Friday nights in our household are usually pretty relaxed with a few snacks and a cold beverage in hand to toast the end of the week. Going for a twilight paddle on a mild Friday night at Dunn’s Swamp adds a whole new dimension to the concept of relaxation.
Clip on your life jacket and grab your paddle, we are about to head down the creek…
Dunn’s Swamp is found on Wiradjuri Country and it is a much-loved feature of the Wollemi National Park. Located on the western edge of the NSW Blue Mountains, Dunn’s Swamp, or the region referred to as Ganguddy in Wiradjuri language, is a man-made reservoir constructed to support the operations of an old cement works 25km downstream at Kandos.
By now I suspect you are thinking that the combination of ‘swamp’ and ‘cement works’ is a pretty unattractive mix, but I can assure you that the whole area is an absolute delight.
Way back in the dim, dark ages we had enjoyed a couple of highly memorable camping trips to Dunn’s Swamp, so when I heard about the opportunity for a relaxed paddle out on its waters, it was an opportunity too good to miss. Southern Cross Kayaking have the sole rights to operate their business at Dunn’s Swamp. They offer kayak hire, guided tours and unlimited passion and energy for the region.
It was a pretty ordinary afternoon when we left home. Looming clouds and gale force winds did not fill me with confidence that we would have a pleasant paddle or remain dry in the process. The weather didn’t really improve during the drive although the wind dropped slightly as the road wound its way into the protected bush of the national park.
Dunn’s Swamp is well off-the-beaten-track driving a very circuitous route from Sydney to get there, heading West over the Blue Mountains, veering north-west to the historic villages of Kandos and Rylstone, before back-tracking due East to hit the edge of the mountains again.
As we bumped our way over the dirt track, snatching glimpses of the water through the trees, we noticed a handful of dedicated campers had already staked their claim on their patch of bush and settled in for the weekend. They knew they were on to a good thing.
With bright yellow kayaks stacked high, Cindy and John welcomed us to the Wollemi National Park, and after a safety briefing we were fitted with our life jackets and shown the basics of kayaking. I am not a highly experienced canoeist, but was confident that we could get from A to B and back to A again without too much trouble and relatively dry.
The next two hours drifted by in the most peaceful, relaxing and fascinating way. Cindy was our paddling guide and she enthusiastically shared her love of the region and knowledge of both Aboriginal and white history, as well as the flora and fauna that surrounded us.
In the late 1920’s a weir was built on the Cudgegong River to trap and supply water to the Kandos Cement Works, 25km downstream. While that industry is long gone, what remains is an oasis of natural bush and a glorious serpentine waterway.
After only five minutes on the water we found our paddling groove and made good progress, leaving the rest of the group behind. That was not the point though and we needed to slow down, relax and take in all the beauty that surrounded us.
The water is edged by rugged sandstone and stately pagoda rock formations towered over us. Water dragon lizards scuttled up almost sheer rock wall faces and small birds swooped and weaved, homing in on their nests in the caves and deep rock niches. Unfortunately the devastating bushfires of 2019/20 scorched huge sections of this park and some of the landscape appears quite barren with skeletal trees as it slowly recovers.
This kayak outing turned into a fascinating history lesson on water. We learned of the importance of this region to the local Aboriginal people and then the role of the construction of the weir wall as a vital job-creation project during the Great Depression, and subsequent employment benefits generated by the expanded Cement Works. I guess the quandary now is with the Cement Works no longer in operation, is it best to remove the weir and return the area to its original, natural state or leave it as is? Potential environmental and cultural benefits vs the loss of an important tourist attraction?
Turtles popped their heads out of the water as we slowly paddled by and misty rain showers encouraged us to turn our kayaks back up stream and head for home. My only disappointment was that the hazy, grey weather really did not allow my photographs do justice the area.
Through the whole activity, I could not believe the feeling of peace and tranquillity. The gentle dip and splash of our paddles in the water echoed off the cliff faces, accompanied by a lonely magpie’s warble. That was it. No cars, no phones and the only voices were our own.
Now that is one special way to chill on a Friday afternoon. Cheers Big Ears!
How do you like to celebrate the end of the week?
What: If kayaking is not your thing, then take one of the five different walking paths to explore the bush surrounding the waterway, including Aboriginal rock art sites.
Where: Dunn’s Swamp is approximately four hours drive north-west of Sydney or a little over 1 hour south-east of Mudgee.
When: If you can visit the site outside of school holidays and weekends, then do it. This hidden gem can get very popular with both campers, off-road caravaners and day-trippers. Camping fees apply.
Why: Dunn’s Swamp is a little patch of paradise. Sitting out on the water is just so relaxing and a glass of red wine around the campfire is pretty special too. The walks through the Australian bush are quite beautiful and native flora and fauna lovers will not be disappointed either.
How: There is no public transport available to access the site. The road out to the area is mostly tar-sealed, up until the entrance to the Park, and in good condition. Just take your time as you navigate the dirt sections. A 4WD is not required.
Who: This place is for the whole family. Children will love exploring the bush or riding their bikes, boaties and paddlers will enjoy the waterway, and rest of us can just find a shady tree and kick back with a good book. Note: In many places the terrain is quite uneven and may pose problems for people with mobility issues.
Related Posts: For some other nice walking and camping spots in the broader region, check out my post here.
Related Blogs: To learn more about the flora surrounding Dunn’s Swamp, check out the Little Things Ecology blog. Or some beautiful landscape photos of the pagoda rocks at Dunn’s Swamp by Hiking Scenery.
Read About It: This part of the Australian bush was a popular hide out for our very own lady bushranger, Elizabeth Hickman. Buy the book from Hesperian Press.
#bushwalk #travelinspo #aboriginalart #visitmudgeeregion #wiradjurination #aboriginalheritage #DunnsSwamp #wolleminationalpark #upthecreek #greatoutdoors #kayaking #nativeflora