|The Bridle Track, a 4WD rite - Quick Facts|
The Bridle Track runs from Duramana, northwest of Bathurst, to the old mining town of Hill End.
The best time to visit the Bridle Track is in spring, summer and autumn. In winter you'll definitely wake up with ice on the swag. If you do decide to battle the winter gods, make sure you have an alpine-rated sleeping bag!
The Bridle Track runs from Duramana, northwest of Bathurst, to the old mining town of Hill End. It is approximately 60km long, and in 4WD terms, can be graded 'easy'. So easy in fact that driven carefully, a conventional vehicle could manage the entire distance, though extreme care would be required on some of the steeper, shaly sections of the road.
If however, you want to experience some of the better, more isolated camp sites (on the other side of the river), a 4WD with better-than-average wading ability and low range gearing is mandatory.
The Bridle Track begins as a narrow ribbon of bitumen running through picturesque grazing land in rolling country. It later becomes dirt, but it's easy driving, though some caution is needed on sweepers, particularly after a long dry spell, when the road surface can be very loose.
In these conditions, dust can also be a problem, so leave plenty of distance between vehicles if travelling in a group. If it rains, the road surface becomes slippery rather than boggy, requiring careful driving, even in a 4WD.
Further on, the countryside is more rugged, with striking vistas into the valleys and the river winding through them. On some corners, you'll notice the original stone formwork, hand-laid by Chinese labourers back in the gold rush era of the 1870s.
The camp site at Bruinbun offers the first easy access to the river. Bruinbun is a favourite spot with canoeists, as it has both flat water and medium grade rapids. In the old days, all along the Bridle Track, primitive camping was the go, but for many years, long-drop loos have mimimised the risk of giardia being borne downriver in floodtimes. These are currently being replaced by even more environmentally friendly composting toilets.
After Bruinbun, the road becomes narrower, hemmed in by drops to the water on one side and rugged cliffs on the other. Slow speed is recommended, because a number of corners are completely blind. Over the years, there have been quite a few head-ons.
Access requires negotiating a very steep downhill track, a low range traverse of a (normally) dry riverbed littered with large rocks, and finally, crossing on of the small tributaries of the Macquarie. It's worth it. A massive vari-colored rock bluff flanks the site, and in the mornings, the visual impact of the sun hitting the wall is quite spectacular. As with all camp sites on the Bridle Track, high visitation has seen dead wood become scarce, so if you want a cheery log fire at night, bring the necessaries with you.
After periods of heavy rain, the causeway across the Turon River can become extremely dangerous. Though normally dry or easily splashed through, in flood the Turon causeway lies under swift and deep water, and even heavy 4WDs in low range have been swept away.
As the Track climbs out of the Turon Valley to reach Hill End, it's at its most rough. You know you're close to the township when you see old stampers rusting by the road, and even some of the drives the miners used to burrow into the rich hillsides.
Originally called Bald Hill, in its heyday, the Hill End site was one of the richest fields in NSW. The world's largest specimen of reef gold - the massive Holtermann Nugget that stood almost as tall as its discoverer - was unearthed from nearby Hawkins Hill in 1872.
Now under the control of the NSW NPWS, the town today has preserved many of the buildings from the rush days.
Even the pub, which still dispenses cold beers, good food and even a bed for the night if that's what you want, dates back to the 1870s, and many of the significant structures around town boast useful information plaques that describe life in the golden years. Hill End is perfect for parents to instill a knowledge of Australia's rich history in young minds. You can even take the kids on a walk-in tour of the Bald Hill Mine.
When travelling on the Bridle track be sure to take a spare tyre and do not speed or travel the last 20kms at night. If a car is coming from the other direction you may have to reverse quite a few kms around blind corner mountainsides with 1000 foot drops... it is a very dangerous journey at night in any vehicle. Darren, Sydney.
If you intend to travel along the Bridle Track, check with NPWS beforehand if it has been raining. It can get very muddy in parts and hard to travel through in a 4WD. John, Lithgow.