Bikepacking to Newnes

Date Posted:4 September 2019 

Destination: Off to explore an old shale and oil mining settlement, now a ghost town; Newnes. Starting from Bungleboori Campground. A plan to go via Old Coach Rd to the main campground and set up camp overnight and return the following day.

The thing about gravel overnighters? There’s a highly likely chance you’ll get stitched up. Almost a guarantee.
It’s harder to turn around once you’ve invested in one path for a significant time. It’s a skill to learn to re-route on the fly. Additionally? If you didn’t pack adequately – you’ll discover it the hard way.

Breakfast at the only café in Lithgow…

We met up at Lithgow Tin Shed to debrief our plan and fuel up the start of the ride. Shortly after, we head off to the campground, where we’d unpack the bikes, the gear and the anticipation for what was ahead. Though the bags were packed, getting the set-up tight and right takes a little time but after a ‘before shot’ which almost resembled the next best upcoming boy-band stance of the 90s, we hit the ‘road’.

The ‘road’ ahead….

It was beautiful unsealed road, with many holes to navigate around but compared to our last adventure to Kelpie Point the road lacked sticks and other derailleur attacking foreign objects for now. There were beautiful trees to each side of but it was fairly open with the sun beaming down onto us, you almost forgot the fact it was Winter.

We had a few pit stops to quickly rearrange gear, just minor adjustments. We tightened my rear saddle bag, as my bike being an XS was beginning to make contact with its base. It also gave Alanna time to strip off an unnecessary jacket for now. We had to stop also when six cars passed, not because of a lack of room, but a giant dirty sand cloud camouflaged us. Asides from the dirt-cloud hiding us, there weren’t many cars in sight. It filled me with great content, kind of making me think: “This is what riding should be like, big wide-open roads and nothing else to worry about”. We continued on like this, in what felt like a blissful little secret of the Earth for about 15km or so.

The wonder of Old Coach Road…

We came to a fork in the road, where you’d either go towards the Glow-Worm Tunnels or you could take the Old Coach Road trail. The Old Coach Road was used during the construction of Newnes Oil Works & the Wolgan Valley Railway. This road was used in part to deliver construction materials for the Wolgan Valley Railway line (April 1906 -1907) and also to provide access to the new township of Newnes.  We came across our first ruin, some tracks or a support of some sort, rusting away in some rocks with a beautiful outlook over the Wolgan Valley.

I’d been given some advice not to race down Old Coach Road as there could be embankments off cliffside so as much as my inner-child was keen to descend down some less than sturdy terrain I did take blind corners with patience, and it’s lucky I did as we approached a gate which was well over my skill of descending with an additional bunny-hop over it. We fed the bikes over the gate and began to head down into a beautiful little valley. Peter was following my dusty tracks until we heard the infamous sound Pssssssssssssst. “Man-down” I called, Alanna skidded to a halt concerned someone had been hurt, but alas, it was just Pete with a flat. We searched for the puncture only the reveal a stick had flogged off his presta valve. We unpacked the spares and the mini-pump. 

Alanna and I figured this was the perfect time to explore this gorgeous little ferned and bushed gully we were occupying. I set my Topstone up for the perfect photo only to realise the glorious light peaking through the tree tops. We took advantage of the change-over to grab a few snaps and then repacked the spares. We got on our way again onto some fun single-track with epic surroundings. Ferns, trees and flora of much variety and a beautiful yellow cave/cliffside above us to the right side.

Stitch Up #1…

We came to the next part of our trek, where we rejoined the Glow Worm Tunnel Track at the fork of Old Coach Road. We definitely went the stitch-up’s way but it was worth it. Very narrow single track with an embankment to the left side, cliff facing. We took it steady along here until dismount was required. This would trend for some of the follow for the next kilometre or so as we descended narrow uneven stairs by foot, walked up steep rocks and over logs. It was up, then down. Up then down. As tough as the bike positioning logistics were, it was stunning. The Wolgan river fed into a few crossings quite shyly but added such an eye-catching glistening when the sun peaked through and caught it’s reflection. I chuckled a few times at the square droppings from Wombats, I gasped when we saw a lyre bird cross our path and I felt very content hearing bell birds chime their adorable little soundtrack to our trip.

And lunch…

We finally joined up to Newnes Ruin Road and found a campsite but decided we’d quickly explore prior to set up. We crossed the Wolgan River heading towards the Newnes Hotel. We passed an old Commonwealth Oil Corporation Limited Railway carriage and another carriage less identifiable as it was slowly facing time and had no upper carriage, just rusting components and the wood in which the carriage would be on top.

We came up to look at the Newnes Hotel. You can stay there which is pretty amazing but we hadn’t carried our camping gear all this way for that. We spoke to the lovely owner who spoke to us briefly about the area and the hotel’s history. We sat out the front eating our packed lunches. We were also lucky as he was selling ice-creams and as it was a pretty hot day, it was a welcome purchase, along with the firewood we’d purchase later.

Stepping back in time…

Unpacking the bags was a priority whilst we still had sunlight. Unrolling our equipment for Pete and my sleep system set up: Black Diamond Twilight Bivys, Sea To Summit Thermolite Reactor Compact Plus Liners, Sea To Summit Spark I/Flame I Sleeping Bags, Sea To Summit Ultralight Women’s Insulated Mat and my Ultra-light Aeros Pillow. After some fun setting up our gear (surprised how much our bags were really carrying) we left our bags at the site and headed off to the ruins. I was particularly excited as I remember exploring these as a kid, but back then I had no appreciation that these were the ruins of a failed shale mine with over 1.6 million pounds invested to make it work. We approached the ruins which were overgrown with forestry, it was really hard to picture this as a booming mining town. There were labels to what the sites were that we were seeing but much of it was partly constructed structures with bricks askew over the site, covered in green moss and dirt and old rusting metal of some sort that was decaying.

It was very breath-taking to think this site could still exist, over a century later. You don’t get a lot that lasts in our rapid ever-changing communities so it’s nice to unearth some old history.

Dinner O’Clock…

We returned after fetching some firewood and began to set up our camp-kitchen’s on the bench we’d snagged. Pete and I pulled out our compact JetBoil Flash Cooking System. I’d packed us quite the delicious feed, Outdoor Gourmet Company dinners. These are freezer dried gourmet meals which take all the hassle out of packing loads of ingredients and cooking implements for a tasty meal. We boiled the water in our Jetboil and were very excited to see the little flame brighten to an orange as it boiled. After waiting for our meals to heat from the boiled water we dug in with our Delta Sporks (a fork, knife and spoon in one). The sun began to set as we ate and our fire began to grow. It began to get colder and we huddled around the fire playing games and chatting the night away.

The fire fades…

Pete making the smart move to pass out in his Bivy whilst the fire was still brewing… myself not so much. It was beginning to get VERY cold. Later we’d learn temperatures easily went -5°C. I awoke several times through the night. I originally thought I’d loss circulation in my legs as my thermal leg warmers on the outside of my thermals I was wearing must have cut me off… It was possibly a mistake to have removed them. I stirred a few times due to the cold but one part I remember clearly is looking up from out of my Bivy to a beautiful star-lit sky. You just don’t get this in the big smoke of the city. It was incredible.

The next morning…

I must confess, I was no fun to my party; I was stubbornly cold and unwilling to leave the Bivy without incentive. We’d used all the firewood the previous night but Alanna and Mark managed to forage some more whilst Pete head over to the hotel for more water for breakfast. After defrosting, I began to cook breakfast (oats) for Pete and I in the Jetboil. We rallied up our gear, straddled up the bags to the bikes and it wasn’t until 9am that the campsite began to get sun and we began to roll out.

Stitch Up #2 (and possibly #3 it was that big)…

We began on our way and it looked like we were not quite on the right path, but it was hard to tell with a separating river and possibly glitchy GPS. I said I believed we needed to cross but I did know this road would also get us back to Lithgow. 

We began to see the Glow-Worm Tunnel Track fork away from us at a river bend and as much as we tried to re-route on the fly to get back towards that path, we couldn’t guarantee any turns we approached would connect back up to Glow-Worm Tunnel Track… 

So we stayed true on Wolgan Rd, which after a while came to a smooth tarmac but it was significantly longer (and steeper). Our heavy bikes travelled the long road, undulating up and down, hoping there was enough down to save us pedalling in the heat of the day, grinding slowly to the next crest.

When you wish the road sign was lying…

Around the 21km mark we saw a sign for cars that said “STEEP – NEXT 3KM”. I guess I would call this the third stitch up? When it says steep for cars, you know you’re going to have a bad time as a heavy bike-packing vehicle not designed for climbing mountains on road. I won’t lie, I walked a fair chunk of it – isn’t that part of gravel adventures? Even when you’re off gravel… After we finally crested, I was determined to get to Lithgow. I bit down a Clif bar, scoffed down some water and pushed what was in the tank to get back to where it all began.

Pete's Argon 18 - Dark Matter

All downhill from here (kind of)…

I got excited once we hit the highway, hoping all the climbing was behind us. We hit the 35km mark and there was still a bit of climbing ahead with the remaining 17km. They flew quickly though being on the highway, the downhill gave us a lot of momentum after the first climb (almost to a point if anything went wrong, I was uncomfortable going this speed in the shoulder).

The Lithgow sign was ever-more welcomed by myself and the others. Alanna and Mark trek’d slightly further in negotiation that we’d stay behind with everyone’s bags to allow lighter bikes for the remaining 5-7km. It made sense rather than all four of us be weighed down.

A little over an hour later, Alanna and Mark pulled up with the cars and tired smiles covering their faces. The ride had finally come to an end and all that was left was to pack the cars up with bikes and bags up, head back to home for a nice hearty meal and a good night’s sleep in our own beds.

 

Newnes Gravel Overnighter…

It was a lot to take in for an overnighter with cold and hot conditions and a restless night’s sleep. Riding 95km with a fair chunk off road and some unrecorded on foot, I’d definitely say I’d do it again but perhaps have a nice scenic route via the Glow-Worm Tunnels instead of getting stitch-up. It’s a beautiful part of the world and very special that it still has its history and remains to explore.

 

 

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