Binna Burra (Lamington)

A long day walk that combines waterfalls (Coomera Circuit) with views over the Byron hinterland (Mount Hobwee Circuit).

Lamington National Park is part of the Scenic Rim, a group of forested mountain ranges that was formed by volcanic activity and encompasses south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales. The national park is also part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, which includes an extensive area of subtropical rainforest. The park is divided into two sections: Binna Burra on the eastern side and Green Mountains on the western side of the Lamington Plateau; the Border Track links these two sections by foot.

Lamington National Park has over 150km of trails (largely constructed during the Great Depression) that were designed by Romeo Lahey. There are references to Lahey laying out these trails based on his observations of dairy cow movements on the surrounding hills, with their paths never having a gradient of greater than 1:10 [source: Wikipedia]. While I haven’t found primary evidence of this, it is noticeable when hiking that the paths are never steep, and often “zig zag” endlessly up the side of steeper peaks.

It’s been just over eight years since my last hike in Lamington National Park, so I’m taking the opportunity to squeeze in a walk before an IT conference that’s being held on the Gold Coast. Being easier to get to Binna Burra (it’s 30min less driving than Green Mountains), I awake early and I’m on the track by 7:15am. I’m starting off on the Coomera Circuit, which is regarded as one of the best walks in this section and takes in a number of the 400 waterfalls that are in Lamington NP. It was rated  as one of the best day walks in Australia by Australia Geographic.

The tracks are well made, and I’m travelling at least as fast as a cow as I leave the Binna Burra track head.

The Coomera Circuit trail soon branches off to the right (the Border Track goes straight ahead), and descends into the Coomera Gorge. The first waterfall, at the 5.4km mark, is the most impressive. Coomera Falls has a drop of 64m, below a viewing platform 160m above gorge.

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The track continues through rain forest as it follows the Coomera River, ascending gradually (the Coomera Falls lookout is the lowest point of the walk, at 695m above sea level). The vegetation is lush and it’s cool on the track, with a number of smaller side waterfalls. Fortunately, there are no leeches!

The next falls are the Gwongorenda Falls and Goorinya Falls. My pace is now slowing, as I stop to take photos every few hundred metres.

Another ten minutes and down a short side-track is the Bahnamboola Falls, which cascades into a deep pool.

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Next, there’s Kagoonya Falls and the smaller Gwongarragong Falls, both of them quite different but all of them very picturesque.

Mercifully, as my progress has now slowed considerably (I’m well below cow-speed, despite the very gradual ascent) with the constant photo-stops, there’s 500m or so before my next step. Moolgoolong Cascades are small, but drop into a large and still pool.

A bit further on, I reach the junction with the Border Track, having walked 10.6km. It’s still early in the day, so rather than turning left and returning via the Border Track, I turn right and continue further. It’s about another kilometre to the next junction, where I leave the Border Track and join the Hobwee Circuit (I’m now about half-way to O’Reillys Guesthouse, at the Green Mountains end of the track). The thick rainforest has been replaced by more open wet sclerophyll forest.

A side-track leads to Dacelo Lookout, with views over the Byron Shire. Mount Warning is the highest peak, directly ahead in the distance (another good hike).

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The Mount Hobwee Circuit track gradually ascends to the summit of Mount Hobwee, which is the highest point of the walk at 1,164m. There is no view, so I take a photo of the sign, eat my chocolate bar (it’s lunch time) and continue on my way.

I add one more side-trip to my walk, taking the Wagawn Track (4km return) out to Mt Wagawn. There’s again no view from the Mt Wagawn summit (1,015m), but a rough track that leads down the ridge from the summit provides some views to the south. (According to my map, the track should continue down the ridge to Bushrangers Cave, but the track peters out, and I don’t have the energy to bush-bash down to the cave. Post-walk research reveals that the cave is best visited by starting from the Nerang-Murwillumbah Road, at the bottom of the ridge.)

From here, it’s back to the starting point… I’ve walked 18km and it’s more or less all downhill from here. From the Wagawn Track I re-join the Hogwee Circuit, and then I’m back on the Border Track. There’s one more nice view from the Joalah Lookout, this time out over the Woggunba Valley and the Springbrook National Park beyond.

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I’m almost back… another 5km  and I arrive back at the car, finishing the walk at 1:15pm and in time to get to my afternoon meetings in the Gold Coast – and a well-earned beer!

Location About 110 km / 2 hour drive south of Brisbane and 45m / 50min from Gold Coast, both via Beechmont
Distance 27km (Cooomera Circuit + Hobwee Circuit)
Grade Moderate. Total ascent of 600m.
Season/s All year round.
Map Lamington National Park 1:35,000
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources National Parks web site. Map for Binna Burra.

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Ruined Castle (Blue Mountains)

One of my favourite half-day Blue Mountains walks: classic Blue Mountains vistas, pleasant walking through rainforest and 360 degree views from Ruined Castle.

There are a few different starting points for this walk: the shortest route is to commence at Glenraphael Drive and take the Golden Stairs down to the Federal Pass track. Conversely, starting at the Three Sisters and taking the Giant Stairway down into the Jamison Valley extends the walk by a few kilometres.

My normal starting point is near Scenic World. While the Scenic Railway (the steepest passenger railway in the world) offers the quickest route down, the Furber Steps provides one of the most picturesque descents into the Jamison Valley, with a number of side-tracks and look-outs.  The track heads steeply down from the Prince Henry Cliff Walk, behind the Scenic World wheelhouse. Near the top of the Furber Steps, the Three Sisters can be seen in the distance from Vanimans Lookout.

There are no less eight lookouts on the way down; offering differing perspectives of the Jamison Valley and Katoomba cliff line, with Katoomba Falls on the left.

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In the distance is the long plateau of Mount Solitary, on the other side of the Jamison Valley (it’s the only mountain in the Jamison Valley).

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Hand-carved with a hammer and a chisel in 1908, the Furber Steps is named after land surveyor Thomas Furber, who secured a government grant to conserve the area. Many of the original steps remain, while some sections of steel steps makes the descent (or ascent) a bit easier… there’s supposedly about 1,000 steps – although I’ve personally never counted them!

Near the valley floor, there’s a short side-track to Vera’s Grotto, where a waterfall is formed by Witches Leap Creek falling over a 20m cliff. The Furber Steps trail passes under a wide overhang, before reaching the Federal Pass track at the base of the valley.

From here, we follow the Federal Pass along the Jamison Valley, soon reaching the bottom terminus of the Scenic Railway; after the relative solitude of the walk down the Furber Steps, it’s always a little confronting to meet a crowd of people… a circular section of boardwalk has been constructed to cater for Scenic Railway and Scenic Skyway visitors. Signage along the boardwalk explains the history of the shale mines that were in operation from around 1880 to 1895 and then again from 1925 to 1945.

Fortunately, this highly populated section of boardwalk comes to an end fairly soon, marked by a large sign that states “you will die a lonely death if you continue” in Chinese and Japanese. Actually, I’m not really sure exactly what it says, but the general intent is to caution tourists that they are entering a remote area. Despite the ominous sign, the Federal Pass track is well marked as it continues along the valley, passing more remnants of the old shale mining operation (there’s a section of steel rope across the track, and abandoned steel buckets, from a failed “flying fox” that was built to carry shale to the Scenic Railway).

After a couple of kilometres, the Federal Pass curves around Malaita Point and crosses an eroded slope of scree and boulders where the previously well-marked track is replaced by steel pegs. A landslide in 1931, caused by coal mining behind the cliff, resulted in massive sandstone blocks sliding into the valley floor – over 80 years later the damage is still visible, although the scarring of the cliff face is less obvious.

Narrow Neck seen from the giant landslide (which occurred in Feb 1909)

After carefully traversing the landslide area, it’s easy walking again with only the occasional fallen tree slowing progress along the old mining track (it originally catered for horse-drawn vehicles hauling coal, but is much narrower now). This section of the Federal Pass is mostly through rainforest, with thick vines hanging down from towering coachwood and sassafrass trees.  Lyrebirds can often be spotted scratching in the rich soil.

After about three kilometres the track to the Golden Stairs is reached on the right, and a kilometre beyond this junction the vegetation gets less dense. There’s some campsites along the track – some of these were clearings made for coal mining huts. There’s one section through low ferns and tall eucalypts where the call of bell-birds is almost deafening!

Another 1.5km further – just under six kilometres from the junction of the Federal Pass and Furber Steps – there’s a signpost on the right that marks the narrow and steep track up to Ruined Castle. The sign warns of the track being in poor condition and a “steep and hard climb”. If you’ve made it this far, you should be OK! Although the going does gets a bit tougher from  here: the track is steep, and a bit slippery in places, and after the cool and shade of the valley the trees are much more sparse and offer minimal shade.

One of may waratahs in flower near Ruined Castle

The good news is that it’s a relatively short track (about 700m), and the altitude gain is only about 80m – although it feels like a lot more! It doesn’t take too long before the massive boulders of Ruined Castle can be seen in the distance. A natural rock formation, Ruined Castle (arguably) offers some of the best views in the Blue Mountains. While the height of the rock outcrop is only a hundred metres or so above the valley on a small ridge, it’s located in the middle of the Jamison Valley, and is surrounded by cliffs. Clambering up onto the rocky pillars yields unobstructed 360-degree views: to the north and west is Narrow Neck and Castle Head, while directly ahead to the south is Mt Solitary.

From here, you can return the same way – or continue along the ridge and back down to Federal Pass a bit further south.

Location Start/finish at Scenic World (Corner Violet Street & Cliff Drive). Free parking. Alternate start point are Echo Point (parking fees apply) and Golden Staircase trackhead on Glenraphael Drive (graded dirt road; limited free parking at trackhead).
Distance 14km return (6.6km starting via Golden Staircase is shortest option)
Grade Moderate. 960m total ascent.
Season/s All year round
Maps
  • Katoomba 8930-1S topographical map (1:25k) and
  • Jamison 8930-2N topographical map (1:25k)
Resources
  • Google Street View Trekker
  • National Parks Ruined Castle walking track notes
  • Wildwalks Scenic Railway to Ruined Castle track notes
  • “The Blue Mountains on Foot” (Williams and Scannell) p.28
  • “Take a Walk in the Blue Mountains” (John & Lyn Daly) p.102
Notes
  • Walk as described can be shortened by starting at Golden Staircase (or the steep descent/ascent can be eliminated by taking the Scenic Railway)
  • A longer walk can be undertaken by starting at Three Sisters (to Ruined Castle) or continuing via Ruined Castle to Mt Solitary (and beyond!)

 

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Map showing route to Ruined Castle via Furber Steps. Source: Blue Mountains South 1:50K