Got yourself a 4WD…. now what?

Ok, after watching endless new 4WD / SUV commercials on TV, you made the decision, taken the leap and now there is a nice shiny 4WD parked in your driveway. Now what?

While I’m thinking of TV commercials, I despair at some of the claims made on TV. One car brand recently had the slogan “go anywhere”…. Really? If that was a weight loss commercial saying “lose as much as you want”, or a pill claiming some miracle cure, the manufacturer would be up for false and misleading advertising.

Back to your 4WD.  What’s next?

I always think getting to know what your car can and can’t do along with what you can and can’t do is really important.

Tag-Along Tours

These are a great way to get started in 4WDing. Taking a tour with someone who knows what they are doing, under guidance so you won’t get lost or stuck and knowing you’ll get home safely makes for a great day out.

BUT, you must research the companies promoting tag-along tours, call the operator and discuss you and your 4WD and see which operator fits your needs. Not all tag-along tours are created equally.

While out in the bush, I’ve seen Tag-along tours that resembles a traveling car-park.

If the Tag-along tour consists of more than 4-5 cars, you just won’t have as much fun. I’ve seen tours with up to 8-10 cars in a procession. It’s like a slow moving traffic jam. Isn’t escaping the city traffic congestion is what it’s all about?

Some of the issues are; lots of people to consider; differing needs and expectations; vehicle  delays and interruptions are the norm. And if you are new to it, you’ll likely to get lost in amongst it all. Not only that, fewer cars means less environmental damage on the day.

I’ve seen Tag-along tours with highly modified Nissan Patrols and Land Cruisers (which are very capable off-road vehicles) on the same tour as  Nissan X-trails and other soft roaders (which really aren’t designed for proper off-roading). It’s just not fair to both ends of the spectrum of vehicles nor participants.

I run regular tag-along tours with Detour Adventures and do it completely differently. Here’s a few questions you can ask a prospective Tag-along tour company before you agree to go on tour?

  1. How many vehicles will be on the proposed tour?
  2. What is the mix of vehicles going?
  3. Are 2-way radios provided (in case you don’t have one in your car)
  4. Where are you going to go and what is the terrain like?
  5. what safety and recovery items does the operator have?

You’ll soon get to know if you’re dealing with a professional Tag-Along tour company or a cowboy operator.

No-one likes damage

There is no worse feeling than bending your new 4WD out in the bush. Here is a recent tag-along tour with a guy and his new Colorado having a great day out.

We took in some great tracks, saw some amazing things and he learned so much about what his car can do. He later said he felt safe and happy about his tag-along tour. No damage, lots of fun and a whole lot of experience gained on the day. A great family day out. Read is his story TripAdvisor review


Crossing the Kowmung River on a Tag-Along tour with Detour Adventures.

Bring a Friend

If you’ve got a friend with a 4WD, bring them along too. Tag-along tours are great to share with someone you see regularly. You can share stories, swap photos and build your knowledge together. 4WDing is great for bringing families together too.

I did a Tag-along tour recently for two families who owned SUV’s rather than 4WD’s. A Mazda CX7 and an Audi Q7. So we ran with just the two cars. Even though we went on more mild tracks, we still saw some amazing bush and surprised the guys with how capable their cars actually are. A great confidence building day for these men and their cars.


If you’ve just bought your new 4WD, congratulations. Look forward to getting out and about this weekend.

And remember………… if you go into the bush, please take away all your rubbish with you. It’s simple and it’s respectful to the great country we live in.

Cheers, Ian

* You can enjoy a day of adventure with Detour Adventures. visit OR OR OR you can call me on 1300 4 DETOUR (that’s 1300 433 868). email Follow me on twitter of you like @4WDetour


Blue Mountains Platypus for dinner? …… Surely not!

Blue Mountains Platypus for dinner? …… surely not!

Hard to believe ….. but true.

Not now, not today, not even yesterday (thankfully) but back in 1899, platypus were fair game, along with Lyre Birds, Possums, Wallabies and Kangaroo. If only the shooters of 1899 knew what the future might hold, they may have put down their rifles.

But Sid. R. Bellingham who wrote in his book Ten Years With the Palette, Shot Gun and Rifle on the Blue Mountains of which my son has a copy, appears to have been somewhat of a bush expert. This book pictured below was written in 1899.


This is a rare book. My father, as a teenager back in the late 1940’s, asked his grandmother (my great grandmother) could he have it. She said yes and luckily this book has survived under the care of my father who had it professionally rebound and only recently, passed this great book onto my son as a gift for his recent 16th birthday.


What’s for dinner?

As I delicately open the pages of 116 year old book, stopping on page 90, I am met with the title Platypus.

And I quote directly from the book …………….

“Platypus can be found on all the rivers throughout the Mountains. Towards the evening or in the early morning they are most likely to be seen, rising to the surface of the water, were (misspelt where) they will float motionless for about a minute and then dive. They are graceful and seal-like in their motions. The way to get a shot at one is to walk quietly along the banks of a river in the evening, keeping a good look out for both up and down the stream, and more especially watching any deep still waterhole with overhanging trees. If there is a disturbance of water, as if anything is swimming underneath- or any eddies- as if something had dived, proceed to where you can command a good view of this place without being seen, taking advantage of the cover afforded by any tree or foilage” (misspelt foliage)    

Sid R. Bellingham goes on to explain the process of catching Platypus for dinner and concludes the section on this now rare Australian egg laying mammal with the following comments.

“From my own personal observation, I conclude that Platypi live together in pairs, as I have never seen more than two in the same waterhole. The fur of the Platypus almost rivals that of a seal, but the skins are so small and it takes such a number of them to make a rug, that I consider it a pity to shoot them for this purpose”.

How times change. As a protected native animal, you’d probably end up in prison if you shot one today.


The Kanangra-Boyd National Park is one of my favourite spot to take visitors with Detour Adventures*. The wilderness within this National Park was saved thanks to the tireless work of Myles Dunphy , the father of conservation in Australia and his son Milo Kanangra Dunphy. Myles Dunphy (born 1891 in Sydney NSW) worked hard researching, documenting and promoting the significance of the Kanangra area from about 1910. But he wasn’t the first to fall in love with the area.

Sid R. Bellingham started trekking the Kanangra region in about 1890, culminating with this very book written and published in 1899. The Preface of his book states the following.

“It is not the writers intention to attempt to describe the Blue Mountain scenery along the ordinary tourist’s routes. 

His objective is to give to sportsman and others, full information concerning the wild and unexplored parts of the mountains, and the game to be found there.

The author has obtained this information, not by hearsay, but by personal experience, during 10 years exploring into the fastness (misspelt vastness) of the Blue Mountains” 

Sid. R. Bellingham 1899


He writes on page 63…………….

“Kanangra occupies an isolated position in the heart of the wildest scenery, on the Blue Mountains. It lies about half-way between the Southern and Great Western lines, and is distant about 20 miles from the Jenolan Caves, from which place there is a coach road. There is also a bridle track from Burragorang to Kanangra , along which some good shooting may be obtained. Kanangra might justly be called the show-ground of Australia, so far as scenery is concerned. The views to be obtained here, are of greater magnitude than any other parts of the Blue Mountains. The cliffs are higher, the Gorges deeper, and there is a waterfall which rivals the celebrated Govett’s Leap” 

He concludes his Kanangra section with the following….

“A good round tour of the Blue Mountains may be made, by leaving Sydney via the southern line to Picton or Camden, and thence to Burrorgorang by road. From this latter place a good shooting trip can be made to Kanangra, and from thence to the Jenolan Caves. From Jenolan Caves the usual tour through the mountains can be made, returning via the Great Western Railway to town”    

The Coach Road to Jenolan Caves

Today, we refer to the coach road as the Jenolan Caves road. It’s a beautiful drive, leaving the Great Western Highway at the historic village of Hartley, climbing up out of the Valley and onto the Great Dividing Range. Following the caves road will take you up onto the watershed around the Hampton area. This watershed is significant and quite unbelievable as you’ve travelled well to the west of the Blue Mountains. Rain that falls on the eastern side of the road flows into the Sydney catchment via the Cox’s river yet rain that falls on the western side of the road flows into the Murray Darling catchment. Simple as that. One great example of where the road follows the watershed can be seen by taking a quick drive up Old Bindo Road from Hampton village.

Sid R. Bellingham may not have been aware or even interested in the watershed but he was very interested in Hampton. He writes………

“As there are many accommodation places and farms at intervals along the whole distance to Hampton, it will be found best to make one of the places head quarters, and after making inquiries as to the lay of the country and the game, work off into the bush shooting, returning at night to head quarters again. The principal game to be obtained along this route- is wallaby, opossum, and hares-parrots etc. An occasional native bear may often be seen sitting in some trees along the roadside. Some first class all round shooting was to be got in the valley below Hampton”

Sid R. Bellingham covers many things in this book including Coxs River, where to camp, sport and adventure at Jenolan Caves, Dingos, Lyre Birds, native bear (Koala) and opossums (possums) to name a few.


I was pleased to read in the opening comments that he doesn’t consider it any sport to shoot a sleeping “native bear” from the fork of a tree.

Hampton, NSW

This is a recent photo  (source: Detour Adventures) of my son’s Great, Great Grandmothers home in Hampton, NSW where this actual book by Sid R. Bellingham spent much of it’s life before it was passed onto my son by my father recently. This home in itself has a significant history to the Hampton area. It is located on the Jenolan Caves Road and was built around the time Sid Bellingham was visiting the area. Given his love of the Hampton area, I wonder if Sid Bellingham personally gave a copy to my Great Granny.

This is a great book in many ways. I think it is a remarkable time capsule of information of a by-gone era, seldom mentioned today. It has so much to tell us about Australian life in 1880-1890’s. We often hear about the plight of early settlers and farmers, gold miners and industry of that era but to me Sid. R. Bellingham seemed to be immune from the usual hard times, choosing instead to travel, explore and document his findings.

Thankfully this original copy of his book has lasted 116 years. It is a much loved and valued part of Australian history in the care of our family.

Another remarkable thing was this book was printed in 1899 in the then brand new Queen Victoria Markets (what we now call the QV Building) in Sydney. The Queen Victoria Markets building was only completed in 1898.

Shotgun and Rifle on he Blue Mountains by Sid R. Bellingham. A book about a wonderful part of Australia, well worth visiting. Fortunately, the only shooting today is with a camera.

You can explore and enjoy Kanangra-Boyd National Park with Detour Adventures in comfort, or if you own a 4WD, join us with a tag-along tour sometime.

Cheers, Ian

* You can enjoy a day of adventure with Detour Adventures. visit OR OR OR you can call me on 1300 4 DETOUR (that’s 1300 433 868). email Follow me on twitter of you like @4WDetour #4WDetour





The Queen Victoria markets as the would have appeared in 1899. Source:


The QV Building in 2015 Source: Detour Adventures


To 4WD or to not 4WD? … That is the question

Much of what I do is in a 4WD. It’s my professional occupation; 4WD tour operator.

In fact I’ve owned quite a few over the years. My first car was a 4WD Suzuki Sierra which I bought brand new. Both our children were brought home from hospital in a 4WD and many of our happy family memories were while out 4WDing in the great Australian bush or crossing the Simpson Desert. Wonderful family times.


My first 4WD.

A 4WD can be a great way to escape. Post WWII, Jeep set the benchmark in off road travel with it’s great performance in the war. Land Rover became the ‘modern’ 4WD through the 50-60’s followed by Toyota and Nissan who quickly saw the need for a vehicle that drives all wheels.

So, by 1970, if you wanted a new 4WD wagon, you basically had three or four to choose from. Land Rover, Toyota and Nissan and to a lesser degree, the family sized American Jeeps (think Cherokee).

Putting Jeep aside for the moment, if you wanted a new 4WD, you had three manufacturers that had good Australian based dealer networks, support and proven reliability. But in essence, all three were basically the same; capable off road, appallingly uncomfortable on road, noisy and were outright dangerous in the wet on tarred roads with their high centre of gravity and narrow off road tyres (often these were bar tread tyres – a left over design from WWII…. no I’m not kidding).

The suspension on these 4WD’s was stiff and ear plugs should have been issued along with the owners manual from new; boy were these cars noisy on the road. As a final parting comment on these three off road vehicles and especially in the case of Land Rover, you needed to drive with a rain coat on when it was raining outside.

But…………. something changed.

Land Rover invented the Range Rover. This was class above all else. It was quiet and with soft coil spring suspension, it was comfortable on road (to the point of inducing motion sickness as it rolled around so much) but thanks to that supple suspension it was hugely capable off road too. With its powerful and lovely sounding V8 engine, it was the envy of all 4WDers. But it was expensive. When a normal 2WD car cost around $3-4,000 a new range Rover would set you back a cool $10,000. So, yes it was great, but only those with deep pockets could afford one.


My model Range Rover that I’ve owned since 1974

Not to be outdone, Toyota upgraded the Land Cruiser wagon to the much loved ’60 series’. Some models even had electric windows and air-conditioning. Nissan introduced the game changing MQ Patrol. Many of these vehicles came out in an electric blue sort of colour with a combination set of orange stripes running down its considerable length. There was no doubt, you would be noticed when driving a new MQ Patrol. The MQ Patrol was really the first 4WD to offer 7 proper forward facing seats with seat belts.  Growing up, my family had both the Toyota 60 and Nissan’s MQ Patrol. I loved them equally.

However, we were still in the era (late 1970’s) when you only bought a 4WD if you were serious about your 4WDing. Not these days.

Today, we all know the urban 4WD may never see a dirt road in it’s life and the only obstacles it endures now are shopping centre car parks and school pickup zones. Yet the urban driver is now treated to comfort, safety, reasonable fuel economy and with manners similar to a road car. Yet, you can venture off road on a weekend if you feel like it. Sort of what the original Range Rover was made famous for.

But just because the badge says 4WD (or some say AWD) and the TV commercials show how even the smallest AWD/4WD can perform off road, are YOU prepared to go off road.

The simple answer is Yes and No.

Yes; tackling dirt roads to your level of confidence and experience is fine. But imagining you are in a go anywhere vehicle is not what you’ve got.

No; going into difficult terrain, especially on your own in a standard 4WD/AWD is dangerous. Being over confident is dangerous and not knowing how your vehicle will behave off-road is dangerous.

The biggest thing that could let you down (apart from inexperience) are your road going tyres. Manufactures install tyres that will sell cars, not that will allow the 4WD to go anywhere. Like most things in the manufacturing process, factory fitted tyres on your new 4WD are a compromise between quiet road noise, reasonable grip on tarred road surfaces and some level of capability off road. But the last one comes last in the list of priorities.

Our family has three proper 4WD vehicles (not AWD vehicles). One has factory fitted tyres as shown below.


Highway tyre as fitted factory standard to many new 4WD vehicles

These tyres are quiet, quite grippy on the tarred road but hopeless off road. Fortunately, this car is treated as a road car and it’s job is to pull a horse float. With almost 70,000km on these tyres, we’ve had a good run. But at replacement time which is looming up fast, I’ll put on a 70% road/30% off-road type tyre. There are heaps of brands to choose from. I have my preferences.

Our next vehicle is a capable off road, tray back ute. As you can see, the tread pattern is very aggressive, designed to clear mud and grip rocky surfaces. These are great off road, but are a little noisy and less grippy on road.


Typical Mud Terrain tyre

On the Detour Adventures vehicle, a 200 Series Toyota Land Cruiser, we have the same aggressive off road tyre as the tray back ute. Strong, capable and as this vehicle spends just about all of it’s life in the bush on tours, these tyres are well suited to the job.


Toyota Land Cruiser 200. Photo courtesy L.Tonitto (Detour Adventures Guest)

But tyres aren’t the only thing. You need knowledge and safety. You need to respect and look after the environment when out in your 4WD and enjoy the bush responsibly.

I could go on for hours on how to set up a 4WD but here are my top tips when choosing a 4WD for the first time.

1) Think about what you are likely to do and before buying a 4WD, go out on a professional 4WD tour. There are many 4WD tour operators to choose from. Detour Adventures* (#4WDetour) is a good one to consider. Doing some real 4WDing will help you see if it’s what you really want to do. And in doing so, you can eliminate a whole range of vehicles that aren’t suitable. Ask your driver lots of questions. Ask your family are they enjoying it.

2) Look at options you have near you to go 4WDing. Seriously, if you live a long way from proper bush or beach, work 50-60 hours a week and have very little spare time, is it wise to invest in an expensive 4WD for the occasional off road adventure? Instead, maybe buy a nice economical city dwelling car and call Detour Adventures every time you have the urge to go 4WDing.

3) Equip your 4WD correctly. I’ve touched on tyres. Here are some other aspects to consider: Suspension modifications; protective bar work, winch, UHF radio, basic recovery gear, water and extra fuel containers and proper equipment storage for gear, camping and safety items within and on the car. Don’t just throw everything in the back. These will become missiles in an accident.

4) Safety first please. Whichever 4WD you choose, the moment you go into the bush away from people, I insist you take the following items: EPIRB (emergency locator beacon); have a properly installed 5 watt UHF two way radio in your vehicle, carry a full first aid kit along with the knowledge on how to use it, recovery gear such as tow ropes or snatch straps, gloves, recovery tracks (I use the Maxtrax brand), emergency water, food and warm clothing for all occupants. Printed maps of where you intend going. A nice addition is electronic mapping (I use HEMA maps from the app store). I also carry a Satellite phone and an AED (automated Defibrillator) as well as additional recovery gear and chainsaw for any fallen trees across a track.


Emergency Locator beacon. Easy to purchase and can save your life.

Finally, plan your trip well. Not down to the last minute but allow yourself plenty of time; Tell someone responsible where you are going and when to expect you back; Show this person the map with your intended route and allow them to take a photo on their phone of your route in case they need to show rescue people if you don’t show when expected.

And before you set off, call someone who knows the area where you are going (local visitors information centres are a good starting point) or local 4WD tour operators and ask about track conditions.

As always, if in doubt, go with a professional. Detour Adventures along with many other 4WD operators, offer tag-along tours as well as in-car tours. Tag-along tours can be designed to take you on a great trip safely, within your level of 4WDing ability and it is a great way to enjoy the bush safely.

So, there you have it. An intro into your first 4WD. Happy 4WDing……. and remember, if you go into the bush, please take your rubbish away with you.

Cheers, Ian

* You can enjoy a day of adventure with Detour Adventures. visit OR OR OR you can call me on 1300 4 DETOUR (that’s 1300 433 868). email Follow me on twitter of you like @4WDetour

















Lithgow Panther sightings – real or imaginery?

Panther or pussycat?

For the last 40 plus years, there have been reports and rumoured sightings of a large cat lurking in the bush around the Lithgow area. Some may have heard of these sightings and this mystery big cat  has become affectionately known as the ‘Lithgow Panther’.

But is it real? There are very few photos; scant evidence; and no actual proof such as a dead body.

However, if you speak to those who have witnessed a big cat one things becomes clear.

The people who have seen this cat-like animal aren’t making things up. Normal, everyday people going about their business and then they see something they have never seen before. Recent sightings include that of two Lithgow police officers.

I’m sure many more sightings go unreported and those who do mention it know they will face criticism from sceptics.

For the sake of this blog, lets not speculate how a ‘big cat’ arrived in the Lithgow area, rather lets have a look at something that happened to me the other day.

Now, before you jump to the end of the story for a punch line or worse, jump to conclusions of any sort, here’s a few things upfront.

1) No, I haven’t seen a big cat…. but I’d like to see one sometime.

2) Yes, I do believe a big cat exists in the bush around the western edge of the Blue Mountains.

3) And, In my daily travels I have seen what I consider evidence of a big cat. Recently, I came across a really badly shredded Kangaroo carcass, not chewed apart but torn apart.

Now, back to my story……..

I run daily 4WD Adventures into the bush in the Blue Mountains, Lithgow, around the western side of the Great Dividing range and Bathurst NSW* so I’m out and about more than your average weekend 4WDer. I grew up in the area and my office is the bush.

Just a few days ago, I had a tour booked and picked up a lovely family from some cabins out in the bush. The previous night, they had driven from their cabin to a restaurant for dinner and returned to their cabin around 10pm……….

So, the next morning, our 4WD tour started normally when I met my Guests. As I got introduced, I found one of my Guests was Columbus Ohio, working in Sydney, is partner is an Australian originating from North Queensland and living in Sydney and Mum, a lovely German woman from Berlin, now residing in Ohio.

As we drove along, all sorts of Australian related questions were asked. What type of trees are we looking at? does it snow out here? where will be going? etc, etc. All very normal questions. Then came the biggie……. my Guest from Ohio asked “What is the big cat you’ve got out here?”

My heart jumped but I remained calm. I said “Not sure, what did you see?” keeping my eye contact to a minimum. He continued calmly, ” When we left the restaurant, we came around a bend and saw this big cat. I think it was a Lynx or maybe a Bobcat but I didn’t think you get them out here do you?”

I said, “Sure it wasn’t just a feral cat?”

“No, it was too big” replied all three passengers . Then they all gave a full blow by blow recount of what they all saw.

This is what I learned……

  1. It was big. Much bigger than a cat but cat-like in its walk and shape, distinctly different from the look and walk of a dog.
  2. It had a long tail
  3. It appeared to be dark or black in the headlights of the car
  4. It had brown or golden…ish coloured spots
  5. The head was small and refined, like a cat

There was much discussion on how big was “big”. Small, medium and big mean different things to different people. So I asked what did it do?

It crossed the road in the car headlights entering from the bush passing left to right and had to physically duck under the ARMCO railing on the side of the road. The one comment ‘it had to duck under the railing’ to me, gave a reasonably accurate height estimation. The railings at the spot of the sighting where they showed me was around 500mm at the lowest edge. So, this ‘big cat’ must have be around 550-600mm tall at it’s shoulder blades.

This clearly was no domestic cat. This was a big cat. Lynx or bobcat? unlikely. Panther? unlikely but who knows. but what about the spots? I was enthralled to hear the story unfold.

Asking more questions, the conversation flowed with all three Guests generally agreeing on the size of the big cat and very much agreeing on it’s appearance, walk and what it did.

Now, if I had a bunch of Australians on board, who had never seen a Bobcat or Lynx in real life, I’d be a bit more speculative. However all three Guests have lived and spent much time in the US and saw what their first instinct told them it was a Lynx, about the size of a Bobcat.

After spending a day with these Guests, I believe they saw a big cat of some sort. These are very normal city folk out for a day of adventure in the bush. The cabin they stayed in was out of mobile reception range and I was the first person they came into contact with only 10 hours after the sighting. Amazing stuff.

IMG_6382 Typical bush where a sighting could occur.

So, after listening to the encounter of these Guests, I casually asked had the heard the story of the Lithgow Panther? No, came the reply , nor did they realise we were near Lithgow. Once told of the many sightings, all were adamant, what they saw was not a Panther.

Sceptics reading this blog will no doubt ask “So where are the photos?” I’d answer that by asking in reply, “have you ever tried to photograph a kangaroo when it darts out in front of you on the road?”

Personally, I would prefer to not refer to this big cat as the Lithgow Panther any more. It is quite possibly a misleading statement. Whether it is some sort of a feral cat upsized over generations to take on big prey remains to be documented.

IMG_6678  A beautiful waterfall I thought I’d add.

What I do know is that I’m going to go find one of these big cats and record it. Anyone want to join me?

Take care everyone and remember…. when out in the bush, take your rubbish away with you.

Cheers, Ian

* You can enjoy a day of adventure with Detour Adventures. visit OR OR OR you can call me on 1300 4 DETOUR (that’s 1300 433 868). email Follow me on twitter of you like @4WDetour









Abercrombie Caves – the bushrangers tale

Most people have heard of Jenolan Caves, a few have heard of Wombeyan Caves, and fewer still have heard of Abercrombie Caves. Some may wish to debate the last point but that’s for another day.

My personal view is this; for the 75 km you’ll drive from Bathurst to get to Abercrombie Caves, it’s unquestionably a great day out. With self guided tours on weekdays and guided tours on weekends with knowledgeable and experienced NSW National Parks Guides on weekends, you’ll want for nothing.

Apart from learning about the wonderful and at times colourful history of the caves, there are picnic tables under shady trees, camp sites with amenities, accommodation to rent and without the crowds of some of the other caves, you’ll leave thinking you’ve discovered a gem. No question.

However………. lets cast our minds back to September 1830. Just out of winter, things were starting to thaw in the area and the ‘Ribbon Gang’ of bushrangers were busy fellows.

Remembering that Bathurst was founded as Australia’s first inland city in 1815, one of it’s goals was not only to open up the west but to accommodate the ever growing population of convicts. Sydney, Norfolk Island and other convict settlements were bulging at the seams. Governor Macquarie needed a solution. Bathurst was the answer. There were a huge number of convicts housed in convict accommodation and/or put onto Bathurst farms as workers until granted leave. And not all were happy about it.

Pictured below is recent photo of an example of convict accommodation built in about 1840. This particular structure was built by a fellow called Richard Jones. With it’s narrow windows to minimise the chances of escape it would have been dark and drafty. Hot in summer and unbearably cold in winter. The doors were solid timber and permanently closed.

IMG_5785[1] Convict ‘Accommodation’

An good example of a bad decision in convicting a person from Ireland and sentencing him to life in the colony was the story of Patrick Cullen.

In 1837 at the age of 51, poor old Pat was convicted of stealing a cow and banished to Australia…. for life, leaving behind a wife and 10 children.

Pat was given his ticket of leave in 1844 and lived out his days at Long Swamp, on the way to Abercrombie Caves. Five of his children came to Australia and lived out there days here too. He never saw his wife again, nor his other 5 children.  Pat died on the 22nd January 1871 at the age of 85 from “exhaustion from old age“.

In 1988 some 117 years after Pat’s death, it was discovered that Patrick Cullen never actually stole the cow and was wrongly convicted and deported. It is noted on the plaque in the photo below that his relatives today are thankful of his sacrifice which gave them a life in Australia that they wouldn’t have otherwise received.

Here are some Cullen graves in the Long Swamp cemetery.

IMG_5807[1] Cullen Graves

But back to the main story……….. Bushrangers.

Back in about the late 1820’s Governor Darling was worried about the growing discontent amongst convicts in the Bathurst area. Absconders frequently became bushrangers and terrorised the free settling farming community stealing fire arms, cattle and food.

As a result, the Bushranging Act of 1830 became law. And what a law it was.

Anyone who was suspected of being a bushranger found carrying a gun could be arrested (with a warrant) and once searched were then taken into police custody without bail. When found guilty at a court hearing, the convict was then hanged in Bathurst within 3 days. Appeals were not permitted. Tough justice indeed.

Enter Ralph Entwhistle.

Ralph Entwhistle was possibly not the best convict citizen in the community to start with but he worked hard. One particularly hot summer day, he was returning his bullock team to Bathurst when he stopped for a cool dip in the Macquarie River. Unfortunately, Governor Darling’s party went past at the same time and upon seeing Entwhistle and a mate in the river without clothes the officers became deeply offended. The two men were taken into custody and flogged before being released.

Ralph wasn’t happy that he was treated so unfairly and plotted a revenge over the ensuing months. He started an uprising and gathered around him up to 80 men (at the peak). With stolen guns his gang’s reign of terror upon the farming community earned this group the title “The Ribbon Gang” reportedly because Entwhistle wore a ribbon in his hair.

By November 1831, the free settlers were fed up with the Ribbon gang and took it upon themselves to capture the bushrangers. Led by local free settler Mr William Suttor and local mounted police, Entwhistle and his men were finally trapped on a hill near Abercrombie Caves now known as Bushrangers Hill.

The gun battle that lasted a little over an hour left two men and five horses dead but the gang were victorious. Some of the gang split up and headed well out of the area. Entwhistle and his remaining gang members retreated to hide in Abercrombie Caves. After more gunfire and deaths over the next few days, the local police, along with back up from Sydney police, finally captured the Ribbon Gang.

Entwhistle and nine of his gang were found guilty of bushranging and hanged publically in Bathurst in February 1832. This was Bathurst’s first public hanging and the message was clear. Justice will be swiftly dealt out and the consequences were terminal.


The current site of the public hangings, now Ribbon Gang Lane

While little is known today about Ralph Entwhistle and the Ribbon Gang, the more ‘popular’ bushrangers Ben Hall and Frank Gardiner along with John Gilbert, John Vane and John O’Meally some thirty years later also used Abercrombie Caves as a hideout from around 1863-1865 or so.

The caves provided safe refuge and shelter from the elements, privacy and many exit points that allowed them to move freely and escape at short notice. Horses were well catered for too. It is said that the horses were houses in what is called today “The Stable Cave”.

IMG_5859[1] Stable Cave

By the late 1800’s, the Caves became the destination of tourists. A beautiful dance floor was erected which is still in perfect condition today thanks to the stable environment in the caves.

IMG_5873[1] Abercrombie Caves dance floor

Today, Abercrombie Caves is a more peaceful place. It is well worth a visit. Enjoy the country drive, the lack of crowds and imagine the history of gold discovery, bushranging and tourism in the area over a century ago.

Cheers, Ian

You can enjoy a tour to Abercrombie Caves and the surrounding area taking in the gold mining history and bushranging activity with Detour Adventures. Visit  









The Historic Bathurst Correctional Centre

In about 1992, the Bathurst Gaol changed its name to what we know it as today; The Bathurst Correctional Centre.

But this name change was probably the most insignificant part of the history associated with the prison dating back to about 1830. The original site of the Bathurst watch house / prison was behind the yet to be built Bathurst Court House – this beautiful building was opened in 1880. (pictured below).

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As the prison population grew, the need for a new prison also grew and the Bathurst Gaol was officially opened in 1888.


The magnificent carved stand stone entrance is as elaborate today as it was in 1888. Designed to deter would be offenders by showing the magnitude and strength of the law, the keystone contains a carved lions head holding a key to freedom – or incarceration, depending on which way you choose to view it.

The Government Architect of the day, James Barnet designed this prison with a few over 300 cells. Thinking back to 1888, it was certainly grand as well as functional in design and layout but it certainly wasn’t comfortable. Here is a pic I took in January 2015. Still looks grand today in my opinion.


Grand maybe but was it humane?

Anyone who knows the Bathurst climate can attest to bitterly cold winters and very hot dry summers. The cells had no cooling, heating nor glass in the barred windows. Maybe a fitting punishment for breaking the law however modern prisons are treated very different today.

Perhaps driving the change in the treatment of prisoners was the famous Bathurst Gaol Riots?

The first riot was in October 1970. Prisoners rebelled against the poor conditions. Larger riots again took place in 1974 when noting appeared to have changed from the original riots. The latter riot was estimated to have caused around $10m and triggered a Royal Commission.

Bathurst Correctional Centre is visually today much the same from the outside as it was in 1888. This medium security facility serves as a major employer in the local Bathurst community and is well worth a drive by to admire the beautiful façade.

Cheers, Ian

The Bathurst Correctional Centre is one of the sites visited on a Detour Adventures Historical Bathurst tour. This half day tour takes in over 45 historical points of interest covering around 80km around the Bathurst area. See or call 1300 4 DETOUR (1300 433 868)






The Bridle Track – open or closed?

The once beautifully scenic drive along the Bridle Track that runs between Bathurst and Hill End, while still beautiful is no longer open, somewhat taking away from the beauty of the historical country off road tour.

A landslide back in August 2010 at a particularly narrow but breathtaking point on the track called Monaghan’s Bluff closed the road and virtually halted the once famous tourist trail of visitors up the track. Probably forever unfortunately.

Despite good efforts by concerned locals, neither the local Bathurst Regional Council, nor the NSW State Government have seen re-opening the road as being important.

And it isn’t as simple as bulldozing off the obstruction either. The road is narrow, the drop off is several hundred feet and the rock above the landslide is said to be unstable. To re-open the Bridle Track will take good engineering, a good commitment of funds and support from the authorities. But what price do you place on the tourism dollar.

With many rural communities struggling to attract the tourism dollar, I can’t help but think that if the Bridle Track could be transplanted to another town, it would be considered a treasure. A gold mine for tourists.

Personally, I think it should be re-opened.

The Bridle Track is a significant part of the local Bathurst history. This is a road dating back to the 1850’s traversing incredibly rocky terrain to form a track between Bathurst (then only 35 years old) and the thriving Hill End Gold mining town. It was a busy route in its time.

Leaving Bathurst, the Bridle Track took travellers to the thriving gold mining town of Hill End. This community had about 8,000 residents, 5 banks, 8 churches (many of which are still standing) and a staggering 28… yes 28 pubs. Amazing. To visit Hill End today is to walk back in time.

But today, this road to Hill End is closed. You can enjoy a beautiful drive up the Bridle Track to within a 2km point south of the blockage at Monaghan’s Bluff but you must go back as it is no longer a through road. a 4WD is recommended, although not essential. You can camp in designated areas along the way and it is a great day out*.

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With a keen eye, you’ll spot the original Bridle Track which follows the road for much of the way.

You’ll see the amazing bridge work, now ageing and collapsing. Here is one of my favourite bridges. No longer trafficable, it may not last much longer but well worth the visit before it falls victim to its old age.

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Today, you can’t enjoy the whole Bridle Track. But in my opinion, if you are going to do the track from the Bathurst side, you must then backtrack and go up to Hill End (via Sofala) to enjoy a beer in the pub, take in the craft shops and café and look at the remainder of the track from the north side.

Cheers, Ian

 *Much of the Bridle Track is out of mobile coverage. Please make sure you tell someone where you’re going and when you are expected back. Take water, food, something warm and above all, make sure your vehicle is suitable for the drive. You can also enjoy the Bridle Track in safety and comfort with Detour Adventures.  
















Megalong; The Valley beneath the cliffs

Is it Megalong or Megalong Valley?

The Aboriginal word Megalong means The valley beneath the cliffs. Despite what the road sign at Blackheath says, the name is simply Megalong.

Megalong is a valley beneath Blackheath in the Blue Mountains, NSW Australia.

Attention to this beautiful part of Australia has recently been achieved through the documentary about the Carlon family, their place “Packsaddlers” and NSW National Parks and Wildlife. It’s a moving documentary with real people, real heartache and happiness. You’ll laugh and cry in the space of minutes in the beautifully titled “The Man From Cox’s river”. Look out for the DVD being released soon.

To visit Megalong, turn left over the railway line at Blackheath (coming from Sydney) and immediately left again, backtracking along the rail line. Follow the signs.

It is an easy drive along a narrow winding tarred road until you reach the valley floor. There are places to stop along the way but please don’t stop on the road. You might feel a million miles away from civilisation, but there are a lot of people who live in the valley, there are many tourists visiting the area and it is quite a busy road.

You’ll be amazed at some of the walking tracks. Micro rainforests to enjoy. Sounds. Smells, wildlife. Simply amazing.

Much of the valley is privately owned farm land. Please be respectful of private land when visiting Megalong. You can gain a great perspective of Megalong and the Adjoining Kanimbla Valley by visiting Hargraves Lookout on the Shipley Plateau. Follow the signs from Blackheath before you take the Megalong turn off. Click here for a short video IMG_4543

You can drive most of it yourself, or call Detour Adventures. I’d love to have you along and share a story or two about this beautiful place. Cheers, Ian

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Abercrombie River National Park

This is a great spot to visit. Apart from the beauty of the Australian bush, there are so many tracks to follow, such privacy to be found, quiet rivers to camp beside, history to learn about and some great bush walking too.

But there is more……

To me, there are two sides to this National Park. on the one-hand, there are well maintained tracks that allow easy access to some soft roaders, AWD vehicles and SUV’s. Most are well within the ability of novice off road drivers. You can reach some great camping grounds and a trip with one or two nights camping is highly recommended. Take all you need and take away everything you bring.

The other side is more wild. People sometimes ask is there any real 4WDing in this park. Yes there is. Steep washed out tracks, rugged hills, deep gullies and spectacular scenery can all be found. Some tracks require a lot of expertise, a well prepared vehicle with recovery gear along with the knowledge on how to use it properly.

A few simple suggestions for this National Park;

1) If you find yourself on a track that is gradually getting worse, narrowing and generally looking less travelled, keep looking for good spots to turn around and do so, before you have no options left. Rough tracks can be fun but be aware of you and your vehicles limitations.

2) Especially in this National Park, if you are going down a steep hill, you WILL have to go up a steep hill on the other side. In the Abercrombie River NP, there are no exceptions. Many ill-equipped vehicles will get you down a hill (thanks to gravity) but that same villain will stop you getting up the other side. I’ve pulled out 4WD’s in that exact predicament before, much to their relief.

A few Do’s and Dont’s  to consider when in any National Park.

Please don’t leave rubbish. There are no garbage trucks visiting the parks.

Don’t feed wildlife. It is cute to see native animals up close, but they are not used to eating our food, nor are they equipped to deal with the germs that we carry on food scraps we’ve been eating. No… not even apple cores are good for wildlife. Sorry.

Take lots of photos but no souvenirs. Hard as it may be to not grab something to remind you of your visit, it’s just not the right thing to do.

Be sensitive to the environment. Stay on tracks. Minimise wheel spin. Go easy in mud puddles and in river crossings. I know it sounds like I’m taking away some of the fun, but its better for the future generations if we look after the parks now.

Water. Take plenty of it. Food too. Something warm to wear – even in summer. If you get stuck and need to stay overnight, it can get cold overnight at 1100m above sea level, even in Summer. Tell someone where you are going and when you’re expected back – Be specific in your instructions as to where you are going and what you are doing and stick to that plan.

Emergency Locator beacons (EPIRB) save lives. Much of the park has no mobile reception, so unless you have a Satellite phone, you’ll have no way of contacting anyone. An EPIRB can be bought for a few hundred dollars but you can also hire one from some police stations and National Parks offices. Think about it next time you go bush.

Is your vehicle ready? Driving around town all week is not the same as going bush. If in doubt, see a mechanic, tell them your intentions and ask; Is my vehicle mechanically OK to go bush?

On a final note, here are a few pics of an old Gold miner / cattleman’s hut deep in the Abecrombie River National Park. Enjoy. Photos courtesy of Robyn Lambert who came along with Detour Adventures recently.

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Cheers, Ian





Kowmung River

Truly a strange name for a beautiful but very private river.

The photo below is really the only place you can get to and cross this river by vehicle. Not a complicated river crossing but you definitely need a 4WD to both get to it and cross it. Some SUV and AWD type vehicles will make it but if in doubt of the ability of you or your vehicle, then don’t.

Some say the Gandangara people named the river Kowmung as it caused soreness in their eyes. What is not easily recognised, is that it flows into the Sydney catchment, even though it appears to be on the western side of the Great Dividing Range. Strange.

It is on the western side of the ranges – but it is on the eastern side of the watershed and the flow of water from this clear beautiful river makes its way to join the Coxs River gathering small tributaries along the way.

As the surrounding countryside is steep, mountainous and for the most part, inaccessible, it remains largely untouched by humans making it a very private river.

Every time I cross this river on my tours, I stop and admire it’s beauty for a moment.

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Safe travels everyone. Ian