Dunns Swamp, NSW

By: Chris Whitelaw, Photography by: Chris Whitelaw

This idyllic camp spot is the best example as to why you should never judge a book by its cover

_R9A2350a_Bring your water craft to enjoy the crystal waters of Cudgegong Creek.jpg

What’s in a name? Well, when it comes to bush camps, it can make all the difference. If you’ve never been to a place and have no idea what it’s like, one way to judge its suitability is by its name; often a destination gets selected (or rejected) simply on its moniker.
But sometimes we can be proven very wrong in that decision. Take, for example, the rather insalubrious sobriquet of ‘Dunns Swamp’, which conjures up visions of a mosquito-infested quagmire of black ooze cloaked in a noxious foul-smelling miasma. Hardly the sort of location you’d take the family for a weekend camping trip. But, in this case, you’d be wrong.

Despite its name, Dunns Swamp, about 30km east of Rylstone in New South Wales, isn't a swamp at all; it’s a most beautiful and idyllic reservoir, created by the Kandos Weir across the Cudgegong River, which flows pristine and plentiful out of the Wollemi National Park wilderness upstream.

The glass-like waters of this tranquil impoundment reflect the superb bushland and stunning sandstone formations that surround it. A lot of European gentry once lived in the area and they bestowed the name Dunn, in honour of a local member of the Legislative Assembly.

With a knack for getting to the heart of things, and manifesting their deep connection with Country, the local Wiradjuri Aboriginal people call it Ganguddy, which means ‘good place’. It was once a birthing area for their women. Today, it is a family-friendly camping area popular for bushwalking, wildlife spotting and a whole raft of aquatic activities.

_R9A2709a_Sunrise through smoke haze reflected in the placid Cudgegong Creek.jpg


The campground lies just inside the northwestern edge of the rugged Wollemi National Park and, to confirm its accessibility with our rigs, we checked it out on Google Earth, whose satellite imagery revealed an amazing landscape.

At more than half a million hectares, the park is the second largest in NSW and constitutes just over half of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Sixty per cent of Wollemi is a wilderness protecting a plateau of 200 million-year-old Narrabeen sandstone that has been extensively eroded into a mosaic of soaring escarpments, plunging gorges and serpentine river valleys.

Ganguddy is a small fragment of this magnificent tableau, where the Cudgegong River drains a semi-circle of remnant volcanic peaks on the edge of the Great Divide and flows westward toward the Macquarie River.

A distinctive feature of the Cudgegong catchment is the colourful white and yellow sandstone that has been exposed and sculpted over millennia into broken hills with wave-like overhangs and flowing, rounded ‘pagodas’.

_R9A2857a_Negotiating some difficult terrain on the way to the Kandos Weir.jpg

Much of the Dunns Swamp landscape is covered by a low woodland of eucalypts and acacias in relatively shallow, sandy soil. Close to the base of the pagodas, taking advantage of rainwater draining off the large expanses of rock, grow tall grey gums and Sydney peppermints with an understory of shrub-like mallee and fringe myrtle. Among the pagodas, heath and native cypress pine grow in the detritus-filled clefts and depressions, protected from bushfires by the rocky walls.

Along the edges of creeks and waterways dense swards of lemon-scented tea tree, fern-leaf wattle, and giant spike rush thrive in the moist, peaty soil, creating important aquatic habitats.

Throughout this complex landscape may be found a rich and diverse selection of wildlife that inhabits the Wollemi — 52 native mammals, 265 birds (one third of the Australian total), 63 reptiles, more than 30 amphibians and 55 butterflies — a number of which are listed as threatened or endangered. The Ganguddy waterways also support 20 species of native fish, including golden perch, Murray cod, catfish and river blackfish, all fair game for visitors with a current fishing licence and the right lures.

_R9A2278a_The access roads to the camping area are suitable for towing vans and trailers.jpg


And so it was with great anticipation, one hot summer’s day, that we departed the charming historic town of Rylstone on a series of rural back roads that carried us eastward to Dunns Swamp.

After about 20km, the open grassy farmlands gave way to gnarly forested hills that quickly crowded upon the dirt road as it entered the National Park, at one point squeezing through a narrow defile guarded by imposing sandstone formations that typify this area. Newish-looking NPWS signs welcomed us and directed us onto the Ganguddy Access Road that terminated several kilometres later at the campground.

Being a mid-week day outside the school holidays, we thought we might have this semi-remote bush camp all to ourselves, and were quite surprised on arriving to find several large caravans already ensconced in cosy nooks among the open woodland.

Nevertheless, we had no difficulty in finding our own quiet corner of a large gravel clearing and setting up in the dappled shade of some stately grey gums — thinking all the while how busy this place must be in peak holidays.

_R9A2920a_The Long Cave is one of the many unusual limestone formations.jpg

After lunch, we set off to explore the neighbourhood along one of the many walking trails that radiate from the campground. The Campsite Rocks Circuit was an easy 500m stroll along a well-maintained gravel path to the river’s edge, where it opened onto a sandy beach with a gap in the sedge to open water beyond. A pair of kayaks sat on the shore, patiently awaiting their owners’ return for more adventure on the waterway.

The path turned away from the bank into a broad picnic area, with tables and barbecue fireplaces, before entering a maze of low sandstone domes interspersed with scribbly gums that shaded a mixed shrubbery of geebungs, wattles and ferns.

After a short distance, the track passed close to an overhang that sheltered an Aboriginal cultural site, one of several dotted throughout Ganguddy. This one was a faded hand stencil outlined in red ochre that is believed to be more than 1000 years old.

It was a timely reminder that Ganguddy and the adjacent wilderness are the traditional lands of several Aboriginal groups, including the Windradyne, Wanaruah, Darkinjung and Daruk people, who lived here for at least 14,000 years before European settlement. More than 120 known sites within the Park attest their connection to this country, including open campsites, sandstone shelters (some of which contain art), rock engravings, burials, scarred trees, ceremonial grounds, stone arrangements and grinding grooves.

The track emerged once more on the river bank, which it followed around a point to another day-use picnic area, fringed by a long, sandy beach that shelved gradually through crystal clear water to a deep channel. Here waded a group of campers enjoying a cooling respite from the afternoon heat.

_R9A2326a_Most sites are shaded and big enough for rigs of all sizes.jpg

By now, we were thoroughly beguiled by this beautiful place and, instead of following the circuit back to camp, we continued along the trail that meandered through woodland for another kilometre to a signpost for the Pagoda Lookout. Turning here, we soon reached the base of an extensive sandstone formation, which we climbed (or rather scrambled) to a rounded summit with panoramic views over Ganguddy and the Wollemi wilderness beyond. In the far distance, a huge plume of smoke sullied an otherwise cloudless blue horizon, emanating from a bushfire about which the NPWS website had alerted us, but which did not pose any immediate threat.

Well satisfied with our afternoon’s reconnaissance, we descended from the gigantic pagoda and returned to camp, where we were once again surprised to find that even more caravans and campers had taken up residence.

_R9A2451_Panorama1_The magnificent reservoir as seen from Platypus Point.jpg


We woke next morning to the cloying smell of wood smoke that misted the camp and surrounding forest, turning the rising sun into a baleful, blood-red orb. The distant bushfire we had seen the previous afternoon was still no threat but overnight the wind had changed, directing the smoke towards us.

What at first appeared (and smelled) a minor annoyance soon turned out to be an unexpected boon for early morning photography as we set off eagerly on yet another trail, the 2km Waterside Walk.

The white-sand trail was easy to follow through waist-high ferns that carpeted the floor of an open forest. It shadowed a long arm of the river, emerging from the undergrowth at one point to reveal a dense bank of sedge that seemed to cover the river from bank to bank and in both directions as far as we could see. Back in the forest, the slanting, smoke-filtered rays of the rising sun painted the mottled grey gum trunks in golden hues that made them glow in their ‘misty’ surroundings.

The track intersected a roughly cobbled service road that crossed a feeder stream and looped back along the other side of the river to a small pagoda outcrop that overlooked an expansive stretch of the river, its dead-calm surface mirroring the now pale-orange atmosphere above it. We followed the track around a bend in the river, with glimpses of rocky outcrops and tall sandstone cliffs on the far bank, to the ‘Cudgegong Picnic Place’ on a secluded backwater guarded by an ancient sandstone monolith. From here, we followed the circuit back to camp and a well-earned breakfast.

_R9A2480_Panorama1_A view of the unusual limestone formations from Pagoda Lookout.jpg

Mid-morning, not satisfied that we had seen all that Dunns Swamp had to offer, we retraced our route towards the Pagoda Lookout, this time following the river to Platypus Point and onward to the Kandos Weir. Beyond the lookout turn-off, the track rose and fell, sometimes steeply, before entering another imposing pagoda formation that could only be negotiated by way of terraced paths, metal staircases and chains that served as handrails by which to haul up the bare rock terraces.

Eventually, the track debouched onto an exposed cliff with a spectacular view overlooking the river and the sandstone walls on either side. We paused here to catch our breath and take in the magnificent vista. A short distance further on, the trail descended to the weir, below which the Cudgegong continued as a trickling stream between a series of elongated pools. Beside it, the track bisected an acacia scrub to ‘The Long Cave’, an enormous sandstone overhang reminiscent of Wave Rock near Hayden in Western Australia, which it skirted before rising to the clifftops once more to rejoin the Weir Walk back to camp.
Parked in our camp chairs with our trail-weary feet propped thankfully on an Esky, cold beverage in hand, we reflected on the old adage of never judging a book by its cover or, in this case, not dismissing a bush camp because of an infelicitous name. If we hadn’t come here, we would not have enjoyed one of the best camps we’ve ever had, anywhere.

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #579. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!