Looking over the Wolgan Valley just below the Glow Worm tunnel (2009)
In the lush rainforest at the Newnes end of the Glow Worm tunnel. (2009)
At the Newnes station site with the escarpment towering all around (2009)
A spectacular walk following the route of a former standard gauge private railway, which served kerosene shale mines. The railway branched off the main western line at Newnes Junction, near Lithgow, 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. 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.
Newnes Junction to Glow Worm Tunnel Car Park
From Newnes Junction to Deanes Siding the former alignment is undeveloped or inaccessible.
If riding or driving from Lithgow railway station, head out from the north side of the station, turn right and cycle via bitumen road through Lithgow's suburbs to the State Mine Heritage Park and Railway. Continue in a northerly direction past this Heritage Park and you will eventually hit a good gravel road (and a short but very steep climb); this is known as Glow Worm Tunnel Road.
At the top of the hill you reach a plateau; from there it is fairly flat/undulating and you continue on the good gravel road through state forest for about 7km-8km, until you will reach a crossroads and the Bungleboori Picnic Area. Continue straight through the crossroads; the good-quality gravel road continues to travel in a north-north-east direction through state forest. At approx. 10km-15km or so past the crossroads/Bungleboori Picnic Area is Deane's Siding, where there are some rusty pieces of old railway engines. It is here where the rail-trail proper begins; the road is still a good quality 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. 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, necessitating clambering over rocks. Eventually, the rail trail comes to a crossroads with a track to the left and right. 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 to go to Newnes (an easy 5km on flat terrain), left to return (at one stage via a very steep hill) to Lithgow (about 40km, partly dirt but bitumen from the start of the steep hill onwards). At this stage it is not adviseable to go right and continue on the rail trail due to the odd bridge washout and more overgrown vegetation.
There is ample camping and some cabins at Newnes but the store (an unlicensed pub) is only open on weekends and has no beer! Some supplies are available but it's best not to rely on this establishment. It also has some cabins to rent. It is well worth continuing on past Newnes to the ruins of the shale oil mining operation. A creek crossing is required so not for standard road vehicles. Intepretive signs have been set up to help give visitors an appreication of what was once an enormouse enterprise in a very remote location. Return via the same rail trail track (more difficult, as it is almost all uphill) or, better, 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
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 (2o') wide chasm with the creek, before emerging into the Wolgan Valley.