The Mudgee Region began harvesting wine grapes back in 1858. The combination of the region’s cool climate, high slopes (that range from 450 to 1180m above sea level) and picturesque countryside, has attracted wine connoisseurs from all over the world. But it’s not all about food and wine in the Mudgee Region. Beyond the manicured vineyards and quaint 19th-century towns lie vast stretches of rugged wilderness, hiding jagged clifftops, ecosystems bursting with birdlife and culturally significant gorges that date back more than 12,000 years. From native wildlife to Aboriginal rock art and panoramic lookout spots, the Mudgee Region’s nature walks reveal another side to this historic region.
The Goulburn National Park sits northeast of Mudgee and hugs the meandering Goulburn River for more than 90km. Though it was first established in 1983, the national park has been a significant area for Aboriginal clans, the Wiradjuri, Gamileroi and Wonnarua people, for thousands of years. While wandering through a landscape studded with towering oak trees, you might stumble upon one, or several, of the 300 Aboriginal heritage sites nestled within the park.
One of these sites includes the Great Dripping Wall, also known as The Drip. The gorge was aptly named for the water that seeps through the moss-coated, porous limestone wall and gently trickles into the crystal-clear stream below. As you dip your toes in the fresh, cooling water beneath the overhanging cliffs, you’ll feel the natural umbrella of the bush cool your skin and the echoes of native birdlife singing in the distance. The Drip can be accessed on a 3.5km walking trail that begins off Ulan-Cassilis Road. Following the easy one-hour walk from the picnic area, you might spot native Australian plant life, including native apple gums, tree violets and eucalyptus aenea – a tree found only in the Goulburn River National Park.
You’ll see endemic flora and fauna throughout the forest, but 2km drive further along, lies something you’ll not find anywhere else. It’ll take around 15 minutes to walk to Hands on Rock, but what you’ll see dates back thousands of years. From the wooden boardwalk, a cluster of more than 100 red hand stencils of women, children and motifs decorate the yellow-ochre rock, offering a glimpse into the Wiradjuri people’s ancient culture.
The Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve, the second oldest nature reserve in the whole of Australia, conceals the entrancing Castle Rocks, another significant enclave to the Wiradjuri people. The 8.5km out-and-back Castle Rocks Walk was duly named after the vista at the top of the walk; a unique cluster of giant rock spires that peak above the treetops like archaic castles of the forest. The easy fire trail walk carves between eucalyptus and native pines, abundant with butterflies and more than 164 species of birdlife, including rare honeyeaters.
Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve isn’t the only place you’ll find pagoda-like rock towers. The World Heritage-listed Wollemi National Park has been sculpted over aeons to form beguiling rock formations, tunnels illuminated with glow worms and gorges that feel like secret worlds, hidden beneath titanic rocky outcrops. At Ganguddy-Dunns Swamp near Rylstone, you can drink in the forest’s serenity along the Pagoda Lookout Walking Track. This 2.5km out-and-back track begins at the Cudgegong picnic area and follows the rough terrain of the Weir Walk until reaching the lookout. From the top, you’ll be rewarded with a 360-degree view of the park, where enormous swirling rock towers rise into the sky.
You’ll find a collection of fascinating rock structures in Ferntree Gully north of Rylstone, and you might just have it all to yourself. In contrast to central Mudgee’s sun-lit rolling hills and manicured fields, Ferntree Gully’s rainforest is lush, wild and somewhat mysterious. Walking around the reserve’s 2.8km loop, you’ll see giant gnarly roots intertwined like plaited creatures, enclosing cliffs wearing patches of green furry moss and generally elusive lyrebirds and echidnas.
The secrets out: you don’t have to leave the heart of Mudgee to get a good glimpse of native wildlife. The Putta Bucca Wetlands is just a few minutes drive north from the town centre, adjoining the snaking Cudgegong River. The wetlands were once a gravel quarry, but these days Putta Bucca – derived from the Aboriginal word ‘puttaba’ meaning ‘a hill near a creek’ – is a billabong teeming with birdlife. Strolling along the flat 2km Putta Bucca Wetland River Loop, you’ll be set up for a prime view of the reserve’s collection of birdlife, turtles and notoriously shy platypus.
Bring your trainers and your appetite to the Mudgee Region, where World Heritage-listed wilderness frontiers meet delicious award-winning vineyards. We’ll fix your thirst for nature and wine, all in a day’s work.
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