Visiting Australia’s Glow Worm Tunnel in the Blue Mountains is a trip for the more adventurous sort of travelers. There’s no public transportation anywhere nearby so you need a car to get there. Preferably a 4×4 since whichever of the two approaches you choose involves a long trek down sometimes rough dirt roads.
The dirt road in from Lithgow is about 30K each way with parking available a couple kilometers or so from the tunnel. The Newnes approach requires a much longer hike, but the dirt road is considerably shorter. Annual Glow Worm Tunnel marathons start from the Newnes end and require all runners to wear a headlamp or carry a flashlight as well as walking rather than running through the tunnel.
We came down the long and often rutted road from Lithgow in my daughter’s van. There was one place fairly near the end of the road with a steep enough drop she actually stopped and got out to inspect the road questioning whether or not we’d be able to get back up if we went down it. We did. Not far after that we finally reached the parking lot. Ours was the only vehicle there that was not a 4×4. There is a rustic restroom with composting toilets by the parking lot.
Glow Worm Tunnel is an old railroad tunnel used by a former shale oil mining operation which ran from around 1906 until the 1930’s and was dismantled in the 1940’s when they moved some of the equipment to another site. Tracks were removed both from the tunnel itself and from the trails in and out of it.
The 400-meter tunnel has a couple bends leaving the middle pitch black. A creek runs through most of the floor. Part of it has a ledge on one side to walk above the water level.
When far enough into the tunnel to be in full darkness stop and turn off all your lights to see the glow worms. They appear as pinpricks of green light along the wall or sometimes ceiling of the tunnel. If your light has a red setting you can see them with it turned to red, but they don’t show up in white light. There were no sections of the tunnel that had glow worms as plentiful as in the photo above and my attempts at getting photos resulted in nothing but blackness. The ones we saw looked green like the dots on the glow worm tunnel medal rather than blueish like the ones in the photo above.
The glow worms found in the tunnel are the larvae of the fungus gnat. Their glow comes from a chemical reaction within the body of the glow worm. They use the glow to lure in prey like mosquitos.
Signs warn visitors to pass through the tunnel without touching the walls or making too much noise so as not to disturb or destroy the glow worms. Bogan is an Australian term for lowlife people. Just within the time we were there we saw two different groups of people with no respect for nature who definitely fit that description as they apparently didn’t care to preserve the glow worms for anyone else to see. Both groups talked and shouted loudly enough to be heard for the entire length of the tunnel. One group clustered around glow worms on the wall, taking close-up phone pictures and getting their hands all over everything while loudly wondering if they would be able to hold a glow worm.
The other group thought they could run through the tunnel without lights, perhaps thinking the worms were big and bright enough to light up the tunnel like neon lights. They’re not. You need a light to get far enough into the dark part of the tunnel, then darkness to actually see their glow. Just a small light to find your way, nothing too bright since the glow worms are sensitive to light. Not having lights that group didn’t get in far enough to see any glow worms before turning around and coming out loudly complaining that there weren’t any glow worms there, while smoking in the tunnel. Smoke is harmful to the glow worms, who are quite sensitive to environmental disturbances.
All of the ground in the tunnel is damp and uneven whether in the wet part or not. At least it was during our visit. We were there after a recent rain, but not enough rain to have any water in the big dry wash below the trail near the parking lot.
If you like the wonders of nature, hiking on trails, and don’t mind rough roads this tunnel is pretty interesting to see, but if you are looking for spectacular sights, great photos, or easy tourist spots don’t bother because it takes a lot to get there and the glow worms are just little pinpricks of light that don’t show up at all in the average photo. Some areas of the tunnel had lots of them and other areas just a few or none. There would probably be more if visitors to the area had a bit more respect for the things they come to see as well as for others who might come to see them later on. Especially considering that all of the areas that had very many glow worms were up too high for anyone to reach.
Sadly rocks near the tunnel entrance had graffiti on them and some areas of the trail as well as the road in had garbage strewn about. People seem to manage to carry things just fine when they are full and heavier, but when empty and lighter they want to get rid of them immediately whether it is appropriate or not, thus ruining otherwise pristine areas not just for other visitors, but also for the animals who live there. And often leaving plastic to work its way into the ocean where it wreaks all kinds of havoc.
The Glow Worm Tunnel is located on the Newnes Plateau between Newnes and Lithgow. Lithgow is a town in Australia’s Blue Mountains while Newnes existed for the refinery. Not much is left of the town at Newnes. Many of the buildings were torn down and used elsewhere after World War II when building materials were in short supply. People can visit ruins of the refinery in Wollemi National Park.
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