2015 August: Crawl through Rennies Tunnel under Narrow Neck plateau
Then climb up Devils Hole
in NSW Blue Mts, Australia
Two months ago, after we explored Bleichert Ropeway, we went pass the entrance of Rennies Tunnel on the Federal Pass Walking Track. A peek inside the tunnel had Freda announcing with excitement that we should spend a day to explore it. Ah, she is a lady with a young and adventurous heart ! So, Today the 3 of us, Nick, Freda and I, are here.
Below is a historical mining map of the Katoomba / Narrow Neck area. Rennies Tunnel (or Mt Rennie Tunnel) is the part of the horizontal tramway line in the middle of the pic, that runs under the Narrow Neck plateau, connecting Jamison Valley with Megalong Valley. It was built in the early history of Australia to transport oil shale from Glen Shale Mines to the Blue Mountains railway via the then cable haulage facility, the Katoomba Incline. The tramways are now gone, but the tunnel is still there.
Just inside the tunnel is a gate. The gate is not shut. But it has a sign - "Danger, Do Not Enter" - all the more reason why Freda wants to go in to explore ... you just have to love Freda's nerve ! (A picture of the gate is in Photo #8.)
There is water in the tunnel - above ankle high, up to the shin. The colour of the water is yukky orange! It is due to iron oxide leeched out from the rocks. If it is harmful to humans, it is too late for us :-)
The bottom of the tunnel is ochre mud/slime, messy & unpleasant !
The water and mud stain everything that your wear into orange/brown. The stain can't be washed away. If you intend to go through the tunnel, be prepared to throw away everything that you had worn.
The tunnel is home to a colony of small bats. But we can't find any when we are there.
• 1:100,000 scaled 8930 Katoomba
• 1:50,000 scaled Blue Mountains South by Spatial Visions Innovation, 1st edition
• 1:25,000 scaled 8930-1S Katoomba
Here is the 1:25,000 scale map of the Narrow Neck, Devils Hole & Golden Stairs area.
GPS tracklog file & Route
Our GPX tracklog file can be downloaded from:
Here is our tracklog (brown colour) in the 1:25,000 map.
- Of the 2 red arrows:
• The upper red arrow points to Devils Hole pass through which we climb up towards Cliff Drive in Katoomba (Photos #34, #35 & #36).
• The lower red arrow points to where we park our car, at top of Golden Stairs, on Narrow Neck plateau.
- The horizontal straight line in brown in the middle of the pic is Rennies Tunnel. Our entry to the tunnel is on the right side, on the Federal Pass Walking Track.
In summary, our route is:
- Park car at the top of Golden Stairs on Glenraphael Drive (lower red arrow of the above map).
- Descend Golden Stairs.
- Walk on Federal Pass Walking Track to entrance of Rennies Tunnel.
- Crawl through the Tunnel to Devils Hole side.
- Explore the Devils Hole area.
- Climb up Devils Hole pass to Cliff Drive
- Walk along Cliff Drive
- Turn into Glenraphael Drive and back to our car.
Timeline & Distance
09:32 0.0 km Start at top of Golden Stairs, a carpark on Glenraphael Drive
09:45 0.6 km Stop to watch lyrebird
09:53 0.6 km Resume descending Golden Stairs
09:55 0.7 km At bottom of Golden Stairs, junction with Federal Pass Walking Track
10:12 1.8 km At entrance to Rennies Tunnel on Federal Pass Walking Track
Prepare to enter Rennies Tunnel
10:19 1.9 km Enter Rennies Tunnel
11:28 2.3 km Exit Rennies Tunnel (Devils Hole side)
Rest and reflect on what we have done :-)
11:49 2.3 km Start walking towards Devils Hole pass
12:30 3.1 km At bottom of Devils Hole pass (and heading to Rennies Tunnel exit hole via a route slightly higher on the slope)
12:35 3.2 km At Devils Hole Creek waterfall
12:49 3.6 km Stop for lunch
13:21 3.7 km Resume walking
13:22 3.8 km At Waterboard's ladder, called Dixons ladder
Photo session with the ladder
13:31 3.8 km Leave waterboads's ladder
13:42 3.9 km At Rennies Tunnel exit hole
13:53 4.0 km Leave Rennies Tunnel (retrace steps back to Devils Hole pass)
14:06 4.1 km At Waterboard's ladder, called Dixons ladder
14:07 4.2 km At where we had lunch
14:18 4.7 km At Devils Hole Creek waterfall
14:22 4.8 km At bottom of Devils Hole pass and start climbing up to Cliff Drive
14:41 5.2 km Start to detour to a lookout over Devils Hole pass
14:43 5.3 km At lookout over Devils Hole pass
14:51 5.3 km Leave lookout
15:02 5.6 km At Cliff Drive, Katoomba
15:19 6.6 km At start of Glenraphael Drive
15:29 7.4 km At start of access road to Waterboard's Pumping Station
15:38 7.9 km At Waterboard's Pumping Station
15.43 8.0 km Leave Waterboard's Pumping Station
15:50 8.4 km Back at start of access road to Waterboard's Pumping Station
Wait for Nick
15:52 8.5 km Resume walking on Glenraphael Drive
15:58 9.0 km At start of a 50-meter detour to a lookout of the Narrow Neck cliffs
16:00 9.1 km Back at start of the detour
16:05 9.4 km Back at carpark at Glenraphael Drive
Total: 6 hrs 33 mins
9.4 km Distance is from Google Earth
10.6 km Distance is from Garmin GPS
Pictures - Descending Golden Stairs
1) On the Golden Stairs ~~~
- You can just make out the outline of the Three Sisters (red arrow).
- Mt Solitary is in the (lower photo).
2) Freda & Nick descending along Golden Stairs
3) The Golden Stairs foot track ~~~
No, it isn't make of gold :-)
Its name was from the early history of Australia, by way of a Salvation Army officer who would walk down the stairway to hold services for the shale miners in the Jamison Valley. On the way back up, the officer would sing Emma Booth's song, "O I'm climbing up the Golden Stairs to Glory."
(Emma Booth was the daughter of Salvation Army founders, William and Catherine Booth.)
4) Cliffs around the Golden Stairs
5) A Lyrebird by the side of the Golden Stairs foot track.
6) (Photograph courtesy of Nick)
We are now on Federal Pass Walking Track, right in front of the entrance to Rennies Tunnel.
- Left photo ~~~ Me, now ready to go in
- Right photo ~~~ Nick peering into the tunnel when we went pass this spot 2 months ago
7) (Photograph courtesy of Nick)
Freda wraps plastic bags around her legs.
8) Just inside the tunnel is a gate. The gate is not shut. But it has a sign - "Danger, Do Not Enter" - all the more reason why we are going in to explore !
The colour of the water looks yuk! It is due to iron oxide leeched out from the rocks. If it is harmful to humans, it is too late now :-)
The water is a above ankle high, up to the shin. The bottom of the tunnel is ochre mud/slime, messy & unpleasant !
9) Freda, a few meters after passing the gate which is clearly seen behind her ~~~
Instead of crawling like me, she uses the hiking poles instead.
11) Hi Nick, you are too tall :-)
13) Freda ~~~
The ceiling of the tunnel is slightly higher here. But still, not high enough to allow one to stand upright.
14) We are about to enter another stretch of the Tunnel with a much lower ceiling.
15) (Photograph courtesy of Nick)
Me, at the same spot as the previous photo was taken ~~~
- I wear croc shoes. This is a mistake as the water is icy cold. Far better is to wear shoes and socks which should keep the feet warmer.
- If you intend to crawl ... which was what I do, then wear a pair of knee pads. They are really helpful.
- We are hoping to see some small bats hanging on the ceiling. Unfortunately, we can't find any :-(
16) Towards the end of the tunnel at the Devils Hole side, the ceiling is higher and we can stand up. But ...
17) ... But at the point of exit, we need to lie down to slide through.
(Photograph courtesy of Nick)
18) Nick squeezing out of the exit hole ~~~
- If you are any fatter, you will have problems in getting out :-)
- Does anyone know whether the rock at the centre of the photos is due to a natural rock fall or purposely dumped there to prevent people from entering the tunnel ?
19) The red arrows point to the slit where we squeezed out of the exit hole.
20) (Photograph courtesy of Nick)
I am crawling out of the tunnel ~~~
My pants were light grey before entering the tunnel (see Photo #6). Now it is stained brown. The stain will stay on forever and can't be washed away.
21) (Photograph courtesy of Nick)
Freda exiting the tunnel ~~~
Compared with me, she is very clean ... she used hiking poles to crouch-walk through the tunnel ... smart woman !
22) Freda and Nick at the exit hole
23) Freda ~~~ She actually enjoys the tunnel !!! and wouldn't mind having another go again :-)
24) As for me, once through the tunnel is enough ... not keen to crawl through it again ... because the yukky orange water and mud stain everything that I wear, including my toes ... I have orange toe nails for a few days afterwards !
Nick went through the tunnel 17 years ago. At the time he swore he won't go through it again. So, maybe in 17 years time, I may change my mind :-)
Explore around Devils Hole area
25) After the Tunnel, we explore nearby areas around Devils Hole. Here we are at a waterfall where the Devils Hole Creek tumbles down the cliff.
(Photograph courtesy of Nick)
26) Devils Hole Creek waterfall - same waterfall as in the previous pic
After the waterfall, we return to where we crawled out of Rennies Tunnel not too long ago. The return route is higher on the slope then when we leave the Tunnel to go to the waterfall.
27) Cliffs along the way to Rennies Tunnel
29) We come to the Waterboard's ladder, called Dixons ladder.
In the past, if one climbs up the ladder, one will reach the Waterboard's Pumping Station at the top of the cliff on the Narrow Neck Plateau. However, both the bottom rungs and the top half of the ladder have been removed; though some kind souls have strung up a rope to help you up.
30) Freda & Nick ~~~
We don't intend to climb up the ladder, though we all make an attempt for the camera.
One day, I like to come here again and climb up the ladder.
At where the top half of the ladder was removed, there is a ledge in the middle of the cliff. I think one can inch along the ledge towards the north and it will lead to the Devils Hole waterfall area.
31) We also come to a small rock cliff where there is a chain to help us. Here is me and Nick.
(Photograph courtesy of Nick)
33) We are back at the Rennies Tunnel exit hole. Around here, I snap this photo of a Banksia.
34) We retrace the steps back to the waterfall at Devils Hole Creek, then climb up a nearby steep and narrow pass towards the top of the cliff (to Cliff Drive in Katoomba). An interesting feature of this pass is we walk under a large chockstone wedged between two vertical cliffs.
35) Climbing up the Devils Hole pass towards Cliff Drive in Katoomba
36) We are near the top of the pass and looking back at the chockstone.
37) After climbing up the pass, we detour towards a lookout which is the rock in front and which is just above the pass.
38) At the top of the rock of the previous photo ~~~ Group photo of the 3 of us, Nick, me & Freda
(Photograph courtesy of Nick)
39) This pagoda like rock is the cliff on the opposite side of the Devils Hole pass of Photo #34 & #36. From where we are standing, we could have climbed down to the top of the chockstone. We didn't do it this time ... but it would be interesting to give it a try !
40) This is an interesting panoramic view from the point of view of this trip:
- The entire Narrow Neck plateau is in front of us. Megalong Valley is to the right of the plateau.
- The red arrow points to where we exit out of the Rennies Tunnel. The Tunnel goes under the narrowest part of the Narrow Neck.
- The cliff on the right edge of the pic is the pagoda like cliff of the previous photo.
41) Freda on a razor edge :-)
- The cliff at the top left hand corner of this pic is the pagoda like cliff in Photo #39.
- The rock pointed to by the red arrow is where Nick was standing in Photo #39.
After the detour to the lookout, we climb up to Cliff Drive, then walk along it and turn into Glenraphael Drive.
42) On Glenraphael Drive on the Narrow Neck plateau, we detour to Waterboards's Pumping Station. On the access road to the Pumping Station, there is this overhang ... Note the bolts to secure the roof of the overhang.
43) We are on the Narrow Neck plateau, and about 250 meters north of Rennies Tunnel ... nice view of the Narrow Neck cliffs.
44) Around the same spot as the previous photo was taken ~~~
- View of the Narrow Neck plateau (on the left) and Megalong Valley.
- Rennies Tunnel exit is pointed to by the red arrow.
Verdict on Rennies Tunnel
It is definitely exciting to crawl through it, and you will have an entertaining topic for dinner table conversations afterwards!
But it reminds me of a Japanese proverb that goes something like ... you are wise to have done it once, but a fool to want to do it again !
Nick went through the tunnel 17 years ago. At the time he swore he won't go through it again. Maybe in 17 years time, I may change my mind just like Nick :-)
- The water in the tunnel is very cold. Wear socks and shoes. It will keep your feet warmer.
- Wear helmet.
- If you intend to crawl, wear knee pads. If you intend to crouch-walk, a pair of hiking poles maybe helpful.
- Whatever you wear will be stained orange/brown by the ochre mud. The stain cannot be washed away. So wear old clothes, shoes & backpack that you are prepared to throw away.
- Be careful when you use your camera. The mud from your hands will be deposited onto the camera and you may not be able to clean the mud out.