About an hours drive from the most easterly point on the Australian mainland, Cape Byron, lies an ancient volcano that towers above the surrounding hinterland. Named Mount Warning by Captain James Cook, this steep, yet curious looking mountain offers spectacular views over Wollumbin National Park, which is part of the World Heritage Gondwana Rainforests of Australia. Cook so named the mountain to warn sailors of treacherous coastline in the vicinity.
For the Bundjalung Aborigines, the mountain is Wollumbin, thought to translate to either cloud catcher, big fellow mountain, fighting chief of the mountain or brush turkey. Coinciding with the latter, the Bundjalung believe the mountain harbours bird spirit, as its peak resembles the bent neck of a turkey wounded in battle.
The Bundjalung hold the area culturally sacred and do not wish visitors to climb to the summit. Yet it is not forbidden by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and every year around 60,000 people from around the world make the climb.
While I’m not usually a fan of climbing sacred sites, I felt this time I would pay homage to the brush turkey and make the ascension, which takes roughly two hours and involves a fairly steep scramble at its finale.
Arriving mid-morning at Wollumbin car park, at the aptly named Breakfast Creek, I felt obliged to have a second nibble. Shortly into my journey I saw a few turkeys rustling merrily in the scrub. Gargantuan trees lay deceased alongside the path, as the walk had only recently reopened after heavy rains. The forest looked old and very beautiful. Sunlight pierced the canopy, vividly illuminating the colours and textures of this primordial world.
The forest aromas were wonderfully clean and alive. Plodding onwards, I passed more turkeys, expressing gratitude as I went. I also had the pleasure of encountering a large forest moth, a blue-tounged lizard and the rather elusive lyrebird. Further encounters included several helicopter rescue points and warning signs, the latter advising against ascensions after 2pm in winter, as people have gotten lost returning in the dark.
The last 50-100 metres of the climb is the most challenging. Although if you’re fairly fit you shouldn’t have any problems. I saw a 70-year-old couple walking up, a 50 – 60-year-old couple that made the climb, and even someone jogging to the top. However, I did see a few young people (in their 20s) struggling. Take it easy, show your turkey gratitude, enjoy each step and you should be fine.
I also spotted a sign that told me that in 1871, botanist Michael Guilfoyle and his party took three-and-a-half days to reach the summit. His words, after what I could only imagine was a heinous bush bash, were “when we reached the top we were so enchanted with the glorious views that we quite forgot the inner man, remaining on top all night without food.”
Yes, the views are that good and the walk is invigorating. It’s also the first place on the Australian mainland to see the sun in winter (Cape Howe being the first in summer). Go (if your beliefs allow it), enjoy the ancient forest, volcano, and pay your respects to the ubiquitous and rather jerky Wollumbin resident, the turkey.