Warning! This mountian has fine print.

Education is when you read the fine print.  Experience is what you get when you don’t.   Pete Seeger


I ran into a bit of trouble on a mountain recently. It isn’t the sort of trouble you’d expect.  First, let me tell you about my adventure.

So, I hiked another mountain.  I know, I’m kind of obsessed now with this whole walk up a mountain thing. You may have guessed that this isn’t such a grand undertaking when one considers I live in Australia. We don’t have what anyone else in the world would class as mountains. No really, it’s quite awe-inspiring for me to travel and stand at the base of a Canadian, Nepalese or New Zealand mountain. Not to mention a French Alp or the the grand mounds of the Dolomites in Italy. In comparison our mountains here in Australia are mere hillocks. Nonetheless, this little challenge, that started off as a way of gaining fitness for an up coming Nepalese hike, has turned into a far more personal challenge.  Plus, it’s fun too.


Woolumbin, also known as Mt Warning, is one of the highest (1156 m) and easily accessible mountains to my home. I set off at dawn for the two hour drive full of excitement and a little trepidation. While I wasn’t setting out to break any records, I wasn’t sure how I’d go after twelve months of inactivity. Basically, I planned to unashamedly plod my way to the top.  From a number of websites I gleaned the walk is considered strenuous, requires good levels of fitness and  takes approximately 5 hours return.  I managed to complete the ascent in just under two hours and my descent took bang on two. Not bad for a plodder.



The mountain is cloaked in rainforest. It is one of the most beautiful rainforests I’ve explored. It is also one of the noisiest. I was  accompanied by the loud call of lyrebirds, whip birds and a smaller species I could not identify by its trill. I saw small finches and lovely little speckled birds that braved the understory and hopped about on the track. There were bold and brazen bush turkeys as well.  The flora is abundant and lush. Being a subtropical rainforest there are palms, and vines and great trees with buttressing trunks. There were many red and blue berries and red nut casings along the path. I saw small ferns and violet ground covers as well as magnificent samples of fungi and lichen in places.


The day was overcast with an 80 percent chance of showers. The hike up was fairly dry but the waterfalls were running and there was much water over the track.  The initial section of the walk, about the first kilometre, gets the heart racing. The ascent rises quickly, the way paved with innumerable, uneven steps. Before long the hammering pulse in my head slowed to a more regular cadence as the path evened out into zigzagging switchbacks and a rhythm to my swagger returned, until the summit approach.


The last push to the top is very steep and rugged and virtually straight up. A chain provides one with the means to haul oneself up the rocky incline.  Knowing there would not be a view did not dampen the experience of reaching the top. There is a peace and a quiet on top of the mountain. It is a sacred place. Close clouds shrouded the pinnacle enveloping me in a sacred silence one rarely finds unless meditating. There is a palpable presence on the top of the mountain. One does not feel quite alone. After drinking in the atmosphere, marvelling at the blinding whiteness of the cloud, resting just a bit and feeling pretty chuffed that I’d made it, I found it really hard to leave this magical place. It was precious to have the crest to myself, considering the number of other hikers I’d met on the way.

The descent is probably more demanding than the way up as the steep decline turns your legs to jelly.  A decent rainfall cooled my downward journey and when I returned to the car park I was grateful for flat ground. Needless to say, after a year of inactivity my muscles felt bruised for several days afterward.  A small price for such a wonderful adventure.


Woolumbin is situated in northern New South Wales in an area refered to as the Northern Rivers. It is a short drive from the quaint yet bustling regional town of Murwillumbah. It is a place I know well from many holidays visiting my grandparents when I was young. Honestly, this is one of the most visually appealing places to visit. It is always lush and green, it is both inviting and enchanting.

Woolumbin, named Mt Warning by Captain James Cook in 1770 to warn other mariners of the dangers posed by nearby reefs, is, I discovered, the relic core of a volcano. Also, being so high, it is the first place in Australia to see the sun each morning. Aptly, the mountain is sometimes refered to as ‘cloud catcher’ as it is often cloaked in cloud. I haven’t seen the top of the mountain too many times due to cloud cover. Even on very fine days one can always see a few clouds gathering at her apex.

Now, for the fine print.

It was not until after I’d ‘summited’ and scrambled down the chained, rocky outcrop that I read a sign and learned with rising horror that climbing to the top of  Wollumbin is against the wishes of the Bundjalung elders.  I was quite upset that I hadn’t known this earlier. I felt disrespectful for not investigating more deeply prior to my arrival.  I was dismayed I hadn’t read the small print. On my descent I checked each sign and, sure enough, below all the large warnings of making sure you leave in the day light and to stay on the path and the marker indicating the half way point, clear as the nose on my face, there is, in smaller print, a statement indicating that the Bundjalung elders  request visitors and the uninitiated do not climb to the top. In my defense, the placement and size of print used on the signage is where, in Australia, the name of the local council or parks and wildlife name would be and so, is easily overlooked.


I know, I know, there really is no excuse for ignorance. Though there is certainly a disparity here between aboriginal law and national park regulations. One requests no climbing and the other doesn’t restrict access.  Amid my growing unease at  having disrespected the laws of native people I reflected that I was reverent in my interaction with nature, in awe of the spirit of the place and full of gratitude for my time there.  Valuing and respecting aboriginal traditions and wishes is an important step in building relationships, promoting understanding of aboriginal culture and sharing our love of this land.

Captain Cook may have named the mountain Warning in 1770 to alert others to the dangerous reefs off the coast but my ‘warning’, to would be hikers, is to be aware that Woolumbin is a sacred aboriginal mountain that is still used for rituals and ceremonies.  To be informed is better than to be ignorant.

When we wander on this amazing planet of ours it serves to ask “Upon whose land do we walk?” “Whose country is this?”  “Who walked here before me?” It certainly brings a deep and rich experience to our travels.

I now seek some means of making recompense for my intrusion while continuing to love and explore the wonders of this amazing planet of ours.

Wishing you happy travels.



12 thoughts on “Warning! This mountian has fine print.

  1. Excellent article! If you’re looking for a change of pace from Autralia, head on down to America and challenge yourself to walk the Pacific Crest Trail! I plan on taking on this challenge after I graduate college in 2017!

    • Gosh, yes. The Pacific Crest Trail would be a great challenge. I’m definitely interested. You certainly have something to look forward to after you graduate. Are you training in any specific manner? Thank you for your kind words and great suggestion. Good luck with your studies.

      • Thank you! I really appreciate that. I’ve been putting in a lot of hard work for school that’s for sure. Yeah I’ve been going on quite a few hikes, and filling my pack with weight to make it as if I was having gear for the PCT. And I know 2650 miles sounds daunting, but a lot of people do chunks of the trail. So maybe from one checkpoint to another checkpoint which would be about 150 miles. So a good 5-6 day trip 🙂

      • I like your idea of doing chunks of the trail. That’s certainly doable. Though, I’d be keen to do an extended walk. I love the idea of being totally immersed in nature, pared back and only carrying essentials. Happy hiking.

      • Happy hiking! I can’t wait to read more of your hiking adventures down the road so keep them coming!

  2. We always learn as we wander. I expect that climbing to the top not knowing about the rule could be easily forgiven. It’s a very different thing to go even knowing the wishes. Safe travels.

  3. I know you wouldn’t have walked if you had seen that message. Your intent was beautiful and a walking meditation in honour of your surrounds. Love to you xox

  4. I have so enjoyed your post . You have such a diverse and interesting culture in your country . I follow Nicole ‘s blog ‘Cauldrons and Cupcakes ‘ and have learnt about the elders, I know you missed the small print. but you did respect the aboriginal culture and that can only be a good thing. What an interesting walk… you lucky lady .
    Last Sunday we got to do our Coastal walk the weather was fine and when we finished I felt so invigorated , while my husband popped out , I walked the lanes near our cottage ( we are new to the area and the lanes are like a maze) and got myself lost . I needed that cuppa when I finally got back …I bet you did too .

    • Cherry, isn’t it amazing how technology can bring us together, so to speak. Nicole has an amazing history with aboriginal elders. I so love hearing her story.

      What great news you got to go on your walk. It sounds wonderful. It will fill you up and keep you going for some time to come.
      I smiled knowingly about you getting lost in the lane ways. I have been far too inquisitive for my own good at times and while enjoying myself have been lost and taken such a long time to return to familiar ground. A cup of tea is always what I reach for first on returning home. It cures everything. With warm tea in hand one can always laugh at ones disorientation.

      Let’s hope there are many more exciting adventures with good tea waiting at the end.

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