Koombanda Canyon on a rare sunny summer day

Party: Tim Vollmer, Astley Friend and Diego — T2’s photos |

This summer has been such a washout that I’ve pretty much resorted to planning day trips with just a couple days notice when the weather forecast looks promising enough. This trip actually took that to the extreme, with the decision just a day before, but it paid off wonderfully when we woke up to a stunning sunny day.

The three of us met up at Penrith Station before setting off up the mountains. Once we escaped the weekday traffic, things got much nicer, and Diego got to see the spectacular views over the Grose Valley from Bells Line of Road for the first time.

We found the turnoff towards Koombandah Canyon (I have never actually noticed this dirt track at Bell, and had to hit the breaks hard then reverse 10m on the verge) before driving for a couple kilometres and finding a wide spot where we could safely park.

Looking west across Hartley Vale just after we left the car

As we walked across a hill we were rewarded with expansive views of the farmland to the west — not something you normally see on a canyoning trip — before dropping down into a gully that would lead us to the canyon.

This part was probably the toughest of the trip, as we hit an area of swamp filled with cutting grass that really slowed the pace.

Soon we were down in the creek, which was stunning. It was so lush, green and prehistoric that it felt like you might stumble upon a dinosaur around the next bend.

Koombanda Creek was flowing well high up, then suddenly it was bone dry!

The creek was flowing beautifully — like most at the moment following all the rain — and I was hopeful for some impressive looking abseils.

Then suddenly it was dry, and I mean bone dry. My first thought was it had dropped under the sand and we were about to hit the canyon section, but when it continued for a couple hundred metres I really started to wonder what was going on. Even when water started reappearing there was just a tiny trickle.

My conclusion by the end was that there must have been some fracture in the rock caused by the old coal mine and the creek was disappearing into it. (If anyone knows the real story, I’d love to hear an explanation).

Diego on the first abseil

Soon after, we were at the short but spectacular canyon section. We abseiled a short drop before we were forced into the first cold swim. Diego summed it up well when he said it felt like we had descended into the dermis of the earth.

Soon after came another, more impressive abseil. After looking at a couple options we decided to take the more impressive one down the narrow slot next to a chockstone.

Astley volunteered to make the tricky scramble up one wall to the tree above, with his repayment being a longer and more impressive abseil.

Astley in the first cold swim

We all paused to hang in the dark chamber — the darkest part of this slot — snapping a few photos as we slowly spun around.

After another little swim we paused to enjoy a shaft of sunlight that was slicing through the cliffs.

Soon after came the last drop, and we used a sling to lower ourselves down before jumping into the final icy pool.

Attractive canyon formation

Below the canyon section the creek had even more of a ‘Jurassic Park’ feel, with Diego doing his best velociraptor impersonation.

We briefly explored little side streams, with the second the most impressive. A massive waterfall tumbled down the huge cliffs above into a little dell surrounded by huge boulders.

The creek walking was slowed by a fair amount of fallen timber from the big storm last winter, but before too long we could see the old bridge ahead from the former coal mine. I went to the right, which backfired when I hit a clump of lawyer vine, while Astley and Diego picked the better bank and had an easy time of it.

Looking down the next drop

We took some time to explore the remains of the old mine, trying to look in the old shaft and marvelling over their love of concrete. (Not only had the miners covered a huge area of land with the stuff, they’d even concreted the creek as it passed by!)

From here it was a simple task to walk out the old road. It was clear that it still gets some occasional (probably illegal) use, although a large section of recent erosion looks set to end that, with a major crack in the road hinting that it could give way very soon.

As we got higher there were some impressive views over the upper Grose.

Astley abseiling down into the dark chamber

Towards the end we followed the old railway line, through a cutting that is apparently undergoing rehabilitation, past some dams and other remnants of the mine to the main railway line. From here it was a simple walk back along the railway service road to where we’d parked.

The drive back down the mountains was slowed a little by school zones and traffic, but I made it just in time to drop they guys off and head to work. It still blows me away that we have so many wonderful spots to visit so close to Sydney that I can even manage good trips on a work day!

The view as you free-hang on the second abseil
Looking down the last of the canyon constriction
Diego in the final swim

12 Replies to “Koombanda Canyon on a rare sunny summer day

    1. Thanks for that Barbara. By the way, there’s no need to stop! The guy who taught me to canyon is now in his 70’s, and still going strong, and I know another guy who canyoned into his 80’s!

      1. Ta for encouragement but na! Having long since graduated from over the shoulder abseiling (ropes), cross carabiners, (eek) and eventually descenders, I would be tentative as all get out, especially as my exposure to big drops has long since evaporated (amazing how one acclimatises from mediocre to massive heights).

        My greatest fear and thrill (in retrospect) was Danae Brook.

  1. Your right about about where the water went. A number of the creeks as far east as Jungaburra likewise disappear. Coal was taken out under a huge area, playing havoc with the drainage. Most of the water now comes out the drainage shaft near Jinki Gully. This pollutes the Grose all the way down. There are / were (early 90s) very deep but narrow east west cracks running across some of the ridges.

    Alternatives to walking up the road, provided you have dropped into Koombanda from the east, are a pass up to the end of Koombanda Ridge, or reversing Kamarah Gully which is a nice little canyon itself.

    1. Thanks for that background info on the water situation Graeme. I’ll have to see if those cracks are still on the ridge-tops!
      As for the exit, we dropped in from the west, but if I knew I had a full day I think I’d definitely plan to reverse Kamarah Gully.

  2. There are at least 2 large cracks – 1 running east-west & the other running more or less north-south. The east-west one is on the southern extension of Kamarah Ridge above Jungabarra Brook (what I call Jungaburra Ridge). The north-south crack (which I saw yesterday) is on the northern side of Kamarah Ridge just above the saddle.

    1. Thanks for that Peter. I’ll have to head back out there and have a look for these cracks.
      It is amazing what damage mining can do to the rocks far above. Given the depth and scope of these cracks they will likely never heal.

  3. Sure they will, just add yet more concrete. I’ve done this canyon a few times, and apart from the road bash out, have always enjoyed it, until of course the barbed wire fence to leave the property boundary and I had a disagreement and we both ended up in a tangled bleeding mess, ok, it was not bleeding, but I sure was.


  4. Very cool. Love the site. Your Solitary NS write-up was helpful the other day.

    I’m looking at the Bells Line stretch between the Engineers Track and Pierce’s Pass, wondering which gullies or passes might exist all the way down that don’t require abseils, just a bit of tape at most. Any leads? Slowly working my way through the Upper Grose Valley book by Keats/Fox.

    1. There’s actually lots of options for non technical (i.e. no abseils) passes in that area. Some of the short canyons nearby are either walk-through, or the drops can be scrambled around. For instance Kamarah Gully, Jungaburra, Birrabang. I think Jinki Gully is probably a good option, but I haven’t explored it. A tape is always handy in that country. And there’s still a lot of loose ground due to the fires, so you do need to be careful.

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