The big-time classic spanning the Blue Mountains and Nattai National Parks, walking from Katoomba to Mittagong is one of NSW’s great hiking challenges.
Below is a suggested itinerary to take, across six days. In reality, there are many different ways and paths you can take on this walk and this is only one of many. I would warn off inexperienced hikers from attempting this, the majority of it can be walked on fairly well defined paths, but 15-20% is on barely discernible ‘paths’ where extreme bush bashing and navigating is a must. The caretaker at Yerranderie told us that the hike used to be quite popular in the 80s & 90s, but these days he only sees a handful of people doing it a year. I found that quite surprising.
We didn’t use a GPS (it broke on the drive out), but taking one would be a good idea. Also a good idea is to hire an emergency beacon from the NSW National Parks office in Blackheath before you set out. It’s free, how amazing is that?!?
We walked the track during the Easter break and had all the available topo maps and a section from Bushwalks in the Sydney Region: Volume 2 by Lord, S & Daniel G to guide us.
Day 1 – Narrow Neck – Medlow Gap (17.5km)
Day 2 – Medlow Gap – New Yards (34.6km) – 17.1km walked
Day 3 – New Yards – Mt Feld (51.7km) – 17.1km walked
Day 4 – Mt Feld – Nice Camp Site (73.4km) – 21.7km walked
Day 5 – Nice Camp Site – Colleys Flat (90.6km) – 17.2km walked
Day 6 – Colleys Flat – Wattle Ridge (111km) – 20.4km walked
Day 1 – TAROS LADDER
After being dropped off close to the Golden Stairs just south of Katoomba, walk along Narrow Neck until Taros Ladder (15km). Bring 10m rope/cord to lower heavy packs down Taros Ladder if you’re not feeling too confident. We managed it fine despite being as top-heavy as a pair of tortoises, taking our time and making sure of each hand and foot placement before committing.
Follow track approx 2.5km over Mount Derbert and then down to the cleared campsite of Medlow Gap (17.5km) to spend the first night.
Day 2 – COX RIVER/MT COOKEM
Head off past a locked gate (west), follow service road until you reach a track on the left-hand side which winds down to Kelpie Point on the Cox River. (Beware of red-belly black snakes in the long grass.) Use your judgement on conditions once at the river. It is possible to call Sydney Water ahead of time to find out the depth.
For us, the water depth at the crossing point was about 1.5m, we ferried our stuff across in waterproof stuff sacks then had a long lunch on the south bank of the river. Bring a pair of thongs or sandals for river crossings. Smooth river rocks hurt dainty city feet!
Our guide book wrote “look for a track that starts behind a tree”…however, there are a lot of trees. Using your topo map, walk along the river bank until it makes a sharp turn east. From this point, start traversing up the ridge of Mt Cookem…you’ll eventually come across the track. After an hour or so of hard slog, you reach the top of Mt Cookem, hurrah!
Take a right on the service road at the top, enjoy the ease and openness of open track walking because you’ll be doing it for the next day and a half! You are now on Scotts Main Range. If it is getting late, an adequate campsite can be erected at an intersection with a service road (28.km), however I would recommend pushing on to the Church-owned property of New Yards at 34.6km (turn off to the right). Those kind folk offer hikers the use of their cabin to stay overnight – for free. The cabin has running water complete with shower and flushing toilets, a roaring fireplace…and even an orange tree out the front! Letting hikers stay here for free is one of the last kind acts you’ll see these days, so treat the place with care. We re-stocked the cabin with firewood before we left.
Day 3 – SCOTTS MAIN RANGE
Long day walking along the Scotts Main Range. It’s a fire trail so there’s not much to say. There are plenty of waterholes on both sides of the trail which are utilised by the RFS. The water is pretty brackish and nasty so I wouldn’t recommend people drink it. I drank it though, after putting some purification tablets, and it was fine enough. Make camp in a small clearing next to the road at the turn-off to Mt Feld (51.7km).
Day 4 – YERRANDERIE
At 56.6km we came to a sharp bend east in the track. At 58km we crossed Butchers Creek (centimetres deep), refilling our water bottles as we went. At 60km there is a RFS fire base. The facilities aren’t as welcoming as those at New Yards, with signs reading “No Trespassing” written on the doors, but there is water and a nice camping area available here if you’re desperate.
Continue on and you’ll soon be greeted with sights of Mt Yerranderie, an impressive looking hunk of rock with vertical walls on three of its sides. I would love to know if anyone has developed routes there.
At around the 65km mark, you’ve reached the ‘ghost town’ of Yerranderie. Don’t be spooked though, it is a lovely little spot to have lunch and have and poke around into a by-gone era. Don’t expect any crowds. We arrived the day before Anzac Day and there were three families spread across a camping ground the size of a couple of football fields…this was the peak period! There are 10 abandoned silver mines within 2km of the town centre if you not too tired to check them out. The Old Post Office was closed for refurbishments when we were there, but there are plenty of other old buildings to check out.
Try and find the caretaker and have a chat. Watch for leeches!
Pass the airstrip and Old Court House on the way out of town, get into a staring contest with some of the 100s of kangaroos if you want.
Head east across Basin Creek at 68.7km. At Old Twin Peaks (69.6km) note a turn off to the south which would take you to Oberon. Keep heading east. A Sydney Water locked gate blocks the path at 73.4km, however, 200m before this there is an obvious clearing on the left hand side of the road (GR Nattai 48750E, 19400N). Walk down this clearing and you will be greeted with perhaps the prettiest campsite of the entire walk.
Day 5 – BELOON PASS
Leave Nice Camp Site, wind your way up and down along Sheepwalk Drive for about 6km. You will have to jump from stone to stone to cross the Jooriland River. The land begins to clear and you are eventually treated to spectacular views of the Wangaderry Tableland. It is both impressive and intimidating, thinking you’ll be up there somehow in a couple of hours. Look for the obvious weakness in the clifftop walls, that is Beloon Pass.
About 2km after crossing the Jooriland River, you will reach the mighty Wollondilly River. The crossing has been built up with rocks is quite wide and shallow. The water didn’t reach passed our knees. Grab a stick for balance and pop on those thongs/sandals if you brought them. Look out for black swans on the water.
Also, note the rock buttress jutting out of the water to the right as you’re crossing…has anyone climbed there? The eastern shore is a lovely place for an early lunch which you may as well take as you’ll be needing the extra energy soon enough.
Follow the trail leading away from the river for 2.5km until you come across a minor vehicle track signposted ‘Beloon Pass’. Hard to miss.
The climb up Beloon Pass is a longer version of what you’ve already accomplished with Mt Cookem. The trail becomes fairly indistinct at times, but keep an eye out for blue tape in the trees and rock cairns to find your way. The last section before reaching the top of Beloon Pass is a legitimate scramble, made interesting by the weight of your packs. Be wary of grabbing hold of loose rock and investigate any foot or hand placement in this last push. Spot each other if you’re feeling uncomfortable.
The views of the upper Wollondilly from the top of Beloon Pass are breathtaking.
Savor the moment, write an entry in the log book and prepare for a pretty miserable couple of hours following a damp and overgrown gully…
From the pass, a track heads east into the gloom. Follow it ENE into until it intersects with another dry watercourse coming in from the north.
*This next part is pulled directly from Bushwalks in the Sydney Region: Volume 2, because we got lost here and ended up setting camp on an uncomfortable hillside to wait for the morning.*
“..just across the junction locate and take a track which follows the N side of Travis Gully for about 50m. It then veers away and winds down ENE to join with a 4WD road. This will take you to the Nattai Road [sign-boarded] – Vineyard Flat at 89.8km”
Camp at Colleys Flat.
Day 6 – NATTAI ROAD
* We also got incredibly lost this day by following the Allum River for 5km thinking it was the Nattai…don’t do that. We ended up having to climb quite high to take some bearings using natural landmarks. Accordingly, take these directions with a grain of salt as they’re based on conjecture. *
Head off down the Nattai Road in a SW direction. You will need to cross the Nattai River five times by a variety of different methods.
We had ran out of tap for blisters at this point, so not wanting to get our feet wet, we found garbage bags over the feet worked quite well. There is plenty of rotten wood next to some of the crossings which is light enough to be man-handled into position as a makeshift bridge, this is great fun.
It was really interesting to see the wheels of time grinding down on the Nattai ‘Road’. Once upon a time it would have been used by 4WD, but now it is completely overgrown and impassable to anything and everyone who isn’t hiking.
At Allum Flat continue on the Nattai Road, ignoring a private access road on the right hand side. From here until the carpark at Wattle Ridge is approx 10km, and included in that is a vicious series of swtichbacks which see a gain in altitude of almost 500m…it’s a long and sweaty end to a long and sweaty hike, but well worth it!
ON FIRE TRAILS:
Walking on fire trails probably puts a lot of people off this hike and is a likely reason for such low numbers of people taking part. Yes, plodding along like a pack mule along a dirt road can be mindless and boring at times…but we found it a great mix of mindless plod, route-finding, ‘activities’ (ie. river crossings & mountain climbings). The Katoomba to Mittagong is good hike to ease your way into proper route finding by splitting up the tricky bits.
Also, there’s something to be said about slipping into a hypnotic rhythmn of a multi-day hike and the length of the Katoomba to Mittagong seemed to mitigate the time we spent on fire trails. You get into a zen-like state, discuss outrageous hypotheticals and generally enjoy the feeling of turning your brain off and let your legs carry you on.
For some reason I also found it immensely satisfactory to be able to stop wherever the hell we wanted, pitch the tent, start a fire and then cook up some grub as the stars came out.