A few hours west of Sydney over the Blue Mountains brings you to the stunning Central West of New South Wales. With its natural beauty, fascinating history and country hospitality this region is the perfect place to unwind, explore and spend a few days soaking up the atmosphere. We love the area so much we now call it home. Just remember there are four distinct seasons out here so be sure to plan your visit in the warmer months if you prefer the heat or the cooler months for the cold.
Situated in the hills between Bathurst and Mudgee lies two ghost towns. Like many parts of inland Australia, the central west was borne on the promise of prosperity. Back in 1851 when Bathurst, the first town west of the Great Dividing Range, was still in its infancy gold was discovered along the Turon River. A gold rush ensued with the tent city of Sofala springing up along the Turon River. Further gold finds were unearthed and by the 1870s the more substantial town of Hill End was established some 40km west of Sofala. This coincided with the discovery of the largest gold nugget ever unearthed at the ‘Star of Hope’ mine on October 19, 1872. The nugget weighed in at a whopping 600lbs and was worth around 12,000 Pounds Stirling. This intensified the gold rush with the boomtown of Hill End boasting an array of shops and amenities including up to 27 hotels, 4 churches, a school and hospital. The population of the town and district had swelled to around 30,000. Even the ‘tent city’ of Sofala boasted a population of around 10,000. However like much of the gold rush this was only short lived and by 1883 the population had dwindled to 1,200. In 1967 Hill End finally became an historic site.
A winding country drive through rolling hills and open paddocks brings you to the tiny village of Sofala. Arriving in Sofala is like stepping back in time. The tiny main street has several quaint old buildings dating back to the 1800s. Sofala is credited as being the ‘oldest surviving gold town in the country’. The one remaining pub, The Royal is a top spot for a cold one whilst the couple of cafes will take care of the taste buds. After checking out the town head east for a short distance following the meandering Turon River and you will find a couple of riverside camping spots that would be ideal to throw the swag down for a night. The best of these has to be First Crossing, 6km from Sofala. There is ample space with plenty of grassy sites beside the river, pit toilets are provided. Back in Sofala before heading west make sure you check out the Lucky Point water diversion tunnel. Water diversion tunnels were common during the gold rush days and were used to divert the main flow of the river away from a bend making it easier to find alluvial gold deposits. Although the entrance to the tunnel is obscured today by a large boulder you can still hear the flow of the water through the tunnel. To find the tunnel head north over the bridge towards Ilford then turn left just after the bridge and follow the track down to the river. Camping is permitted here but no facilities are provided.
From Sofala head west towards Hill End. Partially unsealed but well maintained the road winds its way through the mountain ranges and open paddocks. This is merino country and wool production is a big part of the economy out this way.
There are a couple of delightful bush camping spots beside the Turon River on the way to Hill End. During the warmer months the river is a welcome spot for a cool refreshing dip on a hot day.
Hill End is now administered by the NPWS as an historic site. Still home to around 100 residents the town is a great place to spend some time exploring. Some of the town’s original buildings have been saved and restored to their former glory. Don’t forget to call into the old hospital, now the visitor centre and museum, which is well worth checking out. Even vacant blocks around town where buildings once stood have information signs to tell their story. After checking out the buildings take a stroll along the Bald Hill walking track. Starting near the post office this walk passes by old mine workings complete with interpretive signs that tell the story of the gold rush days. Keep an eye out for the many wild goats found in the area. There are also three lookouts around town to take in the views.
After checking out the town make sure you head north a little way and visit a couple of the other fantastic attractions nearby. The ‘Arch’ is a natural archway produced by mining many years ago and a short walk into the gully to view the arch is a must. The Cornish Roasting Pits about 6km north of town are easily found, signposted off the Mudgee Road. The impressive pits were constructed by Cornish miners during the late 1850s with gold being extracted during the roasting process from the quartz ore. The pits and stamper battery housing are all that remain today. At the turn off to the Cornish roasting pits make sure you take the short diversion to Valentines Mine. This is well worth a look.
For those looking to pitch the tent or park the van Hill End has a couple of camping areas, the Village camping area in town offers powered sites amongst its facilities whilst just out of town Glendora camping area is set amongst the bush. Both sites have gas barbecues, hot showers and dogs are permitted. Accommodation is also available in and around town including rooms at the Royal.
If you are looking for a few days of rest and relaxation in the delightful central west of New South Wales with a bit of history thrown in then we can certainly recommend a visit to Sofala and Hill End. You will not be disappointed. You can even try your hand at fossicking. Who knows you may even strike it rich.