What happens when roughly 40 four-wheel drives converge on Turon River National Park for the weekend?
The first annual 4x4earth.com New South Wales gathering, that’s what. After having annual meets in Victoria and South Australia for a number of years now it was decided that New South Wales should get on board and have an annual meet of its own. With no more motivation than that required, the meet was organised and a weekend in late May was selected.
The Diggings is one of two main campgrounds in the Turon River National Park. The park is located not far from Capertee and, as the name suggests, includes a portion of the Turon River. We rolled into camp late on the Thursday night, greeted by the fire already going and a space reserved to set up camp. That’s the kind of service I could handle at every camp. Thanks team.
Friday morning we set off for a day drive. We had two aims in mind: One was to follow the Turon River as much as possible; and two was to reach Hill End in time for a counter lunch. Upper Turon Road heads west from the Castlereagh Highway and more or less follows the river all the way into Sofala. It’s mostly good gravel roads with some sections where the road is 4WD only and gets a little bit rough. The scenery of this drive is what makes this little trip one of my favourite touring-style trips in New South Wales. The stunning countryside with rolling hills, the occasional cliff face and (of course) the river draw me back time and time again.
There are plenty of places to stop and have a look around by the river along this trip – so keep your eyes open. Some spots, where huge cliff faces drop directly into the river, even provide excellent swimming and fishing spots. If you get lucky you might even get to see a Platypus like we did. Worst case, you will be able to enjoy the tranquillity offered by a gorgeous, gentle running river that winds between rolling farmland and soaring cliffs.
The road from Sofala to Hill End is paved these days, so the final leg of the trip is fairly quick. That suited us as the troops were starting to get hungry. The Royal Hotel in Hill End was built in 1872 right smack bang in the middle of the gold rush era. At the time it was one of 28 hotels (that’s right, there were 28 pubs in this tiny town) and it is the only pub that remains operational today. The hotel feels like a genuine country pub, with that old-world charm finished with super cold beer and a kitchen that puts out excellent tucker. If it’s a sunny day, the beer garden out the back is the place to be.
Take the time to stroll around Hill End and absorb some history. The town is a shadow of its former self, the extent of which can only be realised by taking the time to learn what was here 100 years ago.
The next morning, with the majority of attendees in camp, plans were hatched for day trips. Three separate trips headed off that morning. Ours took approximately 15 vehicles through Sunny Corner State Forest. The track from camp crosses the Turon River three times and passes through Woolshed Flat campground before coming to a gate. The gate signals the end of the National Park and the start of private property, but more than this it signals the start of a long, steep climb up to the ridgeline. The climb is rocky and rough in places and leads to one of the best views in the area. Bear in mind once at the top you are still on private property – so don’t deviate off the track; however stopping to soak in the views is a must. Look to the east and you will see views back towards Lithgow with power stations way off in the distance.
Further along the ridgeline you will enter Sunny Corner State Forest and be greeted by a number of bog holes. Some have a firm, rocky base while others are more muddy. Either way they are good fun and the smiles on the faces of everyone in our group as they came through told the story. A little further up is Williwa Pinnacle, where (at around 960m above sea level) the descent down to Williwa Creek commences. A pretty little water crossing awaits at the bottom of the descent before the track climbs again.
The next section was the most testing of the day and included clay washouts, ruts, bog holes, another creek crossing and a steep rutted exit. Quite a few in our group had more than one attempt at the creek exit but eventually everyone made it under their own steam. Once again, that smile you see when someone achieves something they maybe thought was beyond them (or their vehicle) was there for all to see. One of my favourite parts about our recreation is seeing that smile for the first time on a new face.
While in the area, I wanted to take the group to see a little mine that very few people know about. The track down to the mine is heavily rutted and parking is at a premium at the bottom. For this reason 15 vehicles was reduced to six as we all piled into as few cars as possible. At the bottom a short walk takes you to an old boiler, which is slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding bush. Not far from the boiler is a small opening into the cliff face. It looks tiny… but crawl through and it opens up into a mine shaft; and about 50m in it opens further into a huge cavern, complete with a carved-in sluice to the surface.
Back at camp and again the communal fire was going and the beers were flowing. We had a raffle thanks to some prizes donated by companies associated with some of our more generous attendees, and we managed to raise a few hundred bucks for the local Rural Fire Service.
After a fantastic night around the fire, we packed up camp and headed for home. What an awesome trip with an awesome bunch of people. Best part was that, with roughly 40 vehicles, there was not one hint of moron behaviour and the campground was left absolutely spotless. Well done to everyone who attended – you are a credit to the 4WD community.