Earlier this year I spent a few days exploring the Blue Mountains with my friend from Germany, Inga. One particular place we visited was an abandoned oil shale mining town called Newnes, just north of Lithgow on the far western end of the mountains and only accessible via a long & bumpy gravel road. You can read more about Newnes at an article I wrote for WeekendNotes, but altogether it turned out to be a very interesting step backward into regional NSW of yesteryear.

I’d been aware of the existence of a Glow Worm Tunnel not too far from Newnes in the Wollemi National Park and we were hoping to pay it a visit the next day. Although located within a close proximity of the historic town, the road access meant that we would have to travel back to Lithgow before embarking on another 40km of gravel to get there. We would have done it, but by next morning an unfortunate gathering of rain & fog hindered our plans and so we opted to head back to Sydney instead.

Ever since then I’ve been intrigued by this mysterious attraction. I’d read that the tunnel was carved out of the mountain in the first decade of the 1900’s in order to service Newnes by train, but the railway was dismantled and tunnel abandoned upon the ceasing of mining operations in 1932. The damp, dark conditions of the now-deserted passage proved optimal for the colonisation of a glow worm community, and to this day the larvae remain on the rocky walls emitting faint green bioluminescence in the hope of attracting a mate.

Last weekend I embarked once more upon the pleasant autumnal drive along the Great Western Highway to finally witness the glow worm tunnel for myself. After stopping briefly at Lithgow to pick up a torch and some purple carrots to munch on (I’ve never seen purple carrots for sale at any Sydney supermarket!) I continued up through the town and followed the signs to the dirt track that led to the famous tunnel. The initial few kilometres of the trail were quite demanding on my little Hyundai Accent but it soon smoothed out and I found myself sharing the route with scores of motorcyclists out for a Sunday spin.

The drive was simply spectacular. The landscape around me transformed from one of rocky outcrops & gorges, to a semi-open plain and then into dense scrub all within the space of half an hour. The most climactic part of the journey occurred not too far from the carpark where the road led me directly through the first of two tunnels constructed for the railway. It really is something else to drive through the heart of a railway tunnel with no sign of the entrance behind you or the exit in front. It was also quite the challenge to be greeted by a car travelling the opposite direction halfway through the one-lane shaft, leading me to demonstrate some pretty intense reversing skills while navigating my way back to the entrance to allow him to pass.

It took a little under an hour to reach the end of the track, where I parked alongside the 15 or so other cars who had also made the voyage. From there it was an easy but gorgeous bushwalk to the southern opening of the glow worm tunnel that I’d come all this way to see:


Glow Worm Tunnel 01
The monumental but also slightly daunting entrance to the 400m long glow worm tunnel


Glow Worm Tunnel 02
An informative sign just outside the opening of the tunnel


Glow Worm Tunnel 03
Looking back upon the southern opening after a short walk in


The walkway through the tunnel is rugged with small pockets of flowing water weaving its way along the curvature, and without a torch you’d reach pitch blackness within a matter of a few dozen metres. To see the glow worms they say you should find a spot about half-way through, turn your torch off and allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness for a few minutes. Sure enough, before too long I started to notice the walls flicker with the faint radiance of the so-called “fungus gnat”. It was truly a sight to behold.

After walking the whole 400m through to the other side, I spent a fair amount of time on my return journey in the darkness (albeit the occasional flash of a passing couple’s torch) just taking in the brilliance of the glow worms. The longer I spent hidden away in the shadows the more I noticed the insects all around – on the walls next to me, the ceiling above me, behind me and in front of me, akin to the shimmering constellational paradise of an outback twilight.


Glow Worm Tunnel 04
My first sight of the glow worms!


Glow Worm Tunnel 05
Electro- vs bio-luminescence


Glow Worm Tunnel 06
Looking out toward the northern opening of the tunnel


Glow Worm Tunnel 07
An interesting Cyrillic N-like formation near the tunnel’s southern entrance


Glow Worm Tunnel 08
The eeriness of the car emerging from the first of the railway tunnels on the way back to Lithgow


This was not the first time I’d witnessed glow worms in a similar habitat – a number of years ago I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the colony residing at Natural Bridge in the Gold Coast hinterland. But there was something even more remarkable about the Newnes glow worm tunnel: I felt enriched by its unique combination of historic human excavation and the natural phenomenon of the fiery insect larvae.

If you’re interested in visiting the glow worm tunnel you can find a wealth of information in the Newnes Discovery Trail Information Sheet available at the Lithgow Visitor Information Centre website.

It was well worth the 6-hour return day trip from Sydney. Even if the weather turns out miserable like the fateful day I was there with Inga, do yourself a favour and go anyway!

I love the Blue Mountains!

On a previous visit quite some time ago, I noticed a sign not far from the bottom of the world’s steepest railway that pointed toward a mysterious location known as the “Ruined Castle.”

I decided that I had to return one day to visit this seemingly dilapidated fortress. After some investigation, I found that it was not a castle as such, but a rock formation at the top of a hill which, if climbed, offers stunning 360° views from the cliffs of Katoomba all the way to Mt Solitary.

After a failed attempt two weeks ago due to poor weather, I headed back once again last weekend and successfully embarked upon the nearly-7km trek to the Ruined Castle summit. It was, quite frankly, a freakin’ incredible hike. I tried by best to capture some of this Blue Mountains beauty on camera:


A glimmer of sunlight through the rainforest along the Federal Pass walking track


Nature at work: I don't think the bird made it through alive


One of the Ruined Castle pillars in the foreground, with a view of the valley below


After about 2.5 hours of moderately graded bushwalking and a slightly hairy but manageable experience on the upward rockface, I reached the breathtaking Ruined Castle summit. This is what I was lucky enough to witness:


You can click on the photo for a larger view, or alternatively click here for a 360° panoramic tour (opens in a new window).

Whilst I was taking in my surroundings, a sneaky crow took advantage of the fact that I was far from my backpack, which I’d left on a rock about 20 metres below. He managed to pull out most of my jacket but eventually gave up after realising the food was too securely packed for him to get to. Then he flew up to the rocky summit, landed a metre away from me in the shade, looked me right in the eye and made these incredible hooting noises (similar to an owl) which I’d never heard come from the beak of a crow before. I’d love to know what he way trying to say to me.

The hungry/friendly/inquisitive crow

Some alien-like flora growing between rocks

On my return journey, I paused for a few moments to take in the atmosphere near a section of Federal Pass known as the ‘Landslide.’ I noticed a faint sound in the distance akin to splashing water, and after a short detour through the bush up to the cliff face that looked upon me, I discovered a waterfall.

The source at the top wasn’t large enough to expel a constant stream of water – instead, thousands of droplets sprinkled in wind-shaped clusters to the ground some 40 metres below. I stood still with my camera and watched from a safe distance. It felt like I was in a dream, with my own personal waterfall before me, the rainforest below, the cliff face & the open skies above, and not another single soul around for miles. Frozen in this state of surreality, the unpredictable breeze caught me off guard and showered my camera and I with a sudden deluge.

After only having taken a handful of snaps of my newly-discovered fountain, I was left with a soaked outfit in the already-shivering climate… not to mention a non-functioning Canon…

A slightly surreal impression of the rain-like droplets falling from the reservoir above


(fortunately it turned back on again after drying out for an hour, and I’m pleased to report, remains completely functional :))


After my awesome afternoon of exploration, I fully recommend anyone visiting the Blue Mountains who is chasing more of an adventure than the easily-accessible attractions such as Scenic World and the Three Sisters, to check out the Ruined Castle. There’s a fantastic guide at OZultimate.com with further details on the walk and what to expect.

Just try not to wet your camera along the way!

I went for a drive up to the Blue Mountains today and on the way home I noticed a signpost near the small town of Glenbrook pointing to an historical attraction called Lennox Bridge. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to take a detour and see what it was all about.

Turns out it was the first stone bridge ever built in Australia, and the oldest bridge on the mainland still in existence today!

Designed by David Lennox in 1832, it was constructed by convicts and completed the following year, crossing over Brookside Creek, and providing a link between what is now the western-Sydney township of Emu Plains and Glenbrook. It stood part of the main western route for 93 years before the highway was diverted, and its operation continued until the 1950’s when the bridge was closed due to damage caused by over a century of stress from increasingly-heavy vehicular use.

It was eventually restored and opened again for traffic in 1982. Today it can be accessed via the Mitchells Pass tourist drive, and I’m glad I took the turnoff and had the chance to witness this incredible piece of Aussie architecture:

Some of the original stones


A.D. 1833


The view from the eastern approach


Life is what you make it


These days the bridge is only there for show because the road just up ahead is closed!