This four-day road trip has it all – minus the crowds. Visit quaint country towns, bushwalk through wild Wollemi National Park, and call it a night in a cosy historic cottage.
We acknowledge that this adventure is located on Wiradjuri, Dharug, and Gundungarra Nations, the traditional Countries of the Wiradjuri, Dharug, and Gundungurra peoples who have occupied and cared for these lands and waters for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
Ready to start planning your summer getaway? With enough activities to entice every type of traveller, this road trip from Hartley to Hill End is as good as gold!
Day 1 – Sydney to Hartley
Time driving: 2 hours
Highlights: Hartley Historic Village, Rowsons River Walk, Kew-Y-Ahn (Bells Rock), Talisman Gallery, Old Trahlee
With rural travel back on the table, we were ready to get out of Sydney and get back to exploring! First on our list was Hartley, a historic village nestled in the western foothills of the Blue Mountains. We hit the road mid-morning and after a quick stop in Blackheath to fill up on water, supplies and pies at the Bakehouse on Wentworth, we arrived at our destination.
Hartley’s one and only street is lined with picturesque heritage cottages, all of them looked after by NSW National Parks.
We booked a tour with Luke Donnelley, the enthusiastic Project Officer, to learn a little more about the history of the town.
Luke led us through the restored sandstone buildings, including the impressive Courthouse built in 1837. He even took us inside of the spooky prisoner cells where carvings could still be seen on the wooden walls. We ended at the Hartley Historic Site Visitor Centre and had a look at the Kew-Y-Ahn Gallery. It featured incredible paintings, drawings and jewellery, all created by Aboriginal artists of the Central West.
Behind the main strip there was more craftsmanship going on at the Talisman Gallery. We had the pleasure of meeting Ron Fitzpatrick, the local blacksmith, metal art, and jewellery maker. He’s a total legend and gave us a full rundown of his workshop and studio (even though it was his day off).
We eventually said goodbye to Ron and made our way down to the scenic Rowsons River Walk to take a stroll beside the stream. Then we followed the Kew-Y-Ahn (Bells Rock) Heritage Track up to the granite tor for sunset.
Luke had explained that this ancient rock outcrop was likely used as a traditional meeting place for the Dharug, Gundungurra, and Wiradjuri people. The view from Kew-Y-Ahn (Bells Rock) was amazing and we couldn’t believe we were able to experience this stunning and powerful place alone.
Once the sun had disappeared we returned to Old Trahlee, our adorable accommodation for the night. Built sometime in the mid-1800s – but not lacking any of today’s comforts – it was the perfect spot to unwind and imagine what life might’ve been like nearly 200 years ago.
Day 2 – Hartley to Hill End via Glow Worm Tunnel & Ganguddy-Dunns Swamp
Time: 5 hours 30 mins
Highlights: Wollemi National Park, Glow Worm Tunnel, Ganguddy-Dunns Swamp, Pearsons Lookout, Pagoda Lookout & Walking Track, Hill End Historic Site, Sydney Hotel Cottage
As much as we wanted to spend more time discovering Hartley, the Glow Worms of Wollemi National Park were calling and we had to answer! It took us about an hour and a half to reach the empty parking lot and even though most of the route was gravel, our van ‘Rhonda the Honda’ made it with no problems.
We followed the old train line to the glow worm tunnel and passed through a forest of prehistoric tree ferns as we entered. My dim head torch guided us into the darkness and when I turned it off clusters of glow worms lit up like constellations. It was a surreal experience and one that neither of us will ever forget.
Note: Keep that torch pointed at the ground so you don’t hurt the glow worms (or blind your mates!).
We’d worked up an appetite after our morning adventure so we went by The Tin Shed in Lithgow for lunch. Once we were refuelled, we hopped back on the Western Highway, keen to see what else Wollemi National Park had to offer.
On our way west we couldn’t resist stopping at Pearsons Lookout to take in the view over Capertee Valley – the second widest canyon in the world!
Before long we pulled into the Cudgegong Picnic Area at Ganguddy-Dunns Swamp Campground. The national park is surrounded by pagoda rocks, ancient gumtrees, and a gently flowing river. I had a slight suspicion that putting ‘swamp’ in the name was supposed to deter people from visiting this magical place.
We did a quick loop of the Campsite Rocks Walking Track and learned a bit about the Aboriginal history of the region. We were in Wiradjuri Country (as we had been for most of our trip) and the Ganguddy area had been home to the Dabee People for over 12,000 years. Their faint red hands could be viewed under the overhanging rocks that would’ve been used for shelter. It was a beautiful place and a good reminder of whose land we’re all on.
After exploring the campground we made our way to the Pagoda Lookout and Walking Track. It was a short, steep, scramble to the top and from there we had a 360-degree view of the massive sandstone spires as well as the Cudgegong River below. I’d never seen a landscape like this in Australia before and couldn’t believe it was only a few hours away from Sydney.
It was getting late by the time we got down and although we would’ve loved to have stayed for a few more hours (or days) our accommodation in Hill End was waiting! We followed rural winding roads under the setting sun and, besides the one roo that tried to jump us, we didn’t see a soul.
Glow Worm Tunnel: 2km / 1 hour return
Campsite Rocks Walking Track: 500m /15 mins
Pagoda Lookout and Walking Track: 2.5km / 1 hour return
Day 3 – Hill End
Time: 15 mins
Highlights: Hill End Historic Site, Bald Hill Mine Tour, Bald Hill Lookout, Bald Hill Walking Track, Hill End Heritage Centre, The Royal Hotel
Now that we’d made our way back to 1872, we were keen to find out about Hill End’s gold rush history. Our accommodation, the Sydney Hotel Cottage, was the perfect home base for us to immerse ourselves in the past and live up the country lifestyle.
First up we had a tour at Bald Hill Mine. Our guide, Kerri Burns, had lived in Hill End since the seventies and was extremely knowledgeable about the old mining industry and the surrounding area. She even knew how to wrangle a possum because they’re always hanging out in the mine, and it’s up to her to get them out!
The three of us walked 80 metres into the abandoned mine and at the end, Kerri told us to exit out the 30m shaft.
It seemed like a non-negotiable option so we agreed and climbed the 10, rickety old ladders to the surface. Once we were free, we went back to town and had breakfast at the General Store.
At first I found it hard to imagine what Hill End must’ve been like at the height of the gold rush era — at one point having over 7000 residents. However, as we walked through the village and saw all the heritage buildings (66 still standing) and the plaques with photographs depicting what once was, I started to understand how busy it must’ve been in its boom days.
Our self-guided tour through town eventually led us to Post Office Flat where the Bald Hill Walking Track begins. We followed the signs around Bald Hill on a 4km walk, enjoying the mix of natural beauty and remnants from the gold rush period.
It was nearly dark by the time we finished so we jumped in the van and drove up Bald Hill. We could see the whole town from the lookout and it was the perfect spot to sit and watch the light disappear across the valley.
On our way home we stopped for a beer at the famous Royal Hotel. Although Hill End’s heyday was long ago, there’s still a thriving community and we enjoyed chatting with a couple longtime locals at the pub before driving back to our accommodation…30 seconds down the road.
Bald Hill Walking Track: 4km / 2 hours
Day 4 – Hill End to Sydney
Time: 3 hours 45 mins
Highlights: Hill End, Beaufoy Merlin Lookout, Sofala
Sunrise at Beaufoy Merlin Lookout was rained out but we still enjoyed a foggy view over the once infamous mining mecca. Neither of us wanted our road trip to be over and we dragged our feet as we packed up and departed Hill End. After grabbing a coffee and cake at the Rustic Cafe in Sofala, we slowly made our way back to the present.
The last four days had flown by and we were both amazed by all the history, bushwalks and unique accommodation that we’d experienced. Not to mention how great it was exploring some lesser-known NSW national parks. There truly are hidden nuggets all over the Central West Region, and from Hartley to Hill End it felt like we’d found gold!
- Water – The tap water in Hartley isn’t drinkable and there’s no drinking water at any of the bushwalking tracks or campgrounds, so make sure you bring your own!
- Food – There’s a general store in Hill End but for the most part these historic villages and remote campgrounds don’t have much for supplies. Make sure you stock up in the bigger towns beforehand!
- Bookings – Remember to book your accommodation/campsite and tours before you travel, especially in the summer season!
- Pandemic protection gear – Facemask, hand sani, NSW Check-in app
- Sun protection/Wet weather protection
- Hiking boots
- Day pack
- Water bottle
- Respect – Wherever you go, remember to be respectful and leave no trace!
Hot tip! For easy access info on all things NSW National Parks, download the NPWS app. Always check the NSW National Parks website for possible alerts and closures before you head out.
Distance Driven / Time Spent Driving / Total Days
717km / 11.5 hours / 4 days