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Natural Attractions - THIRLMERE LAKES

Thirlmere LakesNational Park and Heritage Area.

Thirlmere Lakes National Park is 627 hectares of rugged sandstone country to the west of the ridge which runs between Thirlmere and Colo Vale, and east of the Nattai Tableland.

Well known to the original aboriginal peoples who crossed the land regularly, it was prized for its constant water supply and abundant wildlife.

Its aboriginal name - 'Couridjah' ('honey', in the Gundagurra language; also 'white ants') - was the name later given to the hamlet on the railway line nearby.

Geological Oddity.

When discovered by European explorers (Wilson 1798, Caley 1802), it was also the water in the lakes which was the focus of their attention - important in a country often subject to droughts.

It was not until scientific and geological research much later that the explanation for the lakes was uncovered.

The National Park is located in a deep entrenched valley, through which flows Blue Gum Creek, one of the upper tributaries of the Warragamba River to the north west.

There are many such valleys and creeks in the ranges.

constant water supply

unique ecosystemUnique Ecosystem.

What has produced the lakes is a series of lagoons along the meandering path of the creek which are perched above the local erosion levels of the sandstone, and which trap the water instead of allowing it to flow downstream.

The sheltered nature of the valley has produced a micro-climate which is unique to the area.

The lake's ecology is also home to a freshwater sponge, plankton, jellyfish, worms, and mussels.

On land, their are many eucalypts and shrubs, and the valley is a favourite habitat for wombats.

A Heritage Wilderness Area.

There are 5 main lakes which extend over 5 kilometres. The land around them, and the walls of the valley, are covered in a dense scrub of gum trees and native flowering bushes.

Tall reeds line the banks of much of the lakes, and there are a number of sand beaches which have been popular swimming holes for over a century (the first lake is about 6 metres deep at its centre).

Thirlmere Lakes is in fact one of the last unspoilt natural wetlands close to the Sydney Basin, and home to many wetland birds.

natural wetlands

the pumphouse
The old steam pumphouse.
An Interesting History.

The abundant water supply in the lakes attracted the attention of the engineers of the great southern railway built a few kilometres to the east (trains - steam - water!)

A steam driven pumping station was built at the third lake, from where water was pumped to Couridjah to replenish the trains. A watercourse was also constructed between the lakes to allow a greater flow of water for this purpose.

The sandstone pumphouse can still be seen today, although all the machinery has gone.

A Favourite Picnic Spot.

'Picton Lakes', as it was known then, was a favoured picnic spot for day trippers from the 1870s to 1900, who would travel up by train, swim, picnic, admire the bush, then travel back to the city, rejuvenated by their sylvan escapade.

The grandest of all picnics was one held by Sir Henry Parkes, Father of Australia's Federation, who invited all the delegates to the intercolonial conference of 1873 to travel by special train to a luncheon in a marquee erected by the Lakes.

Two hundred ladies and gentlemen attended, and although Parkes gave a rousing speech, and the natural beauty of the Lakes was much admired, they did not come to agree on Federation until over two decades later.

Couridjah Station
Couridjah Station (1869) as it is today.

Thirlmere Lakes Today.

Today Thirlmere Lakes National Park is managed by the NSW Parks & Wildlife Service.

It is open to the public and has two picnic areas (one at lake Werriberri, about 3 kms from the entrance, and another at Lake Couridjah, about 200 metres further down the road).

There are sand beaches at the picnic areas, tables and benches, free electric BBQs and new self-composting toilets.

There are bushwalking trails (with maps to show you where to go).

A major bushwalking trail, 'The Couridjah Corridor', starts at the end of W.E. Middleton Memorial Drive in the park and goes for 8 kms through the Nattai Wilderness Area to Little River (16kms round trip).

Swimming is permitted at the beaches (but children should be supervised). Canoeing is allowed, but no power boats. Camping is not permitted.

One of the great attractions of the National Park is the unspoilt bushland, and the incredible peace and tranquility of the valley.

How To Get There.

From Sydney: Take the M5 south from Sydney, then the F5 towards Canberra - about 45 minutes.

Take the Picton exit, then drive to Picton; turn left in main street, go under the railway bridge, then turn right to Thirlmere after about 2 kms; drive through Thirlmere towards Couridjah; about two kilometres on the right is an entrance into the park (dirt road). There is another entrance further along on the right (W.E. Middleton Memorial Drive) near the railway station at Couridjah.

From Canberra: Take the F5 towards Sydney.

When you descend from the Highlands, take the Bargo exit, then drive through Bargo and about 8 kms on the left turn at Bargo River Road towards Couridjah; straight ahead past the railway station and over the road to Thirlmere is W.E. Middleton Drive. You can also turn right towards Thirlmere, and a kilometre and a half on the left is another entrance (dirt road).

Thirlmere Lakes National Park is open 7 days a week during daylight hours. PUF applies.

Last updated 17/6/07