The Tunnel & Ghost Town, NSW – Dalmorton

Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.”
~ Alice Walker

Heading towards an old ‘convict-built’ tunnel out the back of Grafton, in NSW, I drove straight past the petrol station in town before heading in, foolishly reckoning I could get petrol in Dalmorton. I’m a spontaneous person and typically leave on a whim, discovering things as I go.

Ghost towns NSW
The Boyd River

‘She’ll be right’, I thought, after I had driven 70 kilometres down Old Glen Innes Road, past dilapidated, abandoned houses. The road had now turned to dust, skirting the primordial-looking Boyd River. There had been no cars in the last hour.


I arrived in Dalmorton on empty, as empty as the town in which we now found ourselves. I was travelling with my four-year-old son, friend and sidekick Olin, aka ‘Dinks’, and it was only as I stepped from the car that I discovered we were in a ghost town. Dalmorton, like many such towns, briefly flourished in the gold rush period during the 1850s and ’60s.

Ghost town NSW

Five thousand folk, many of them rowdy, once swilled their fill in Dalmorton’s 13 pubs, showering the town with wealth they had reaped from the surrounding hills. And as the gold in the hills ran dry, the town was left to wither and wane. Dalmorton certainly has a lost, eerie feel about it, and I half expected to hear the faint twang of a banjo echo across the valley. As I explored further, Dinks clung to my side, a little scared.

Ghost town NSW
The old butcher’s store in the foreground

Together we wandered through ‘town’, past the old butcher store which still stood, past a jacaranda tree which had outlived its neighbour – a dwelling that now crumbled beside lilac bloom. There were picnic and camping spots and not a soul anywhere. The forested hills looked wild, the river near waterless, yet savage. There was an old tourist map which told me fuel lay 39 kilometres away, back in Nymboida. However, the tunnel lay ahead, a further eight kilometres, I had read. I decided to risk it and go forward.

Ghost town NSW

The tunnel

Luckily my hunches often pay off, as in another four or so kilometres we arrived at the old tunnel, which had been hand-hewn through 20 metres of solid rock. Ostensibly this was done by convicts (as publications suggest), or perhaps just “poorly paid labour”, as the plaque in Dalmorton reveals. It’s an interesting spot, as the tunnel covers the narrow, dirt road on the edge of the Boyd River.

Ghost town NSW

It’s too narrow for more than one car, caravans and/or trucks. Inside, the walls are graffitied, some of it dating to the 1800s. The rock shards suggest much labour. The scenery beyond the tunnel was wild, it looked so free – what I love most about travel. We explored, we sat, we talked and watched. I thought of the horse and carts that passed beneath this stoney arch not so long ago, before deciding to search for fuel.

Ghost town NSW

Ghost town NSW
Olin, aka ‘Dinks’ at the tunnel entrance, clearly unperturbed by our predicament

The search

Rain now steadily fell, Dinks fell asleep and lightning flashed across the sky. I stopped intermittently, trying to capture some of this mood before I continued along the dirt road, now strewn with puddles. Soon I came to the Nymboida turnoff, 13 kilometres to go and I had been below empty for some time. I was a tad concerned but knew we’d get out of it if worse came to worst. The road was winding, steep in sections, the water rose to two feet in dips and I feared my little 1996 Toyota Seca hatchback would get swamped if this rain continued.

Ghost town NSW

We rolled into Nymboida to a closed tavern and no sign of a petrol station. A local told me it had been 20 years since the town had sold fuel. Evidently Dalmorton’s sign was at least 20 years out of date. He then told me the next petrol station was in a town called Coutts Crossing, roughly 20 kilometres away. I told him we mightn’t make it. He said he’d find me on the road if we didn’t.

We rolled steadily on, often in neutral down hills, making it to Coutts Crossing on residue and fumes. I bought Dinks an ice-cream, gave him a high five, filled up and continued home through the rain.

Fast tips

Do explore this country. While I’ve merely been to Copmanhurst – where Australia’s second longest river for white water rafting ends (the Nymboida) – and here, to Dalmorton country, the beauty and wildness of the Grafton area has really surprised me.

Do prepare a little. Not only is there no fuel on Old Glen Innes Road, the road travels in a 244 km loop (I later found out), passing swimming holes, picnic spots, camp grounds with fireplaces and “the remains of an old graveyard, worth a look for history buffs” (major face palm). Great stuff that I’d missed.

I’ll be back…

10 thoughts on “The Tunnel & Ghost Town, NSW – Dalmorton”

  1. Wow, what a cool adventure! The fuel thing in some regions adds a little frisson of danger that keeps the travel exciting as we’ve discovered a couple of times 🙂 But it’s amazing for how long ’empty’ can mean ‘not really empty’!!!

    • Hi Red,

      It was! Just need some more time to explore this region. And yeah, I was driving home from work the other day on empty and I felt really relaxed about it after doing this journey. I knew I still had quite a bit to spare.

  2. Wow your website looks amazing. Many stories told and all very interesting. Can you tell me is this the road that goes from glen innes to gradton. We were planning on going there but were worried that it was a 4wd track only. As I read I see you were in a corolla. Is this correct and can I safely assume you can travel this rd in a 2wd car…. Keep up the good work

    • Hi Tonahawk,

      Thanks for the encouragement. Goodness knows us small time bloggers need it 🙂

      I did drive from Grafton to the tunnel in a 2wd hatchback, although the drive to Glen Innes is long and I’m not sure of the road that far in. I’m actually planning to do it (again, in my little hatchback) in the next week or two. I’ll report back on my experience after I’m done!

  3. In 1958 I forgot to fill up at Armidale thinking I could get fuel at Glenn Innes before heading off to Grafton.
    It was a Sunday and all shops and servos were closed. I managed to get fuel at Dalmorton. At a T junction there was a shop on the roadside that had a hand pump bowser. I wouldn’t have made to Grafton.

      • I have travelled the road many times.

        In 1949 as a 8 year old in my parents Austin A40 ute.
        I remember a very steep descent of 3000 feet in only 5 miles (we were imperial then) from near Newton Boyd to the Mann river below. We camped at the there for the night before proceeding on to Grafton. I remember there was temporary low level crossing at Dalmorton. The large steel girder bridge of about four spans had been washed away and was laying on river bed about 200 metres downstream. It was a very hot day and all food was ruined as it had not been adequately packed to cope with the corrugations.

        Again 1958 as the driver with my parents in their new black FJ Holden. Again we camped at the Mann River, but at a different spot as the road had been realigned. Nearly ran out of fuel.

        Finally around 1971 from Grafton to Glenn Innes in a black. 1961 Daimler Majestic Major limousine
        which had been brought out to Australia for the cancelled 1961 Royal Tour. The road was now less corrugated and the Daimler handled with ease.
        Earlier on the Pacific Highway near Grafton when we were stopped at roadworks we were hit by a large kangaroo that came bounding out of the bush. It collapsed at front of the Daimler for a few seconds before bounding off. The Daimler was undamaged mainly because its front bumper was like a piece of Armco railing.


        • How did you get your hands on the Daimler Brian and how (and why) did you manage to drive that along Old Glen Innes Road? That would make an interesting blog post! You should have sat the roo in the limo and and given her a scotch!


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