There’s an easy way to get to Goochs Crater in the Wollangambe Wilderness (which is within the Blue Mountains National Park)… and a harder way! We’re taking the longer route from Dargan on Chifley Road, partly for the challenge and partly as I’m not sure whether a 4WD is required to acces the more direct route. There’s no obvious starting point for the walk, but we find a side-road where it’s safe to park opposite Valley View Road. We then follow the Blue Mountains railway tracks for a short distance, before crossing the railway line and heading into the scrub.
There’s not really a track from here, with the route generally following the top of the the ridge. We should have continued along the 4WD track a bit further, but as it headed to a gate and private property, we veer north into the bush. Although we are a bit below the ridge, it’s easy walking with minimal undergrowth. There signs of the devasating 2019/2020 bushfires – but also lots of green re-growth.
As we reach the ridge, the views starting getting better: to the west is Newnes and the Newnes Plateau. Reflecting the morning light is an open cut face in the Clarence colliery, a thermal coal mine located 15km east of Lithgow.
It’s easy walking along the ridge, despite the lack of a bushwalking track, past a few sandstone pagodas. The first challenge comes at the 2.8km mark, when we descend to the Wollagambe River. We veer a bit too far east, ending up in a scrubby side-creek, before reaching the fast-flowing Wollagambe River.
One of the “wilder” rivers in NSW, the Wollagambe is a popular river for li-loing and canyoning. Originating in Clarence, only a few kilometres away, it’s still fairly tame here and easy to cross.
There’s another steep scramble back up to the ridge on the other side, but we manage to find a relatively straightforward route up.
It’s easy and pleasant walking again along the next ridge, and I make a small detour to one of the pagodas on the western side of the ridge. From the pagoda there is a view over the Wollangambe River, and in the distance you can see the Clarence colliery again. (As well as being a minor eyesore on the horizon, the colliery has caused pollution affecting the Wollangambe River on a number of occasions. The worst incident was in July 2015 where 2000 tonnes of reject coal overflowed from a holding cell; it resulted in a $1.05 million fine in the Land and Environment Court – the biggest one-off fine the EPA has procured through the court system. Wikipedia)
There’s a second descent as we get close to Goochs Crater, marked by a small cairn.
It’s a short but steep descent through a narrow gap in the cliff, past and under some towering pagodas.
At the bottom of the cliff the landscape is very different, with the rough bushwalking track meandering through ferns, past tall honeycomb-like pagodas…
…and under some large overhangs.
The track eventually reaches an enormous cave under a tall cliff, known as the “Camping Cave”, and often used by bushwalkers doing an overnight trip to Goochs Crater.
Although it’s hard to spot, there’s (at least) one red ochre handprint in the cave, which is an Aboriginal heritage site.
From the cave, there’s a couple of routes to Goochs Crater: we continue past the Camping Cave and scramble up a steep but wide gap between the vertical cliffs.
At the top we get our first view of Goochs Crater.
Named in memory of Nicholas Andrew Gooch who “discovered” this feature in 1978 (and officially gazetted as such by the Geographical Names Board in 2004), Goochs Crater is a natural amphitheatre. Ringed by deeply under-cut pagodas about 20-30m in height, the crater is about 105m long and 60m wide.
Surrounding the crater is dramatic landscape of tall pagodas, the conical rock formations formed by differential weathering and erosion of the local sandstone.
The other incredible sight is the large amounts of Pink Flannel Flowers (Actinotus forsythii, which means “bearing rays”, and refers to the petal-like bracts surrounding each flowerhead) that covered the top of the ridge around the crater. They only appear in the summer after a fire, with the seeds lying dormant for many years until the right conditions occur.
It’s a fairly easy descent into Goochs Crater. While it looks like soft green grass from above, it’s actually pretty swampy and you can only walk around the edges – after very heavy and sustained rain, the crater is known to fill with water and become a lake.
Around the crater are a series of low overhangs – most quite shallow and not really suitable for camping.
We continue to the far end of Goochs Crater, and then follow the cliffs around the southern end of the amphitheatre to another gap in the cliff line.
On the other side of the gap is the Camping Cave, completing our circuit of Goochs Crater!
We return roughly the same way, although on the return leg we are initially on the eastern side of the ridge, with views out towards the Wollangambe Wilderness.
On the descent to the Wollangambe River we also take a slightly different route. It’s amazing what difference 50m can make… we end up bashing through thick scrub as we make our way back down to the river, and are very relieved when we finally jump the last few feet from a fallen log into the water. (From here we had contemplated taking an different route back, following a tributary of the Wollangambe River up to Dargans Arch that was pioneered by Paul in his Mountains blog – but we decided after seeing how overgrown the creek was to continue back the same way!)
By comparson, the ascent up the other side is a walk in the park, and we soon reach the ridge that will take us back to Dargan and our car. We pick up a faint trail along the ridge, which seems to go directly over every pagoda along the ridge…
While it’s a bit harder work than the route we took on the way out (which was just below the pagodas), it has the advantage of providing some nice views of the ridge we’ve been following.
The faint trail we follow along the ridge turns into an overgrown firetrail, which ends up at the bottom of an old quarry yard. There wasn’t much sign of activity on the weekend, so we continued past some machinery that’s seen better days, before emerging onto Sandham Road.
We’re soon back at the car: it’s taken us just under five hours, with a bit of time spent exploring Goochs Crater. It’s pretty quick along the ridges, but the climb down to the Wollangambe River and back up was pretty slow-going. Definitely a walk I’d recommend, and while the route from Dumbano Fire Trail is much shorter, this way you probably won’t see anyone until you reach Goochs Crater.
0.0km Start near Sandham Road, Dargan 3.5km Wollangambe River crossing 5.1km Descent to Goochs Crater 5.6km Camping Cave (large overhang) 6.6km Goochs Crater 7.4km Camping Cave 9.4km Wollangambe River 12.9km Sandham Road, Dargan