Wineglass Bay, Freycinet

One of the most popular walks on the Freycinet Peninsula, the track goes to the Wineglass Bay Lookout before descending to the picturesque Wineglass Bay.

After my early-morning walk to Mt Amos, I head back to the Wineglass Bay carpark for the walk to Wineglass Bay. In stark contrast to my previous walk, which I started at 6:30am, the carpark is now overflowing and it takes me a few circuits to find a parking spot. (Every year Tassie seems to get a bit busier in January, to the point where it’s now becoming less appealing to visit in the peak summer months!) The wide “one-way” gravel track initially rises as it heads towards The Hazards, a series of five granite peaks.

We make steady progress despite having regular breaks, as the track gradually ascends towards the Wineglass Bay Lookout. Coming into view behind us as we climb is Coles Bay.

After a kilometre is the Coles Bay Lookout, which provides a view to the north over Coles Bay.

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The lookout is also the point where the “one-way” track up meets the alternate one-way track down (it gets so busy at peak times that there’s a path for each direction of travel!). Another 500m further there’s a junction to the track to the Wineglass Bay Lookout.

Situated on a saddle between Mt Amos and Mount Mayson, two of the granite peaks that make up The Hazards, the Wineglass Bay Lookout is one of the most popular destinations in the Freycinet National Park. The lookout is the highest point of the walk (201m above sea level) and offers spectacular views of Wineglass Bay and the Freycinet Peninsular. (Although, if you want to avoid the crowds I’d suggest you do the slightly harder walk to Mt Amos for an even better view!)

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From the lookout it’s all downhill to Wineglass Bay. There’s a warning sign that the track can be “steep and slippery” which is absolutely ludicrous, as you could (almost) make it down in a wheelchair. There was a $500,000 track upgrade in 2017, so perhaps they forgot to remove the sign? (As I’ve noted on previous posts, there is an increasing prevalance of warning signs that overstate the dangers, which means people are going to start ignoring these when there are genuine risks or track closures.)

Unperturbed, we continue down the dangerous path: tea trees, eucalypts and she-oaks provide some welcome shade. As we near the bottom, there’s a clear view of Mt Amos, the destination of my last walk.

Although Wineglass Bay is perhaps one of the most photographed and Instagrammed beaches in Australia, the majority of people don’t venture past the lookout. So while there’s a few people at the northern end of the beach, if you walk to the far end you’ll have the beach almost to yourself! (The campground where I stayed with my son a couple of years ago when we did the Freycinet Circuit is also at the other end of Wineglass Bay.)

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From the lookout the water looked calm, and the bay is fairly enclosed – so I was surprised to find large waves and a strong undertow at the beach. We went for a swim anyway – the water was pretty chilly – but there were more people on the beach than in the water! We dried off at the very northern end of the beach, where there’s a rocky platform. Behind the opposite (southern) end of the beach is Mt Graham and Mt Freycinet.

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We head back after our swim – I go back to Wineglass Bay Lookout as the skies have cleared, making the view even more spectacular. Looking at the tranquil bay below, it’s hard to imagine that it owes its name to the blood-red water that resulted from the slaughtering of whales in the early 1800s.

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From the turn-off to the lookout we’ve done the hard (uphill) work – it’s now all downhill back to the carpark and a well-earnt lunch!

0.0km Start at Wineglass Bay carpark
1.0km Coles Bay Lookout
1.6km Wineglass Bay Lookout
3.2km Wineglass Bay
6.4km Return to Wineglass Bay carpark
Location Starts at the Wineglass Bay carpark, near Coles Bay. About 2.5-hours from Hobart or Launceston airports.
Distance 6.4km return (2 hours) – including the track to Wineglass Bay Lookout
Grade Easy. (355m total ascent)
Season/s All year.
Map TasMap Freycinet National Park 1:50,000
6033 Coles Bay (1:25,000)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources
Map-Wineglass-Bay
Map showing route to Wineglass Bay. Source: TasTrails

Mount Amos, Freycinet

 

A short and steep walk to the summit of Mount Amos, one of the five peaks that make up The Hazards on the Freycinet Peninsula. A popular sunrise walk, it offers the best views of Wineglass Bay.

Having finished a long but rewarding hike around Maria Island, I’ve got a few days with the family at Freycinet before heading back to Sydney. It was exactly two years ago that I hiked the Freycinet Peninsula over three days with my son. One of the few tracks we didn’t manage to do was the relatively short walk up to the summit of Mt Amos. Starting at the Wineglass Bay carpark, the track soon veers off to the left, with a warning sign for good measure.

It’s a nice and gentle rise intially, through banksia, she-oaks and eucalypts and along a few short sections of boardwalk.

After about 800m, there’s another warning sign – just in case you missed the first one! (It would be a bit slippery after rain, but there’s no sections with any serious exposure and my 12-year old daughter had no issues with the climb.)

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Soon after the second warning sign, the track heads up large granite boulders. Frequent yellow markers show the route, with Mt Amos directly ahead. While none of the granite slabs are particularly steep, there’s a few spots that would be tricky if the rocks were wet.

As we gain altitude, there’s a nice view of the multiple granite tiers below the Mt Amos peak. The pink colouration is from iron oxide impurities in the feldspar (a component of granite) and the black from micas (a black mineral).

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Looking back to the north, there’s a great view over Coles Bay – both the bay and the township on the opposite side.

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Just after the views of the granite tiers, there are some rough sandstone steps, before we reach one of the steepest sections of the track.

The route goes directly up one of the granite tiers we saw earlier: while it’s pretty steep  and looks a little daunting, there are crevices and a few trees that provide handholds.

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The path then flattens and goes through low scrub. To the right there’s a rock outcrop that looks like our destination, but it’s a false summit. A final rocky slope leads to the summit of Mt Amos (454m above sea level).

From here there are sweeping views to the south over Wineglass Bay and the Freycinet Peninsula.

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We reach the summit shortly after 8am – a couple of hours after sunrise, but still early enough to enjoy the nice morning light. (Our timing works perfectly, as we’ve encountered a number of people on their way down, who started early to be on the peak for sunrise. The last person leaves just as we arrive, and we have the summit to ourselves for half an hour.)

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The view from the summit makes the ascent worthwhile, with fantastic views over Wineglass Bay – one of the most beautiful and most photographed beaches in Australia. The best view over the bay is from the right of the true summit, and 20m below the peak there’s another flat area that’s popular for photos.

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To the north are some of the other peaks that make up The Hazards, with the Coles Bay Conservation Area beyond.

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We return to our car at the Wineglass Bay carpark via the same route, having spent half an hour at the top admiring the view and taking photos. The skies have cleared since we reached the peak, so I take a few more photos on the way down of Coles Bay.

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There’s many interesting rock formations that we were less inclined to admire as we scrambled up the mountain. The “chaise lounge” rock provides a nice spot for a rest!

By the time we reach the carpark it’s exactly 9am. It’s taken us 2.5 hours, including the 30min on the summit, so if you’re aiming to reach the top for sunrise you could get to the top in about an hour if you’re fairly fit  (or allow 90min to be safe). On the way back to our accommodation, there’s a nice view of The Hazards from the other side of Coles Bay – Mount Amos is the one in the middle (second from the right).

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Location Starts at the Wineglass Bay carpark, near Coles Bay. About 2.5-hours from Hobart or Launceston airports.
Distance 4.3km return (2-3 hours)
Grade Moderate.  400m total ascent. Some steep sections that require scrambling (no exposure)
Season/s All year. Avoid after rain or when wet.
Map TasMap Frecyinet National Park 1:50,000
6033 Coles Bay (1:25,000)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources
Map_MountAmos
Map of Mount Amos route (Source: “Top Walks in Tasmania”, Melanie Ball)

 

Wombats and Devils on Maria Island

Maria Island offers a unique combination of abundant wildlife, Australian convict and early industrial history and multi-day bushwalking opportunities. A four-day hike takes us to the far southern end of Maria Island as well to the summits of Mt Maria (711m) and Bishop and Clerk (620m), and to the Fossil Cliffs by bike.

This is the only pre-planned walk we have in Tasmania: four nights camping on Maria Island. The whole family heads over from Triabunna on the mid-morning ferry, but only Luke and I are staying on the island. I’ve reserved our spots on the ferry a week in advance (a new and much larger ferry since 2017 means it sometime, but rarely gets booked out). The Maria Island Penitentiary accommodation was totally booked out, although in hindsight I’m happy not to have booked here as it’s way too busy in January for my liking!

A few tips from our four-day adventure:

  • What’s the best time to visit Maria Island? December and January are the busiest months; one of the rangers suggested March/April as being the best time if you want to avoid the crowds. The ferry runs less frequently in winter, but if you want seclusion consider a winter visit!
  • Where to stay? In addition to the campground at Darlington (near the ferry) there’s the Penitentiary – basic bunkhouse-style accommodation, offering 9 rooms with 6 beds and 1 room with 14 beds. You can also camp at Frenchs Farm and Encampment Cove, both about 11-14km from Darlington depending on the route you take. I suspect you could camp anywhere on the mote remote parts of the island – but it’s highly discouraged and other than Robeys Farm there’s very few places with drinkable water.
  • How to get around? Other than walking (or jogging, if you are that way inclined!) you can rent a bike – bookings are highly recommended in Dec/Jan. If you have an overnight pack you’ll probably struggle riding with a heavy pack – and they won’t rent you a bike anyway. (So if you are determined to get to Frenchs Farm or Encampment Cove to camp, hide your backpack when you go and hire your bike!)
  • How available is water? There was plenty of water at Frenchs Farm, Encampment Cove and Robeys Farm in January – but best to check. I was surprised that almost every creek was dry – except Counsel Creek and Four Mile Creek near the top of Mt Maria.

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Getting to Maria Island and walk overview

The ferry trip across from Triabunna to Darlington on Maria Island is fairly quick and uneventful (it takes about 45min), and there’s a pretty good range of snacks and drinks on the boat for a last pre-camping meal. (Judging by a couple of badly cracked windows, some crossings must be a lot rougher than ours!)

The ferry docks at Darlington and the luggage is efficiently lifted via a small crane onto the wharf for collection. Near the jerry are some historic structures, such as the cement silos, and the Commissariat Store (which is also the national park visitor centre).

We set off (without our overnight packs) to climb Bishop and Clerk, the second-highest peak on the island. Amy, my daughter, is going to join Luke and I for this walk before catching the last ferry back to the mainland with Mum.

Our itinerary was designed to see as much of the island as we could – and where possible avoid carrying our heavy overnight bags…

In total, we cover about 80km over three days – which is most the marked tracks on the island. On the fourth day we hire a bike to cover the area around Darlington.

Bishop and Clerk (Day 1)

The summit of Bishop and Clerk (620m asl) is a popular day walk: as well as being one of Tasmania’s “Top 60 Great Short Walks”, it’s regarded as one of Tassie’s best day walks. We set-off from opposite the Parks and Wildlife Office, where we leave our big packs, taking the unsealed road that passes behind the old penitentiary.

We also pass the site of the “Twelve Apostles”, named after a row of workers’ cottages built during the first industrial era (1888–96). Soon after we pass the junction with the Reservoir Circuit, as we continue up the Fossil Cliff  Track.

Once the track reaches the grassy plain at the top of the Fossil Cliffs, the scenery gets more interesting. The rocky summit of Bishop and Clerk is clearly visible in the distance as the track follows Skipping Ridge, along the edge of the cliff-top. The dolerite columns that form the top of Bishop and Clerk were named because of the supposed resemblance to a bishop, wearing a mitre, followed by a clergyman. Although even when I squint or turn my head at funny angles, I can’t really see this resemblance!

Looking back down the coast, you can see the mainland in the distance above the towering cliffs. Even better is the fact we’re already gained about 150m in altitude without really trying…

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It gets a bit tougher from here, as we leave the open grassy plain, and the track enters the (mostly) eucalypt forest and starts to steadily climb. At the start of the forested section there’s a stand of sheoaks or casuarinas, which were prized as firewood by the early settlers. These are gradually replaced by stringybarks, blue gums and manna or white gum eucalypts.

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This part of the walk is pretty boring… we don’t see any wildlife, there are no wildflowers and no view. Just the narrow track heading relentlessly up the ridge…

It gets more interesting when we reach the scree field, formed by dolerite rock debris. There is a rough track that zig-zags up the slope and make it fairly easy to negotiate the sometimes loose stones (the kids decide to ignore the track and walk directly up the hill). Without the tree cover, there are now views over Mercury Passage to mainland Tasmania.

As the trail ascends, the boulders get gradually bigger – and the view keeps improving!

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Near the summit, the rocks become boulders, and in a few places we need to use our hands and feet as we scramble up. There’s a false summit where we think we’ve made it, followed by a steep right-hand turn and another 50m before we’re really on top of Bishop and Clerk.

The panoramic view from the top is incredible – and we have the summit to ourselves. Having started the walk relatively late in the day, everyone’s been and gone by the time we get there (we met a few people on their way down).

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To the west is Cape Boullanger and the Fossil Cliffs, and the east coast of the mainland on the other side of Mercury Passage.

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To the north, beyond the jagged dolerite columns, I can just make out Isle des Phoques, and in the far distance Schouten Island and the Freycinet Peninsula.

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After I take a few photos and kids have finished leaping across the rocks at the top, we start our descent, clambering carefully down the large boulders at the top.

We make good progress on the way back, taking exactly 3.5 hours for the return trip – and I see my first wombat on the outskirt of Darlington. Which was quite exciting… by the same time tomorrow, I’m far less excited having seen more wombats in 24 hours than in the previous 24 years!

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Darlington to Frenchs Farm (Day 1)

While we’ve finished the Bishop and Clerk walk, Luke and I still need to reach Frenchs Farm, our destination for today. After a short break and refilling of water bottles, we strap on the overnight packs and head down the Coast Road. On the outskirts of the Darlington settlement we pass Mrs Hunt’s Cottage; Mrs Hunt was the one of the last island inhabitants prior to the island being proclaimed a National Park. Grazing in the foreground are two Cape Barren Geese, introduced to Maria Island in 1968.

Our progress is hampered by another wombat sighting, grazing on the inland side of the Coast Road. Not just any wombat, but an adult and child munching together on grass, oblivious to us taking photos. Maria Island is home to about 4,000 wombats and the population has been steadily increasing, to the point where there is a concern it may be unsustainable (“The current status of wombat populations on Maria Island National Park” by Janeane Ingram). The wombats on Maria Island are a subspecies of the common wombat (Vombatus ursinus ursinus) which were once found throughout the Bass Strait islands but are now restricted to Flinders Island, and Maria Island where they were introduced in the 1970s.

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It doesn’t take us long to reach Hopground Beach, a beautiful bay that’s better known for the Painted Cliffs at the far end.

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We continue down the Coast Road, which crosses Counsel Creek – you can also turn off here and continue along the beach.

We spot some more birdlife here: another Cape Barren Goose, and after we take the short path down to the Painted Cliffs, there’s a pair of pied oystercatchers feeding on the rocky shoreline.

The Painted Cliffs is one of the attractions on Maria Island (and the walk from Darlington to the Painted Cliffs is another Tasmanian “Great Short Walk”). Easily accessed at low tide, the long sandstone outcrop has been weathered over millions of years by groundwater percolating down through the sandstone and leaving traces of iron oxides, which gives the rock formation its unusual pattern.

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More recently, sea spray hitting the rock face has dried and in the process formed salt crystals of salt, which have caused the rock to weather in a honeycomb pattern.

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We continue down the Coast Road, which follows the coast fairly closely. It’s relatively easy walking and there are nice views of the coastline and remote bays and beaches.

There’s also increasing sightings of wildlife as we get into the late afternoon: wombats, Forester (Eastern grey) kangaroos and wallabies (the Tasmanian pademelon and Bennetts wallaby).

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With our legs starting to tire, we have a brief stop at the beautiful Four Mile Beach. There’s a small group who are leaving as we arrive; they’ve come from a boat moored a small distance offshore and have brought a dog with them. I’m happy when they rather hastily put their furry friend in their dinghy and motor back to their yacht, leaving just us to admire the beach and turquoise-coloured water.

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After Four Mile Beach the Coast Road heads inland, crossing Four Mile Creek. (While the creek looks nice from a distance, it had a lot of algae and didn’t look too tempting as a water source. Had it been clear, flowing water we might have camped here, close to the beach! I discover later that the “Maria Island Walk” has a camp near here, so I wonder if they use water from Four Mile Creek – or water tanks?)

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We trudge on, looking forward to reaching our campground. Fortunately the Coast Road is fairly flat, although it’s now a few hundred metres inland from the coast and there’s not much to see. We’re very happy when reach Frenchs Farm just after 7pm. At the top of the campground is a a simple weatherboard house, built during the 1950s when farming was introduced to the island, and later restored. The house is is no longer used – other than collecting rainwater which fills a large water tank (which is fairly full).

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Nearby is an old shearing shed and stockyard, which doesn’t hasn’t been restored, but seems in reasonable condition. I don’t notice any smell… but one of the Maria Island ranger suggested you could still detect a faint odour of sheep from the 1940s and 50s.

We find a campsite near the bottom of the main campground, which has the luxury of a picnic table nearby. Wombats are grazing everywhere, and later in the evening one ambles right past our tent. There’s one other tent already set-up, and a couple of hikers that arrive just after us. It’s a huge campground, and behind the (dry) creek there’s another area you could camp if you want total privacy and seclusion.

After eating dinner, we’re treated to a blood-red sky as the sun sets behind the farmhouse and shed – a nice end to a long but rewarding day!

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Haunted Bay (Day 2)

We’re up early the next day, as we leave our tent and overnight backpacks at Frenchs Farm, and continue south to the far end of Maria Island on the Isthmus Track.

Not far from Frenchs Farm we cross a wide creek, which isn’t named on any of my maps. It’s the same creek that would flow through the campground just behind my tent, but is totally dry – so I suspect it may be brackish rather than fresh water.

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The very sandy track follows the edge of Shoal Bay as it curves towards the narrow McRaes Isthmus, a narrow neck of sand with beaches on either side.

The isthmus is very narrow, and when you see photos of it from above it appears to be only a few metres wide. But the track goes right down the middle, and while we can hear the ocean there no sight of any water. Near the middle there’s an unmarked track that takes us to Riedle Bay to the east (bottom left) and Shoal Bay to the west (bottom right).

Riedle Bay is stunning – a long, crescent-shaped beach with turquoise water and gentle waves – and not a single other person in sight.

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Just after this track to the two beaches, the Isthmus Track splits into two: Haunted Bay to the left, and Robeys Farm to the right. We go left towards Haunted Bay, with the track gradually climbing from the end of Riedle Bay up to its highest point of 197m.

There’s a short (1.5km) but steep descent at the end on a narrow bush track, with occcasional glimpses of the bay through the trees.

Located at southern extremity of Maria Island, Haunted Bay is a fascinating spot. It was a whaling site in the 1800s and is home to fairy penguins that live in between the granite rocks (although I don’t see any). The remote bay is surrounded by tall granite cliffs, many of which are covered in bright orange and yellow lichen.

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If feels remote and secluded, as we find a spot in the shade for our lunch. Although we’re not quite alone – a tiny fishing boat is bobbing around, at the foot of the cliffs.

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We head back the way we came, back to the junction with the Robeys Farm track…

Robeys Farm (Day 2)

We hadn’t really planned on visiting Robeys Farm, but it’s only 11:30am and Luke is keen to try and complete all the walks on Maria Island. So we take turn left towards the old farm. Less than a kilometre from the junction is Stinking Creek. I’m thinking when I see this on the map that it may not be a great spot to refill water bottles. And it doesn’t disappoint. While the surrounding grass looks soft and a lovely deep green colour, the creek is also an almost flourescent green colour, and smells putrid.

It’s about 5km (one-way) from the junction with the Isthmus Track, on what seems to be an old vehicular track. It’s sandy in places, but generally shaded and fairly level.

After we cross Robeys Creek (which is completely dry) and what seems to be now over-grown farmland, we reach the Robeys Farm farmhouse. It looks in pretty good condition from the outside, and considerable restoration work has been done by the Hobart Walking Club and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

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The inside is like stepping back in time. John Vivian (Viv) and Hilda Robey emigrated from South Africa in the 1920s, moving originally to Hobart and then to Maria Island. By 1953 they had secured a total leasehold of 5,570 acres on Maria Island that they called “South End”, which supported 600-700 sheep and up to 40 head of cattle. After Hilda died in Hobart at age 82, Viv also became ill a few years later in August 1965 and was brought off the island in pain (he was found to be suffering from malnutition). He returned to his native South Africa in November after being discharged from hospital, never returning to Maria Island. The hasty and unplanned departure was evident from the table still being set for dinner, and a rice pudding still in the oven.

As I sit on the verandah of Robeys Farm and look out over the harsh landscape, I have to admire the tenacity and spirit of our early settlers. On a practical note, there’s a water tank here which is full, so I refill our water bottles and have a drink before we return.

We get back to the Frenchs Farm around 2:30pm, and have a quiet afternoon resting – and watching some of the wildlife around the campground. With another couple arriving, I’m finding the “main campground” far too busy (there are now four tents). So we move our tent across the dry creekbed to another huge area, which we have to ourselves. Much better.

Encampment Cove (Day 2)

After an early dinner, we wander across to Encampment Cove, the alternate campground that we could have stayed at. It’s a nice evening to be walking, and with sunset not until 8:45pm, it’s still light until almost 10pm.

After a short section through forest, the vehicular trail follows a wide creek  to Chinamans Bay and then goes along the coastline to Encampment Cove. On the other side of the tranquil cove is Shoal Bay with its long sandy beach, and behind it stands Mt Maria.

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There’s a number of camping areas along the track, and a large camping area near the water as well as further inland toward the shed (which has a water tank). The disadvantage of this camping areas is that it’s accessible by boat, and one group seemed to have brought a replica of the Taj Mahal. It’s nice be near the water, but Frenchs Farm feels more secluded and I’m happy with out choice to camp here for two nights.

We share the road with a few more wombats and wallabies as we head back to our tent!

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It’s been a long day – 35km in total – but we’re glad we managed to visit Haunted Bay and Robeys Farm. If I had to pick one destination, Haunted Bay would be my choice – and having some time here at in the late afternoon or evening would be amazing,

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Mt Maria (Day 3)

We’re up early again today – it’s another fairly long day as we head back via the Inland Track and climb Mt Maria (711m), before a last night at Darlington. A last quick check of the map on my phone and we’re off!

It’s only about 1.5km from Frenchs Farm via the Coast Road, before we turn right onto the Inland Track. Although this route is more “undulating” than the Coast Road and gradually ascends by about 150m, it’s still fairly easy walking. It would be (compared to the Coast Road) a lot harder on a bike, due both to it’s hillier nature and the sometimes soft sand.

It only takes us a couple of hours to reach the start of the well sign-posted track up to Mt Maria, where we stash our overnight packs behind a tree. The track up can be loosely divided into three sections… Initially the track ascends through open eucalypt forest, which was burnt regularly in the early farming days resulting in minimal undergrowth (and low plant diversity).

After a few kilometres there is a change from dolerite to siltstone in the underlying rock, caused by a major fault millions of years ago that lifted the eastern side of the island. There are now white peppermint (which grows only on dolerite soils) and more shrubby undergrowth plants, including pink mountain berry, silver banksia and pink heath. A small creek flows down the mountain, which is the start of Four Mile Creek. It’s not always flowing, despite every other creek being bone dry, but this one had a trickle of water and we could refill our water bottles.

Finally there are the scree and boulder fields… It was a result of water freezing, expanding and shattering one of the upright dolemite columns 20,000 years ago, leaving a trail of rock debris down the mountain. Marked by yellow arrows and orange poles, it’s fairly easy walking up the scree – at least on a dry day!

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After the first scree slope, there’s an unexpected oasis of green – a short section of forest
consisting of Oyster Bay pine, richea, and banksia,

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Then it’s back to more boulders, which are now larger and at times require hands and feet to climb.

We’re not far from the summit (711m asl), marked by a large trig point and offering sweeping views in most directions… it’s also surprisingly windy at the top, which we’ve been protected from on the way up (and perhaps because of the wind, the often cloud-covered peak is clear).

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You can clearly see the narrow isthmus separating the north and south parts of Maria Island to the south, where we walked the previous day. Beyond Maria Island is the Tasman Peninsula, with some of its high cliffs just visible.

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To the west is Darlingon (you can just see the jetty) and the Wielangta Forest Reserve on the mainland.

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And to the north is Mount Pedder, with its radio tower on the summit, and in the far distance is Schouten Island and Freycinet Peninsula (which are not really recognisable).

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We admire the view for a while – it would have been a great lunch spot just below the summit (where it’s protected from the wind), but we left all our food in the overnight backpacks!

Once we re-join the Inland Track it’s only another four kilometres or so back to Darlington, and it’s pretty much all downhill… The track meets Counsel Creek on the way to the coast, which is also flowing and looks pretty clear. I was tempted to camp somewhere along the creek to avoid the inevitable crowds at Darlington, but both sides of the valley along the creek are too steep and scrubby.

Oast House Track

Just as we reach sight of the coast there’s a junction with the Oast House Track, so we take this alternate and slightly hillier route back to Darlington (this route is a lot less busy, which is nice – we only see two other people on the trail).

“An oast or oast house is a building designed for kilning (drying) hops as part of the brewing process” – I learnt something new writing this blog post 🙂 The Maria Island Oast House is one of the oldest in Tasmania, and by 1847 was producing three tonnes of hops per year in its two large brick drying towers.

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The Oast House is also near the top of a small hill, so from here it’s all downhill again to Darlington.

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As we complete the very last part of our walk along the Coast Track, we encounter an adult wombat with its baby grazing by the grassy bank of Darlington Bay. It’s a nice end to our 3-day walk!

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We’re back in Darlington by 4pm, in time to pick up the bicycles we booked a few days ago. I’m ready for a wee nap, but Luke seems to have unlimited energy and insists we ride down to the jetty. And then back to Painted Cliffs. I finally managed to convince him to stop, so we can put up our tent at the Darlington campground! It’s fairly large camping ground with a lot of trees around the river that runs through the middle of it. We find a sheltered spot fairly close to the road, but away from most of the other tents. There are a LOT of tents her in mid-January, and I regret that we couldn’t find a secluded spot by Counsel Creek, just outside Darlington. On the plus side there are basic cooking facilities and running water here. Outside of December/January, it would most likely be a great campground!

Probably attracted by food scraps (although we don’t see anyone feeding the animals), there’s a lot of wildlife in and around the campsites. Two wombats chase each other past our tent, there’s loads of wallabies and a friendly kookaburra keeps an eye on our tent.

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A little later, a Tasmanian Devil lopes along the river through the camping ground. We’re warned by the rangers not to leave food (especially meat) or even clothes in areas that the devils can reach. Special bins are available, athough I figure I should be OK hanging our backpacks on a high branch. The only thing I leave out is a pair of my hiking socks, which I remove as I climb into the tent and tucked under the canvas at the front. In the morning, they’re gone. I’m still unsure what concerns me most… that a devil took my socks from a few centimetres away from my face as I slept – or that my pungent socks are lining the den of a poor Tasmanian Devil!

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Having erected our tent and eaten dinner, we make one last final excursion by bike down to the jetty, in the hope of catching a nice sunset. Not surprisingly, there’s lots of wildlife out and about.

The sunset doesn’t disappoint, with a long blaze of red along the top of the hills on the mainland. It’s been another fantastic day on Maria Island!

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Fossil Cliffs and Reservoir Circuit (Day 4)

We’re up early (again!) to catch the morning light, with a bike ride to Fossil Cliffs, which are not far from Darlington. We ride down past the jetty and cement silos, and the Convict Barn, built in 1846 on a wide gravel road.

The Fossil Cliffs Circuit road ascends very gently, as it crosses Cape Boullanger and passes the Maria Island airstrip. Once we reach the low cliffs on the opposite side of the cape, the summit of Bishop and Clerk comes into view, partly shrouded by clouds.

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We dismount and walk down a short track that leads to the top of the cliffs, where there is some interpretative signage. This large rock shelf is where the limestone was quarried, and the remains of the tramline that connected the quarry to the cement works. From here there’s a rough and steep path down to the base of the cliffs.

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As it’s low tide (we’ve been fortunate with tides here and at the Painted Cliffs… or maybe it’s good planning…) we can safely explore the thousands of shellfish fossils embedded in limestone. The Fossil Cliffs are considered one of the best examples of life 250 million years ago, with the sheer volume attributed to the cold conditions associated with the polar sea at the time.

The Fossil Cliffs Circuit continues along the top of the cliff-line…

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…which is not a lot of fun. It’s uphill – and steep – up to the top of the Fossil Cliffs. I push my bike most of the way. I’m not feeling very fit!

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Then it’s downhill again, to the junction of the track to Reservoir Dam. Just after the start of the Reservoir Circuit road are the ruins of the cement works, which were built around 1889.

The relatively flat road ends at Reservoir Dam, which was constructed by convicts during the first convict period (1825-1832) to supply the settlement of Darlington, and has been enlarged a few times since. It’s a tranquil spot, and would be an ideal destination for a picnic lunch or bird-watching at dusk or dawn.

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The other half of the Reservoir Circuit is a narrow track (but suitable for bikes), which heads gently downhill back to Darlington.

Historic Darlington (Day 4)

We pack up our tent, hand back our bikes and spend the last few hours on the island looking around Darlington. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much evidence or signage of Aboriginal history on Maria Island, which was frequented by the people of the Tyreddeme band of the Oyster Bay tribe.

In comparison, there’s been considerable work done to preserve and present the fascinating history of European colonisation, which occurred in four periods:

The first convict era (1825–1832)

Lt Peter Murdoch arrived as Commandant in March 1825 with 50 convicts and military escorts. Darlington was a depot for prisoners returned to authorities after having worked for settlers, or convicts guilty of light offences. The settlement ceased on 1 October 1832, due to the success of Port Arthur and ease of escape from Maria Island.

The Commisseriat Store (1825) is the oldest building on the island: it had an office,  provision store and the spirit room downstairs and stores belonging to the Ordinance
Department upstairs.

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The second convict era (1842–1850)

While some sheep grazing  and whaling continued on Maria Island over the previous decade, in August 1842 it was Convict Probation Station. Convict tradesmen were sent to the island to prepare the settlement for 400 men. It was proposed in 1850 it was proposed to break up the station and convict numbers declined to virtually zero by the end of the year.

The Visiting Magistrate’s Office was constructed in 1842 as the administrative centre for the Probation Station. Convicts were tried here for minor offences.

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The first industrial era (1884–1896)

Italian entrepreneur Diego Bernacchi leased Maria Island for 10 cents per year, with a vision of setting up a wine-making and silk industry. The Maria Island Company commenced in 1887 adding agriculture, cement, timber and fishery to the island’s activities. While the population peaked at around 250 people in the late 1880s, the company went into liquidation in February 1892. A second company formed by Bernacchi also failed, and most of the assets were seized in November 1896.

The Coffee Palace – a name commonly used to describe a type of restaurant – was built by the Maria Island Company in 1888. It had two dining rooms and a lounge at the front of the building, and living quarters at the rear of the house. It’s been restored with period furniture, and in the dining room you can sit at one of the tables and hear recordings that recount life on Maria Island during the industrial eras.

The second industrial era (1920–1930)

Bernacchi had another attempt to develop Maria Island based on a plan to produce cement. Darlington’s population increased to over 150 men, with the National Portland Cement Ltd being formed in 1924. However, the cement was fairly poor quality and the production volumes were too low. In 1930, with the Great Depression underway, the Australian Cement Company took over and operations ceased.

Built in 1920, the massive concrete silos used to store cement are among the first things you see when arriving at Maria Island.

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Since the 1930s, properties were acquired and the island was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary on 1 June 1971, and proclaimed a National Park on 14 June 1972.

Somewhat reluctantly, we board the 11:15am ferry back to the mainland. It’s been an incredible four days. Despite the crowds around Darlington, for the majority of our walk we’ve seen very few people and experienced a sense of isolation that’s not easy to find in the January school holidays! And we’ve seen more wildlife than just about any other walk I’ve done.

DAY ONE
 0.0km Maria Island ferry wharf (Darlington)
 0.6km Ranger Station / PWS office at Darlington
 1.7km Junction with Reservoir Circuit Track
 2.6km Track reaches Fossil Cliffs (Skipping Ridge)
 6.9km Bishop and Clerk summit
12.6km Return to Ranger Station at Darlington
15.2km Painted Cliffs
19.2km Four Mile Beach
24.8km Frenchs Farm (campground)
DAY TWO
24.8km Frenchs Farm (campground)
29.3km Junction of Haunted Bay and Robeys Farm tracks
35.6km Haunted Bay
41.6km Back at Junction of Haunted Bay and Robeys Farm tracks
46.3km Robeys Farm
55.4km Frenchs Farm (campground)
57.6km Encampment Cove (campground)
59.8km Frenchs Farm (campground)
DAY THREE
59.8km Frenchs Farm (campground)
67.8km Junction with Inland Track
72.6km Mt Maria summit
77.4km Junction with Inland Track 
80.7km Junction with Oast House Track
82.7km Darlington (Ranger Station / PWS office)
DAY FOUR (by bike)
0.0km Darlington campground
2.6km Fossil Cliffs
4.1km Start of Reservoir Circuit
5.4km Reservoir Dam
7.8km Darlington campground
Distance as measured by GPS, and not the official track lengths.
Location Access via Encounter Maria ferry from Triabunna
Distance 83km circuit (including Bishop & Clerke and Mt Maria)
8km cycle to Fossil Cliffs and Reservoir Dam
Grade Moderate.
All tracks well sign-posted and well-maintained.
Season/s All year. Gets pretty busy in January. Mar/Apr a good time.
Map TASMAP Maria Island National Park 1:50K
5828 Darlingon 1:25,000 (covers top of Maria Island)
5827 Riedle 1:25,000 (covers bottom of Maria Island)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.

Resources

Three Short Hikes in Death Valley

 

A drive through Death Valley, with three short hikes that explore the highs and lows (altitude-wise) of the area.

After hiking to Telescope Peak the previous day – the highest point at 11,049 ft (3,368m) above sea level – today’s a relatively easy day before I drive back to Las Vegas. I’ve picked three short hikes that take in some of the varied landscapes of the park:

  • Zabriskie Point where the Badlands Loop goes through gulches and along ridges, and provides a close view of some of the rock formations of Death Valley
  • Dante’s View, one of the highest points you can get to by car where two short walks provide sweeping views from the lowest to the highest points in Death Valley
  • Badwater, the lowest point of the US for a hike across the salt flats.

Starting at Beatty, outside the park, I start fairly early as the morning light is best for photography of the salt pans. There’s nice morning light and no traffic as the dead-straight road (Highway 374) heads for the Grapevine Mountains.

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Visibility is still a bit obscured by smoke from fires burning in California.

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It’s a surprisingly hilly place – there are multiple mountain ranges between the vast plains; Death Valley itself is bounded by the Panamint Mountains on one side and Amargosa Range on the other.

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Directly ahead of Highway 190 is the Amargosa Range runs which along most of the eastern side of California’s Death Valley, separating it from Nevada’s Amargosa Desert. Its highest peak at 8,738 feet (2,663 m) is Grapevine Peak.

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Zabriskie Point

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My first stop is Zabriskie Point, which is at the foothills of the Amargosa Range. There’s a very short walk to a popular lookout here, which provides a vantage point over the desolate landscape.

Looking west, across Death Valley, is the Panamint Range in the background. The jagged peak in the middle is Manly Peak, located half inside Death Valley National Park, and half inside the Manly Peak Wilderness area.

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To really experience the desert landscape, there’s two short, circular hikes that start here: the Golden Canyon Loop and the Badlands Loop.

I’m taking the shorter (2.7 miles / 4.3km) Badlands Loop, which gives you a great feeling for the dramatic landscape.

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The hike, sign-posted by frequent arrows and easy to follow, heads down a narrow gully carved by infrequent (but heavy) rain to Zabriskie Point Junction.

From Zabriskie Point Junction the trail follows a much broader gully, which is a major artery of Gower Gulch, in a south-westerly direction.

After about 1.3 miles there’s a junction, which is also the lowest point of the Badlands Loop. Continue straight ahead down Gower Gulch (and back via Golden Canyon) to form a longer circuit. Or head back up a narrower gully to complete the shorter Badlands Loop, which is what I do (I’m doing the circuit in an anti-clockwise direction).

From the junction the track ascends from Gower Gulch, following the ridges of the hills. Looking much like sand dunes, you can almost visualise the ancient lake bed being  folded and faulted into the irregular white hills that exist today.

This is the most spectacular part of the short loop: as the trail ascends along the ridges of the hills, you can see the rugged terrain, and the Panamint mountain range in the distance.

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You can also see the distinct difference between the lighter hills formed from alluvial material from the lake bed, which is rich in borax, and the darker peaks formed by lava from eruptions that occurred 3-5 million years ago. (Borax, also known as white gold, was mined in the region in the 1880s and some many mines shafts remain, including several abandoned Borax mines along the Badlands Loop.)

Towards the end of the Loop, I can see Zabriskie Point in the distance (top right of the photo below) and the gully that leads back to the starting point.

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Rather than following the marked track back, I head straight up one of the ridges that leads towards the lookout. It eventually becomes a rough track obviously used by others to reach the lookout point.

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From Zabriskie Point, I take – which is now starting to get a bit  busier – I take a last photo of the panoramic views.

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Dante’s View

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My next stop, a bit further along Highway 190, is Dante’s View. While not as high as Telescope Peak, it provides one of the best views over the white salts flats and most of the 110-mile long Death Valley. Getting there is half the fun, with Dante’s View Road rising steeply up from Highway 190 to the viewpoint.

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The views from the parking are pretty impressive, even without walking anywhere… but a couple of short trails provide even better vantage points. To the south-west of the car park, a trail leads down the ridge.

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The views from the trail take in the salt flats of Badwater at 282 feet (86m) below sea level and directly behind it (at the very top left of the photo) Telescope Peak at 11,049 ft (3,368m) above sea level.

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As you descend further down the ridge on the rough track, you can see further down the length of Death Valley to the north.

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It feels like you could continue down the ridge all the way to the salt flats… but we’re still 5,275 feet (1610m) above sea level.

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At the northern of the car park, another trail heads up the ridge – it goes for four miles up to Mt Perry (I only went about 0.3 miles).

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The outlook is pretty much the same as from the southern end of the carpark, although it’s more of a rocky and rugged environment. And there are no other people around. There are unimpeded views of the Badwater salt flats and the Panamint Ranges.

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The main benefit of hiking in this direction is that you also get the slightly less impressive view to the east, of the Greenwater Range.

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From here I need to back-track a little, heading back up past Zabriskie Point toward Furnace Creek, and then down Badwater Road. One of the main roads through Death Valley, Badwater Road follows the foothills of the Margarosa Mountains. The first section is almost dead straight and seems to go forever… many of Death Valley’s attractions are along this road, including Badwater.

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Badwater

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Probably the most popular attraction in Death Valley, Badwater is the lowest place in the USA, at 282 feet (86m) below sea level. A sign high up on the cliffs marks sea level, and reminds you how far down you are! (The highest point in the contiguous 48 states lies only 84.6 miles (136 km) to the northwest, and can be seen on a clear day from Telescope Peak and Dantes View – but not today due to the haze.)

Near the carpark and at the edge of the salts flats is a spring-fed pool – the accumulated salts of the surrounding basin make the water undrinkable. The name is thought to have come from an early explorer’s horse who refused to drink, thus giving rise to the name “bad water”.

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A long, white salty “finger” stretches out from the end of the boardwalk, providing access onto the salt flat. I later read that one should stay on the boardwalk to avoid crushinng the tiny Badwater snail – but there’s no signage requesting visitors to stay off the salt, and most people are venturing onto the salt flat. Looming high above Badwater are the Black Mountains, part of the Amargosa Range – Dante’s View where I’ve just come from is almost 6,000 feet above me.

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Continuous freeze–thaw and evaporation cycles have created the hexagonal honeycomb patterns of the salt pan, which stretch all the way into the distance to Panamint Mountains on the other side.

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I walk as far as I can. It’s about two miles to the far end of the salt pan, below the towering Panamint Range, where the smooth salty surface ends. A bit further on is Shorty’s Well on the opposite side of the salt pan, and the starting point for a very arduous hike from -282 feet up to the Telescope Peak summit at 11,049 feet!

From the salt pan I continue down Badwater Road, which winds around the edge of the salt flats and the foothills of the Black Mountains for a while, before becoming dead straight again. Towards the end of the Black Mountain range, the road bears east and crosses the mountains at Jubilee Pass, before leaving Death Valley National Park.

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I think I’ll be back – there are many more walks I’d like to do, and while I’ve always associated Death Valley with the salt pans, there’s a huge diversity of landscapes.

Location Anywhere in / around Death Valley – I found relatively inexpensive accommodation at Beatty, just outside the park.
Distance
  • Badlands Loop – 2.7m / 4.3km (a longer 4.3m loop can be also be done from here)
  • Dante’s View – 1.6m / 2.5km (can be extended up to 4 miles by going to Mt Perry)
  • Badwater salt flats – up to 4m / 6.4km if you go to the other side of the salt pan
Grade Easy. Minimal elevation gain for these hikes/=.
Season/s Avoid summer, when it’s too hot to hike
Maps National Geographic “Death Valley” 1:165,000
Resources
  • Hiking Death Valley National Park (Falcon Guide) book
  • Free Death Valley National Park brochure from ranger stations

Gibraltar Peak, Tidbinbilla

Gibraltar Peak (1,038m), a rocky outcrop with extensive views, is a circular walk in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve that’s only 45min from the Canberra city centre.

One of the longer walks in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, not far from the centre of Canberra, Gibraltar Peak is the perfect early morning walk before a day of meetings. The start is well sign-posted about 5min drive from the Tidbinbilla Visitor Centre, starting from the Dalsetta carpark. The trail crosses a grassy plain on the opposite side of the road to the carpark, with regular track markers.

Given the acres of green grass, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to see a mob of kangaroos, including one that bounded down the track in front of me. I haven’t seen this many ‘roos in one place for a long time!

The trail rises very gently at first, on a broad, sandy path through low heath. There’s some intepretative signage, explaining that the track is traversing the land of the Ngunnawal Aboriginal people. While the women and children stayed on the plain teaching, dancing and holding ceremonies, the men and older boys went higher into the mountains for initiation rituals into manhood.

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The trail gradually gets steeper with a few switchbacks, before reaching Eliza Saddle, Eucalypt trees including the Broad-leaved Peppermint at the lower levels are replaced by grass trees and granite boulders as the path gains altitude.

After 3.5km there’s a very solid viewing platform, with a broad vista out to the east towards Canberra.

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Soon after the viewing platform is reached, the narrow bush track reaches the Gibraltar Fire Trail, which provides an alternate route back.

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Gibraltar Peak is only about 300m further, on a rocky trail that rises steeply up the last of the peak. There are soon views to the east across as the trail follows the edge of the mountains…

…and crosses some huge granite slabs, with the top of Gibraltar Peak more like a giant boulder field than a mountain summit!

The views are impressive, combining sweeping views to the east with odd-shaped boulders in the foreground. The Telstra Tower on Black Mountain is visible in the distance

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The trail ends at the base of large boulders forming the summit of Gibraltar Peak. There’s a narrow cleft between two of the largest boulders, with some smaller boulders wedged in the gap that allow you to clamber to the very top. Which I don’t manage to do… I get half-way up, but don’t feel confident scrambling up the second boulder that requires some gymnastic-like moves. I suspect the view from the very top would be even more impressive.

The return part of the loop is easy – and rather boring. After a short uphill section, the Gibraltar Fire Trail gently descends back towards the starting point.

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Near the bottom of the fire trail is the Xanthorrhoea Loop, which passes a stand of grass overlooking the valley. Don’t bother! There were just as many grass trees along the Gilbraltar Peak track.

Just after the Xanthorrhoea Loop, the trail leaves the fire trail and crosses the grassy plain, with the Tidbinbilla Range in the background.

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Looking back, you can see the rocky Gibraltar Peak, which really doesn’t really look like a peak from here!

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From here it’s a pleasant stroll across the grassy meadow, eventually re-joining the same track that I took to go up the mountain. And the kangaroos are still out in force, farewelling me as a return to the car park.

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Location Start at Dalsetta carpark, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
Distance 7.7km return
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain of 350m
Season/s All year.
Maps Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve free guide (from visitor centre or download here)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Map-GibraltarPeak
Tidbinbilla map showing walking tracks; Gibraltar Peak track is highlighted in yellow

Mount Faito – Trail of the Angels (Sorrento)

A spectacular cable car ride and scenic walk on Mount Faito, only 10min by train from Pompei – and a great way to avoid the crowds!

Only a few stops on the local train from Pompeii, this short but incredibly scenic diversion is well worth taking a few hours to explore (thanks Dad for the suggestion!). Aside from the views, it’s a welcome diversion from the crowds of Rome and Pompeii. The best part of this walk is getting there via a cable car, which starts from the Castellammare Di Stabia train station on the Circumvesuviana line. Departing every 20 minutes, a ticket can be purchased from the rather nondescript train station.

There were only about 10 people making the trip up, and while I’ve read it’s a popular weekend escape from the heat for locals, on a week-day in late September it wasn’t at all busy.

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There’s great views on the ten-minute journey up, looking out over the Bay of Naples to Mt Vesuvius on the other side. Even without doing a walk at the top it would be worth the round-trip (there’s a small restaurant/cafe at the top).

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From the top of the cable car, there’s a path that leads down the mountain (so you could also walk up – or down – and catch the cable car one-way). Mount Faito is one of the peaks along the Lattari mountain chain, at the base of the Sorrento Peninsula. We find the path that continues up the mountain, which starts at the far end of a shaded picnic ground just above the cafe/restaurant.

It’s easy walking – the first part of the trail to the from the cable car to the Monastery of San Michele is called the “trail of the angel”, as it traces the route taken by the saints Catello and Antonino over 1000 years ago. The trail follows the edge of the mountain, and there are views over Salerno and the distant peaks Piano di Trebucchi.

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As the trail gradually ascends, it crosses some sections of rocky limestone and then a section of tall trees.

After about 40min walking, we reach Porta del Faito, a small clearing on the ridge with views over the Bay of Naples toward Vesuvius.

We admire the impressive views for a while, before turning back – it’s already 1pm and we need to meet the other half of the family at Pompeii. From here. it would be another 15-20min to the Monastery of San Michele and about an hour more to Monte San Michelle, the highest peak in the area. (Also called Il Molare, as it’s shaped like a molar!)

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We re-trace our steps back the cable car, enjoying the views a second time on our descent back to Castellammare Di Stabia train station. (On the way down, we see – and hear – explosions and smoke emanating from a building on a distant ridge, which seem to be fireworks exploding. We never managed to figure out what it was!)

Location A cable car (funicular) departs from the Castellammare Di Stabia station on the Circumvesuviana train line (there’s also a bus to the top or you can drive), in the Sorrento area. Can be combined with a day-trip to Pompeii from Rome.
Distance 1.8km to Porta del Faito (one-way), as walked.
Approx 4km (one way) to Monte San Michelle. Allow 2-3 hours.
Grade Easy. Total ascent 100m (as walked, to Porta del Faito). Approx 350m ascent to Monte San Michelle
Season/s All year. (Cable car closed December-March)
Resources Cable car (funicular) timetable
Map-Faito2015
Map of Monte Faito with route taken highlighted

Gorges, waterfalls and peaks of Tivoli

Tivoli (or Tibur in ancient Roman times) is home to a number of historic sites, including Villa Gregoriana (a complex of paths, waterfalls and grottoes) and is also the starting point for a walk up into the surrounding hills.

I’ve got a “free day” in Rome before the rest of the family arrives (they’ve already been in Europe for over a week)… a Google search for the best walks around Rome leads me to Tivoli. It’s less than an hour away, and seems to offer the opportunity for some short walks, as well as Villa Gregoriana with its waterfalls and grottoes. (There’s also Villa D’Este and Villa Adriana, both UNESCO World Heritage sites, which I don’t have time to visit.)

Villa Gregoriana

I make my way from the station to the famous Villa Gregoriana, about a 10-minute walk away. After disastrous floods in 1826 which destroyed almost all the homes in the oldest part of Tivoli, there was a public competition find way to deviate the course of the Aniene river and prevent future floods. The project was authorised and financed by Pope Gregory XVI. Following the diversion of the river the Villa Gregoriana park was created using the old river bed of the Aniene.

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The best project for diverting the river was judged to be that of Clemente Folchi, who proposed a digging a tunnel through Monte Catillo. A short diversion from the main path through Villa Gregoriana leads to the exit of the twin 300-metre tunnels, known as the Cunicoli Gregoriani (Gregorian Tunnels). They vary from 10 metres in width at the entrance to 7.20m at the exit.

The massive project to divert the river moved the course of the Aniene, and shifted the falling point of the water away from the residential area. Even during a relatively dry period, the flow of water is pretty impressive.

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Slightly further down the main route are the remains the Villa of the Roman patrician Manlius Vopiscus. The villa was built in limestone, and the ruins that can be seen formed the foundations of the residence. A flood in 105BC destroyed part of the town, and swept away the villa.

As the main path descends into the valley, there’s a view of the lower falls. Perched above the river is the acropolis of ancient Tibur, located on an isolated rock opposite the waterfalls. Built in the 1st century AD, the site had two temples perched on the edge of the precipice.

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Another side path leads to a viewpoint overlooking the Great Waterfall; along the path are small caves and grottoes that are common in the porous travertine limestone.

There are a views of the river from along the narrow path. It looks very placid (the green colour being from the limestone) and it’s hard to imagine how the Aniene vally was referred to as the “valley of hell”, before the river was diverted.

It’s an impressive view of the artificial waterfall as the river emerges from the two tunnels from the viewpoint, with the water falling 105m into the valley below.

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After this diversion to the waterfall lookout, the main path descends to the Ponte Lupo clearing, at the base of the falls. Prior to the river’s diversion, the Ariene river formed a small lake here.

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Below the Ponte Lupo clearing, a natural bridge is formed when the river goes underground and into a tunnel. Called the “Mermaid’s Grotto” by the Swiss landscape artist Louis Ducron (at the end of the 18th century), the underground passage is thought to have been formed in the huge flood of 105AD.

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The path then climbs up the opposite of the valley, splitting into two routes. The more scenic option starts with a tunnel carved into the cliff, with side openings offering views of the underlying chasm  (Miollis tunnel). A very short diversion to the Nymphaeum viewpoint, an artificial cave looking out over valley below.

Another diversion leads to Neptune’s Grotto, carved out by the river centuries ago.

Due to the unusual geological composition of non-compact travertine (also known as calcareous tufa), which is highly porous, the grotto has many stalagmite-like formations.

Re-tracing my steps, I backtrack to see what the alternate route to the top is like – it’s much less impressive, but boasts views over the Aniene Valley. Directly opposed is the convent of Sant’ Antonio (thought to be built on the ruins of the Villa of Horace), and you can just make out a train that’s coming into Tivoli from Rome.

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The route finishes at the Temple of Vesta and Tiburnus. There are ten surviving Corinthian columns of the Temple of Vesta, which includes a frieze at the top with festoons and bucrania. In the distance, above the town, I can see a large cross on a hill which is my next destination…

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Monte Catillo

From the temples at the exit of Villa Gregoriana, I walk back through the town, in the vague direction of the large cross on top of the hill…   After following the main road (Via Quintilio Vaso) uphill for a few hundred metres, there’s a steep and narrow road (Don Strada Nello Del Raso) that heads past of a block of units. It seems promising, so I can continue upwards, with some nice views of the town.

A little further there’s a foot-track off the road, and even some signage that would help if I actually knew where I was heading… I continue with a bit more confidence, as I do have a map that shows a “330” trail, which corresponds with the sign at the start of the trail.

Even from the start of trail, there’s some nice views of Tivoli and the Temple of Vesta below.

While the views are great and I’m clearly on a path that’s going somewhere, what’s a bit perplexing is that I seem to be heading past Monte Catillo and its prominent cross, and there’s no been no obvious turn-off to the rocky peak (I’ve also seen references to the cross being on Monte Della Croce, which is just below Monte Catillo).

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I continue along the track… what I don’t expect to find in what seems to be the middle of nowhere is a soccer field!

I’m now well above the cross, so I veer off the marked route and head directly towards it, down the ridge. It’s a bit rocky but it’s not difficult walking and takes about 15min to reach the base of the cross. There’s panoramic views over Tivoli, with the railway station on the left and historic town directly ahead.

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I can see the track I’ve been on snaking up the hill – but there’s no plaque or information about why such a large cross has been put here.

There’s no obvious track down from here (I thought maybe I’d missed the track to the peak), but it’s pretty easy to find a route back down to the main track. There does seem to be a side-track up to the cross, but it’s not obvious and not sign-posted.

I’ve still got a bit of time, so I re-trace my steps up the hill, past the soccer field and onwards… As the trail rises, there’s increasingly expansive views over Tivoli and beyond.

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The track swings to the north, and after being fairly exposed it enters a forest consisting of cork oaks. There’s a few side-trails here, but the main one continues up and over Monte Giorgio. As you climb further up there’s a view to the east of the village of Bivio San Polo below and Castel Madama in the distance.

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The track passes a gate as it keeps heading up the ridge, and about 500m after the gate I seem to be at about the the highest point, with the track now continuing north along the ridge.

I turn back as the track starts to descend slightly, as I have a train back to Rome I need to catch. I enjoy one final vista of Tivoli and the surrounding countryside before re-tracing my steps.

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It looked like a longer circuit would be very feasible, and I discover later a useful blog post which describes a longer circuit, including the route I’ve taken.

Location Tivoli is easily reached by train from Roma Termini (central station). Villa Gregoriana is  450min walk from the railway station and the start of Route 330 is 800m from the station.
Distance Approx 11km (Villa Gregoriana and the Monte Catillo walk)
Grade Moderate (approx 500m total ascent)
Season/s All year (may be snow on Monte Catillo in winter)
Maps Free map “Riserva naturale Monte Catillo” (1:100K) – I got this from Villa Gregoriana
GPS Route Google Maps GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources RomeTheSecondTime blog has a useful post describing a circular route from Tivoli

Meander Falls and Split Rock Circuit (Western Tiers)

One of Tasmania’s 60 Great Short Walks, the hike to Meander Falls can be done as a circular walk, taking in a variety of terrain and a number of smaller (but equally impressive) falls by taking the Split Rock Track back.

The plan was to do an overnight walk to the Walls of Jerusalem. But with the weather forecast predicting rain and snow, I decided to leave the backpack in Sydney and stick to a couple of day walks instead. Meander Falls was my pick for the first day, being fairly close to Walls of Jerusalem National Park (as I’m still doing the Walls of Jerusalem hike the following day) as the weather seemed much better to the east. It’s a fairly late start – about 10:45am – when I reach the well sign-posted start of the walk.

The track follows the Meander River upstream, ascending fairly steadily but not steeply at the start, and crossing some side streams.

The track is not always obvious – I veer off a couple of times before realising my error – but there’s frequent orange triangles marking the correct route. The track is sometimes above the Meander River, which can be glimpsed through the thick forest cover below..

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…at other times the track is close to the river, and there are a few boggy sections where some care is needed to avoid wet feet.

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There’s a very steep section after about 3km, before the first glimpse of Meander Falls in the distance. The forest also changes subtly from here, being a bit more open than the semi-rainforest I’ve been walking through along the lower reaches of the Meander River.

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The falls get more impressive as you get closer, falling 130 metres over two tiers. The last

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As the track nears Meander Falls it becomes somewhat indistinct, but it’s easy to find a way down the slope to the base of the falls. It’s an impressive sight and I regret not taking my DSLR and a wide angle lens, as I can barely fit the entire waterfall into the photo. I’m the only person here and I enjoy the serenity of the waterfall and the clear pools at the botton… Although not for too long, as it gets cold pretty quickly once I stop moving!

I re-trace my steps, but only for about 300m, as I’m going back via the Split Rock Track (also referred to as the Cleft Rock Track) to make this a circular walk. The  Split Rock Track is a bit rougher but still easy to follow, as it descends and crosses the Meander River.

It’s not entirely clear where the track goes as it climbs up from the river to a massive scree slope. But once on the scree, a series of cairns provides an indication of the route that climbs the slope.

Looking back, Meander Falls can be seen again in the distance.

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Once the top of the scree field is reached, the track traverses thick heath, with a few boggy sections and oversize puddles for good measure… my topographical map suggests that there is a side-track to the top of Meander Crag, so I make this detour hoping to get some good photos from the top.

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There isn’t a track – at least not one that I can find. I manage to bush-bash to the base of the rocky summit, and climb up some of the way before it starts getting very steep. And very windy. There’s nice views over the Meander Conservation Area with Huntsman Lake in the distance, from halfway up the mini-mountain.

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After descending back to the Split Rock Track, I continue through the low heath before crossing another smaller scree field.

The track then enters into taller forest again, and descends quite steeply on a rough track. Rough as in lots of tree roots, uneven terrain and steep and slippery sections – but the trail is easy to follow.

There’s numerous small cascades, streams and sections of rainforest that make it pleasant walking.

As the trail descends, it goes through an enormous cleft in the rock – I can see where the track’s name is derived from!

At the bottom of this enormous split rocks there’s a waterfall, which is quite picturesque with the water cascading in front of a large and mossy overhang. According to my map, they don’t have a name…

…but I’ve also realised when looking at the map that I’ve made a small but annoying error: I’ve continued down the main Split Rock Track, and missed a turn-off to an alternate trail that goes past a number of falls. There’s another track that goes along the front of the waterfall and heads back up the hill. I feel compelled to head back up the hill to see what the other waterfalls I’ve missed look like. The track crosses another creek and small cascades, and I’m almost surprised I haven’t attracted any leeches (at least, not yet!).

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The next falls – which are marked on the map – are the Shower Cave Falls.  While the drop is not huge, there’s a fair amount of water cascading over the rock face, surrounded by ferns and towering trees above.

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Continuing up the narrow track through the heavily wooded forest, it’s not far until the next named waterfall.

Split Rock Falls is even more impressive than the last one. It’s possible to walk behind the falls which spill over a large overhang, and the rocks around the base are weathered and pock-marked by the constant falling water. This would be a good spot for a picnic – I encounter a small group of people I et earlier who are having a break on the far side of the falls.

There are a couple more huge caves and overhangs on way back up to the main track – a few of these you could easily camp under (although the walk is not really long enough to warrant an overnight trip).

I rejoin the “main track” about 30min later. The junction is incorrectly placed on the topographical map, and there is a sign – but it’s lying on the ground and is slightly confusing. If you’re coming back via Split / Cleft Rock trails you definitely should take the “waterfall way” – look for the junction at 41.72463, 146.53076 (or Quamby Bluff GR 610 811).

Once back on the main track I re-trace my steps back down through Split Rock (or maybe it’s Cleft Rock?). The track descends fairly steeply through tall trees, past a few more overhangs and along sections of rainforest.

Eventually the track meets the Meander River, where a suspension bridge takes you back across to the starting point, finishing a 50m or so down the road from the main track I took up.

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It’s been a great walk – no pun intended! The terrain’s been quite varied, there’s been a bit of route-finding to keep things interesting and the Split Rock Track back takes you past some very picturesque cacades and rock formations. Would be a fantastic walk to do in winter when Meander Falls sometimes freezes, with the right gear.

Route Summary
0.0km  Start at carpark (606m asl)
4.0km Junction with Split Rock Track (continue straight ahead for Meander Falls)
4.5km Meander Falls (1,060m asl)
5.0km Split Rock Track
5.6km Approx location of side-track to Meander Crag
7.6km Junction with alternate track via waterfalls
9.3km Waterfall track rejoins main Split Rock Track
10.6km Return to Carpark
Actual distance walked longer due to some side-trip and back-tracking.
Location 30km south-west of Deloraine. C167 from Deloraine to Meander, then follow signs to Meander Forest Reserve. Last few kilometres of road is unsealed and rough, but OK for 2WD vehicles.
Distance 12.3km circuit as walked (approx 9km to falls and back on main track)
Grade Moderate. Total elevation gain of 810m. Track is rough or non-existent in sections.
Season/s All year but may be snow/ice conditions in winter.
Maps
  • 4637 Breona (1:25,000)
  • 4638 Quamby Bluff (1:25,000)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • Parks & Wildlife Service 60 Great Short Walks – Meander Falls

Glow Worm Tunnel via Pagoda Track

One of the shorter access routes to the Glow Worm Tunnel, passing through the spectacular pagoda-like rock formations on the way.

It’s been over three years since my last visit to the Glow Worm Tunnel, which I hiked with friends via the much longer track from Newnes after camping nearby. This time it’s a day-trip I’m leading with our local Cub pack, reaching the Glow Worm Tunnel via the shorter Old Coach Road and Pagoda Track.

At the the car park on Old Coach Road, there’s a log book. It’s a good time to explain to the Cubs that map-reading skills are important to make sure you’re at the right starting point! As one of the entries shows, there is an alternate carpark at the end of Glow Worm Tunnel Road, which is even closer to the tunnel than our start point.

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The walking track is the continuation of Old Coach Road, which is closed to traffic as is descends into the valley. There aren’t many flowers along the track even though it’s Spring – but the wattles are out in force!

After less than 500m there’s views from the track of the surrounding  pagodas, and

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A bit further on, and the pagodas are on both sides of the track, proving too much of a temptation for the Cubs!

The pagodas are the result of vertical cracks forming in a very thick layer of sandstone, which break along these joints into roughly rectangular blocks. Water erodes the rock more quickly than in the centre of the sandstone blocks, so the top of each block becomes a dome shape. Differences in the texture of the sandstone causes some layers to wear more quickly than others, generating the terraced appearance of the domes.

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It’s a pretty spectacular landscape!

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It’s pretty impressive from above too…

We finally drag the Cubs away from their Pagoda rock-climbing and continue down Old Coach Road. The road continues descending, passing a gate as it nears the bottom of the valley.

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Just after the gate, Old Coach Road joins the Pagoda Track, a narrower bush track. There’s a few huge caves and overhangs, and a hollowed-out tree that provides some more distractions for the Cubs as we descend the last section of track to the bottom of the valley. After about one kilometre the Pagoda Track meets the shorter track that leads from the carpark at the end of Glow Worm Tunnel Road, which is the shortest route to the tunnel.

The landscape changes along the valley floor, with towering eucalypts, ferns and patches or rainforest as we neat the tunnel entrance.

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Finally we arrive at the Glow Worm Tunnel entrance, half-hidden by ferns, and put on our head-torches for the last part of our walk through the tunnel.

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We all see the glow-worms once our torches are off, and our eyes adjust to the dark. The tunnel is quite busy today – and the Cubs were much more impressed with climbing the rock pagodas on the way down than the tunnel itself!

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We make our way back the same way, for a late BBQ lunch at the car park. The tunnel itself was much busier than my last visit, with most people accessing it via the Glow Worm Tunnel car park (1km), rather then the 3km route from the carpark at Old Coach Route. It’s also disappointing to see quite a few people behaving like dickheads – bringing their dog (which is prohibited in national parks, and clearly stated on the signs) and one person even smoking a cigarette as they walked through the tunnel. If you can, visit during the week or get here early.

Location Access from the top – as described above
Leave the Bells Line of Road at Clarence (Zig Zag Railway), and follow the gravel road through Newnes State Forest for 34kms. 

  • Park at the Glow Worm Tunnel parking area (1km each way) located 3km past the junction of the Glow Worm Tunnel Road and the Old Coach Road
  • Continue down Old Coach Road to the carpark (3km each way). This is what we did. Note: if using Google Maps, the carpark is not marked, but is at the intersection of Old Coach Road and the Tigersnake Canyon Track (-33.246764, 150.236225)

Access from the bottom (long walk) – refer previous blog post
Newnes is situated at the end of Wolgan Road, accessed via a turnoff from the Castlereagh Highway. (Head west from Lithgow for about 11km to a junction leading to Mudgee, then right onto the Castlereagh Highway; from here it’s another 5min until you reach Wolgan Road on your right).

Distance 6.8km return as walked
Grade Easy (215m ascent)
Season/s All year round
Maps
  • 89314S Ben Bullen (walk is well sign-posted)
  • Zig Zag Public School students created a cool guide to the Glow Worm Tunnel walks – download PDF
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Notes
  • Bring torches (ideally a head torch) for the tunnel – but don’t shine the light onto the glow worms (and switch off torches to see the worms!)
  • To take photos, you’ll obviously need a tripod (try an exposure of 30sec / F4 at ISO1250 to capture the glow worms)
Map-GlowWormTunnel
Map showing route taken (Glow Worm Tunnel via Old Coach Road and Pagoda Track)

West Rim trail (Zion National Park)

The West Rim trail is one one of the longer day walks in Zion National Park, descending from Lava Point along the Horse Pasture Plateau to the floor of Zion Canyon.

The West Rim trail is the main objective of my visit to Zion National Park, after driving through the park from Bryce Canyon and taking the short but scenic Canyon Overlook trail yesterday.  I’d booked an early-morning shuttle up to the trailhead at Lava Point a few weeks ago, which would get me to the start of the track by about 8am. Although my guidebook suggested it was one of the most popular backpacking trails in Zion, there was just one couple who were taking the shuttle to Lava Point, and doing the walk over two days.

The track is well-sign posted as it heads across the Horse Pasture Plateau, past a turn-off to Wildcat Canyon (Lava Point to West Rim is part of a much longer multi-day walk, starting at Lee Pass on the western side of Zion National Park). It’s easy and pleasant walking along the plateau.

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In stark contrast to my hike at Bryce Canyon the previous days, there’s a plethora of flowering plants along the trail. The sego lily, native to a number of western states, is also the state flower of Utah. Very common and almost out of place along the verdant path is the Engelmann prickly pear. The most impressive are the white flowers of the yucca baccata, one of the most common yucca of the southwest.

After a few kilometres, there’s the first glimpses in the distance of some of the more dramatic cliffs and formations of Zion National Park to the east.

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Quite unexpectedly, a lookout provides a view to the west down the Left Fork, with the South Guardian Angel peak directly ahead. After a somewhat dull start (in terms of scenery!) the Zion landscape starts to reveal itself…

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After this tantalizing glimpse of the Zion peaks, the track continues down the middle of Horse Pasture Plateau, still descending gradually. It’s a very easy hike so far!

After four miles (6.4km) Potato Hollow is reached, one of the camping sites along the track. The track climbs briefly from here over a small ridge, from which there are views over the grassy meadow of Potato Hollow and the surrounding hills.

From the ridge above Potato Hollow, the track turns south, drops into a small valley before climbing up to another ridge. There are great views along the trail – apparently the result of a fire caused by lightning in 1980 that burnt most of the trees.

At the top of this last ridge is the junction with Telephone Canyon Trail, which is a slightly shorter route (it rejoins the main West Rim Trail 1.8 miles further on). There’s really no option though – the main West Rim Trail follows the edge of the escarpment and offers spectacular views. It’s worth the extra 1.4 miles!

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The views are fantastic along the entire section of this track, changing subtly as different mountains come into view. The earlier views (above) take in the white cliffs along the Right Fork of the North Creek and South Guardian Angel. As the track continues, Heaps Canyon can be seen, the Mountain of the Sun and Twin Brothers peaks in the distance, and the flat-topped Mount Majestic and Cathedral Mountain.

There’s an abundance of flowers along the trail, keeping the local bees and insects happy!

Shortly before re-joining the Telephone Canyon Trail, the West Rim Trail bears north-west as it rounds the southern tip of the plateau.

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As the trail continues to descend, it passes another couple of camping sites and a spring, which is right at the edge of the cliffs above Telephone Canyon (bottom right). The water is just a trickle and really needs filtration, so I just take a quick photo of the valley below and continue down West Rim Trail…

Not long after the spring and junction with the Telephone Canyon Trail, the trail starts to descend with vigour… We’re heading more or less straight down into the Behunin Canyon below.

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The track descends steeply through multiple switch-backs down the sheer sandstone cliff, before reaching the head of the valley below.

At the bottom there’s some patches of welcome shades from the tall trees – spruce and Douglas firs grow here, rarely found at such low elevations (I read this later!) but able to thrive due to the shade provided by the surrounding cliffs.

Unfortunately the shade doesn’t last long, and the track soon leaves the forest as it descends around the base of Mount Majestic before reaching a very solid bridge at the base of a side-canyon.

The track then starts to climb, as it passes the base of Cathedral Mountain (bottom left) and traverses a rocky outcrop. This section of track is quite undulating and hot in the midday sun.

I’m relieved to see Scout Lookout below, as the track descends down the steep ridge, with Angels Landing rising high above it.

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There’s impressive views for the last half a mile, down to the base of Angels Landing.

From Scouts Landing, there’s two options: continue down to the base of the valley, or follow the chains up to Angels Landing, along a narrow ridge that looks impossible to traverse.

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I head towards Angels Landing – it seems a fitting end to the day. Although there are hundreds of people with the same idea, and many look like they probably shouldn’t be here…

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The views down into the Zion valley are spectacular, even from the base of Angels Landing.

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I turn back well before the top – I’ve been once before, when I left very late in the day and had the trail almost to myself. Unlike today, where there’s a queue to the top. Trying to pass people who were already struggling well before the peak isn’t my idea of a fun afternoon! So, it’s down Walter’s Wiggles, the incredible set of switch-backs that goes to the bottom of the valley.

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It’s an impressive feat of engineering, named after Zion National Park’s first superintendent Walter Ruesch, who in 1926 constructed the trail to Angels Landing.

I’m glad I’m going down and not up; it’s still pretty warm and there’s not much space on the track down.

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Emerald Pools

After reaching the Virgin River (and having a quick swim to cool off), it’s still only mid-afternoon so I extend my hike by visiting The Grotto and Emerald Pools. (Interestingly, more people have died on the Emerald Pools trail than on the Angel Falls trail.) The Kayenta Trail follows the river downstream from The Grotto, where the West Rim Trail ends.

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It’s a relatively easy “extension” : although the trail undulates a little, there’s no steep sections.

The trail is pretty busy, being one of the more popular short hikes in Zion, as I make my way to the Middle Emerald Pools. There’s a bit of a flow, but nothing spectacular, and a few kid are swimming or wading in the small pool.

A little further on, the Lower Emerald Pools are a bit more impressive, with the trail passing under a long overhang.

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Water drips over the top – something in between a “drip” and “cascade” – and falls into the pools below the cliffs.

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From here it’s a paved path back to Zion Lodge, where there’s another bridge over the Virgin River.

Zion Lodge is a hive of activity, and I’m not too unhappy to catch a shuttle bus back my car which is parked at Springdale. I’ve enjoyed the walk, especially the middle bit, where the scenery is spectacular and I’ve encountered just a handful of people. Unfortunately, finishing at Angels Landing in peak season is a bit of a let-down after the serenity of the rest of the walk… it would be perfect to have done the walk in the opposite direction, getting to Angels Landing before the crowds. But getting a shuttle back from Lava Point would be pretty much impossible. Still, I’m not complaining – Zion National Park for the second time has not disappointed with its incredible scenery.

Location Starts at Lava Point and finishes at The Grotto (trailhead) or Zion Lodge. Shuttles can be booked from Springdale to Lava Point.
Distance Approx 14.5 miles (24km). 18 miles (29.7km) as walked with Emerald Pools, finishing at Zion Lodge
Grade Moderate (615m elevation gain / 1500m elevation loss)
Season/s Spring to Autumn (snowbound in winter)
Maps National Geographic “Zion Canyon” topographic map
GPS Route Garmin GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon (Erik Molvar & Tamara Martin)