This historic manufacturing city lies in a spectacular valley in the western Blue Mountains.
Lithgow is a place of Australian firsts, as the cradle of the country’s steel industry, and the home of its first mass production gun factory.
You can get acquainted with Australian workmanship at a slew of museums, and discover some exciting pieces of industrial heritage at ghost towns, ruined century-old works and an old railway tunnel now inhabited by glowworms.
The Blue Mountains imbue Lithgow’s skylines with drama, and in minutes you can get to majestic lookouts, Aboriginal heritage sites and an endless choice of hikes and scenic drives.
1. Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum
The country’s first high precision mass production facility opened in 1912 to answer a need for Australian independence when it came to defence.
Starting out with SMLE III rifles before the First World War, the factory produced Bren guns and Vickers machine guns in WWII and then the F1 submachine gun (among many others) in the post-war period.
In the 21st century the Lithgow Small Arms Factory continues to make the F88 Austeyr and F89 Minimi for the Australian Army.
The factory’s museum is on the grounds and holds one of Australia’s largest collections of civilian and military firearms, among them machine guns, rifles, pistols and more from around the world.
Also on show is a display of the other precision tools and appliances manufactured here over the last 110+ years.
2. Glow Worm Tunnel
The ceiling of a long abandoned railway tunnel on the old Newnes railway line has become a habitat for the bioluminescent larvae of arachnocampa richardsae, a kind of fungus gnat found only in New South Wales.
They produce a mesmerising blue grow to attract their prey, which includes flying insects like mosquitoes.
This unforgettable scene is one of the highlights of Wollemi National Park, north of Lithgow.
The tunnel is 400 metres long and was carved from the sandstone in the early-1900s for a line serving the Newnes Kerosene Shale Works.
You can get there from Lithgow on a well-maintained unsealed road, which will take you one kilometre shy of the tunnel.
3. Hassans Walls Lookout
The highest lookout in the Blue Mountains is a ten-minute drive to the edge of the escarpment south of Lithgow’s CBD.
Hassans Walls Lookout sits at 1100 metres above sea level and has a raised boardwalk that carries you out along a spur for a glorious 180° view.
Unfolding far below is the entirety of the Hartley Valley, while you can cast your gaze south to the expanse of the Megalong and Kanimbla Valleys.
A few of the sea of peaks to identify are Mount York, Mount Tarana, Mount Blaxland, Mount Bindo and Mount Wilson, and there’s a picnic table at the tip of the lookout so you can take your time.
4. Blast Furnace Park
There’s real Australian industrial history at Blast Furnace Park, at the site of the country’s first commercially viable steelworks.
This location has layers of archaeology going back to the 1870s.
The most intact structures still standing are the blast furnace, constructed in 1913, and its accompanying pump house.
You can navigate these ruins via raised footpaths, while the park’s information boards go into depth on story of the site, the steel and iron-making process and factory’s role in the Trans-Australian Railway.
5. Lithgow State Mine Heritage Park
The story of NSW’s Western Coalfield is laid out at the preserved Lithgow State Coal Mine, which has become a compelling museum.
What is touted as Australia’s most comprehensive collection of mining artefacts is on show, comprising coal loaders, coal cutters, underground vehicles and continuous miners.
There’s a ton of tools, equipment and other artefacts to paint a picture of the life of a miner and the hazards of this work.
One multimedia exhibition, “Fire in the Mine” recalls the harrowing consequences of a subterranean fire that ripped through the State Coal Mine in 1953.
6. Lake Wallace
This lake just out of Lithgow is fed by the Cox’s River and has a high reputation as an RV and caravan spot.
There’s a designated space for these vehicles, which can stay for a maximum of 24 hours.
Lake Wallace is also popular in the fishing community for its rainbow trout, which can grow to half a metre.
And it goes without saying that the landscapes are a delight, with the foothills of the Blue Mountains in the background, while more than 180 bird species flock to these shores.
But maybe Lake Wallace’s biggest claim to fame is that this is where Charles Darwin spotted his first ever platypus.
Darwin passed through in 1836 and observed this species playing in what was then a series of pools on the Cox’s River, noting the moment in his diary.
7. Maiyingu Marragu (Blackfellows Hand Reserve)
Not far from the Glow Worm Tunnel is a site that for generations was a meeting place for local tribes.
Maiyingu Marragu is still valued by the Dharug, Dharkinjung and Gandangara people, and is a place of twisted rock formations, waterfalls and lush vegetation.
What captures the imagination of all comers is a series of rock shelters, adorned with beguiling Aboriginal stencil art depicting hands and weapons – all a window on a way of life that is now lost.
You can reach the car park in a 2WD, although you’ll need to go carefully! From there it’s just a short walk up to the cave shelters.
8. Eskbank House Museum
Next to Blast Furnace Park stands a historic property dating back to the 1840s and constructed with convict labour on Wiradjuri Land.
In its time, Eskbank House has been a mine owner’s residence, the home of an iron and steelwork’s manager and a school and boarding house.
Since the 1960s the Victorian Georgian-style building, composed of local ashlar sandstone, has been preserved as a museum.
On the grounds is a small complex of outbuildings, including a stables and coach house, a worker’s house and blacksmith’s courtyard.
The museum’s collection is a perfect overview of Lithgow, it’s industry and the lifestyle of its early industrialists.
You can peruse the nationally important Lithgow Pottery Collection, the Bracey Furniture Collection and impressive pieces from the Lithgow ironworks, like Possum the Locomotive (1919).
9. Berghofer’s Pass
Close to the Great Western Highway, south-east of Lithgow proper, you can walk a 4.5-kilometre stretch of early highway.
Berghofer’s Pass is on the Blue Mountains Historic Crossings Walking Track, and was constructed between 1907 and 1912. German immigrant J. W. Berghofer intended to build an alternative to Mitchell’s Victoria Pass, which proved too steep a grade for early motor vehicles.
Winding around Mount York, Berghofer’s Pass has a series of tight turns that were soon deemed unsuitable for more powerful cars, and was eventually closed in favour of the Victoria Pass in 1934. For walkers it’s a picturesque track on a light gradient, with lots of shade overhead and supreme views across the Hartley Valley.
10. Bracey Lookout
You can gaze over Lithgow, cradled by rolling, wooded hills, from this elevated position on the valley’s south side in the Hassans Walls Reserve.
The Bracey Lookout was completed in 1953 and was named for John Bracey who led its design and construction.
He was son of Eric Bracey, who had guided much of the work in the reserve in the decades before.
From this position you can see across and along the Lithgow Valley, and over the Blast Furnace Park.
The site has been revamped in the last few years, with new furniture and information board covering the Hassan’s Wall Reserve and the origins of this lookout.
11. Bowenfels Gun Emplacements
As a hub for mining, manufacturing and transport Lithgow was identified as a potential target during World War II, especially after Japan entered the conflict in September 1940. So a network of defence positions were constructed around the city, ready to meet the growing threat to inland locations posed by fast-developing aircraft technology.
These represent the only surviving inland WWII gun emplacements in NSW, and the position on open ground at Bowenfels has state heritage listing.
Here you’ll find four octagonal reinforced concrete emplacements, still armed by 3.7-inch AA guns that have never been fired in anger.
One of these guns actually appeared in Baz Luhrmann’s Australia (2008).
12. Glen Davis Ruins
Between 1865 and 1952 one fifth of all the shale oil produced in Australia came from this plant in the awe-inspiring Capertee Valley.
In that time Glen Davis was among the biggest employers in the region, and at its peak during WW2 some 2,500 people lived in the township.
Extraction ceased in the early 1950s and by 1954 there were only 154 people living here.
Now you can take a guided tour of the spectral ruins of the works and township, partially overrun by vegetation and impressive against the sandstone cliffs of the Capertee Valley.
Tours take place on Saturdays at 14:00.
13. Queen Elizabeth Park
You can take time out Lithgow’s gorgeous main park, at the west end of the CBD.
On an undulating plot, Queen Elizabeth Park has rambling lawns, dainty flowerbeds, shrubs, a rotunda and a variety of mature hardwood and softwood trees for a beautiful spectacle in autumn.
There’s also exercise equipment, as well as an innovative playspace for smaller members of the clan, protected by colourful sin shades.
And of course, setting off Queen Elizabeth Park’s charming foliage and landscaping are the brooding Blue Mountains.
Lithgow is rightly proud of its iron and steel-making heritage, and in 2000 the local artist Macgregor Ross launched Ironfest to mark the centenary of Australian steel.
Ironfest falls on the third weekend of April and celebrates Lithgow’s manufacturing history, but also the broader relationship between humanity and metal! Ever year there’s an overarching theme, a couple of recent examples being Gothic and Steampunk.
The event, taking place at the Showground, brings in artists, musicians, hobbyists and cosplayers, historical re-enactors and many thousands more for a program packed with eccentric fun.
15. Zig Zag Railway
This heritage railway winds its way up the Blue Mountains on seven kilometres of the most awesome track you’re likely to travel.
The route is the former Lithgow Zig Zig line, part of the Main Western Line, and taking its name from its circuitous route up the otherwise impassable slope.
The original line was in operation from 1869 to 1975, and the heritage railway opened on the exact route in 1975. When we wrote this list in 2020 the Zig Zag Railway had just come through a difficult decade, taking damage in the bushfires in 2013 and again in 2020. The railway, which has a fabulous fleet of vintage locomotives and rolling stock, was slated for reopening in 2021.