A tough overnight walk through the jungle to the peak of Mount Trusmadi in Borneo, the second-highest mountain in Malaysia, via the Mannan trail from Sinua.
I’d booked the Trusmadi (or Trus Madi) hike during our two-week family holiday in Borneo. As the second-highest mountain in Malaysia, it seemed a good alternative to Mt Kinabalu (which I’d climbed twice on previous trips). Although considerably less high at 2,642m (in comparison to Kinabalu at 4,052m), it’s considered a tougher climb (I’ve added my comparison of Kinabalu and Trusmadi at the end.) The plan was to do the shorter 2 day / 1 night Wayaan Kaingaran route which is accessed from Tambunan… but a few days before the hike, our tour guide said “I’ve got good news and bad news about your Trusmadi hike”…
…turns out the access road from Tambunan to the start of the Trusmadi hike was closed due to a recent landslide (I think that was the bad news!). The good news was that I could still go, but would have to take a longer and harder Wayaan Mannan route that starts from the small village of Sinua, and it would now be a 3 day / 2 night trek.
It also meant a much longer journey to the start of the trail near Sinua. Getting to the start point took just under seven hours by road from Kota Kinabalu, including a lunch stop and coffee break, as I was transferred between three different cars for the trip.
Lunch at Alab Mountain Resort
Wet weather on the way to Trusmadi
The final stretch of road, which was only constructed about 30 years ago, provides the first view of Trusmadi in the distance.
Camp 1 at Sinua is our destination for today: there’s a small bunkhouse and a larger dormitory with rows of hammocks. Soon there will also be one more up-market “cabin” to cater for the increasing tourism market and interest on the Trusmadi trek. I’ve got the bunkhouse to myself – two other groups had booked the shorter trail, but decided not to do the longer option. Compared to Kinabalu where 100+ people are on the mountain every day, having an entire mountain to myself is a new and decidedly more pleasant experience 🙂
Sinua (Camp 1) to Camp 2 – 7.4km
The Trusmadi trek starts the next day at 7:30am, up to Camp 2. We’re dropped off 1km down the road where the trail starts – “we” being my guide Sam, Melda the cook, Deo the assistant and myself. It’s a slightly larger entourage than I expected: I would have been happy with two-minute noodles for dinner, but I’m not complaining about having three cooked meals a day. It explains why the Trusmadi hike is more expensive than Kinabalu, where there is a permanent “camp” on the mountain.
The path crosses a river on a well-constructed bridge as we head towards the Trusmadi forest reserve.
The next crossing of the same river is not quite so civilised, as we take our shoes off, wade across… and put on our leech socks for the first section of the path.
We’re following an old logging road for most of the way to Camp 2, so it’s not too steep. But there are a LOT of leeches as we climb up through the jungle. My cheap leech socks seem to be working, but every time I stop I need to remove another set of hopeful leeches from my shoes.
The old road – it’s more of a track in places – gets progressively steeper. There’s a few creek crossings, as well as ferns, orchids and a few flowering plants. The guide tells me that one orchid that we spot (bottom right) is worth USD$5,000 in Europe.
After about 6.5km we reach an overgrown clearing, which marks the end of the old logging road. The last 800m to Camp 2 is a preview of the rest of the way to to the peak – a very narrow and rough track carved through the jungle. It’s much slower going, and feels more like an obstacle course than a track.
We reach Camp 2 at around 11am – it’s taken us about 3.5 hours to cover the 7.4km. From our starting point at Camp 1, we’ve also ascended from about 680m elevation to 1750m – which means we’ve done more than half of the vertical distance. It’s a nice camp which we have to ourselves, although capacity is about 30 people plus guides and cooks. It’s a but overcast and there’s some rain, but for a few short periods when the clouds part, there’s a view to the east over the surrounding mountains and forest.
To the north-east there are occasional glimpses of Trusmadi – although most of the time, it’s hidden in the swirling clouds and mist.
It’s an early dinner (three different dishes cooked over the camp fire – I feel very spoilt!) and a few cups of tea by the fire before an early night. It’s pretty chilly at this altitude (I’m given a spare sleeping bag, or it would be very cold) and it starts raining heavily. I go to bed with a degree of trepidation about whether the rain will clear…
Camp 2 to the Summit – 4.2km
There’s no photos for this section, because it was dark. We leave camp at 1am for the summit – it’s rained all night, but stops just before we set out. I hope it clears in time for sunrise, so the effort of the climb will be rewarded by a great view!
It’s a tough climb, both because the track is steep, and because it’s very rough and muddy. There are some sections where you try and avoid stepping into foot-deep mud, many sections where you’re negotiating huge roots and occasionally a rope to help where the track is nearly vertical! The other “highlight” of this approach versus the other routes, is that there are in fact three peaks. To reach the Trusmadi summit, you must first traverse two smaller peaks along the ridge.
We reach the summit at 4am, a bit too early. Actually, way too early. Rather than wait at the true summit (2,624m), we continue a bit further down the mountain (along the Tambunan trail) to Jiran Point. Here there is a five metre observation tower – and also a very small shelter that gives us a bit of protection from the cold as we wait for the sun to rise. I’m glad we wait – I’m getting pretty cold and almost suggest that we head back down the mountain to get out of the wind. But eventually the sun emerges, above a thick layer of cloud. In the distance, rising above the clouds, is Mount Kinabalu about 40km to the north.
It’s a relatively short walk back to the true summit. The view isn’t as good as it is from the observation tower, but there’s still an unobstructed view of Kinabalu in the distance.
Trusmadi Summit back to Camp 1 – 11.6km
From the summit, it’s back the same way down… Near the summit I can now see a wide range of unique flora and fauna, including the nepenthes macrophylla pitcher plant. Found only at a specific elevation on Mount Trusmadi (between 2200m and the summit at 2642m), its name is derived from the Latin words macro (large) and phylla (leaves).
There’s a few more glimpses of Trusmadi through breaks in the canopy.
It’s less tiring but not a lot easier going down, as the slippery and muddy track requires constant attention.
The steepest section is between the “third” (main) Trusmadi peak and the second peak: after the initial descent from the summit there’s a steep climb, with a few sections aided by rope.
Other parts are less steep, but still require careful navigation using exposed tree roots for support.
It takes us about 2.5 hours to reach Camp 2, and we have short break for our second breakfast (our first breakfast having been around midnight, before we set off for the summit).
From Camp 2, another two hours takes us back to Camp 1. This is easy walking after the previous section of the walk down to Camp 2 – but after heavy rain on the previous day, the leeches are out in force. I decide not to bother with my leech socks (which I’d bought for $1.50 a few days ago) and continue with my normal hiking socks and long pants. I think I must have removed at least 50 of the little bastards from my shoes and socks. After we reach the base of the mountain just before midday, I remove my socks and change into clean pant. I discover that 14 leeches have successfully latched onto various parts of my ankles and feet!
Leeches aside, it’s been one of my best hikes in Malaysia. Varied and challenging terrain, a great view at the top and a feeling of adventure that you don’t get on many of the more popular walks and summits.
Kinabalu versus Trusmadi
It’s not really a fair comparison, as apart from geographic proximity they are very different mountains. If you can, do both – but if you’ve limited time and have to pick? I’d go for Trusmadi, by a slim margin!
Elevation: Kinabalu is the clear winner for bragging rights at 4,095m altitude, compared to Trusmadi at 2,642m. Although if you compare the vertical distance hiked, they are fairly similar with 2,200m elevation gain for Kinabalu (you start much higher) compared to about 2000m for Trusmadi (if you do the route from Sinua). The shorter trails from Api Api and Tambunan have a lesser elevation gain.
Difficulty: Trusmadi has been described as harder than Kinabalu, and the trail is definitely a lot tougher. The altitude of Kinabalu does make a difference, and descending the mountain’s thousands of steps means you’ll feel your legs for a few days. But Trusmadi (at least if you take the longer of the trails) is more challenging, both in the length of the trail, steepness and the fact it’s largely an undeveloped jungle track.
Flora & Fauna: you’re unlikely to see much wildlife (unless you count leeches) on either walk, although if you’re patient there is a lot of birdlife at Trusmadi. Both mountains offer orchids, ferns and pitcher plants – Trusmadi has the advantage of being home to the huge nepenthes macrophylla pitcher plant, which is found in abundance near the peak.
Solitude: Trusmadi wins by a mile… pick the right weekend or go during the week, and there’s a good chance you’ll have the mountain to yourself. Especially if you go for one of the longer routes. By comparison, you’ll need to book well ahead for Kinabalu, and you’ll be walking up the mountain in a long line of people.
Views: The landscape as you climb Kinabalu is more varied, as you go from jungle to the exposed and rocky summit. There’s the same risk with both peaks that the only thing you see is cloud, if you’re unlucky with the weather. They both offer outstanding views from the top – you don’t really notice the significant difference in height from the top, and both peaks will rise above any low cloud cover.
View from just below Lows Peak, Mt Kinabalu
View from the observation tower on Mt Trusmadi
Cost: I was surprised by how much more expensive it was to do Trusmadi when researching the walk: I paid around RM2150 / USD$540 x2 (as there’s a minimum of two people) for the 2D/1N version, including transport from Kota Kinabalu. By comparison Mt Kinabalu is around RM1500 / USD$380 for a foreigner, and promotional rates are sometimes available. One of the reasons for the difference is that Kinabalu has a permanent camp at Laban Rata with staff who stay there in shifts, while on Trusmadi there’s no permanent camp. A cook and assistant walked with us up to Camp 2, carrying all the supplies we needed. It may be possible to do Trusmadi without a guide (you still need to book a permit), and you could also negotiate a rate for just a guide if you organise and carry your own food.
In summary, Trusmadi feels more remote and challenging but be prepared for leeches and mud. If you’re not used to hiking or don’t want to rough it too much, Kinabalu would be the best pick.
The Mannan trail starts near Kampung Sinua, in the Keningau District.
7.4km on Day 1 and 15.8km on Day 2.
Hard (very steep/slippery in sections with some ropes). Total elevation gain ~2000m
All year, but best to avoid wet season (Nov – March).
View route and export to KML format: Day 1 – Camp 1 (Sinua) to Camp 2 Day 2 – Camp 2 to Trusmadi summit and back to Camp 1
A long day walk that ascends Emory Peak in Big Bend National Park, and continues to the South Rim, Southeast Rim and Northeast Rim. Spectacular views for most of the route!
Today’s my second and last day at Big Bend, and I’m up early for a big hike… The plan is to hike up to Emory Peak and the South Rim via the Pinnacles Trail, then do a circuit of the South Rim via the Southeast and Northeast Rim Trails, before returning to The Basin on the Laguna Meadows Trail. A long hike, but one described as “one of the most impressive in the park”, so I’m looking forward to the day.
The Basin to Emory Peak junction (Pinnacles Trail) – 5.2km / 3.2 miles (465m ascent)
After the drive from Terlingua Ranch Lodge, I set-out from The Basin car park around 7:30am, with the well-marked trail immediately climbing up towards the mountains.
It’s a steady, but not steep, climb up to Juniper Flat, a nice grassy plain where the first marked camping sites are located. The trail follows the base of a low mountain range that forms part of the eastern Chisos mountains.
From time to time there are views out to the east over Juniper Canyon, although much of the trail is through forest.
It’s a surprisingly varied environment. There are sections of thick and deeply shaded forest, including what I think is Graves Oak (Chisos Red Oak), which display a deep red foliage in autumn (fall). Moments later, cactus plants are a reminder we are in the Texan desert!
There’s more fantastic views as the trail climbs.
After a final steep section of switch-backs, the trail reaches a saddle between Toll Mountain and Emory Peak. There’s a lots of shade here, as well as toilets and large bear-proof containers for anyone leaving a backpack for the trail up to Emory Peak.
The trail quickly leaves the forest, as it follows the ridge towards Emory Peak, and with a very gentle incline.
It’s very pleasant hiking, with views of Boot Rock and across to Toll Mountain.
As the trail gets closer to the peak – directly ahead are the two rocky peaks – it gets more exposed. To the north you can see The Basin, our starting point, in the distance. It’s rather obvious from here how it gets its name!
There’s a last, steep section to get to the summit. Or rather, the base of the summit. As Emory Peak consists of two rocky columns. Both can be climbed with some scrambling: the right, or northern, column (below left) is slightly higher. Both have almost vertical cliffs on all sides, so while it’s not a difficult climb you don’t want to suffer vertigo or have a fear of heights for this last bit.
The views from either peak are outstanding, with a 360-degree outlook over Big Bend National Park, and beyond. Looking north is The Basin and the Chisos mountains.
To the south is the Rio Grande, and Mexico.
The panoramic views are stunning, and it takes some effort to clamber back down the rock, to return back down to the South Rim Trail.
It’s easy walking back down to the saddle, with the hardest part of the hike behind me. (It’s all downhill from here! Well, almost…)
Boot Spring Trail – 2.9km / 1.8 miles (80m ascent)
From the junction with the Emory Peak Trail, the Pinnacles Trail becomes the Boot Canyon Trail. It descends very gradually towards Boot Canyon, with “the boot” visible in the distance.
An interesting rock formation that can be seen from quite a distance away, it gets it’s name because it looks like an up-turned cowboy boot…
As the track nears a spring in Boot Canyon, a couple of deer graze by the track (the only wildlife I’ve seen so far).
Not too much further along and there’s a very basic and somewhat dilapidated shelter by the track, which I later learn is used as a shelter by rangers and maintenance staff performing repairs to the radio tower on Emory Peak. There’s a short track down to the spring, which is the only spring in the high Chisos mountains. I’ve read it is not reliable, but today there’s a decent flow of water. It’s a very sheltered and cool spot in a small valley, and would make a nice rest spot on a hot day.
Not much further on and fed by the spring is a small pond. The bottom looked a little slimy and I’m not sure that swimming in such natural ponds is encouraged, but would have been deep enough to cool of on a hotter day.
What was striking on this section of the trail was the Bigtooth Maple trees, their bright red leaves contrasting with the greenery of the firs and other evergreen trees.
The trail soon leaves the shaded valley as it climbs up Boot Canyon, reaching the junction with the Northeast Rim Trail about half-way up.
Northeast and Southeast Rim Trails – 3.9km / 2.4 miles (140m ascent)
Although the track is still well marked, as I turn-off onto the Northeast Rim Trail it’s a bit more overgrown and seems to be a lot less travelled. (I’ve seen a few people on the trails so far, but not one person on this section.) The trail traverses grassy plans and light forest as it climbs up to the rim.
As the track starts to follow the rim, there are views far out to the north-east, over Juniper Canyon and to Crown Mountain and beyond.
The views are just stunning as the trail follows the edge of the rim, with desert and mountains as far as the eye can see! (I’ve read the views are far less clear toward Mexico due to power stations causing pollution – but I’ve nothing to compare to.)
There are a number of rock platforms providing a spectacular vantage point over the Big Bend National Park.
As the track starts swinging around to the south, there are views over the Chisos Formation to the Elephant Tusk and Dominguez Mountain (with the Rio Grande beyond).
The trail continues to swing around to the south-east as it follows the steep cliff line, with the Sierra Quemada (which translates to “the Burned Mountains” in Spanish) range to the south.
There are more eye-watering views all the way along the trail, and as it slow-going with constant photo stops…
As the trail continues along the south rim, there are panoramic views to the south, towards the southern part of Big Bend National Park and the Rio Grande. To the right are the jagged Punta de la Sierra (a southern escarpment of the Chisos Mountains) and Dominguez Mountain, and just to the left Backbone Ridge and Elephant Tusk. Further to the left is the smaller Chillicotal Mountain.
Somehow, the views seem to keep getting better and better… I wonder how I coped many years ago, before digital cameras allowed the luxury of taking so many photos!
The trail continues to follow the rim, to the junction with the Boot Canyon Trail. This is where I would have met the South Rim, if I hadn’t take the longer Northeast and Southeast Rim trails. Which I’m very glad I did, as the scenery has been stunning! If I had more time (and had brought my camping gear), one of the designated tent sites around the South Rim would be an amazing place to catch the sunrise and sunset. Next time!
South Rim Trail – 3.5km / 2.1miles (100m descent)
The trail names are a bit confusing – I think I’ now on the Southwest Rim trail, although it’s also referred to as the South Rim Trail. Now that I’ve rejoined the slightly and more popular circuit, I encounter a few people on the trail. The views are still out to the south, over Backbone Ridge, Elephant Tusk and Chillicotal Mountain.
As the trail nears its most southern point, you can see the South Rim Formation, where I’ve come from, stretching back to the north-east. Directly ahead is the Sierra Quemada and Punta de la Sierra, and to the right the Mule Ear Peaks.
South Rim Formation
Sierra Quemada, Punta de la Sierra, and Mule Ear Peaks
As the trail starts bearing north, the outlook is to the south-west and takes in the Mule Ear Peaks (although it looks like a single peak) and Kit Mountain.
A broad rock platform on the edge of the cliff provides a last view to the south and south-east.
Elephant Tusk from South Rim Trail
Punta de la Sierra from South Rim Trail
The trail then now starts to head away from the south rim, and begins a gradual descent along Boot Canyon – on the opposite side of the valley to the Boot Canyon Trail.
Laguna Meadow Trail – 7.4km / 4.6 miles (490m descent)
From the junction with the Colima Trail, it’s all downhill… and a bit of an anti-climax after the South Rim! After a last view at the Sierra Quemada to the south, the trail winds around the back of Emory Peak.
Last view of the mountains to the south
As the trail descends further, The Basin comes into view – overshadowed by the Casa Grande Peak to the right and the Pulliam Bluff behind.
The trail isn’t steep, but feels like it goes forever as it descends in a northerly direction to The Basin, with a few switch-backs from time to time. It’s fairy exposed, but fortunately it’s not a hot day. This bit wouldn’t be much fun at the height of summer.
Eventually, I reach the junction with the Basin Loop Trail, with Emory Peak now in the distance. Almost home!
A last section, before the junction with the Pinnacles Trail, to complete the circuit!
From here, it’s a short distance back to the car. It’s been a long but spectacular walk. And I’ve still got a few hours of daylight left to squeeze in one more walk, and to find somewhere to watch the sun set.
The Basin parking area (Visitor Centre)
31km (19 miles) circuit inc Emory Peak
Moderate. 1100m total ascent on a very well-built trail.
A steep walk up to a ridge, rewarded by stunning views over the Chisos Mountains and out toward Mexico.
The last hike of my first day at Big Bend, with a couple of hours of daylight left. I’d seen mixed reviews of this trail, with some comments that it’s “over-rated”, and others suggesting it was one of the best walks in the park. Either way, it’s one of the most popular trails in the park: by setting out at 5pm, apart from a few people on their way back, I had the trail pretty much to myself.
There’s a big sign at the start warning of wild bears and mountain, which is comforting when walking on your own, just before dusk 🙂 The well-made track starts climbing immediately through light juniper, oak and pinyon pine forest, and there’s no views for the first kilometre or so.
Shortly after the first kilometre (0.7 miles) of steady uphill walking, you start getting views to the south over Juniper Canyon and towards Mexico.
The track is now quite exposed; being very late afternoon means it’s still a comfortable temperature. But I wouldn’t like to be doing this section at midday in summer! After 1.5km (just under a mile) there’s a saddle, from where there’s great views south towards Mexico, as well the ridge above the track and Lost Mine Peak to the north of the trail.
After the saddle, the track gets more steep with multiple switchbacks. The quality of the track, built from 1940-42 by the Civilian Conservation Corps can be seen here with examples of some serious stonework.
Between some of the switchbacks, there’s a great view to the west to the Chisos Basin Campground, and to The Window at the end of the Chisos Basin.
I spot a Mexican Jay (formerly known as grey-breasted jay), which feeds largely on acorns and pine nuts and lives in montane pine-oak forest (in Mexico and parts of Arizona and Texas).
Finally, the last exposed ridge is reached after 3.5km (just over two miles) – which is also the highest point of the trail. However, the best views are at the end of this 400m ridge.
From the end of the trail, there are spectacular views in most directions – to the south-east is Pine Canyon and the Sierra Del Carmen, in Mexico.
To the south-west is the east rim of the Chisos mountains.
I’ve got the summit to myself for over an hour, as I wait for the sun to set. It’s cold on the exposed ridge due to the wind, but tucked down in the rocks it’s the perfect temperature. I only wish I’d thought to bring some wine or a whiskey with me: it would have been the perfect end to the day (although, I still have the descent ahead of me!).
As the sun dips behind the Casa Grande peak, it’s time to head back to the car.
The descent is much quicker than the ascent, despite the fading light (for the last mile I need to use my head torch). I’m at the Chisos Mountain Lodge by 8:30pm, in time for dinner. It’s been a magnificent walk, and I’m glad I ignored the advice that suggested avoiding this trail. I’m also very happy that I went late in the day, and avoided the crowds – in summary, I’d definitely put this trail at the very top of the Big Bend “must do” list. But go very early in the morning or late in the day, and avoid the crowds. I can imagine that following a queue of people up through a series of switchbacks in the midday sun would put you off this walk.
Trail near Panther Pass, just before reaching the Basin
A relatively short (but steep) hike through the jungle to the third highest peak in Negeri Sembilan state, about an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur.
Another trip to catch-up with the team in Malaysia, means the opportunity for another mountain hike… A work colleague suggested Gunung Angsi, which could be done in a morning and is not too far from KL. I’ve booked my trusty local guide, Eddie Yap, who took me to Bukit Kutu on my last Malaysia trip as and as well as Medang Falls with my local marketing team before that.
It’s about an hour from my hotel in KL to Seremban, about 60km to the south, and then another 20min drive to the start of one of the trails to the peak. We are taking the Bukit Putus route up, which is the shorter and more direct route, starting at an altitude of 285m. The trail from the large parking area is impossible to miss – it’s not the most picturesque starting point, with what seems to be a very new trail cut into the side of the hill. (Older blog posts show a more solid set of concrete steps marking the start of the walk, rather than the makeshift steps shown below.)
The trail immediately climbs steeply up the hill (or mountain!), with ropes helping on some of the more vertical sections. The track is well marked, with both regular small arrows as well as a series of numbers in preparation for an event in a couple of days time.
It’s a fairly relentless, steady climb through typical Malaysian jungle – lots of exposed roots – until a fairly flat section is reached after about 2km. At the end of this section is a rest area, where we chat briefly to the only other hikers we’ve seen on the trail. This area seems to have been cleaned up, as I’ve seen photos where there are a heap of multi-coloured chairs, cooking utensils and other junk left here.
From here it’s uphill again, with the first views over the area from “Waterfall View”. Being a fairly overcast, the view wasn’t great – but better than nothing!
Another half an hour or so and the summit is reached: it’s taken exactly 1:30min to climb the 540m up to the 824m/825m summit. (The height is described as both 824m and 825m.) I’m not sure why at 825m Angsi is a mountain (gunung), while Kutu at 1,053m is a hill (bukit)?
There’s a covered shelter on the large, open summit area and very little rubbish lying around. Despite the poor weather, there are some views over the surrounding wooded hills towards the east, and almost below us to the west are some glimpses through the trees of the outskirts of Seremban.
After a brief stop on the summit, where the elevation and slight breeze is a relief from the humidity of the jungle, we continue our journey down the other side of the summit. After passing by an old, abandoned trig marker we enjoy the last views over from the mountain before we re-enter the jungle.
The descent we are taking is the longer Ulu Bendul trail. It’s narrower and seems less trafficked than the Bukit Putus route we took up (although other trip reports suggest this longer route is more popular) – and descends even more steeply. In a number of places there are sections of rope in place to help descend the slippery track.
After about 20min, there’s a fun section of the track that feels like a combination of obstacle course, abseil and bouldering! We enter a narrow section of track, following a deep channel caused by water carving a channel through the jungle landcsape.
Then we follow the top of the large “sand boulders”.
Finally, a steep section that involves carefully reversing down an 8m wall of red rock to the bottom of the boulder section! There’s a couple of routes down (or up), both with rope to assist the descent (or ascent).
After this section, the trail continues fairly steeply down the mountain for another 20min (1.5km).
About 3km from the summit, we cross a small stream, which marks the end of the steep descent! From here the trail is fairly flat, although not being used to the Malaysian climate I find the last section the toughest due to the humidity and lack of breeze in the valley.
Soon after the crossing this small stream we can hear the sound of rushing water, as we meet the river (Sungai Batang Terachi) that we’ll now follow back to the Ulu Bendul finish point. Soon after the track joins the river, a short side-track leads to a small set of cascades.
After only another five minutes we cross the river for the first time. Despite having rained the last few days, the river level is low enough that we can cross without getting wet feet. Next to the river crossing is a clear pool with a waterfall – it would be a perfect lunch or swimming spot if we had time!
Just after the crossing is Kem Tangga Batu, a large camping area with a covered hut and a set of concrete steps (as well as a dilapidated and overgrown building that looks like it might have been a toilet in a previous life).
There’s remarkably no rubbish and it looks like a great place to camp by the river… it feels like we must be close to the end of the track! A few minutes on and there’s another steep but short side-track to a set of cascades. A nice photo-stop, but not as nice as the previous spot for a break.
The track descends again as it follows the river, with a couple of steeper sections.
Another half an hour, and we each a small shelter and some plastic pipes that follow the river. It’s now been two hours since we left the summit: it’s taken longer than we expected, although there have been a few photos stops (tip: bring a small tripod to get some great cascade/waterfall shots)!
The narrow track seems to go on forever, as it follows the river. The track is narrow and eroded in sections – I’m not sure how they managed to construct the huts and shelters we saw previously! There are some calm sections of river and I have a quick swim to cool off.
Finally, after passing a small dam, there’s a last river crossing. This time it’s impossible to avoid wet feet, and the crossing might be tricky if the river was higher (but if you’re starting from Ulu Bendul and you’re able to cross, the other river crossings will be fine).
A few minutes later and we’re at the Ulu Bendol Recreational Forest. There’s a ranger station here, and a water slide park. We only see a couple of people here, but it looks like it might be busy on a weekend.
After crossing the picnic ground, there’s a restaurant by the highway. We buy some cold drinks, and while I need to get back to the office the food looks very tempting! It’s taken just under three hours to get down, which is longer than we’d thought. Our car is 3km up the highway at the other trackhead, so one of our group of three hitches a lift to avoid a hot and boring walk up the road – it would be ideal to have to two cars if going up one route and back on the other! Total distance about 12km based on my GPS, although other trip reports suggest it’s 10km.
It’s been a great walk, combining some views from the peak with cascades and river crossings. I’d definitely recommend the Ulu Bendul route, or going up one way and back the other for variety.
In search of somewhere new to visit in the school holidays, we’ve booked a week on Flinders Island, which lies between the Australian mainland and Tasmania. It seems to offer both hiking opportunities and less strenuous sightseeing by car – as well as lots of beaches for the kids to swim at!
Flinders Island is the largest of the 52 islands in the Furneaux Group, which are dotted across Bass Strait to the north-east of Tasmania (between Tasmania and the mainland). The island is closer to Tasmania than the mainland, and is located right on the 40° south latitude – also known as the Roaring Forties (although we didn’t experience any of the wild weather for which the island is renowned).
The island is about 62km in length and 37km across with a total land area of 1,333 square kilometres. About a third of the island is mountainous, with ridges of granite running the length of the island. The coastal areas are predominantly covered in thick scrub, with a wide strip of sandy dunes along the shoreline (although there are large areas of cleared land that support over 50 lamb and beef farmers).
Some of the Furneaux Group islands were recorded in 1773 by British navigator Tobias Furneaux, who commanded one of the support boats James Cook’s second voyage, and the southern islands were charted by Matthew Flinders in February 1798. (James Cook named the group of islands after Tobias Furneaux, and Phillip Parker King – also an explorer – later named the largest island Flinders Island after Matthew Flinders.)
Flinders Island was frequented by sealers and Aboriginal women (who had been taken from mainland tribes) in the late 18th century; when seal stocks collapsed in the late 1820s many sealing families stayed in the Furneaux Group, subsisting on cattle grazing and mutton-birding. It wasn’t until the 1950s that a proper settlement scheme was initiated, drawing settlers from mainland Tasmania and central NSW to Flinders Island’s eastern shore. Sixty years later, in the 2011, the population of Flinders Islands was 700 people with a median age of 45. [Source: Wikipedia]
Looking across from Whitemark to the Strzelecki ranges
A plaque on Mt Killiecrankie commemorating an early European landholder
When to go (and for how long)
There’s not really a “bad” time to visit Flinders Island – although the climate is surprisingly varied for an island, with recorded extremes of -3.5 degrees in winter to 41.5 degrees in summer. Initially I’d planned to visit in early January, before discovering the flights were at their most expensive and accommodation options limited. I was more successful in booking our family trip in the April school holidays – which in hindsight was a good result. While summer would have been ideal for swimming in the many beaches and coves, it would have been less pleasant for hiking. Autumn was ideal – just warm enough for the kids to have a quick swim (definitely too cold for the adults!) and perfect for exploring the island on foot.
As for how long to stay? We had eight days on the island and could easily have spent up to a couple of weeks. There’s lots to see, and had we stayed longer we could have enjoyed a few “quiet days” at our well-appointed beach house, or ventured out to one of the neighbouring islands (by chartering a boat). A week was needed to really explore all corners of the island, especially if you’re planning a few weeks.
Getting there and around
There’s really only one option for getting here (unless you own your own boat!), which is flying with Sharp Airlines from either Launceston (Tasmania) or Essendon (Victoria). The 19-seat turboprop plane takes about 30min from Tassie and an hour from Victoria – every seat is a window seat (except for one, which I’m assigned on both flights!), so you get nice views coming into Flinders Island.
Sharp Airplane on the runway at Whitemark
Flinders Island coming into view
There is a ferry from Bridport in Tasmania that is operated weekly by Furneaux Freight, allowing you to bring your own vehicle. It’s an 8-hour trip with a schedule that is dependent on tides and weather conditions… we had considered this option before realising our trip out would have meant a departure time of 1am!
Once on the island, a car is essential unless you’re on an organised tour. There is one option – Flinders Island Car Hire – which is located at the airport. Despite having a ground transportation monopoly, the prices are reasonable ($75-$80 per day), albeit the the cars are up to ten years old. The staff at the car hire desk are very friendly, meeting each flight and providing local advice and maps before sending you on your way. Although most roads are unsealed, we found them all to be in good condition and easily navigated in our 2WD rental car.
Our car for the week from Fraser Island Car Hire
The (mostly) dirt roads are all well-maintained
Food & Accommodation
There’s many places to stay – even in my initial attempt to book a trip in January, there was still availability a month or so prior. In April, a few places were booked a couple of months prior but we had a lot of choices: we ended up booking West End Beach House, towards the northern end of Flinders Island. A great choice – the house was well appointed, and in a very private location overlooking the ocean (the beach being a 5-10min walk away through the sand dunes, behind the house). Sawyers Bay Shacks is another option that looked appealing.
West End Beach House nestled in the bush behind the sand dunes
Descending the last sand dune before the beach!
Other than the type of accommodation, the main decision you’ll need to make is how close to “civilisation” you want to be… There are dining-out options at Whitemark and Lady Barron, and a supermarket at Whitemark (and a much smaller one at Lady Barron). And that’s about it. We were a good 45min drive away, so we had planned to stock-up every few days and cook our own dinners. It would have been pretty tedious driving at dusk/night every day to eat out for dinner.
As far as dining out goes, we met some friends for lunch at the Furneaux Tavern (Lady Barron) at the end of our stay, which wasn’t bad. Although the seafood options on the menu weren’t caught locally, there was a decent range of food and prices were reasonable. It seemed almost impossible to buy locally caught fish (there were rumours of a local who sold fresh seafood out of the back of his truck at the local pub once a week – but he hadn’t been seen for a few weeks). I did manage to track down a purveyor of crayfish – and bought a freshly caught and cooked cray that made a delicious evening meal. We even got a tour of the crayfish and abalone holding tanks that are located at the Lady Barron wharves.
What we found consistently impressive: the local meat, which we bought at the butcher in Whitemark. While the Flinders Island (human) population represents only 0.02% of Tasmania, Flinders Island farmers produce approximately 15% of Tasmanian beef production and 9% of Tasmanian lamb production. (The chicken schnitzels were also fantastic, although they were “imported” as there’s no commercial poultry operations on the island). For a coffee fix or pre-prepared meals, A Taste of Flinders (next door to the butcher) was a regular stop.
The general plan was to see as much of the island as possible in ten days (we do manage to cover a lot of ground), and I wanted to fit in a few hikes. The “highlights” of our trip:
Best beaches – Trousers Point was the stand-out (it just missed out on the The Mercury’s Tasmania’s Top 10 Beaches list) and has a picnic area with free BBQ. Also very picturesque are Killiecrankie Bay, Sawyers Bay and the bays and beaches around North East Rock.
Best hikes – Mt Strzelecki is worth the effort, but you need a very clear day. I found Mt Killiecrankie even more rewarding, but tougher than than Strzelecki (as it’s partly off-track). For coastal walks, Castle Rock deserves it’s place as one of Tasmania’s Great Short Walks.
Best Lookouts – For vantage points that can be reached by car, Mount Tanner to the north offers good views and is good spot to catch the sun rising or setting. Walkers Lookout is the one to visit, for the best views of the island.
Getting to West End (Day 1)
Due to flight scheduling challenges (we’re coming from Sydney), it wasn’t feasible or cost-effective to get to Flinders Island in one day. So, we flew to Launceston on the previous day, arriving late afternoon. Today we had time for a visit to Platypus World in the Tamar Valley before our flight from Launceston Airport. Check-in was very quick and straightforward, and after a half hour wait we took off on our fairly short flight to Whitemark, where we picked up our car around midday.
Having picked up our car, we set off northwards on Palana Road. The road is initially sealed and passes through open farmlands, with views over the coast from Emita. After about 20min, at the junction to the C801 to Memana, the sealed road turns to gravel and it starts to feel like we’re the only ones on the island!
Another 20min or so further, and we turn left onto West End Road. The light is starting to fade, so we take it fairly slowly as there’s a lot of wildlife around. I later read in one of the guides at the house that due to ideal conditions and lack of predators, there’s about 400% more wildlife on Flinders Island compared to mainland Tasmania. Which explain the huge amount of roadkill, considering the relatively light traffic on the island. We spot a wombat by the side of the road, and a little further on a rather pale (and shy) echidna. We discover later that Flinders Island has an echidna population that includes an uncommon subset of pale or ‘albino’ echidnas.
We finally make it to our West End Beach House, just in time for a fantastic sunset and a quick swim on the beach (well, not for me, it’s way too cold but my son is part-seal!).
It feels like we’re on holiday!
North West Coast (Day 2)
We commence our island exploration with a tour of the west and north-west, continuing along West End Road and up to Mount Tanner, which is far as we can go with a 2WD car. We’d been told to avoid this road, but it seemed to have been recently graded, and was no problem for our car as it wound up the hill to the 332m summit of Mount Tanner. At the top is a microwave communications tower built to connect the island to Victoria and mainland Tasmania in 1967. The views from here stretch in all directions: to the north (below) is Killiecrankie Bay and Mount Killiecrankie.
On the way back down, we spot a tiny frog that’s almost blended into the gravel, which the kids helpfully shepherd off the road…
Having descended back the same way, we head south, past our house and toward Whitemark. Our next stop is Long Point and the Arthur Bay Conservation Area (off Palana Road, on the west coast). One one side of the narrow road is the ocean, and on the other side a sheltered bay that has a viewing hide to observe the many sea birds.
While the kids and Mum have lunch and observe the bird life from the hide (I don’t have the patience required for bird-watching), I walk back along Long Point Beach and around to Sawyers Bay. Between Long Point Beach and the start of Arthur Bay is Blue Rocks, an outcrop of lichen-covered boulders, with the Mt Strzelecki ranges in the distance.
Our last stop for the day is just a bit further north, where there’s a short walk from Emita along the coast to the imposing Castle Rock. (I did the 4km one-way walk; after dropping me off the rest of the family parked near the rock, which you can also get to via a short 4WD track from the car park – it’s well worth it, especially at sunset.)
Castle Rock walk (4km one-way) One of the Tasmanian “Great Short Walks”. The trail traverses secluded beaches, weathered sandstone formations and grassland before reaching Castle Rock, an imposing, monolithic boulder on the end of the headland. Full hike details
Patriarch Wildlife Sanctuary (Day 3)
Another clear and sunny day awaits us… today we’re driving to the Patriarch Conservation Area, on the eastern side of the island. On the way, we make a small diversion to Tobias Furneaux Lookout.
The views aren’t spectacular, but they do give you a view over the interior of the island.
Continuing along the well-graded Memana Road (C803), we stop a couple of times to photograph the Cape Barren Geese. They are “a most peculiar goose of uncertain affiliations, which may either belong into the “true geese” and swan subfamily Anserinae or into the shelduck subfamily” [Wikipedia], and are one of the unique birds that live around the Furneaux Group. Considered an endangered species only about 40 years ago, a breeding program to increase their numbers of geese was so successful that in recent years the numbers of geese have grown to plague proportions. As a result they are now allowed to be hunted in certain times of the year – which is probably why they take flight as soon you get too close.
We arrive at the Patriarch Wildlife Sanctuary mid-morning, which is a habitat for abundant wildlife and bird life including wombats, wallabies and Cape Barren Geese. There’s an an A-frame building with bunk beds and cooking facilities inside, and a shaded (free) gas barbecue area outside. A big container of wallaby feed ensures that a large population of almost “tame” wallabies around the building!
Unfortunately, the relaxed vibe is broken when my wife goes searching for some birds to photograph in the nearby pond… and a snake rears it head out of the water and makes a beeline for her!
The area is named after the “Patriarchs” – three granite mountains that were named after Matthew Flinders, as they stand out on the low plains. I had allowed time to hike to the summit of one of them, the South Patriarch (the route is described in “Walks of Flinders Island”). It’s an untracked walk, and after a brief attempt to traverse the thick scrub (particularly heavy due to a bushfire a few years ago that resulted in heavy re-growth) I give up. I’m discovering that off-track walking on Flinders Island requires a certain level of long clothing and commitment!
Being now mid-afternoon, we head back to our house at West End.
After a brief stop at the house, it’s back in the car for the 15min back up to Mount Tanner to take some sunset photos. The late afternoon light is fantastic!
To the east are clear views of Killiecrankie Bay, and on the other side of the telecom tower the sun is setting over the ocean.
After dinner back at the house, I make a final trip for the day back to Mount Tanner, to take advantage of the clear skies and watch the moon, which is rising just after 10pm. The photos don’t really do justice to the amazingly clear views of the milky way, and the orange glow of the rising moon. I could stay here a long time. But it’s getting late chilly!
Mt Strzelecki (Day 4)
Today’s plan is to start relatively early, and take advantage of the continuing fine weather for an ascent of Mt Strzelecki, the highest peak on Flinders Island at 756m.
Mt Strzelecki (6.6km return) Another of the three Tasmanian “Great Short Walks” on Flinders Island. The well-marked track climbs steadily and relentlessly to the peak, through a variety of different environments. Full hike details
It’s well worth the effort, despite the potentially spectacular views in all direction being partly obscured by cloud. The general recommendation is to go early (which we did) – the mountain seems to attract clouds and create its own weather at the top.
We cool off afterwards at the nearby Trousers Point Beach, with Mt Strzelecki reminding us of its presence in the background. Frustratingly, the top now looks clear of cloud!
After driving back to West End there’s time for a swim at West End Beach, followed by a short circular walk along West End Beach and back up West End Road to our house. The sunsets haven’t disappointed so far!
It’s pretty chilly outside… but not too cold for the kids to enjoy some marshmallows over the firepit before going to bed.
Killiecrankie (Day 5)
Another long walk – and some fossicking – is planned for today. It’s the warmest day so far, and there’s not a cloud in the sky.
We drive to Killiecrankie Beach, a little to the north. It’s one of the places to search for the Killiecrankie Diamond, and we have our shovels and sieves that we hired a few days ago in Whitemark. The “Killiecrankie Diamond” is a type of clear topaz that has been washed down from the granite mountains.
Leaving the rest of the group to (hopefully) pay for our holiday** with their fossicking efforts, I head off around Killiecrankie Bay with my sights set on reaching the top of Mt Killiecrankie. It ends up being the most rewarding, but also the longest and toughest walk I do on the island.
Killiecrankie Circuit (18km) A partly off-track circuit to the summit of Mt Killiecrankie summit, which offers
360-degrees over the island. The circular route back follows the rugged coast from The Dock and around Old Man’s Head. Full hike details
I don’t finish the hike until just after dark, walking back around Killiecrankie Bay as the sun sets over the ocean. (It’s another great sunset vantage point, which we re-visit a couple of days later).
** After collecting many small and shiny rocks, the helpful lady at Killiecrankie Enterprises (where we’v hired our fossicking equipment) explains that we have a nice collection of quartz. But not a single Killiecrankie Diamond.
Trousers Point (Day 6)
Disappointed by the less than perfect view from the summit of Mt Strzelecki two days prior due to cloud around the peak, I set the alarm clock super-early. I’m up at 3:30am and back on the summit track by 4:30am. I plan to catch the sunrise from the summit and get some clear shots from the highest vantage point on the island!
Alas, my second summit attempt is a complete disaster, with not just heavy cloud but rain falling near the peak. After returning to the car, I drive to Walkers Lookout, which is also mist-bound. Looking at Mt Strzelecki from Whitemark, the entire mountain range is shrouded in thick cloud. (I’m increasingly less convinced by the “climb early in the morning before the clouds form” school of thought. And slightly paranoid that the Strzelecki mountain gods have taken a dislike to me.)
Radio tower at Walkers Lookout
Mt Strzelecki covered in cloud
I head to Trousers Point: the plan is to meet the rest of the family here for lunch after they’ve purchased some local beef sausages for lunch. The weather is quickly improving, and the clear water is very inviting, despite the temperature being in the low twenties.
It’s never too cold for the kids to swim, of course… and in a clear case of the mountain gods mocking me, the top now seems completely free of cloud. I don’t have the energy for a third ascent.
This a great spot for a BBQ – like a few other places on the island, the BBQ facilities are free and spotless. This would be one of the top picks on the island for a BBQ or picnic – and yet in our three hours here we see only one other group of visitors.
After lunch, I undertake the Trousers Point Walk, the third and last of the “Great Short Walks” on Flinders Island. The return walk is just over 4.5km in length and takes me about 45min of brisk walking. It’s the shortest of the Great Short Walks, which follows the coastline along the Trousers Point headland. It’s also the least great of the Great Short Walks. It’s a nice walk along the rocky shore, with some interesting rock formations, but there’s far less variety than the other two Great Short Walks.
On the way home, we detour past Walkers Lookout again – this time it’s a far more impressive vista than the 20m visibility I had earlier in the morning. There are clear views in every direction, with signage that points out the major features in every direction. The Strzelecki ranges can be seen in the distance to the south and the Patriarchs to the east. For lookouts accessible by car, this is definitely the best one.
View from Walkers Lookout to the south
Signage points out the key features in every direction
Looking south to Pillingers Peak and the Strzelecki ranges beyond
There’s still a few hours left in the day, but we head back to our house to avoid driving at dusk. It’s been another great day on Flinders Island.
Palana and the North East (Day 7)
We haven’t explored the north east corner of Flinders Island yet, so we head off in this direction, taking the North East River Road all the way to the north-east tip of the island (Holloway Point).
For the last few kilometres the road follows the North East River, which resembles a tidal estuary more than a river. There’s thousands of tiny crabs swarming on the mud flats of the river, and it’s teeming with birdlife.
At the end of the road, there’s a few parking spots and a toilet block. Although my guide book says the road can get busy in summer, there is no-one here today, so we can have the place to ourselves to explore and look for shells.
On the south side of Holloway Point, a long and rocky promontory, the North East River flows into Bass Strait. There’s a small sheltered bay and a nice, long stretch of sand along the mouth of the river. It would be a great spot to swim on a warm day – today, it’s too cold even for the kids!
A short walk away, over the rocky promontory, there’s another north-facing beach that’s more exposed.
It’s a great spot for photography, especially today with the weather and light constantly changing.
We spend a couple of hours here, before heading to Palana, on the western side of the island. Palana Beach is the most northern beach on Flinders Island; there’s a number of beach houses you can rent here, but (like our house at West End) it’s a long drive to the nearest restaurant or grocery store.
At the end of Palana Road is a very sheltered harbour or bay with a jetty. There’s also a very solid concrete bunker. There’s no explanation or signage – and it’s the only one of it’s type I’ve seen on the entire island. Later research indicates it’s a World War II bunker.
Harbour and jetty at Palana (Flinders Island)
World War II bunker at Palana
Access to Palana Beach (which is poorly signposted) is a few hundred metres back along the road. The very last section is a bit eroded and we fear our 2WD car won’t make it, so so we leave the near the turn-off to the beach and walk down the last 250m.
It’s a nice beach, but not as nice as Trousers Point or even our last stop at North East River Inlet. I walk down the beach to the end – there are some steep sand dunes toward the far end, and a mini-lagoon where the water is a bit warmer.
At the end of the beach, there’s a good view of Inner Sister Island directly ahead (there’s also an Outer Sister Island). One of the largest of the approximately one hundred outer islands in the Furneaux Group, Inner Sister Island is a granite and dolerite island, that supports seabirds and waders and is grazed by sheep.
No more stops are planned after our very late lunch and stroll along Palana Beach… but… as we near the turn-off to Killiecrankie the sunset seems to be another nice one. Not what we’re expecting, as it’s been a fairly overcast day. We make an impromptu diversion to Killiecrankie Bay.
The colour of the sky is getting more orange as we arrive and scope out the best spot for photos.
It gets more spectacular as the sun emerges from the clouds, bathing the surrounding rocks and Mt Killiecrankie on the other side of the bay in a warm glow. We stay until the sun has fully set, and finally head back to the house.
Around West End (Day 8)
It’s a quiet day today… the weather is overcast and rain threatens. The kids and I set off for a beach stroll and Killiecrankie Diamond fossicking attempt in the morning. This time we go to Tanners Bay, just south of West End Beach. While Tanners Bay can be accessed by foot from West End Beach, we drive a short way up West End Road, where our map indicates that there is a roads leading down to the beach. We leave our car on main road and walk down one of these side-tracks… which seems to be a private road leading to a house. No-one is around, so we’re quickly on the beach, but a bit confused as to which of the tracks down to the beach are public and which are private driveways.
We’re now looking for a creek bed that would have carried the “diamonds” down from Mt Tanner, but we’re really not sure if we are anywhere near the right spot. Nevertheless, we dig and sieve away with diminishing enthusiasm: there’s not a lot of reward for our effort!
Having tried a few different spots and not far from giving up, I spot what seems to be a seal resting on the beach. Walking a bit closer, it turns out it IS a seal, which is a pleasant surprise – it’s the only seal we see on the island.
It gives us a baleful look, and (rather inelegantly) waddles into the ocean
As the sky darkens, we head back to the car – there a brief downpour on the way back, which is the first rain we’ve had in eight days (so we can’t really complain).
By late afternoon, the weather has significantly improved so I take the opportunity to do one more walk… from our beach house at West End I’m walking to Egg Beach. I start behind our house, walking over the sand dunes and following West End Beach north.
Egg Beach (8km) From West End Beach, the untracked route follows the coastline, crossing secluded coves and beaches as well as rocky sections of the shore before reaching the peculiar Egg Beach. The return journey is via an old 4WD track. Full hike details
Lady Barron (Day 9)
Our last full day on Flinders Island… After meeting friends (who are circumnavigating Tasmania by yacht) for lunch at the Furneaux Tavern in Lady Barron, we have a look around the jetty area. In the distance, across Petrifaction Bay are the Strzelecki Ranges, and directly in front of us is Cape Barren Island.
Cape Barren Island from Lady Barron
The Strzelecki Ranges across Petrifaction Bay
Driving back to West End, we spot another echidna near the road.
Leaving Flinders Island (Day 10)
We wake to the first wet and miserable day we’ve had in ten days, as we finish packing and make our way to Whitemark for our flight to Essendon (Victoria) and connecting flight to Sydney. We’ve seen a lot of the island, and it’s definitely somewhere I’d visit again.
For general information the Visit Flinders Island Web site is helpful and lists the many accommodation options (many places are not listed on Stayz or other booking sites that I’d normally use).
For hiking, a copy of “Walks of Flinders Island” (Ken Martin) which I bought at the general store in Whitemark was really helpful, providing details and maps of over 50 walks from well-marked trails to off-track routes. The 1:100,000 Flinders Island topographical map was also useful for planning walks and drives (purchase on-line at the TASMAP eShop or available on the island).
A partly off-track circuit on Flinders Island to the Mt Killiecrankie summit and back along the rugged coast from The Dock.
Described as “one of the most majestic islands in the Furneaux Group” and “arguably the most majestic mountain and bay combination in Bass Strait”, Mt Killiecrankie (316m) is the highest peak at the northern end of Flinders Island. While significantly less high than Mt Strzelecki, it’s a tougher walk and offers equally impressive views from the top.
There’s a few different approaches to the summit, all of them at least partly off-track… I’m taking what seems to be the “easiest” route to the top. The intended route follows Killiecrankie beach around to the northern end, where there is a 4WD track for part of the ascent.
After walking along the beach for about 2.6km (slightly easier and quicker at low tide), I pick up a signposted 4WD track that starts just above the beach (Quion Road). It’s a private road; my “Walks of Flinders Island” book suggests this as one of the summit approaches, and recommends seeking approval from the manager of the Quion cattle farm (access via this route may change if the development of a $5 million premium tourist resort goes ahead). Being on my own and not sure how to contact the manager, I set-off up the track which climbs steadily up the hill. After about 1.2km, I reach a gate, where I turn left and follow the fence line for a few hundred metres. There’s now a short section of off-tracking walking through fairly thick forest, before I reach another 4WD track.
The next section of (disused) 4WD track continues heading up towards the summit, and offers a bit of shade on a clear and fairly warm April day. Not long after reaching this upper 4WD trail (at Palana 735917) , there’s the first views over the coast for the first time from a rock platform, and a memorial plaque to Peter Grant Hay and his wife Margaret Maisie. Hay was an Australian brewer, landowner, pastoralist and thoroughbred racehorse breeder who founded the Richmond N.S. Brewing Co. Ltd (now Carlton & United Breweries) and owned land on Flinders Island. Interestingly, there’s no mention of the plaque in my hiking guide or on-line.
A plaque on Mt Killiecrankie commemorating an early European landholder
Another 200m and there’s a fork in the track; after consulting the map, I take the left-hand option. The rough track continues ascending directly towards the peak, which soon becomes visible directly ahead.
While the summit is clearly visible in the distance, there’s no obvious track to the summit from the 4WD track which continues around the base of the mountain. I find a very narrow and indistinct foot track through fairly thick scrub (Palana 737925 or 39°48’51.4″S 147°51’40.4″E) which seems the best option. This trail winds through the scrub, before emerging at a large, exposed rock platform. In front of me are views of the coast, and behind me looms the large rock outcrop of the summit,
The notes in my guide book, while fairly accurate for the initial part of the walk, seem to bear little resemblance to the tracks I’ve found as I near the summit. I’m at the southern end of Mt Killiecrankie, which is the steeper ascent, and I can’t find any track that allows an easier approach from the northern end. While parts of the ascent appear a little daunting (in terms of height and exposure), the alternate requires navigating through some pretty thick scrub to the northern end of the granite outcrop. I manage to find a route up the last 50m of rock face, finally reaching the Killiecrankie summit after 6.2km and just over two hours walking.
The views are fantastic in all directions, with an almost cloudless sky. To the south is Killiecrankie Bay, with farmland adjacent and further inland, the Wingaroo Nature Reserve.
To the north is Blyth Point and Palana, and in the far distance the Inner Sister and Outer Sister islands.
After a well-earned break on the top, it’s time to figure out how to get back… I’m reluctant to descend the same way as I came up, being very steep and exposed. Heading down the “back” of Mt Killiecrankie (the northern approach) is much easier. I follow a long series of rock slabs; just before the last boulder is a short drop on the left into a gully. From here my intent was to navigate back to the southern end of the summit outcrop, and re-trace my steps…
…but, with thick scrub all the way up the base of the rock, I follow a faint trail that leads further north. I figure it’s heading downhill, it must go somewhere and it’s a hell of a lot easier than “bush bashing” through dense scrub! The trail is marked by cairns, taking me under large boulders, across exposed rock platforms and traversing some interesting granite formations!
After about half an hour, there’s a sign pointing to “The White Eyed Man” (map reference Palana 738934). It’s a little surreal, being the only sign I’ve encountered on the entire walk, so I make the 80m detour. I’m not quite sure to expect! The White Eyed Man is an imposing rock formation, which does look a little like a pointy-nosed person looking over the coast. There’s no mention of this formation in my guide, or checking later, anywhere on-line.
From here the track is fairly easy to follow through medium-thick scrub, as it gets closer to The Dock Road which I can see below. I’d avoided this route up as the guide book described it as being un-tracked and through thick scrub, so it was a pleasant surprise to find it the easiest route down as it meant I could return to Killiecrankie via a circuitous route!
It takes less than an hour to reach The Dock Road, emerging from the scrub next to a “4WD only” sign (although locals assure me the road is 2WD suitable and it is in good condition). From the road, there is almost no sign of the track – it’s the little gap in the bushes in the picture below right.
From here, it’s a quick 15min down the unsealed road to The Dock, which consists of a number of small sandy beaches set in a kilometre of rocky coastline. It’s a pleasant spot and I have a quick swim before continuing on my way along the coast.
The well-marked track follows the rocky coast fairly closely, with the Mt Killiecrankie mountain range not very far inland.
I’m making fairly good progress until I reach the climbers camping area, which is near the coast (Palana 725936). There’s a path that leads up to the base of the cliffs, where it abruptly stops – the guide book suggests continuing off-track but with the time getting late and the shrub fairly thick, I eventually re-trace my steps to the climbers camping area. Here I quickly find the main track that follows the coast and resume my journey back to Killiecrankie. The going is a bit slower from here, even after I’m back on the correct trail, with the setting sun almost directly ahead and the terrain consisting of rock formations and patches of soft sand.
It’s a relief to reach the granite slabs on the headland below Old Man’s Head, where the walking is a bit easier.
Soon after, with Old Man’s Head jutting into the sky behind me, I meet the only other hikers I’ve seen all day, heading toward The Dock.
It’s a bit slower again for the next section to Stacky’s Bight, with the track heading inland and skirting around some steep sections of shoreline. Stacky’s Bight is a sheltered cove featuring a couple of sea arches, and would make a worthwhile destination for a shorter day-trip.
It’s now almost 5pm, and great light for photography as I navigate the last sections of rocky coastline before reaching Killiecrankie Bay, the rocks almost glowing in the afternoon sun.
I’m back at the (far) end of Killiecrankie Bay with the sun just over the horizon.
There’s just 2km (or so) of easy beach walking before I’m back at the car; in the distance is Mt Killiecrankie. It’s been a tough walk but my favourite Flinders Island walk so far, combining a small mountain peak with some varied coastal walking.
A steep walk to the highest peak on Flinders Island (756m), which is frequently shrouded by cloud.
Mt Strzelecki is another of the three Tasmanian “60 Great Short Walks” that’s located on Flinders Island – and it’s the highest point on the island – so it’s a “must do” hike on our stay. I’m joined by Luke and our “local” (Launceston) friend Linda, who’s staying with us for a few days.
We head out from our house at the opposite end of the island (near West End Beach) around 9am, with the granite peaks of the Strzelecki ranges appearing closer as we turn onto Trousers Point Road almost an hour later.
(The Devonian-age granite peaks are part of a larger series of granite bodies that extend from north-eastern Tasmania to Wilsons Promontory in Victoria, and were formed approximately 370 million years ago. Just in case you have an interest in geology!)
The start of the walk is very clearly marked, with the Strzelecki peaks directly ahead of us, as we set off around 10am. It’s a beautiful, clear day, so I’m looking forward to the view from the summit.
The track crosses a small clearing to a walker registration “booth” where’s there a battered log-book, before it enters the low (but dense) forest.
The first “stage” of the track is not steep, but climbs relentlessly up through forest consisting mostly of casuarina trees.
After about a kilometre (and 180m of altitude gain), there’s a glimpse of our destination in the distance, and the first views from the track of Whitemark Beach to the north.
About half an hour further, and the landscape has completely changed to more open eucalypt forest with a few patches of ferns. In this second “stage” (starting at about the 1.8km mark and and 320m altitude), you can see why the rainfall on Flinders Island is highest around the Strzelecki Peaks.
The track starts to get steeper, but rewards our progress with improving views; Mt Chappell Island can be seen off the coast, beyond Trousers Point.
This second stage of our walk is about a kilometre in length and we’ve gained another 300m altitude, as we reach the foot of the granite peak that towers above us. As we follow the base of the Strzelecki Peaks, the “third stage” of our journey is damp and shaded. We’re mostly in Sassafras-musk rainforest, occasionally emerging onto granite outcrops.
While we started our walk in full sun, there’s now swirling mist around us and views to the north are of… cloud. At the 3km mark (700m altitude) there’s a large rock platform and with limited visibility, a few groups end their hike here.
We continue – we’re now only 60m from the summit – although it’s clear (no pun intended) that with the clouds sweeping over the peak we won’t be “rewarded with views of mainland Tasmania” as my guidebook promised!
After the last few hundred metres through thick scrub and then along a broad ridge of granite, we’re on the rocky peak!
The thickest cloud is to the north, and doesn’t look like abating anytime soon… although once we’re back at the the bottom I can’t see any clouds around the peak. I don’t know if we’re just unlucky with timing: the general advice is to go early as the cloud builds over the day. [I go back a few days later, starting at 4am both to avoid the cloud and catch sunrise from the peak – but the cloud is even thicker, to the point it’s raining when I get to the last section – and when I’m back at the bottom it looks clear at the top!]
You could argue that the mist adds to the atmosphere. Maybe. And there are still some nice views, with the Strzelecki Peaks to the south and Fotherington Beach below, with Big Green Island in the distance and East Kangaroo Island barely visible behind it. But definitely can’t see mainland Tasmania in the distance!
We hang around on the summit for about half an hour, before deciding that it’s highly unlikely that the clouds will dissipate anytime soon and we head back down. It’s taken us about 2.5 hours up, with frequent rest breaks, and 1.5 hours to go back down.
From Whitemark, travel south (towards Lady Barron) on B85 and turn into C806 (well sign-posted) to Trousers Point. The track to the peaks is marked on the left-hand side of the road.
The Freycinet Circuit is a rewarding hike that combines picturesque bays, turquoise water and majestic views of the Tasmanian coast.
This circuit of Freycinet Peninsula has been on my “to do” list for a long time. It was originally intended as a long one-day hike, but with my 8-year son (Luke) showing increasing enthusiasm for hiking and camping it became a 2-night/3-day adventure. It’s been many years since I’ve walked with a 20kg pack and the first time Luke’s been on an overnight walk. So this could be a great experience… or the chance to see how effective my emergency beacon is!
We arrive in Launceston the evening before our walk and stay with a Taswegian friend overnight, so we can make a relatively early start the following day for the 2.5-hour drive to Coles Bay. There’s time for an egg and bacon roll before we hit the track – the last palatable food for the next 48 hours.
At 11am we’re on the track from Wineglass Bay car park to Hazzards Beach. It’s a slow start, with a friendly wallaby posing for photos at the trackhead. Despite signs saying “don’t feed the wildlife”, this wallaby was very tame and was obviously used to receiving food from tourists. At least it had been fed fruit, and not bread which is bad for them. I was happy it was a friendly one; the signs along the road to Freycinet were rather ominous and warned of kangaroos that would flip your vehicle with a single paw. It’s not surprising that international visitors are scared of our wildlife!
The first 5km is relatively flat, following the coast from the car park to Hazards Beach (said to be named after local whaler, African-American Captain Richard Hazard). It’s pleasant walking, despite being a warm day and carrying having a heavy pack, which I’m not used to. There are views out to the west over Promise Bay towards Swansea and the Eastern Tiers.
After about 1.5 hours we’ve almost reached Hazards Beach; just before we get there we spot an idyllic bay. Across the (almost warm) turquoise water is Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham, which we climb tomorrow. Unlike the exposed beach, it has plenty of shade. And another friendly wallaby. We stop here for lunch and a swim.
Reluctantly, we leave the bay around 2:30pm, continuing our walk along Hazards Beach. This doesn’t disappoint either, and we could easily spend a few hours lingering here. Except that we have a campsite to get to.
There’s a campsite at the end of the beach, which is shaded and fairly empty. From here the track follows the coast through low scrub and casuarina trees, but while there is some shade this section of track feels much longer than the 4km that it is. We’re glad to reach Cooks Beach.
A short walk along Cooks Beach brings us to our camp site, and the end of Day 1. We’ve covered about 17km, but it’s been easy walking. We set up camp a stone’s throw from the ocean, on a small hill just before the entrance to the official campground. There’s water here from a tank at Cooks Hut a stroll away, where we chat to the friendly Park volunteers before enjoying a hot chocolate and tea as the sun sets. Apart from my lamentable attempt at cooking sausages on my camp stove, it’s been a fantastic day.
We awaken early the next day. To be specific, Luke wakes up early and tells me I need to get up. I’d be happy to snooze another couple of hours. We’re underway around 7am, heading back along Cooks Beach to the turn-off up to Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham. Today will be a big day.
From the northern end of Cooks beach, the track ascends steadily up to and then along the East Freycinet saddle, gaining about 375m over 5km. It’s tough going after a very “flat” first day and carrying a heavy pack, but we’re walking through dry sclerophyll forest and in shade. It takes us just over two hours to reach the side-track to Mt Freycinet. I feel slightly bad telling Luke that climbing the highest peak in Freycinet is not optional, and we leave our packs at the bottom.
The climb is steep: only 750m in distance, but climbing from 375m up to the top at 620m. There are cairns and orange markers designating the rough track that goes directly up the side of the mountain, with some boulder-scrambling at the top. The views towards Wineglass Bay as you reach the summit suggest it’s worth the effort. Luke doesn’t share my opinion. I am currently the Worst Dad in the World.
The view from the top is incredible (although I am not yet forgiven). You can see the main track continuing up over Mt Graham to the north-east. Directly north is a magnificent vista that takes in Hazards Beach and Wineglass Bay, with Hazards Lagoon in the middle and “The Hazards” in the background. If you’re doing the Freycinet Peninsula circuit, it’s worth making the effort.
The track ascending Mt Graham to the north-east
Luke looking decidedly happier on the summit
The descent is much quicker. We re-shoulder our packs at the bottom, and start our second ascent up Mt Graham (579m). The track is now in full sun as it climbs steadily up through low heath to our second summit of the day.
Mt Graham is not really a peak – there’s a 100m pad up to the “summit” from the main track, with views of Mt Freycinet to the south and Wineglass Bay to the north. The views are not as dramatic as Mt Freycinet, but being a “flat” peak (Mt Freycinet is more a collection of large boulders) you get uninterrupted 360-degree views. Strong winds and some cool mist suggests how quickly the Tasmanian weather can change.
From here the track descends to Wineglass Bay, but remains exposed and it’s another section that feels much longer than it it really is. Wineglass Bay still looks far away…
I’m unsure whether there is water at Wineglass Bay, so I’m hoping that we can replenish our water supplies on the way down. We find a few unappealing, brackish streams before eventually striking a clear stream that crosses the track (Graham Creek) and we refill our three 1.5L water bottles. I explained to Luke that, worst case, we could suck the nectar out of banksia flowers (although most were pretty dry).
Finally, we reach our camp for the second night, after 16km and over 1000m of climbing. Wineglass Bay is rated one of the best beaches in the world (by Traveller.com, UK Telegraph and Lonely Planet to mention just a few publications) and it is just spectacular. Clear, blue water and white sand with the peaks of The Hazards forming the background.
The only downside is the number of mosquitoes. The large campground, which is right on the water, is not full despite it being a summer weekend. But as all the premium water-front plots are taken, we find a nice secluded camp site toward the back of the campground. Big mistake. I feel as we are the guests of honour at the Tasmanian National Mosquito Conference. I’ve never seen so many mozzies. We quickly cook our dinner (another culinary miss, with Luke declaring my expensive Back Country Honey Soy Chicken packet a bunch of inedible vegetables), watch the sun set and climb into our tents. Despite this, we sleep well and are ready for the final hike out the next morning.
Another early-ish (7:30am) start – we are both ready for an egg and bacon roll and a cold drink at Coles Bay, after our last few meals… It should be pretty easy as as we’re walking around Wineglass Bay along the beach, although the sand is soft and we can feel our muscles! Wineglass Bay looks pretty impressive from this angle too, this time with Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham in the background.
The track ascends from the the north end of Wineglass Bay. Being a popular day-walk, the track is now of a considerably higher standard, but we’ve got a 200m climb up to the Wineglass Bay lookout. We start seeing a lot more people, for the first time in three days.
It’s not a bad view over Wineglass Bay… but we’ve been spoilt by the last two days and the weather is a bit overcast for the first time (although it soon clears). There’s many people here, with the lookout rated as one of the “most photogenic destinations” in the world, according to Traveller.
It’s now all down-hill for the last two or so kilometres, on a well-graded track that feels more like a highway than a trail after the rest of our hike. We’re welcomed by another friendly wallaby, as we make our way back to the car-park (and our well-earned egg and bacon roll). It’s been exactly 40km in 48 hours. We’ve both had a great time on our first overnight hike, and thinking about where we might go next…
Lessons and Suggestions
It’s been many years since I’ve done an overnight walk… and we’ve done pretty well with our preparation and gear. Next time, I’ll definitely be packing insect repellent. Some light-weight thongs or “slippers” would have been helpful around camp. And you can never bring too much wine…
If you’re not up for overnight-camping, there are are a few companies that offer Freycinet trips, often using boats to avoid sections of hiking and including accommodation in a lodge near Coles Bay:
The Mt Dromedary walk is a solid half-day hike to the top of an extinct volcano, which passes by an Aboriginal cultural site.
It’s almost a year since my last trip to the south coast. Last time I hiked with the kids and Grandpa to the top of “Little Dromedary“; this time we tackle Mt Dromedary, or Guluga, a 797m extinct volcano and significant Aboriginal site near the coast at Narooma.
The Mt Dromedary walk starts next to Pam’s Store in Tilba Tilba – the start is well-marked and you can purchase water or snacks from the store. (As I was hiking with my 8-year old son, we made a short detour to the “Tilba Sweet Spot” in Central Tilba for some essential chocolate supplies.) We hit the trail at 10:30am: the first 1.5km or so is along an unsealed road though open farmland. Little Dromedary can be seen clearly from here, looking back along the trail. There’s a gradual ascent, from the start of the walk at 3om above sea level to 150m where you enter Gulaga National Park.
After entering park, the track gets a bit steeper and rougher – but remains a 4WD track that is mostly in shade, with pockets of rain forest. After about 3.5km there’s a good view through the trees towards Wallaga Lake and the coast (photo below): this is the best view you’ll get on the entire walk. Many birds can be seen and heard – binoculars and/or a telephoto lens would be useful (I had to leave behind my long lens to make space for my son’s chocolate supply…)
After a couple of hours walking we reach the saddle at the 5km mark; there’s a table here, some signage and a toilet. There’s also a short and unmarked path that leads to some spectacular rock formations that have been recognised by Geoscience Australia as one of seven significant rock formations in Australia. This site is also a place of cultural origin for the Yuin people, with the mountain regarded as a symbolic mother-figure providing the basis for the Aboriginal people’s spiritual identity [source: Wikipedia]. All visitors are welcome to climb Mount Gulaga but the Aboriginal elders ask that you stay on the track as some places should not be visited without a Yuin custodian. I’m not sure, having done some research, if this area is deliberately not sign-posted to discourage people visiting?
From the saddle, there should be two options to reach the summit: the Rainforest track, which is longer and follows a ridge up to the summit, and the very steep Summit track. Encouraged by the possibility of chains and danger, my 8-year-old son chooses the Summit track. We find what appears to be the (unmarked) Summit track leading directly up the side of the mountain about 5oom past the saddle. However, the track has no signage or markings and we quickly give up – it looks like the use of this track is being discouraged. We stick to the Rainforest Track, which descends a little (not happy about this!) before the final steep and slightly slippery ascent through rain forest to the summit at 797m.
We’ve taken 3.5 hours, 17 breaks and 47 M&Ms to reach the summit… There’s almost no view from the summit, so we enjoy a short break before a much quicker 1.5 hour descent. All up, we’ve taken just over the recommended five hours.
Starts in Central Tilba (about 5 hours south of Sydney)
An easy walk on Hong Kong’s main island, offering great views for relatively low effort and very easy access.
‘Dragon’s Back’ refers to a hiking trail along the ridge between Shek O Peak and Wan Cham Shan, with the highest point at 284 metres. It forms part of the 5okm-long Hong Kong trail (Section 8) and has been named “best urban hike in Asia” by TIME magazine in 2004. It’s very quick and easy to get to the trailhead. It was the ideal choice for a half-day hike with a work colleague, before our flights back to Australia in the evening.
After leaving our bags at Hong Kong station, we take the MTR to Shau Kei Wan station and then Bus 9 from the bus terminus to the start of the track on Shek O Road. Any concerns about which bus stop to alight from are quickly allayed by the fact the entire (fairly full) double-decker bus consists of Dragon’s Back hikers. This is not a hike to do if you’re seeking solitude.
We set off up the path from the windy and scenic road to Shek O around 11am; the trail rises steadily from the bus-stop and is well-marked. It’s a warm day (I suppose every day in HK is either a warm day or a hot day!), and the shade at the start of the walk is appreciated.
It doesn’t take long for the trail to reach the undulating ridge. We’re now in full sun, sweating profusely and glad we’ve brought a decent amount of water with us. But no umbrellas, which some hikers are carrying! The views start to open up as the trail follows the ridge.
From Shek O peak (284m) which is about a kilometre from the start, the views are magnificent: Shek O village and beach is below us, and in the distance to the east you can see Clear Water Bay Peninsula and islands in the eastern sea (below).
To the west (below) is Stanley Peninsula across the other side of Tai Tam Bay, with Lamma Island in the distance.
The trail now follows the spinal ridge of the Dragon’s Back for about three kilometres, through thick vegetation that’s rarely high enough to provide any shade from the midday sun. There’s a few more vantage points, including Wan Cham Shan peak (265m).
Towards the end of the ridge we get tantalising views of Tai Long Wan village and Big Wave Bay below us at the end of the trail. Contrasting with the greenery of the hills are the dense urban developments on Kowloon in the distance.
Eventually the trail descends from the ridge, and it’s possible to leave the walk after about five kilometres. We continue to Tai Long village, exchanging what was a dirt trail to a paved road (closed to traffic) for the final three or so kilometres. We are in shade again, and it’s easy walking down to the end of Hong Kong Trail Section 8 at Tai Long village. Where we enjoy a well-deserved beer on the beach, discovering the very appropriately-named Dragon’s Back Beer from Hong Kong’s first micro brewery.
A couple of beers later, we are ready for the final stage of our journey… the walk from Tai Long village to Shek O. There are options to get a bus or taxi for this last bit but, but that’s not for hard-core hikers like us 🙂 Regretting our decision half an hour later as we trudge along Big Wave Bay Road, we arrive at Shek O village at around 3pm for a late lunch, before catching a very full Bus 9 back to Shau Kei Wan MTR station and onto the airport.
MTR to Shau Kei Wan station; then Bus 9 to start of walk (20min).
10.5km with approx 250m ascent. Allow 3-4 hours.
All year round. Avoid hiking after heavy monsoon rains.