Nestled in the heart of the Great Dividing Range, in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, lies the beautiful valley of Araluen. Also known as the Valley of Peace or Happy Valley, the village is now noted for its picturesque scenery and calm, country atmosphere. In its heyday, the valley used to be one of the most famous gold mining towns in New South Wales.
On the drive down the tumbling road towards Araluen, you’ll be struck by the stunning scenery of green pastures, framed by the surrounding Great Dividing Range. The sheer beauty of the valley alone is reason enough to add this hidden gem on to any explorer’s to-do list.
Step back in time
Originally occupied by the Walbanga people, the name ‘Araluen’ is believed to come from Aboriginal words ‘Arr-a l-yin’, possibly meaning ‘place of water lillies’. The first Europeans reached the valley in 1822. Not long after, the first grazing cattle was introduced to the valley, and a road was cut from Araluen to Moruya at the coast in 1848. To this day, if you go for a drive or a stroll through the valley, you’ll be greeted by cattle grazing the lush green paddocks of the valley.
Gold was first discovered in the area in 1851, catapulting the area to a gold rush. Within months, Araluen became the hub of gold mining with about 15,000 people coming down to the valley for their share of the gold. By the early 1850s, almost 3,000 kg of gold had successfully been mined. To transport the gold, a road up the mountain from Araluen to Majors Creek was constructed closer to 1860. To this day, the track is still frequently used and it is regarded as the most scenic route between the valley and Majors Creek.
By 1860, over 4,000 people were living in the valley. At this time, the valley had over 26 hotels, 20 butchers’ shops, churches, general stores, blacksmiths and bakers, and even a couple of schools. As you visit the picturesque and quiet village now, it may be hard to fathom just how bustling the gold mining town used to be.
The valley’s luck took a turn in 1860, when it was hit by a devastating flood, killing 24 people and destroying the town. Gold continued to be mined until the end of the 19th century, but shortly after, the miners moved out as dredges moved in from 1899 onwards.
By 1939, the dredging had stopped and the valley started to slowly return to its former charm. In the same decade, orchards and market gardens were introduced to the valley, shaping its scenery closer to what it is now. Today, there are almost no signs left of the prosperous gold rush era the valley experienced. The town has since gone from a population of about 4,000 people to just 168, and from 48 licensed hotels to just one. The remaining Araluen Valley Hotel still stands today to welcome visitors to stop in for a drink, meal or overnight stay in the picture-perfect tranquillity of the Valley of Peace.
Travel the path of bushrangers
The drive down into this atmospheric village is guaranteed to get your imagination running wild, taking you back to the times when the roads were prowled by bushrangers and the journey was made by horse and carriage. As you’d imagine, after the discovery of gold, bushrangers grew very interested in the valley’s treasures. Gold was transported out of the valley to Braidwood and Majors Creek up narrow and winding roads, making gold escorts an easy target for bushrangers.
The most notorious of them were the local Clarke Brothers. In 1865, together with two other infamous bushrangers, Ben Hall and Johnny Gilbert, the Clarkes attempted to rob a gold escort going up the steep road towards Majors Creek. They shot one of the guards, Constable Kelly, before being forced to flee as they were outflanked by the outriders.
- For the easiest access, take the 26km sealed route down Araluen Road from Braidwood.
- From Bungendore, drive about an hour via the Kings Highway, followed by taking the Araluen Road down to the valley.
- For the most scenic route, take the 14km dirt track from Majors Creek. This route goes past the gorgeous Clarke’s Lookout, overlooking Araluen Valley. Please take note, though, that this route is a very narrow drop of winding dirt road.
- Araluen is perhaps most well-known for its rich history of gold mining. Although your chances of finding any traces of gold are slim to none, gold panning at the picnic area beside the Araluen River is a great pathway to living the history of the village.
- To further immerse yourself in the history of the valley, visit the two local cemeteries. The Anglican and Roman Catholic cemeteries offer visitors a snapshot of the people who lived in the valley in its heyday.
- For spectacular views of the valley, head up to Clarke’s Lookout. The lookout was named after the infamous bushranger duo, the Clarke Brothers, who robbed gold escorts trying to make their way up the steep and narrow road towards Majors Creek in the 1860s.
- If you’re looking to make a longer stop in the valley, set up camp at the large and open Araluen Creek Camping Area, nestled at the foot of a mountain. The camping area has all the basic necessities for a free overnight stay and is even pet-friendly!
As always, don’t forget – if you’re out exploring Araluen, or any other hidden gems of Queanbeyan-Palerang, share your experience by tagging us with @visitqueanbeyanpalerang and #visitqueanbeyanpalerang.