From Pigeon House Mountain in the south to the spectacular Fitzroy Falls in the north, Morton National Park will leave you feeling airborne.
Morton National Park in the southern highlands of New South Wales is a place like no other. As one of the state’s largest national parks it protects 1900sq km of mountains, gorges, waterfalls and rainforest. The park is named after Mark Morton, a local whose passion resulted in the protection of this unique and beautiful landscape.
A well-known landmark within the park is Pigeon House Mountain, a 720-metre peak on the Budawang Range. This mountain was aptly named by Captain Cook in 1770 due to its resemblance to a square dove house. However, local Aborigines disagreed with Cook’s perception and named it Didthul, which translates to woman’s breast. You’ll have to make up your own mind about the mountain’s appearance.
The 5.3km return walk to this distinctively shaped summit is becoming increasingly popular, though it is graded as difficult. The hike starts off with a steep 800-metre climb before levelling out for one kilometre. The final section involves a 500-metre steep ascent until you reach the base of a series of steel ladders attached to the cliff face. You’ll have to negotiate a near-vertical 60-metre climb before you get to enjoy the sweeping vistas and unparalleled panoramic views. We recommend leaving the younger kiddies at home for this trek.
The best way to experience Morton National Park is by pitching a tent in one of the four camping areas. If you fancy a more secluded spot, take your pick from Wog Wog, Toorooroo or Blue Gum Flat where you’ll have to be completely self-sufficient (bring your own drinking water). Also, please note that Blue Gum Flat is not suitable for camper trailers.
In the north, Gambells Rest is a well-serviced campground near the town of Bundanoon. Accessible by a sealed road, the camping area boasts 10 level sites of varying sizes suitable for tents, camper trailers and caravans. The amenities block has the best gas-powered showers you’ll find in any national park.
This campsite is the perfect spot from which to explore the northern part of the park. A series of lookouts and walking tracks provide quick and easy access to the area’s stunning scenery. Head down Echo Point Road to the car park and picnic area, which is the starting point for a number of these walks. From here, be sure to head to Echo Point Lookout for spectacular views of the Ettrema Wilderness. The walk to the Mount Carnarvon Lookout starts from the same car park. The easy 30-minute return walk meanders through bushland before opening up to magnificent vistas.
If you fancy a longer walk, the one-hour Lovers Walk to Bonnie View is easy and rewards with fantastic views. On the way back you’ll pass the lookout at Beauchamps Cliff, as well as the Wishing Well – a favourite spot for honeymooners.
Not far off is the Grand Canyon, aptly named for its views of the escarpment. From here a short walk leads to Sunrise Point; a beautiful spot to watch the sun rise over the mountains. If you’re a keen photographer it’s well worth the effort to get up early to catch the sun’s first rays. Nearby Tooths Lookout also provides spectacular panoramas.
For scenery of a different kind, amble down to Fern Glen where impressive king ferns dominate the landscape. The 15-minute walk is a nice change from the lookout circuit and suitable for families with young kids. Alternatively, the 1.5-hour return hike to the picturesque Fairy Bower Falls is a moderately difficult hike. It’s certainly a great way to escape the summer heat, though keep an eye on the leeches that thrive in this moist environment.
The track begins by heading 600 metres down to the creek where you may stumble across a set of waterwheels left by previous bushwalkers. You’ll cross the tiny creek and then follow the ridgeline until arriving at the junction of the Amphitheatre Walk at Nicholas Pass. This track then leads to the bottom of the falls. Allow plenty of time to admire the falls set amongst lush rainforest.
After a day of sightseeing and hiking, a visit to idyllic Bundanoon is compulsory. The small tranquil town, with a population of around 2000, is only 90 minutes from Sydney. During April every year the town celebrates everything Scottish at the Brigadoon Highland Gathering. There’s a bagpipe parade and the famous Highland Games. You can try your hand at tossing the caber, hurling haggis and throwing eggs, or just sit back and enjoy Scottish country dance demonstrations. Bundanoon’s population swells to more than 10,000 people, many from Scottish descent, during this event.
While there, pay a visit to the popular Ye Olde Bicycle Shoppe and Cafe to sample some homemade cakes. You can also hire a bike and explore an extensive network of cycling tracks. Have a look at the cafe’s colourful mural and learn about the town’s history. First named Bundanoon in 1881 by the Gundungurra people, the village became a favourite holiday destination after the construction of the railway. However, tourism waned after World War II when more people could afford cars and travel further.
Also known as Australia’s first bottled-water-free town, Bundanoon gained world fame in July 2009 when the town’s residents unanimously voted in favour of banning bottled water. The initiative was in response to Norlex’s plan to extract water from the town’s bore. As a result, plastic water bottles were replaced with free public bubblers.
When back at Gambells Rest, allow time to visit the Erith Coal Mine. You can start the walk from the campground or drive to the Erith Coal Mine car park off Echo Point Road. As you wander along the old dirt road riddled with rocks you’ll start to hear the rhythmic sound of running water. Eventually a narrow metal staircase will lead to the entrance of the former coal mine and allow the first glimpse of the falls.
As you clamber down to the bottom of the falls, you’ll notice a dramatic change in vegetation. The moist soil, high humidity and increased wind protection allows Coachwood and Callicoma to thrive. The crystal clear pond is also a great swimming hole on a hot summer’s day and the perfect playground for kids. The fern-lined creek with moss-covered rocks is a photographer’s Mecca, particularly on a cloudy day.
If you have a few extra days, a picturesque 37km drive to the town of Tallong is in order. Tallong plays host to Badgerys and Long Point lookouts on the north-western side of the park. At Badgerys Lookout, a well-worn path along the rocks leads to a spectacular vantage point from where the breathtaking Shoalhaven Gorge stretches out. If you’re scared of heights steer clear; the cliff wall drops 460 metres to the Shoalhaven River. Long Point Lookout features a well-constructed viewing platform that rewards with vistas of Shoalhaven Gorge. Alternatively, a 300-metre track leads to the Upper Lookout with greater panoramic views.
Last but not least, the famous Fitzroy Falls on the north-eastern side of the park are not to be missed. The majestic falls, named after New South Wales Governor Sir Charles Augustus Fitzroy who visited the area in 1850, plunge 80 metres down the escarpment to then flow into the Kangaroo River.
The award-winning Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre has multiple displays detailing the region’s history as well as information on the local flora and fauna. The adjacent cafe is a nice spot to have a cup of coffee or some lunch.
A trip to Morton National Park is bound to stack on the kilometres, but you’ll be guaranteed spectacular scenery around every corner. It’s the kind of park that inspires you to get away from the crowds and enjoy the Aussie bush.
*Originally published in 4X4 Australia magazine.