Schneeberg, Lower Austria

The perfect day trip from Vienna when you want to escape the city. There are a number of ways to get to Klosterwappen (Schneeberg summit) at 2,076m, the highest peak in Lower Austria.

Time for another hike on our European adventure… while Vienna is not really surrounded by mountains or near any high alpine peaks, a Google search identifies Schneeberg as good option for a day trip. The Klosterwappen summit on Schneeberg is 2,076m high, making it the highest mountain of Lower Austria. A bit more research confirms I can get there in under two hours by train, and I manage to convince my son Luke he should come with me.

There are multiple walking trails to the Schneeberg plateau, as well as a rack-and-pinion railway (the Schneeberg Railway) which is over 100 years old and takes you to a height of 1,800m, and a chairlift which takes you to 1,210m [see bottom for summary of routes]. The original plan was to take the chairlift up and tackle one of the more challenging routes to the summit – but on arrival at Puchberg am Schneeberg railway station I discover the chairlift is operating only on weekends. Conscious of time, as we have to be back in Vienna by 6pm, we decide to walk up to the peak via the Cog Railroad Trail (Zahnradbahnwanderweg), and then descend on the train. (It’s worth booking ahead for the train – we would have had to wait almost two hours for the first train with seats going up the mountain – see links at the bottom.)

It’s a relatively easy walk as the gravel road follows the train track, although the total ascent from the village of Puchberg am Schneeberg at 585m to the 2,076m Schneeberg summit (Klosterwappen) is about 1,500m. A pretty decent climb for a day walk!

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We have a mini-break at Hengsthütte (1,012m), one of the stations on the train line, that has a small restaurant where I bribe Luke with a can of Coke.

Although the views so far are not particularly inspiring and the walking is a little monotonous, there is some nice display of autumn foliage. (If it seems like I’m not particularly upbeat about the walk at this point, you’re right – I am struggling a little to explain to Luke as each train passes us why we didn’t just catch the train up…! I vaguely recall a quote about “strength and growth coming only through continuous effort and struggle”. I don’t sound very convincing, though.)

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We reach the next hut (Baumgartner, 1,568m asl), which is also a train station, after another hour of walking. There’s another restaurant with a nice outdoor seating area, although we don’t stop. We see a few other hikers for the first time, who appear to have started the walk from this station – a much better idea as the walking starts getting more interesting from here. For the first time we can see the top of the Schneeberg plateau in the distance.

Just after the Baumgartner hut, the road becomes a walking path, and the forest starts to change from tall pine trees to more stunted versions. It’s much nicer walking – and there isn’t a train going past us every 40min reminding us that we didn’t need to walk!

There’s also some great views down onto the valley below, and the towns of Schneebergdörfl and Puchberg am Schneeberg in the distance, where we commenced out hike.

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We make good time on this last section up to the Schneeberg plateau, reaching the edge of the low pine forest – and the first patch of remnant snow – after about 45min. We can see the cross indicating one of the Schneeberg lookouts (but not the summit) in the distance, and I’m subjected to the first of many snowballs thrown at me by Luke…

We make the decision to continue directly to the summit, bypassing the top railway station (Hochschneeberg mountain station). It’s taken us just over three hours from the Puchberg am Schneeberg station at the bottom to the top of the main plateau, but we still have another 300m or so of elevation to get to the summit – or 1.25hrs according to the sign.

It’s very easy walking again, and there’s lot’s of people around – obviously all people who have taken the train up, and haven’t benefited from the strength and growth that came from our continuous effort and struggle hiking up from the bottom! Ahead of us, on the left-hand side of the long ridge, is Klosterwappen, the highest point on Schneeberg. Another hut (Damböckhaus) is packed full of people enjoying lunch on the mountain.

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After 15min along the gravel road, there’s a turn-off to the Klosterwappen summit. Marked by snow poles, there’s a very rough track that heads up to the peak across an alpine meadow.

The views get increasingly more impressive as we head up the steepest part of the slope towards the summit.

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It takes us just over four hours to the summit – a bit slower than the signs suggest on the first part up along the train line – but much quicker on the last section when the sight of the peak (and a few patches of snow to distract Luke) inspire us to pick up the pace (at one point we thought we wouldn’t have time to make it to the very top).

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While the summit is more of a long plateau than an alpine peak, the views from the top are magnificent, stretching in all directions. Looking south-west toward Styria there are mountains as far as the eye can see, including the Rax mountains.

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In the other direction, to the east, is the Bucklige Welt (the “land of a thousand hills”) and the Rohrbachgraben valley.

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We have a brief stop at the summit, before heading back down the hill. (With a bit more time, we could have followed the summit ridge to the Fischerhütte at the other end, which also has a cafe/restaurant open from May-November. From there there’s an alternate route back to the bottom.)

Looking back from the bottom, there’s a nice view back of the summit plateau, with Klosterwappen (2,076m asl) on the far left, and Fischerhütte (2,048m) at the right-hand side.

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There’s just enough time for Luke to build a snowman, expertly crafted from one of the snow drifts. It was a very hot summer and none of the winter snow lasted, but the many snow patches on the mountain are from a cold front a few weeks earlier.

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Before we catch the 3:45pm train back down to Puchberg am Schneeberg, I’ve got time for a few last photos from the Hochschneeberg summit station of the valley below and surrounding mountains.

It’s a much quicker trip down on the train than our 3-hour hike up – and we’re glad we booked in the morning as the train was completely full (there were still some seats available on the next few trains.)

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Schneeberg Summit Routes

I found it a bit confusing working out what the different options were when I planned the trip… the table below is a summary of some of the summit routes on Schneeberg!

Route Details
Cog Railroad Trail (Zahnradbahnwanderweg) – Puchberg am Schneeberg to Hochschneeberg top station 9.3km (1200m elevation gain). Gravel road up to Baumgartner then walking trail. Or take the train 🙂
Hochschneeberg top station to summit (Klosterwappen) 6.5km return (300m elevation gain). Gravel road for 1km then rough track
Hochschneeberg top station to Fischerhütte  (summit plateau) 7km return (280m elevation gain). Gravel road (easier walk than Klosterwappen)
Hochschneeberg to Klosterwappen summit and back via Fischerhütte (circuit) 7.3km circuit (300m elevation gain). Mostly gravel road
Losenheim to Edelweiss Hut 3.4km one-way (470m elevation gain). . Alternative is to take chairlift.
Edelweiss Hut to Klosterwappen summit 3.9km one-way  (820m elevation gain). One of the hardest routes to summit.
Edelweiss Hut to Hochschneeberg via summit (take chairlift up and train down) 6.8km one-way (850m elevation gain).

As well as these walking tracks to the summit, you can also take the Panorama Paradise track from the Hochschneeberg station. This is a circular walk (approx 3km distance and 150m total ascent) that includes the Panorama View lookout. This is well sign-posted and can be done within an hour.

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Location Multiple options to reach the peak on foot, train (up to 1,800m asl) or cablecar (up to 1210m). All start from the town of Puchberg am Schneeberg which is serviced by a regional train line as well as road.
Distance 12.4km from Puchberg am Schneeberg to Klosterwappen summit
Grade Moderate (due to 1,510m total ascent)
Season/s May-November (skiing activities in winter). Chairlift open weekends only outside of winter and summer months.
Resources

Mount Faito – Trail of the Angels (Sorrento)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gorges, waterfalls and peaks of Tivoli

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

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

Villa Gregoriana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monte Catillo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walls of Jerusalem – hike to Dixons Hut

The hardened track to Dixons Kingdom and Mt Jerusalem provides relatively easy access to Tasmania’s most remote alpine National Park, with spectacular scenery and the option of climbing a number of peaks along the track.

I’d originally planned Walls of Jerusalem as an overnight walk. Described as “a spectacular labyrinth of alpine lakes and tarns, dolerite peaks, ancient but fragile forests of Pencil Pines and unique alpine vegetation”, Walls of Jerusalem is one of Tasmania’s “Great Bushwalks”. It’s been on my To Do list for a while, waiting for an opportunity when I have a few days in Tasmania. But the weather forecast is for miserable weather, including snow, and I’m getting soft in my old age 🙂 So rather than giving up completely, I’ve done a day walk to Meander Falls on the previous day, and am undertaking the Walls of Jerusalem hike as a day trip.

Staying at the nearest accommodation at Mole Creek, I make an early start to reach the Walls of Jerusalem (Lake Rowallan) car park just after 7am. I sit in the car for ten minutes as it starts to sleet. Eventually I figure I may well get going, and I start the climb up from the carpark, past the walker registration booth and up to Trappers Hut.

The sleet turns into snow as I gain altitude, and some of it stays on the ground. It’s cold but the constant climb keeps my warm enough.

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By the time I reach Trappers Hut, about 2.3km into the walk, there’s a light cover of snow on the ground. Trappers Hut was one of the basic huts used by animal trappers in the 1940s, and was rebuilt in 1990 using the original design. While not suitable for an overmight stay, I enjoy a brief nap away from the wind and snow before resuming my hike.

I’ve now completed most of the ascent; just after the hut there’s an alternative track to the Walls via Lake Adelaide and Lake Ball. I had intended to come back via this route (not a marked track), but decide not to with the wet and overcast weather. Continuing straight ahead on the main track, I soon reach the plateau and have the first views of the Walls of Jerusalem in the distance (Kings David Peak is directly ahead).

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There’s now a long walk across the plateau, through a number of picturesque pools and lakes. The track, mostly well-marked and easy to follow, traverses Solomons Jewels – the largest of the lakes. Even with the gloomy weather, this is one of the most scenic and pleasant sections of the walk!

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After the lakes the track crosses the valley formed by the Wild Dog Creek, before reaching the Wild Dog Creek campsite. There are a number of timber camping platforms here which are are fairly private, although I’d recommend continuing further before setting up camp if you are overnighting.

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The track rises again after the campsite up through Herods Gate: to the north-east is Mount Ophel (1,335m asl) and thundering past the track is the swollen Wild Dog Creek. I meet a couple of hikers who look far better equipped than me, and warm to expect deep snow ahead.

To the left of the track is Lake Salome…

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…to the right is King David Peak (1,499m asl) which forms part of the West Wall.

The peaks forming the Walls of Jeruasalem are in all directions, surrounding Lake Salome and the valley I’m walking through like a an enormous amphitheatre.

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There’s also a lot more snow, and at times the track (still mostly boardwalk) is submerged between a foot or more of snow.

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Despite the snow – and limited visibility – once I reach Damascus Gate (the saddle between the Solomons Throne and the Temple) I attempt a couple of side-trips to the peaks along the main track. To the west is Solomons Throne – at 1,469m elevation it’s slightly higher than Mount Jerusalem – and is the highest point in the area that has a marked walking trail. I set off across the snow and up the slope towards the rocky summit.

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At first it’s not too difficult, although about half-way up I put on my micro-spikes to help with traction on the mostly hard-packed snow. It gets more challenging as the track reaches the rock face, and the accumulated and softer snow reaches depths of over a metre.

Where the track enters a narrow and steep gully up to the peak, I give up… even with crampons there’s a risk of either slipping through the snow onto submerged rocks, or sliding down the sleep slope back to the bottom…!

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I admire the views from my vantage point half-way up Solomons Throne – on the opposite side of the valley is The Temple.

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Having returned to the main track after my aborted ascent of Solomons Throne, I decide to try and reach the top of The Temple. At 1,446m asl the peak is only about 20m lower in elevation than Solomons Throne, but it looks like there’s a lot less snow on top. The rocky path is a lot easier to follow, with just a few patches of snow covering the route.

Although while this time I reach the summit**, it’s a somewhat pyrrhic victory as I really can’t see anything from the top! Looking back across the valley at Solomons Throne it’s shrouded by cloud. You can see how the narrow gulleys and southern flank of the mountain are deep in snow. (** Technically I don’t quite reach the summit – my GPS says I’m at 1,425m when I turn around, but I don’t see the point of continuing when visibility is so limited.)

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Back on the main track, I continue to Dixons Kingdom Hut. The trail descends slightly along the lower slopes of The Temple, through a large forest of Pencil Pines (some of the trees are estimated to be up to a thousand years old). There’s snow across most of the path, and I’m glad that there are footprints marking the route, as there’s no natural landmarks to follow.

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Dixons Kingdom Hut lies in a clearing at the edge of the Pencil Pine forest. The small hut, originally built as a base for cattle grazing, provides some shelter but is not intended to be used for accommodation. Tent camping is permitted in this area, and would have been my destination if doing an overnight walk.

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This is my destination for today: I would have had time to climb Mt Jerusalem, but while the weather is improving slightly it’s still very overcast. After a short break and a chat to two hikers who are warming up inside the hut, I head back.

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Towards the end of the walk the skies are clearing. I’m glad I’ve managed to finally do this walk, and in some ways the snow and cloud enhance the alpine landscape. But I feel I’ll have to come back, on a day when the sky is clear and there are views from the many peaks along the track.

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Location Start at Lake Rowallan car park, accessed via Mersey Forest Road from Sheffield / Mole Creek. Last section of road is gravel but 2WD is fine.
Distance 22km return as walked (add 4km if summiting Mt Jerusalem)
Grade Moderate. Total elevation gain of ~1000m. Well-constructed track.
Season/s Sep/Oct – April unless equipped for snow conditions. Check weather forecast before commencing walk and always be prepared for changing conditions!
Maps
  • TASMAP Walls of Jerusalem NP (1:25,000)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • Parks & Wildlife Service “Walls of Jerusalem Fact Sheet
  • “Day Walks Tasmania” by John & Monica Chapman (p.137)
Map-Walls-of-Jerusalem
Map showing Walls of Jerusalem track. Source: TasTrails

Meander Falls and Split Rock Circuit (Western Tiers)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glow Worm Tunnel via Pagoda Track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s a pretty spectacular landscape!

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It’s pretty impressive from above too…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mount Tennent, Namadgi NP

A 30min drive from Canberra, Mount Tennent is a great half-day walk that incorporates part of the Australian Alps Walking Track and offers expansive views from the summit.  

On the recommendation from a colleague and with a morning free of meetings during a recent Canberra trip, I make the short drive to Namadgi National Park for the walk up to the Mount Tennent summit. (It’s been 13 years since my last ACT walk, a more challenging 3-day, off-track walk also in Namadgi National Park.) Leaving the car at the Namadgi Visitor Centre, I quickly find the start of the well sign-posted walk.

The track I’m on is the start – or end – of the classic Australian Alpine Walking Track (AAWT), which continues for 650km through four national parks to Victoria… The first section of the track also forms part of the short “Woodland Discovery Trail” and is relatively flat as it heads towards the hills in the distance. There hasn’t been much rain anywhere in the region for a while: the waterhole has a tiny puddle of muddy water and the ground is very dry.

After about 600m the track crosses Boboyan Road, with the Walk Register located on the opposite side of the road. I could have started the walk here; there’s enough parking for a few cars. The track is still fairly flat as it follows the base of some small-ish hills, with the “scar” caused by a landslide visible on the front of the mountain that happened in March 2012.

After about a kilometre the track starts climbing, although not too steeply – it’s just enough of a gradient that I shed my jacket on a chilly winter morning. The Cypress Pine Lookout is reached after 1.6km from the road and offers nice views east towards the Gudgenby River and NSW/ACT border.

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The track now climbs fairly consistently through the dry landscape. I don’t see any wildlife – just a couple of people jogging past me up the mountain at a rapid pace.

After about 4.5km the landscape changes to Snow gum woodland and it finally feels like I’m in an alpine area! At the 4.8km mark there’s an intersection: the Australian Alpine Walking Track continues to the right. I turn left towards Mt Tennent.

The next 1.4km is fairly flat, and is very pleasant walking through tall snow gums. After 6km the track reaches a large, grassy area. After seeing only two joggers in the last two hours, I’m surprised to see a large group of people sprawled on the grass with big packs. As I get closer, I see it’s a school group. They’re debating whether it’s cheating to leave their packs here for the final section up the Mount Tennent summit. From this grassy plain, a fire trail covers the final 1.2km to the top.

Finally I’m at the top of Mount Tennent (elevation 1375m asl), sharing the 360-degree views with a huge radio mast and another Outward Bound school group who are near the end of a 5-day camping trip in Namadgi National Park.

You can see a long way in every direction from the summit… to the west is the Bimberi Wilderness and Namadgi National Park. There’s a light dusting of snow on Mt Bimberi, the highest mountain in ACT.

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To the south-east is the Gudgenby River and Valley, and in the distance the Tinderry Nature Reserve which is characterised by huge granite monoliths and dominated by Tinderry and Tinderry Twin peaks.

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And to the north-east is the outskirts of Canberra.

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It’s back the same way, after my fairly brief stop at the top. On the way back, just before reaching the Namadgi Visitor Centre, I have a quick look at Gudgenby-in-a-box. It’s an 1845 slab hut originally sited in nearby Gudgenby, that was dismantled and stored in a container – hence the name.  Rebuilt within an interpretive shelter, there’s audio and visuals that describe the the living conditions and stories of early settlers. It’s well done and worth a visit.

It’s slightly quicker down than up, and I’m back at the car in just over 3.5 hours. I’ve enjoyed the walk – the only downside after some very pleasant walking along a bush track through alpine forest is the last 2km that’s on a firetrail. But the views make up for it!

Location Start at Namadgi National Park Visitors Centre (access via Tharwa)
Distance 14.7km return (13.5km if you start from Boboyan Road)
Grade Easy/Moderate. Total elevation gain of 820m
Season/s All year. A great winter walk! Can get hot in summer.
Maps
GPS Route Garmin GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources
Mt-Tennent-map
Topographical map showing approx route – track has changed slightly from this. Source: http://mntviews.blogspot.com

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.