Date: 14/8/2022
Trip leader: Terry Sze
Party: Aaron, Akash, Badour, Jackson, Jeffrey, Kwun Ming, Mia, Socheat, Nhi

Awe – Inspiring Cliffs

Socheat Soth Sunday 14 August 2022

(T) = paragraphs by Terry, the trip leader

When two cars full of hikers leave different parts of western Sydney and arrive at the destination three hours away at the same time, I know I am going to have a good day of bushwalking. Logistically, the trip leader planned this walk exactly right. It was the ideal start to what would become a perfect day – one that I will remember for the rest of my life because it was the first time I had seen such enormous, soaring cliffs.

Our trip consisted of ten hikers grouped into two vehicles. Vehicle 1 contained Wing Chun Sze (a.k.a Terry Sze; trip leader), Socheat Soth (driver), Kwun Ming Shum (Ming), Budour Al-Hinaai, and Nhi Uyen Tran. Vehicle 2 included Jeffrey Chiang (driver), Aaron Lee, Jackson Payne, Mia Pagnanii, and Akash Gokhale. Vehicle 1 arrived at Wolgan Rd, Wolgan Valley, NSW, from Penrith station, taking the M4 and then the Great Western Highway, travelling to Lithgow, and then taking Wolgan Rd. Vehicle 2 departed Blacktown station, taking Richmond Road, Blacktown Road, Kurrajong Rd, Bells Line of Road, Chifley Road, Lithgow, and Wolgan Rd. Vehicle 1 had time to visit Wolgan Valley Lookout on Wolgan Rd. There was an energetic buzz in the air as we all left the small dirt car park on Wolgan Rd, Wolgan Valley, NSW and trekked to the “Start Trail to the Glowworm Tunnel”, which was marked on Google Maps. We were excited to see the magnificent cliffs up close, the Glowworm Tunnel, and Dry Canyon.

Wolgan Valley Lookout

Wollemi National Park is a vast national park with a beautiful landscape, towering cliffs, and a serene forest. Our trip route was based on the Glowworm Tunnel walking track and Dry Canyon, which on a map is in the south-west area of Wollemi National Park, and close to the border of the Gardens of Stone National Park, which is known for its natural stone pagodas.

Being a majority beginner’s hiking group, we were all stunned when we had to cross Wolgan River right at the beginning of the bushwalk. I had crossed small creeks before, but never at the beginning of a hike. Thus, many of us took off our shoes and socks and walked across the freezing water. It was exhilarating and refreshing to walk bare-footed across the water. And thanks to Aaron, he allowed us to wipe our feet dry with his towel. Unfortunately, Nhi courageously crossed the river with her shoes and wet her socks. When she decided to walk in shoes without socks, I was worried that she would get blisters, which would have been a significant problem. Fortunately, halfway to Glowworm Tunnel, Nhi decided to wear her socks again, and I no longer felt anxious. I thought that she walked strongly as the day progressed.

Flora in Wollemi National Park
The creek crossing

(T) Some friendly bushwalkers from the club emailed me previously reminding me of this river but the actual river was nowhere close to what I was expecting. I thought it would be a typical creek crossing, hopping through rocks, but it turned out to be on top of a small dam where there is no way to avoid getting wet. The water level was shallow but was still high enough to get our waterproof shoes wet. As usual, I went straight through with my shoes on, but it did take a while for others to slowly take off their shoes, cross the river and dry it off. The route itself is nowhere hard and does not require specific experience, and from what I saw most people have at least some bushwalking experiences, in Australia or overseas. It is still the first time for me, and most of the group, to visit Wollemi NP and experience bushwalks beyond Blue Mountains.

The path to Glowworm Tunnel was easy. Our group of ten steadily made our way to the tunnel entrance. On this particular day, only our group, a middle-aged couple and two female trail runners were in the area so that we could enjoy the site all to ourselves. What made this day special was that our group had a zest for the trip. For instance, Jackson (an exchange student from the University of California, San Diego) liked to pick flowers and insert them into his cap, which I found to be creative. His imaginative spirit made sense because he was a student studying product design.

The entrance of the Glowworm Tunnel looked inviting as if it allowed us to explore inside. Terry had instructed us to be as quiet as possible and switch off our torches so we couldn’t disturb the glowworms. Because our torches were off, we were walking into the dark unknown. And that feeling of exploration, which was analogous to walking at night, was nice because we had to rely on our intuition. It was a pleasant sensation to only depend on our touch, smell, and hearing senses for navigation. In the darkness, we could see the glowworms slowly intensify their brightness as our eyes adjusted to the black tunnel. It was a delightful phenomenon, and that sight alone was worth the three-hour drive. However, it would have been better if we had binoculars to see the glowworms better. We spent about 30 minutes inside Glowworm Tunnel. It had a cool, revitalising ambience because of the absence of light, cool air, and the puddles of water inside.

Glowworm Tunnel

(T) The walk to Glowworm Tunnel is mostly on clear walking trails. The beginning from Wolgan Rd feels like fire trail with steep slopes, challenging the physical ability of the new bushwalkers. As we gain altitude the view changed from soaring cliffs to dense bushes. The sandstone cliff face and tall trees create a perfect blend, and the diversity of plant species is nowhere close to what I saw in Blue Mountains. It really is a different world and a unique experience for everyone. As we progressed toward the tunnel the track narrowed and the team had to go through numerous fallen trees and obstacles. At the time of the visit, the southern end of Glowworm tunnel is closed, and we all had to enter at the northern end and reverse midway in the tunnel.

After exploring the glowworms, we walked to Dry Canyon, which was the main attraction of the hike. We trekked along the “Glowworm Tunnel walking track” and reached a rest area with public toilets. Here, Jackson, Jeffrey, Ming, and Akash showed off their scrambling skills to climb a rock face. It was very entertaining to watch them summit that rocky terrain. After that, we walked along a dirt road called “Glowworm Tunnel Rd”, then through a second tunnel, and then the “Pagoda Track”. We saw distinctive natural stone pagodas along the way, which are particular to the area. Along the “Pagoda track”, we walked through some dense scrubs and branches. It was a simple bush-bashing experience. By this time, we were all hungry, so we had lunch close to the Dry Canyon. At this point, the Dry Canyon was still unclear and obscure. After every turn around a large boulder, I expected it to be the Dry Canyon, but it ended up being another boulder on at least five occasions. I felt a little frustration creeping in, and it was evident that proper navigation was required as we could have easily gotten lost in this area. At last, we reached the entrance to Dry Canyon. The landmark wasn’t quite what I was expecting because, in my mind, I was expecting it to be a breathtaking place (according to the internet photos). In truth, Dry Canyon was still a beautiful place, but to get a satisfying picture, we needed to be at a specific angle to showcase its loveliness. So that’s what Aaron and I did. We spent about fifteen minutes trying to get that perfect Instagram shot. We tried different poses, different sunlit areas, and different angles. I don’t think we got that ideal shot, but being inside the canyon was relaxing nonetheless. And because we were busy snapping photos, the rest of the group was waiting for us to walk back to the car park.

The rock scramblers

(T) The rock scramblers did add challenge to this simple-moderate walk. While taking a short break at the carpark at Glowworm Tunnel Rd, the energetic members have decided to scramble up a nearby rock. Jackson went first, and then Ming and Jeffrey joined. It is always the scramble down that is the most challenging, as those on top were all struggling at some point. I tried introducing the word “dunny” for mobile toilet (like what Bruce does in his walks), but perhaps I’m not Australian enough nobody cared. Walking up through the then-closed Glowworm Tunnel Rd, it does lead us to breathtaking views of rock pagodas and tall cliff edges. Rock pagoda is a common rock formation in this area near Gardens of Stone NP, and this is the first time for many (me included) to witness it in person. Jackson spent time filming and vlogging for his YouTube channel, and Aaron took photos of himself on his selfie stick. The road’s gradient is very gentle, perhaps as it was part of a train line branching off the Main Western line. After a couple of turns we reached the start of the track, behind a fence made out of train tracks.

Rock pagodas

(T) On the walk to dry canyon we passed through several campgrounds on the Pagoda Track and a rock formation that looked very similar to a hippo. Some rocks were placed to resemble the teeth. Further out the track becomes unobvious and at some stage, it was complete bush bashing. Then we reached the opening of the dry canyon, where a cairn was constructed to indicate the correct direction – up the rock then down the stairs. Down the steep stairs (they are stairs, but some were trying to scramble down) we are at the bottom of the canyon. At start, there are still trees and vegetation, but as we go further the rock face constricts and all that was left is a silent dark space like a cave. It was raining outside but inside we are sheltered and felt no rain. Everyone spent some time taking photos, first Budour and Nhi, then Ming and Aaron. Shortly we reached the end of the track and headed back, only to realise Aaron, Socheat and Jeffrey went missing. I joked that they were having a cultural exchange (what Aaron does all the time) but turns out they were simply taking photos.

(T) Having known the way into the canyon the way out was way more relaxing. At the place where we had lunch, Jackson spotted a giant pagoda and started scrambling up. Pagodas have slight protuberances on the surface, giving a relatively flat and steady surface to stand and grip onto. It didn’t take long for Jackson to reach the top and took a selfie where everyone was barely visible. Ming made his attempt but failed. We took one more group photo at the hippo-like rock, and Jackson was even “eaten” by scrambling into the mouth.

the “hippo”
Jackson and everyone else down there

The return leg was uncomplicated, but we were tired. Akash had a sore leg because he pulled a hamstring from running between classes at Sydney University. Aaron brought about five litres of water, so his pack was heavy, making him more tired when he walked. At this moment, I just wanted to complete the trek as fast as I could. Walking slowly would only prolong my suffering. It was a situation where every person had to fend for themselves. Each individual was required to exert effort because there was no bus or taxi that could help us get back to the car park. And it was at this point that I appreciated the magnificent soaring cliffs of Wollemi National Park. During the walk back, I enjoyed the natural scenery. The cliffs towered over us higher than Sydney Tower. I got to Wolgan River first alongside Jackson and Mia. Terry was next, followed by the rest of the group. I was waiting for Aaron so I could cross the river bare-footed again and use his towel afterwards. By this time, Aaron wasn’t interested in sharing his towel. He just gung-ho crossed the river with his shoes. That’s no big deal for experienced hikers, but the water was freezing, and it would take a while for his shoes to dry. Again, crossing the river was re-energising. Mia was the most courageous and just crossed the water in her hiking boots, as well as Terry. It was an uplifting end to the hike. The day was magical because of the zeal of the group and the willingness to press on despite the challenges. We all worked well as a team, and we were all in awe of the attractiveness of Wollemi National Park. In the end, we all debated whether to eat Pizza in Blaxland or have something quick such as Hungry Jacks in Lithgow. I decided to have Red Rooster in Lithgow, eating a chicken roll that was barely edible, but I was satisfied with my additional spicy fried chicken burger. It would have been nicer to have gone to Monte’s for pizza in Blaxland! The drive back to Katoomba was fun because I am now very familiar with the roads. I was able to overtake Jeffrey and leave him in the dust. I drove as quickly as possible to St Marys station, where I dropped off Terry, Ming, Budour, and Nhi. Ming had to be woken up by Budour. And then I drove home, where I collapsed on the bed and slept like a baby. I was exhausted from all the walking and the driving, but it was worth the effort. It was a wonderful day!

Walking to dry canyon
Stone pagodas
Dry Canyon

(T) This was also an enjoyable day for me, being the first proper bushwalk in semester 2. Since July I have tried leading trips in the club, and it was really my first time leading a walk this far away from Sydney (around 2h30m by car). The vast difference in geography and scenery by going beyond Sydney has also inspired me to organise several other trips out to the Central West region of NSW. Jeffrey dropped off the members in Blacktown, and coincidentally all three boys (Jackson, Aaron and Akash) live in the same building in Camperdown. They went back almost 30mins ahead of me and still had energy on the train gossiping about girls in that building.

I want to give special thanks to Terry for being a firm trip leader, planning the route, organising everybody into the cars, and so forth. Terry displayed exceptional organisational and planning skills. Budour also deserves great credit for taking stunning photos and keeping a video log of the hike. The photos and videos enabled me to relive our epic trip again in my mind. And I was amazed that Budour stayed up until 2:00 am to upload the photos and videos onto Google Drive. This trip materialised from a single thought; I told Terry I wanted to go to Dry Canyon, and within a few minutes, he formed a plan and made it happen. Thank you to Jeffrey for kindly being the second driver. And I want to express my gratitude to Aaron for his towel!