Canyons Beginner Trip to Newnes

Pipeline and Starlight

March 11/12 2006


Theo, Robyn, Steve, Dug.


Mt Morgan 1:25000

Robyn sat in the IMAX theatre at Katoomba viewing a wonderful film of a group canyoning in the Blue Mountains.  Watching a woman abseiling down a waterfall “I’m glad to see this magnificent place here, there is no way I will ever see this for myself”.  Robyn’s story Steve, Theo and Doug at the start of the tunnel section of Starlight Canyon, her eyes are glowing and she seems 10 ft tall.  We have just used the rope beside us to walk down a vertical cliff face, completing the descent to the sandy stream bed in “free fall”, as the wall sloped away until we can no longer reach it with our feet. The rope is attached to a tree by a sling, on the ledge way up above; we are at the bottom of a spectacular 24 m abseil.  This crevasse is about 4 m wide by 10 m long, a waterfall over jumbled rocks to our right, the vertical cliff continuing on around a bend to our left.  About us the black, water sculptured, sandstone cliffs reach to the original stream bed, then wider apart a second tier of cliffs slopes back, grey, red and gold dotted with vegetation, 200 m higher again, up to the blue blue sky overhead.  The lighting down here is subdued “cathedral in effect”, a soft mist forms above from the heat of our bodies.  As he abseiled Theo said “you are going to love this”, looking at Robyn the body language told me “oh what does that mean, this is very scary” but also “I’m determined to go on”.  The abseil technique was very tentative but Robyn did very well and completed the descent with no problems, even loving the final “free fall” descent as she looked around into such a strange rare and beautiful place.  Well done!

Theo, Steve and I arrived at Newnes around 11 pm after a “traditional” pizza at Richmond.  It is still overcast here but none of the mist and drizzle we encountered at the Bell Line Of Road.  Off course we passed the usual assortment of wombats, roos, possums, owls and ducks on the road in.  A pleasant night and early morning enhanced by the Australian bush bird calls. 

Robyn arrives ready for the 8 am start; she has booked one of the cabins beside the “old pub” with Helen her mother.  Today’s walk is to Pipeline Canyon and possibly Starlight Canyon, time permitting.  The walk up the Pipeline track to the Wolgan Lookout is hot and sticky but no real problem, we decide, having quick refreshments enjoying the views.  Only a few hundred meters further on we drop into the canyon, a pleasant stroll down stream between the magnificent pagoda formations. 

The first abseil down a small waterfall with a “waterfall of moss” is a bit messy due to a fallen tree with inconvenient branches at the top but no real problem and we all cope well.  The second abseil is much longer, about 20 m a bit thought provoking for some but everyone does well.  This is a worthwhile canyon very easy to get to and a there is good assortment of attractions,  7 or 8 abseils up to 23 m, a number of slides or jumps into pools, short pleasant swims and some narrow sections.  This is much drier than I have seen it before but still very worth while.  Steve and I don’t even put on wet suits.  A few of the abseils are a bit scrappy either at the start or are overhung necessitating a free fall descent.  We all cope with these well and learn as we go.  We reach the canyon exit at the cliffs above the Walgan about 2 pm, where we have lunch in a beaut sunny spot.  Back to the Pipeline track by 3 pm too late to do Starlight comfortably in daylight so we head back to camp.  We campers wash off in the Walgan River, while Robyn heads of for a hot shower.  We join the others in the evening, to sit on the veranda and cook tea on the stove.  A beaut evening with wine for the others, cheese and bickies followed by individual teas.  A great way to pass the time.

Again a good night with moon lit cliffs and forest, with the calls of the night birds, and the ripple, gurgle of the Walgan as it passes.

The way to Starlight is along the same track we used yesterday, past the beaut lookout and the place where dropped into Pipeline Canyon.  We wander on across the plateau following the ridges to where we drop through the cliff line to follow a descending ridge line into the side creek that leads to Starlight Canyon (called Newnes Canyon by some but I think that starlight describes the underground section better). 

A clear bright day here in the sunshine; more distant views of deep valleys, cliffs, plateaus and forest, a trifle hazy with the high humidity perhaps, still we’re all glad to be alive.  The bush is easy walking, beautiful and new things to see one after the other, the birds entertain us with song or flight as we disturb them with our passage.  I like everything about this trip, the open creek, the constricted creek, the tall enclosed craters of rain forest, the narrow dark slot side canyons, often with final waterfall, the short pools to cool off in, the huge fallen logs (I wonder why we cannot see any trees that big growing now? I doubt this particular area was logged in the past – too hard to get out of)), the majestic abseil into the underground passage, the magnificent twists and turns of the tunnel, glow worms up high in the roof (normally all over the walls but it seems this has had high water though recently), the long narrow constricted section with tall cliffs either side, on into the wider slab sandstone chamber with tree ferns, coachwoods, and huge hanging vines, down to the final abseil into the boulder jumble that leads on down to the Walgan and finally the cooling dip in the Walgan before the hour walk back to camp through the Oil Shale mine works.

This creek bed is showing signs of recent flood with tall mounds of drift wood at every snag, although only a trickle of water now.  (I do quietly express concern that the tunnel could be blocked, to Steve and Theo and ask them to check it is clear before I pull the rope down at the abseil.)  One short jump and one short water slide into clear pools is very refreshing (these can be bypassed in cooler weather).  Then the creek disappears down the hole described before, strangely the creek bed continues on past the hole just the same as we have been walking over.  Back in December there was even water flowing on this elevated river bed 30 m above another river bed in the tunnel below.  After the abseil we soon need to turn on torches as we thread our way through the drift wood in the narrow passage.  Ahead I hear sounds of consternation, Steve has discovered a long narrow swim that isn’t normally here (reminiscent of a trip with Amie and CBC some years ago).  We continue on, turning off the torches to better view the glow-worms sparkling high above us.  The end of this section is signed by the faint smell of bat dung from the small colony that lives in the cave roof near the opening to the sky.  The sandy creek bed we are walking now continues along the narrow twisty passage of sandstone cliffs.  A 3 m tree trunk stuck vertical in the sand, wedged tightly by the cliff either side, provides a new obstacle to scramble over, with the aid of strategically place drift wood.  Gradually the crevasse widens until suddenly you are in a broad Valley with vertical walls, flooded with sunlight, sandy rocky floor, tall coachwoods and green tree ferns.  A side canyon enters here and this space has huge vines with roots ranging over the cliffs.  Bright sunshine entices us to stop for lunch and to warm up after the cool of the tunnel.  An altogether feel good place.

We continue our wonderful stroll down stream enjoying every moment, too soon we are at the final abseil down a clean cliff face to the boulder jamb below that will lead us out to the Walgan.  The usual anchor tree seems to have been crushed by another so we set up a new sling and do a bit of gardening of loose sticks and other debris.  Difficulties with the test rope pull down mean that I need to mess around resetting the line a few times to get it right before I can descend.  We are soon at the river for a cooling dip, then onto the track beside the river for the beautiful walk back to the camp.  Back for drinks and a chat with Helen and the “old pub” owner before heading home by 5:30 pm.

I great trip thank you everyone for your company and help.  Well done every one.  Till next time.

© Copyright 2006 Doug Floyd