It once had 28 pubs, five banks, eight churches and two local newspapers. There were many brothels, gambling dens, murders and men who crawled in tunnels under the main road so they didn’t get robbed on the street. People came from all over the world to live here, hoping to make their fortune. Now it’s a ghost town.
Hill End is quite a trip. Literally. It takes about four hours to get there from Newtown, but it’s a beautiful drive through rolling hills (yeah, I know, sounds clichéd, but they really were rolling). And small whacky country towns – the whackiest of them all being Sofala. We stopped there for a minute too long. On the surface it looks cute, kind of intriguing. It was more like one of those weird horror films where you’re sure everyone has peep holes in their doors and they’re all staring at you… and no, I wasn’t stoned.
Hill End is different. It’s hard to explain, there’s just a feeling about that town that is hard to shake. There’s a real male energy about it. The town reached its peak in the early 1870s when everyone came looking for gold. And some got lucky.
Everyone left after the gold rush. Now there’s about 170 people in the area. The Royal Hotel is the hub of Hill End and the only pub left. It creaks and the main bar doesn’t look like it’s ever changed. Every time I’ve been to Hill End this is where I’ve stayed. I love the family rooms. That lead on to the big top verandah. The room is divided by a wooden partition so you still get a bit of privacy.
I hadn’t been out there for about 7 years and the pub had changed hands. It had gone from kind of quaint and country-ish to Faulty Towers. Lights were missing from the lamps, the heater didn’t work in our room, the heater in our friend’s room wouldn’t turn off, and there was no soap n the bathroom. I won’t even go there with the kitchen. Don’t eat there. The one shop in town which is across the road have meals on the weekend evenings. Just take lots of cheese and snacks with you. Food is expensive out there as it’s got to come so far.
We could have stayed somewhere else, but there IS something about staying at the pub. You get to see the locals which is pretty entertaining, and everyone passing through. There’s a lovely beer garden. And well, there’s beer. No cider choices, limited wine options, but there’s beer.
Hill End is an Historical Site. Walking through the barren streets, dodging the big reds, and seeing all the photos of what used to be there transports you to another time. The time of the true hipsters – the streets were bursting with dashing men sporting long beards. There are tiny run-down corrugated iron shacks, rubble from churches that never got rebuilt and a few older more fancy buildings.
We had to give gold panning a go. We stumbled across an old local, Ted, who was waiting to take another family fossicking. He guaranteed we would find gold, so we went along. For $5 an adult and $3 a kid, there was no point saying no.
We found gold. It was a bit more tricky than swirling around some water and mud – we had to use shovels and wear gumboots. It was fun. Totally absorbing. We got to bring our little flecks of glittery gold home.
We also did a gold mine tour which was run by one of the locals, in fact the guy who used to manage the pub when it was good. We got to wear hard hats and walk 80 metres into the tunnel. Then we climbed the 10 ladders to the top! I did have a moment of panic as it was a bit claustrophobic but breathed through it.
Then it was time for a quiet wine on the front porch of the pub. We cosied up by the outdoor fire and watched as 35 bikers roared up on their Harleys. Yep, it’s a man’s town.
Fast facts: 278km from Sydney
Accommodation: Royal Hotel: $85 Twin/double room per night. $125 family room
Camping: The Village Campground – $7 per adult for a night, $4 for children (unpowered). $10 per adult and $5 per child (powered)
Glendora Campground (about 1km out of the centre)- unpowered sites $4-7 per night, powered $5-10
Hill End Lodge offers self-contained cabins for about $100 a night. And there are a few B&Bs that range from $135- 180 a night. Check out visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw/Bathurst-are/hill-end/accommodation