I’ve been seeing a few references to Devils Hole, so I jumped at the opportunity to join Bob (and Gary) for a loop walk that explores this area. Our bushwalk starts with the Cliff Track (also called the Bonnie Doon Trail) at the end of Stuarts Road in Katoomba; we follow this for about 800m before a small cairn marks a side-track to the first of many lookouts on today’s walk.
It’s only about 100m from the Cliff Track to Therabalut Lookout, which provides some great views toward the Megalong Valley.
Once back on the Cliff Track, we drop into a verdant valley and cross Megalong Creek – it’s a very nice section of the walk!
On the opposite side of Megalong Creek, another short side-trip brings us to Norths Lookout – which offers more views over the Megalong Valley – as well as into Nellies Glen.
From Norths Lookout we’re only a couple of hundred metres from the junction with the Six Foot Track, which descends into Nellies Glen. This section is also known as the Nellies Glen Road.
The track descends through Nellies Glen, which was likely to have been a route used by indigenous people to get from the Megalong Valley up to the top of the ridge. As the coal and kerosene shale mining industry was established in the 1870s, Nellies Glen provided one of the the safest routes up to the railway and the western road. The glen is said to be named after one of the daughters of John Britty North, who owned one of the mining companies. The name “Nellies Glen” was used from about 1880 (the photo below was captioned around 1880), and before that it was referred to as the “Megalong Cleft”.
It’s a very pleasant walk down through the glen, which was originally built in a zig-zag fashion to lessen the grade, before the trail was largely destroyed. The Blue Mountains City Council attempted to construct a firetrail down the Glen in the 1960s, which was soon washed away. The current track was re-established in 1984-5 by the Orange Lands Office to celebrate the track’s 100th birthday, with hundreds of well-made steps.
It’s another beautiful section of track, with cliffs and trees towering above the narrow cleft, providing a sense of seclusion and remoteness.
This is a narrow chasm in the great sandstone wall, which is so remarkable a feature in the Blue Mountain scenery. It is quite practicable for travellers on foot, through steep and slushy, from the constant trickling of water from its head and sides, and almost filled with magnificent tree and other ferns, which thrive luxuriantly in the constant shade and damp. Halfway down the steep incline the musical sound of falling water is heard, and a cascade of some 30 ft. in height is seen on the left.W.M. Cooper, Track from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves, 1885
The “sound of falling water” is Bonnie Doon Falls (or Ethel Falls), which drops off the cliffs above Nellies Glen. It’s a waterfall I’ve barely noticed on past walks through Nellies Glen, but today we leave the track to explore the base of the falls.
From the falls, it’s not too much further to Nellies Glen, near the bottom of the valley.
The vegetation quickly changes to more open forest as the valley widens, and through gaps in the trees you can see and Boar Head Rock and Cahills Lookout perched on the edge off the cliffs above.
There’s just under two kilometres of easy and pleasant walking along the firetrail, before reaching the junction with the Water Board Road, which provided access to Rennies Tunnel and Dicksons Ladders (which have been partly removed).
Near this junction was a sizeable but short-lived mining settlement which included a large hotel, butcher, bakery and a public hall. The settlement was established in the early 1890s, and abandoned by 1903 with the demise of the shale mining industy.
After just under one kilometre, the Devils Hole Track veers off; a small cairn marks the start of the trail.
The Devils Hole Track initially ascends quite gently, dipping briefly to cross Devils Hole Creek – and it’s fairly easy to follow.
As the track ascends, the vegetation changes into semi-rainforest.
It also gets progressively steeper as is climbs the valley.
At the base of the the cliffs, the terrain starts getting more open and rocky, and the route a little less obvious.
Bob suggests a small detour at this point: instead of continuing up to the top of the cliffs via Devils Hole, we head to the base of the cliffs to the south. A rough track drops initially to cross Devils Hole Creek, which drops off the clipps just above us to form a small (unnamed) waterfall.
The track soon reaches the base of the tall cliffs, which are at the start of Narrow Neck, a long and isolated peninsula.
The scenery gets more dramatic as we continue along the wide ledge, through some enormous overhangs.
Through the trees are filtered views of the Megalong Valley.
We continue as far as the Water Board Ladders, which go all the way to the top of Narrow Neck. The original timber ladders were built in the 1890s by Bill Dickson in association with John Britty North, and called the Dicksons Ladders. They provided access between Katoomba and the Glen Shale Mine in the Megalong Valley via the Narrow Neck Plateau, before being mostly removed in 1923.
New steel ladders were installed in mid-1964 as a result of the Fish River Water Supply Scheme, an ambitious engineering project which supplies water from a dam in Oberon to areas east of the Great Dividing Range. At Narrow Neck the pipeline withstands a head of 560 metres of water at its lowest point; “at the time, and possibly still, the greatest pressure in any water supply pipeline in Australia.”
The ladders were closed and partly dismantled in July 1999, although the unofficial additional of some ropes at the top and bottom means its still possible to utilise this almost vertical route from the top of Narrow Neck to the bottom.
Almost directly below us is some more fascinating Blue Mountains history: the western entrance to the Mount Rennies Tunnel. Connecting the Jamison Valley and Megalong Valley, Rennies Tunnel runs under Narrow Neck Plateau, and is accessed via the Devils Hole Track and the Federal Pass on the other side of Narrow Neck. Excavated in the 1890s, the 400m-long tunnel was used to transport oil shale from the Glen Shale Mine in the Megalong Valley to what is now the Scenic Railway, for haulage up the cliff face and out to the railway siding at West Katoomba. The tunnel is about 3 metres wide and about 1.2-1.4m high for most of its length – just large enough for the double-track tramway.
We re-trace our steps to the Devils Hole Track after a break for lunch in one of the large overhangs, and head up towards Devils Hole. The hole – or gap in the cliffs – is visible above us from some distance away.
The effort of the steep climb is offset by the incredible scenery: it feels like a primordial world, with towering Coachwood trees, ferns and deep overhangs… it wouldn’t be at all surprising if a velociraptor popped out from behind a moss-covered boulder. (I figure I’d better try and walk a bit faster than Bob, just in case…)
We’re soon in the Devils Hole, a narrow gap in the cliffs, which has a large boulder wedged near the top.
The Devils Hole Track continues up through the gap in the cliff, as it heads towards the top of the escarpment.
Just after we emerge from the gap, Bob leads us down a faint walking pad that leads to a spectacular lookout: I’ll call it Devils Hole Lookout (it doesn’t appear to have an official name). From a rock outcrop there’s a great view of Narrow Neck, with Mount Solitary behind it, and the Megalong Valley.
It’s just a short stretch now before the Devils Hole Track reaches Cliff Drive.
Gary leaves us here to return directly to the station; as it’s only about 1pm, I continue with Bob to explore some of the cliff-top lookouts as we gradually make our way back to the starting point of the Devils Hole Loop walk. The first lookout is a bit of a hidden gem – Devils Eye Arch gets it’s name from an “eye” or window in the pagoda-like rock formation.
The next lookout along Cliff Drive is Boars Head, a popular climbing area and a great lookout that offers sweeping views over Narrow Neck, Mount Solitary and the Megalong Valley.
Last is Cahills Lookout – arguably the best lookout based on the views it offers, but my least favourite as – unlike the last few that we had to ourselves – this is a popular one with hordes of people. Paved tracks and multiple fenced lookout platform provide a great outlook over the Megalong Valley, and across to Boars Head.
It’s been an awesome walk, combining some of the best lookouts around Katoomba with beautiful sections of track through rainforest, and fascinating history from the coal-mining days of the Blue Mountains.
Getting to the Devils Hole Track
Devils Hole can be done as an “out and back” bushwalk- the signposted Devils Hole Track starts on Cliff Drive in Katoomba near the intersection of Narrow Neck Road, and the first kilometre is the most dramatic. To do a loop, combine Devils Loop with Nellies Glen (Six Foot Track & Cliff Track) which starts/finishes either at the Explorers Tree on the Great Western Highway, or Stuarts Roads (off Narrow Neck Road). If using public transport, it’s 2.4km to the Cliff Track or Six Foot Track and 3.4km to the Devils Hole Track.