Sunday, 16 February 2014

Waratah Trig

There is, we have discovered, a good reason why this track remains unsignposted. It is certainly easy to miss the turnoff, which looks exactly the same as the path that leads to the pit toilet. However, those curious enough to venture past the overhanging bush pea and wattles will be lead through dry, forest to one of the grandest lookout points on the Gibraltar Range - Waratah Trig - a mountain that is also a sacred ceremonial site of the Bundjalung Aboriginal people. 

There is evidence that the hidden track to Waratah Trig was once an officially recognised and maintained walk - it remains marked on one information board and towards the end of the walk there are reflective metal arrows on the rocks as a guide. Initially the trail wanders through open woodland of stringy bark with a thick understory of bush pea, heath and banksias. The tree tops are filled with the constant movement of honeyeaters and thornbills, brush wattle birds and currawongs and flashes of crimson rosella.  This is also one of the best spots in the area for seeing wild waratahs when they flower in November.

As the track to Waratah Trig has become overgrown, it does require close attention and good bushwalking experience to follow. It is a pretty walk but, the stunning views from the top of the bald, rocky peak are its drawcard. Standing on the summit, there is a unique sense of wilderness and that feeling of freedom that comes from being out in the open, surveying a landscape that contains barely any sign of human presence.

Our first trip to this little visited peak was on a freezing winter afternoon in 2009 with winds howling across the ranges but scouring the air so clean we were sure we could make out the distinctive shape of Mt Warning - more than 150km away as the crow flies north. But, even on a bad day you can still see the deep rainforest valleys of Washpool and Coombadjha Creeks in the north east and across to the thick forested plateau of the western section of Washpool National Park beyond the Rocky River which runs north. To the south are the jutting granite formations in Gibraltar Range National Park: Old Mans Hat and Anvil Rock.

On a summertime visit, Caz travelled to Waratah Trig on his own and while enjoying lunch on the rocks was joined by a beautiful Cunningham's Skink basking on the warm granite. Hours later, the sun and skink were gone as Caz found himself hunkered down amongst the boulders, trying to avoid a thunderous storm that crackled across the ranges with heavy showers and more howling winds.

Cunningham's Skink

On our first windy, cold visit to Waratah Trig we also had one of our strangest bushwalking encounters. As the afternoon faded into evening, we were startled to see two figures emerge over the crest of the mountain carrying nothing but a couple of aluminium baking trays and a small fish net. Two retired scientists were racing against the fading light searching for the clam-shelled shrimp which they told us only live in small pools atop granite peaks along the east coast of Australia. Their aim was to establish how the shrimp survives the cold winters, when their small pools of water often turn to ice. The scientists didn't stay long and the mountain was returned to us in peace although the wind continued - a low note roaring through the tree tops.

The mountain and it's surrounding forest are also part of an initiation pathway used by the Bundjalung Aboriginal people. Waratah once housed stone arrangements that have unfortunately been scattered and disturbed since European discovery.

Standing on Waratah Trig, the mountaintop certainly feels wild, unique, living. And yet, given the abandoned track markers and overgrown trail, the place also feels sadly forgotten.

However, in researching this blog post it is clear that this is not the case. It is a spot so important to the Bundjalung that information about the site has been closely guarded and its meanings protected for younger generations. In recognition of this, Waratah Trig has simply been removed from our well-signposted culture but continues to be a place of great significance to local aboriginal people. According to the Dept. of Environment website the Bundjalung have asked that others respect the sacred site and avoid visiting it, hence the removal of track signage and the lack of any information on it as a walking track.

And I suspect, Waratah is a better place for its current anonymity.


  1. On our way back from the trig, we got a bit lost and stumbled over what looked like an abandoned marijuana plantation. lolz.

    1. Always amazes me the effort some gardeners go to…we've come across similar abandoned plots in some pretty out-of-the-way places.