Egg Beach (Flinders Island)

An easy coastal walk on the north-west part of Flinders Island, with secluded coves, interesting rock formations and the peculiar “Egg Beach” at the end

This is my last walk on Flinders Island, and it’s not really planned… with a few hours of daylight left and the clouds clearing, I look at what nearby hikes are possible. As I’m staying on West End Beach, the walk to Egg Beach (also referred to as Egg Rock Beach) is one I can do from the back door!

I start directly behind our rented house, walking over the sand dunes and following West End Beach north.

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Being late afternoon, the light is great for photography and while the weather has been improving, there’s some dramatic cloud formations in the sky.

It doesn’t take too long of very easy walking to reach the northern end of West End Beach. Normally the walk would start here, with the beach being accessed via the track that starts next to the West End homestead, on West End Road. From here there is a short rocky section to traverse, interspersed with some small sheltered bays.

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In the distance is Roydon Island – we’ve seen smoke from a small fire on the island over the last couple of days, which I suspect has been deliberately lit as part of a strategy by volunteers to tackle the spread of boxthorn weed.

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Sooner after this headland there’s a secluded and beautiful beach, followed by another rocky section that’s characterized by odd-shaped stones. Despite the very rocky shoreline, there are many unbroken shells to be found along this section of the walk.

This last section is rather slow going due to the uneven and rocky terrain – I’m not sure if I’ll be able to reach my destination before it gets dark. But I press on around the last rocky headland, with the rocks are starting to look distinctly more “eggy”!

Almost out of nowhere, I’m confronted by Egg Beach. It’s pretty obvious how it got it’s name, and looks quite odd – like each grain of sand has been magnified 1000%! In the distance is Twelve Hour Point, the headland at the far end of the beach.

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It’s getting too late to return the same way – the untracked coastal route has taken me longer than I thought, with some easy beach walking, but also many slow sections of boulder hopping and rocky ground. There is supposed to be an alternate 4WD track that runs parallel to the shore, so I head directly up the hill behind Egg Beach, through low grass. It doesn’t take long before I reach a rough but very distinct vehicular track.

This is much easier walking, and I make quick progress back towards my starting point. I could stay on this 4WD track all the way back to West End Road – but with the potential of another beautiful sunset, just before West End Beach I retrace my steps along the shore.

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I soon reach West End Beach, with its collection of boulders and deep piles of seaweed welcoming me back to my “home beach”!

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I reach the track up through the sand dunes and back to the house just before dark. It’s been a satisfying final Flinders Island walk!

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Location Start at West End Beach, near the north-western end of Flinders Island (track to the beach next to the West End homestead)
Distance Approx 5km return (8.6km as walked from West End Beach House)
Grade Easy. <50m total ascent
Season/s All year round. Easier at low tide / outgoing tide.
Map TasMap Flinders 1:100K. No signage.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Walks of Flinders Island” book by Ken Martin (p.73). Available in Whitemark or via Amazon

Mt Killiecrankie circuit (Flinders Is)

A partly off-track circuit on Flinders Island to the Mt Killiecrankie summit and back along the rugged coast from The Dock.

Described as “one of the most majestic islands in the Furneaux Group” and “arguably the most majestic mountain and bay combination in Bass Strait”, Mt Killiecrankie (316m) is the highest peak at the northern end of Flinders Island. While significantly less high than Mt Strzelecki, it’s a tougher walk and offers equally impressive views from the top.

There’s a few different approaches to the summit, all of them at least partly off-track… I’m taking what seems to be the “easiest” route to the top. The intended route follows Killiecrankie beach around to the northern end, where there is a 4WD track for part of the ascent.

After walking along the beach for about 2.6km (slightly easier and quicker at low tide), I pick up a signposted 4WD track that starts just above the beach (Quion Road). It’s a private road; my “Walks of Flinders Island” book suggests this as one of the summit approaches, and recommends seeking approval from the manager of the Quion cattle farm (access via this route may change if the development of a $5 million premium tourist resort goes ahead). Being on my own and not sure how to contact the manager, I set-off up the track which climbs steadily up the hill. After about 1.2km, I reach a gate, where I turn left and follow the fence line for a few hundred metres. There’s now a short section of off-tracking walking through fairly thick forest, before I reach another 4WD track.

The next section of (disused) 4WD track continues heading up towards the summit, and offers a bit of shade on a clear and fairly warm April day.  Not long after reaching this upper 4WD trail (at Palana 735917) , there’s the first views over the coast for the first time from a rock platform, and a memorial plaque to Peter Grant Hay and his wife Margaret Maisie. Hay was an Australian brewer, landowner, pastoralist and thoroughbred racehorse breeder who founded the Richmond N.S. Brewing Co. Ltd (now Carlton & United Breweries) and owned land on Flinders Island. Interestingly, there’s no mention of the plaque in my hiking guide or on-line.

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Another 200m and there’s a fork in the track; after consulting the map, I take the left-hand option. The rough track continues ascending directly towards the peak, which soon becomes visible directly ahead.

While the summit is clearly visible in the distance, there’s no obvious track to the summit from the 4WD track which continues around the base of the mountain. I find a very narrow and indistinct foot track through fairly thick scrub (Palana 737925 or 39°48’51.4″S 147°51’40.4″E) which seems the best option. This trail winds through the scrub, before emerging at a large, exposed rock platform.  In front of me are views of the coast, and behind me looms the large rock outcrop of the summit,

The notes in my guide book, while fairly accurate for the initial part of the walk, seem to bear little resemblance to the tracks I’ve found as I near the summit. I’m at the southern end of Mt Killiecrankie, which is the steeper ascent, and I can’t find any track that allows an easier approach from the northern end. While parts of the ascent appear a little daunting (in terms of height and exposure), the alternate requires navigating through some pretty thick scrub to the northern end of the granite outcrop. I manage to find a route up the last 50m of rock face, finally reaching the Killiecrankie summit after 6.2km and just over two hours walking.

The views are fantastic in all directions, with an almost cloudless sky. To the south is Killiecrankie Bay, with farmland adjacent and further inland, the Wingaroo Nature Reserve.

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To the north is Blyth Point and Palana, and in the far distance the Inner Sister and Outer Sister islands.

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After a well-earned break on the top, it’s time to figure out how to get back… I’m reluctant to descend the same way as I came up, being very steep and exposed. Heading down the “back” of Mt Killiecrankie (the northern approach) is much easier. I follow a long series of rock slabs; just before the last boulder is a short drop on the left into a gully. From here my intent was to navigate back to the southern end of the summit outcrop, and re-trace my steps…

…but, with thick scrub all the way up the base of the rock, I follow a faint trail that leads further north. I figure it’s heading downhill, it must go somewhere and it’s a hell of a lot easier than “bush bashing” through dense scrub! The trail is marked by cairns, taking me under large boulders, across exposed rock platforms and traversing some interesting granite formations!

After about half an hour, there’s a sign pointing to “The White Eyed Man” (map reference Palana 738934). It’s a little surreal, being the only sign I’ve encountered on the entire walk, so I make the 80m detour. I’m not quite sure to expect! The White Eyed Man is an imposing rock formation, which does look a little like a pointy-nosed person looking over the coast. There’s no mention of this formation in my guide, or checking later, anywhere on-line.

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From here the track is fairly easy to follow through medium-thick scrub, as it gets closer to The Dock Road which I can see below. I’d avoided this route up as the guide book described it as being un-tracked and through thick scrub, so it was a pleasant surprise to find it the easiest route down as it meant I could return to Killiecrankie via a circuitous route!

It takes less than an hour to reach The Dock Road, emerging from the scrub next to a “4WD only” sign (although locals assure me the road is 2WD suitable and it is in good condition). From the road, there is almost no sign of the track – it’s the little gap in the bushes in the picture below right.

From here, it’s a quick 15min down the unsealed road to The Dock, which consists of a number of small sandy beaches set in a kilometre of rocky coastline. It’s a pleasant spot and I have a quick swim before continuing on my way along the coast.

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The well-marked track follows the rocky coast fairly closely, with the Mt Killiecrankie mountain range not very far inland.

I’m making fairly good progress until I reach the climbers camping area, which is near the coast (Palana 725936). There’s a path that leads up to the base of the cliffs, where it abruptly stops – the guide book suggests continuing off-track but with the time getting late and the shrub fairly thick, I eventually re-trace my steps to the climbers camping area. Here I quickly find the main track that follows the coast and resume my journey back to Killiecrankie. The going is a bit slower from here, even after I’m back on the correct trail, with the setting sun almost directly ahead and the terrain consisting of rock formations and patches of soft sand.

It’s a relief to reach the granite slabs on the headland below Old Man’s Head, where the walking is a bit easier.

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Soon after, with Old Man’s Head jutting into the sky behind me, I meet the only other hikers I’ve seen all day, heading toward The Dock.

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It’s a bit slower again for the next section to Stacky’s Bight, with the track heading inland and skirting around some steep sections of shoreline. Stacky’s Bight is a sheltered cove featuring a couple of sea arches, and would make a worthwhile destination for a shorter day-trip.

It’s now almost 5pm, and great light for photography as I navigate the last sections of rocky coastline before reaching Killiecrankie Bay, the rocks almost glowing in the afternoon sun.

I’m back at the (far) end of Killiecrankie Bay with the sun just over the horizon.

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There’s just 2km (or so) of easy beach walking before I’m back at the car; in the distance is Mt Killiecrankie. It’s been a tough walk but my favourite Flinders Island walk so far, combining a small mountain peak with some varied coastal walking.

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Location Start at Killiecrankie beach car park.
Distance 18km circuit
Grade Hard. 370m total scent
Season/s All year round.
Map TasMap Flinders 1:100K or Palana 1:25K
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Walks of Flinders Island” book by Ken Martin (walks 6, 12, 13 & 18).
Book available in Whitemark or via Amazon

Map-KilliecrankieCircuit

Mt Dromedary (Gulaga)

The Mt Dromedary walk is a solid half-day hike to the top of an extinct volcano, which  passes by an Aboriginal cultural site.

It’s almost a year since my last trip to the south coast. Last time I hiked with the kids and Grandpa to the top of “Little Dromedary“; this time we tackle Mt Dromedary, or Guluga, a 797m extinct volcano and significant Aboriginal site near the coast at Narooma.

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The Mt Dromedary walk starts next to Pam’s Store in Tilba Tilba – the start is well-marked and you can purchase water or snacks from the store. (As I was hiking with my 8-year old son, we made a short detour to the “Tilba Sweet Spot” in Central Tilba for some essential chocolate supplies.) We hit the trail at 10:30am: the first 1.5km or so is along an unsealed road though open farmland. Little Dromedary can be seen clearly from here, looking back along the trail. There’s a gradual ascent, from the start of the walk at 3om above sea level to 150m where you enter Gulaga National Park.

After entering park, the track gets a bit steeper and rougher – but remains a 4WD track that is mostly in shade, with pockets of rain forest. After about 3.5km there’s a good view through the trees towards Wallaga Lake and the coast (photo below): this is the best view you’ll get on the entire walk. Many birds can be seen and heard  – binoculars and/or a telephoto lens would be useful (I had to leave behind my long lens to make space for my son’s chocolate supply…)

After a couple of hours walking we reach the saddle at the 5km mark; there’s a table here, some signage and a toilet. There’s also a short and unmarked path that leads to some spectacular rock formations that have been recognised by Geoscience Australia as one of seven significant rock formations in Australia. This site is also a place of cultural origin for the Yuin people, with the mountain regarded as a symbolic mother-figure providing the basis for the Aboriginal people’s spiritual identity [source: Wikipedia]. All visitors are welcome to climb Mount Gulaga but the Aboriginal elders ask that you stay on the track as some places should not be visited without a Yuin custodian. I’m not sure, having done some research, if this area is deliberately not sign-posted to discourage people visiting?

From the saddle, there should be two options to reach the summit: the Rainforest track, which is longer and follows a ridge up to the summit, and the very steep Summit track. Encouraged by the possibility of chains and danger, my 8-year-old son chooses the Summit track. We find what appears to be the (unmarked) Summit track leading directly up the side of the mountain about 5oom past the saddle. However, the track has no signage or markings and we quickly give up – it looks like the use of this track is being discouraged. We stick to the Rainforest Track, which descends a little (not happy about this!) before the final steep and slightly slippery ascent through rain forest to the summit at 797m.

We’ve taken 3.5 hours, 17 breaks and 47 M&Ms to reach the summit… There’s almost no view from the summit, so we enjoy a short break before a much quicker 1.5 hour descent. All up, we’ve taken just over the recommended five hours.

Location Starts in Central Tilba (about 5 hours south of Sydney)
Distance 14.5km return journey. 750m climb.
Grade Easy.
Season/s All year round
Map Central Tilba 1:25,000 (89253N)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources  Nil

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Hamilton Pool

An impressive waterfall cascades over a semi-circular cave, into a turquoise pool ringed by trees.

My last stop on the way to the airport – I wasn’t expecting anything much, but Hamilton Pool seemed to warrant a short detour from Enchanted Rock.

I arrive around 2pm – I’ve read that there may be a queue and people may be turned away during busy periods, but I have no problems. The situation may be different at peak times, so worth checking if reservations are required – or arrive early! In any case, I quickly pay the entry fee and park; the carpark is perhaps 60% full, but it’s not too busy.

Heading down the steep path to Hamilton Creek, it’s only 10min before I reach the creek (it’s only a 1/2-mile or 800m round-trip from the carpark to the pool) and turn right toward Hamilton Pool.

The pool is breathtaking. One of those spots where you know the photos won’t do justice to the scene. I try anyway, and spend some time walking around the cave and behind the waterfall. Part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, the pool and grotto were formed when the dome of an underground river collapsed due to massive erosion thousands of years ago.

There’s an inviting beach and the pool has been used as a swimming hole; a number of signs prohibit swimming due to high bacteria level. (On questioning the very friendly and helpful park ranger on my way out, it appears that there have been a couple of swimming deaths in recent years, and the swimming ban is less about bacteria and more about preventing any further drownings.)

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I’ve got a bit more time before I need to leave, so I continue down the trail towards the Pedernales River. There’s few people on this section, which is about 1.5 miles (2.4km) to the river and back to the car park. The trail closely follows the creek and it’s a pleasant and shaded walk, with very clear turquoise water. I don’t quite make it the whole way as I’m getting short of time, but I’ve really enjoyed this walk – it greatly exceeded expectations and is somewhere I’d definitely visit again.

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Location About 30 miles west of Austin on FM 3238
Distance 800m round-trip to pool. 2.4km to Pedernales River and back.
Grade Easy.
Season/s All year round. Can get very busy on weekends and public holidays
Map USGS Topo Map Quad: Hammetts Crossing
Resources County Parks web site

Enchanted Rock

A massive pink granite dome rising above Central Texas, with a short climb offering views across the surrounding basin

Texas is not really known for mountains (or hiking)… so with a spare day after my conference in Austin, I set-off in search for a hill to climb. About 95 miles from Austin is Enchanted Rock, a prominent granite dome (technically, an “enormous pink granite pluton batholith” and “the largest such pink granite monadnock in the United States” according to Wikipedia). I figure it’s as as close to a mountain peak as I’ll get in Texas.

I arrive early – just before the park office opens at 8am – and pay my entry fee after a short wait. There are already a few people out and about, and it’s obviously a popular place for camping. A few sites suggest arriving early on weekends and especially on public holidays, as entry is closed once the carpark is full. With limited time, I plan to do the Summit Trail and part of the Loop Trail. It’s a chilly morning as I set-off up the hill.

It quickly warms up as the sun rises – but it’s a short and quick climb of just over 100m to the top of the dome. There’s not much of a track or signage once you’re on the side of the dome – but you really can’t go wrong. There’s already a few people on the top, including a small group that seems to have completed a session of Sunrise Yoga. I’ve no interest in yoga, but if I was going to do it this wouldn’t be a bad spot. The views in all directions are pretty good, despite the relatively low elevation.

After wandering around the top of the dome for a while – it’s a big area  – it appears possible to descend the back of the dome , rather than re-tracing my steps down the Summit Trail. I head down a natural gully between Enchanted Rock and the neighbouring Little Rock; it’s steep but with no exposure or danger. I soon reach the Echo Canyon Trail, and follow this north up to Moss Lake. Moss Lake is a very beautiful, reflective place – would have been a nice spot for a snack, except that I hadn’t brought any food…

I was about half-way now, having walked just over two miles (3.7km), and from here I join the Loop Trail, heading west (I could also have returned via the Loop Trail in an eastward direction – there seemed to be more more to see going west.) I detour slightly to check out the Scenic View Trail. There’s really nothing to see from here. It’s easy walking for the two miles (3.4km) back to the carpark, but a pretty monotonous landscape.

The top of Enchanted Rock was worth a visit, and Moss Lake was nice (would have been ideal in the late afternoon with the sun setting on the granite dome), but the rest of the walk was fairly ordinary.

Location 95 miles from Austin, Texas (18m north of Fredericksburg on Ranch Road 965)
Distance 7.3km (2 hours)
Grade Easy.
Season/s All year round. Can get very busy on weekends and public holidays
Map Trails Map (PDF)
Resources State Parks Enchanted Rock State Natural Area Web site
Photos

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Trolltunga

A long but rewarding day-walk, culminating in stunning views at the “troll’s tongue” that juts out 700m above a lake.

The last walk I had planned at the end of our four-week family holiday in Norway: I hoped the weather gods would look after me for one last time. Being early October, I was prepared for some cold weather but hoping it would be a dry day. Which it was – chilly but not a cloud to be seen!

Leaving Bergen in the late afternoon, I allowed three hours to reach my accommodation at Odda, the closest town to the start of the Trolltunga hike. Unfortunately, the “direct” route I chose involved two ferries… and I hadn’t allowed for a couple of long waits. My three hours became about five hours, and I arrived close to midnight at the aptly-named Trolltunga Hotel (which was very accommodating of my late arrival and efficiently checked me in with a cold beer…!). The quickest route, with the benefit of hindsight, is via the Tørvikbygd-Jondal ferry. There are public transport options, but you’d need allow full day to get there.

From Odda, it was an early morning start to reach Skjeggedal, a 17km drive via a very winding (and scenic) road. I was happy I’d started early (around 6am) and didn’t have to deal with other traffic on a road that was mostly the width of one car. From the car park at the end of the road, it’s a steep climb for the first kilometre as you ascend from 425m above sea level to about 1100m, on a well-defined track. (There used to be a disused funicular that provided alternative access, by walking up the old railway tracks – this is no longer possible as the funicular tracks have been largely removed to make way for a road that is being constructed up to the plateau.)

From the end of this initial climb, a well marked trail continues through a mostly open alpine landscape, passing by a number of lakes and crossing glacial streams. There is one more, shorter climb of 200m or so, partly on a winding, marked trail and partly up a rock face that’s marked by a series of cairns.

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Water is plentiful, and in early October there were still a lot of snow on the ground. One short section of the track that is in the shade for most of the day was very icy, and having a set of spikes or crampons would have come in very useful. After about 8km of walking there are the first views into the spectacular Ringedalsvatnet fjord, and a few kilometres further (at around the 11km) mark an artificial lake is reached.

Finally, Trolltunga is reached – a narrow piece of rock jutting out 700m above Lake Ringedalsvatnet. Some metal rings aid access down to the rock, which affords spectacular views – and was rated “the most stunning place in the world to take selfie” by Internet news and entertainment site Buzzfeed.

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The walk to here took just under five hours including breaks; the entire hike to Trolltunga and back being 8 hours (six hours of walking + breaks). This is at a fairly decent pace; I’d recommend an early start, both to give you enough time to get back in daylight and to avoid the crowds. There was one other couple that arrived just after me, and no queue to get photos from the rock! On the walk back, I encountered a number of groups making their way to the rock, and that was outside peak hiking season.

Location Odda, Norway (about 3 hours drive from Bergen)
Distance 23km (8-9 hours). 1,088m ascent.
Grade Moderate. Easy navigation.
Season/s Summer/Autumn
Map  Topographical maps on-line at GotTur.no
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources I found Time Travel Turtle’s blog post useful in planning my trip
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Map of Trolltunga hike showing route and elevation.

Lockleys Pylon to Blue Gum Forest

Great Blue Mountains views from Lockley Pylon and a less-visited route down into the beautiful Blue Gum Forest.

A small peak overlooking Govett’s Gorge, Lockley Pylon was named after J.G “Redgum” Lockley, a gardening columnist and conservationist who supported the efforts to protect the Blue Gum Forest. It’s also one of the access points for the Blue Gum Forest, 600 metres below in the Grose Valley.

This is my second walk out to Lockleys Pylon; the first time (almost exactly two years ago) I took the steep path down to Blue Gum Forest and this time I’m with my 9-year old daughter, so we only  go as far as the “pylon”.

The condition of the Mount Hay Road is far worse than I remember it a couple of years ago, and I’m very happy to reach the “car-park” (it’s not really a car-park; there is space for 4-5 cars just off the road near the sign-posted track-head). Setting off down the relatively flat trail, we walk though fairly typical low forest and heath. After 2.5km the trees finish, and are replaced by low grasses.  It feels as if we’ve suddenly been transported from the Blue Mountains to the alpine landscape of the Snowy Mountains.

Although we’re only just over half-way to Lockleys Pylon, it’s now visible in the distance, and we can now also see the Explorers Wall on the far side of the Grose Valley.

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As we get closer to Lockleys Pylon, there’s a great view of the Fortress Creek Falls, and the Grose Gorge just beyond.

From the top of Lockleys Pylon, there’s views in all directions, from Fortress Hill and Fortress Creek Falls, and in front of us to the north the track continuing down to Du Faur Head, with the Grose Valley stretching out into the distance. Up to here, it’s a 3.5km hike with minimal elevation change (Lockleys Pylon is really a very gentle hill).

It’s a pretty impressive view… but it’s worth continuing a little further, as the views get even more dramatic. Another kilometre brings you to Du Faur Head, a rocky outcrop on the edge of the escarpment, named after Eccleston Du Faur (who played a major role in establishing Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park). From here you are looking directly down the Grose Valley, one of the most accessible wilderness areas for bushwalking.

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Returning from here would make it a 9km round-trip.

The track now continues to the Blue Gum Forest, and is very steep, descending 500m down Shortridge Pass in just under two kilometres. The start of the steep track down is marked by a cairn, just before Du Faur Head (I missed it the first time and walked too far, before backtracking 50m and seeing the small cairn – at first glance it seems as if the track just drops vertically though a gap in the rocks!).

The track crosses Govetts Creek at the bottom, and meets the Junction Rock to Blue Gum walking track about 50m further. The Grose River is about 100m north-east and the Acacia Flat camping ground is less than a kilometre away.

From here you could continue straight ahead and up to Perrys Lookdown on the Perrys Track to finish at Blackheath (the shortest way out). Or you could extend the walk by returning via Pierces Pass, Rodriguez Pass or even the Grand Canyon – all of these would require a car-shuffle (or a self-driving car). **  I’m future-proofing-my blog.

I head back the same way I came. The walk up is a lot harder than the walk down 🙂 In total the walk is just over 13km; on the way back there is a path that skirts around the western side of Lockleys Pylon.

Side trip: Very close to the start of the Lockleys Pylon track (a few hundred metres along Mt Hay Road heading back toward Leura) is a short track up to Flat Top lookout. Although it’s only 500m (each way), after the hike to Lockleys Pylon it’s a little underwhelming…

Location Take Mt Hay Road from Leura and follow this 10km (the last 8km is on a rough dirt road, suitable for 2WD with careful driving). The track head is signposted, and is just past the Flat Top Lookout parking.
Distance 13.1km return journey. 745m total ascent.
Grade Moderate
Season/s All year round
Map Katoomba (NSW 8930-1S 1:25K) to Lockleys Pylon
Mt Wilson (NSW 8930-1N 1:25K) for Lockleys Pylon to Blue Gum
Blue Mountains North 1:50K covers the entire route
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources NPWS Web site. Google Street Trekker virtual tour.
Wild walks track notes (to Lockley Pylon only)
Photos Google Photos Album
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Hiking route to Blue Gum Forest via Lockleys Pylon.  (Map: Blue Mountains North)

 

Bukit Kutu

A half-day hike to a peak with views  over the Titiwangsa mountain range and Selangor Dam, less then two hours drive from Kuala Lumpur.

Whenever I get to Malaysia (we have an office in KL) I try and fit in a walk – there’s great walking without a few hours of KL, as well as amazing walks further afield including Mt Kinabalu and Mulu Caves. I’ve also found a passionate and experienced local guide – Eddie Yap – who knows where to go. So I asked Eddie to find me a strenuous hike we could do in half a day.

The result: Bukit Kutu, about 90min drive from my hotel in KL. At 1,050m high it’s technically a hill (bukit) rather than a mountain (gunung), although it is also referred to as Gunung Kutu and Treacher’s Hill.  It was originally a hill station with buildings below the peak; after WWII these were abandoned and the access road has become a jungle trail.

The climb begins from an an Orang Asli (meaning “original” or “natural” people) village, after  Kuala Kubu Bharu, with the final few kilometres on a gravel road. We continue along the gravel road by foot after leaving the car in a small parking area along the Sungai Pertak river; it’s possible to continue a little further by car but the road gets rough. After about 500m the road stops at a suspension bridge, which we cross. It’s a popular picnic spot, although few people are here today. Just some rubbish that’s left behind, which is unfortunately a common sight on most hikes in Asia.

The walk continues on a well-graded dirt trail for a while, and after about 1km a second river is crossed, this time on a steel bridge that’s clearly seen better days.

A bit further on there’s a fork where we go right (the left-hand track leads to Medang Falls). There’s one more river crossing (the Sungai Pertak river) before the wide trail starts to narrow, and we start to climb more steeply. Trees roots often provide helpful foot or hand-holds. Eddie points out a bee’s nest, a long and almost translucent tube extending from a tree. (I always learn a lot about Malaysian fauna and flora from Eddie!)

The trail continues relentlessly upwards, and we stop for a break at a set of huge, overhanging boulders at around the 4.5km mark. They are enormous: photos just don’t capture their scale. We meet another hiker here, the only other person we see on the trail.And a dog that follows us all the way to the the top – and back down.

There’s another short (800m) section before we reach a clearing a little below the summit. This is the site of the abandoned station, with just the chimney remaining. There are a two deep wells hidden in the scrub; I’m not sure I would trust the water (as people throw litter into the wells), although one of them looked clear.

A final, steep climb of about 500m and the rocky summit is reached. The time up has been about 2.5 hours with a couple of breaks. The very top is reached by a set of ladders – there’s 360-degree views over the surrounding areas, including the Selangor Dam, KKB and the Titiwangsa mountain range in the distance. (Be careful of a wasps nest under one of the boulders, which from other reports has been there since at last 2012.)

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It’s just under two hours to get back down, with a refreshing swim in the Sungai Pertak river before the drive back into KL.  Thanks Eddie. I’m looking forward to my next hike!

Location Kuala Kubu Bharu, Selangor, Malaysia (90min drive from KL)
(Starting co-ordinates: 3.572510N, 101.738128E)
Distance 12km return, with total ascent of 800m
Grade Moderate (steep/slippery in sections)
Season/s All year, but best to avoid monsoon months (Nov-Feb)
Map N/A
GPS route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources Track notes – Yellow Tuk Tuk and Grace Abundant
map-bukitkutu
Click to enlarge. Refer to link in the table above for KML file

Mulu Caves and The Pinnacles

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

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

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

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

Lang Cave

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

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

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

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

Entrance to Green Cave (Mulu NP)

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

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

Green Cave (Mulu NP)

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

Deer Cave

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

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

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

Deer Cave (Mulu NP)

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

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

Deer Cave (Mulu NP)

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

Garden of Eden, Deer Cave (Mulu NP)

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

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

Face in the rock, Deer Cave (Mulu NP)

Bat Observatory

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

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

Bats streaming out of Deer Cave (Mulu NP)

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

Bats streaming out of Deer Cave (Mulu NP)

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

Clearwater Cave

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

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

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

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

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

King's Chamber, Wind Cave

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

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

Clearwater Cave

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

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

Clearwater Cave

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

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

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

Getting to Camp 5

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

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

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

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

Melinau River, beside Camp 5 (Mulu NP)

The Pinnacles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinnacles, Mulu NP

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

Pinnacles, Mulu NP

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

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

Back to Mulu

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

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

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

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

mulu--map-national-park-sarawak-big

Glow Worm Tunnel from Newnes

A long day-trip or overnight camping 2-3 hours out of Sydney, with the “star attraction” being an abandoned rail tunnel full of glow worms

Although it can be done as a long day-trip from Sydney, our visit to the Glow Worm Tunnel was part of an overnight camping trip, staying at the Newnes Campground by the Wolgan River.

The weather forecast was mixed, with the threat of rain as we left Sydney. Our first stop en-route to the campground was Hassans Wall Lookout, near Lithgow. The highest lookout in the Blue Mountains at approximately 1,100m above sea level and accessed by a well-maintained dirt road, it offers fantastic views over the western edge of the Blue Mountains and further onto Kanangra Walls to the south. The impending storm made the landscape and cliffs even more dramatic! Although the views weren’t as great.

About an hour later we arrived at the Newnes Campground, where there are rustic cabins available for rent, some paid sites and 80 free sites in the national park. Just before the camping ground we pass the historic Newnes Hotel, the last surviving building from the mining era. Its liquor licence having been revoked in the late 1980s, it now operates as a kiosk.

The old Newnes Hotel

A little further on and across the Wolgan River is the free National Parks camp site – it’s been described as accessible by 4WD only, but with the water level fairly low we had no problems crossing in our 2WD vehicle. It’s a great campground partly surrounded by sheer cliffs and can get very busy in peak times (long weekend or the January school holidays). On our February getaway weekend it was not too busy and we had a choice of camping spots, despite arriving fairly late in the day. (Despite being by the Wolgan River, no drinking water is available.)

So far, so good… until a torrential storm arrived and with our tents still to be set-up, we decided to beat a hasty retreat to a motel in Lithgow. Or something with a solid roof! Which would have been a good plan… until discovering one of our two vehicles wouldn’t start. It takes quite a long time for road assistance to reach Newnes… by the time the car was started (flat battery), the rain had stopped and the skies cleared! So, we unpack the tents (and marshmallows) and enjoy the clear, starry night by our small campfire.

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The next morning, after a slow start, we drive back down Wolgan Road about 6.5km to the start of the walking track to the Glow Worm Tunnel. This the long way to the tunnel, as we discover seeing the sign at the start of the track stating it’s 4.5km one-way. We debate whether to continue having three young kids with us: there is much shorter track from the other side of the tunnel – but it would be a long drive from where we are. (You can also walk all the way from Newnes along a track that follows the old railway formation, adding another 2.5km.)

We decide to give it a go, crossing the Wolgan River on a concrete ford (this initial section is accessed by private property owners) and heading up the dirt road towards the cliffs ahead of us.

The track climbs fairly steeply for the first kilometre, as we question the sanity of our decision…

Walking to the Glow Worm Tunnel

Eventually the track joins the old Newnes railway formation (also known as the Wolgan Valley Railway) which was opened in 1907 and ran 51km from the main Blue Mountains railway line to Newnes). It carried passengers as well as goods to and from the Newnes Kerosene Shale Works mine. Decommissioned and dismantled in 1940, there’s now little evidence of the old rail line remaining. From here the track is fairly level, with occasional views over the Wolgan Valley below.

Wolgan Valley

As we near the entrance to the tunnel, we pass by some sheer cliffs, which suggest some of the challenges that must have been overcome to build the railway.

A little further and the track goes from a fairly dry, eucalyptus landscape to a grotto bordered by hundreds of ferns. The creek was dammed here to provide water for the locomotives, and it’s one of the nicest sections of the water.

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At the other side of the grotto, after 4.5km of walking, is the entrance to the glow worm tunnel, a small hole in the 200m high cliffs that tower above us.

The Second Tunnel, 1320 ft in length, curves to the north-west, its centre thus becoming as dark as Egypt’s night, the only illumination being afforded by points of cold light given out by myriads of tiny glow-worms clinging to the wet and clammy surface of the rock walls. Emerging from the darkness of the tunnel the line passed beneath the shelter of a huge cave formed by an overhanging rock shelf, water dripping from above in all directions and ferns are massed in great clusters. [The Shale Railways of N.S.W., Eardley & Stephens, Australian Railway Historical Society.]

With head torches on, we enter the tunnel. The ground is wet and slippery with water flowing down the middle, but by walking on either side you can avoid getting wet feet! As the 400m tunnel curves round, it gets quickly dark… and thousands of glow worms can be seen lining the walls and floors of the tunnel. It’s a magical sight, not really done justice by photos.

Glow worms in the 400m long tunnel

(The glow worms, or larvae of insects belonging to the Order Diptera, emit a blue glow or bioluminescence from a reaction between body products and oxygen in the enlarged tips of the insect’s four excretory tubes.)

Having walked to the far end of the tunnel, now we just need to walk the 4.5km back to the car… (It is also possible to continue through the tunnel and along the Pagoda Track and Old Coach Road to make this a circular walk.)

Luke not too excited about the 4.5km return walk

Location Access from the bottom (long walk) – as described above
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). Google Maps reference.Access from the top (short walk)
Leave the Bells Line of Road at Clarence (Zig Zag Railway), and follow the gravel road through Newnes State Forest for 34kms. The Glow Worm Tunnel parking area is located 3km past the junction of the Glow Worm Tunnel Road and the Old Coach Road. 
Distance 9km return as walked (3km return from the other side of tunnel)
Grade Moderate.
Season/s All year round
Maps 89314S Ben Bullen (walk is well sign-posted)
Resources Detailed information about Newnes
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 (I used an exposure of 30sec / F4 at ISO1250 to capture the glow worms)
Map-Newnes-Bottom
Map showing route to Glow Worm Tunnel via southern approach. Source: “Information about Newnes