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Wolgan Valley Rail Trail - Trail Description

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Trail

Wolgan Valley Rail Trail

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Type: Rail trail
Location: Blue Mountains
Start/end: Glow worm tunnel to Newnes
Status: Open
Length open: 11km
Surface: Compacted earth
Terrain: Steep
Contact Region: Sydney & Blue Mountains
Looking over the Wolgan Valley just below the Glow Worm tunnel (2009)
Looking over the Wolgan Valley just below the Glow Worm tunnel (2009)
Suitable for walking Suitable for cycling mountain bikes
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Details

Features

A spectacular walk following the route of a former standard gauge private railway, which served kerosene shale mines and refinery. The railway branched off the main western line at Newnes Junction, between Bell Station and the disused Clarence Station, ascended to an altitude of 1200m before dropping down to Newnes (altitude 530m) in the rugged Wolgan River Valley, all in 50km. The railway passed through two tunnels, the second of which (closest to Newnes) now has a large population of glow worms.

Between Newnes Junction and the first tunnel the former railway is mostly a gravel road. Shortly after the first tunnel the road ends at a carpark and from here it is walking only through the glow worm tunnel down to the valley floor.

Description

There are two options to travel to the Glow Worm Tunnel Car Park and rail trail from the south – from Lithgow or from Clarence Station site. Both options are around 35km and are nearly an hour’s drive on mostly on gravel road.

You will likely encounter many 4WD and trail bikes on these gravel roads. In July 2020 these roads were in average condition and best travelled in a 4WD or car with reasonable clearance.

Clarence Station to Glow Worm Tunnel Road

From Clarence Station site on Chifley Road, Clarence, the dirt Old Bells Line of Road travels to the right (North East) around the Clarence Station site buildings. The Clarence Station site is also the Zig-Zag Railway top station. Several buildings and some rolling stock can be viewed at the site, but the Zig Zag (Tourist) Railway is still closed following two major bush fires. It is around 9km from Clarence Station to the junction with State Mine Gully Road / Glow Worm Tunnel Road. Turn right at the junction to go to the Glow Worm Tunnel (left goes to Lithgow as per the description below).

Lithgow to Glow Worm Tunnel Road

If riding or driving from Lithgow railway station, head out from the north side of the station, turn right and travel through Lithgow's suburbs on sealed Atkinson Street and State Mine Gully Road to the interesting State Mine Heritage Park and Railway. Continue in a northerly direction past this Heritage Park on State Mine Gully Road. The road will become gravel (and after a short but very steep climb intersects Old Bells Line of Road and becomes the Glow Worm Tunnel Road. As at July 2020 this steep section of road was in poor condition and best accessed by 4WD, especially heading north to the tunnels in wet weather.

Glow Worm Tunnel Road to Glow Worm Tunnel Car Park

The intersection of State Mine Road and Old Bells Line of Road is on a plateau Aat the top of the hill. From there the road is fairly flat/undulating. It is approximately 27km and 40 minutes on gravel road from this junction to the Glow Worm Tunnel Car Park. Continue on the main gravel road in a northerly direction through state forest for about 7km-8km, until you will reach a crossroads and the Bungleboori Picnic Area. Continue straight through the crossroads; the main gravel road continues to travel in a north-north-east direction through state forest.

At approx. 10km-15km past the crossroads/Bungleboori Picnic Area is Deane's Siding, where there are some rusty pieces of old railway engines. Much of Glow Worm Tunnel Road is on or close to the old railway alignment, but it is here where the rail-trail proper begins. The road is still a gravel road but it is now obvious that is it running along the former railway. Deane's Siding also marks the beginning of a long downward section - bliss on a bike!

After a long downhill ride (approx. 5km-8km), you reach Newnes No. 1 Tunnel (beware of cars !!); just past the tunnel the rail trail curves around and descends dramatically; the scenery here is spectacular. Continue downward and eventually you reach a car park for the Glow Worm Tunnel. 

Glow Worm Tunnel Car Park to Newnes

From here all car access is banned and the National Parks and Wildlife Service state bikes are not allowed. The rail trail proper is narrow and uneven with climbs around bridge washouts.

A km or so on, the Glow Worm Tunnel is reached. Not surprisingly, it is very dark (thus the glow worms) and a torch is needed as the tunnel floor is very eroded and has water flowing through it. Don't shine torches on the glow worms or touch them!!. When in the middle of the tunnel, turn off your torch and take in the great show from the glow worms.
At the other end of the tunnel is a moist, Jurassic Park-type world of ferns, palm trees and deep gullies. Remains of a railway bridge over a stream are visible. Continue through the deep cutting (much of the way is thick with vegetation and water, for about 250m or so through to the other side of the escarpment. There the view, of the Wolgan Valley, is magnificent. Most people will return to the carpark via the same route from here, or even from the end of the Tunnel, a round trip on foot of around 3km.

The rail trail continues along the edge of the escarpment; to your right is sheer rock face; to your left, continuing views of the beautiful valley. The odd sleeper is still visible but much of the railway heritage is gone, and a number of bridges have been totally washed out (a problem experienced by the rail line), necessitating some steep climbs around bridge washouts.

Eventually the rail trail comes to a crossroads with a track to the left and right. Continue straight ahead to follow the Rail Trail to Newnes. The steep (downwards) track to the left ends up at the Wolgan River (crossing is easy via a weir) and then hits the main (good-quality dirt) road to Newnes. Turn right on this main road to go to Newnes (an easy 5km on flat terrain), turn left to return go (at one stage via a very steep hill) to Lithgow (about 40km, partly dirt but bitumen from the start of the steep hill onwards). The track to the right is the Old Coach Road which returns to the trail between the Glow Worm Tunnel and the carpark and makes for a good 7.5km, 4 hour loop walk.

Newnes

There is a large camping area and some cabins at Newnes but the area does get very busy, especially in holiday periods and on long weekends. At the other end of the price scale, Emirates ‘One & Only Wolgan Valley‘ is on the road back toward Lithgow. (Otherwise there are many hotels in Lithgow or in the western Blue Mountains towns and surrounds.)

There is a store (an unlicensed pub) at Newnes; however it is only open on weekends and has no beer! Some supplies are available but it's best not to rely on this establishment.

It is well worth continuing on a short distance past Newnes town site to the ruins of the shale oil mining operation. The Rail Trail ends at the base of the ruins. A creek crossing on the road is required so best not for standard road vehicles. Interpretive signs have been set up to help give visitors an appreiciation of what was once an enormous enterprise in a very remote location.

Return via the same rail trail track (more difficult, as it is almost all uphill) or via (as mentioned above) the good-quality dirt then bitumen 40km road to Lithgow.

The former railway is now part of the Wollemi National park managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. Refer to the NWPS at the link below for more information

Background Information

Following the discovery of kerosene shale at Newnes, attention turned to how the processed products could be economically transported to markets. As the Wolgan Valley is hemmed in by sandstone cliffs, this was not easy.

Engineer Henry Deane not only did it, but surprised the sceptics by using standard gauge, thus making the wagons compatible with the main line to Sydney.

The railway route descends through Penrose (now Tunnel) Gorge, passing through two tunnels and sharing a 6m (20') wide chasm with the creek, before emerging into the Wolgan Valley.

Links

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service - Wollemi National Park

Glow Worm Tunnel Walking Track

 

More Details of the Glow Worm Tunnels and the Trail

History of the Wolgan Valley Railway

Zig Zag Railway

November 2020

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Contact Us About This Trail

Email or click here: nsw@railtrails.org.au.

Photos

Comments

Comments

1 comment

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01 April , 2016 by cascho

I explored this trail yesterday (31/3/16) and firstly I found it the hardest trail to get reach. The trail is interesting but hard for anyone but walkers, an experience mountain bike rider should be able to handle it, but I had to walk my bike a lot. The tunnels are great, but bring a proper torch, as a mobile won’t be good enough. The glow worms are worth it.

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