Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Newnes Plateau

The Coach Road. The start of the walk.

With rain belting down and parts of Sydney in flood, I thought rather than sit inside doing nothing, lets go to the Newnes railway tunnels and see what we can find.
It has been about 4-5 years since we were there last and I was curious to see what changes had occurred. The history of Newnes, the township and the railway is a fascinating piece of Australian history and I blogged about it here:- (Somehow I lost all my earlier posts on my blog).

The Coach road was restored several years ago and is still in excellent order.

The drive in was a mixture of fun and sadness all rolled into one. As Sydney has got larger more and more people visit the Newnes Plateau, motorbiking, and 4x4ing. In years gone by there have been beautiful, well kept places to camp in a variety of spots. Forestry NSW kept the pine plantations tidy and roads in good order. This has changed. The camp sites are dirty, polluted affairs with the amenities blocks are long gone. Some of the trails are chopped out eroded gullies- fine if you want to test your skills in driving. Awful to look at.

The Gantry. Could this have been used for a counter weight to assist the coaches?

Forestry had cleared a lot of pine leaving sections looking scared and desolate. We took a wrong turn which turned out to be a bit of fun as we tried to find the original road in. Eventually we did.
Our plan was to walk the Coach Road, joining the old railway escarpment track and follow this through the 400 metre tunnel number 2 and return to the car via the Pagoda track.

A cutting on the Coach Road.

The Newnes Plateau is about 1200metres above sea level and the walk has a great deal of variety as the Coach Road winds down into the Newnes valley.
Looking carefully, you can see the grooves created by the coaches in the sandstone of the road, blast holes where the engineers removed rock to create the road and a gantry. I am speculating here- My theory is that the gantry held a counter weight. Placed at the top of the steepest section of road a cable could have been connected to the coaches to assist in the climb. The weight being lowered to do so. Also attached to the rear of a coach to brake the descent. If anyone reading this could enlighten me I would be grateful.

Beautiful trees in the gully as we descend.

The Coach Road drops from a height where distant pagodas look like Asian temples, into a stunning rainforest environment. Tall gum trees, and tree ferns litter the gully and the sound of Bell Minors, Thornbills and Currawongs fill the air with song.
The rain at this point had eased and we made good progress. The rains over the past few years have really improved the health of the plant life. One thing we did notice as we walked was recent cracking in the cliff faces as well as smaller rock falls along the track. Before long we were at the junction of the railway track. We stopped to enjoy lunch, and before long we were greeted by a Rock Warbler. These wonderful little birds have a very tiny range and are reliant on the sandstone escarpments of the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains. I can go for ages without seeing any. Then, as if all the environmental indicators are right, stumble on quite a few.

A railway sleeper slowly disappearing under a rock slide..

We continued our walk and my disappointment grew as I saw stone walls in collapse, via-ducts washed away and more cliff face fractures. The area is becoming increasingly unstable. Only tiny remnants of the railway line exist- a railway sleeper here and there, some evidence of structure and piping. If you google Newnes Railway images you can see just how over time the bush is reclaiming its own.

Engineering works being swallowed by the rainforest

I have mixed feeling about this- Our heritage is not just about about our basket weaving past, nor our natural wonder. Its also about claiming the wonderful engineering feats of our grandfathers and grandmothers. Its about recognizing what they did and preserving it. We do not do this very well in Australia.

Yours truly crossing the creek towards Tunnel number 2

We pushed on and it was not too long before we arrived at Tunnel number 2. Now encased in Tolkien rain forest growth.
The railway tunnels are know as glow worm tunnels, These tunnels are amazing. Number 2 is 400 metres long and cut through solid rock. Once you leave the light of the entrance behind "stars" begin to appear above your head. Glow worms. It's just simply beautiful.

The rainforest.

On the other side of the tunnel the rain began in earnest. My wet weather gear failed, and I resigned myself to being soaked. We turned left onto the Pagoda track and began the climb back to the car. Once again I hit the "wall", as I did in Barren Grounds and had to "push in and concentrate on walking". Soon we arrived back at the comfort of the vehicle.

By dull torchlight the eerie reminder of railway inside the 400metres of pitch black tunnel

We had a fabulous day. The challenge of driving through flooded creeks and bog, being lost briefly and the walk. It was much better than sittiing at home.

Exiting the tunnel on the south side.

I am going to write to National Parks to express my concerns about the track and its safety in sections, also about preserving our wonderful heritage both in engineering and naturally.

Birds seen. Currawong, Australian MAgpie, Bell Minor, Yellow-rumped Thornbill, Rock Warbler, Crimson rosella, Laughing Kookaburra, Lyrebird.

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