park is interesting in itself, but the bonus is its location close to other great destinations, such as the Zig-Zag Railway, Newnes, Jenolan Caves and Kanangra Walls.
The drive through Gardens of Stone National Park is easy for the most part, but there’s a particularly steep, eroded and rocky section
only 2km beyond the Baal Bone Gap car park.
It’s possible to drive a softroader as far as this climb, at the 13km mark, then retrace tyre tracks to the Park’s northern entrance. Vehicles with low range and high ground clearance can continue.
The Park entrance is just south of the Route 86 dogleg over the railway line at the deserted railway station of Ben Bullen, north of Cullen Bullen.
The track passes pastoral property entrances, then climbs steeply and is signposted Moffit Trail. There are lookouts at the 3.5km and 4.6km marks.
The first climb ends at the 5km mark and the track plunges steeply downwards to a shallow creek crossing. Swampy areas like this one flood after heavy rain.
A left turn leads to the Baal Bone Gap parking area, with its spectacular views. The track ahead is a locked-gate service trail so our drive returns to
the Moffit Trail intersection and goes straight ahead.
The terrain changes dramatically at the 12km mark, with the track running between massive rocky cliffs on either side, flanked by massive trees and ferns.
The very steep, rocky climb out of this beautiful valley is a low-range job, but there’s turn-around space for retreating softroaders.
Signs warning of mine subsidence appear on the right and continue for 3km. The track runs along a ridgetop, with typical, stunted sandstone escarpment flora.
At the 14km mark there’s a spectacular lookout to the east.
The track ends at a T-intersection with a sealed road from where a right turn leads to the Castlereagh Highway intersection at the 28km mark.
It is possible to access the Gardens of Stone from the top of Wolgan Gap, driving on part of the Bicentennial National Trail, but the first section, opposite Blackfellows Hand Cave Track, is very steep and badly eroded. It’s not for the fainthearted, even with diff locks and high ground clearance.
Camping, bush walking, cave exploring and bird watching are popular pursuits in the Gardens of Stone National Park. There are long and short bush walks from Baal Bone Gap that are marked on an information board at this site.
Camping is permitted inside the Park, provided sites are positioned 200 metres from the road. No fires are allowed, however, so fuel stoves are essential. It’s not permitted to clear the area around a stove.
Cave visits require permits that can be obtained from NPWS Blackheath.
Designated camp sites are at Newnes, Lake Lyell, Wallerawang and Bungleboori
NPWS Blackheath (02)4787 8877 is a useful number.