The crossing of the Blue Mountains in 1813 by the early explorers – Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson was a significant milestone in Sydney’s and Australia’s history, opening up the western plains beyond.
There are lots of places to see out west, and if you continued west, you would end up in Broken Hill in the ‘outback’!
Staying within a day or two of Sydney, there are a number of places worth visiting – and these are some of them.
It is worth stopping briefly at Victoria Pass (just past Mount Victoria) at a lookout to see the valley view to the west and also look back into the Megalong Valley.
The road is quite steep down the other side, and leads on the Little Hartley – where there are small farms, a pub, Saddlery, ‘The Lolly Bug Shop’ (www.lollybug.com.au ), and other cafes and further on Hartley where there are some historic stone buildings, even a Courthouse, built in 1837, when bushrangers were rife in the area. The Talisman Gallery is also located here. (www.talismangallery.com.au )
Heading further west is Lithgow – a small town that was the centre of coal mining in the early days, and now seeing a revival as mining returns to the region. Lithgow also has a Small Arms Factory Museum (see www.lithgowsamuseum.org.au )with a collection of arms made when the Small Arms Factory was operational, as well as the Eskbank House Museum on Bennett Street (Tel: (02) 6351 3557) – where there are a lot of historical photos and archives, as well as old machinery from the early days.
The turnoff to Jenolan Caves is just west of Little Hartley. The Caves are hidden away in a deep gorge and this is where you will find ‘Jenolan Caves House’ where you can stay or have a lunch or dinner. The Jenolan Caves were first discovered by Bushrangers who were able to hide up there. There are a number of caves and caverns, 11 of these open to the public, where you can see Stalagmites and Stalactites with tours and commentary about the caves and their history. (See www.jenolancaves.org.au )
Just west of Lithgow, the road branches and you can either head west on the Western Highway to Bathurst, or turn to your left and head north east along the Castlereagh Highway heading to Mudgee.
Wallerawang – is a small town just off the Castlereagh Highway turnoff almost over shadowed by the tall chimney stacks of the Power Stations here. The town has a population of around 2000 people and the main street has some cafés, a bakery and other shops. There are also some beautiful old stone buildings here including churches.
On the right hand side of the Highway there is a sign to the Wolgan Valley where the Wollemi National Park is located, as well as the 6 star Emirates Airlines ‘Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa’ (see www.wolganvalley.com.au ). This valley as well as the resort has spectacular scenery, almost like a movie set, with the valley itself surrounded by extremely high stone wall cliffs and mountains on both sides. You could well imagine that you are in Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, but without the Presidents heads! The tiny town of Newnes also lies ahead – which is an abandoned shale mining town where the old ruins and some of the machinery can still be seen. You can camp here too, with the old mines and isolation creating a memorable experience.
Bathurst – Home to Charles Sturt University and also the best known car race in Australia, held in October each year at Mount Panorama. See www.mount-panorama.com.au and www.nmrm.com.au ( National Motor Racing Museum). Bathurst is one of the bigger inland cities in Australia, and has a history dating back to the early 1800’s, from the boom time when gold was discovered in and around Bathurst in 1851. Travelling from Lithgow to Bathurst, you will see lots of sheep and cattle and really get a picture of country Australia.
Bathurst is very much a country town with a large showground, and a number of historic homes and commercial buildings. See www.abercrombiehouse.com.au a magnificent 52 room mansion and other building in the city. Bathurst also has a number of large parks and gardens, and in 1862 Bathurst was the headquarters for Cobb & Co stage coaches. You can see a restored Cobb & Co stagecoach at the Visitor information centre.
There are a number of small villages around Bathurst – including Hill End, where gold was discovered in 1852 bringing 8000 gold miners to the village, which now has only a few hundred people living there. Hill End is where the 3000 once Holtermann Gold Nugget was found in 1872.
Orange is 54 kms further west of Bathurst and it also has many older homes and even a Botanic Gardens. The town is a centre for agriculture and gold mining, as well as having a number of wineries.
Dubbo – is the home of the free range ‘Western Plains Zoo’ – where you can walk, cycle or drive around the Zoo and see African Rhinos and other exotic animals, as well as Australian wildlife in a natural environment.
Mudgee – is a pretty small town virtually surrounded by wineries and olive groves on all sides. Most of the wineries are open daily for sampling and sales, and there are also a number of historic homes and buildings dating back to the gold rush days in the 1850’s. From Mudgee it is possible to head towards the Hunter Valley and the wineries that are located there too.
There are many other towns and villages in the West, and it is possible to visit these too – but these may require more time to explore. The small village of Sofala for example was where gold was discovered in the 1800’s, and the small miner’s cottages are still there. There are also other places like the Gardens of Stone National Park – with amazing rock formations, and Lake Windamer – a popular place for boating, with the area also renowned for the variety of birds that can be seen. The clean air and scenery throughout this part of New South Wales, and the strange mix of coal mining and sheep grazing in the paddocks make this area quite special.