The Blue Mountains may be the headline act but keep driving and you’ll discover Capertee Valley, a little-known treasure that makes a big impact. Here are Tim Ross’s tips on what to see and do in the region.
Tool along over the Blue Mountains and there it is stretching out before you, the second largest canyon in the world. Sure, it’s not quite as deep as North America’s Grand Canyon but it is one kilometre wider and every bit as majestic.
It’s even inspired poetry — Henry Lawson once wrote: "Then slowly we crawled by the trees that kept tally/Of miles that were passed on the long journey down/We saw the wild beauty of Capertee Valley/As slowly we rounded the base of the Crown."
A wild beauty it may be, but lying just a three hour drive north-west of Sydney’s CBD it’s still an easy weekend away for city slickers. Head into the valley at dusk and feel the stress of the city drop away – the air is crisp and the light is constantly shifting across the canyon’s various formations. Here are three things to do and see in Capertee.
Hike through it
The best way to discover this World Heritage-listed wilderness is on two feet. Experienced climbers reach the summit of Pantoney’s Crown and be rewarded by panoramic views of the sandstone cliffs that dominate the escarpment. You’ll spy incredible flora and fauna along the way, with the valley being home to more bird species than anywhere else in the southern hemisphere. Another superb ramble is the Pagoda Lookout walking track, a short but demanding walk that starts at Ganguddy–Dunns Swamp campground near Rylstone in Wollemi National Park. Scribbly gums make way for striking rock formations from the Triassic period. Go at sunset for an incredible view.
Discover a new arts hub
The town of Portland, a 25 minute drive from the village of Capertee, was once known as the “‘town that built Sydney” for its cement works. Now, it’s undergoing a cultural transformation and The Foundations is the hub. This is where you can see a towering silo mural by Guido Van Helten, as well as peruse pop-up galleries and shop monthly markets for produce, arts and crafts. You can also take a site tour of The Foundations, hosted by a former employee of the cement works. And when in Portland, look out for the painted vintage ads of Australian brands from a century ago, such as Goanna Salve and Mother’s Choice Flour. In the warmer months, don’t leave without taking a dip in the Portland Olympic Pool, an Art Deco delight that has just had a refurb.
Step back in time — and into a glow worm tunnel
You can hike amongst the ruins at Newnes at the head of Wolgan Valley, once the site of a thriving shale oil mining industry. Look for well-preserved remnants of this history, including old coke ovens, brick kilns, paraffin sheds and crumbling walls that are slowly being reclaimed by nature. It’s an incredible sight, with the beehive kilns being the largest of their type in Australia. Look up and you might spot wedge-tailed eagles circling the sky.
Nearby, lies a tunnel that was built in the early 1900s as part of a railway – now it’s home to thousands of glow worms. The dark, 400-metre long Glow Worm Tunnel walking track provides the perfect environment for these bioluminescent gnats. Turn off the torch, stay whisper-quiet and you’ll see the little critters begin to light your way
PLUS: Where to stay
Warramba in Capertee Valley is a beautifully renovated 19th century homestead sleeping six across its three bedrooms. Set on 40 hectares, you’re unlikely to see another person during your stay – but expect plenty of wildlife including turtles in the creek, wombats, echidnas and ‘roos.
If camping is more your style, try the transparent, bubble-shaped tent of Bubbletent Australia. Along with unbeatable views of the valley, you’ll have a woodfired bath, bed with linen and the night sky visible from your pillow.