A long day-trip or overnight camping 2-3 hours out of Sydney, with the “star attraction” being an abandoned rail tunnel full of glow worms
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 and accessed by a well-maintained dirt road, it offers fantastic views over the western edge of the Blue Mountains and further onto Kanangra Walls to the south. The impending storm made the landscape and cliffs even more dramatic! Although the views weren’t as great.
About an hour later we arrived at the Newnes Campground, where there are rustic cabins available for rent, some paid sites and 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 Its liquor licence having been revoked in the late 1980s, it now operates as a kiosk.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 the 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 tunnel, as we discover seeing the sign at the start of the track stating it’s 4.5km one-way. We debate whether to continue having three young kids with us: there is much shorter track from the other side of the tunnel – but it would be a long drive from where we are. (You can also walk all the way from Newnes along a track that follows the old railway formation, adding another 2.5km.)
We decide to give it a go, crossing the Wolgan River on a concrete ford (this initial section is accessed by private property owners) 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 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 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 water.
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 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 tunnel, now we just need to walk the 4.5km back to the car… (It is also possible to continue through the tunnel and along the Pagoda Track and Old Coach Road to make this a circular walk.)
|Location||Access from the bottom (long walk) – as described above
Newnes is situated at the end of Wolgan Road, accessed via a turnoff 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). From the Newnes campground it’s a 7km walk/drive along Wolgan Road. Google Maps reference.
Access from the top (short walk)
|Distance||9km return as walked (3km return from the other side of tunnel)|
|Season/s||All year round|
|Maps||89314S Ben Bullen (walk is well sign-posted)|
|Resources||Detailed information about Newnes|