About 40km out of Lithgow, New South Wales you will find Newnes. Situated at the end of a dusty dirt road it is signposted as ‘The place that money can’t buy’. Coincidentally, it is 9km further down the road from the 5 star Emirates resort which is certainly a place that some serious money did buy. So for a place in such close proximity, it will be good to test this claim over a few days hammock camping.
Arriving into Newnes late in the day there is a hive of activity, mostly coming from the Kangaroos hopping about the place as dusk begins to set in. Curiously there was a rare albino Wallaroo, which are two words I never thought I would use in a sentence. We also spotted a dishevelled balding wombat poking around as we reached the Olde Worlde Newnes Hotel.
The Newnes Hotel has a long history, none of which will be explored here. But it will be stated that the Newnes Hotel had the setting fitting for hosting a series of horror films set in Texas featuring a chainsaw wielding maniac! With some old bones scattered on the porch and faded couch, plus an eerie, not ridden with in 20 years, rocking horse adding to the effect.
All this though we’d discover in depth later. For now it was off to pick a location for camp for the night. Newnes campground has a large clearing set beneath a bowl of sheer sandstone cliffs. And, a river runs through it. Wolgan river to be precise. A low but quickly flowing stream winding through the valley.
A few campers were dotted around the clearing near the designated fire pits. We did a few laps before picking a location on the edge of the clearing just outside a perimeter fence. This meant a short 100m walk to haul the gear from the car. The reward was seclusion and a shaded spot amongst the trees. These same trees were of course intended to suspend our beds for the nights ahead.
As normal, it wasn’t long before a set of suitable trees to suspend two hammocks was found. Plus, as we had a tent goer in tow, a tent was erected nearby for us to look down on from our lofty hammock heights. Soon enough a campfire was lit and dinner on the go. A few cold beverages to wash it down and despite dodging smoke as the wind changed, it was a very pleasant evening.
About 3am a possum, determined I was encroaching on his territory, growled a guttural groan in disagreement. Well I did have a hammock tied around his front door! Other than that, and the distant hopping of kangaroos, it was an uneventful night suspended below the stars with not a whisper of wind or rain to disturb us. This time with hammock fly nets pegged to the ground gave a more protected cover from the elements and a good tip for future stormy hammock camping expeditions.
Next day, after a cool early morning, where the sleeping bags came in handy (in February!) we cooked breakfast and planned the day ahead. First up, a hike up Mystery Mountain. Mystery Mountain was one of the cliffs overlooking the campground. Crossing the Wolgan river from the Newnes Hotel we turned left towards the old rail platform for a few metres before seeing the cairn that marked the trail head to the summit.
Following the white markers on the rocks it was relatively clear the path to the top. Querying how the record summit was achieved in 14 minutes! An hour and a bit later we were glad to be at the top enjoying the views. Climbing the extra rocky outcrops to get an uninterrupted 270 degree view of Wolgan Valley. Lunch on top before making our way back down.
A tricky descent although it wasn’t long till we were back in the 4WD. Now we decided to look further into the hotel. Mostly due to the promise of ice-creams. However, the Hotel was on the other side of creepy. Looking to savour one of the publicised ice creams after our climb, arriving at the counter we could only hear the feint sounds of snoring.
Eventually we awakened the elderly owner, who had trouble making an audible noise. The somewhat stale ice creams hit the spot however. Checking out some of the history of the hotel, we moved through to a separate room entitled ‘the museum’ an old piano in the corner of the room added to the spine tingling. Half expecting it to start playing on its own. We were then distracted by the owner walking past carrying a water pistol aimed at the ready!
Quickly looking for the exit we continued back up the road along the river until we found a decent swimming spot. Well as it was mostly less then knee deep it was a simple soak rather than swim that we enjoyed. Cool and refreshing with the swift current rushing over our limbs and cooling us thoroughly. Deciding while chilling that we have time to check out the main attraction of the area the Glow worm tunnel.
Deciding against the 10km one way option we drove to the 8km return option, questioning why the former option even exists. At first it was a steep climb turning into a meandering trail. The trail followed what was once a rail line carrying shale oil. A large cavernous tunnel had been built to let trains pass through the mountain. Long since being used, it now houses some worms with a knack for bioluminescence. And, despite not seeing anyone all day, we now ran into the obligatory Japanese tourists! Entering the tunnel it wasn’t long before the glow worms made their presence known. Lighting the way, well not quite, but like under a sky full of stars. Quite remarkable.
Down we go for a 6pm beer o’clock call. We cook up our dinner and chat around the campfire before retiring to the hammocks. The possum having moved on to another tree for the evening having succumb to our presence for tonight at least.
In the morning while preparing breakfast some fellow campers walk past carrying a 2m diamond python. It is at this point I am glad for being suspended above the forest floor for the evening!
So here ends a very pleasant stay in Wolgan Valley at Newnes. Something I will remember as long as the nightmares Newnes Hotel will bring. As for the statement ‘The place that money can’t buy’ let’s just say that we didn’t need to pay to stay at Newnes campground. So in that sense it’s true and a truly unique location.