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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Mulu Caves and The Pinnacles

A three day adventure exploring one of the biggest cave systems in the world, and climbing up to The Pinnacles, a unique karst formation in Mulu National Park.

Getting to Mulu is the first challenge… I’d organised the 4D3N itinerary a month ago through Tropical Adventure Tours & Travel (who were very efficient and easy to deal with), then booked two MASwings flights from KL connecting via Kuching. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, having stumbled across The Pinnacles Trail on a “top hikes in Malaysia” Web site while researching potential walking destinations for my next work trip. The second MASwing flight flying over what seems to be never-ending jungle before landing in the very small town of Mulu… it starts to give a sense of the adventure ahead.

Mulu is the “gateway” to Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which encompasses caves and karst formations in a mountainous rainforest setting. (The national park is named after Mount Mulu, the second highest mountain in Sarawak.) It feels very remote – before the opening of the airport in 1991, access took 12 hours by riverboat covering the 100km to the nearest town of Miri.

I’m hoping someone will be at the airport meet us, having arranged the trip via a few emails, and my fears are quickly allayed as we are met by our friendly guide at the small airport. We (I’m travelling with Hanna, a work colleague) are taken in a rather battered vehicle to our lodging a few kilometres away at Benarat Inn. It’s very basic accommodation (a couple of mattresses on the floor and a ceiling fan!). With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been preferable to stay within the Mulu National Park, which has bungalows as well as a shared dormitory option.

Lang Cave

We head off reasonably early on the following day for a tour of Deer Cave and Lang Cave, which is a short car ride away followed by a slightly longer walk . After crossing the Melinau river just after the national park headquarters, the boardwalk enters into fairly thick jungle for it’s 3km length.

The area has been recognised for it’s high bio-diversity, and our guide is soon pointing out some of the smaller animals that inhabit the park.

The national park also has seventeen vegetation zones and over 3,500 species of vascular plants (according to Google a vascular plant is one that has “the vascular tissues xylem and phloem”, which doesn’t really help much!). But it means we see a number of interesting plants along the track.

It takes less than hour to reach Lang (or Langs) Cave, which looks pretty impressive despite being one of the smallest caves in the park. The cave was named after a guide who led a research expedition in the 1970s.

Entrance to Green Cave (Mulu NP)

While comparatively small in size, the stalactites and stalagmites are representative of the very best limestone formations in the Mulu cave system. There’s all sorts of shapes and sizes among the thousands of stalactites / stalagmites; our guide explains some of the more interesting ones. Including an interesting formation that I discover later frequently features in examples of phallic rock art!

For a “small cave”, it’s still fairly large and takes about 45min to walk through… allowing a fair few photo stops. (Tripods are not allowed without prior permission – so bring a “gorilla pod” or something small you can use to rest a camera on.)

Green Cave (Mulu NP)

Eventually we emerge back into daylight, with the boardwalk continuing under towering cliffs to the next cave…

Deer Cave

The Deer Cave is over 2km long and 174m high (at no point is the roof of the cave lower than 90m in height) and was the world’s largest cave passage open to the public, until the discovery of Sơn Đoòng cave in Vietnam . (A survey of the caves in 2009 increased the known passage length to 4.1km and established that Deer Cave was connected to Lang Cave.)

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Also known as Gua Payau or Gua Rusa, the cave was named by the local Penan and Berawan people due to the fact that deer used to shelter within the cave and lick the salt-bearing rocks

The main chamber is 174 meters wide and 122 meters high; natural light still reaches this first cavern, and there are glimpses of the rainforest outside.

Deer Cave (Mulu NP)

You start to appreciate the magnitude of the cave, as the boardwalk follows the side of the vast cavern. It’s hard to convey the size in a photo… I’ve never really been a “cave person”, but walking through here was an amazing experience!

We frequently stop as our guide points out different cave features (or patiently waits for me as I set-up the camera for another long-exposure photo!). The photo below doesn’t really do justice to the sight of waterfalls cascading from the ceiling over 120m above us.

Deer Cave (Mulu NP)

The cave leads to the Garden of Eden, a hidden valley and waterfall. A karst valley or sinkhole with a volume of 150 million cubic meters, the one kilometre wide, circular depression is encircled by 150–300m tall limestone walls. The bottom is covered with rainforest.

Garden of Eden, Deer Cave (Mulu NP)

On the way back from the Garden of Eden (the furthest point we go), our guide points out the guano or bat poo from the two million to three million bats belonging to 12 species which inhabit the cave – more than in any other single cave in the world. The guano can be metres deep and is part of the cave ecosystem (the poo supports the growth of fungus, which feeds insects, which in turn supports the larger animals living in the cave). It’s probably worth mentioning that this also does contribute to a strong and not particularly pleasant smell – although it didn’t really bother us.

On the way out, a silhouette of Abraham Lincoln oversees our exit from the cave.

Face in the rock, Deer Cave (Mulu NP)

Bat Observatory

We finish our tour of Deer Cave around 4:30pm, and make our (short) way to the Bat Observatory for the final attraction of the day… A small clearing in the jungle, with a couple of rows of seats, provides the viewing area for the (literally) millions of bats that stream out of Deer Cave in the early evening. Except when it’s raining! Fortunately the skies are clear today. There are a few people here although it’s not crowded; during our two cave tours we saw less than five people.

It’s an impressive spectacle, appearing like a never-ending plume of smoke that rises and spirals above the cliffs that surround the clearing! (Apparently it lasts about two hours: we stay about 45min and there’s no sign of the “bat-cloud” abating.)

Bats streaming out of Deer Cave (Mulu NP)

The twisting and constantly changing trajectory of the bats is designed to avoid the bat hawks that are perched on the surrounding cliffs. It’s thought the bats travel up to 100km from the cave to feed before returning in the early morning, collectively eating 30 tonnes of mosquitoes and other flying insects every night.

Bats streaming out of Deer Cave (Mulu NP)

As the light fades (we have our head torches with us), we head back along the boardwalk to the Mulu National Park entrance after a fantastic first day in Mulu.

Clearwater Cave

Today (Day 2) is when the real adventure begins, as we head up the Melinau River towards the start of the walk to The Pinnacles. We load up and “board” our water transport not far from our accommodation, near some village longhouses.

The water is deep and calm, as we make our way at a good speed up the river (that will change a little later in the day!)

First stop is Wind Cave (only about 15min away – you can also walk here along 1.4km boardwalk from the park headquarters), named for the cool breezes blowing through it which we can feel as we climb up the first set of steel steps. It’s part of the massive Clearwater Cave system. Again, we have the caves to ourselves today.

The section of the cave we are walking through is not at large at yesterday’s Lang Cave, but is equally impressive as the boardwalks climbs and winds through the many rock formations. Part of the way in, a skylight high above us lets in some natural light.

One of the larger chambers within Wind Cave is dubbed King’s Room, with huge columns of stone including stalactites, stalagmites, flowrocks, helitites and rock corals on both the ceiling and the floor.

King's Chamber, Wind Cave

Exiting the cave, we follow a boardwalk perched above the Melinau River that connects the Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave (they do also interconnect underground, and it is possible to book a “Clearwater Connection” circuit of about 8km that enters by Wind Cave and exits by the Clearwater River Cave, offering six hours of walking, scrambling, crawling and squeezing.)

Clearwater Cave held the title of the longest cave system in Southeast Asia until the late 1980s, with a length of approximately 51km explored between 1978 and 1988. Since then, further expeditions have expanded the total (known) length to 222.09km, making Clearwater the largest interconnected cave system in the world by volume and the 8th longest cave in the world. The cave welcomes us with a massive group of stalactites covered in monophytes (single-leafed plants that are endemic to the park and found only in Mulu).

Clearwater Cave

The entrance to this cave is massive, with sunlight penetrating the first chamber we walk through, feeling rather small compared to the cavern we’re in!

Not far into Wind Cave, we cross a crystal-clear subterranean river which has travelled through the cave for over 170km. The smooth, curved walls above the river show the power of the river in flood, which has carved a massive groove into the cave walls.

Clearwater Cave

Further into the cave, our guide points out some phytokarst, a phenomenon where speleothems or speleogens (mineral deposits) orient towards the sunlight coming from a a skylight above.

While our Clearwater Cave tour only covers about 0.5% of the total length of the system, it’s given us an appreciation of the beauty and size of the caves.

It’s now about midday, so a steep set of 200 steps takes us down to a picnic area and our lunch spot, where’s there a crystal clear pool that is filled by water that flows out of the cave. A great spot for lunch – and a swim in the pool.

Getting to Camp 5

We continue up the Melinau River after our lunch… it gets a bit more adventurous as we continue upstream. As the water level drops, I jump out and help our guides push the boat through the shallower sections of the rivers. Every so often the engine stalls. I’m not convinced we’ll make it. The guides seem pretty nonplussed by it all, as the engine splutters along and the bottom of the longboat scrapes along the rocks at the bottom of the river…

…eventually, we do reach the start of the track to The Pinnacles at Kuala Litut. From here we walk about 8km through the jungle along the along the Litut river to Melinau Camp (Camp 5).

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It’s a pleasant jungle walk, taking a bit under three hours to reach Camp 5. Our destination for today, the camp will be our starting point for the last part of the hike up to The Pinnacles the following morning.

We stay in a very basic dormitory, right by the Litut River. Meals are included as part of our itinerary, so there’s not much to do but relax, and have an early night in preparation for the next day’s climb.

Melinau River, beside Camp 5 (Mulu NP)

The Pinnacles

It’s an early start the next day. The climb to the Pinnacles is short but hard, climbing about 1200m over 2.4km. The first few hundred metres is fairly flat, and then the climbing starts. There are many sections of rope to help ascend the sometimes very slippery track. We need to reach the first “checkpoint” at 400m within an hour, which we comfortably do.

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It gets progressively steeper for the next two sections, as the track ascends from 400m to 1000m. More sections of rope and metal rungs in the rocks provide some assistance. My work colleague, Hanna, is now questioning the sanity of climbing a jungle-covered mountain peak. I’m not sure she’ll ever be joining me on another walk…

There isn’t a lot of interesting vegetation along the way; I haven’t seen any pitcher plants as others have observed, but this little mushroom among the green moss looks quite photogenic!

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As we get to the final, steepest section, we start on the first of the 16 ladders that go up the most vertical rock faces.

When we get to about 1,135m, there’s a brief opening in the jungle with views over the surrounding area. Or, there would be views on a less cloudy day…

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There’s now just 100m left to go (and 65m vertical climb) to the viewing platform…

Finally, after about three hours of solid climbing, we reach the platform at 1200m elevation, overlooking the Pinnacles.

Pinnacles, Mulu NP

Located on the side of Mount Api (Gunung Api), one of the three mountains in Mulu Park, they are a series of 45 meters high, limestone spikes that are clearly visible above the surrounding vegetation. It’s quite a surreal sight,

Pinnacles, Mulu NP

Going down is much quicker than going up… but just as tough, and I’m glad to reach the bottom at around 1pm. Although I’d read reports saying many people don’t make it to the top, everyone who left this morning successfully completed the ascent.

Arriving a bit before the rest of the group, I has time to explore the area around Camp 5, walking up the river about 500m toward the the Melinau Gorge. Not too far from the camp is a beautiful swimming hole and cascades.

Back to Mulu

The next day, we head back along the 8km track to Kuala Litut, where we hope a boat will be coming to pick us up, and take us back downstream to Mulu.

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It’s a much quicker trip downstream, with the river current pushing us through the shallow sections that presented a challenge two days ago.

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We leave on an afternoon flight, back to KL and then onto Sydney. I’ve really enjoyed my three days in Mulu. I think Hanna has too, although she’s still not talking to me (no, not really, despite sore legs she enjoyed the trip. I think!)

Location Mulu National Park in Sarawak, Malaysia. Access by MASwings flights from Miri, Kuching or Kota Kinabalu (2-3 hours from KL)
Distance Caves tours are about 7km in distance
Pinnacles trek is 21km over two days
Grade Hard (very steep/slippery in sections with ropes & ladders)
Season/s All year. Best time is considered to be July, but there is high rainfall all year around. We went in March (one of the highest rainfall months) and experienced almost no rain.
Map N/A
Resources
Notes & Tips
  • Dress appropriately including good footwear – within the caves the ground can be slippery/uneven, and the hike up to the Pinnacles is rough and slippery
  • A head torch is essential for caves
  • Be prepared for the occasional leech!
  • Some short walks in the past can be done without a guide; the caves, Pinnacles and Mt Mulu require a guide and should be booked in advance.
  • Stay in Mulu National Park if you can

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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

A week exploring Lord Howe Island

An amazing “island paradise” two hours from Sydney, with a range of outdoor activities including hiking and kayaking, unique birdlife and a huge variety of landscapes from beach to rainforest.

The Short Version: For those that don’t have the time or inclination to read this whole post, the summary is: Lord Howe island is an amazing place. If you’re thinking about going there, do it! My recommendations for walks if you don’t have time to do them all: Mount Gower is the stand-out (if you’re reasonably fit you should be OK as the pace is fairly slow), followed by Kims Lookout Circuit and Mt Eliza. As an alternative to just walking, hire a canoe and hike Mt Eliza from North Beach combining paddling and walking.

While geographically close to Sydney – about two hours flying time with QantasLink – Lord Howe Island is not the easiest place to visit. The World Heritage listed island has about 360 residents, and allows a maximum of 400 visitors. When we arrived, there was talk of a backpacker who arrived without having booked accommodation and was planning to camp on the island. Didn’t take long for him to be dispatched back to the mainland! Flights are not cheap, and nor is accommodation. But, it’s worth it to visit such an amazing place.

After flying in (via Brisbane) on a Sunday morning, we have time for a cycle around part of the island. There are two options for getting around: walking and cycling. The island is about 11km long and 3km at its greatest width, so most places are within easy walking or cycling distance.

We’re staying at the upmarket Capella Lodge to the south of the island (we’re fortunate my wife’s company is paying for the accommodation as a work reward trip). Directly in front of us Kings Beach, and towering behind it is Mount Gower.

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Neds Beach – Day 2

After breakfast, we cycle to Ned’s Beach Sanctuary Zone on the eastern side of Lord Howe Island.

A “special purpose zone”, the beach allows hand-feeding of the hundreds of fish that seem to wait expectantly for us… There are mullet, wrasse, garfish, silver drummer, spangled emperor and kingfish, some close to a metre in size. There’s a fish food dispenser with the shelter on Ned’s Beach, and masks, fins and snorkels are available for the cost of a contribution to the ‘honesty box’.

Kims Lookout Circuit (7km loop)

While we’re at the northern end of the island, I head up to Kims Lookout after lunch. The walk climbs up Malabar Hill, with views toward Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird in the distance, and Neds Beach below.

From the top of the ridge, about 200m above the beach, there are views towards the north of Soldiers Cap island immediately below, and the Admiralty Islands further out on the other side of Sugarloaf Passage.

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The track follows the cliff top to Kims Lookout, which has great views over most of the the island, with the Gower and Lidgbird peaks in the distance.

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From Kims Lookout, the highest point on this walk, the Memorial Track descends the other side of the island, with the walk finishing at Old Settlement Beach.

It’s definitely one of my favourite walks I do on the island, with some of the best views. I’d recommend this walk (and Mount Gower) if you haven’t got time to do all the walks!

We head back to Capella Lodge and down to Kings Beach towards the end of our first full day on Lord Howe Island, past  small herd of docile cows and down to the water.

We’re rewarded with a nice sunset from the beach – it’s one of the few places in NSW where you can see the sun setting over the ocean.

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Mount Gower – Day 3 (Mt Gower blog post)

The next day I have my Mount Gower ascent booked, which I organised locally through Capella Lodge the previous day. I wanted to ensure I was able to do this walk, which I was told is run once or twice per week.

I’ve covered this walk in a separate post: if you’re fit enough to do this walk (which is done at a fairly leisurely place) book yourself a spot. It’s an amazing experience!

The walk starts early and takes most of the day – after the walk I head back down to the beach with Amanda (my wife, who happily declined the opportunity to walk up a mountain for eight hours) for another vivid sunset. According to “Experience Oz & NZ“, Lord Howe island is one of the top 10 destinations for viewing sunsets!

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Valley of The Shadows and Middle Beach (1.5km) – Day 4

Some shorter walks on our third day… today I start with the Valley of The Shadows, a short walk near the middle of the island. The track starts at the southern end of Anderson Road, and follows a fence line above Middle Beach before a turn-off down to Middle Beach after a few hundred metres.

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It’s a fairly secluded beach and a good spot for some bird spotting and shell collecting (or viewing; it’s a national park so I don’t think you’re supposed to take shells home…) We see a sacred kingsfisher that darts around and is bloody hard to photograph up close – they breed on the island and are a very fast flyer!

After climbing back up to the main track, there’s another turn-off to the left for the Valley of The Shadows. This section of track is a bit steeped, with tree roots and rocks underfoot, as it goes through thick jungle and Banyan trees. (Banyan trees are a type of “strangler fig”, which grow in the branches of other trees, sending down roots that eventually strangle the host tree.) The name is derived from the shadows that are cast by the trees on a sunny day – it was overcast when we visited, but still a nice walk with lots of massive rainforest trees and vines.

 

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(The main track continues onto Clear Place, where a grassy clearing with views of the south end of the island, including Intermediate Hill and Mt Lidgbird).

 

Track notes: Bushwalking NSW

Transit Hill and Blinky Beach (1.7km) – Day 4

You can never have enough walks in one day – especially on Lord Howe island – so the last before a BBQ lunch at Settlement Beach is Transit Hill. Starting near the island’s Administration Centre, the track goes up Bowker Ave before veering off through a palm forest and coming above the Pinetrees resort. There are views over the green pastures to Mount Lidgbird and Mount Gower in one direction, and down to the coast in the other.

The track then climbs climbs steadily to the summit of Transit Hill, where there is a lookout platform on the summit providing 360 degree views, including Mount Lidgbird and Mount Gower (by the of week on Lord Howe I’ll be sick of seeing these two peaks!)

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The track then continue another 500m down to Blinky Beach, a popular place to surf or swim… but not today. It’s cold and windy, and I have the beach to myself.

Goat House Cave (6km)

After lunch, I tackle Goat House Cave, which is halfway up Mount Lidgbird, and a former shelter for 19th-century Kentia palm gatherers. (This is as high as you can get up Mount Lidgbird without climbing equipment – reaching the summit requires technical climbing skills and is discouraged due to nesting birds.)

I start near the airport and climb around the base of Intermediate Hill to Mutton Bird Point towards Smoking Tree Ridge. The track climbs up through the forest, with occasional views of the airport and Blinky Beach below.

From North Hummock hundreds of nesting (and flying) mutton birds can be seen; just off the coast is Mutton Bird Island.

The track gets increasingly steep, and sections of rope near the end are needed to navigate the grassy slope and last rock scramble near the cave.

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Goat House Cave, which is more of a large overhang, is about 400 vertical metres up the mountain. Above the cave is 200m vertical metre cliff that leads to the summit ridge. From here you can clearly see the outline of Balls Pyramid, the remnant of a shield volcano and caldera that formed lies 20km southeast of Lord Howe Island. In front of me is Smoking Tree Ridge and the northern end of Lord Howe Island.

Coming back, I return to Capella Lodge via Soldier Creek Valley down to Kings Beach.

Track notes: Beyond Tracks

North Beach and Mt Eliza – Day 5

Taking advantage of the canoes supplied by Capella Lodge for guests (canoes can also be hired from a number of different operators) we head north from Lovers Bay (just south of Lagoon Beach), to North Beach. Directly opposite Lidgbird and Gower at the opposite end of the island, North Beach is in the shadow of Mt Eliza (147m). It’s accessible via canoe/kayak, boat or an hour long hike.

North Beach is a sanctuary zone, and we spend some time here observing the sea life and birdlife along the beach and in the intertidal zone. (It’s also known as a great snorkelling spot.)

From the beach you can walk to up Mount Eliza; the track actually starts at the end of Lagoon Road and continues along Old Settlement beach, before reaching North Beach. It’s a short but steep climb up from North Beach, but the stunning views to the twin peaks at the end of the crescent shaped island make the effort worthwhile.

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From the top, you can see the Old Gulch, a very narrow, gravel beach, below. At the end of the steep cliffs that line the coast is Soldiers Cap, a small rock islet.

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Further offshore, to the north of Soldiers Cap, is Sugarloaf Passage and the Admiralty Islands.

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I return the same way, with a quick detour down to Old Gulch. Then it’s back to our trusty vessel for the paddle along the coast back to Lover Bay, and the short walk to Capella Lodge for (another) well-earned three course dinner!

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Glass Bottom Boat – Day 6

With the weather deteriorating a little, we’ve booked a glass-bottom boat tour for our second last day. Leaving from Lagoon Beach, it cruises over Erscotts Hole and two other coral sites. I’ve never really been a fan of such things, preferring either my own feet (or paddles) for propulsion. But it turns out be very entertaining and educational, with our guide pointing out the different marine life and recanting stories about the island.

After a mostly sunny week, the day is getting increasingly overcast. I’m glad I’ve managed to get all the big walks done!

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Muttonbird Point

Despite the weather closing in, after lunch we head to Muttonbird Point for some bird watching. It’s fascinating to watch the gannets swooping past from our elevated lookout. But they’re not easy to photograph, and I only manage to get a few reasonably sharp photos.

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It’s another pleasant (and very easy) walk, and as always we see may other fascinating wildlife (if a spider can be considered wildlife?) and plants on our afternoon excursion.

Kings Beach

Our last day of an amazing week! The weather is overcast and foggy, so it’s relaxing / lazy day with a stroll down to Kings Beach, near our lodge. Small waterfalls are cascading down the side of Mount Lidgbird, so relaxing in the lounge and watching the changing scenery seems an appropriate end to a week of much activity. We’ll definitely be back, one day…

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Location About 800km off the coast of NSW – about two hours flight from Sydney or Melbourne (limited flights and can be expensive – book early)
Distance Walks vary from under 1km to the 11km Mount Gower ascent (guided walk)
Grade Varies
Season/s All year round. Most popular time is between September and June, or outside winter. We went in late June and is was a bit cold for swimming, but great for hiking. January is the peak time for seabird activity (Lord Howe nature calendar)
Resources
Maps Except for Mount Gower that should be done with a guide, unless you’re an experienced walker, there are local maps covering all the other walks on the island. There is a really good Exploring Lord Howe Island brochure that lists all the walks.
Tips & Notes
  • Carry a torch unless you’re sure you’ll be back to your accommodation by nightfall – it gets pretty dark at night
  • Book any tours (boat cruises and Mount Gower hike) as early as you can to ensure a spot
  • Other than Mount Gower, all other walks are well sign-posted and can be done on your own

Map-Lord-Howe-Island-Map

Mount Gower, Lord Howe Island

This full-day guided walk, rated as one of Australia’s best day walks, goes to the top of Mount Gower (875m) on Lord Howe island.

I’ve booked this walk to the summit of Mount Gower, Lord Howe’s tallest peak at 875m above sea level, shortly after arriving on Lord Howe Island. Considered to be one of Australia’s best day walks, it should be done with a guide and is offered once or twice per week. (Officially, a guide is not required but there is a strong preference that a registered guide be used.)

Our guide is Jack Shick, a fifth generation Islander and third generation mountain guide, who’s done this walk a few times… Our group of about ten people meets at 8:30am at the end of Lagoon Road, near Kings Beach. From here we follow a rough track along the coast to Little Island.

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After about 1.2km, there’s a short, steep climb into the jungle on a fairly rough track, to the base of some high cliffs, which are part of the western buttress of Mount Lidgbird. Some ropes help on the steeper sections of the track. There’s a number of palm trees growing here, and Jack (our very talkative and informative guide) explains the history of the palm industry on the island, which continues today with the export of lives palms and seeds. Jack then shows us how to climb using a short sling. I have a go. And fail miserably.

Harvesting of palmseed begins at the end of February each year, and usually continues throughout winter into early spring. The seed collector first selects a palm, and then slips both feet through a loop of strong material – often made from layered hessian. Using this circular ‘strap’ to grip the palm trunk, the seeder then jack-knives his way to the top of the palm. (like “a monkey on a stick”.) The seed spikes are then wrenched from their positions underneath the crown of palm leaves, and are tossed or carried to the ground by the seeder as he slides back down the palm trunk. The palm seeds are then shelled from their spikes, and packed into jute or hessian bags before being carried to waiting vehicles. [The Palmseed Industry]

From here, the going gets fun – and a little exhilarating. It’s one of the reasons a local guide is recommended. We don some hard hats, for the Lower Road – a very long and narrow ledge, above a 150m sheer drop to the ocean below. Ropes stretch for 400m along the track.

Perched above the ocean, there’s already great views all the way to the Mount Eliza at the northern end of Lord Howe Island.

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At the end of the Lower Road, the track goes back into thick rainforest again as it zig-zags up the lower slope of Mount Gower, before reaching Erskine Creek. Before crossing the creek, we fill up our water bottles with the clean water and have a rest break here.

The track continues south-east from here, climbing steadily up to a high ridge that links Mount Lidgbird (in front of us to the north) and Mount Gower.

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From here there’s a final, steep ascent to the summit plateau, with a piece of rope to help ascend one particularly steep section. The peak offers stunning views over the island, from the jagged peak of Mount Lidgbird to lower peaks at the far end, and the Admiralty Island group to the north.

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But wait, there’s an unexpected surprise… after we retreat to a small clearing surrounded by jungle, our guide starts making loud whooping noises. Which was soon followed by bird literally dropping out of the sky. It felt like I’d inadvertently wandered into the set of a David Attenborough documentary. Attracted by the noise and curious to see what’s happening (and seemingly having no fear of humans), an increasingly number of providence petrels were falling out of the sky and into our laps. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Despite a population of 64,000, the providence petrel is classified as vulnerable because its breeding is confined to the two mountain tops of Lord Howe Island Balls Pyramid, and is therefore at risk from a catastrophe.

[Update: eleven years later, Attenborough recorded birds crashing down from the sky on Lord Howe island in BBC Earth]

We also saw a number of Lord Howe Island woodhen, a rare and flightless brown bird about the size of a chicken. They were hunted to near extinction by the early 1800s, by humans for food and inroduced animals (owls, feral cats, pigs and goats) which preyed on the woodhens and destroyed their habitat. In 1966, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classed the woodhens as endangered, and by the early 1970s there were less than 30 Lord Howe Island woodhens left (confined to summit areas of Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird). A captive breeding program was started in the 1980s, and since then the population reached over 200 in 1997, before declining in 2001 to 117 birds.

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Another bird that makes its presence known is the Lord Howe Island Currawong, a subspecies unique to the island and a very smart bird. Common around the island walking tracks, it shows an interest in Jack’s lunch and hangs around our lunch spot hoping for some for food.

Around the peak are also some of the island’s rarest plants, (Lord Howe has recorded 241 species of indigenous plants of which 113 are found nowhere else in the world. Jack pointing out some of these, including native orchids and flowering palms.

After lunch at the summit, it’s back the same way… we finish around 4pm at the bottom, in time to catch another Lord Howe island sunset!

It’s been an incredible walk – worth it for the views alone, but with the bonus of “falling birds” and interesting plants we see, combined with Jack’s interesting commentary. It’s not an easy climb, but the pace is fairly slow being a group, so even if you’re nor super-fit you should fine to undertake this walk!

Location End of Lagoon Road, near Kings Beach (Lord Howe Island)
Distance 11km (about 8.5 hours as a guided walk)
Grade Moderate.  875m ascent.
Season/s All year round
Maps Lord Howe Island (1:15K)
Resources
Notes & Tips
  • Wear good shoes – there are some slippery sections
  • Book ahead as this is best done as a guided walk
  • Don’t carry too much water – you can fill up at Erskine Creek about half way up the mountain
Map-MtGower
Source: Australia’s Best Walks (Tyrone Thomas & Andrew Close)