Climbing Mt Warning

A Spa isn’t the only option for a girls’ weekend away.

Try this simple test. Tell your husband you need a weekend away at a spa and you’re likely to get a disdainful look in response. Suggest you’re planning to climb a mountain with some like-minded fitness enthusiasts and your partner will probably offer to pack your bags. Add a bit of a challenge to a girls’ weekend away and everyone is a winner. You get a break from the family and he gets the prospect (more imagined than real) of a more mentally and physically toned wife.

Climbing Mt Warning
Climbing Mt Warning

Mt Warning, in the Tweed Valley of northern NSW, is the perfect diversion for many reasons. It is relatively easy to climb. It stands out on the horizon, making it a perfect focus for boasting on the way to Byron Bay. And it is not far from the luxurious Peppers Salt Resort beach house suites at Kingscliff.

No summit attempt should be made without adequate preparation. And ours was rigorous. Hours were spent discussing how many days away from home would be needed for a five hour mountain walk. Transport arrangements were discussed over tapas and logistics were analysed over mezze. My training peaked with a walk to the summit of Mt Tinbeerwah in the Noosa hinterland (a fifteen minute walk from the car park that is suitable for wheel chairs). Mostly we relied on the rumour that the 4.4 kilometre trail to the summit of Mount Warning was just a bush walk. It is. But it’s a very steep one.

Mt Warning stands at 1157 metres and is the plug of a once massive volcano that erupted some 20 million years. Wind and rain carved out a huge bowl around the magna chamber of the volcano forming the Tweed Valley, leaving the much harder rock of Mt Warning in tact.

The summit of Mt Warning is the first place on the Australian mainland to feel the sun. Reaching the summit at day break is apparently a very rewarding experience with the  Cape Byron headland and the ocean stretching away to the east and the ridges of the Border Ranges out to the west. Of course, scrambling up a mountain in darkness can be a bit risky. Setting off after breakfast, before the sun gets too hot and the crowds arrive, is a more practical start time.

The trail begins with a testing incline through magnificent rainforest. Then the well-maintained path winds ever upwards for almost four kilometres, until the trees thin out. The sea breaks into view and the real challenge begins. The rocky summit of the mountain looms just ahead. As I size up the final phase of the climb, I wonder if perhaps I should have dedicated a bit more time to the physical aspect of my preparation.

A comfortable rest stop with seats and plenty of shade marks the end of the bush walk and the start of a vertical rock climb. Fortunately a chain has been bolted into the bare rock face to assist climbers up the final few hundred metres of the mountain. Conveniently located trees are also a welcome aid. Their branches have been worn smooth from countless hands clutching them for assistance on the way up and gripping them for support on the way down.

On this morning, Mt Warning has drawn hikers of all ages and fitness levels. Children as young as eight, appear to be effortlessly gliding up to the summit. An elderly lady with a walking cane is pressing on to the top. A stream of sweaty men in racing singlets weave their way through the line of climbers as part of an all day  challenge that looks certain to shorten the life of some of the participants.

Taking in the view from the summit of Mt Warning
Taking in the view from the summit of Mt Warning

As I reach the summit, the relief is overwhelming. There is much to admire from the viewing platforms. The sky is clear and the view of Australia’s eastern most point is perfect.  I’m almost certain I can see a whale breaching off Cape Byron. But the sun loungers of Salt are beckoning me. Just 4.4 kilometres of downhill terrain (and a 40 minute drive) stands between me and total relaxation. I endure knee pain and potential ankle injury and dodge out of control sweaty sportsmen before at last the car park comes into view. Never has a line up of vehicles looked so welcoming. The rainforest is magnificent but a glimpse of a shiny bonnet is truly a sight to behold.

By mid afternoon we are tucking into massive plates of seafood at the spacious Saltbar. The food tastes unfeasibly good after our strenuous morning.  Then it’s a therapeutic thrashing in the Kingscliff surf and a wallow in the resort pool before we retire to our beach house suites. We are way too comfortable in our luxurious abode and way too  exhausted to make the most of any more dining options in Salt village. Dolphins are playing in the surf outside. The sun disappears behind Mt Warning. I am left with a sense of deep satisfaction and extremely sore thighs. Is it too late to book just a short massage at the Golden Door Spa?

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Julie (J.E.) Fison writes for children, teens and adults. Her books include the 'Hazard River' adventure series, stories in the 'Choose Your Own Ever After' series for readers who like to decide where the story goes, as well as a play for high school students called 'As the Crow Flies'. Julie regularly visits schools and festivals to talk about her writing and is a regular guest on ABC Radio Brisbane.

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