Less than a day’s drive from Sydney, the Wollemi National Park is a World Heritage site containing spectacular scenery, ancient Aboriginal rock art and plenty of interesting wildlife.
A panoramic view over the middle section of the waterway between the day visitors’ area and Kandos Weir. © Nicholas Brown.
Most people think of Wollemi as the place that brought us the Wollemi Pine, one of the world’s oldest and rarest trees, which was discovered in a rainforest gorge within the 500,000 hectare Wollemi National Park that extends north from the Blue Mountains. Those in the know realise there’s more to the park than the vegetation; it’s also accessible by normal vehicles with plenty of subjects for photographers.
Dunns Swamp, or Ganguddy as it is known to local Wiradjuri Aboriginal people, is the easiest part of the park to access and the most popular camping spot. It’s located beside a serene waterway on the Cudgegong River, created when Kandos weir was built in the late 1920s.
This part of the river is a great place for flat-water canoeing, walking and generally chilling out. Swimming is possible in the warmer months; so is fishing. (A current NSW recreational fishing licence is required and a speed limit of four knots applies for powered boats.)
Birdwatchers will find plenty of subjects; purple swamphens wander through the campsite; bush birds are abundant and lyrebirds can be heard (and occasionally seen) early and late in the day. Cormorants and coots are abundant on the water. You may also see the occasional musk duck, an enigmatic aquatic duck that is the only living member of the genus Biziura.
A crimson rosella stops for a snack close to one of the campsites.
Wallabies are fairly common throughout the area, although they usually avoid people. The area is also home to a wide range of reptiles, including spectacular water dragon lizards and long-necked turtles. At night, torchlight may reveal greater gliders while, if you’re really lucky, you might glimpse a platypus.
Walking tracks provide access to eroded beehive-shaped sandstone formations, known as ‘pagodas’ and you can climb to the top of some of them for a panoramic view over the landscape. Aboriginal art works can be found in protected parts of some formations, including those within the camping area. Some of them are thought to be more than 7000 years old.
The view over the Ganguddy area from the Pagoda Lookout, taken late in the afternoon. The day visitors’ area can be seen on the far bank of the river, just below the twin peaks.
When to go
Ganguddy is accessible at most times of the year, although the unsealed section of the road between Rylstone may be difficult to navigate after heavy rain. January is the wettest month on average and in the middle of summer, day temperatures average 32 °C. Campfires are prohibited during high fire risk periods. Night temperatures often dip below freezing during winter.
The best time to visit is between April and October, when daytime temperatures are comfortable for walking. Autumn is popular with photographers and artists as the light is usually softer and mists can form over the water as the sun rises. In late spring and summer the water is warm enough for swimming and glow worms may be seen around the campsites at night. Wattle trees add a touch of colour in late August and early September.
Camping is very popular during school and public holidays and sites may be scarce. Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis; prior bookings are not available.
Mist rising above the water just after sunrise on a cool spring morning. Photographed from Platypus Point.
Getting there/ getting around
The Ganguddy campsite is roughly 270 km from Sydney and accessed via the Great Western Highway. Take the Mudgee turn-off just after Lithgow and then turn off to Rylstone. Just before Rylstone you’ll find the local hospital with a marked turn-off to Dunns Swamp.
This road takes you eastwards past the cemetery and into the Wollemi National Park. The last few kilometres are unsealed but usable by 2WD vehicles. A sign on the northern side of the road marks the entrance to the campsite.
The area can accommodate up to 80 camping groups but campervans and caravans are limited to about 15 sites. But the roads and campsites aren’t really suitable for large campervans front-wheel-drive vehicles towing caravans or heavy trailers.
Facilities are very basic; there are well-maintained pit toilets throughout the camping area but water is not available so you’ll need to bring your own supply for drinking and cooking. (Water collected from the stream should be boiled before use.) Rubbish bins are not provided so all trash must be taken out.
There are picnic tables and fireplaces in most of the campsites that can be used for barbecuing. Limited firewood is supplied at the campground and collecting firewood in the park is not permitted. Firewood can be purchased at the BP Service Station on Louee St, Rylstone.
Since it’s in a national park, dogs and other pets are not permitted. Nor are generators and chainsaws. Wheelchairs can access the day visitors’ area with some difficulty and a few nearby paths are usable by wheelchairs but most walking paths are too rough for disabled users.
Camping fees apply and must be paid on site by self-registration with a cost of $6 per adult per night and $3.50 per child per night. Throughout the Christmas and summer school holidays you can find professionally organised tours of the waterway, starting from the day visitors’ area. Kayaks can be hired from here as well. Bookings can be made by phoning 0439 936 480 (or just turn up on the day).
What gear to take
The equipment you take will depend on the activities you’ll engage in. Ideally, the focus should be on portability and weather resistance. It’s possible to cover most of the scenes with a single zoom lens. The ideal range is around 24-105mm in 35mm format. Stabilisation is advantageous, either in the lens or the camera body.
A longer lens could also be handy for photographing birds and wallabies and you’ll need a tripod for shooting at night ““ plus a camera with superior high-ISO performance. Although there’s not much to photograph under the water, a waterproof camera can be handy if you’re canoeing or engaging in other water-based activities.
The usual recommendations to have a spare battery and adequate memory card capacity also apply as there is no mains power access for recharging batteries or connecting laptops to download files. Sandshoes or trainers will be adequate for most of the walks, including climbing on the pagodas. Make sure you have a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses plus a warm jacket for the evenings, which can be cool, even in summer.
The start of the walk to the Pagoda Lookout and Kandos weir, photographed on a misty morning in early spring when the wattles were in bloom.
Specific activities and places to visit
The best overview of the area is from the Pagoda Lookout, which is reached by walking for about 15 minutes along the track to the Kandos Weir. Watching the sunrise and sunset from this vantage point is highly recommended but there’s plenty of potential for interesting shots at other times.
Climbing up to the Pagoda Lookout to view the sunset.
The walk to the Beehive Pagoda, a small formation on the opposite bank of the waterway to the Ganguddy camping area, provides an attractive view of the reedy swamps and some interesting rock formations along the riverbank. Heading east from the camping area, it passes through open forest with attractive gum trees and rock formations that can make interesting shots.
About 40 minutes’ walk beyond the Beehive Pagoda is a picnic area that overlooks some impressive rock formations. You can go a little further to the remains of an old weir (which isn’t particularly picturesque).
Heading west from the day visitors’ area is a path that takes you to the Kandos Weir. It takes about an hour if you loop back via the rock wall below the weir. Unfortunately, although it provides some nice views, you’ll miss out on the best rock formations, which can only be seen from the water.
Most of the time the water is flat enough to allow you to take pictures from a canoe. However, when it’s windy, the wind can funnel along the waterway and make picture-taking difficult. It’s also best to stay off the water when storms threaten.
The best way to view the rock formations alongside the stream is from the water. © Nicholas Brown.
Reflections in the water on an autumn morning.
A small black cormorant reflected in the still morning water near the day visitors’ area.
Article by Margaret Brown
Excerpt from Photo Review Issue 66