“Let’s do the Mount Warning hike again when I visit!“. This message from my friend made me think about the last time we reach the Mount Warning summit, in 2014. And I felt unwell. It has been years since my first – and only – Mount Warning climb. And I wish I knew all that follows before our trip. I would have made different choices.
Things to know before planning a Mount Warning hike
Why is hiking Mount Warning so popular?
When you’re driving in the Byron Bay hinterland, enjoying a water-based activity on the coast or hiking another mount in the region, Mount Warning is hard to miss. It has a funny shape that you cannot mix up with any other peak. It got it from being a volcanic plug of a now non-existing volcano. It is 1,156m high, which is very respectful from an Australian point of view.
But Mount Warning made it to many Australian bucket lists for another reason. The summit of Mount Warning receives every day the first sunlight on the Australian continent. This is why it is very popular to ascend Mount Warning by night to be the first ones to see the sunrise in Australia. To be honest, we went to Mount Warning with this objective. I wasn’t particularly thrilled by the idea of being the first one in Australia to catch the sunrise. But a sunrise from the top of a mount is beautiful and mounts are rarely as easy to climb in the dark as Mount Warning.
I wouldn’t put Mount Warning hike on the bucket list for nature lovers
Nature lovers won’t like Mount Warning because it’s become too popular. And hiking in a place that is badly impacted by tourism isn’t enjoyable.
As it became a bucket list item, the place can get crowded. There’s only one track to go up and return, so you may end up in a traffic jam. If hiking in the darkness with only your torch lighting the path sounds adventurous, it’s a whole different story when there are dozens of people around.
And when those people aren’t particularly used to hiking, it can become frustrating. Of course, I am not saying that hiking should only be for experienced and fit people. But I’ve seen people climbing Mount Warning for sunrise with no previous training. And hiking in the dark on a Grade 5 track may not be the best way to start.
Once you reach the top, don’t expect pure nature. You’ll be standing on a platform and sharing the place with a few other groups. Although most of them are there to have a beautiful time enjoying the sunset, it makes it harder to connect with nature. And I’ll keep my comments about the littering for later in this post.
You’ll find suggestions further down for better ways for nature lovers to enjoy Mount Warning.
Aboriginal people ask visitors not to hike Mount Warning
Mount Warning, or Wollumbin, was declared an Aboriginal Place in 2015. The peak is a sacred place to the Bundjalung people, who have inhabited the north coast of New South Wales for dozens of thousands of years. Under Bundjalung law, you have to be chosen people to be allowed to climb Wollumbin. The Bundjalung ask visitors to consider their law and culture and choose not to climb Wollumbin.
There are signs at the start of the walk to inform hikers about it. And it’s clearly written on the National Park website. Back in 2014, I didn’t notice that. In my defence, it’s sadly still not mentioned on the Mount Warning Rainforest Park website, where we stayed. If I found out when I arrived, would I have turned around as I was ready for hiking, after hours of driving and waking up early? It’s easy to say yes when I never had to make the decision. But now that I know and that I feel like the place is being ruined by too many visitors, I won’t go back to the top of Mount Warning.
The aboriginal culture is highly focused on nature, with places representing their gods or ancestors. So when something catches your attention, there are chances that it caught theirs too. Hence, it is not rare to face the dilemma of respecting their old traditions or getting the personal pleasure of experiencing a very attractive site. But it’s their land, so from my point of view, it wouldn’t feel right to plan something that does not respect the Aboriginal culture, and even more if we are participating in degrading the place. I had no problem at all with the idea of not climbing Uluru, as I had always known the Aboriginal position about it. Climbing Uluru won’t even be possible from 2019, and I was happy with the news. Most people around me felt the same about Uluru. But they don’t know about Wollumbin. So, I hope to spread the word.
Some argue that respecting Aboriginal wishes will prevent others to enjoy beautiful natural sights. Honestly, I feel like it’s the opposite. By expressing their wishes for places that are at risk of being damaged by the increasing number of tourists, they protect them. We’re not talking about a few locals hiking with the leaving no trace spirit there. There are about a hundred thousand people per year climbing Mount Warning, sometimes not prepared and not following the conservation rules.
Responsible travel tip: It is important to learn about the culture and beliefs of the local people when you travel. Tourist activities are not always aligned with the wishes of the local communities. Or there can even be different wishes within the communities. Of course, it takes time to research information about every activity and you may face challenges once you arrive at the place. The minimum you can do to respect a place is to leave no trace of your visit – and even go beyond that by picking up the litter you see around.
If you choose to hike Mount Warning, make sure you are prepared
First of all, check on the national park website if the track is open and in good condition.
Although the National Park advertises the Bunjalung people’s request, it is not forbidden by park regulations to hike Mount Warning and there are no plans so far to ban hikers from Mount Warning. You are free to make your own choice. Some strongly support the idea that Mount Warning brings tourists to the region and supports the Tweed River region economy.
If you choose not to respect the Aboriginal wishes, maybe you’ll still be interested in these tips to minimise your impact and show respect to the mountain.
Plan a safe Mount Warning hike
If you don’t respect the Aboriginal people’s wish by not climbing Mount Warning, the least you can do for them is to stay safe during your hike. Their community feels responsible for the visitors that get injured.
“You have to understand that aboriginal people get very emotional about people that get into trouble at these cultural sites,” said Mr Appo, Tweed Shire Council indigenous heritage officer, to ABC Radio.
Mount Warning summit track is a Grade 5 hike described as “very steep and difficult” by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. With 4.5km of ascending; the Mount Warning hike has the reputation to be quite difficult, particularly in the end, requiring a good fitness level. According to the sources, you need to allow between 4 to 5-hour return for the hike. For a group of sportive and very fit people; it took us much less than that (just over two hours return). The start of the Mount Warning hike isn’t too hard if no rain made the path slippery: you go up with many steps and rocks. The difficulty increases for the last 400 meters on sloping rocks. There is a chain to make it easier to haul yourself but at night after a 3km climb, it can be a challenge for some people! People used to trek won’t find it difficult, though. Make sure you stay on the path for your own safety and to avoid erosion.
The weather can be extreme and unpredictable. Always check the weather forecast before starting your hike. You don’t want to be up there when there’s a storm. Although it was the middle of the night when we started the hike, we did it at the beginning of summer and the humid heat of the forest was already hitting us. You’ll need to carry plenty of water. You may sweat while climbing, but it can be chilly at the top of Mount Warning, even during summer. Make sure you bring a jumper.
Don’t start the hike too late. It can get very hot at midday in this region, and the forest can get dark earlier than you expect. It is recommended to hike in the morning.
Back in 2014, we had a chat with an Aboriginal painter we met near our camp. We talked about many fascinating topics such as Aboriginal rights (some I’m glad I double-checked, though). I don’t remember him asking us not to climb Wollumbin. But I remember him asking me to be careful and to ask the mountain before and respect it. The next morning, our group obeyed. It felt weird, but we did ask the mountain for permission before starting climbing in the dark.
Know about the facilities and the rules
The only rubbish bins and toilet facilities are at the base of Mount Warning, in the car park. I highly suggest using them before starting the hike. Remember you choose to enter a sacred site despite local people asking you not to. So respect it by not leaving any waste on it, including human waste. How would you feel if someone was doing that to your sacred place?
If you see any rubbish, even if it’s not yours, I suggest bagging it and carrying it back with you. You would go beyond leaving no trace and have a positive impact on the local environment.
Where to stay at Mount Warning?
The Mount Warning Rainforest Park is the closest accommodation to Mount Warning. But there are very nice accommodations nearby that will enhance your Mount Warning experience. I cannot recommend one in particular yet as I camped every time I visited the area, but if you have the budget, check out these ones:
- EcOasis Lodge*: Only 10km away from Mount Warning, it offers beautiful views of the mountain. You can enjoy a bath surrounded by the forest. This one made it to my list of the best romantic getaways near Brisbane!
- Mt Warning Rainforest Retreat*: Another one that made it to the romantic getaway list! At more than $400 per night, it seems to offer a real experience in the rainforest, including an optional outdoor shower and a spa.
- Mt Warning Forest Hideaway Lodge*: This one is not as luxurious as the two first ones, but it’s also less than half the price for the suite with a spa bath! If you’re travelling as a group or family, it could be one of the cheapest options in the region: only around $30 per person for the quadruple room!
- Mavis’ Kitchen and Cabins*: This former farm looks charming and they say their focus is all about sustainability.
- Mt Warning Bed & Breakfast Retreat*: I’m less convinced by this accommodation as the experience doesn’t look as good as for the others. However, it’s very close to Mount Warning so I thought I should include it in the list.
Alternatives to the Mount Warning hike
Have I convinced you not to hike Mount Warning? Or are you looking for another Mount Warning experience? There are a few hikes a bit further inland that provide great views of Mount Warning.
The Pinnacle Walk in the Border Ranges National Park and the Best of All lookout in Springbrook National Park are two easy 1-kilometre walks that lead to lookouts with a beautiful panorama including Mount Warning.
And if you’re looking for a mount to hike more than the Mount Warning experience, you won’t be disappointed. There are better climbs than Mount Warning in South East Queensland that will require effort and provide good views. My favourite one is perhaps Mount Maroon, as Mount Barney may be too much of a challenge. Mount Cordeaux, Mount Mitchell, Mount Greville (via Palm Gorge) and Flinders Peak are great too.
Where is Mount Warning?
Mount Warning is in New South Wales, at the border with Queensland, between the Gold Coast and Byron Bay. It takes just under 2 hours to drive there from Brisbane. The Mount Warning region is featured in my Australia’s East Coast road trip guide that you can download for free here.