Gardens Of Stone Np A Bushwalker’s Paradise

Michael Keats, Brian Fox and Yuri Bolotin
(“The Bush Explorers”)

The Gardens of Stone National Park north-west of Lithgow is part of the World Heritage listed Greater Blue Mountains. The Gardens of Stone National Park (presently 15,010 hectares) consists of three disparate areas separated by rural land and coal mining leases. It adjoins several state forests and the Wollemi National Park. The Gardens of Stone is an area of unique and outstanding beauty no serious bushwalker can afford to miss.

Upper Carne Creek Diamond Cavern
by Yuri Bolotin

What makes the Gardens of Stone so unique?

In presenting the case for extension of the Gardens of Stone National Park (Stage 2) Alex Colley of the Colong Foundation wrote,

“The unique qualities of the Gardens of Stone…include the “pagoda” formations created by ironstone bands within the sandstone, and a high density of rare plants and endangered upland swamps. Despite the infertility of its soils, the area is threatened by development proposals because of proximity to Sydney, but it contains no commercial natural resources that are not found in abundance elsewhere. Its real value is in its scenic and bio diversity qualities, which are enhanced by its ready accessibility.”

Pagodas are amongst the most beautiful natural landforms that jointly Mother Nature and Father Time have wrought. The Gardens of Stone National Park is blessed with one of the largest (if not the largest) contiguous areas of this erosion residual land forms
in the world. Combine this with the high concentration of rare and endangered species, as well as the sense of wilderness that permeates the park’s landscapes, and you have the recipe for a bushwalker’s paradise.

The susceptible sandstones with their ironstone banding give rise to bizarre sculptural manifestations scattered over hundreds of square kilometres. Where sandstone outcrops appear in ravines and gorges, running water charged with the products of erosion has carved dramatic forms that adorn or have become canyon walls, embellishing surrounding cliffs and gullies with unique features.

The Gardens of Stone National Park is blessed with one of the largest contiguous areas of this erosion residual land forms in the world.

There are great slots; contorted twisting canyons; winding ramps; gentle waterfalls; rushing rapids, great caverns; keyholes; sinuous passageways; and high above, turreted peaks and pinnacles that reach for the sky. Exploring this terrain is to embark on a never-ending adventure of discovery. Every journey in this wonderland requires patience, careful navigation, physical stamina, constant vigilance, resourcefulness and self-discipline.

Cathedral Cave by Emanuel Conomos

Where massive cliff lines overhang deep valleys, routes can be discovered, often presenting as a complex combination of ramps and slots. Within these routes are countless glorious formations, deep caves and overhangs, subsidiary clefts and canyons, secret pools, waterfalls, spiral ramps and more.

Pagodas are fragile, decorative pieces that must be treated with enormous care, and trod on lightly (preferably not at all). Tens of thousands of millennia have passed during their creation, yet one careless footfall can destroy delicate ironstone and sandstone tracery in seconds.

Exploring the Gardens of Stone

The Sydney motorway network has made destinations within the Gardens of Stone National Park accessible for day walks like never before, with formerly remote destinations such as Pantoneys Crown Mountain and Donkey Mountain now well within reach.

The scale of the Gardens of Stone National Park and surrounding areas is huge. One of the most basic tenets for exploring in this area is to set achievable goals; distances are deceptive. Unless you are walking on a fire trail or rare track, progress is inevitably slow. This applies equally to the dry ravine country

countless glorious formations, deep caves and overhangs, subsidiary clefts and canyons, secret pools, waterfalls, spiral ramps

in the western part and the wetter eastern part. Exploring an area with deeply dissected topography takes time. Many walks may show on a map as less than five kilometres in length, yet six hours or more may be entailed in completing the walk. It is not country to hurry in. At all times, party safety must be the prime consideration.

While not mandatory, carrying a 20 metre tape is strongly recommended. Situations can and do arise where setting a tape can make all the difference to the comfort, wellbeing and safety of the party. Remote area first aid training and keeping these qualifications current is essential for leaders and good for all participants. Always make sure that every member of your party carries an appropriate first aid kit.

SW side of Angus Place trail by Brian Fox

Exploring the Gardens of Stone National Park in most “off the beaten track” areas requires above average fitness with some true grit of spirit. If you ever need motivation for keeping yourself in good physical form, fall in love with the Gardens of Stone.

Current maps of this area have many deficiencies. Most Department of Lands topographic maps of the area show topography with 20 metre contours. The scale of 1:25 000 is often inappropriate for the Gardens of Stone National Park. As a result, many major features are not shown and the maps portray a simplicity which is very much at variance with reality. Carrying a GPS and the best quality map you can buy is mandatory in this frequently complex terrain if you want to verify your position. High-resolution aerial photographs (such as from Google Earth) are useful and often essential. Also, we always carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). Gardens of Stone National Park is that kind of place.

Carrying an adequate supply of water is absolutely crucial. Water is generally scarce; some of the creeks and rivers are polluted. In drier times many creeks cease flowing and cannot be relied on.

The Case for Conservation

When the Gardens of Stone National Park was declared in 1994, in their collective wisdom the authorities drew borders based on existing pastoral leases, mining leases, and Crown Land boundaries. Pagoda country follows the underlying geology and therefore transcends these conventional and politically expedient boundaries. As a result, the current Gardens of Stone National Park footprint excludes some of the finest rock formations and bushwalking destinations.

Tara Point by Yuri Bolotin

A few years ago, the Colong Foundation
for Wilderness, the Blue Mountains Conservation Society and allied conservation groups advanced a proposal that would increase the national park to 40,000 hectares by adding several key areas, including spectacular pagoda country of Ben Bullen, Newnes and Wolgan State Forests. Both open cut and underground coal mines have been operating within these areas for a long time, resulting in water and air pollution, massive pagoda collapses, hanging swamp destruction, and further decrease of the habitat of many rare and endangered plant and animal species. In the case of the open cut mining, it causes wholesale annihilation of the entire natural environment. If these extensive parts of the pagoda country remain unprotected for much longer, this unique piece of our national and world heritage will be lost forever.

What can bushwalkers do to help save this spectacular country?

  • Visit the area often while you can. It may not be there in ten or even five years time.
  • Share your experiences with others: your friends, your bushwalking club, anyone.
  • Document and record what you see – this can be shared in your club newsletters and through social media.
  • Use every opportunity to tell politicians that eco tourism is more sustainable and creates more regional income and employment than coal mining.

Further Information

  • Colong Foundation for Wilderness
  • Blue Mountains Conservation Society
    website: shtml
  • Protect Gardens of Stone
  • Protect Gardens of Stone
    Facebook site:
  • Our on-going project is “The Gardens of Stone and beyond” book series. It contains extensive resources – maps, walk notes, as well as natural history of the area. Nine books will be published. Books one to five are currently available. Book six is due to come out in early 2015. See www.bushexplorers. for where to buy these books as well as natural history of the area. Nine books will be published. Books 1 to 5 are currently available; Book 6 is due to come out in early 2015. See for where to buy these books.

The Bush Explorers


The Bush Explorers

Michael Keats, Brian Fox and Yuri Bolotin have done over 2,500 walks between them. Most of these walks are in the Greater Blue Mountains, and the majority of them are exploratory off track walks in the Gardens of Stone and Wollemi National Parks.

All these experiences have been methodically documented within a number of bushwalking books, including "The Gardens of Stone and beyond" series, which has become an authoritative source of information on the park that is simply not available elsewhere. Check out their website,, for more details.


A video of a five week solo trip to New Zealand. Check out mountains, one of the NZ’s greatest walk, a glacier, a jump off the plane at 15000 feet and much more.

To learn more about the trip and author himself, check out follow-me-new-zealand-5-weeks-photos.

And here is an exceptional example of gravity. Check out the video precarious-bridges-and-towers-of-balanced-rocks-by-michael-grab/.