This is a mostly unknown bush walk down the side of Bartle Frere gorge, here you will see an epic waterfall that is legit spectacular.
On this walk, you will not just see a mind blowing waterfall but also the crystal clear “blue hole”-esque water in the two creeks that have to be crossed.
The whole walk is like something out of a fictional magazine that would most likely be called ‘Paradise’.
West Mulgrave Falls hike requires a reasonably high level of fitness because there is a good 1 km section that is at a 40 degree incline (which is super intense). The whole track was clocked at 10.5 km return (if you don’t get lost) but only takes 2 hours to get down to the falls and maybe 2.5 hours return up the hill.
A good knowledge of Australian bush land as well as a good sense of direction is desirable, because even as experienced as we are, we got lost going the wrong way up one of the creeks for a good 30 mins in stinger tree land. As per usual with the FNQ bush bashing, there were a few wait-a-while plants however, as of August 2019, someone must have gone down that track with a machete and pink tags because it is super well marked and the track is now pretty cleared.
At the waterfall we also encountered another Red Belly Black Snake sunning itself on the rocks as we were literally about the put our feet down to climb up. So snake awareness is also key on this adventure.
Boulder hopping across the creek was great fun so follow the pink tags if you are careful of slippery moss and logs, then you should be okay.
Where and How
How to get there? Well, this is a very easy track to find (initially). Driving from Cairns, go up into the Atherton Tablelands towards Malanda and go to Topaz Road as if you are going to Bartle Frere or Windin Falls. When you are on Topaz Road there is an obvious fork in the road, turn right onto the Old Cairns Track. At this point of the road, check your odometer. Drive along next to a couple of beautiful country properties and a very eager Border Collie (dog) who will most likely run out and chase your car. Once you pass through a large open cattle field, you should clock 7 km.
Here, there is a clearing with a large green National Parks sign that reads “Wooroonooran National Park, Tablelands Section” (-17.366967, 145.752707). Finding the entrance to the hiking track baffled us slightly. Look right behind the green sign for the clearing in the canopy where the track starts. Be aware that it might be concealed by tall grass. If you are struggling to find it then we also recommend the Alltrails app.
There are clear pink ribbons on the trees as you enter the rainforest so once you find it then it is easy to follow. This is the best marked track we have ever done. You slowly descend from about 720 m above sea level to 620 m over a winding 2.5 kms, the marked track roughly follows an old logging track and weaves in and out of the rainforest.
Then comes the major descent, you go from 620 m to 380 m in just 1 km distance! It is very steep, hence why we would not advise undertaking this hike in the wet season, especially after a good amount of rainfall. You might be better off taking skis after rain, but getting back up will be improbable. Fortunately for us, in the dry season, it was great and we used the convenient vines and roots as assistance on our descent. But in the wet this part could be really treacherous.
Once you get to the bottom of the steep descent, PAY ATTENTION, do NOT go RIGHT! There are old pink tags that will take you on a wild goose chase and have to test your bush bashing capabilities as it climbs up the side of the creek in amongst wait-a-while plants and stinger trees (however there is a mini epic waterfall this way). Simply, GO LEFT and follow the fantastically marked pink tags until you reach the first (ridiculously beautiful crystal clear water) creek. There are clear ribbons that are (slightly downstream) across the creek, where you will have to boulder hop and maybe run across a log to an island in the middle. As I said, we did this hike IN THE DRY, so please pay more attention to this creek crossing in the wet. Once you get across the creek, you will pop out into another nice rainforest section which winds across fallen trees and through beautiful landscape for another 700 m. At this point, you will hit the next creek crossing.
The pink tags clearly depict the most efficient way across so pay heed to the experience of previous hikers. We found this little section quite slippery so take care here and don’t be a hero. Apparently after rain this creek gets deep (armpit level) so be aware. But once you get across the creek then you only have 500 m to the falls. And believe me, they are worth it. The track actually follows the creek bed of the falls that are upstream. This is, for sure, the best part of the entire hike, you pop out of the undergrowth and are mind blown by the most secluded and spectacular waterfalls of FNQ. How these falls aren’t common knowledge is beyond us.
Once you pop out of the undergrowth, you can simply boulder hop to a sunny chilled location at the bottom of West Mulgrave Falls. The waterfall is about 100 m high and just spectacular. Nothing can compare to their height and they put everything else I have ever seen in this region to shame. However, this is where we should state a word of warning. We did come across a Red Belly Black snake here, especially in the dry season the snakes will be out sunning themselves to heat up so keep your eyes at least three steps ahead of your feet.
How to do it
Good hiking shoes are a smart move for this hike because the earth is mostly clay. Which means it is slippery and will stick to the bottom of your shoes. Hiking boots are specifically designed for this and will provide far greater traction than joggers or running shoes.
While we didn’t see any on the West Mulgrave Falls trail, the evidence of them being around was too obvious to miss. Just remember never to approach them, especially if they have piglets. Chances are they will run away from you before you see or hear them, but if approached…. Prepare for a fight.
What to bring
A picnic, because you can swim and chill at so many spots along the track. Standard items like a first aid kit, bottled water and perhaps a knife or secateurs are also highly recommended. Sunscreen, hat, good shoes and change of socks will never go astray either.
Time of day
This is a half day hike and like always we recommend going in the morning. Hiking in the afternoon is always more of a risk with fading light and increased insect activity. As long as you are on the track by around 9am, you should be fine.
Time of year
Dry season (June – October). Please do not attempt this if it has been raining.
West Mulgrave Falls is one of the most underrated and best kept secret waterfall hikes in Cairns. It combines the best waterfall in the region, magical creeks and also has a small section to get your heart rate sky high. After completing this hike you will truly feel like you have accomplished something fantastic during your day off.