I'm a Sydney-based singer/songwriter and avid traveller - you can check out my blog complete with songs, travel stories and creative musings at schaumann.com.au.
Published February 11th 2013
Walk alongside scores of old coke ovens: visit Newnes
Located approximately 40 kilometres north of Lithgow, in the Wolgan Valley, lies the historic township of Newnes. Early last century Newnes was a thriving mining community with a population of up to 2,000 due to oil shale rock that existed below the ground, however the mine ceased operations in the 1930's and the town was all but abandoned.
Although a shadow of its former self, Newnes remains accessible today and provides a fascinating glimpse into the mining life of years gone by.
The first thing that strikes you upon entering the township is the Newnes Hotel, the last surviving building from the mining era. Its liquor licence was unfortunately revoked in 1988, so these days it operates only as a kiosk on weekends selling guidebooks, ice creams, soft drinks and uniquely, when I visited, $3 bulbs of Wolgan-grown garlic. However, little of its rustic atmosphere remains unchanged as you sidle up to the bar. It's easy to imagine the room full of thirsty workers sipping on their hard-earned beer after a harsh day in the elements.
While in Newnes it's highly recommended to take the self-guided walk that allows you to get up close and personal with the antiquated ruins of the mine site. You can continue north of the hotel by foot, where you use the stepping stones to cross the shallow Wolgan river and follow the signs leading to the historic ruins. After a short uphill trek from the river crossing you will find yourself amid scores of ancient coke ovens, designed to heat coal to extremely high temperatures and convert it into a fuel known as coke. Follow the path and you'll discover the ruins of an old retaining wall, paraffin sheds, workshops, oil washers and a power house. The moderately-graded walk is steeped in history and can be completed in less than two hours.
For those feeling a little more adventurous, the famous Glow-worm Tunnel can be accessed via a 9km return hike, beginning around 6.5km south of the Newnes Hotel. Other bushwalks in the area can be completed, with a number of guidebooks available for purchase from the hotel.
Accommodation Just up from the hotel are three solar-powered cabins with ample facilities, as well as a caravan for hire, perfect for those who wish to reside comfortably in the area for a few days. Camping is also available in the riverflat close to the hotel grounds for a small fee. Accommodation rates can be found at Newnes Hotel Cabins Historic Wilderness Retreat website.
A free camping ground is situated around a kilometre north of the hotel in the Wollemi National Park, which offers pit toilets and barbecue facilities. Note that this camping ground is only accessible by 4WD vehicles.
Getting there Newnes is situated at the end of Wolgan Road, a gravel track that takes a little less than an hour to drive. It is suitable for 2WD and 4WD cars alike, however it is recommended to check conditions of the road in times of harsh weather such as heavy rain or extremely hot days where fire could be a concern. 2WD cars should park at the Newnes Hotel and continue on foot from there; 4WD's are permitted to cross the Wolgan River providing it is not in flood or following a period of rain.
Wolgan Road can be accessed via a turnoff from the Castlereagh Highway. From Lithgow, head west for around 11 km until you reach the junction leading to Mudgee. Turn right onto the Castlereagh Highway, and from here it's only another 5 minutes until you reach Wolgan Road on your right (look for the sign to Lidsdale).
Further information on getting to Newnes can be found at the Newnes Services website.