Once named Mt Cutheringa, it is now known as Castle Hill and it's the most popular fitness place to be within Townsville City. There are many walking tracks to take to the top and it is a great way to get fit and be active. From the road to the more intensive goat tracks and hell's staircase, there's a route for everyone and any fitness level. Most of the area is taken up with the Castle Hill Reserve with only a small part in the north-east of the area being available for housing. It's a suburb of Townsville that dominates the city skyline. The other iconic centre piece for the city is a skyscraper known as the "Sugar Shaker".
At an elevation of 286 m above sea level it is actually taller than Mt Marlow (213 m a.s.l.) but just short of being classified as a mountain (304.8 metres or 1,000 feet). In July 1980, a group of high school students poured soil into a wooden pyramid – enough to push Castle Hill into the "mountain" class and was called Castle Mountain for a short time, officially called Cutheringa Mountain.
Castle Hill, no stranger to the plunder and pillage that characterised European settlement, was a well-known firewood and timber-rustling spot before its 1888 gazettal as a recreation reserve. Just metres short of a mountain, Castle Hill is now a heritage-listed lone pink monolithic granite giant that overlooks the centre of Townsville making it a perfect landmark for tourists to orientate themselves.
The 1962 addition of 'The Saint' to Castle Hill's northern face that cements its place in Townsville’s cultural landscape. In 1962, eight James Cook University students painted a white stick figure, The Saint, on Castle Hill as a prank. In 2002, Townsville City council reversed its decision to remove it only after a poll indicated 54% of the population considered it an icon! It has been decorated with fluorescent paint, solar fairy lights, and christmas hats since.
As well as offering vehicle access to the summit, Castle Hill provides a number of popular walking tracks frequented by many locals! The 360-degree views of Townsville at the top are well worth the journey, in particularly for sunrise or sunset; Even the view of the city lights is quite spectacular. A World War II observation bunker sits on one corner of the Hill as a reminder of Castle Hill's military history. The Hill's vantage was used by visiting American soldiers during World War II. A signboard up top details short trails leading to various lookout points.
There are also a few rock climbing routes on Castle Hill.
It is only when you see the cliff's face that you think about the geological history of the Hill. Successive intrusions of volcanic activity formed Castle Hill along with Magnetic Island, Cape Cleveland and Mount Elliot. These landforms resisted erosion leaving Castle Hill as an isolated, pink granite monolith. An inselberg is an isolated hill, knob, ridge, outcrop, or small mountain that rises abruptly from a surrounding plain. Granite rocks are plutonic igneous rocks, which were formed by slowly cooling pockets of magma trapped beneath the earth's surface. Granites are typically a hard rock with visible crystalline texture, rich in quartz and feldspar. Granite is the most common igneous rock of the Earth's crust. An outcrop of granite on the earth's surface requires some kind of erosion to expose the buried material. Castle Hill is an inselberg of Carboniferous-Permian origins, rising abruptly from the younger Quaternary coastal plain.
Igneous rocks are formed when magma cools and solidifies. They are classified by using grain size, silica content, and/or silica saturation. Granite is the most common igneous rock type. Granite has crystals that tend to be easily seen, although they are generally small. Crystals of granite form while the molten material inside the Earth's crust cools. Molten rock or magma that has formed granite has stayed within the Earth's crust. Granite is exposed by weathering and/or erosion.
The rocky landform predominantly supports mixed eucalypt vegetation with a variable understorey. Grasses such as kangaroo grass and giant spear grass grow on the exposed, steeper slopes while hummock grasses grow on the cliff faces and rocky outcrops.
Castle Hill facilities include car parking, coach parking, public toilets, a drinking fountain and shaded seating to enjoy while taking in some of the best views of the city and across to Magnetic Island and Cleveland Bay.
It's quite fun to speed down the hill on a bicycle but watch your speed and do not exceed 40 km per hour, otherwise risk a fine. Walkers and runners must walk no more than two people across - this allows safe space for all users, including cars and cyclists. Townsville also has many great walkways and bike paths throughout the city.
Here's an interactive map of them all:
There are in fact 15 official trails to it's summit and a few other pirate tracks. All the tracks are well-worn and easily followed.
Please note that short cutting causes erosion.
The most popular Castle Hill walking trail, the Cudtheringa Track 1.1 km one-way, medium. It is accessed from opposite the first car park at the bottom of Castle Hill Road, and spits walkers out back onto Castle Hill Road just shy of the summit. On leaving Castle Hill Road, the route climbs steeply through scrubby vegetation and rocky landscape, heading up the north-western flank, then meets with The Goat Track, before climbing steeply. While the start and end are challenging due to the sharper incline, the mid section is somewhat gentle to moderate and has stunning views out to the city and Magnetic Island.
If you don't like crowds, avoid it around 5-7 pm on weekdays as this track in particular tends to be the choice for post-work workouts. During quieter times, it's also a fantastic option to practise your trail running. The steps near the end are a killer!
This 700 m one-way trail is nice and challenging, but not nearly as populated as the city-side tracks. Starting at James Street, West End (or you can go via the gate at the start of Green Street), it takes you about three quarters of the way up Castle Hill Road. From here, you can reach the top via the bitumen, or continue off-road up the "Scramble Track". The Ironbark Track is very rocky and can be a little slippering coming down, but it's a great heart starter. It starts steep then tapers off for about 20m, before it's up again (unlike Cudtheringa where there are more flat sections to catch your breath). There's a bench at the top of the trail for a rest (and some tricep dips). This route will get your calf and heart muscles working a little harder as it is a steep climb for most of the way. The surface is loose, rocky and eroded in places and is not recommended in wet weather. But it has the advantage of fewer people than the city-side tracks.
Branching off from the Ironbark track, the Triandra trail links north West End (near Stagpole Street) to the Dianella and Maidenhair Tracks in east West End, near the cemetery. It's a largely flat trail as it traces the base of the hill, but still has impressive views out to Mount Stuart. Assuming you are heading towards the CBD, there is a brief break in the track at the disused quarry (as you cross over the old quarry road), but you pick the trail straight up at the abandoned concrete structure (which is decorated with Bart Simpson). You will eventually come to a fork in the track - go right, or the 'low road'. The most challenging part of the track is closer to the West End Cemetery where you need to scramble over a rock face - stay low to the ground and scoot along on your bum if you need to. There is a rocky downhill section after this, but these are really the only tricky bits in an otherwise relatively easy and enjoyable walk. After heavy rain one of the walls of the quarry turns into a waterfall.
Dianella to Triandra Link Track
If you want to avoid the brief rock face scramble that's in the 'low road' section of the Triandra Track, you can turn left in the fork (assuming you are heading towards the CBD). This takes you onto the high road and over relatively easy terrain until you come to the base of the boulder at the Dianella Track. You can go left here and up and over the boulder to eventually reach the summit, or you can bear right and head downhill to either exit the trail at the West End Cemetery on Church Street; or head right onto the Maidenhair Track, which eventually links up with the Goat Track in town. Cuts off the rock face on the 'low road' if you are unsteady on your feet.
Considered one of the most challenging of the Hill's offering. Starting at the end of Church Street in West End, behind the West End Cemetery, it delivers you near the summit, just a bit further down from the Cutheringa trail. It is largely straight up with little scope for breath-catching and crosses patches of exposed, slabby rock then begin a continuous climb along a rocky track to the summit. This 840 m one-way heads almost straight up the very steep slope.
Once you are over the first rock scramble near the start, look back at the spectacular views – you'll see Mount Stuart and Cleveland Bay. The top of this rock flattens out nicely so you could almost take a picnic up there to enjoy the ambience. There's a brief downhill section after this, but then it's straight up the rocky climb to the top. Be careful if you are coming back this way as it can get slippery. The view from the boulder - breathtaking.
This walk is relatively easy as it has few climbs and hugs the base of the hill from West End Cemetery to the Goat Track in town. There are some nice pretty sections, including a bridge over a stream that flows in the wet season; and a little rock pool that's big enough for the dog to cool off in (again, after it's rained). It gets a bit more challenging near the Goat Track where a little bit of rock hopping is required.
Maidenhair Lower Track
This easy trail starts just behind the West End Cemetery on Church Street, West End, and offers a pleasant walk parallel to the Maidenhair Track. Although the elevation isn't high, the view out to Mount Stuart is surprisingly impressive. You will come out on Wilson Street, where there's a small climb via the road until you'll re-join the track. Follow a short set of stairs and you'll eventually come to the Maidenhair Track. It offers fantastic vista with minimal effort.
The Goat Track
Starting from Hillside Crescent (the extension of Victoria Street), just outside of the CBD, the best way to describe the Goat Track is short, steep, well-worn track up the eastern flank to the summit. This 1050 m one-way trail requires a steep climb up the road, which offers some brief respite once you get to the track, before the incline begins again to take you to a lookout at the intersection of the Cudtheringa Track. The well-named Goat Track has an approximate elevation gain of 180 m. The Goat Track is a good way to add a bit of variation if you usually just stick to the Cudtheringa Track and you prefer the city-side tracks. The route meets with Cudtheringa Track then climbs again to end at rock steps and Castle Hill Road, just a short walk away from the summit. This track has excellent vistas over the city, Magnetic Island, South Townsville, tip of Pallarenda and around to Cleveland Bay from the lookout. It can be crowded after work and on weekends.
It's a 'sneaky shortcut track' if you are running late/lacking energy as it allows you to cut a big corner of road off if you are going up or coming down the hill. While this track is short and easy, it's also very convenient. A lot of walkers know it exists, but many don't realise that it actually starts from Balmoral Place (off Yarrawonga Drive) in Yarrawonga. Handy to know if you park at the bottom of Jacob's Ladder, do that challenging climb, turn right onto Yarrawonga Drive, right into Balmoral Place and then onto the Erythrina Trail and the hill.
West Ridge Track
It seems not many people know the existence of this fantastic 1 km trail that starts on William Street, West End and finishes half way up the hill, just opposite the end of the Erythrina Track. It has a rocky and relatively steep, but steady, start, then it flattens out onto the ridgeline where there are stunning views of The Strand and Magnetic Island one way and Mount Stuart the other - 360 degrees of bliss. The track becomes a little easier, although still climbing, but quite gradually, and with the help of stairs in some sections. The best part of this track is the jaw-dropping views! Be aware that this track is slippery and becomes muddy at times, especially if you are going down this way.
Also known as "Suicide" and "Heartbreak", this unmarked trail takes you around the back of the summit to join the Radar Hill short walk. With two descent climbs - the last being the most significant - this trail is very steep and challenging (both physically and in terms of the unstable terrain) and is not for the faint-hearted. There are some amazing views when you pause after the first climb that look out to Magnetic Island and back over the suburbs of Townsville, out to the ranges. You will find it opposite the top of the Ironbark Track and it's a great way to end that walk with a bang. Alternatively, turn left and it eventually connects with the Erythrina Track. (P.S: You may encounter a bike heading downhill on the rare occasion, so keep your eyes and ears open while you're puffing).
The burn, baby!
Erythrina to "Scramble Track" Link
Local walkers tell us this trail is also known as "The Ladies' Track" because it was the inconspicuous route that 'female friends' took to visit the soldiers manning the pillboxes on the top of the Hill in WWII. Un-signposted, this trail tends to get overgrown in the wet season, but it is marked with coloured ribbon and blue paint. It stretches from the Erythrina Track to the base of the "Scramble Track", which is opposite the Ironbark Track. It's relatively easy with no steep climbs and fantastic views, and is a fantastic way to add variety to your walk if you want to try something different to the road.
Trying something new, mixing it up and keeping it real...
The 'Widow-maker' Track
Another track named by local walkers, the cap certainly fits as this track is spectacular yet a little perilous if you were to lose your footing in some parts (there are no safety barriers). Unmarked, it branches off right from the Goat Track just after the intersection of the Cudtheringa Track, about 3m past the top of the concrete stairs. The path has loose rocks initially, like a riverbed, then moves into steep boulders (pulling up with hands is required in some parts). The views are to die for (pardon the pun) and survey the whole city, Cleveland Bay, the ranges and out to Magnetic Island. The track can be hard to follow in parts, particularly over the rocky sections when it's sometimes unclear which way to scramble, but it becomes more obvious in the second part as there are nice big white arrows painted. The track eventually spits you out at the end of the Summit Walk at the easternmost lookout - a great place to catch your breath. While this track is challenging and rewarding, it's not suitable for pets, children or those with a fear of heights. And we would not recommend going down.
Heart-racer - both from the physical exertion and being so elevated and exposed.
Blue Spot Track
Given this name by a group of local walkers, this track is certainly not as unassuming as its name. A bit tricky to find the entrance when it's overgrown, this one starts on the Maidenhair Track, just a bit further east of where the Maidenhair Lower joins the Maidenhair Track (look out for the metal bridge). It finishes near the top of the Dianella Track, where you can access Castle Hill Road. We'd say this trail surpasses the Dianella Track for difficulty - both in a technical and fitness sense - as it's particularly steep, climbs the whole way and has even more large boulders to climb over. But there are certainly some breathtaking views. Apart from the concealed start, the Blue Spot Track is well-worn and clearly marked with white painted arrows, so there's little chance of getting lost (just as well as, if you take the wrong turn, you'll come across a humpy where a hermit resides). We wouldn't recommend this trail for dogs or young children, and it's definitely an 'up' trail (too dangerous going down).
The interesting rock formations and the serenity.
Belgian Gardens Link Track
This relatively easy track is mostly flat, but has sections of small climbs. It starts on Potts Street (near Belgian Gardens State School, just off the footpath) and can be followed around the back of the school and up to the water reservoir at the end of Grange Court. There are a few rocks, but nothing very technical. If you want to continue to the hill from here, pay attention: Once you've just passed the water reservoir turn right. It looks like you are going into the back of some units, but there's actually a footpath that takes you to Chandon Place. Follow this up to Yarrawonga Drive, turn right, then follow this street until you hit Balmoral Place on the right - this road section is all uphill. The Erythrina Track starts from the end of this cul-de-sac, which takes you to Castle Hill Road. Voila!
The combination of peaceful off-road scrub with bitumen hills - a good mix.
Westies Track (Downhill Mountain Bike Track)
You may not notice this track if you didn't know where to look - on Castle Hill Road, it starts just after the stairs to the Cudtheringa Track, on the left-hand side before the bend. There's some white paint at the start. This well-maintained trail eventually links to the Scramble Track, opposite the Ironbark Track and has some spectacular views and minor rock scrambles along the way. Just a word of warning if you explore this track: While it's not an official mountain bike track, downhill mountain bikers built it and do occasionally use it. We advise that you exercise caution at all times if you do decide to walk it (including no earphones or dogs).
Being able to choose from a couple of different trail directions within the same route - all ways lead back to the main track.
Summit Walk, Radar Hill Walk and Pillar Box Walk
These are all short, well-maintained, concreted paths you can do at the top of Castle Hill. They are particularly great for visitors as they afford unrivalled views of Townsville and surrounds and have historical significance, but the Summit Walk is great for those wanting an extra physical challenge. Run that flight of stairs a few times and it will finish you off before your descent.
P.S. If you know more tracks that we haven't included, we would love to hear about them!