Passage Peak and Escape Beach, Hamilton Island

A combination of trails on Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays that combines sunrise from Passage Peak, a stop at the remote Escape Beach and views from the Resort Lookout.

It’s an early morning start to catch the sunrise from Passage Peak. I set off from the Hamilton Island Resort Lookout Trail entrance, torch in hand, at 6am. The narrow but well-constructed trail ascends steadily from the resort towards Saddle Junction. There are views from the track toward Whitsunday Island and Whitsunday Peak to the east.

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After a kilometre the walking trail meets a maintenance / 4WD road that follows the ridge, and shortly afterwards there’s a small detour along the road to the Flat Top Hill Lookout. Although it’s still a bit dark, there are views over Hamilton Island resort and Catseye Bay.

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With the sky starting to lighten I fear I’ve started the walk a bit late (shouldn’t have hit the snooze button three times on my ‘phone before finally getting out of bed!). I push on towards Saddle Junction: from here there’s just under a kilometre to go, but it’s the steepest part of the walk. I can see my destination ahead – what looks like a small hill in the distance.

There’s more views from the trail to the north-west as it climbs up towards Passage Peak.

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The last 200m is quite steep, but I make it just in time to see the sun rising above the ocean, behind Haslewood Island.

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There’s 360-degree views from the top of Passage Peak – the highest point on Hamilton (although it’s only 234m above sea level).

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To the south-east is Perseverance Island, the closest one to Hamilton Island, and in the distance Pentecost Island and Lindeman Island.

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To the west is Catseye Bay and Hamilton Island Resort, and just behind the resort is Dent Island (home of the Hamilton Island Golf Club), with Long Island and the mainland in the distance. You can also see the maintenance road that goes along the ridge to the end of Hamilton Island.

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I spend ten minutes or so on at the lookout, before heading back – it’s much quicker going down 🙂

I’m only re-tracing my steps for 200m, back to South East Head Junction. From here I’m taking the long way back, via South East Head and Escape Beach. The first few hundred metres is a wide maintenance track, and then I turn onto a narrow walking trail that roughly follows the coast south.

Halfway along the trail, there’s an abrupt change from light forest to a sea of grass trees (these are quite common on the sandy and infertile soil of ridges on Whitsunday islands).

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A sulphur-crested cockatoo is enjoying the large flowering spike of the grass trees.

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The trail is getting closer to the coast as it nears South East head, with Perseverance Island just across the narrow channel.

The trail rounds the headland, with South East Head jutting out into the ocean. The track is still fairly exposed here, although it’s only 7:30am so it’s pleasant walking even without shade.

The track drops into a small valley, crossing a small stream before ascending very gradually through a section of forest. Soon Escape Beach is visible below the trail.

There’s a very obvious (but not sign-posted) track down to the secluded Escape Beach. At this time of the day there’s no-one here – and I suggest there’s a good chance of having the beach to yourself for most of the day. It’s not particularly picturesque at low tide – high tide would be the best time to visit.

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From Escape Beach the walking track ascends gently up to Saddle Junction, which will complete the circuit of South East Head.

From Saddle Junction I’m re-tracing my steps along the walking track to Resort Lookout Junction. Except now it’s daylight, while two hours ago I was walking up the same track by torch-light.

Once I reach the Resort Lookout Junction, I take the left fork towards the Resort
Lookout – this part of my route is on a graded maintenance road (also used by ATV tours) and it not particularly nice walking. It adds about 4km to the walk, but I want to go back via one more lookout…

…Resort Lookout is a huge cleared area, that’s above the Hamilton Island airport and is also used for weather monitoring equipment. There’s a picnic table here, but it’s not a particularly nice place. The views are pretty good though, if you walk around the edge of the large lookout area. The lookout is almost directly above the resort and Reef View towers.

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In the opposite direction is the mainland.

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The quickest way back to the resort would be to return to Resort Lookout Junction and take the trail down to the Resort Trail Entrance. In hindsight, I should have done that… but instead I follow the maintenance road to Palm Valley. I’m heading away from Passage Peak, at the other end of the island, and towards the airport.

The trail leaves the park near the southern end of the runway, on Palm Valley Way. From here it’s about 2km along the road, past the Hamilton Island Airport and past the marina back to the resort. It means I’ve done a second big circuit rather than returning the same way from the Resort Lookout – but the walk from the last lookout to the resort isn’t particularly nice walking.

Location Starts at Resort Trail Entrance near the Hamilton Island resort. Return to same location or Palm Valley Way near Hamilton Island airport.
Distance 13.9km as walked (combining three separate walks)
Grade Easy/Moderate. Total elevation gain of 550m
Season/s All year. Temperatures most pleasant in winter.
Maps Resort Walking Trail Map is useful. Walks are well sign-posted
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources

Chance Bay, Whitsunday Islands National Park

Chance Bay, a secluded bay in the Whitsunday Islands National Park is a short walk from the popular Whitehaven Beach.

Located on Whitsunday Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Whitehaven Beach is considered one of the world’s most unspoiled and beautiful beaches and was named ‘number one beach in Australia’ by TripAdvisor in their Travellers’ Choice Beaches Awards. Getting there is a 30min boat ride from Hamilton Island – slightly longer today due to several stops to watch whales breaching on both sides of the boat.

The 7km-long Whitehaven Beach is stunning – white sand and crystal-clear sand. We moor at the southern end, near a few other commercial boats.

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The walk to Chance Bay (and Solway Circuit) starts near the very southern end of Whitehaven Beach, and is well sign-posted.

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Guarded by a monitor lizard, the recently wood-chipped path heads gradually up and away from the beach. Although it’s still mid-afternoon, the forest provides shade along most of the trail.

It’s easy walking and only 500m before the turn-off to Chance Bay (on the other side of the headland) is reached. I take this trail and head up to the lookout on the way back – if there’s time. I’ve got about 90min before our boat leaves, and according to the information I found on-line it’s a 7.2km return walk.

The sandy trail is pretty flat and and remains shaded as it traverses a mix of eucalypt, hoop pine and grass tree forest.

As I’ve discovered a few times with Queensland trails, the signage is grossly incorrect – not sure if it’s incompetence or an attempt to discourage people from doing the walk. I reach Chance Bay in just under half an hour, with my GPS measuring the distance as 2.3km (a rather large discrepancy from the signage and on-line information that has the distance as 3.6km each way). The small beach has the same white silica sand as Whitehaven Beach – without the crowds. I’ve seen a handful of people heading the other way, and when I reach Chance Bay I have the entire beach to myself.

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In the distance is Pentecost Island, the Lindeman Group and Cape Conway directly ahead.

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I’ve got time for a quick swim here, before heading back up the trail.

When I reach the main trail again, I turn right, to continue to the end of the trail and the Solway Lookout. The lookout is part of the Solway Circuit, a circular walk, but from April 2018 – June 2019 part of the circuit is closed due to construction activity. Although the lookout elevation is only about 50m, there’s views over Solway Passage, Pentecost and Haslewood islands and Cape Conway.

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From the lookout, it’s a short 700m back to Whitehaven Beach, and then back onto our boat for the return trip to Hamilton Island.

Location Whitehaven Beach can be reached by boat or seaplane from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island, in the Whitsunday Islands. (Closest major airports are Proserpine on the mainland, and on Hamilton Island. Both have direct flights from Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.)
Distance Return distance to Chance Bay and Solway Lookout is 5.1km
(Ignore the signs – distances shown are incorrect.)
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain of 100m
Season/s All year. Temperatures most pleasant in winter.
Maps None required.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources About Whitsunday Islands Web page with details of walks

Mele Cascades, Port Vila

One of the highest rated attractions in Port Vila, Mele Cascades is an easy walk along a series of swimming holes to an impressive 35m waterfall.

About ten kilometres from Port Vila (Vanuatu) is the Mele Cascades. It’s more of a stroll than a hike, but there’s lots of clear swimming holes to stop at and the waterfall at the end is impressive. Avoid at all costs visiting when there’s a cruise ship in town, otherwise there’s a good chance you’ll have the place to yourself if you go early or late in the day.

You’ll need to pay an entry fee near the start (2,000 VT or about USD$18 per person). You can also pay a bit more to get a guide, or join a slightly more expensive guided tour from Port Vila. There’s a cafe, picnic area and an artificial beach near the start of the walk.

There’s immediately a small pool and some small cascades next to the path. There was a a decent flow of water: I’d heard that for many months earlier in the year the river had been virtually dry.

You can swim in any of the pools, which are all very inviting – some of the lower ones are a bit rocky and harder to access.

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Once you leave the building at the bottom, it does feel a little more like a bush track – although ones with stairs for the steeper sections!

After the initial up to a low ridge, there’s a wide but unmarked track that leads to a lookout – it’s only a hundred metres or so from the main track.

There’s a nice view to the south over Mele Bay, and a large grassy area that would be suitable for a picnic.

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From here the walk gets a bit more interesting, as the trail crosses the river a couple of times. Unless you’re wearing sandals, now’s the time to take shoes off…

While generally following the river quite closely, at times the track goes through rainforest-like sections. Evergreen, the new owners of Mele Cascades since late 2017, have added many native plants along the path.

Along this last section is another nice pool, just below a small set of cascades.

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For the last section, as you near the foot of the falls, the river flows over the stone stairs and you can hear the falls not far ahead.

There’s another photogenic and inviting pool just blow the main falls.

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A last set of steps up the river…

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…and you’re at the base of the falls, which tumble about 35m into another swimming hole.

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It’s the same way back down the river. Except when I reach the concrete stairs down the last steep section, I take an alternate path to the right. This is a more natural bush track, that winds down the steep slope back to the Mele Cascades entrance.

You could do the walk in under an hour – I’ve taken two hours with many photo stops, and if you’re going for a swim in one of the many pools you could easily spend half a day here. It’s a bit expensive when you consider you’re just paying for access to a short walk, but the cascades and waterfall are well worth a visit.

Location Mele Cascades is about 12km north-west of Port Vila (250 VT by mini-bus or around 2,000 VT by taxi)
Distance About 4km return including side-trip to lookout
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain of 150m.
Season/s All year. Mele Cascade is open 8:30am-5pm daily.
Maps None required.

 

Tabletop Track, Litchfield National Park

 

A 39km circuit in Litchfield National Park in the Northern Territory, through an arid and often burnt landscape punctuated by beautiful waterholes and creeks.

I’m glad I managed to do this walk. But I wouldn’t do it again… The Tabletop Track is a “classic” Northern Territory walk that’s been on my to Do List for a while, promising idyllic creeks and waterfalls surrounded by rainforest. The reality is that those moments where I stop for a break or a refreshing swim, or walk along a crystal clear creek, are hard-earned by walking through a very arid and often bleak landscape which is often burnt out by recent fires.

Just getting started proved trickier than I expected: I’d spent hours trying to purchase a detailed topographical map on-line. In the end the best I could do was the 1:250K “Pine Creek” topographical map on my phone, which was virtually useless. Even in Darwin not a single store I tried had stock of the recommended map. Since I was arriving into Darwin very late in the evening and couldn’t take a gas cylinder on the plane, I’d managed after several phone calls to find “Shorty” from Camping World Darwin, who offered to drop one off at the Hertz car hire booth at the airport – he went out of his way to help. By chance I checked whether the park was open a few days before leaving Sydney (why wouldn’t it be?!?), and discovered that in fact the entire Tabletop Track was closed due to bushfires. With a sense of dread I made a few phone calls… it might be possible to get a permit (not normally required in the dry season) to do at least a part of the walk. Tracy from the Permits Office (see contact numbers at the bottom) was super-helpful, and less than 24 hours before my flight departed she’d responded with approval to complete the southern section of the walk.

Getting there

Being short of time as always, I landed at Darwin at 12:15am, driving to the small town of Batchelor (about 90min away) so I could make an early start the next day. Or, rather, the same day. From Batchelor it’s only about half an hour to Litchfield National Park where four “link tracks” provide access to the Tabletop Track. I had originally planned to start at Wangi Falls and do the track in a clockwise direction. But due to the recent fires and the track being closed, the best option as stipulated by my permit was to start at Florence Falls, walking towards Wangi Falls. I was allowed to walk as far as the campground at Tjenya Falls (5km past Wangi Creek) – but the track was due to re-open on the second day of my walk, meaning I should be able to complete the circuit.

Day 1: Florence Falls to Tjenya Falls

A brief detour before heading down into the valley to the lookout platform over Florence Falls, which has a decent flow of water.

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I’m then off down the paved path towards Florence Falls. It’s a bright and clear day (I suspect like every day in the dry season) and there’s not a soul around. It’s only about 10min before the path crosses Florence Creek, and I reach the sign marketing the start of the Link Track.

Florence Falls Link Track to The Steps [14.7km]

Permit in-hand (or rather, in my backpack), I veer off the paved highway. The Link Track is easy to follow as it heads down into a small valley, follows Wangi Creek for a short distance, and then ascends to a plateau. Regularly-spaced markers provide reassurance that you’re on track: orange triangles for Link Tracks and blue for the Tabletop Track. This is one of the shorter Link Tracks – it’s only 1.8km to reach the junction with the Tabletop Track.

Initially the landscape is somewhat varied and not too unpleasant to walk through, especially being still cooler in the morning hours. There’s tall grassland, short grassland and some light forest.

There’s also a few creek crossings that break the otherwise arid landscape with a swath of dense green foliage and some shade. The track ascends constantly over the next 7km, but only 100m in total, so it’s barely noticeable.

The highest point of the southern section – at the grand elevation of 215m asl – is reached about 7.3km along the circuit. A 4WD track is crossed – this would provide an emergency exit point as it eventually reaches the main highway. From here it’s very gradually downhill – and much less enjoyable walking! It’s getting warmer and there’s a long section where I’m walking through bush that’s been recently burnt. Prescribed burns (as well as natural fires) are part of the management of the, undertaken for thousands of years by Aborigines. However, there’s now debate that large-scale, deliberate burning has become excessive and is permanently changing the landscape. Part of the problem is the increase in gamba grass, a perennial grass from Africa that was introduced to Australia as a pasture grass and grows up to four metres tall: it fuels wildfires and burns more intensely than native grasses.

The track has been a bit harder to follow, both through the burnt section and then an area of re-growth. For much of the circuit, the track doesn’t follow a natural feature, such as creek or valley, so you’re always looking for the next arrow. Mostly it’s directly in front of the previous one; sometimes it makes an abrupt turn up a ridge or down into a valley! I’m very glad to reach the next creek, where I’m ready for a swim and to fill-up my water bottle.

The track crosses another couple of creeks, both clear and flowing. It’s often remarkable how a thin green band of semi-tropical plants thrives while metres away the bush is brown and devoid of any life.

I’m glad when I reach “The Steps” cascades on upper Wangi Creek (I’m not 100% sure this is the correct geographic name, but it’s fitting!) – time for another very refreshing swim. There’s also a campsite here, which is arguably the nicest one on the circuit.

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The Steps to Tjenya Camp site [9km]

The next part of the walk is one of the nicest, with the track following the creek fairly closely. The trail markers are always a fair distance from the creek – you can see from the debris wrapped around one of the posts how high the water must get in the wet season!

There’s plenty of rock pools that almost compel you to stop and have a quick dip – and the day is getting gradually warmer (temperatures reach around 32 degrees Celsius by mid afternoon).

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After two kilometres the trail leaves the creek and goes up over a very small ridge (I lose the track here for a short time) before following another bigger creek downstream. After another 2km the track crosses the flowing creek: this is the only river crossing so far where I need to remove shoes. Just downstream is Wangi Falls, accessible by car and a popular tourist spot.

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The next bit is not much fun. I’ve walked exactly 20km since leaving Florence Falls, it’s getting pretty warm… and the track now heads straight up a rocky ridge. And back down. It’s only about 80m (vertical ascent/descent) but feels like more with a heavy pack. For the first time there are views out to the west. Not that there is much to see.

Then it’s back down into another valley – this time crossing a nice creek and small waterfall – before heading back another steep ridge…

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On this last ridge I manage to get a weak phone signal (I only noticed as my phone starting pinging as it received a few emails). By standing on a rock and pointing my iPhone skywards I managed to get onto the Litchfield National Park Web site – the status is still that the anticipated opening of the Tabletop Track is the following day.

I’m now almost at my camp site – another descent before I reach Tenja Falls. It’s got some deep pools that make perfect swimming holes at the end of a long day.

A hundred metres or so past the falls is the campsite. Near the edge of the Tabletop escarpment, there’s a large cleared area for tents, a metal container to light a fire in (although this is discouraged) and a metal platform that keeps packs and supplies off the dusty ground. It’s not the most picturesque camping spot, but it’s near the creek. And it’s a nice spot to watch the sun set.

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Tjenya Camp site to Walker Creek – Day 2 [10.5km]

I wake up early the next day: I’ve decided to continue the circuit. I’m more than half-way, the track is supposed to re-open today and there’s no sign of smoke or fire in the direction I’m heading…

I’m carrying a bit less water than the previous day (about 1.5L) – a mistake in hindsight, as this next section is pretty dry. The landscape is pretty dry, and the first creek is not really flowing. Compared to the previous day, the track is more distinct here, although I’m still keeping a close eye on those markers…

There’s some sections that have recently been burnt: the blackened ferns look like they’ve seen better days!

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The track passes another creek – it’s got plenty of water, but it’s not really flowing.

After 6.3km I cross the firetrail/4WD track that crosses the park – it would be another escape route if the trail was “burnt out” or there was a fire (my fear being not much being caught in a fire, but the markers being destroyed.)

Despite this area having more signs of recent fires than the southern section, there are still a few wildflowers. In general, I’ve seen few flowers and no animals (except for some spiders) so far.

The landscape is still pretty stark and dry – it’s been almost 10km and still no flowing streams. Some sections of the track go through re-growth, probably from fires the last dry season. There’s one smouldering log next to the trail, the only sign of the more recent fires that closed the Tabletop Track.

As the trail approaches the Link Track to Walker Creek, it traverses an even more desolate landscape. Walker Creek is only 1.9km away down the Link Track and is supposed to be a nice camp ground – but no sign of any creek here!

Walker Creek – to Florence Falls [9.5km]

Another 2km past the Link Track, and the trail crosses another creek – this one is shown on my 1:250K map and seems to be of a decent size. But it’s not flowing and the water is pretty stagnant. I could filter it, but I’ve still got some water left and I’m hopeful of a more picturesque babbling brook eventually!

Along this creek is the third campsite – it’s the only one that’s not directly on the track (there’s a short 400m walk to get to it). It seems the least appealing of the three Tabletop Track camping sites from the state of the creek a bit further down. I’d seen a less than flattering description on another blog: “The campsite up on the plateau and 1.8 km from the Walker Creek link track is horrible. There is water from a stagnant creek surrounded by scrub typhus and mosquito infested bush and there is very little shade.” [The Conspiracy Times]

UPDATE: A comment (see bottom of post) by Brad suggests I am mistaken: “Camp site 6 at walker creek (there are 8) is alongside an amazing spring fed flowing creek”. So, if you’re doing the Tabletop Track check it out and let me know how you find it!

Finally I reach a more promising creek about 16.3km from the Tjenya Falls camp site. After following the creek for a few hundred metres, there’s a perfect spot for a quick dip and to re-fill water bottles. While not an approved camping spot, I’d pick this over the Walker Creek camp site if I was doing the walk over three days.

The track follows the creek for about 500, before it crosses near some nice cascades and heads up a small ridge.

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Less then a kilometre there’s a another nice creek that the trail crosses.

I’m on the home stretch now – it’s easy walking through some more sections of long grass, before reaching the Florence Falls Link Track to complete the circuit.

There’s one last swim as the Link Track crosses a small creek, before it rejoins the main Florence Falls loop track.

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It’s been a tough walk in terms of terrain and route-finding (or rather, making sure you’re following the track markers) – I think I’ll be dreaming about blue triangles for the next few weeks. There’s many long, dry and exposed sections. Conversely, finding a pristine water hole for a dip after hours of walking is its own reward. And it’s been a long time since I’ve walked two days without seeing a soul.

Shady Creek Loop [500m]

I take the long way back to the Florence Falls car park, following the Shady Creek Walk track. It crosses Florence Creek a few times and passes through a rainforest-filled gorge.

Near the end is the pool at the bottom of Florence Falls. It would be a nice spot for a swim – but after having two days of private waterholes and creeks, swimming with 50 people is not really appealing. (I’ve become a Swimming Hole Snob in two days!)

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A steep climb up the stairs to the car park – and my walk is completed! I’m glad to take the backpack off, and head back to civilisation.

Rather than taking the sealed road back to Darwin, I’ve got plenty of time (it’s about 2:30pm when I reach the car) to complete a circuit of Litchfield National Park.

Tolmer Falls

First stop is Tolmer Falls, regarded as one of the most spectacular falls in Litchfield National Park. There’s a short walking track to a viewing platform over the falls (and a longer 1.6km return walk that follows Tolmer Creek).

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Wangi Falls

The second stop is Wangi Falls, the best-known and most popular attraction in Litchfield National Park… it’s pretty busy here on a Saturday afternoon. A short walk leads to a lookout over the pool and falls. A longer track goes up over the falls and back to the car park. There’s also a cafe here, and free wifi (so I can book my accommodation back in Darwin for this evening).

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There is a Link Track from the Tabletop Track (1.2km) to Wangi Falls and I had considered making this short detour on Day 1. I’m glad I didn’t – after the solitude of the Tabletop Track it would have been disconcerting to suddenly be surrounded by hundreds of people (although I wouldn’t have minded a hamburger from the cafe).  Despite the Tabletop Track being so close to Wangi Falls, when you’re on the circuit you can’t see or hear the Falls.

Location Litchfield National Park is about 120km (2 hours) south-east from Darwin via Batchelor on a fully-sealed road or through Berry Springs via the partly unsealed Cox Peninsula Road (dry season only; 2WD accessible).
Distance Official distance is 39km plus the Link Track/s (variable lengths) to access the Tabletop Track. Actual distance as measured by my GPS units (Apple iPhone and Garmin watch was 50km:

  • Day 1: Florence Falls – Greenant Creek – Tjenya Falls (campground after Wangi Falls): 22.2km on the map and 26km distance walked
  • Day 2: Tjenya Falls – Walker Creek – Florence Falls: 18.4km on the map and 21km distance walked
Grade Hard. Track is very rough and navigation can be tricky. Temperatures reach 30-32 degrees C in the dry season (winter). Approx 1,080m elevation gain & loss over the entire track – the walk is between about 200m elevation with some drops into valleys and up ridges.
Season/s Dry season – typically May to end of September.
Maps
  • Australia’s Northern Territory Litchfield National Park –
    Edition 7 (topographical map). Bloody hard to find but try the Darwin Museum (they had sold out when I asked), Camping World Darwin (sold out), NT General Store (open weekdays).
  • Tabletop Track information sheet and overview map – PDF download
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – Day 1 and Day 2.
View route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • Litchfield National Park phone number – 08 8976 0282
  • Check if a park is open web site – worth checking, as I discovered!
  • Information on applying for a permit – required in the wet season or if park / track is closed. If unsure you need one, they were very helpful when I phoned – 08 8999 4486
Tips
  • I didn’t treat water from most of the creeks – but between Tjenya Falls and Walker Creek camp site the only water sources (in mid-July) were pretty stagnant. You’d want some form of purification, especially if hiking after July
  • Don’t think about wearing shorts – the sections through forest re-growth (after a fire) or long grass will not be fun
  • The camp sites near Greenant Creek and Tjenya Falls were great. The one near Walker Creek I would avoid (continue about 2km further towards Florence Falls)
  • Walk from May-July if you can – reports from later in the Dry season suggest many of the creeks/waterholes have started drying up.

Pisang Falls (Sungai Pisang)

A fun “jungle walk” near KL following the Pisang River (Sungai Pisang) through a set of tunnels under the Karak Highway and up to the picturesque Pisang Falls.

I’ve got a couple of days in Kualu Lumpur on the way to a trip across Borneo; just enough time to engage local guide Eddie Yap for a half-day jungle trek with my son. “Something I haven’t done before, not too far from KL” was my detailed brief 🙂

It’s less than an hour’s drive from our hotel in KL to the start of the walk, just past Batu Caves and along the old highway that goes up to Genting. After a brief walk along a rough path that follows the river bank, the river runs under the Karak Highway through two huge tunnels.

We leave our shoes on, and enter one of the dark tunnels – it’s possible to keep your feet dry if you keep to the very edge of the tunnel, where there’s a small ledge…

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…although our shoes don’t stay dry much longer, with the the trail crossing the river a few times – and sometimes the trail is the river itself.

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Unlike most previous walks with Eddie where we are climbing up steep hills or mountains, this walk is fairly flat with the path following the river upstream. It’s a rough track though, as we cross sections of thick jungle roots and scramble under (or over) fallen trees and boulders.

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It takes about half an hour to cover the 1.5km to Pisang Falls (also called Banana Falls), which have a drop of about 30 metres. It’s not crowded for a Saturday considering we’re only about 45min from KL – there are about ten people in the swimming hold beneath falls, and another ten or so people picnicking above the falls. The only steep section is from from the base of the falls up to the top.

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Path near Pisang Falls. Photo credit: Eddie Yap

There’s a camping and picnic area at the top, and the path makes a broad loop around the back of the Falls before descending again on the other side to the river.

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We return the same way down the river and back to the car, the entire walk taking about 2.5 hours. It’s amazing how you can have a “jungle experience” and swim in crystal-clear water so close to KL!

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Location Access via the old Gombak Highway past Batu Caves. Look for signs to Jungle Lodge, where you can park and access the river neat a pumping station.
Distance Return distance 5km (including the loop above the Falls)
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain of 130m
Season/s All year. Avoid after heavy rain.
Maps None available.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.

 

Piles Creek Loop (Brisbane Water NP)

A varied track through a valley and along ridges in Brisbane Water National Park, combining the longer Piles Creek Loop and short Girrakool Loop tracks. 

Today’s walk is to check out a potential route for the 2nd Gordon Cub pack; we’ll be staying at the nearby Kariong Scout Camp. There is a link track that joins the Piles Creek Loop track.

I’ve started at the Girakool Picnic Area, which is a really nice spot, with free gas barbecues and running water. The various tracks are well sign-posted, as I set off down the Girrakool Loop track (which starts off as a paved track that is almost wheelchair-accessible).

The first lookout, Broula Lookout, is reached after less than five minutes from the car park, with a view across the valley. Shortly after this is Illoura Lookout, meaning “creek in a gully”. From here you can see a nice pool formed by Piles Creek.

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The lookout is also the junction of the much shorter Girrakool Loop and longer Piles Creek track; I continue to the left along the Piles Loop track. The trail crosses Pile Creek along a natural causeway with stepping stones just above the falls.

From here the track follows the top of the ridge above the valley formed by Piles Creek. It’s a pleasant combination of eucalpyt forest and is mostly in the shade, with some deep overhangs in the sandstone cliffs.

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After 1.4km I reach the (sign-posted) turn-off to Kariong Camp Scout, which you would normally ignore… as I’m on a reconnaissance mission for our upcoming Cub camp, I take this track which climbs gently up to the Scout property (it adds about 800m each way to the Piles Creek Loop).

Just after this turn-off is another (unnamed) lookout over the valley and the cliffs on the other side.

The track continues along the top of the valley, passing a large and weathered rock that I suspect will require an extended stop as the Cubs use it for some parkour practice (reminder: pack first aid kit!).

After about 3.5km (or 1.8km without the Scout Camp detour) the track starts descending fairly steeply down the into the valley, crossing a small side creek with the aid of some small bridges made of timber planks.

Shortly after this creek crossing is another well-marked intersection with the Great North Walk (GNW); the next section of the Girrakool Loop track is part of the GNW. A bit further on – and the lowest part of the walk – the track crosses Piles Creek on the very sturdy Phil Houghton Bridge (suspension bridge). The Cubs will enjoy this 🙂

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The bridge was built in 1998; the original bridge was washed away in a flood, and some parts of it still stand. This might be a nice swimming hole if there’s been some rain, but today it looks brown and not particularly tempting, even on a hot day.

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Just after the bridge is a nice and shaded campsite, which is used by Great North Walkers. Immediately after the campsite, the track climbs steeply up the other side of the valley.

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Fortunately, being a warm day, this part of the track is well shaded, passing some high rock overhangs and sections of dry rainforest.

After the initial climb up from Piles Creek, the track continues gently climbing along the valley. Parts of the track are exposed to the sun, although there are a few caves and overhangs that make a nice spot for break.

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Eventually Bundilla Lookout is reached, just before the track reaches the intersection with the Girrakool Loop track. The view isn’t particularly great, but from the right-hand side of the lookout it’s a relatively easy scramble down to Pile Creek and the natural pool (the same one we saw from the other side of the valley at the start of the walk). On a warm afternoon, it’s a very welcome diversion and and great spot to cool off and have a swim.

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After re-joining the Piles Creek Loop track, it’s only about junction with the Girrakool Loop track. It would be a few hundred metres back to the car park from here, but instead I turn left and take the longer route back along the Girrakool Loop track.

It’s not an unpleasant walk, but doesn’t compare to the Piles Creek Loop track – I wouldn’t recommend coming here just to do the shorter loop. The track follows Leek Creek (which feeds Piles Creek) in a northerly direction, before reaching Boondi Lookout. The view from the lookout over the eucalpyt forest is very ordinary, but just below the lookout is an almost semi-circular cliff covered with ferns. It would be an idyllic spot… but it’s located about 30m from the M1 Pacific Highway. You can’t see the highway, which is above the cliff, but the constant drone of traffic takes away from the ambience a little!

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From here, it’s an easy 400m walk back to the car park.

In short: I’d recommend the Piles Creek circuit, a quite varied walk with the option of a swim on on a hot day if you “bush bash” a short distance to the creek. I wouldn’t bother with the shorter Girrakool Loop unless you’re in the area and really only have time for this (and even if you do, just do the return walk to the Illoura Lookout.

Location Start at Girakool Picnic Area at the end of Girakool Road, off the old Pacific Highway
Distance 5.7km circuit (Girrakool Loop and Piles Creek Loop).
7.4km as walked, including side-track to Kariong Scout Camp
Girrakool Circuit only is about 1km.
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain 200m.
Season/s All year.
Maps Gosford 9131-2S 1:25K. Track is well sign-posted.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • Wildwalks Pile Creek loop track notes
  • Take a Walk – Sydney to Port Macquarie (John and Lyn Daly) p.104 and p.106

Steamers Beach (Jervis Bay)

Steamers Beach is a surf beach accessed by a rough 4WD track, which can also be combined into a longer circuit.

A wide and sandy 4WD trail (closed to vehicles) is clearly marked at the Steamers Beach car park, in Booderee National Park (Jervis Bay). It’s well shaded by large eucalypt trees, which still bear the signs of bushfires in September 2017 that burnt a large portion of Booderee National Park. After 1.2km the trail forks; take the left-hand track.

After another kilometre of easy walking, we reach a small clearing. And a sign warning of a steep descent to the beach… Just what we were hoping for 🙂

From here, the last hundred metres or so are on a fairly steep and narrow path before we reach the wide and exposed beach. The high, vegetation-covered sand dunes behind the beach are a result of a “mega tsunami” which occurred around 6700–7000 BC. We have the beach almost to ourselves: there’s just two other people here, a big difference to our walk yesterday to Murrays Beach.

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Being an exposed beach, with a large swell, we would have had the water to ourselves… if we had gone in! There were large waves breaking against the headlands at both ends, and what looked like a dangerous rip in the middle of the beach. Not very appealing for a swim.

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We head back up the path, but instead of re-tracing our steps we head left (west) to visit Brooks Lookout, about 900m along a wide firetrail (this section of the track is more exposed). Despite warnings of “dangerous cliffs”, the lookout is very ordinary and is set well-back from any cliffs. You can see Steamers Head beyond thick scrub, but not Steamers Beach.

An aerial view is more impressive: to the south-west is St Georges Head, with the track that goes out to the end of this headland clearly visible.

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In the opposite direction, to the east, is Steamers Head and Steamers Beach, with the 100m high sand dunes behind the beach.

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From the lookout, it’s possible to return via a shorter route to the Steamer Beach car park, by continuing west along the St Georges Head track for about 500m – it’s well signposted. You could also continue onto Blacks Waterhole and St Georges Head, to extend the walk.

Location Steamers Beach carpark, accessed via Jervis Bay Road, Wreck Bay Road and Stony Creek Road, through Booderee National Park (entry fee payable)
Distance 6.3km return for circuit, as walked
Approx 16km circuit including St Georges Head and Whiting Beach
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain 150m.
Season/s All year.
Maps Sussex Inlet 9027-4S (1:25,000). Track is well sign-posted.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources

 

Murrays Beach and Governor Head (Jervis Bay)

A short walk to a very beautiful (but busy) beach on the South Coast, with views from Governors Head across to Bowen Island.

Murrays Beach is a sheltered and very scenic beach in Booderee National Park (Jervis Bay). It’s accessed via a fairly short (300m) walk from the car park – or by following the coast around from the jetty. (If taking the track rather than rock-hopping along the coast, continue past the first car-park to the parking area that’s furthest from the entry road. There are multiple, huge car parking areas that probably reflects the decision in 1969 to build a nuclear power station here, resulting in land being cleared and footings built for the decision was reversed in 1971.)

As we make our way slowly across the rocks (it was close to high tide, and would be much easier this way at low tide), we spot what seems to be a naval training exercise on the opposite of Jervis Bay.

It doesn’t take long to reach Murrays Beach, which has been described as “the jewel in the Booderee National Park”. It has the same white sand as the famous Hyams Beach, very clear water and supposedly less people – although it was pretty busy today!

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It’s also protected from bad weather by Bowen Island, which bears the brunt of any big swells and means even on a day with dangerous surf warnings, the kids could safely swim.

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From Murrays Beach it’s an additional 800m to Governors Head, directly opposite the peninsula. (This is part of a longer walk that goes up past Hole in the Wall and up to Green Patch.) It’s a wide and easy to follow track through eucalypt forest, with some interpretative signage.

The track follow the edge of the cliff, which gets steeper towards the end of the peninsula. A fenced viewing area at the end provides a great view towards Bowen Island, with the shallow channel bearing the brunt of strong winds and a high swell.

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Going back, I follow the coast instead of the marked track, descending down the steep slope to the rocky shore, which is fairly easy to follow. There are a few other people observing the massive waves, and a pair of sooty oystercatchers, foraging in the inter-tidal zone.

There’s a few sections where I need to detour slightly inland to avoid small inlets – it’s not difficult walking but I wouldn’t recommend going this way with small children. Eventually I reach the shore again, and walk back along Murrays Beach to my starting point.

It’s a great beach for swimming, and adding the short walk to Governors Head was worth it for the view (especially if it’s a day with a big swell). With more time, I would have liked to continue up the coast at least to Hole in the Wall. But that will have to be another day!

Location Murrays Beach carpark, accessed via Jervis Bay Road through Booderee National Park (entry fee payable)
Distance Approx 3km return for beach and Governors Head lookout
Up to 10km return if going up to Green Patch (and back)
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain 20m.
Season/s All year.
Maps Sussex Inlet 9027-4S (1:25,000). Track is well sign-posted.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources NPWS Jervis Bay web page

 

Kanangra Walls to Kowmung River

A tough overnight walk from Kanangra Walls in the Blue Mountains, down to the wild Kowmung River.

The plan was to tackle the Katoomba to Kanangra walk, a “classic” route I’ve been wanting to do for many years. A group of intrepid Venturer Scouts are doing this walk starting at Kanangra, so by starting at the opposite end we could avoid a lengthy car shuffle by swapping vehicles. We would drive the car they left at Kanangra back to Katoomba, once we’d done the walk in the opposite direction. (The “we” on this hike being Andy, father of one of the Venturers, and myself). A most excellent plan, we thought. Until the weather forecast indicated that most of our hike would be in 35+ degree temperatures.

The Venturers, being more fit and/or foolhardy than us, proceeded with their planned walk. Our Plan B, since we needed to collect their car from Kanangra Walls, was a slightly more “leisurely” hike down to the Kowmung River. Armed with a bottle of wine and gourmet sausages from Blackheath purchased on the way, we started our hike at 2:15pm with the temperature around 34 degrees.

The first part of the walk is along the well-marked Plateau Track: it’s pretty warm (actually, it’s bloody hot and we are questioning why we’re not at the nearest pub). There’s no-one else** stupid enough to be out walking (** except of course the Venturers, but they are nowhere near us).

There’s some nice views of Kanangra Walls extending out into the distance, as the path drops down between Mount Kanangra and the Kanangra Wall plateau.

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In this gap lies Dance Floor Cave, a short detour off the Plateau Track. Located on the old cattle route from the Burragorang Valley to Oberon, the cave became such a popular meeting place in the 18th century that a wooden dance floor was erected. Now it’s just used as occasional shelter for hikers.

The Plateau Track, not surprisingly, follows the heath-covered Kanangra Tops plateau in an easterly direction. It’s easy to follow and fairly flat, occasionally crossing some rock platforms where some care is needed not to lose the track.

There’s also some fantastic views from the edge of the cliffs, and into Kanangra Gorge.

Across the other side of Kanagra Gorge are the Thurat Walls and Thurat Spires, rising 600m above the valley floor.

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After about 1.9km along the Plateau Track we veer right onto an unnamed track that heads towards Maxwell Top (Kanangra 8930-3S GR342358 or -33.98511, 150.12235). According to Google Maps, it’s called the Coal Seam Walking Track, but it’s not named on the topographical map. (The original Kanangra to Katoomba plan would have had us continuing straight ahead, along the plateau.)

This track is also well-defined and fairly flat, as it follows the very wide Murrarang plateau in a southerly direction. We follow this track for just over a kilometre before nearing Murrarang Top at the end of the plateau, where the track forks (Yerranderie 8929-4N GR344340 or  -34.00172, 150.12445). Here it’s a bit confusing, as one of our maps shows a single trail and the other shows two ways of getting down the small cliffs. We take the left trail; in hindsight I suspect either track would have worked. There’s a short and easy scramble down a cleft in the rocks, and we’re at the base of Murrarang Head where we follow the base of the small cliff.

At the end of the cliffs is the impressive Coal Seam Cave, although it’s not named on any of our maps. While not a particularly deep cave, it’s very long and the sandstone above the coal seam has been eroded in a way that makes it seem (no pun intended!) as if it’s been very precisely cut. There’s a barrel here collecting water that drips from the sandstone, and even on a hot day when most creeks were dry, it was 3/4 full. There would be plenty of space for a few tents, too.

So far, so good… At the end of the long cave, the track drops quick steeply down to a saddle. We’re now on the Gingra Trail, which follows the Gingra Range and eventually reaches the Kowmung River. From this trail, there are multiple trails that go down to the Kowmung. The track is easy to follow and it’s fairly easy walk along the shaded ridge-top, although the temperature is still in the 30s.

We pass Cottage Rock, just visible from the main track (there’s no obvious trail up to here, and it’s too hot to entertain sightseeing detours!). As we ascend about 50m (although it feels like a lot more) up to First Top Mountain, we see what looks like a side-track down Brumby Ridge. This was our intended route, being the shortest track to the Kowmung. But the faint trail quickly peters out and we decide to try Roots Ridge, which is marked on our topographical map. Another kilometre along the Gingra Trail and we reach the Roots Ridge Track. This will, hopefully, take us from the Gingra Range at around 800m down to the Kowmung River at 220m. We set off down Roots Ridge: the track is very faint but the route is easy to follow, as it descends the top of the ridge.

As we near the bottom of Roots Ridge, we get our first and very welcome sight of the Kowmung River below us.

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Just a (steep) kilometre to go until we reach the bottom… the 800m descent from the Gingra Trail is about 4km in length, but starts of gradually and gets steeper towards the end. The track is not very distinct, but the route is fairly obvious.

We enjoy a well-earned swim before setting up camp. According to my watch, the average temperature since we started around 2pm has been 33.6 degrees, and it’s still about this temperature at 7:30pm (it’s taken us about 5:30min to cover about 13km). We’ve got the river to ourselves, and there’s a nice, flat and grassy area close to the river. It is a beautiful and tranquil spot, with a deep enough pool for a swim and clean, flowing water (we filtered the water just to be safe, but the Kowmung is generally considered safe to drink).

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Tomorrow is forecast to be even hotter, so we try and get some sleep despite the heat, with alarms set for 5am the next morning.

It’s the same way back tomorrow, and while it’s cool when we set-off around 5:30am the temperature has reached about 30 degrees by the time we reach the Gingra Trail.

On the way back, I make the short off-track detour up the steep slope to Cottage Rock from the Gingra Trail. Someone’s helpfully made a rock step to help get onto the outcrop.

The view from the top isn’t spectacular, but you can see the Gingra Range that we’ve been following and the surrounding peaks of the Kanangra-Boyd National Park.

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One more steep section from Cottage Rock up to Coal Seam Cave, and then it’s fairly easy walking back to the car. It has taken us 5:30min to get back; about the same time as the descent. It feels very hot up on the plateau, and we discover later that today is the hottest temperature on record for Sydney’s west.

Location Start at Kanangra Walls car park (end of Kanangra Walls Road).
210km (3:30hr) from Sydney / 110km (2hr) from Katoomba
Distance 26km return (approx)
Grade Moderate/Hard. Total 1,100m ascent. Some off-track walking.
Season/s All year.
Maps
  • Kanangra 8930-3S 1:25K
  • Yerranderie 8929-4N 1:25K
GPS Route Google Maps GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • Part of the walk covered by Buswalking NSW Web site
  • National Parks – Kanangra-Boyd Web site
Notes
  • If travelling to Kanangra Walls via Jenolan, please note that the road is closed to traffic leaving Jenolan in the direction of Katoomba every day from 11.45am to 1.15pm (ie. for 90 minutes the road becomes ‘one way’).
  • There are toilets at the Kanangra Walls car park, but don’t rely on water being available here.

Bullimah Spur Track (Bouddi NP)

A short and very picturesque circuit in Bouddi National Park, with some of the best views in the park and a stop at beautiful Maitland Bay.

There are a few ways to get to Maitland Bay, the “jewel” (I would argue) of the Bouddi National Park. One of these is the Bouddi Coastal Walk, which I did a few weeks ago, and is one of my regular walks. Today I’m taking a much shorter route, going down via the Bullimah Spur (on the aptly named Bullimah Spur Track) and back up the main Maitland Bay Track.

The Maitland Bay carpark is almost full at 11am on a hot day in December; each year the park seems to get more popular. I’m hoping that taking the Bullimah Spur Track will avoid the crowds. Starting on the well-trodden and well-marked Maitland Bay Track from the carpark, after about 100m there’s a sign for the Bullimah Spur Track off to the right.

So, I’m surprised when we hear a group of eight hikers coming up behind us! We let them pass, and they turn out to be the only other hikers we see on this trail. The track follows the Bullimah Spur which heads away from Maitland Bay, descending very gradually through shaded eucalypt forest.

Less than a kilometre from the start of the walk, there’s the first of a few sandstone outcrops that provide stunning views over Maitland Bay. The Bouddi Coastal Walk can be seen winding its way along the top of the cliffs on the left.

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The second lookout, just off to the left of the Bullimah Spur Track, offers even better views – if that’s possible!

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To the east is Maitland Bay and the protected waters of the Bouddi Marine Extension.

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To the west and on the other side of the Bullimah Spur, the Bouddi Coastal Track snakes along the cliffs to Putty Beach. Lion Island is in the distance, and Killcare is on the other side of the peninsula. While it feels like you’re far from civilisation on most of the Coastal Walk, Killcare and Killcare Heights protrude into the middle of Bouddi National Park. At the far end of the Bouddi peninsula, on the other side of Putty Beach, is Box Head and Tallow Beach where it’s national park again.

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A short distance further (1.4km from the carpark) is Bullimah Outlook, a rocky outcrop at the end of the Bullimah Spur.

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There’s great views out to the west over Gerrin Point and Putty Beach / Killcare Beach. There’s a plaque on the rock commemorating Charles Darcy Roberts (a bushwalker and former trustee of Bouddi National Park) as well as “other bushwalkers who lost their lives in World War II”.

According to the map, the track stops here… but it doesn’t. Marked by white arrows, a well-marked track descends steeply from the Bullimah Spur, through shaded forest – although on a warm day, I’m glad we’re going down this section, and not up.

About two-thirds of the way down, there’s a “mini-cliff” (it’s only about 5m high), with a rope to help descend (or ascend) this section.

There’s another hundred metres before the track joins the main Bouddi Coastal Track. (If you’re doing the walk in the other direction there’s no signage: look for an unmarked track that goes past a large boulder, about 60m north of Gerrin Point lookout – 33°31’47.0″S / 151°22’59.1″E)

It’s a very short detour to Gerrin Point lookout, with a large sandstone platform directly below the cliffs and views of Maitland Bay and beyond.

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From Gerrin Point, it’s a 1.4km walk along the Bouddi Coastal Track (which mostly follows the coastline) to reach the junction with the Maitland Bay Track. There are occasional glimpses of Maitland Bay as we get closer and a few exposed sections of track, but we’re mostly walking through light forest and in shade.

Maitland Bay is never crowded but is fairly busy today, being a warm day in the December holiday period. We could have found a shaded spot near the middle of the beach, but decided to have a quick swim and head back to the car. (There’s also the wreck of the SS Maitland, which sank in 1898, located at the far end of the beach. It’s worth having a look, especially at low tide when the rusted remains are most visible.)

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After a refreshing swim, it’s an easy (and shaded) walk straight back up the Maitland Bay track to the car.

It’s taken us just over two hours, including a quick swim – but we (or rather I!) stopped many times to take photos along the Bullimah Spur, and as a result our pace was fairly slow. It’s the first time I’ve walked to Maitland Bay this way, but won’t be the last. While not the quickest route, the views are stunning from the Bullimah ridge, and even on the busiest days you’ll have the track (almost) to yourself!

Location Start at Maitland Bay car park, on The Scenic Road
Distance 4.6km circuit (2.6km return for Bullimah Outlook only)
Grade Easy. Total 180m ascent.
Season/s All year.
Maps
  • Broken Bay topographic map (NSW 9130-1N) 1:25K
  • Bouddi National Park sketch map from park office. 1:25K
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources
Map-BouddiNationalPark-BullimahSpurCircuit
Map showing route of Bullimah Spur Circuit