After our short but scenic climb to the top of Belougery Split Rock on the previous evening, today we’re doing the Breadknife and Grand High Tops circuit. (The “we” being myself, and five kids who possess differing levels of enthusiasm for the impending walk…) The Grand High Tops loop is the most iconic of all the Warrumbungle National Park bushwalks, passing many of the spectacular rock formations in the park, including Bluff Mountain, The Breadknife, Belougery Spire and Crater Bluff (seen below in profile from the Whitegum Lookout).
Summer isn’t the best time of year for this walk, so we’re starting early to at least get the initial ascent completed while it’s relatively cool. The start of the walk is clearly signposted, as you’d expect from the most popular walk in the park, with interpretative signage and a plaque dedicated to Alfred Pincham. The Grand High Tops track was originally called the Pincham Track, after Pincham gifted his property (Strathmore) to the government in 1952. This request formed the bulk of what is now the Warrumbungle aNtional Park.
It’s initially a very gentle incline as we head up the gravel path, with a glimpse of Crater Bluff in the distance.
As with yesterday’s bushwalk, the forest is very green – but the blackened tree stumps are a reminder of the devastating 2012 bushfire. About 15min (1.3km) of easy walking brings us to the start of the Grand High Tops loop, which you can do in either direction. (See Which Direction is Best at the end of the post.)
Grand High Tops via West Spirey Creek Track
We set off along the West Spirey Creek Track, as we’re doing the Grand High Tops in a clockwise direction. The track crosses West Spirey Creek over a timber bridge, before crossing a few side creeks, as it climbs the valley. The valley is very green and shaded and with recent rain there is ewater in all the creeks.
A kangaroo helpfully shows us the way, just in case we have difficulties following the trail.
After a few more kilometres and just before we reach Ogma Camp, the trail starts to get steeper.
We have out first break at Ogma Camp, having covered 4.4km and just over half the elevation gain. Located on the Ogma Saddle, this is also the junction with the track out to Cathedral Arch and Mount Exmouth. We meet a small group who have camped here; it’s a small but nice campground, with plenty of shade – but no water.
The track continues to climb, passing another (informal) camping area and offering a few glimpses of Bluff Mountain to the south.
We’re soon at Point Wilderness, an informal and unfenced lookout which offers a great view of Mount Exmouth (the highest peak in the Warrumbungles) to the west.
The trail continues to ascend (still fairly steeply), but the effort of climbing is offset by the increasingly impressive views. Bluff Mountain looms over us, as we walk around its northern face. To the north-east you can just see the Siding Spring Observatory on top of Mount Woorut.
The views get even better once we reach the Dows High Tops ridge. Here the trail levels out, as it passes two lookouts: Middle Spirey View and Dow’s Lookout. (Carl Dow, after whom some of the park’s features are named, was the first honorary ranger; he and his team were responsible for most of the trails in the Warrumbungles.) Neither lookout is obvious – there are great views all the way along the Dows High Tops ridge. Most striking is Crater Bluff, with Belougery Spire to the left, and the long, western face of The Breadknife below Belougery Spire.
At the end of the ridge is Nuada Gap, the site of Dows Camp (a small campsite). Bluff Creek runs next to the camping area and has a trickle of water in Bluff Creek but would often be dry. Until it was removed in 1980, Dow’s Hut was located here. Constructed by Carl Dow, for three years the hut was the base for Dow and his workers as they blazed the mountain trails. It’s also the junction for a side trail that goes up to Bluff Mountain.
Ascending Bluff Mountain
Having managed to convince a few of the kids that climbing Bluff Mountain is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I demonstrate my responsible parenting skills by leaving a couple of kids at the campsite, while the rest of us tackle the climb. With the day getting warmer, it’s a relatively tough climb. The track initially heads straight up the lower flank of Bluff Mountain, reaching a low cliff and a grove of tall grass trees (some thought to be up to 500 years old). From here the track takes broad switchbacks or zig-zags up the steeper slopes of the mountain.
As we get higher up the mountain, there’s a great view through the trees of Crater Bluff – a volcanic plug (or neck) of hard trachyte.
There’s even more spectacular views from the rocky summit plateau. To the south is Tonduron Spire (1,072m), another volcanic plug, and to the east Belougery Spire and Crater Bluff (1,094m).
But… we’re not quite at the true summit yet. The track continues north along the exposed summit plateau through low heath, until it reaches the summit cairn. The official height of Bluff Mountain is 1,203m – it’s the second highest mountain in the Warrumbungles, and only three metres lower than Mount Exmouth.
The entire plateau is fairly exposed, so we don’t stay long at the summit – just long enough to admire the sweeping views of the unique volcanic landscape.
Grand High Tops
Once back at Nuada Gap and Dows Camp, the Grand High Tops Circuit track continues descending to Dagda Saddle (or Dagda Gap) along the Dagda Ramp.
From the Dagda Saddle, the track ascends steeply up to Lugh’s Throne. (I find this the hardest part of the extended Grand High Tops Circuit. It’s a relatively short climb, and I take it slow while the kids race ahead. Fortunately it’s also our last ascent on the circuit.)
There’s a great view of Tonduron Spire framed by two trees: it looks very much like a frozen lava flow.
The ascent takes us to the top of Lugh’s Throne, which at 960m above sea level is the highest point on the Grand High Tops Circuit. (Conservationist Myles Dunphy named many of the park’s features frmo Gaelic mythology when creating a map of the Warrumbungle sin the 1959s). It’s the first time we see anyone else, with many people doing the shorter Grand High Tops via The Breadknife, and returning the same way. It can get pretty busy here during spring and autumn holiday weekend; in the middle of summer there’s just a handful of bushwalkers.
Named after a Gaelic Sun-God, Lugh’s Throne is near the middle of what was once the Warrumbungle volcano. In every direction you can see the weathered remains of the volcano: to the north is Lugh’s Wall and the impressive Breadknife, a dyke formed by molten rock (magma) forcing its way into a long, narrow crack in the rocks beneath the surface of the volcano. Erosion over millons of years wore aware the softer rocks, exposing the magma. The Breadknife is up to 100m high, and 600m long. To the left of The Breadknife is Balor Peak (885m), a trachyte lava dome.
Lugh’s Throne also has a great view of Crater Bluff and Belougery Spire, two of the four volcanic plugs (choked vents) that you can see from this vantage point.
From here its all downhill, as we head towards the base of Lugh’s Wall.
The track descends along the base of Lugh’s Wall; like The Breadknife, its a volcanic dyke.
There are some more views of the Belougery Spire from the trail, and the Fish Knife (another narrow dyke).
From the base of Lughs Wall, the track descends steeply via timber stairs and steps.
The trail soon reaches the base of The Breadknife, and continues to descend along the base of the towering face of the dyke. (Once a very popular climbing spot, this is no longer permitted to protect the rock formation – and to prevent rocks falling onto bushwalkers). Looking back up the trail you can see the narrow edge of Lughs Wall.
Lugh’s Wall continues to tower above the trail as it descends via a series of steps. At the end of The Breadknife is the Dagda Gap or the Dagda Shortcut, a signposted trail which goes to Lugh’s Throne via Balor Hut. This allows you to do a shorter loop walk around the base of the Breadknife. (The historic Balor Hut was built between 1958 and 1962, and can be booked on an exclusive use basis, sleeping up to 8 people in 4 bunk beds. A campsite is located nearby, which is the only campsite that has water from a tank.)
The track continues to descend, with multiple sets of timber stairs (I’m glad we’re going down, and not up!).
Eventually the trail gets less steep, as it alternates between a paved track and dirt.
We make one last (short) detour, up to the Spirey View Lookout. Unlike our side trip to Bluff Mountain, this one is not really worth it – it’s a nice outlook, but after the previous views it’s a bit underwhelming.
After the Spirey View side-track, the Grand High Tops track follows Spirey Creek down the valley. Like the start of our walk along West Spirey Creek, it’s a nice, gentle walk back to the Pincham carpark.
It’s obvious why this is such a popular bushwalk – the views have been stunning, and the landscape surprisingly varied. It’s also clear why this loop is not recommend during the summer months. With our early start it has been manageable, but we’re all pretty relieved to be back at the carpark.
0.0km Pincham carpark (490m)
1.5km Start of loop - turn right (west) along West Spirey Creek
4.5km Ogma Camp (760m)
5.2km Point Wilderness Lookout
6.6km Nuada Gap / Dows Camp (930m)
+2.5km Side-trip to Bluff Mountain summit (1200m)
8.3km Lugh's Throne (960m)
9.0km Junction with Dagda Gap trail
9.8km Junction with track to Hurleys Camp
10.4km Junction with Spireys View Track
+0.3km Side-trip to Spireys View
11.0km Junction with Macha Tor track
+2.3km if returning via Macha Tor & Febar Tor
12.2km End of loop / junction with West Spirey Creek Track
13.5km Pincham carpark
Which direction is best for the Grand High Tops circuit?
You can do the Breadknife and Grand High Tops walk via Spirey Creek, and come back the same way – or retur via the Dagda Shortcut which loops around the Breadknife (12.5km return). This route passes all the major features and delivers the best views of the full Grand High Tops circuit (which is a 14.5km loop). The official recommendation is that you do the full Grand High Tops Circuit in a clockwise direction, ascending along Spirey Creek and up the many flights of steps and stairs.
Clockwise is the best direction if you’re not confident about your ability to complete the full circuit: if you decide to turn back you’ll have enjoyed the best views of the walk. It also means that as you climb the endless stairs, you’ll have the impressive vocanic formations in front of you.
But.. if you’re confident about doing the full circuit, I would strongly recommend that you do the Grand High Tops in an anti-clockwise direction. It’s a much easier and gentler ascent. It also means you’re finishing with the highlight of the walk! If you’ve got the time and energy, the Bluff Mountain side-trip is definitely worth doing.
Getting to the Warrumbungles and Grand High Tops walk
The town closest to the Warrumbungles is Coonabarabran (known as the astronomy capital of Australia), which is about a five and a half hour drive from Sydney, and two hours’ drive northeast of Dubbo. The Grand High Tops walk starts from a large carpark at the end of Pincham Road, which is off John Renshaw Parkway (opposite the road to the Visitor Information Centre). All the roads are sealed.
More information on Warrumbungle National Park
Warrumbungle National Park is a heritage listed national park (since December 2006), Australia’s only Dark Sky Park (certified in 2016) and is within the Pilliga Important Bird Area. The park was created over millions of years from an extinct shield volcano, which has left a variety of impressive rock formations. Archaeological evidence indicates that indigenous people occupied the Warrumbungles for at least 5000 years, with the name ‘Warrumbungle’ coming from the Kamilaroi languageand meaning ‘crooked mountains’.
The area was first proclaimed as a reserve in 1953, and in 1967 management of the park was signed over to the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
- Warrumbungle National Park – Overview and Map [download PDF]
- Warrumbungle National Park – Guide to Walks [download PDF]. Old NWS brochure.
More information on Grand High Tops walk
The Grand High Tops loop is one of the longest day walks in the Warrumbungle National Park – and the most popular. You can reach every part of the park in a day – but you can also join together multiple tracks to form a 2-3 day bushwalk, with many remote camp sites to choose from (all require a booking).