Turon River Trek 4WD camping adventure – Central West NSW
The Turon River Trek is perfect for a long weekend or a week-long 4WD family escape. Visiting Sofala and Hill End has to be one of the best NSW getaways on offer. You’ll visit two of Australia’s historic gold mining towns, cool off with a swim in the Turon River, and enjoy the serenity around the campfire at a secluded bush campsite.
Sydney to Lithgow: 2 hours and 6 minutes
Bathurst to Sydney: 2 hours and 47 minutes
Difficulty: Moderate – the Turon River Track has multiple river crossings and can be steep and narrow in some parts.
Starting in Lithgow
The trek starts two hours west of Sydney at Lithgow. We always try to pack the night before and then get an early start the next day. We leave home around 5am before breakfast and stop at Lithgow Macca’s for hotcakes around 7am – always a winning start to any trip with the kids.
The first night’s campsite is only an hour’s drive from Lithgow, so take the time to explore the town if you haven’t visited before. You can also and grab any last-minute supplies here. Lithgow has all major facilities including supermarkets and a camping store. Also make sure you have a full tank of fuel before you hit the dirt roads.
The Lithgow region is home to some major attractions including Jenolan Caves, Lake Lyell (another great place to camp, especially if you are into fishing or waterskiing) and Wollemi National Park, with the Glow Worm Tunnel and Lost City.
All of these are weekend trips in their own right, so best to put them on the future bucket list and visit some of the town’s highlights including Braceys Lookout, Hassans Walls Lookout and Eskbank House & Museum.
Starting the Turon River Trek
From Lithgow head west on the Great Western Highway for a few minutes. Then take the left exit for Mudgee on the Castlereagh Highway. After about half an hour you will reach the town of Capertee. This is the last sign of civilisation as Turon Gates Road is on the left just after you pass through. Turon Gates Road is where the dirt road starts. Take another immediate left onto Lochabar Creek Road, then it’s only three kilometres to the Turon National Park entrance on the left. If you miss the park entrance, don’t worry; you can only travel another couple of hundred metres before a locked gate onto private property makes you turn around again.
Tip: lower your tyre pressures slightly just before you enter the Turon National Park. Even though the track is quite good for 90% of the trip, there are a couple of difficult sections. The reduced pressure will aid your grip for the descents and climbs.
From here it’s 4WD only, and a short three-and-a-half kilometres down to the river. Follow the track along the fence line, keeping to the left when the road forks in two. The right-hand track does lead to the same campground, however, it is a little steeper and is listed as a ‘dry weather track’ only; and with the clay base and steep drop off on the driver’s side, it could certainly prove a treacherous choice in the wet. At the bottom of the hill the road comes to a T-junction. The left-hand track leads you over the top of another ridge and down into Woolshed Flat campground.
The right hand track takes you to The Diggings campground via three or four shallow river crossings. Both campgrounds are spacious, with plenty of room for a number of groups. However, my pick of the two is The Diggings.
The campground has a handful of permanent picnic tables for the lucky few who arrive first and a drop toilet. You’ll love the cool, deep swimming holes with some great shallow areas for the little ones to splash about.
Woolshed Flat and The Diggings are both bush campgrounds. So don’t expect a lot of green lawn on which to set your tent up. The benefit of this is lots of opportunities to see kangaroos and wombats.
Depending on how many nights you have for this trip, a family could easily spend a few relaxing days here before continuing on. There is room for the kids to ride their bikes, and enough open space to have a game of cricket. Time around the campfire is always a highlight of our trips, with the kids roasting marshmallows straight after dinner.
Turon Gates Road
Next stop is the historic village of Sofala, set right alongside the Turon River. The route to Sofala is along Turon Gates Road. It will take approximately three to four hours depending on the number of stops you make. A good plan is to pack up and leave the campground by 10am, with the aim of arriving in Sofala around 2pm. You can grab a late lunch at one of the cafes, or at the pub.
From The Diggings campground, backtrack the way you came in for about half an hour, then take a left at the end of Lochabar Creek Road. It’s approximately eight kilometres until you reach Turon Gates. These roads are an easy drive and pass through a number of private properties. Cattle grids on the road are a regular occurrence, with plenty of cows, sheep, goats and horses in surrounding paddocks. Be sure to keep both eyes open as the animals could easily wander onto the road at any time.
Turon Gates accommodation
Turon Gates is a private campground on the Turon River. It is a great place to spend a few days, with canoeing, horse riding and plenty of other activities on offer. Pets are welcome and the campground has hot showers and washrooms and outdoor sinks with hot running water to wash dishes in. The 6,000-acre property also has cabins if you would rather spend a night in a bed and enjoy a long hot shower after a couple of nights roughing it.
At the end of the Turon Gates property you will come to your first closed gate. It is one of eight over the next 25 kilometres. Be sure to close each gate after you have passed through. Respecti the property owner and also take it slow around the animals. We had to stop completely in a couple of instances as the cows had decided to congregate in the middle of the road for a bit of a chinwag, and didn’t want to move on until a short blast on the horn encouraged them.
There is a right-hand turn roughly five kilometres after Turon Gates that will take you to Sofala. It’s along this track that you will encounter some real 4WDing. The farms disappear, and low range will be required. For those towing a camper trailer, the track is quite steep and narrow in some parts, with no room to turn around, or to allow oncoming vehicles to pass. The difficult section lasts about three-and-a-half kilometres, and will slow you down considerably. Once through, though, the track improves and another dozen kilometres will have you crossing back over the river at a weir. Here, there is a lovely picnic ground on the right-hand side. Then the last five kilometres into Sofala is on a bitumen road.
In the 1800s, Sofala became one of the original ‘gold rush’ towns. At its height had over 40 pubs and a few thousand inhabitants. (Isn’t it a great Australian tradition to name the number of pubs to describe the size of a once thriving town!) There is only one left now though, and, together with a handful of other buildings, the town is no more than a dozen streets on the south side of the river. It’s worth having a quick walk around the town when you arrive to stretch your legs. The old buildings and the hilly backdrop make for a picturesque setting. In addition to the Royal Hotel, there are a couple of cafes to choose from. For those who brought enough food with them, there is also a small park for the kids with swings, a climbing gym, slippery dip and some picnic tables.
If you are looking for an educational experience, the Turon Technology Museum is located less than a dozen kilometres north of Sofala along the road to Ilford, and is open every second weekend. The museum focus’ on power technology created between 1850 and 1950. And exhibits include working models of steam turbines, compressors and kerosene diesel engines. There are also picnic facilities and a kiosk on site.
The road from Sofala to Hill End is now sealed for the entire distance and the 34-kilometre trip will take around around three quarters of an hour thanks to some steep windy sections. There are two campgrounds close to town to choose from, or you can opt to take a drive down the Bridle Track and stay in one of the many bush campgrounds along the river.
If staying close to town, Glendora campground is my pick. There is a flat grassed section with powered site options, or you can choose a non-powered bush site further back. Camp fires are allowed and there are also barbecue facilities, toilets and showers.
Hill End was one of the major towns of Australia’s gold rush in the 1850s. At its peak in the 1870s had over 10,000 inhabitants, two newspapers, five banks, 28 pubs and, according to Tourism NSW, was Australia’s largest inland settlement. Like Sofala, many of the buildings have now disappeared, however, there are still plenty left standing to explore, with some of the stores open for business, and highlights being a tour of Bald Hill Mine, a visit to Beaufoy Merlin Lookout, as well as some time spent at the Hill End Heritage Centre, where you will get the best advice on what else there is to do around town.
The way to Bathurst can be done in multiple ways, head back towards Sofala. Then take either the Sofala Road turnoff or the Turondale Road turnoff, taking the Bridle Track.
If you manage to pack up early and reach Bathurst before lunch, a trip around Mount Panorama is always worth the drive, as is a visit to the National Motor Racing Museum, which is chock-a-block full of history surrounding the great race. Abercrombie House is another place to add to your list, and although privately owned, is open for inspection to the public on advertised days. Check the website or drop into the Bathurst Visitor Information Centre for further information. If you would rather keep to the gold theme of the trip, History Hill Museum has thousands of gold field artefacts on display as well as 175 metres of underground mine workings to explore. Now that will really complete an historic gold fields tour.
The trip from Bathurst to Sydney will take around three hours, and after opting to have an early dinner in Bathurst, we arrived home around 10pm with the kids asleep and an easy transfer from the car straight into bed.
This article originally appeared in Caravan & Camping with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.
All images © David Thorndike
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