An easy drive from Sydney, NSW's Capertee Valley is wider than the Grand Canyon but on far fewer bucket lists.
There’s no tourist information booth, no gaudy souvenir shop, no conga line of tour buses. Barely a hint that the second-largest canyon in the world (after the Grand Canyon) carves its way through an ancient landscape on the western edge of the Blue Mountains, about a three-hour drive west of Sydney. (Although you may know its fashionable neighbour, Wolgan Valley, home to a luxe One&Only eco resort.) Taking in three national parks plus a state conservation area and dominated by sandstone escarpments, this wonderland of dense forest, open plains and tranquil waterways harbours more species of birds than anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere. The air is clean, the silence is only broken by birdsong and the night sky switches on all the lights you’ll need. And yes, you read that correctly. Just a few hours from Sydney. Here are three ways to experience the valley.
Pitch (or check into) a tent
Image credit: Bubbletent Australia/Mayumi Iswasaki
Camping means different things to different people. The most striking way to behold the beauty of the valley and the skies above is in one of three luxury bubble tents (pictured top) overlooking the vast canyon. Each has a comfy bed, composting toilet, telescope and views to eternity through transparent walls. If, on the other hand, you love the gurgle of a creek, towering sandstone escarpments, the company of kangaroos and falling asleep to the hoots of owls, pitch a conventional tent at the Coorongooba Campground in Glen Davis. Luxury is subjective.
Recognised globally as an Important Bird Area, Capertee Valley is considered one of the top 50 destinations in the world for bird nerds, thanks to its diverse habitats. More than 235 species have been recorded here and the pristine box-ironbark woodland provides an ideal home for birds whose numbers are declining with habitat loss, from superb fairywrens to powerful owls. Importantly, the valley is a breeding ground for the critically endangered regent honeyeater, believed to number less than 2000 in the wild. You may be lucky enough to spot one flitting through the ironbarks around Warramba (pictured below), a luxury three-bedroom farm retreat at Glen Alice.
Take a hike
With the Wollemi, Capertee and Gardens of Stone national parks at your doorstep, there’s no shortage of trails for bushwalkers experienced and novice. In the Wollemi National Park, getting the kids onboard could be as simple as three words: Glow Worm Tunnel. Allow a couple of hours for the two-kilometre return track, 400 metres of which passes through a disused early 1900s railway tunnel. Switch off your torch and watch the worms light the walls blue. In the same park, head down into the valley on the Deep Pass trail on a short (2.7 kilometres return) or long (a 17.3-kilometre circuit) adventure. Or try the Zig-Zag Railway Walk, which offers all the natural wonders of the valley plus the sight of a steam train choofing between stations. Even better, it will take you back to the start if you’re footsore.