- Rail Trail
- On Road
- Possible Rail Trail
- Other Trail
- former Railway
A spectacular walk following the route of a former standard gauge private railway that served kerosene shale mines and refinery. The railway ran through two tunnels, the second of which (closer to Newnes) now has a large population of glow worms. The total distance from Newnes Junction and Newnes is 50km.
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.
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 35 km and are close to an hour’s drive on mostly gravel roads.
Warning: You will likely encounter many 4WD and trail bikes on these gravel roads.
In July 2020 these roads were in average condition and best traveled in a 4WD or car with reasonable clearance.
- Lithgow Zig Zag
- Glow Worm Tunnel
- Spectacular views of Wolgan Valley
- Clarence Railway Station
- Glow Worm Car Park
Clarence Station to Glow Worm Tunnel Rd (9 km)
From the Clarence Station site on Chifley Rd, Clarence, the unsealed Old Bells Line of Road travels to the right (northeast) around the station buildings.
Clarence Station is also the Zig-Zag Railway’s top station. Several buildings and some rolling stock can be viewed at the site, but the Zig-Zag Railway is still closed following two major bushfires. It is around 9 km from Clarence Station to the junction with State Mine Gully Rd/ Glow Worm Tunnel Road. Turn right at the junction to go to the Glow Worm Tunnel; the left turn goes to Lithgow as per the description below.
Lithgow to Glow Worm Tunnel Rd (6 km)
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 Atkinson St and State Mine Gully Rd to the interesting State Mine Heritage Park and Railway. Continue north on State Mine Gully Rd. The road will become gravel and after a short but very steep climb intersects Old Bells Line of Road and becomes Glow Worm Tunnel Rd. 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 Rd to Glow Worm Tunnel Car Park (27 km)
The intersection of State Mine Rd and Old Bells Line of Road is on a plateau at the top of the hill. From there it is 27 km and 40 minutes on gravel road to the Glow Worm Tunnel Car Park. Continue north on the main gravel road through State forest for about 8 km to a crossroads and Bungleboori Picnic Area. Continue straight through the crossroads; the main gravel road continues north-northeast.
At around 15 km past the crossroads and Bungleboori Picnic Area is Deane’s Siding, where there are some rusty pieces of old railway engines. Much of Glow Worm Tunnel Rd 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 it is running along the former railway. Deane’s Siding also marks the beginning of a long downhill section – bliss on a bike!
After around 8km you will reach Newnes No 1 Tunnel: beware of motor vehicles. Just past the tunnel the trail curves around and descends dramatically; the scenery here is spectacular. Continue downward to a car park for the Glow Worm Tunnel.
Glow Worm Tunnel Car Park to (and through) Glow Worm Tunnel (1.3 km)
From here all car access is banned and the National Parks and Wildlife Service does not allow bicycles. The trail is narrow and climbs around bridge washouts in places. This short section is the most popular part of the trail and there are dozens of people here on weekends.
The Glow Worm Tunnel is just over a kilometre from the carpark. Not surprisingly, it is very dark and a torch is needed as the tunnel floor is very eroded and uneven and has water flowing through it. DO NOT shine torches at the glow worms or touch them! When you are 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 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 250 m to the other side of the escarpment and magnificent views of Wolgan Valley. Most people return to the carpark via the same route from here, or from the end of the Tunnel, a round trip around 3km.
Glow Worm Tunnel to Newnes (11 km)
The rail trail continues along the edge of the escarpment; to your right is sheer rock face; to your left, continuing views of the valley. The odd sleeper is still visible but much of the railway heritage is gone. This is probably the best section to cycle; however, a number of bridges have been washed out (a problem experienced by the rail line during operation), necessitating some steep climbs around washouts. Bushfires in 2019 and 2020 burnt out many of the steps in the washouts and recent storms have caused tree falls and rock slides, so this section is likely to be slow and best on foot rather than ridden.
Eventually the rail trail comes to a crossroads with tracks to the left and right. Continue straight ahead to follow the Rail Trail to Newnes. The steep (downward) track to the left ends at Wolgan River (crossing is easy via a weir) and then reaches the main (good-quality dirt) road to Newnes. Turn right on this main road to go to Newnes (an easy 5 km on flat terrain), turn left to return (at one stage via a very steep hill) to Lithgow (about 40 km, partly dirt but bitumen from the start of the steep hill onward). 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 7.5 km, four-hour loop walk.
There is a large camping area surrounded by spectacular rock walls and some cabins at Newnes but the area does get very busy, especially in holiday periods and on long weekends. A sandy creek crossing on the road just before the campground may not be passable for 2WD vehicles. 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.
A small store at Newnes has basic snacks for sale. The owner is in residence and is there some of the time, but food and other supplies may not always be available.
It is worth continuing a short distance past Newnes town site to the ruins of the shale oil mining operation. The trail ends at the base of these ruins: interpretive signs have been set up to give visitors an appreciation 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 the good-quality dirt then bitumen road 40 km to Lithgow.
The former railway is now part of Wollemi National Park managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. Refer to the NWPS at the link below for more information
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)
Tunnel 1 (2009)
Some remains of the shale works
New walking bridge to replace rail bridge
Steps in the sandstone
We acknowledge the Dharug and Wiradjuri people, the traditional custodians of the land and waterways on which the rail trail is built.
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 skeptics by using standard gauge, making wagons compatible with the main line to Sydney.
The line was opened in Dec 1907, and was used for only 24 years before it closed in 1932. The railway branched off the main western line at Newnes Junction, between Bell Station and the disused Clarence Station, ascended to 1200 m before dropping down to Newnes (altitude 530 m) in the rugged Wolgan River Valley, all in 50 km.
The railway route descends through Penrose (now Tunnel) Gorge, passing through two tunnels and sharing a 6 m wide chasm with the creek, before emerging into the Wolgan Valley.