Every few years we get the energetic urge to climb to the summit of Mt Warning, on the beautiful Tweed Coast of Northern NSW. Looking at the mountain from afar it is easy after time passes to forget the hard slog to get to the top. Time that quickly becomes irrelevant once we are halfway up and remembering why we said we wouldn’t need to climb it again.
Never the less, once you achieve the summit, you also remember why it’s well worth the time and effort.
Mt Warning was first seen and named by Captain James Cook, in order to alert seafarers of the offshore reefs. While Byron Bay is the easterly most point of the Australian Mainland, Mt Warning – because of its height is the first place in Australia were the suns light touches.
Mt Warning is the central core of an ancient shield volcano which last erupted around 23 million years ago. The original volcano would have been twice the height of the current mountain. The erosion of the volcano has left the central feeders (Mt Warning and Mount Nullum) and the rim of the caldera which forms the rim of the tweed valley.
Mt Warning (or Wollumbin) is a place of cultural and traditional significance to the Bundjalung people and is a sacred site where particular ceremonies and initiation rites are performed.The Bundjalung people observe cultural and traditional restrictions forbidding the uninitiated from climbing the mountain, and, as such, ask that others also do not attempt to climb the mountain. The National Parks and Wildlife Service advertise this request and do not encourage climbers to hike the Mt. Warning/Wollumbin Trail up the mountain, but it is not expressly forbidden by park regulations.
Personally I think this is an opportunity missed by the aboriginal people to educate the greater population and seems to be a common thread in Australia. We absolutely should respect traditional, sacred places and treat them with reverence, but exclusion policies only succeed in highlighting differences and causing division.
The Walking Trail
Okay, so putting aside the wrong or right of ascending the mountain, let’s talk about the actual trail.. It is listed everywhere as a 4 to 5 hour strenuous hike of extreme grade and between 60,000 and 100,000 people a year make the 9km round trip.
A lot of your time will be spent watching the uneven ground for loose rocks and roots.
I recommend you take water snacks, a hat and a small first aid kit – and it helps to take a partner (thanks my long suffering husband) who can carry it in his backpack 🙂
Wear good shoes that wont slip or give you blisters. Some recommend a walking pole and normally I’m all for them, but I’ve seen a few people struggle up the last – almost vertical ascent, trying to carry the pole as well. Yes I did say vertical – we will get to that shortly!
Do not forget the camera – the view of the gold coast hinterland from the top is stunning! If you get a clear day you can see all the way to Cape Byron.
There are several warning signs with time checks to ensure you leave enough time to descend while it is still light. Camping on the mountain top is forbidden, though enticing to see the sunrise. I’m not sure who is going to hike up there to tell you to get down after dark anyway! I’m not sure who is going to hike up there to tell you to get down after dark anyway! The only ones you would probably share it with are the scrub turkeys, hanging around for a snack!
The bottom part of the mountain is a pleasant walk through sub-tropical rainforest and is part of the World Heritage listed Gondwana Rainforests. Listen carefully for bell-birds, rainforest pidgins and plenty of scrub turkeys. If you look closely you may just see a carpet python sunning on a fallen tree.
As you get higher on the mountain the paths are rougher, and rockier and the wind picks up suddenly as you round the bend to this final ascent.
This for me is always the pleasure and pain point – pleasure because I know I only have 400m to get to the top. Pain – because that 400m is vertical rock and I need to pull myself up via a steel chain! Make no mistake this is a difficult – and potentially dangerous part of the climb, and in summer can get pretty hairy with large numbers of people using the chain in both directions and trying to pass each other.
I’ve climbed the mountain a number of times over my life and I have seen (and have been myself) all levels of fitness. A bit of agility and fitness will however go along way. My most recent trip has been following months of physio on a torn calf muscle and a knee joint that is basically out of place, so while from a general fitness and cardio level it was quite an easy walk, the lack of agility certainly slowed down the walk. But if you start early in the morning – don’t be rushed and just take the time to enjoy being out in such a pristine environment.
I find the act of walking itself to be meditative and restorative to the soul. Walking in such a magical place makes it even more so.
Remember however it is a sacred place so leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but memories.