Saturday, 3 March 2018

Cathedral Rock Track (Cathedral Rock National Park)


A fantastic circuit walk in Cathedral Rock National Park, the Cathedral Rock Track explores the rugged granite country of the park. Initially passing through beautiful Eucalypt forest dotted with granite boulders, a spur trail scramble through granite tors leads to spectacular 360° views from the summit. A highly enjoyable granite peak walk, the Cathedral Rock Track is a great day walk for road trippers heading along Waterfall Way



Distance: 6 km (loop)
Gradient: Almost continually uphill with some scrambling required to get to the summit of Cathedral Rock itself.  
Quality of Path: Relatively clear and straightforward, though largely natural and unformed leading to the summit
Quality of Signage: Good and informative trailhead, with waypoint signs along the way and some information panels at key points. 
Experience Required: Previous Bushwalking Experience Recommended. 
Time: 2 Hours
Steps: Several formal and informal steps
Best Time to Visit: All Year, as long as its not overly hot or raining heavily.
Entry Fee: No
Getting There: Access to the the trail is from Barokee Rd. From Ebor, take Waterfall Way 6.2 kilometres towards Armidale and turn onto Round Mountain Rd. Just before the gate on Round Mountain Rd, turn right onto Barokee Rd. the trail starts at the day use area car park. 



With Alissa having come back to Queensland for a weeklong visit before five long weeks apart, we both thought a fun road trip would be a great way to spend one of our weekends. After agreeing to try and travel a bit further afield, Alissa and I decided to head deep into New South Wales to visit Waterfall Way - a stunning scenic drive through the waterfall-filled New England high country. A bit too far to reach in a day trip from the Gold Coast, Alissa and I had been considering visiting the area to tackle the Green Gully Track in Oxley Wild River National Park sometime in the future. While we did not have the required five days to tackle that multi-day trail, the weekend gave us enough time to check out some of the areas spectacular waterfalls and tick two walk trails off our day walk bucket list.

Heading West from Coffs Harbour, the drive up into the mountains was incredible, with waterfalls flowing through culverts under the road and breathtaking views to the valleys below. Heading into the town Dorrigo, Alissa and I made our first stop to check out Dangar Falls. Located a few kilometres north of town, these were a perfect example of the epic scale of waterfalls in this region. The fact it was not even part of a national park seems astounding to me coming from the waterfall-poor South West of Western Australia.


Back in the car and continuing onto Guy Fawkes National Park, Alissa and I next visited the multi-tiered Ebor Falls (a third, less spectacular tier can be seen further downstream). This was a truly beautiful waterfall, and one that made me think of the famous Mitchell Falls in the Kimberley due to its tiered appearance though we've yet to tackle that region of our home state.

But of course while Waterfall Way is home to numerous picnic areas and waterfall viewing platforms, it is also surrounded by a plethora of excellent day walks in the many national parks of the region. While waterfall and rainforest walks would seem the most obvious choice, it was the Cathedral Rock Track in granite country that I was most excited about.


Located in Cathedral Rock National Park, the Cathedral Rock Track starts at the end of a gravel road, with signage at the park's entry and at the start of the walk providing information about the trails in the area. Granite rock formations were a frequent sight on the drive in and from the very start of the trail, and the area appeared like a slightly less dry and burnt version of areas in the Perth Hills like John Forrest National Park.


Not far from the start of the track, the trail passes through grassy plains with the track heading along duck boards. This immediately made Alissa and I think of Tasmania, and we were both really hoping to see a wombat waddling across the track. Alas, there would be no wombat sightings along the walk on this day, but I wouldn't be surprised if a few of these adorable marsupials lived nearby. 


After leaving the grassy clearing, the track heads through beautiful Eucalypt forest dotted with large granite boulders. As with the Eucalypt forests we had encountered along the Lower Portals walk trail in Mt Barney National Park, the forests surrounding Cathedral Rock bore a striking resemblance to the forests in the Perth Hills without the usual unsightly char marks that are a characteristic of Jarrah forests. 


After the short section of one way trail heading into the walk, the Cathedral Rock Track reaches a junction. After studying the map, Alissa and I decided that it looked better to head in a clockwise direction and took the left turn at the junction. This would prove to be a good decision as it saves some of the better sections of the loop walk for the end rather than the track peaking too early. 


As we continued, the granite boulders on the right side of the track became increasingly massive, and reminded Alissa and I a lot of sections of the Bibbulmun Track in the rugged Helena Valley.


Fans of the northernmost sections of the Bibbulmun will find a lot to like as the scenery is strikingly similar while having it own unique character. 


Generally speaking, the trail follows a mildly uphill trajectory for its first half as it leads to the start of the scramble to the summit of Cathedral Rock. The trail alignment seemed very well considered as it avoided any truly steep ascents for this part of the walk while passing through more lovely granite country. Due to the fact that the Summers in the area are wet rather than the dry Mediterranean Summers we are used to Perth, it was a real treat to see boulders covered in so much moss in early March - something that I'm sure a lot of locals would take for granted. 



After a fair bit of gradual ascending, Alissa and I reached another trail junction. To the left, an unmarked trail headed off into the bushes and presumably explores the granite boulders visible a bit further along through the trees. Straight ahead was the continuation of the main track while the trail to the right was the spur leading to the summit of Cathedral Rock itself. 


The actual summit of Cathedral Rock is only a short 500 metre ascent but is moderately steep all the way with some scrambling required further along. Seeing the massive granite tors even at this lower stage of the trail filled me with excitement while a jetlagged Alissa was somewhat ambivalent about the slightly challenging terrain ahead. 


As someone who loves rock formations, this was right up my alley as the trail passes right through the middle of a series of massive boulders as it makes its way up the mountain. 


The trail here is not always well formed as it follows a fairly natural and unmodified path to the top. As always with granite, this is probably not a walk to do in wet weather due to the potential slipperiness.


The trail takes a sharp turn left as it gets close to a sheer wall of granite. This sheer wall reminded me a lot of a similarly large formation seen along the Bibbulmun Track between William Bay and Denmark. At this point the trail's difficulty sharply increases as it requires hikers to scramble to the summit. Having tackled walks like Cradle Mountain, Toolbrunup Peak and the extremely difficult Stapylton Amphitheatre walk, this was well within our experience and abilities but it would be a challenge for those without previous bushwalking experience to take on. 


The reward for the ascent was almost immediate, with tower-like formations surrounding us on the way up. 


As the trail become increasingly rocky, Alissa and I jettisoned our trekking poles and used our hands to climb up the rocks. 


Climbing and crawling over boulders, this adventurous section of track reminded Alissa and I a lot of the Granite Skywalk trail to Castle Rock in Western Australia.


Passing through a slot between large tors, Alissa and I continued following the jumble of boulders up to the summit. 


After reaching a large, clear area, Alissa and I looked back and the spectacular granite landscape surrounding us. At this point Alissa had to agree that the walk had been worth the effort as this was a stunningly beautiful and impressive reward for our efforts. 


With Alissa having made it this far and taking photos of the surrounding area, I continued on to the last difficult section of the walk to the true summit. A chain bolted into the rock has been put in place to assist walkers in safely negotiating an angled section of granite. While I've climbed worse slopes on other trails, I appreciated the extra safety that the chain offered as it made the climb much easier than it would have been otherwise. 


The summit of Cathedral Rock features an odd formation that almost looks like a natural summit cairn. My aim had been to take a 360° photograph from the summit, however the strong winds soon put a stop to that idea.


Nevertheless, the views back across the granite tors of Cathedral Rock were truly magnificent and Alissa and I spent some time taking in the beautiful scenery from the summit. Interestingly, while the climb from the trail junction had been relatively easy going (all things considered), Cathedral Rock is actually taller than any mountain in Western Australia - taller even than such favourites as Bluff Knoll and Mt Bruce in Karijini National Park! This is because its base already starts in the high country, and in reality it is probably less geographically prominent than Mt Cooke or the Porongurups in Western Australia. 


After enjoying the views, Alissa and I made our way back down from the mountain by clambering down the boulders. 



Back on the main trail, the Cathedral Rock Track initially heads through fairly standard Eucalypt forest with only a few granite boulders dotting the track.


As with continued along the track and began to descend, Alissa and I were pleased to find ourselves in a valley between several large granite boulders and tors. Having initially thought the best was well and truly behind us, this section of track was a lovely surprise. 


While the trail is most a descent, the trail does rise briefly along this stretch of track to take walkers through some more lovely granite boulders as it leads back to the end of the loop and the return leg to the car. 


The Cathedral Rock Track had been on my hiking wishlist for almost three years after stumbling upon photos of it back in 2015 when I was looking into doing the Grand Canyon Walk Track in the Blue Mountains. Being relatively far from Sydney and living on the other side of the country, I wasn't sure when I would ever get around to checking this hike out. I'm glad to say that the walk lived up it my expectations, with the trail being a combination of a very enjoyable forest circuit and a fantastic granite peak to climb that was adventurous without being extremely difficult. While very similar to many of the granite peaks in Western Australia's South West, I thought the Cathedral Rock Track was a better walk than the Granite Skywalk and about on par with the Nancy Peak Circuit in the Porongurups in terms of a thoroughly enjoyable walking experience. Definitely one worth checking out if you're on a road trip along New South Wale's Waterfall Way. 

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