Wolgan Valley: Exclusively Yours

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Nature lovers can once again enjoy the landscapes and birdlife of Wolgan Valley as Wolgan Valley Eco Tours adapts to the challenges of access.

By Julie Miller

Encircled by dramatic sandstone escarpments and flanked by National Park, Wolgan Valley is not only one of the most beautiful places in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, but for a year now, it has also been its most isolated community.

On November 9, 2022, a landslip resulted in the closure of Wolgan Gap, effectively cutting the valley off from the rest of the region. For residents and business owners – who were already reeling from the effects of fire, flood, and of course the impacts of COVID – it was a cruel blow indeed.

“The landslip took out Wolgan Valley’s only access road, and for a few days there, we and our fellow property holders were either stuck in the valley, or stuck outside the valley,” recalls Kristie Kearney, long-term Wolgan Valley resident and owner of Wolgan Valley Eco Tours.

Fortunately, there was an option for access – albeit a less than ideal one – in an historic trail known as the Donkey Steps, which, after extensive restoration conducted in record time, allowed temporary 4WD access for residents and landowners only.

“The Donkey Steps has been used by Wiradjuri people, the traditional owners of the Wolgan region, for tens of thousands of years; but it wasn’t until around the 1820s when early settlers established a cattle station in the valley, that it became the first bullock trail in and out of Wolgan Valley,” Kristie says.

“We’ve had the likes of Charles Darwin venture up and down the Donkey Steps in 1836, and various other notable scientists and naturalists. It wasn’t until the 1880s that a new road was constructed, Wolgan Gap – and that serviced the valley until November last year when the landslip took place.

“That effectively removed access for us, but what it has done is allow for that temporary access back along the Donkey Steps - so it’s come full circle.”

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Open for business

The good news, for a handful of businesses operating out of the valley, is that with this temporary access, they can once again start trading. As of the end of November, Wolgan Valley Eco Tours will offer its popular four-hour Bird Watching tour, with the full day Wonders of Wollomi and Gardens of Stone tour and the Glow Worm Tunnel Hike coming online in late December.

There will be a difference in the way the tours are conducted, however – they will now include vehicle transfers, with access via the Donkey Steps providing a touch of adventure as well as exclusivity.

“Because the general public can’t access Wolgan Valley, we now include vehicle transfers from the Seven Valleys Visitor Information Centre at Lithgow, as well as from accommodation in Lithgow, Wallerawang, Lidsdale and Portland,” Kristie says.

“Even though the general public can’t access them, we are fortunate that Gardens of Stone State Conservation Area, Wollemi National Park and Gardens of Stone National Park are still open – so our guests will basically have the whole place to themselves! We also operate on private property as well, which is another exclusive element of our tours as well.”

With the Donkey Steps being one of the steepest roads in Australia, with a gradient of 35 per cent, getting into the valley becomes an adventure in itself. And that’s just the start of an immersive experience into this majestic countryside, brimming with history, rugged landscapes and incredible wildlife.

“On our Bird Watching tours, guests will be able to see some of the best birding locations in the Greater Blue Mountains, accessing some of the beautiful sites and incredible vistas across Wolgan Valley,” Kristie says.

“Guests will also be able to participate and be involved in our regular citizen science projects we’re involved in – so not only do they come along on that journey, spotting and looking for native bird species that we have in Wolgan Valley, they are also part of wildlife conservation through research.

“They also get to enjoy some country hospitality and a beautiful gourmet morning tea. It’s only a four-hour tour, but we feel it’s perfect.”

For the Bird Watching Tour, it’s an early start in order to see the birdlife at its most active, with a 6.30am pickup from Seven Valleys Visitor Information Centre. The tour operates on Saturdays and Sundays only.

To book, and to keep an eye out for the commencement dates of other eco walking tours, visit www.wolganvalleyecotours.com.au

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