Wollemi National Park and Surrounds
Story and Images by Lachlan MacDonald
Only a short drive from Wiruna, the Wollemi National Park offers visitors to Wiruna a truly unique experience, and one which will leave lasting memories. Spanning an area covering over 493,594 hectares, over 200,000 hectares has been declared a protected Wilderness Area, and is the largest Wilderness Area in the State.
Wollemi National Park is bordered by the Blue Mountains National Park, Yengo National Park, the Goulburn River National Park, Pantoney's Crown Nature Reserve and the Gardens of Stone National Park. It is also home to a number of State Forests including amongst others, the Newnes State Forest, Coricudgy State Forest, Nullo Mountain State Forest, Putty State Forest and the Bylong State Forest. The National Park has limited access due to its wilderness areas and rugged terrain, but visitors to the accessible areas are highly rewarded by the tranquiliity and remoteness one feels while taking in the stunning views of rocky sandstone pagoda formations, dense mountain rainforests, spectacular cliffs and deep canyons and gorges.
The Wollemi Pine
In August 1994, the Wollemi Pine was discovered in a deep gorge within the Wollemi National Park. Thought to have been extinct for over 100 million years, this living fossil, or dinosaur tree as some may call it, the closest relatives of wollemia nobilis (Araucariaceae family) are fossils from the early Cretaceous and Tertiary periods.
In the Jurassic period, 150 million years ago, similar features have been found on some fossils, which may suggest that the Wollemi Pine is older than we first thought.
The survival of these trees depends on their extreme isolation, and their exact location has been strictly limited to a small number of scientists and National Parks rangers. The Royal Botanic Gardens are currently undertaking detailed studies and propogation of this rare species.
The Wollemi Pine grows to a height of over 35 metres and can have a trunk as thick as one metre. The leaves vary from a bright lime green when young to yellow-green as they mature. Its bark is particularly unusual, looking very much like bubbling chocolate or Coco Pops, and is quite different from the bark of other related species.
The Pines are only found in three gorges, deep within the Wollemi National Park and, to the surprise of scientists, all the specimens found to date display the same DNA, without any notable variation in the genetic makeup - a unique feature not found anywhere else in nature!
An abundance of beautiful native Australian fauna can be found in the Wollemi National Park, including the rare and elusive brush-tailed rock wallaby, koalas, black cockatoos, platypus, echidnas, and a number of snakes including the beautifully-marked Broad Headed Snake.
Bushwalking, Rock-climbing, canyoning, canoeing, liloing and photography are the main attractions in the region, with quite a number of spots which are well worth the drive.
The Capertee Valley
The most well-known part of the Wollemi National Park for visitors to Wiruna is the Capertee Valley. The best vantage point for this is Pearson's Lookout on the northern side of the Castlereagh Highway, and from here as you can see in this photo taken early morning, showing the valley filled with fog, the Capertee Valley gives a uniquely breathtaking view of Red Rocks (the escarpments running along the right-hand side), Mt. Canobla, the twin-peaked mountain just to the right of centre and Mt. Gundangaroo behind and to the left of that.
Access to the Wollemi National Park from this region is via Newnes, Glen Davis or Rylstone/Kandos. However, for access to other parts thorugh private property, permission must be obtained from all relevant land owners prior to any expeditions into this area.
By far the most popular destination for visitors to the Wollemi National Park, Dunn's Swamp is a pristine and tranquil waterway formed by the trapped water from Kandos Weir, established in the 1920's when the Cudgegong River was dammed to provide water for the nearby Kandos cement works.
About 25km east of Rylstone on the Cudgegong River, Dunn's Swamp is the ideal destination for either a short day trip or for an overnight camping adventure, and provides great opportunities for swimming, canoeing, liloing, boating, bushwalking, photography and fishing. Golden Perch, catfish and blackfish (slipperies) can be caught (in accordance with NSW Fisheries regulations), however fish netting is not permitted. Small power boats may be used, but may only travel at a maximum speed of 4 knots (8 km/h) throughout the entire length of the waterway.
The picnic area at Dunn's Swamp includes a short walking track which is wheelchair accessible, and it leads around interesting rock formations and Aboriginal art sites featuring hand stencils which are believed to be over 7,000 years old.
Platypus, possums, eastern grey kangaroos, red-necked wallabies, wombats and a large number of different species of birds can be found here, and this really can be considered a nature-lover's absolute paradise. The vegetation varies from heath and open woodland areas to spectacular sandstone pagoda formations, offering unforgettable views of the Wollemi National Park.
The Glow Worm Tunnel
Another popular destination within the Wollemi National Park is the Glow Worm Tunnel near the former oil-shale mining town of Newnes. The railway line opened in late 1906, however the last regular train ran during the 1930s. The line was closed and mostly dismantled in 1940, following the transfer of the oil-shale operations from Newnes to the nearby town of Glen Davis.
The Glow Worm Tunnel is one of two abandoned tunnels on the old Wolgan Valley Railway, the first being part of the road into the parking area, accessible from Lithgow, and the second, around 400m (1,320') long, being the Glow Worm Tunnel itself. The tunnel curves through the rocky hillside, to such an extent that when standing in the middle of the tunnel, you cannot see the light from either end. A small creek runs through the tunnel, and it is in this dark, cool and moist environment that the Glow Worms thrive.
Glow Worms (Arachnocampa richardsae) are the larvae of insects belonging to the order Diptera - Flies; these flies are known as Fungus Gnats, and usually live for around four days.
The Glow Worms live on the walls and roof of the tunnel where they spin hanging silk snares studded with sticky droplets to trap small insects such as mosquitoes, which are attracted by the glowing luminescence produced by these Glow Worms, which live for around 12 days.
The blue glow of the larvae, known as bioluminescence, is the result of a controlled reaction between body chemicals and oxygen in the enlarged tips of the insect's four excretory tubes.
The Glow Worms only reach a length of about 30mm, and are very sensitive to even the slightest disturbances in their habitat, such as noise, lights, touching, breathing and smoke fumes. Smoking is not permitted inside the Tunnel or anywhere near either entrance.
As you walk through the "Lost World" of Tree Ferns, Cycads and tall, slender gums, you enter a deep, black hole in the side of the mountain, and then seem to be mysteriously transported into an alternate/parallel universe, unrecognisable to any astronomer, as the constellations of "stars" (Glow Worms) are all different to what Earthlings have come to know and love. Upon emerging from the far end of the tunnel, you find yourself on the other side of the mountain which has a completely different ecosystem.
Access to the Tunnel from Lithgow is via Inch Street, then left into Atkinson Street. Continue along this road past interesting rock formations and along to the Newnes Plateau, following the signs to the Glow Worm Tunnel. Limited parking is available at the end of the road.
From the parking area, walk through the vehicle barrier and along the old railway line. From here it is only a 20 - 30 minute easy walk to the tunnel. Once through the tunnel, you can either re-trace your steps back to the car park, or you can continue through the Glow Worm Tunnel, following the Wolgan Valley Railway to Newnes. This walk is around 11km. A shorter return walk is the loop through the Glow Worm Tunnel, then along the Wolgan Valley Railway, passing directly beneath some spectacular sandstone cliff faces. Follow this track as far as The Junction and return via the Old Coach Road and Pagoda Track. This route is around 7½km.
Alternative access is via the abandoned mining town of Newnes. Park alongside the Newnes Road, walk over a water ford, and follow the old Wolgan Valley Railway line up the side of the mountain to the mouth of the Glow Worm Tunnel. This walk takes around 1½ hrs each way. Either return the way you came, or loop through the tunnel and back along the Old Coach Road and Pagoda Track - a very rewarding walk indeed.
Alternatively, you could walk from Newnes, follow the Old Coach Road and the Pagoda track to the Glow Worm Tunnel, and then come back along the Wolgan Valley Railway line.
The Glow Worm Tunnel walk is a truly unique and spectacular experience, and is guaranteed to impress.
Fern Tree Gully
Although not actually located within the boundaries of the Wollemi National Park, this feature is one of the more spectacular areas in the region surrounding the Wollemi National Park. The road into the parking area can be found about 20km North of Rylstone on the Bylong Road, about 4km past Bald Rock, on the right hand side. The narrow road winds its way through densely forested surroundings, to a small car parking area and picnic area. The road into the parking area is mainly compacted sand, but even in rain your chances of getting bogged are minimal.
The Picnic area provides limited parking, a picnic table, double fireplace/barbecue, and a pit toilet. Drinking water is not provided, and visitors are recommended to bring their own drinking water.
The walk into Fern Tree Gully consists of a slight downhill scuffle at first, which takes you through a small narrow canyon, only a metre wide in some spots, and then comes out into the gully area itself, surrounded by dense vines and thick timbers. There is an elevated walking track taking you through the majority of the gully, however this ends after a little while, taking you across the forest floor, and eventually up again, towards a spectacular lookout. The walk back to the car park from this lookout is a totally different surrounding, as you make your way through dense low scrub with tall eucalypts making their way through the low canopy.
The Northern Wollemi
The Northern reaches of the Wollemi National Park also offer stunning panoramic views. From the Widden Valley, you will find easily accessible spectacular views of sandstone ridges and escarpments. Bordering the Goulburn River Natonal Park on its northern edge, The Wollemi National Park has many private farming blocks studded along its edges.
There is not a great deal for the average visitor to do in this region, as most of the Park boundaries are behind private property, and as such, are relatively inaccessible. The Goulburn River National Park however, does have some nice spots with easy access, including a lovely little river crossing over the Goulburn River. This is a wonderful spot for swimming, liloing over small rapids, or just relaxing. To get there, head north from Rylstone, turn left at Bylong for Mudgee and, after a few kilometres, turn right onto a dirt road which takes you down to the River crossing.
Heading south from Baerami, the northernmost tip of the Wollemi, the Baerami Creek oil-shale relics can be found. This important historic site features machinery and other relics from the oil-shale mining venture in the early 1900's. The rare and elusive brush-tailed rock wallaby has been seen in this area, as well as a number of other Australian native animals.