A Weekend in Bundanoon
Home to around 2,700 people, the Southern Highlands’ village of Bundanoon is located on the edge of Morton National Park about 150km south of Sydney. From central Sydney it’s a two hour train trip, and a little less than that if you drive.
The Gundungurra people are the Aboriginal people whose traditional land includes what we know today as Bundanoon. The name ‘Bundanoon’ is said to be an adaptation of Gundungurra language describing the deep gullies of the nearby Morton National Park.
The name Bundanoon was officially adopted in 1881, around a decade after European settlers established the railway through what would become the township.
The railway facilitated both industry and leisure, with those from Sydney visiting — as I did — for the weekend. While the boom years of both are in the past, last year marked 150 years of rail at Bundanoon, and if you’ve never made the journey it’s time to settle in and discover what makes this place so special *all aboard!* 🚂
Welcome to Bundanoon, do stay a while
There’s a great sign just outside Bundanoon train station, it reads, in part: “Lovely Bundanoon STAY!” …is it an enthusiastic welcome, a commanding plea — a bit of both? It is actually a replica of a larger sign that once stood on the corner of nearby Church Street and Anzac Parade. Beneath the modern day sign is a smaller sign explaining it as a reproduction. Along with the explanation is a photo from the 1920s of the original sign, under which the members of Bundanoon Gun Club proudly pose, guns in hand… welcome to Bundanoon, the men and their guns would love for you to STAY!
The sign is sweet though, really, it goes on to expound the natural beauty of the town in verse, “have you seen our beauteous sights, verdant gorges, craggy heights? Have you heard the lyre birds call. Seen the sparkling waterfall? If not, then a while here stay and see them all without delay” …that’s good enough an invite for me. It was time to head to Morton National Park.
Hiking the trails of Morton National Park at Bundanoon
I started my morning with a visit to Morton National Park. The national park is about 30 minutes walk from the train station via Church St, which becomes the appropriately named Gullies Road.
Having never been to Morton National Park before, I did a bit of research ahead of time to decide which trails and lookouts to visit. I made a list of a few vantage points across the valley, a track leading down to a long-abandoned coal mine, and another to a waterfall. First stop… the coal mine.
Erith Coal Mine Loop Track, Morton National Park
Erith Coal mine was established way back in the 1860s, before Bundanoon was called Bundanoon, and in the very first years of the railway.
Over its decades of operation it was shut down variously due to changes in ownership and strike action. The local paper in September 1882 records the coal from Erith coal mine being used to run the railway including the mail-trains from Junee to Albury. In 1915 the mine ceased operation for good.
Today, entry to the tunnels is prohibited and they are blocked with fencing and signs warning of ‘extreme danger’.
The surrounds of the abandoned mine are beautiful — a gully of lush ferns and eucalypt forest with a creek that cascades as a waterfall past the old mine entrance to pool in the valley below (this is where the coal would be washed back when the mine was operational). Though I must admit not spending long here, because although it is an objectively scenic spot, the place was eerie. And so it was a quick turnaround for me, up and away — from the ghosts of coal mines past — to finish the loop track and explore more of Morton National Park.
Grand Canyon Lookout, Morton National Park
My next stop was to check out the view from some of the lookouts in Morton National Park. I decided to head to Grand Canyon and Sunrise Point because I ultimately wanted to get on the Fairy Bower Track to ignore the advice of TLC and chase waterfalls 💁🏻
From the end of the Erith coal mine loop to the lookouts and Fairy Bower Track it was a relatively flat road walk.
Fairy Bower Falls, Morton National Park
After taking in the view across the national park from the lookouts at the top of the escarpment, I wandered along the roadway a little further to the trail head of Fairy Bower Falls Walk. This walk journeys down into the valley to the base of the falls, tucked away in among towering trees, mossy rocks, and a mess of lush ferns. Researching this place after my visit, I learned that it is said to have been the site of a massacre of Aboriginal people by two white settlers in the 1830s. Australian artist Ben Quilty shares what he learned of this from local oral history in a description of his artwork Fairy Bower Rorschach (2012).
Back to Bundanoon
By the time I’d wandered back into town it was late afternoon and I’d clocked up about 17km. I checked into the lovely, welcoming Bundanoon Country Inn Motel before heading into town to browse the local shops… I couldn’t resist some locally made Bundanoon Botanicals soap, and a delightful second-hand Bryce Courtenay book (‘A Recipe for Dreaming’).
Now, a popular evening activity Bundanoon is renowned for is visiting a spot known as ‘Glow Worm Glen’. Unfortunately for me I was in town at the wrong time of year, it being August. The Glow Worms are more into December to February (who’d blame them, it’s pretty chilly in the Southern Highlands mid-winter). All the more reason to return to Bundanoon, right? Right.
So, Glow Worms on hold for 5 months, I turned to the other popular evening activity… a glass of local red wine by an open fire… because after a day of hiking around the national park, I’d well and truly earned it, don’t you think?
After a cosy evening in, Sunday rolled around and that called for a lazy morning sipping coffee at Jumping Rock Cafe and browsing the local wares at the Bundanoon Maker’s Market.
And then it was time to bid farewell to this charming pocket of the Southern Highlands, for now, at least. Bundanoon is the perfect blend of invigorating nature and restful country atmosphere.
The correspondent writing in the local paper back in 1892 had it right, “…visitors come not only for change of air and scenery, but also the sick to be cured by our bracing atmosphere…”. Until next time, Bundanoon.