Australia is not entirely well known for its mountains, which is a little unfair. Certainly it doesn’t have the dizzying heights offered by its neighbor, New Zealand, which is where many people would head to if they wanted some serious mountain walking action. And, yes, Australia’s highest mountain, Mt. Kosciuszko, could be counted as a mere sapling at only 2,228m, compared to New Zealand’s towering Aoraki Mt. Cook at 3,754m. So if it’s giant mountains you want, then Australia perhaps doesn’t have it.
What it does have, however, are lots of excellent mountains that you can easily walk up and down again in a day, without having to go the whole hog and carry everything on your back. Although those options certainly exist, from the 65km five-day overland track across Tasmania to the quite frankly bonkers 5,330km year-long Bicentennial National Trail, if that is more your thing. Right now, though, I want to talk about my three favourite mountain walks in Australia, all of which are doable in a day if you are reasonably fit and not entirely afraid of heights. No specialist equipment is technically required for any of them, although it is possibly recommended for the Castle Rock climb. As I discovered.
1. Cradle Mountain
First on my list is Tasmania’s most iconic mountain, if not its highest: Cradle Mountain. Looming over Dove Lake, and part of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, Cradle Mountain is the starting point for the aforementioned overland track. The climb up it follows, for a way, the first part of this track. Cradle Mountain really is a staggeringly pretty mountain.
The walk itself (and there are multiple routes up and down), for the most part, is not too challenging, for whilst the mountain is 1545m high, the point you start at is on the plateau at around 900m. Fairly easy going, therefore, until you get to the actual peak ascent, at which point all notions of a path go out of the window, and you find yourself scrambling up a boulder field.
Notions of personal safety must, at this point, be largely tossed out of the window. This is however worth it, because from the top, on a clear day — which it was when I climbed it — the view really is quite stunning. You can see the majority of the route of the overland track, as well as the epic scenery that makes up the plateau. People say that Tasmania is about as close to New Zealand as you can come without actually going to New Zealand. So that was Cradle Mountain. More pictures from that walk can be found on the Facebook page for my blog, Finding the Universe.
2. Mt. Toolbrunup
Another great walk I did was Mt. Toolbrunup in the Stirling Ranges of Western Australia. These are a seriously weird mountain range, rising out of an otherwise flat and featureless arable plain, to a maximum peak height of 1,073m, located 337km south west of Perth. They don’t feel quite right sitting as they do, rising apparently out of nowhere to form a range only 60km long, particularly given the largely nothing filled surrounds. Fascinating Stirling Range fact of the day: This area contains more species of wildflower than the entire British Isles.
Bluff Knoll, as the highest peak in the range (and the highest peak within 1000km) is without doubt the most climbed mountain in the range, and that one was certainly climbed, but my favourite climb in the ranges was Mt. Toolbrunup, which is the third highest peak (only 21m less than Bluff Knoll). The main reason I enjoyed this climb so much was because it was the first climb we did up a mountain where the idea of a path was replaced by climbing up a giant boulder field, an experience I was later able to draw upon for the Cradle Mountain climb. A series of yellow posts marked the way up the fairly vertical ascent, which was in equal parts exhilarating and terrifying.
Here’s a video of that path, to give you an idea:
Here’s a video of me at the top as well, looking a bit knackered:
So that was Toolbrunup. Not a long climb in terms of time, but definitely a challenge.
3. The Castle
My absolute favourite climb in Australia however, has to have been the climb up the Castle, a mountain in the Budawang Ranges of New South Wales, around 200km SW of Sydney. I attempted multiple walks in this general area, but the weather was often against me. This time however, everything came together. The walk started from Long Gully campsite, which was pretty much at the base of the climb, and was where I stayed the night so as to get a good early start. The walk is usually recommended to be done as a two-day hike, but as I didn’t have the gear for hiking and camping, I figured I could just walk quickly and get it over and done in a day.
I should, perhaps, have been slightly concerned by the way the walk started, with this ominous sign: “This walk includes rock climbs. Walkers should be suitably equipped and experienced.” However, I concluded that this was Australia’s over-zealous health and safety regulations (who am I kidding, they let you climb 67m-high trees with no form of safety equipment if that’s your thing), and just went for it anyway. About a hundred meters into the walk was a river crossing. And this wasn’t just a little stream, this was a good old river that required some actual shoe removal and serious rolling up of shorts before wading across. That should really have been a sign of what was to come.
The walk wound its way up the side of the Castle cliffs, past (well, through) a quite delightful and cooling waterfall, before reaching the Saddle, and the bit where the walk stopped being a walk and turned into a climb. The official path didn’t really exist any more, the only way to see where one was supposed to go was via some scratched arrows on the rocks. From time to time the really tricky bits had seriously worn looking ropes to help you out. It was the most challenging walk/climb I did, and I really wouldn’t recommend doing it on your own if you have even a modicum of sense. But once at the top of the plateau that is the Castle Rock, it was all worth it. Vertical cliffs dropped sheer 170m below. Views were afforded all the way across to Pigeon House mountain and the sweep of Jervis Bay. An eagle so big that I actually thought at first glance it was a hang glider drifted lazily past and inspected me. And I had it all to myself. Incredible. I did a video diary of the climb down, which can be found on youtube here, if you want to see the sort of thing I was made to do. Possibly not great if you have a fear of heights, which I really should have had.
So those were my favourite three mountain walks in Australia. Others that didn’t quite make the list included Mt/ Bogong in the Victorian Alps, and, well, a whole bunch of others. It’s an amazing country to walk in, if that’s your thing. Just remember to take some safety precautions, tell someone where you are going, and carry lots and lots of water. And enjoy yourself!
Originally published on Finding the Universe.