Lithgow, NSW

By: Michael Borg, Photography by: Matt Fehlberg


Borgy locks in the hubs and heads for the hills in search of Sydney’s ultimate weekend adventure.

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The key to happiness is adventure. It’s a big call, but I’m yet to meet anyone who’s out there exploring the countryside without a grin from ear to ear and a twinkle in their eye. For me, it’s like a drug, and I’m absolutely and wholeheartedly addicted to it!

Now, it’s a little off topic but mental illnesses like anxiety and depression have gotten their mittens on most people at some point or another. But you know what? I reckon a good dose of full-blown outdoor adventure can do wonders if you’re feeling down in the dumps. So when I heard that a few good mates of mine were battling depression aka the "Black Dog", I figured it’s time to show them the light the only way I know how – with a seriously epic off-road adventure! If I can show these lads the world of 4WD adventure, it might just be enough to put a smile on their dial. So myself, and CTA’s legendary photography Matt, decided to lock-in the hubs and embark on an epic pre-trip reconnaissance mission. The objective? To nut-out the ultimate weekend adventure route from Sydney. And guess what - I reckon we’ve found it!

THE PERFECT ESCAPE

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Being based out of Sydney, I decided to head for my local haunt; the Lithgow/Blue Mountains region. Why? Well, I think to make a 4WD adventure utterly epic it needs a few key elements. The first one being some insanely impressive scenery! I’ll give that box a big tick; some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world is found there. Then you need some tough, challenging 4WD tracks! Yep, this location’s got it in spades, and there’s nothing quite like balancing your 4WD on three wheels to get the endorphins flowing, eh? I even spotted photographer Matt looking a little worried for a second there. Yep, tough low-range obstacles will get the crowd laughing, and help build a bit of camaraderie while everyone works as a team. Then you need to find bit of water for a splash; for some reason we’re just drawn to a beaut riverside camp like fleas to a dog. It’s safe to say, the chosen region has all of the above and then some!

GETTING LOOSE AT LAKE LYALL

To kick this trip off, I pointed my old diesel donk straight towards the rugged hills of Lithgow, or more specifically, Lake Lyall. It’s roughly a two hour drive from Sydney and provides absolutely everything the keen camper and 4WDer needs. Lake Lyall Recreation Park provides public amenities and cracking camp-sites right on the water’s edge - any closer and you’ll be farting bubbles! It’s the perfect spot to meet up and gather the herd before you head off.

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To check out the 4WD tracks around here, we made a beeline towards the back of the dam and up to the Coxs River. This is where you’ll find the real gnarly stuff. It’s super steep and rocky country, though — so bring your A-game, and pack the camera! Tracks like the infamous Mount Walker Trail and Fire-Truck Hill are guaranteed to put both man and machine to the test.

LOST CITY SERENITY

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From Lake Lyall, it’s time to cross over to the other side of Lithgow towards the old Zig Zag Rail Way off Chifley Road/Bells Line Off road. You’ll need to follow the map towards the Pines Camping Area, where you’ll pick up the signs directing you right into the heart of the Lost City. The track is 4WD-Only thanks to a maze of cranky bog holes, ruts and dips.  

The Lost City itself is mesmerising to say the least! No seriously, it’s utterly spectacular. In fact, I’m going to come right out and say it – it’s one of the best places in the country to crack a beer, period! There’s just something special about all those rock formations, it’s like you’re on another planet as you stroll through in absolute awe.

MAIYINGU MARRAGU (BLACK FELLOWS HAND)

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When you’re ready to push on, it’s time to follow the Black Fellows Hand Trail for a good hour or so towards Wolgan Valley Road. It’s a dirt track the whole way there with a few little rock steps and bog holes to negotiate, but just before you hit the tar you’re greeted by some awe-inspiring rock formations signalling the start of the Maiyingu Marragu (Blackfellows Hands). The site is culturally significant to the Wiradjuri people, and an expectedly sacred place to access. It’s a haven of rock shelters and stencil-art, which provide a physical and spiritual link to ancestors.  The natural colours are mesmerising, as are the unique rock formations, ochres and waterfalls. There’s a traditional men's and a women's area, along with a women's birthing area located in a secluded part of the complex accessible only by foot. To this day the Aboriginal community still use this location as a ‘bush school room' where young people can hear stories from Elders and learn to collect and use bush food and natural medicine. It’s truly a beautiful place to visit!

NEWNES CAMPGROUND, WOLLEMI NP

Once you hit the black top, you can literally cross the road into Gardens of Stone National Park, or turn right and head towards the Wolgan Valley, which is part of World Heritage Listed Wollemi Nation Park and home to my camp for the night; Newnes Campground. The scenery around here is absolutely gob smacking; seriously, it hits you like Mike Tyson in a wild pub brawl!

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Geez, rolling out the swag right on sun-set while you’re surrounded by towering granite escarpments is something I’ll remember for a long, long time. Especially when you’ve got Skippy the bush kangaroo munching on some grass merely metres away! In fact, all the wildlife seemed to take turns occupying the campgrounds.  I mean dozens of kangaroos greeted me at sunset. A rather friendly wombat came out for a midnight snack just before a cheeky ringtail possum made off with my freshly opened packet of chips. Then I was woken in the morning by a choir of magpies lulling me back to consciousness after a cosy night in the swag.

Now there is plenty to do and see around here too. You can explore the tracks, tunnels and ovens of the historic shale oil ruins nearby, or check out the luminous Glow Worm tunnel just a short drive away. While it gets jaw chattering cold here in winter, floating around the river stream on an air mattress is always a welcome activity during the warmer months.

GARDENS OF STONE SHOCKER

The very next day, Gardens of Stone National Park took me by surprise, again. I mean, I forgot how drop-dead gorgeous it was. Perched on the edge of the Capertee Valley, you’ll find the tracks on top of the escarpment are a bit like walking on clouds – a mesmerising view is guaranteed! For me, I found that view at ‘The Gap" lookout, which is about a 40 minute drive along the western side of the Black Fellows Hand Trail. But to get up there, you’ve got a challenging low-range hill climb to conquer first. It’s pretty darn steep, and wouldn’t take much to end up in a nasty predicament if you get it wrong either. Oh well, that should get the fellas going, eh?  

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Anyway, that view from the top looking over the Capertee Valley is just incredible. So good in fact, I decided to cook a few steaks up on the old fire pit for lunch while I soaked up the serenity! Now that’s what I call living!

But, what goes up must come down, and trust me - it’s not a gradual descent. It’s more like a B-52 bomber in a nose dive sort of drop when it comes to the first real rock step. Yep, if this one doesn’t make your palms sweat you better check your pulse! I’m sure Matty had a good laugh watching me sliding down it on my backside too. Most tastefully modified 4WDs will be right at home punting down this track, but going back up is another story entirely. Despite having front and rear diff locks activated and a grippy set of mud tyres, it was the old 12V winch that saved the day. I thanked the lucky stars for that, because once I got deeper down to the guts and bowls of the gorge; it was dead-set impassable thanks to heavy rain and stinky, sloppy mud that was literally metres deep. I was disappointed we couldn’t press on forward, but the section of track leading down is world class 4WD touring at its best. It’s lined with technical rocky sections to navigate, and surrounded by lush green vibrant palms growing out of some seriously majestic, even colossal cliffs in which you brush side mirrors against on the way down.     

MISSION COMPLETE

If you couldn’t tell by the all the photos, there’s a better than average chance I’ve stumbled across one the most adventurous weekend touring itineraries in the country. It’s got absolutely everything you need to have a real blast out on the tracks with friends and family. Who knows, it might just be enough to chase that Black Dog of depression away too - Nature has a funny way of doing things you know?

So go on, get a little dirty and give it a try yourself.

Check out the full feature in issue #126 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.