Although it can be done as a long day-trip from Sydney, our visit to the Glow Worm Tunnel was part of an overnight camping trip, staying at the Newnes Campground by the Wolgan River.
The weather forecast was mixed, with the threat of rain as we left Sydney. Our first stop en-route to the campground was Hassans Wall Lookout, near Lithgow. The highest lookout in the Blue Mountains at approximately 1,100m above sea level, Hassans Wall Lookout is accessed by a well-maintained dirt road. It’s worth a brief detour for the fantastic views over the western edge of the Blue Mountains and Kanangra Walls to the south. The impending storm made the landscape and cliffs even more dramatic!
About an hour later we arrived at the Newnes Campground, which has 80 free sites in the national park. Just before the camping ground we pass the historic Newnes Hotel, the last surviving building from the mining era. Its liquor licence having been revoked in the late 1980s, it now operates as a kiosk.
A little further on and across the Wolgan River is the free National Parks camp site – it’s been described as accessible by 4WD only, but with the water level fairly low we had no problems crossing in our 2WD vehicle. It’s a great campground partly surrounded by sheer cliffs and can get very busy in peak times (long weekend or the January school holidays). On our February getaway weekend it was not too busy and we had a choice of camping spots, despite arriving fairly late in the day. (Despite being by the Wolgan River, no drinking water is available.)
So far, so good… until a torrential storm arrived and with our tents still to be set-up, we decided to beat a hasty retreat to a motel in Lithgow. Or something with a solid roof! Which would have been a good plan… until discovering one of our two vehicles wouldn’t start. It takes quite a long time for road assistance to reach Newnes… by the time the car was started (flat battery), the rain had stopped and the skies cleared! So, we unpack the tents (and marshmallows) and enjoy a clear, starry night by our small campfire.
The next morning, after a slow start, we drive back down Wolgan Road about 6.5km to the start of the walking track to the Glow Worm Tunnel. This the long way to the Glow Worm Tunnel, as we discover after seeing the sign at the start of the track stating that it’s 4.5km one-way. We debate whether to continue, as we have three young kids with us: there is a much shorter track from the other side of the tunnel – but it would be a long drive from Newnes. (You can also walk all the way from Newnes to the Glow Worm Tunnel along a track that follows the old railway formation, which adds another 2.5km.)
We decide to give it a go, crossing the Wolgan River on a concrete ford (this initial section is accessed through private property) and heading up the dirt road towards the cliffs ahead of us.
The track climbs fairly steeply for the first kilometre, as we question the sanity of our decision…
Eventually the Glow Worm Tunnel track joins the old Newnes railway formation (also known as the Wolgan Valley Railway) which was opened in 1907 and ran 51km from the main Blue Mountains railway line to Newnes). It carried passengers as well as goods to and from the Newnes Kerosene Shale Works mine. Decommissioned and dismantled in 1940, there’s now little evidence of the old rail line remaining. From here the track is fairly level, with occasional views over the Wolgan Valley below.
As we near the entrance to the Glow Worm Tunnel, we pass by some sheer cliffs, which suggest some of the challenges that must have been overcome to build the railway.
A little further and the track goes from a fairly dry, eucalyptus landscape to a grotto bordered by hundreds of ferns. The creek was dammed here to provide water for the locomotives, and it’s one of the nicest sections of the walk.
At the other side of the grotto, after 4.5km of walking, is the entrance to the Glow Worm Tunnel: a small hole in the 200m high cliffs that tower above us.
The Second Tunnel, 1320 ft in length, curves to the north-west, its centre thus becoming as dark as Egypt’s night, the only illumination being afforded by points of cold light given out by myriads of tiny glow-worms clinging to the wet and clammy surface of the rock walls. Emerging from the darkness of the tunnel the line passed beneath the shelter of a huge cave formed by an overhanging rock shelf, water dripping from above in all directions and ferns are massed in great clusters. [The Shale Railways of N.S.W., Eardley & Stephens, Australian Railway Historical Society.]
With head torches on, we enter the Glow Worm Tunnel. The ground is wet and slippery with water flowing down the middle, but by walking on either side you can avoid getting wet feet! As the 400m tunnel curves round, it gets quickly dark… and thousands of glow worms can be seen lining the walls and floors of the tunnel. It’s a magical sight, not really done justice by photos.
(The glow worms, or larvae of insects belonging to the Order Diptera, emit a blue glow or bioluminescence from a reaction between body products and oxygen in the enlarged tips of the insect’s four excretory tubes.)
Having walked to the far end of the Glow Worm Tunnel, now we just need to walk the 4.5km back to the car… (It is also possible to continue through the Glow Worm Tunneland along the Pagoda Track and Old Coach Road to make this a circular walk.)
Two routes to the Glow Worm Tunnel
Access from the bottom (long walk) – as described above
Newnes is situated at the end of Wolgan Road, accessed via a turn-off from the Castlereagh Highway. (Head west from Lithgow for about 11km to a junction leading to Mudgee, then right onto the Castlereagh Highway; from here it’s another 5min until you reach Wolgan Road on your right).
Access from the top (shorter walk) – refer Glow Worm Tunnel via Pagoda Track
Leave the Bells Line of Road at Clarence (Zig Zag Railway), and follow the gravel road through Newnes State Forest for 34km.
- Park at the Glow Worm Tunnel parking area (1km each way) located 3km past the junction of the Glow Worm Tunnel Road and the Old Coach Road
- Continue down Old Coach Road to the carpark (3km each way). This is what we did. Note: if using Google Maps, the carpark is not marked, but is at the intersection of Old Coach Road and the Tigersnake Canyon Track (-33.246764, 150.236225)
Staying near the Glow Tunnel
You can camp at the National Parks (NPWS) Newnes Campground, which has 80 campsites. It is free other than a small booking fee, and you need to book online. Near the campground is Newnes Hotel Cabins, which has four cabins accommodating between four and nine people each.
Further afield, the nearest major town is Lithgow, which has a number of motels and budget accommodation. There are also many cottages and cabins around the area – Visit NSW Lithgow Accommodation has a range of options.