Hungry Beach, West Head

Hungry Beach is a secluded beach near West Head in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park that you access by boat – or on foot via an untracked route.

In search of a secluded or “secret” beach, I’ve noticed Hungry Beach near West Head (north of Sydney) on Google Maps. (‘Though I’m not sure with Google Maps there is really such a thing as a “secret” beach any more!) There’s no walking track to the beach, although it’s only about 1km from West Head Road. Could it be reached by “bush bashing” down from the road?

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No. What Google Maps doesn’t show is that the lighter-coloured terrain is thick scrub, and even making 50m progress through the bush is arduous, slow and painful! I could come back with a chainsaw, but I’m not sure that this would be a recommended activity in a national park!

We (I’ve managed to convince my friend Andy that bashing through thick scrub on a hot afternoon is a great idea) move to Plan B before giving up. Getting back in the car, we continue along West Head Road to the start of the Flint and Steel track. It should be feasible – at least at low tide – to follow the coastline from Flint and Steel Bay to Hungry Beach. Although I’m not entirely sure of the current tide times: there was more optimism on my part than planning in today’s pursuit of an Undiscovered Beach… Fortunately, as we reach Flint and Steel Bay along the rough but distinct track, it does appear that the tide is out.

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From here I’m not sure what to expect or how far we will get, but we make decent progress along the rocky coast. It would be a lot harder at high tide, though.

It doesn’t take too long before Hungry Beach is in view, around a small headland that we still need to negotiate.

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The very last few hundred metres would have been challenging if the tide was higher, but proved no major obstacle. We’re soon standing on Hungry Beach, with just a handful of people who have arrived by boat.

It’s a nice beach, although the colour of the water is not particularly appealing (could be that recent rain has washed some silt down the Hawkesbury River). At the back of the beach, near the middle, is a ribbon taped to a tree marking the start of a track that heads up the steep terrain. So perhaps there is an alternate track to the beach – we’ll have to come back and explore further.

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There’s also an old World War II bunker located a short distance above the beach. I can’t find any information on the building, but it would have been part of the fortifications built along the Hawkesbury River to fend off any Japanese naval attacks from the north.

We return back to the car the way we came: it’s been great to have reached Hungry Beach, but it’s also a hot afternoon with little shade for most of the way and we’re glad to be back at the car! I’ll be making a return trip on a cooler day to explore the possibility of an alternate track to the beach.

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0.0km Start at Flint and Steel trackhead (on West Head Road)
0.3km Take track to Flint and Steel Bay (to the left) 
0.7km Ruins of McGaw House
1.1km White Horse Beach (Flint and Steel Bay) - proceed along shoreline
1.8km Hungry Beach
3.6km Flint and Steel carpark
Location Start at Flint and Steel trailhead near the end of West Head Road
Distance 3.6km return.
Grade Moderate. Partly off-track.
Season/s All year. Low tide.
Map 9130-1N Broken Bay (1:25,000)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.

Wineglass Bay, Freycinet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liffey Falls

One of Tasmania’s “60 Great Short Walks”, Liffey Falls is accessed via two walking tracks that end up the picturesque cascades.

Another slightly unplanned walk, as we drive between Devonport (having taken the Spirit of Tasmania ferry across) and our accommodation at Lake St Clair. A short detour about half way take us into the Liffey Falls State Reserve, which is on the edge of the Great Western Tiers. The walking track – one of Tasmania’s “60 Great Short Walks” is well-marked from the busy upper carpark, which also has developed picnic facilities.

 

As the well-developed track descends, very gradually at first, through tall wet eucalypt forest with some huge trees (you can also do the “Big Tree Stroll” which takes you some huge Eucalyptus obliqua trees, one of which towers 50m and with a diameter of 3.39m).

 

Shortly before reaching the Liffey River, the track goes under a huge and impressive cluster (or stand?) of tree ferns.

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About half-way – which is only around 600m – the track reaches the Liffey River. Soon after there’s a vantage point over the first of four cascades – Alexandra Falls, then Hopetoun Falls.

 

There’s another nice view of (I think!) Hopetoun Falls a bit further on, where a few steps from the track takes  you down to the river.

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The track follows the river fairly closely, as it goes through cool temperate rainforest. (There’s a junction with the longer track that follows the river upstream from the lower carpark, which provides an alternate and longer route to Liffey Falls.)

 

Finally the track meets the river below Liffey Falls – which are technically called Victoria Falls. Considered one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Tasmania (albeit not as impressive as Russell Falls), the cascades are busy on a warm January afternoon. There’s some clear pools with crystal clear and quite cold water, and a few brave souls are swimming beneath the falls!

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From here, it’s the same way back up to the carpark – although with the aid of a car-shuffle you could do an 6km (one-way) walk between the two carparks.

Location From Launceston, reach the upper section of the reserve by following the Bass Highway (A1) west to Deloraine and turn left onto the A5 just before the bridge at Deloraine. Steep and winding dirt road (suitable for all cars).
Distance 2.4km return from upper car park. 8.2km return from lower carpark.
Grade Easy. 50m ascent back to carpark,
Season/s All year. Busy in December/January. Falls best after rain.
Map 4638 Quamby Bluff 1:25K (not required)
4838 Liffey 1:25K covers the longer track from lower carpark
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources
liffey-falls
Map showing tracks from upper and lower carparks. Source: TasTrails

Wollangambe Canyon (Lower Section)

Wollangambe Canyon is an easy canyon in the Blue Mountains, requiring no technical skills (ie. abseils) – the Upper and Lower Sections can be done as separate day trips (or one very long day-trip). 

It’s been almost a year to the day since tackling the Wollangambe Upper Section (also known as Wollangambe One), and with hot and dry weather forecast for a week it seems a good time to head back and undertake the Wollangambe Lower Section / Wollangambe Two. We leave Sydney a bit later than planned – I’m taking my son Luke (10) for his first canyon adventure, and am joined by Andy plus his son Sam and two of his friends.

We’re on the firetrail, which starts opposite the Cathedral Reserve Camping Ground in Mount Wilson, just after 11am. There’s the usual warning signs at the gate, before the firetrail descends gradually through tall forest.

The wide trail is fairly flat for the first 2.2km – in fact, after the initial descent it climbs fairly steeply up a hill before reaching the narrow track down to the Wollangambe River. We’re glad when we’re finally heading down to the river, with the track down being another 1.4km in length. (There’s just one bifurcation in this track, where we take the left-hand fork.)

Just before reaching the river there’s a steep drop, with a fixed rope helping to descend the cliffs above the Wollangambe River.

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We’re at the entry point for Wollangambe Lower Section and inflating our li-los by 12:30pm – this is also the exit point for Wollangambe One / Upper Section. We’re all looking rather professional as we get ready… until Sam inflates “The Otter”!

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It’s much cooler in the Wollongambe Canyon, and it’s nice to be in the water with a short swimming / liloing section to get us started. Compared to the Wollongambe Upper Section a year ago, there’s more rock scrambling in this section.

Not far from the start there’s a tricky drop of about 2m –  you could jump (but you need to land very precisely to avoid a submerged rock) or used the frayed rope that’s been installed. Or a combination of the two, with a jump into the river from half-way down!

The water level is relatively low, so there’s quite a few “rapids” that require careful navigation to avoid tearing our lilos… and otters…

There are not many long swimming sections, but there are frequent, deep sections between the rock scrambles. It would be as tough (if not tougher) than Wollangambe One without lilos.

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It’s hard to fully appreciate the beauty of the river/canyon, when your attention is frequently focussed on finding a way around the boulders and rapids. But when you do stop and look around – or you’re floating along one of the deep sections of the river – it’s a pretty amazing landscape with the crystal-clear water of the Wollangambe River surrounded by steep cliffs and rock formations sculpted over millions of years.

It doesn’t take long between these brief moments of contemplation before the next set of obstacles presents itself. Seems to be a more rocky challenges here than Wollangambe One!

Like Wollangambe One, the lower section of the river is home to many Sydney Crayfish, a red spiny burrowing species that’s indigenous to the Greater Blue Mountains. A few water dragons also watch our progress down the river.

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At the entrance to  Whungee Wheengee Canyon (MGA568919) we greet a couple of more serious canyoners who have been exploring some of the tributaries of the Wollangambe River. We’re now well past the half-way mark. There’s a huge overhang a bit further on, after another tricky section where the river has vanished under a collection of car-sized boulders. Time for a last snack break and a check of our map.

A last magnificent section of still water and towering cliffs that we li-lo down, as we come up to the last bend in the river before our exit.

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I’m always a bit nervous about missing an exit – it’s a long way down the river before the next track out!

It’s a relatively straightforward route out – the track is initiially very steep as it follows a ridge up, before the ascent becomes more gradual. There’s a few vantage points over the Wollangambe Wilderness, and you can just make out the route of the Wollangambe River.

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The narrow track reaches a grassy clearing after about 2km, where it becomes a  firetrail that ascends very gradually through tall eucalypts and ferns. The exit route is slightly shorter than the entry, and after about an hour of walking we’re back at the Cathedral Reserve Camping Ground, finishing right next to the firetrail we took down to the river.

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 0.0km Start at Cathedral Reserve Camping Ground (firetrail)
 2.2km Start of track down from firetrail to Wollagambe Canyon
 3.6km Reach Wollangambe Canyon at MGA560916 (8931-2S Wollangambe map)
 9.0km Junction of Whungee Wheengee Canyon (MGA568919)
10.4km Exit point from Wollangambe River (MGA572925)
13.2km Turn right onto Mount Wilson (North) firetrail
13.8km Reach Cathedral Reserve Camping Ground
Location Starts at Cathedral Reserve Camping Ground in Mount Wilson
Distance 13.5km. Allow 6-7 hours.
Grade Moderate (with a lilo!). Some rock scrambling and tricky descents
Season/s Ideal in summer on a warm day. Avoid before heavy rain or storms.
Map 8931-2S Wollangambe (1:25,000)
8930-1N Mount Wilson (1:25,000) – for start/end of track. Not really required.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources OzUltimate.com has helpful track notes

Map-Wollangambe-LowerSection

Glenbrook Creek and the Lost Wallet

 

A mostly off-track hike from Warrimoo in the Blue Mountains down Glenbrook Creek to Glenbrook station via Duck Hole and the Blue Pool.

A series of hot December days means that after a successful trip down Wollangambe Canyon a few days earlier, I’m looking for another creek or river for a planned bushwalk with a friend visiting from the UK. The area around Glenbrook looks like a good option – we’d leave the car at Warrimoo, head down to Glenbrook Creek and hopefully make it as far as Lapstone, taking the train back to the car. A bit or prior research yielded some track notes from a bushwalking book, one topographical map showing a track most of the way and another map that had no trail at all… with the temperature forecast to be in the mid 30s (Celsius), we could always take to the creek!

It’s already pretty warm when we reach the trailhead at the end of Florabella St in Warrimoo at 10am. There’s not much parking – but there’s no-one else crazy enough to walk in this heat, as we head down the Florabella Pass.

 

The track descends pretty consistently for the first kilometre, with well-constructed steps hewn into the rock and a few overhanging caves.

 

Although the trail is mostly downhill and fairly shaded, it traverses a few small creeks and valleys. After about 3.2km there’s a well-marked track that goes up to Plateau Parade in Blaxland – there’s a deep overhang here and it makes a nice rest stop.

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Soon after this there’s the first glimpses of Glenbrook Creek, and we start to keep an eye out for a trail down.

 

The path down from the main trail is impossible to miss… while the track down is not signposted, there’s a sign pointing back to “Florabella Pass” (at Springwood 777632

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The track is very steep but short, and we’re at the creek in less than 15 minutes.

 

From here my guidebook suggests the trail is a bit “scungy”, so I’m not sure what to expect. Turns out there is no trail – at least there might have been ten years, ago but there’s no remnant of any track along the creek anymore. There’s fairly thick scrub right down to the edge of the eater. The easiest way to proceed is down the creek, which is mostly no more than waist deep, with occasional sections of rock-hopping.

 

It’s relatively slow-going, with a deep section near Boulder Pool (bottom right); there might be more water than usual despite the current hot and dry spell, as I’ve seen photos of the the same pool with a broad sandy bank. We see a few large eels along the bottom of the creek in the shallower parts.

 

There’s one last, deep section as we approach the Duck Hole. We swim for about 100m down the river, emerging on the northern side of the river. Here we see the only person we encounter all day: a backpacker is relaxing by the river, and is a little surprised by two people emerging from the creek! We have a chat and a short break, and continue down the river.

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The area around the Duck Hole is quite picturesque, with some nice spots to swim from. Woudn’t be a bad place to camp either, with flat camping spots close to the water but well shaded by trees.

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There’s an exit track here that goes up to Glenbrook, but we’re looking to get to the Blue Pool further downstream. Although we’re not going to get as far as Lapstone. It’s been pretty slow going, and it’s now 3pm (we’ve taken about three hours to cover just over 3km).

 

The good news is that while there’s still no clear track along this section, after some initial scrambling through thick undergrowth, we cross the river and find a rough track on the southern side (right-hand side going downstream). It’s not really a marked trail, but it feels like it night have been a track some time ago, and is much quicker than wading along the creek as we have been.

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We stop for a break about half-way between the Duck Hole and Blue Pool, having made pretty good time – about 45min to cover 1.5km, which is about twice our previous pace. It’s here, after enjoying a freshing dip, I realise that my wallet and car keys are no longer in my backpack.

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We head back to the Duck Hole – I’m pretty sure I must have left them somewhere near the spot we came out of the creek, where we had a short break, but can’t see them. I look in a few different spots, before reluctantly giving up. I’m not expecting anymore to find them, as we’ve only seen one person on the whole walk. It also means that rather than driving my car back to Sydney, we’ll be taking the train… I’ll have to come back the next day with my spare keys to pick up the car. We also don’t make it to the Blue Pool, but take the track up from the Duck Hole up to Glenbrook Station (it’s about 1.1km up to the ridge and then 1.2km along the railway line to the station).

 

[Somewhat amazingly, Max & Lara manage to track me down about two weeks later having found the wallet and keys in my drybag, and drop it off at the local police station. Turns out I’d left them just after the Duck Hole on top of a boulder, at one of the spots where we crossed the creek! It’s a big relief as I’d replaced the credit cards, but still hadn’t started the process of getting replacement keys and cards.]

I’ll have to come back and do the very last section from the Blue Pool… track distances beloe are based on finishing via Blue Pool.

 0.0km Start at end of Florabella St, Warrimoo
 3.2km Junction with track to Plateau Parade (Blaxland)
 3.8km Take steep track down to Glenbrook Creek (Springwood MGA777632)
 4.0km Glenbrook Creek is reached
 7.2km Duck hole (and exit track to Glenbrook [2.3km to Glenbrook station]
10.2km Blue Pool
12.8km Glenbrook Station
Location Starts at Florabella St in Warrimoo (if driving) or Warrimoo statuion. Finishes at Glenbrook station (with two exit tracks, from Duck Hole or Blue Pool).
Distance Approx 13km. Allow 8-9hrs due to off-track sections
Grade Moderate. 225m total ascent.
Season/s Ideal in summer on a warm day
Map 9030-3N Penrith (1:25,000)
9030-4S Springwood (1:25,000)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to GPX format.
Resources Take a Walk in the Blue Mountains (John & Lym Daly) has this walk and some variants, but references a track that no longer exists

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.