Remember as a kid seeing glow worms in caves and old buildings? These days they seem to have disappeared, living only as distant memories. But just a few hours west of Sydney we recently found an amazing glow worm habitat to explore, a great place to stretch the legs and learn a little history along the way.
Keen for another adventure, we were heading three hours west of Sydney to Lithgow after hearing of a disused rail tunnel where you can see glow worms like a bright night sky. After grabbing some details from the tourist info centre at Lithgow, we headed north out of town towards the heritage listed Wollemi National Park.
It wasn’t long before we hit the unsealed road aptly named The Glow Worm Tunnel Road, a sure sign we were heading in the right direction. From start to finish the whole road is about 35km and passes through massive working pine plantations. During the week you need to be aware of log trucks and other traffic. We found the road to be pretty rough, but considering we were headed for a popular tourist attraction, in a place where local 4WDers go for their weekend adventures, we took the bumps in our stride.
The roads out here follow the ridge lines where, in winter, cold air howls across through the pines, occasionally giving great views to the surrounding mountains. You’re allowed to free camp all through the state forest and there’s a little roadside camping area halfway along – but it can get a little dusty.
After about 20km we entered the sign-posted Wollemi National Park. Here, logging operations stop and give way to thick bush where tall gums shadow the banksia and other cool climate trees. Rock formations started to grow in frequency and height, looming beside the narrowing track like gargoyles looking down on a castle road.
Up ahead, a sign warned of a one-way 400m curving tunnel, so on went the headlights. The first to arrive has right of way as it’s only big enough to fit one large 4WD through at a time. It was pretty cool driving through, not knowing if we were the first in the tunnel or if would we encounter an oncoming car. Lucky for us there wasn’t any other traffic.
The Glow Worm Tunnel Road winds its way another 5km down into the valley to the carpark, where you can read some of the history on the area and find out how the two tunnels came to be.
Back at the turn of the century in a nearby valley a huge amount of shale was found and needed to be sent to Lithgow for processing. A narrow gauge railing was, incredibly, built from the mine – known these days as Newnes – across to Lithgow. It ran from within the deep valley, hugging sheer clifflines, and then along the Glow Worm Tunnel Road into town. Four rail engines were shipped from the USA for the task of hauling the heavy loads from the mine to the processing plants.
Leaving the carpark along the walking track, you’ll follow the old rail line towards the glow worm tunnel. It is recommended that you wear good walking shoes for the 1km walk, bring snacks and a good torch to light your way through the curving 400m tunnel.
Along the way some of the original track has given way, but NPWS have cut steps through some sheer rock walls which add to the adventure. We noticed all of the rail line has actually been pulled up, and discovered that this was because it was needed overseas to help with war efforts, as steel was in short supply. If you’re lucky you’ll spot a host of birds. We encountered five male lyrebirds and red tail gang gang cockatoos along the way.
Approaching the tunnel, the flow of a creek has allowed tall tree ferns and petite soft leaf ferns to grow at its entrance. Seeing the glow worms is a magical experience but care needs to be taken not to disturb these fragile insects.
Going by the signs outside the tunnel, we only shone our torches to the ground and when we were midway in, turned them off and let the worms do their stuff. After our eyes adjusted the roof and walls lit up – something we hadn’t seen since childhood. The longer we stared the brighter the worms became, seams of bioluminescence illuminating the walls.
When we managed to drag ourselves away, we walked to the far end of the tunnel, stopping occasionally to enjoy more of the glow worm display. Out the other end things seemed to get better still, with hundreds of tree ferns casting shadows along the pathway as it meandered past shallow caves, with the creek making its downward run towards the valley.
Not being able to help ourselves, we continued along the track until it started to hug massive vertical cliffs on one side, with magnificent views deep into the Wolgan Valley below. Further along a sign indicated it would be a 6km walk down into Newnes camping area, or across to Donkey Pass and the Wolgan Valley.
Unfortunately for us we didn’t organise a second car to complete the mountainous hike, so by retracing our steps back to the carpark – and of course enjoying the glow worms again – it wasn’t long before our adventure reliving childhood memories came to a gleaming end.
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