The Light At The Middle Of The Tunnel // Starlight Canyon (NSW)

Starlight Canyon is truly unique. Located in New South Wales, it feels like you’re 1000 kms from civilisation.


[Please note – this canyon is closed through the winter to protect a vulnerable microbat species, so get it in on the Summer bucket list]

Highlights

  • High strokability rating
  • Good chance to try out that tropical strength fly repellent
  • The return trip follows a river bank for post trip dips
  • Accessible with and without abseiling gear

Sitting, quietly, in complete darkness, watching the stars above you dance in the eerie still of the surroundings. The gentle smell of guano and a mental image of Ace Ventura arouses the senses bringing you back to reality, where you find yourself in the hidden glow worm paradise that is the Wallaby Tunnel in the Starlight Canyon. The main event of the Wolgan Canyons in Newnes Valley.

Newnes Valley is hidden gem of a destination that you would never even know existed unless someone told you about it. It is not on the way to anywhere, there’s little signage but it delivers in every way possible.

In years gone by, it was host to a thriving community powered by the Shale Oil refinery, now in ruins. Very little remains except for some foundations on the side of the hill and the Newnes Hotel, which still provides accommodation to travellers, but unfortunately, no beers.

The Wolgan Canyons are hidden at the very end of Newnes Valley, then on a ridge on the way over to Glen Davis. Beginning at the northern end of the Newnes campsite, you will follow a track next to the river that leads you to the Pipeline Track, which takes you a few kilometres to the top of the hill overlooking the Wolgan River.

Follow the track a short distance and on the right you will see a sign for Starlight Canyon with information about the bat population. Take the left along the rocky shelf, then follow the ridge for roughly 2 kilometres, the track is insanely difficult to follow here for the thick scrub, so a GPS or map skills are essential.

I have located the first abseil on google maps here or find it at AMG454274 on the Mt Morgan topographic map.

The creek flows to the right from this vantage so if you abseil in too far downstream of the initial sinkhole, head back upstream to find it. After a short abseil down the rocky shelf continue into the floor of the gully.

From this point there is a 26-metre abseil into the start of the Wallaby Tunnel, complete with stagnant water, bat poo and glow worms, sensory overload awaits.

From here you simply straddle the stream that runs in the middle of the 50-metre crevasse, keep your jaw from swinging off its hinges and enjoy the visual delight. This level of the canyon ends at a 20-metre waterfall with an abseil off its edge, follow the water back to the Wolgan River, then follow that for 5-kilometre trek along the river back to the campground.

Please note:

# 1

There have been times when the tunnel has been impassable so the first person in should double check water levels before the ropes are pulled.

# 2

The tunnel is off limits between May and September due to bat hibernation.

# 3

The canyon can be reversed up from the bottom end, including the tunnel section, which negates the need to abseil. This also allows you to use a mountain bike to do the 5km down and back up the fire trail it makes it a much quicker trip

Essential Gear

For an overnight stay, you will need the essential camping gear:

  • Tent
  • Bedroll
  • Sleeping bag
  • Camp stove
  • Cooking gear

For the trek itself:

  • A gps is recommended, even plotting the waypoints on google maps and downloading the map for offline
  • A map of the Wolgan Canyons
  • Compass
  • Headtorch
  • 3L water
  • 60 meters of climbing rope
  • Climbing harness
  • Rappelling device
  • Screwgate carabiner
  • Helmet
  • Climbing knife (for emergencies)
  • Camera
  • Waterproof backpack cover (33 degrees in summer and it poured rain on us)
  • Grippy shoes that you don’t mind getting wet

Getting There

Newnes campground sits neatly at the base of surrounding cliff faces at the very end of Newnes Valley, which passes through Wolgan Valley on its way there. It is roughly a 3 hour trip from Sydney, with the last 10-20kms of the trip being a well-kept dirt road.

Map showing the walking track to and through the canyon.

Activities

  • Mountain climbing
  • Rock scrambling
  • Abseiling
  • Photography
  • Swimming
  • Camping

Skill Level

Skill required for this trip would lean towards the expert end of the spectrum. There are some very tight and slippery waterfalls to abseil over and it’s always recommended to attempt these with a skilled and experienced canyon guide. If you were to take the optional route with no abseiling, it would appeal to the intermediate hikers.

Distance Covered

The trek covers about 15 kilometres and 400 metres in elevation gain. It’s definitely an all day ordeal, we left at 9 am and returned at 6:30 pm.

 

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