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

ssMap-KilliecrankieCircuit

Castle Rock (Flinders Island)

A short, but surprisingly varied, coastal walk to a massive boulder on the eastern coast of Flinders Island.

As one of the three Tas Parks “60 Great Short Walks” in Tasmania on Flinders Island, I expected this to be a scenic track. And it didn’t disappoint!

I was dropped off at the start of the walk near Allports Beach, which is easy to find; the rest of the family is meeting me at the other end. The track starts a little inland with small orange markers pointing the way to the coast, which is quickly reached.

After about half a kilometre the first “beach”, consisting of many small boulders, is traversed: one of the attractions of the island is the variety of landscapes found along the coast, from soft (“normal”) sand to ground quartz and miniature boulders.

The track then diverts inland along a wide 4WD track for a few hundred metres, before a set of wooden steps that leads down to Old Jetty Beach Beach (also, incorrectly, called Emita Beach).

It’s an easy stroll along the beach, then up and over the headland at the end.

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After the headland (and a small, rocky bay) is Emita Beach, another secluded and desolate beach. At high tide or stormy weather this section could get a bit tricky, but with calm seas and a fairly low tide I can easily skirt around some of the granite slabs and rocks that jut into the beach.

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Looking back, I can still see my starting point in the distance, a few beaches away. I’ve covered about 2km, with another 2km to go.

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There’s a great view from this half-way headland: a typical Flinders Island outlook of sea, sand and some dramatic, weathered sandstone formations.

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There’s now another landscape change, with the track leaving the coast and winding through coastal grassland. Looking inland to the east, there’s many kilometres of native grasses and farming land, with Mulligans Hill Conservation area in the far distance.

There’s three final, adjoining beaches before Castle Rock, which is now visible in the distance. These beaches don’t seem to have a name, but are referred to as FI79, FI80 and FI81. Very imaginative. Behind the three beaches are two kilometres of  dunes which are up to 38m in elevation.

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Finally, I reach Castle Rock, an imposing, monolithic boulder on the end of the headland.

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From here, you can return to the start the same way. Or, just beyond the rock if you continue along the beach you can join a 4WD track that takes you around to the end of the next beach (Marshall Beach). This is accessible by a 2WD road, and there’s a sall car parking area.

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Location Start at Allports Beach (17km north of Whitemark). Can be done with a car shuffle (there’s a 2WD track that takes you to within 300m of Castle Rock) or return the same way.
Distance 4km one-way.
Grade Easy. <50m total ascent
Season/s All year round. Easier at low tide / outgoing tide.
Map TasMap Flinders 1:100K. Track is well sign-posted
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Walks of Flinders Island” book by Ken Martin (p.77). Available in Whitemark or via Amazon
Tas Parks “60 Great Short Walks

 

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Map of Allports Beach to Castle Rock on Flinders Island

The Spit to Manly (Sydney)

A popular coastal walk in northern Sydney, from The Spit in Mosman to Manly, through pockets of rainforest and past secluded bays and beaches

The Spit to Manly walk is arguably Sydney’s most popular walk… a Google search yields 415,000 results for the term “Spit to Manly walk”, so if you’re seeking solitude – try a different walk! It’s popular for a reason: the well-marked track closely follows the coast through a variety of flora, from coastal heath to rainforest, passing many bays and beaches, and offering spectacular harbour views along the way.

The walk can be started at either end, and is most commonly walked in one direction, starting from The Spit. If using public transport (or if you can be dropped off the Spit), from Manly there are frequent ferries to the CBD.

After walking over The Spit bridge (one of Sydney’s worst traffic snarls), which crosses Middle Harbour, the track closely follows the water through Ellery’s Punt Reserve. This was the site of a punt across Middle Harbour until 1939 for foot, horse, tram and vehicular traffic. A bridge across the harbour was completed in 1924, and the current Spit bridge constructed in 1958 – it’s one of the only lift bridges still operational on a major arterial road (it opens to allow taller boats into Middle Harbour).

Soon after this open parkland, enters sub-tropical rainforest as it goes around Fishers Bay and past a small creek, with a section of wooden boardwalk.

Another 500m or so and the landscape changes again, and we pass the very wide Sandy Bay, enjoying a touch of suburbia and expensive real estate before we enter Clontarf Reserve.

The walk follows the coastline very closely, and we walk along a thin strip of sand between the sea and houses along Clontarf Beach. It feels like the beach has shrunk since doing this walk many years ago (probably my imagination, or it was low tide on my last visit). Although, studies (including the University of NSW’s Water  Research Laboratory) have shown that Clontarf Reserve is one of the highest-risk areas in Sydney from global warming-induced sea rises or severe storms.

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At the end of Clontarf Beach there’s a very short climb up into the Duke of Edinburgh reserve, a surprisingly dense patch of bush with views over Middle Harbour. At the far end of the reserve is Castle Rock beach, named after a distinctive rock (which can’t be seen from the track).

Next up as we continue along the track – we’ve now covered about 3.5km – is my favourite section. Entering Sydney National Park, you wouldn’t realise you’re in the middle of a major city (well, if you ignore the houses on the other side of the harbour) as the track passes under sandstone overhangs and through coastal heath.

There’s not a lot of fauna to be seen – thousands of people walking, jogging and running along the track is a bit of deterrent to any self-respecting native animal – so it’s a little surprising to encounter a few brazen water dragons. The Eastern Water Dragon below was definitely not going to move from its prime position above the harbour!

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There’s a short (500m) detour not long after entering the national park to Grotto Point Lighthouse, an active beacon referred to as the ‘Disney Castle’. It was designed by architect Maurice Festu, built in 1910 and first lit on 1 September 1911, and is one of four lighthouses in this style. From here you can see The Heads and out to the Tasman Sea beyond. (The track is a bit muddy and rougher than the rest of the Spit to Manly walk.)

Returning back to the main track after my little diversion, there’s another brief stop to look at Aboriginal engravings, located only a few metres off the main track. Apparently they include images of boomerangs, fish and a giant wallaby, and there’s interpretative signage. I was in a bit of a rush to catch-up with the rest of the group after my solo lighthouse detour, so I just saw a fish. Compared to other engraving sites, it’s remarkably distinct and looks just like a fish!

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Next stop, after the track (mostly on raised boardwalk) leaves the coast and goes a little inland, is the Crater Cove Lookout. This offers the best views of the whole walk across the harbour and out to The Heads. Manly, our destination, is now visible in the distance (there’s still another 4km or so to go). Almost directly below the lookout above the sheer cliffs of Dobroyd Point is a “ghost village“: seven huts, constructed from iron and wood between 1923 and 1963, that were abandoned in 1984 after their last occupants were forced out. Repaired and maintained by the National Park and Wildlife Service (which doesn’t promote their presence), they can be accessed via a steep, unmarked track.

The path veers inland again, heading down from the Crater Cove Lookout through low casuarina trees to Dobroyd Head (there’s a lookout here, but the view are not as good as those from the previous vantage point) and then onto Reef Beach. Once a depression-era camping ground and later proclaimed a nude beach by Neville Wran in the 1970s (revoked in 1993 due to public pressure) it’s fairly quiet and secluded, with scenic views of the Harbour and Manly Cove.

The track follows the coast fairly closely again from here, emerging from greenery of Sydney National Park at Forty Baskets Beach. The origins of the name is believed to based on a catch of 40 baskets of fish sent to a contingent of NSW detained at the North Head Quarantine Station after returning from Sudan in 1885. There’s a netted swimming enclosure and it’s a pretty popular spot.

The track now re-joins “civilisation”, following the coastline all the way around North Harbour through Wellings Reserve and North Harbour Reserve. There are views over the harbour and it’s easy walking, but it’s the least nice part of the walk (there’s also a short section of road where the houses go right down to the high-tide mark). On the opposite side of North Harbour and nearing our destination is Fairlight Beach, also a nice (and popular) spot directly opposite The Heads.

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We’re almost at the end… with water on one side and blocks of units on the other, the path (also known as the Fairlight Walk) follows the meandering coastline. We go past one last secluded beach (Delwood Beach) and Kay-Ye-My Point (named after the Aboriginal Kayimai clan living in Manly)…

…and after about 10km (or 11km including the Grotto Point side trip) we reach Manly, along with about 50,000 other people enjoying the warm autumn weather. It’s easy forgot that about an hour ago we were surrounded by bush!

The last attraction of the walk (other than a well-earned ice cream) is the iconic ferry back to Circular Quay (there’s also the slightly less iconic and slightly less crowded “fast ferry”).

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Location Start/finish at The Spit (accessible by bus or water taxi, and parking available) or Manly Beach (bus, ferry).
Distance 10km one-way
Grade Easy. 350m total ascent.
Season/s All year round. Generally busy on weekends.
Map None required as very well signposted and marked.
Download official Manly Scenic Walkway map (3MB)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources Sydney Coast Walk website
Wildwalks has detailed track notes
Notes
  • Plenty of parking available near The Spit – but it’s not cheap!
  • Food/coffee at The Spit, Clotarf Beach (kiosk) and of course Manly
  • No dogs/pets allowed
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Map of Spit to Manly walk. Source: Manly Scenic Walkway brochure. See link above to download.

Freycinet Peninsula

A rewarding hike that combines picturesque bays, turquoise water and majestic views of the Tasmanian coast.

The Freycinet Peninsula Circuit has been on my “to do” list for a long time. It was originally intended as a long one-day hike, but with my 8-year son (Luke) showing increasing enthusiasm for hiking and camping it became a 2-night/3-day adventure. It’s been many years since I’ve walked with a 20kg pack and the first time Luke’s been on an overnight walk. So this could be a great experience… or the chance to see how effective my emergency beacon is!

We arrive in Launceston the evening before our walk and stay with a Taswegian friend overnight, so we can make a relatively early start the following day for the 2.5-hour drive to Coles Bay. There’s time for an egg and bacon roll before we hit the track – the last palatable food for the next 48 hours.

Day 1

At 11am we’re on the track from Wineglass Bay car park to Hazzards Beach. It’s a slow start, with a friendly wallaby posing for photos at the trackhead. Despite signs saying “don’t feed the wildlife”, this wallaby was very tame and was obviously used to receiving food from tourists. At least it had been fed fruit, and not bread which is bad for them. I was happy it was a friendly one; the signs along the road to Freycinet were rather ominous and warned of kangaroos that would flip your vehicle with a single paw. It’s not surprising that international visitors are scared of our wildlife!

The first 5km is relatively flat, following the coast from the car park to Hazards Beach (said to be named after local whaler, African-American Captain Richard Hazard). It’s pleasant walking, despite being a warm day and carrying having a heavy pack, which I’m not used to. There are views out to the west over Promise Bay towards Swansea and the Eastern Tiers.

After about 1.5 hours we’ve almost reached Hazards Beach; just before we get there we spot an idyllic bay. Across the (almost warm) turquoise water is Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham, which we climb tomorrow. Unlike the exposed beach, it has plenty of shade. And another friendly wallaby. We stop here for lunch and a swim.

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Reluctantly, we leave the bay around 2:30pm, continuing our walk along Hazards Beach. This doesn’t disappoint either, and we could easily spend a few hours lingering here. Except that we have a campsite to get to.

There’s a campsite at the end of the beach, which is shaded and fairly empty. From here the track follows the coast through low scrub and casuarina trees, but while there is some shade this section of track feels much longer than the 4km that it is. We’re glad to reach Cooks Beach.

A short walk along Cooks Beach brings us to our camp site, and the end of Day 1. We’ve covered about 17km, but it’s been easy walking. We set up camp a stone’s throw from the ocean, on a small hill just before the entrance to the official campground. There’s water here from a tank at Cooks Hut a stroll away, where we chat to the friendly Park volunteers before enjoying a hot chocolate and tea as the sun sets. Apart from my lamentable attempt at cooking sausages on my camp stove, it’s been a fantastic day.

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Day 2

We awaken early the next day. To be specific, Luke wakes up early and tells me I need to get up. I’d be happy to snooze another couple of hours. We’re underway around 7am, heading back along Cooks Beach to the turn-off up to Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham. Today will be a big day.

From the northern end of Cooks beach, the track ascends steadily up to and then along the East Freycinet saddle, gaining about 375m over 5km. It’s tough going after a very “flat” first day and carrying a heavy pack, but we’re walking through dry sclerophyll forest and in shade. It takes us just over two hours to reach the side-track to Mt Freycinet. I feel slightly bad telling Luke that climbing the highest peak in Freycinet is not optional, and we leave our packs at the bottom.

The climb is steep: only 750m in distance, but climbing from 375m up to the top at 620m. There are cairns and orange markers designating the rough track that goes directly up the side of the mountain, with some boulder-scrambling at the top. The views towards Wineglass Bay as  you reach the summit suggest it’s worth the effort. Luke doesn’t share my opinion. I am currently the Worst Dad in the World.

The view from the top is incredible (although I am not yet forgiven). You can see the main track continuing up over Mt Graham to the north-east. Directly north is a magnificent vista that takes in Hazards Beach and Wineglass Bay, with Hazards Lagoon in the middle and “The Hazards” in the background. If you’re doing the Freycinet Peninsula circuit, it’s worth making the effort.

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The view north over Hazards Beach and Wineglass Bay

The descent is much quicker. We re-shoulder our packs at the bottom, and start our second ascent up Mt Graham (579m). The track is now in full sun as it climbs steadily up through low heath to our second summit of the day.

Mt Graham is not really a peak – there’s a 100m pad up to the “summit” from the main track, with views of Mt Freycinet to the south and Wineglass Bay to the north. The views are not as dramatic as Mt Freycinet, but being a “flat” peak (Mt Freycinet is more a collection of large boulders) you get uninterrupted 360-degree views. Strong winds and some cool mist suggests how quickly the Tasmanian weather can change.

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From here the track descends to Wineglass Bay, but remains exposed and it’s another section that feels much longer than it it really is. Wineglass Bay still looks far away…

I’m unsure whether there is water at Wineglass Bay, so I’m hoping that we can replenish our water supplies on the way down. We find a few unappealing, brackish streams before eventually striking a clear stream that crosses the track (Graham Creek) and we refill our three 1.5L water bottles. I explained to Luke that, worst case, we could suck the nectar out of banksia flowers (although most were pretty dry).

Finally, we reach our camp for the second night, after 16km and over 1000m of climbing. Wineglass Bay is rated one of the best beaches in the world (by Traveller.com, UK Telegraph and Lonely Planet to mention just a few publications) and it is just spectacular. Clear, blue water and white sand with the peaks of The Hazards forming the background.

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The only downside is the number of mosquitoes. The large campground, which is right on the water, is not full despite it being a summer weekend. But as all the premium water-front plots are taken, we find a nice secluded camp site toward the back of the campground. Big mistake. I feel as we are the guests of honour at the Tasmanian National Mosquito Conference. I’ve never seen so many mozzies. We quickly cook our dinner (another culinary miss, with Luke declaring my expensive Back Country Honey Soy Chicken packet a bunch of inedible vegetables), watch the sun set and climb into our tents. Despite this, we sleep well and are ready for the final hike out the next morning.

Day 3

Another early-ish (7:30am) start – we are both ready for an egg and bacon roll and a cold drink at Coles Bay, after our last few meals… It should be pretty easy as as we’re walking around Wineglass Bay along the beach, although the sand is soft and we can feel our muscles! Wineglass Bay looks pretty impressive from this angle too, this time with Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham in the background.

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The track ascends from the the north end of Wineglass Bay. Being a popular day-walk, the track is now of a considerably higher standard, but we’ve got a 200m climb up to the Wineglass Bay lookout. We start seeing a lot more people, for the first time in three days.

It’s not a bad view over Wineglass Bay… but we’ve been spoilt by the last two days and the weather is a bit overcast for the first time (although it soon clears). There’s many people here, with the lookout rated as one of the “most photogenic destinations” in the world, according to Traveller.

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It’s now all down-hill for the last two or so kilometres, on a well-graded track that feels more like a highway than a trail after the rest of our hike. We’re welcomed by another friendly wallaby, as we make our way back to the car-park (and our well-earned egg and bacon roll). It’s been exactly 40km in 48 hours. We’ve both had a great time on our first overnight hike, and thinking about where we might go next…

Lessons and Suggestions

It’s been many years since I’ve done an overnight walk… and we’ve done pretty well with our preparation and gear. Next time, I’ll definitely be packing insect repellent. Some light-weight thongs or “slippers” would have been helpful around camp. And you can never bring too much wine…

If you’re not up for overnight-camping, there are are a few companies that offer Freycinet trips, often using boats to avoid sections of hiking and including accommodation in a lodge near Coles Bay:

Hike details and map

Location Starts at the Wineglass Bay carpark, near Coles Bay. About 2.5-hours from Hobart or Launceston airports.
Distance 40km circuit. 1180m total ascent. 1-3 days.
Grade Moderate
Season/s All year round
Map TasMap Frecyinet National Park 1:50,000
GPS route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources  Parks and Wildlife “Freycinet Peninsula Circuit” overview
Photos Google photos albums – Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3
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Map showing Freycinet Peninsula Circuit route and elevation gain.

Wollangambe Canyon

An easy canyon in the Blue Mountains, requiring no abseils and basic navigation skills.

Leaving Sydney around 8:30am, we were parked at the Mt Wilson fire station and on the track down to the Wollangambe River by 10am. The plan was to hike/wade/swim “Wollangambe One” (also known as the Upper Tourist Section), and possibly continue on and complete Wollangambe Two (Lower Tourist Section).

It’s about a 45min walk down (3km) on a narrow but well-defined track; the track forks a few times and we took the left fork each time so we entered the river at the uppermost point that can be access from Mt Wilson (via an established trail!).

The first kilometre or so is easy going, with water depth no more than about a metre. Pleasant wading on a warm summer day! A beautiful tiger snake led the way for a short while and crayfish were frequently spotted, before we reached the “normal” entry point for this section of the canyon (Wollangambe MGA546914).

From here, it got very slow. And very wet. Having ignored the recommendation to wear a wetsuit and bring a lilo, it was very slow and tiring with long swimming sections. About 80% of this section of the canyon is “swimming depth”, with a few rock scrambles and a bit of wading. We reached the end of Section 1 (at MGA560916) around 4pm, exhausted and very cold – the exit here is well marked, with a large arrow marked on the cliff behind a small beach.

In hindsight, a wetsuit was not required (being a fairly warm day – although of course the water was pretty cold) – but a lilo would have made it a much more enjoyable excursion! While we only saw two groups along the way, at the exit point there were about 20-25 people, including a number of families and children. All of whom were clearly more sensible than us and had wetsuits, lilos – and waterproof bags that actually kept their possessions dry!

About an hour or do later and we were back at the car; the track up is well marked with one short-but-steep section that requires some care.

Location Starts at Mt Wilson fire station (off Bells Line of Road, Blue Mts)
Distance Around 9km. Allow up to six hours.
Grade Easy-moderate (with a lilo!). Easy navigation.
Season/s Ideal in summer on a warm day. Avoid before heavy rain or storms.
Map Wollangambe 1:25,000
Resources OzUltimate.com has helpful track notes

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West Head walks

A multitude of short walks 90min north of Sydney, from secluded beaches to rocky outcrops with views over Pittwater.

West Head, part of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, is one of my favourite destinations for short hikes – or to find a beach that won’t be crowded even on a summer weekend. There are about 20 trails, almost all of them starting on West Head Road and well sign-posted.

Even if you’re not a hiker, the drive to the lookout at the end of West Head Road offers spectacular views over Broken Bay and towards Palm Beach. (Note: there is a gate that is locked at night – from 8:30pm to 6am during daylight savings periods and 6pm to 6am at other times of the year. In times of extreme fire danger, the walking trails may be closed. Park entry fees apply, from $12 per vehicle.)

Walks include:

Waratah Trail (Aug 2016)

A long fire trail along the ridge, culminating in views over Cowan and Coal and Candle Creeks.

The sandy fire trail descends gradually down the ridge from West Head Road, through low heath. It’s nicer in spring when the wildflowers are out and can get hot in summer as there’s not much tree cover. Although it’s not the most exciting walk at any time of the year!

(After about 3.5km there’s a faint trail off to the right (north) that’s marked on some maps – this doesn’t go very far before disappearing.)

At the end of the Waratah Track there’s a large rock platform; in the distance you can see Yeomens Bay (a tributary of Cowan Creek) in the distance.

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Location First trail on the left, at start of West Head Road
Distance 9.5km return (2-3hrs)
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 135m.
Resources National Parks web site. Google Street View Trekker

Bairne Trail (June 2016)

A longer (but easy) track along the ridge line, that leads to great views over Pittwater.

Bairne Trail should really be Bairne Trails, as there are a few different options you can take. All of them start from the main track off West Head Road. The fire trail follows the ridge, and is fairly flat. It’s not the most exciting of walks. After 2.4km there’s a small cairn on the left-hand side and what seems to be a faint trail leading down-hill. Ignore this, as it soon peters out. A little further, about 2.6km from the start, there is a major fork and decision to be made…

Take the the right fork and the trail continues for another 900m, descending a little until it reaches a lookout above the cliff-line. There’s views across Pittwater to Scotland Island and beyond, and to the right (south-west) is Towlers Bay, accessible by boat or via another walking trail from West Head.

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Or, take the left fork which becomes the Soldiers Point Track (there’s an unmarked track off to the right after 100m). I haven’t taken this trail yet – and reports suggest the last section is a little overgrown – which leads to another lookout over Pittwater, and then down to Coasters Retreat, a small bush community of 50 houses beside the beach. The town is serviced by the Palm Beach Ferry Service (Bonnie Doon Wharf), providing another means of access. Or you could link up with the Basin Trail, to form a circular walk (returning to the start of the Bairne Track along West Head Road).

Finally, you can take the left fork and turn right after 100m down a narrow, unmarked track – this is the now-defunct Portuguese Track. It continues for about 500m, descending down a spur, before it stops. There’s a sign saying “track closed” and the trail is completely overgrown after the first few metres. It looks like it may still be possible to “bush bash” down to Portuguese Bay and Beach, but it would be hard work.

Location Right-hand (east) side of West Head Road, about half-way
Distance 9.6km return (taking in both look-outs)
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 150m
Resources National Parks web site. Google Street View Trekker

Willunga Trail (June 2016)

A very short track to a trig point, which is the highest lookout in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park (albeit, only about 240m above sea level).

The track goes from dry heathland to woodland, with scribbly gums and red bloodwoods. From the top, there are 360-degree views across the national park, toward Pittwater and as far as the city of Sydney to the south.

Location Left-hand (west) side of West Head Road
Distance 1.5km return (30min)
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 60m
Resources National Parks web site. Google Street View Trekker

America Bay Track (June 2016)

One of the few West Head tracks that offers Aboriginal engravings, a waterfall, views (over Cowan Water) as well as descending down to the water.

Near the start of the walk, a short detour leads to rock engravings on a sandstone shelf.

The trail descends gradually for about a kilometre, crossing a creek which is then followed down to a waterfall and rock platform. From here there are views over America Bay and out to Cowan Water, with the creek dropping off the sheer cliff.

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If you continue about 100m along the track past the platform, there is a rough track that leads down a through a gap in the cliff. It’s only about 150m but very steep, meeting the creek just before finishing at America Bay.

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Location About half-way down West Head Road on the left
Distance 2.6km return (including down to bay). 1hr
Grade Easy to lookout. Moderate to bay. Total ascent of 125m
Resources Wildwalks track notes. National Parks web site.
Google Street View Trekker

West Head Beach (May 2016)

A very short walk to a secluded beach – you can also extend this walk into the 4.3km Resolute Loop Trail.

Starting at the West Head lookout (very end of West Head Road), a well-marked track heads directly down to West Head Beach (it will be sign-posted as “Resolute Beach”). Follow this sandy track for about 400m, initially going down some rock steps and later a section of timber stairs. Just after you cross a small creek, a side-track leads down to West Head Beach.

Directly opposite Barrenjoey Peninsula, which you can see across Pittwater, it’s a sheltered, picturesque beach. It’s rarely busy and there’s lot of shaded spots. The beach is a bit rocky and best at high tide; you can go back up the hill and follow the track a bit further to Resolute Beach (another 600m).

From West Head Beach, return to the car the same way. Or you can do a loop and return via Resolute Beach and the Resolute Loop Trail.

Location Park at the end of West Head Road
Distance 800m return (20min).
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 100m
Resources Weekend Notes

Towlers Bay (Mar 2016)

An easy walk on a 4WD / management road, that leads down from West Head Road to Towlers Bay (where there are are a few houses that are accessed via water only). There’s also a YHA youth hostel at Towlers Bay, accessed via this track or by ferry/water taxi.

The tracks starts with a very gradual descent, becoming steeper after about 2km as it heads towards Morning Bay, when views of Pittwater below start to emerge.

At around the 3km mark, the track starts to follow the coast (still 50-60m above sea level), with side-tracks down to Lovetts Bay and houses, and after another kilometre Woody Point is reached. There’s a sign to the ferry wharf, and another to the youth hostel. Continue along the coast to Towlers Bay, which is reached after about 4.5km.

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At Towlers Bay, there’s a dilapidated house (with an empty swimming pool) close to the shore. From the scarce information I’ve been able to find, it was built around 1963-64 on private land and was named “Cove Lee”, having  landscaped gardens and manicured lawns. The property was compulsorily acquired not long after being constructed; there was an intent to acquire all private holdings in the area, but this was too costly. There’s also some references to this having been used as a safe-house for Petrov when he defected, which I can’t verify (and the dates don’t correspond).

It’s a fine setting for a house and a shame it’s been left to decay. There’s an old jetty that stretches out into the bay, and views across Pittwater to Bigola and Avalon on the other side of the water. There’s also crabs. Swarms (or schools, to be precise) of light-blue soldier crabs that are scurrying across the exposed mangrove flats. It’s quite a sight, which I’ve never seen before.

Location Near the start of West Head Road; right-hand (east) side
Distance 9.4km return (2-3 hours)
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 184m climb.
Resources Wildwalks track notes

Flint and Steel Beach & Bay (March 2016)

This is my second-favourite walk (after the Resolute Loop Trail), with the option of going to either the beach (the more popular walk, and a good swimming and fishing spot) or the bay (where you’re unlikely to see anyone else). You can also connect the two, and walk around from the beach to the bay (or vice versa) – this is a harder walk, that’s covered by the Wildwalks web site (see info box below).

The track starts near the end of West Head Road, descending steadily on a good track through light forest. After about 300m, the track splits and there’s a sign-post.

Head left for Flint and Steel Bay; the track continues to descend for another 500m before reaching the water. You can see the ruins of McGaw House here, although not much remains except some well-built sandstone foundations. The history is fascinating and documented by an archaeological student in a detailed report: the house was built by E.R. McGraw from 1920-65, and while the land was resumed as part of Ku-ring-gai National Park in 1939, the McGaws were permitted to stay. It wasn’t until 1968 that the NPWS requested that all structures be removed. There was an application to include the house in the Register of Historic Buildings, which the NPWS reluctantly agreed to – but in 1971 the house was destroyed by a fire. According to the report, there is a spring behind the house with fresh water.

The track continues along the shoreline of Flint and Steel Bay, with views across Pittwater.

A few hundred metres further along the track (which is now more of a pad) is White Horse Beach, which is where the track ends. It’s a nice spot for a swim or picnic.

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For Flint and Steel Beach (which is where I often go for a swim with the kids), turn right after 300m (it’s sign-posted) and follow the track down another 700m to the beach.

After about 500m you can see the end of the beach below, with Lion Island Nature Reserve in the background.

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It’s a great spot, with many shaded areas to sit, rock pools at the western end and I’ve often seen wallabies grazing just behind the beach. It’s a popular fishing spot, but there’s rarely more than a handful of people around (although it’s getting more popular).

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Location Left-hand (west) side of West Head Road, just before end of road
Distance 3.4km loop (1:30hr). Approx 2km return to either the bay or the beach
Grade Easy/Moderate. Total ascent of 130m
Resources Wildwalks track notes for loop walk

Maps

For all these walks, the free map at the West Head entry station is sufficient; for a more detailed topographical map there’s the “Ku-ring-gai & Berowra Valley” visitor guide, which you can purchase from the Information Centre at Bobbin Head. You won’t need a 1:25,000 topographical map; Broken Bay (9130-1N), Mona Vale (9130-1S) and Hornsby (9130-4S) would be needed to cover all the walks.

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Havasu Falls

A hidden gem: a two-day walk through a dramatic landscape red canyons and turquoise waterfalls.

I stumbled across this hike somewhere in the depths of the Web… it looked amazing, and yet I hadn’t seen it in any of my US hiking  books. After a bit more research, it was added to my mental “wish list” of hikes! “The Havasupai Waterfalls are the most dramatic waterfalls in the Grand Canyon and possibly even the entire Southwestern United States” and “Havasupai (Havasu Falls) might just be one the the most beautiful places on Earth” are a few of the descriptions of this hike.

Getting there was the first challenge. I needed to be in San Diego on Monday for a conference, so the best approach was to fly to Las Vegas from LAX and pick up a car, overnight in Peach Springs and drive the last 100km to the start of the hike at Hualapai Hilltop early the following morning. Getting there at sunrise, the hike started with impressive views down the Hualapai Canyon, a side canyon of the Grand Canyon. A few mules are tethered near the start of the trail – this is the only place in the US where mail is delivered by mule (UK Daily Mail).

The trail drops quickly  from 1575m down into the canyon via a series of switchbacks and follows the dry floor canyon. After about 10km the Havasu Canyon is reached, and some trees and greenery start to appear… another 2km and I reach the village of Supai at 975m).

Supai is an interesting place. Home to the Havasupai Tribe, which has a population of about 600 people, it’s the smallest Indian nation in America. Reached by foot, mule and helicopter, Havasupai tribe has been living in the area for centuries. The land on which the Supai village is now situated was claimed from the National Park in 1975, after many court battles, granting the tribe a trust title to approximately 185,000 acres (source: Wikipedia). The village now has a shop, cafe, church, post office, health clinic and a lodge, which is where I stayed overnight (day-hikes are not permitted, and it would be a very long day hiking back up to the top of the canyon). The village looks pretty run-down and while many locals are reliant on tourism, no-one appears particularly friendly…

I check-in to Supai Lodge around midday and continue hiking down Havasu Canyon. The best is yet to come: Havasupai is roughly translated as “the people of the blue-green waters”, in reference to the amazing turquoise colour of Havasu Creek, formed by leaching from minerals. Navajo Falls is reached first, a short detour off the main track about 3km beyond the village. It is spectacular. One of those spots where I know the photos won’t do justice to what I am seeing.

I take many photos, and continue… Another 3km and I reach (arguably) the star attraction: Havasu Falls. Being outside peak season there are a few other people on the track and swimming, but there is also a sense of isolation and serenity. It’s somewhere I could happily camp and stay for a few days.

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A little further again (another 2km) after walking through the fairly-empty Havasu camping ground, and I reach the 70m-high Mooney Falls (these are the highest). The base of the falls is accessed through a rough track carved through the cliff and then down some less than confidence-inspiring wooden ladders. But worth the effort. Each waterfall seems to outdo the last in beauty and amazing-ness!

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I climb back up the narrow trail to the top, with one last waterfall to reach. There’s now a 4km stretch to Beaver Falls. The track is well-defined it gets rough in sections, with a number of ladders and steep sections to scramble down as it alternates between the two banks of Havasu Creek.

At last, Beaver Falls. I’ve walked 24km from the start of the hike at the top of the canyon many hours ago. I still have another 11km back up to the lodge at Supai where I’ll sleep tonight. It’s another 7km further before  Havasu Creek meets the Colorado River, and I fear that I won’t be back at Supai village in time to get some dinner.

I take a few (more) photos, and reluctantly head back up the trail. I’ve got enough time for a swim at Havasu Falls – the water is warm and relaxing – and make it back to the Sinyella cafe in Supai on the far side of the village about half an hour before it closes. A cold drink and fry-bread never tasted so good!

Supai Lodge is fairly basic, but I sleep very soundly (after a mix-up with rooms is eventually solved, and I am allocated a room that doesn’t already have an occupant)!

It’s an early start again the next day. Back through the village, up Havasu Canyon and then the final ascent up Hualapai Canyon to the car.

I get back mid-morning. It’s been a spectacular day and and half. I wish I could stay longer and I will be back one day. But today, I have a conference to get to.

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Location From Highway 66 near Peach Springs, turn onto Indian Route 18 and follow this for 100km to Hualapai Hilltop
Distance 47km (35km Day 1 to Beaver Falls; 12km Day 2).
Grade Moderate.
Season/s March through June considered the best time. Avoid monsoon season (mid-July to August) where flash flooding can occur
Map Havasu Falls, AZ  36112C6
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources Permit required: refer NPS web site
Good track notes on BigBoyTravel web site
Photos Google Photos gallery

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Mumbulla Falls

Short walk to a beautiful gorge and waterhole on the south coast, with Aboriginal significance.

Mumbulla Falls (or Mumbulla Creek Falls) is located in the Biamanga Cultural area (which is part of the Biamanga National Park on the NSW south coast). A very short paved track and boardwalk leads to a look-out with great views over the falls and gorge, and there’s a number of interpretive signs about the local Aboriginal heritage along the track.

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The Aboriginal custodians request that visitors don’t swim in the Mumbulla Falls area, as the site is sacred to the Yuin People; when we visited there were many people in the water and jumping off the falls.

At the start of the trail, there’s a picnic area and BBQs by the Mumbulla River.

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Location From Bega, take Tarraganda Lane which becomes George Mountain Drive (11km) and then turn onto Mumbulla Creek Road (13km). Access via Glen Oakes Road on the Princes Hwy at Brogo is now closed!
Distance 500m return
Grade Super Easy
Season/s All year round. May occasionally be closed due to floods
Map Brogo (NSW 8824-1n). Not required.
Resources NPWS Biamanga National Park web site