Just a few hours out of Sydney you will find Wollemi National Park. Sprawling over 500, 000 hectares, from the Blue Mountains north to the Hunter region, it is the second largest national park in New South Wales.
Known for being the home of the Wollemi Pine, one of the world's oldest and rarest trees, the rugged and spectacular landscape still boasts many inaccessible and unexplored areas. Part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, the park is important for its flora, fauna and Aboriginal rock art sites.
Only three hours drive from Sydney, Wollemi National Park is a fantastic choice for an escape from the city and to get back to nature.
For an easy introduction to this wilderness area I would recommend a visit to Dunns Swamp, a spectacular and beautiful location, despite its misleading name. Dunns Swamp sits on the Cudgegong River and was created when the Kandos Weir was built in the 1920's to supply water to the Kandos Cement Works.
Dunns Swamp is a 20 minute drive from Rylstone and about an hour from Mudgee. The road in to the national park from Rylstone is a combination of bitumen, gravel and dirt but is accessible by 2WD vehicles. There is no entry fee to the National Park, however if you are staying overnight there are self-registration camping fees.
The area is known as Ganguddy to local Aboriginal people. The natural swamps of the area were an important resource for them, providing fresh water and food such as duck eggs, tortoise and snake meat as well as reeds for making baskets.
There are numerous ways to enjoy Dunns Swamp including bushwalking, kayaking and camping. A Visitor Guide can be downloaded here
At Dunns Swamp you can reconnect with nature and enjoy a small piece of the ancient wilderness of Wollemi National Park.
The walking trails around Dunns Swamp are well marked with signs and there are also steps, rails and chains provided where necessary. There are five signposted walks to explore:
Campsite Rocks Walk
This is an easy and short walk (approx. 500m) around the rocks of the campsite area. There is a lot of signposted information provided on this walk covering the history, both natural and man made, of the area. You can learn about the local Aboriginal people, the Wiradjuri, who are known to have lived in the area for more than 12, 000 years. You can also view some Aboriginal rock art in the form of hand stencils made from red ochre.
Explore the sandstone rocks of the Campsite Rocks walk
Platypus Point Walk
This is another easy walk (approx. 800m) from the campground area to a rocky point level with the water offering great views of the river. It is great for birdwatchers as the reeds along the banks of the river and the surrounding bush are home to many species of birds.
This walk will take you to the top of the rock pagodas allowing stunning 360 degree views over the river and valleys. It is only from this vantage point that you can appreciate the way the river meanders through the landscape.
Getting to the top is a difficult climb with lots of scrambling up the steep rocks. The path disappeared in a few places but we were still able to find our way. The views over the Wollemi National Park are your reward when you reach the top.
The landscape at the top is stunning and ancient, from the Triassic period, and definitely worth the difficult climb. Caution is advised at the cliff edges on this walk and obviously once you reach the top. This walk is approx. 1.8 km return to the camping area.
This walk is classified as moderate as there are steep steps in several places. This track takes you from the camping area right along the edge of the waterway with beautiful views of the river and the surrounding mountains and up past the Kandos Weir. We were told that it is possible to see turtles and even platypus near the weir wall but we didn't see any on this particular day.
Waterside Walk / River Gauging Weir Circuit
This walk is classified as an easy, level walk of 5.5km taking you on a tour of the riverside and woodlands and up to the river gauging weir. We did not do this walk.
Exploring Dunns Swamp by Kayak
For me the highlight of our visit to Dunns Swamp was exploring the river by kayak.
Getting out on the water was a highlight (Image Credit: J Clark)
If you don't have your own equipment it is possible, during holiday periods, to hire kayaks from Southern Cross Kayaking who set up near the camping area. You can choose to hire for 1 or 2 hours or take a tour in a double kayak with a guide. For more information about Southern Cross Kayaking please click here.
A paddle from the campsite up to the weir takes around half an hour so it is possible to get up there and back in the one hour time frame. Life jackets were provided as well as a quick lesson on how to steer our kayaks using the rudders. Then we were off.
On the water you can really appreciate how spectacular the sandstone gorges are, having being sculpted by wind, rain and erosion over time. From our kayaks we could explore the overhanging ledges and crevices in the gorge and view the honeycombed walls up close.
It was an easy paddle up to the weir and it was just so serene gliding along the water, surrounded by nature. The water of the river is fresh and clean, and is suitable for swimming and fishing (if you have a licence).
The river is said to be home to long-necked turtles and platypus as well as golden perch, Murray cod and catfish. We saw one small lizard sitting on a rock ledge, but unfortunately no other wildlife on this morning.
Spot the lizard sitting on the rock ledge (Image Credit: J Clark)
If you have extra time to explore after you paddle back from the weir you can kayak past the camping area and around the bend of the river.
Camping at Dunns Swamp
If you want to extend your stay at Dunns Swamp by camping overnight you can. Unmarked camp sites are available and are suitable for tents, camper trailers and caravans. Some camping sites are scenically located right next to the large sandstone rocks of the Campsite Rocks Walking trail.
Sites can not be booked but operate on a first come - first served basis. Picnic tables, BBQ facilities and composting pit toilets are provided, however you must bring your own water and firewood and take your rubbish with you when you leave.
You could easily spend days exploring this unique wilderness area and enjoying the spectacular landscapes. It is reassuring to know that it is protected for generations to come as part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.