Just about anywhere you go in the Mugii Murum-ban State Conservation Area is pretty amazing; this short walk covers just a few of the most popular features – the Valley Of The Dinosaurs, Ultimate Slot and the site of an old mine. The Mugii Murum-ban State Conservation Area “protects” significant pagoda landforms, slot canyons, endangered plants and birds and historical mining relics – but coal mining nearby and underneath the park threatens these features. Hopefully greater public awareness of this area will help provide some real protection from mining activities, which has caused extensive cracking and sinkholes. (As a state conservation area, mining and exploration activities are permitted within Mugii Murum-ban.)
The park is named after the Wiradjuri Elder Charley Riley, with mugii meaning ‘a mopoke owl’ and murum-ban meaning ‘eldest son’.
Like the adjoining Gardens of Stone National Park, there are almost no walking trails in the Mugii Murum-ban State Conservation Area: the Genowlan Mountain Trail provides a firetrail through the eastern of the park, and a starting point for almost limitless off-track walks. Andy and I are starting at the junction of the Genowlan Mountain Trail and Diamond Mine Trail – which is about as far as I feel comfortable taking my car – from where we continue on foot along the steep, unsealed trail.
A faint track to the left heads to a pagoda, and the first of the many spectacular views of the day. To the north are a number of the sandstone pagodas for which Mugii Murum-ban SCA is known, and the vertical walls of the Genowlan Point cliffs in the distance.
There are 360-degree views with more pagodas and interesting formations in every direction.
Genowlan Trig and Ultimate View
Before heading to the Valley of the Dinosaurs, we continue along the Genowlan Mountain Trail to the Genowlan Trig, which stands in the middle of a small clearing.
There’s no trail beyond the trig, but it’s easy walking down towards the end of Citadel Spur. We’re soon out of the casuarina forest, and into a series of pagodas, and rock platforms offering some great views.
At the end of the spur is a “most stupendous outlook”, which was given the informal name of Ultimate View in 2015 – but getting there requires traversing a series of pagodas and outcrops.
While not particularly difficult, it’s time-consuming navigating a route over (or between) the many sandstone outcrops – and our primary destination is the Valley of the Dinosaurs. So with the tall pagoda marking the end of Citadel Spur still some distance away, we decide to turn back.
It’s still well worth venturing down Citadel Spur; even without reaching the end of the spur there are some impressive views over the rugged landscape of the park and it’s more prominent landmarks.
Valley of the Dinosaurs
After backtracking to the trig point and a short distance down the Genowlan Mountain Trail, we veer off into the bush again towards the southern entrance to the Valley of the Dinosaurs (225368 6331905). The descent into the canyon starts fairly gradually, with the walls gradually getting more narrow.
Even before we reach the bottom of the Valley Of The Dinosaurs, there’s a tantalising view of the tall ferns and steep canyon walls below. The way in from the south is a bit more challenging that the entry/exit at the northern end, and the end of the increasingly steep descent is marked by a 1.5m drop. Some rope or tape is not essential – but it helps.
Once at the bottom of the canyon, it’s easy walking through low ferns (Blechnum sp) and much taller tree ferns. The Valley of the Dinosaurs (previously called Hidden Valley) was named by Bruce Mullaney, a bushwalker with the Central West Bushwalking Club, in 2001. The narrow and deep canyon forms part of the headwaters of Genowlan Creek.
Surprisingly, although there are some signs of previous bushwalkers, there isn’t a well-marked path through the undergrowth as we continue down the narrow canyon.
The canyon gradually widens as it approachs another canyon on the left – this is another Valley of the Dinosaurs entry/exit point, named by Yuri Bolotin as the Dinosaur Slot. The steep and vertical walls are replaced by spectacular sandstone formations.
One of the best views is looking back up the Valley of the Dinosaurs from where we’ve come, with one of the towering cliffs that’s in the middle of the canyon.
The lower part of the canyon is much wider and less canyon-like, but still picturesque with its towering cliffs and ferns. There’s also an obvious bushwalking track through this section.
There isn’t narrow or dramatic exit point at the northern end of Valley of the Dinosaurs, where the rough trail leaves the canyon (at 225416 6332552). From here we make our through the bush (there’s no obvious track) towards the Genowlan Mountain Trail.
It’s mostly pleasant and easy walking, with just a short, scrubby section as we cross Genowlan Creek.
Just before we reach the firetrail, we meet the track that leads to the Ultimate Slot. There’s an almost instant change in the landscape from coachwood and eucalypt trees to ferns, ands a drop in the temperature.
The Utimate Slot is soon visible – but it’s not yet obvious how remarkable this feature is.
It’s only as when you’re right in front of (or inside) the Ultimate Slot that its grandeur becoms apparent: the slot is 55m long and 80m in height, with the walls parallel all the way to the top. It is quite a remarkable sight.
You can also look down into the Ultimate Slot from the top, via a route off the Genowlan Mountain Trail. The route (there isn’t really a track) passes a mini-slot before entering a small clearing surrounded by pagodas.
Some easy scrambling through a narrow slot brings you to one of the chockstones that’s wedged into the top of the Ultimate Slot.
There are some nice pagoda views on the walk back to the Genowlan Mountain Trail.
Airly Diamond Mine
With plenty of time left, we head up the Diamond Mine Trail, to the site of an old mine that was run by Col Ribaux’s Airly Diamond Syndicate. The trail is in pretty good condition, and would be no problem for a 4WD – but it’s also a pleasant bushwalk.
Along the way are some remains of a steel hut, and what may have been some 200 feet of tunnels hand dug by Ribaux and his mining family.
At the end of the road are some more structures that now seem to be used by the NPWS, and a dam that provided water to sluice the quarried material from the mine. No evidence remains of the flying fox (“we hand hauled up 800 metres of steel cable to construct a flying fox”), but you can still see the opening to one of the old mining tunnels.
As well as the interesting mining history, there are some sweeping views: to the west is the the Capertee Valley, and to the south Pantoneys Crown.
Almost directly below is the Airly Gap Campground, which was the base of the flying fox when it was in operation.
We head back the same way after enjoying the view (stopping on the drive home at the Blackfellows Hands Cave). This is definitely an area I plan to come back to.
Getting to Valley of the Dinosaurs (and Ultimate Slot)
Many of the trails (including the Valley of the Dinosaurs and the Ultimate Slot) start from the Genowlan Mountain Trail. You can drive along the Genowlan Mountain Trail for about a kilometre beyond the junction with the Diamond Trail before the road becomes impassable, although a 4WD is highly recommended. This eliminates about 1 to 1.5km of walking up the fairly steep access trail.
The Genowlan Mountain Trail is off Glen Davis Road, 8.3km from the Castlereagh Highway. It’s not signposted and easy to miss – especially if your navigator is not paying attention 🙂 – so keep an eye on the map or distance from the highway. The carpark at the bottom of the Genowlan Mountain Trail is 54km (45min drive) from Lithgow and about 195km (2:45min) from Sydney.
- The Guardian – ‘It’s cracking’: fear rare rock formations at risk from NSW coalmine
- Airly Diamond Syndicate – Protection of Mt Airly – Media Releases
The book Mugii Murum-ban State Conservation Area: A Bushwalking Paradise (Michael Keats, Brian Fox and Yuri Boloton) has detailed track notes on 34 bushwalking routes, including Valley of the Dinosaurs and Ultimate Slot.