The Castle is a bushwalk I’ve had on my To Do list for a long time… Described as “one of the most spectacular, challenging and rewarding day walks in Australia”, The Castle is one of the few walks I’m not comfortable doing solo. It’s also a four-hour drive from Sydney. So the planets finally align when Glenn, a close friend and equally mad hiker, is in Sydney for a few weeks and keen to do a challenging bushwalk. We plan to stay overnight in Milton, the closest town, so we can get an early start.
The Castle bushwalk starts at Long Gully, a picnic and camping area, and we’re on the track just before 8am as we’re expecting a pretty demanding walk and a long day! The track is pretty level for the first half a kilometre, until it reaches the Yadboro River (which forms the border between Budawang and Morton National Parks).
After crossing the river, the track starts to ascend gently as it follows Castle Creek, before following an old forestry road up Kalianna Ridge. The track gets increasingly steep as it approaches the lower ramparts of the Castle, and one section has chain guide rails up the conglomerate slope.
At the top of this conglomerate bluff is a great of Pigeon House Mountain, through the trees. (In general there isn’t much of a view for the initial part of the ascent.)
The track now follows a set of cliffs, and it’s starting to get much slower-going with very rough terrain underfoot. A short detour provides a great view across the valley to west of the imposing upper and lower walls of Mt Owen and Mt Nibelung.
A bit further on, a break in the trees provides a view to the south over the expansive wilderness of the Budawang National Park.
Just below the upper cliffs of The Castle, the track forks: crude signage indicates that to the right is TC (The Castle) and to the left is MV (Monolith Valley). The right branch heads up the Meakin Pass and the “Tunnel”, a dark narrow pass through the “tadpole tail” of the Castle to the eastern side. This where the real adventure begins, as we crawl through a crack in the ridge line.
There’s a bit of a scramble on the other side of the Tunnel, where a rope helps with the descent to the base of the cliffs on the eastern side.
A few hundred metres further is another minor gully requiring some scrambling; this marks the start of the real ascent of The Castle with the first “pitch” up one of the rock faces.
We are now climbing up the “tadpole tail” of The Castle (as The Castle has the appearance of a tadpole from above!). The “track” is no longer marked, and consists of rock scrambling and boulder hopping. Some fixed rope are in place for the steepest sections – although it’s worth checking that they are not too frayed…
There are three pitches in total, and the second one is longer and steeper, with a spectacular backdrop that makes the climb look far more dangerous than it really is (although, there is some exposure with most of these section, and a fall is not recommended).
As the route nears the top, there are some increasingly impressive views over the surrounding rock formations. Morton and Budawang National Parks both feature a varied and spectacular landscape, including plateaus, mesas, scarps and deep gorges.
We reach the top of The Castle at the top of its “tadpole tail”, which you can see stretching back down to the Castle saddle.
Beyond the tail of The Castle to the north are the upper and lower walls of Mt Nibelung.
The Castle has no distinctive peak, just a large large summit plateau which is covered with rocky platforms, small rock pools and low scrubby heath.
Among the usual windswept and stunted summit heath is an orchid, nestled between some sandstone rocks, as we make or away across to the southern side of The Castle.
Some of the best views are the southern edge of the plateau, where the vista to the east takes in the Talaterang Mountain (left), Byangee Walls (in the middle) and Pigeon House Mountain (720m), with the ocean in the distance.
Mt Talaterang (779m) is an impressive “triple-layered” peak directly to the east of The Castle – it also has a rough walking track to the summit, from the Mt Bushwalker car park on Little Forest Plateau.
Byangee Mountain (500m) is surrounded by the sheer cliffs of Byangee Walls – it can also be accessed from Long Gully, the same starting point as The Castle. Just behind Byangee Mountain is Pigeon House Mountain or Didthul (720m), a much easier bushwalk accessed from near Milton on the coast.
Eventually it’s time to find our way back to our where we reached the summit, to begin our descent back to the car…
We reach the car around 4pm – it’s taken us about 8 hours for the round-trip. An average pace of less than two kilometres per hour reflects the challenging nature of this bushwalk! It’s definitely been worth it though, with some of the best views of any national park in NSW!
0.0km Long Gully 0.4km Yadboro River crossing 4.4km Camping cave 4.9km Junction with Monolith Valley track 5.1km Meakin Pass - tunnel through The Castle "tail" 5.8km The Castle summit 12.6km Long Gully
Best time to tackle The Castle bushwalk
You can do The Castle year-around; early autumn late spring is best as you get long enough days to do the bushwalk in daylight (it can take up to 10 hours) but it’s not too hot. It can get unpleasantly hot in summer, and the days are a bit short in winter.
Accommodation near The Castle
You’ll want a pretty early start for this walk, unless you’re doing it as an overnight walk – or part of a longer walk into the Budawangs. You can camp at Long Gully campground (booking required), which is right at the start of the bushwalk. If you prefer not to camp, there are a few accommodation around Milton, including the Milton Village Motel which is fairly inexpensive. It’s about a 45min drive from Milton to the start of The Castle walk at Long Gully campground.