Location - Wooroonooran National Park, Far North Queensland, Australia
Difficulty - Grade 5, hard, recommended for experienced bushwalkers
Best time - May - August
Special points - Obtain permit from famer and communications tower / cable car operator
Distance - ~8 km one way
Time - allow 7-10 hours one-way
Mount Bellenden Ker (Centre Peak) rises above the Bellenden Ker Range – also known as the Wooroonooran Range – at a height of 1,589 metres and is the second highest mountain in the state of Queensland. Located adjacent to Mount Bartle Frere, which is Queensland's highest peak, and 60 kilometres south of Cairns near Babinda. The two mountains dominate the east section of the Wooroonooran National Park.
It is named after the botanist John Bellenden Ker Gawler. The mountain range supports populations of a range of bird species endemic to Queensland's Wet Tropics. The Centre Peak (1,589 m) is the highest point on the range and also features the North Peak (1,455 m), Chickaboogalla (1,013 m), and the South Peak (1,211 m). Both are made of resistant granite and are remnants of an escarpment that has been eroded by the Russell River and Mulgrave River over millions of years.
The weather station at the summit records an annual average rainfall of 8,312 mm, making it the wettest meteorological site in Australia. It also holds the record for the highest rainfall in Australia for a calendar month of 5,387 mm in January 1979 and the highest rainfall in a calendar year of 12,461 mm in 2000. In 2006, the mountain receives more rainfall (9,800 mm) than any other part of Australia.
A formed track roughly follows the cable car before ascending the ridgeline to the Centre Peak. This route is generally well-marked with reflectors and flagging tape and is used as an emergency evacuation route. The reflectors are widely spaced and the flagging tape can be irregular. Often finding reflective markers on the ground. Flagging tape may be difficult to see in several sections. You may also have to navigate fallen trees and cut lawyer cane in numerous places. Several large fallen trees have obliterated the track in places. The track is steep and muddy in places. Both the rainforest and the track are very wet, with several quite steep and slippery slopes. The rainforest is wet and expect to be consequently wet for both days. Can be done in one day, but it's recommended and best done as an overnighter hike. Allow 8 hours to walk from start to summit one-way. It's about another hour from summit to communication centre.
Several telecommunication transmitter towers have been built on the mountain with a privately-owned cable car to service the telecommunication station. There are also helipads that allows for easy access to the telecommunication site and the mountain top weather station.
It follows below the cable car to Tower 3, then veers away to the south and follows up a ridge toward the main ridge from Bellenden Ker to its southern outlier, Chickaboogala; it then follows this ridgeline back north to Tower 6. From Tower 6, it veers north from the cable way and ascends directly to the summit. From the summit, it is a 30-45 minute walk south to the top cable car station, which is situated a few hundred metres southeast from the top of the 'Meston' route ridge.
Between Tower 6 and Top Cable Station has been frequented by researchers who have set up climate change experiments. The telecommunication towers on top are serviced by both the cable cart and helicopter. The aerial cableway (direct) is five kilometres in length. Note that prior-permission is required.
Rumour has it that there's a plane crash up near the mountain summit. The approximate location of the crash site is marked on the interactive map.
Meston Ridge Route
Follow Behana Gorge Road for approximately 5 kilometres to the end of the road. There is a large car park with water service fences and the pipeline. Find the Behana Gorge trailhead behind the gate near the fenced-off council water property. The track follows the water pipe for 3 kilometres on a sealed track to Clamshell Falls. There are several opportunities to swim in pools along the way.
A few hundred metres before the end of the track is a worn trail leading down to the rocks along the creek. Here is Clamshell Falls, a series of cascading waterfalls. The main pool underneath the waterfall is very deep, and perfect for swimming when water levels are not too high. Be mindful of flash flooding.
Continue on the track a few hundred metres to the end of the Behana Gorge walking track. Here, you'll notice a small signpost and a large fence that blocks the path. This signifies the entrance to the Cairns Behana Gorge water catchment facility. The Behana Gorge Water Catchment is part of Cairns Regional Council and provides fresh water to the entire greater Cairns area.
From here, continue up Behanna Creek (once known as Tringilburra Creek) passing 'Whites Falls' and navigating the cascades, pools, and rocks to arrive at 'Whelanian Pools Camp'. From here, you may choose to follow Meston Ridge up past the original Palm Camp and onto the Centre Peak. Resupply with water before ascending the ridgeline. Alternatively, continue up one of the creek further before taking to a ridge.
Alternatively, you could start up Mount Sophia and continue along the main ridgeline pasting all the peaks.
Cable Car Track Route
The cable car track is by far the easiest way to walk this mountain HOWEVER, PERMISSION IS REQUIRED! Do not trespass. Contact the Tablelands Bushwalking Club or Cairns Bushwalking Club for more information and when they plan to do this hike next.
Car Park to Tower 3 – Approximately 2-3 hours
Park you car at Hall's Farm, near "Unauthorised Vehicles Prohibited" sign with permission of the Hall family. This gate is approximately 1 kilometre before the bottom cable car station.
From the bottom cable car station, follow the track up to the Tower 1. From Tower 1, it is important to locate the correct track. The track directly up the up takes you to the power tower, instead, take the track on the left that first contours around towards the creek and then steeply up to Tower 2.
From Tower 2, the track descends into the intermittent stream where fixed ropes are in place to assist on either side. Then the track ascend to Tower 3.
Tower 3 to Tower 6 - Approximately 3-5 hours
From Tower 3, the track head south from near the south-west leg of the tower, up a slope. The track then climbs steeply up a ridge south west and away from the cable car alignment. The track then contours north west around a false peak a couple of hundred metres below and eventually come out on the crest of the ridge. The rack then follows the ridge down into a saddle and then ascends to Tower 6.
Before arriving at Tower 6, the track passes through a semi-cleared helipad on the crest of the ridge. Not far from Tower 6, there is a signpost to water, 80 metres west of the track. This is a great opportunity to refilled water. Though it's it's been raining constantly, there will be plentiful supply of running water between the summit and the telecommunication station.
Note, at Tower 6, there is a route down the adjacent ridgeline to Tower 5 - but do not take this route. Also at Tower 6, there are two emergency shelter (freezer rooms) with emergency gear, such as a first aid kit, water, and other assorted items.
Tower 6 to Summit – Approximately 1-2 hours
From Tower 6, the track continues north west and steeply uphill. The track climbs steadily, gradually at first, then more steeply, away from the cable alignment to its north and directly to the main summit. This section of the trail is obviously used more than the track below Tower 6 due to the climate change experiments installed at intervals along the track. Towards the top is a steep drop off on your right which provides views on north across the rainforest on a clear day.
Summit to Telecommunication Station – Approximately 30-60 mins
From the summit (Centre Peak), there is another 30 to 45 minutes walk along the track following the ridge south west to the top cable car station. The ridge undulates, and toward the cable car station end, crosses two streams where water could be collected – possibly run almost all year round. There are taps at the cable car station – which you should resist using. The closest creek is, in any case, not more than five minutes walk downhill.
The forest along the top of the ridge is similar to Mount Bartle Frere, quite picturesque and very pleasant walking (despite the constant wet weather).
Telecommunication Station to Summit – Approximately 30 minutes
Summit to Tower 6 – Approximately 1-2 hours
Tower 6 to Tower 3 – Approximately 1.5-3 hours
Tower 3 to Car Park – Approximately 1-2 hours
- Access to the track is via private property and permission needed to access the track.
- It is often misty at the top and thus often no views. However, views out towards Hinchinbrook Island can be seen on a clear day.
- This is a wet walk. There will be leeches, ticks, gympie gympie, lawyer cane, bramble in this area. Leeches tend to come out after drizzle/rain.
- Each cable tower had a nearby power tower. Do not climb these towers as the cable car can start at any moment and electrocution hazards.
- Take sectors to keep the track clear.
- Streams on summit spur that run intermittently after a small amount of rain.
- Apparently Platypus in the lower sections of the creeks.
History: The First European Ascent
The mountain range was noted by Lieutenant James Cook but was not named. On 22 June 1819, Lieutenant Phillip Parker King named them Bellenden Ker Range after John Bellenden Ker Gawler, who was an English botanist, following the suggestion made to him by his ships own botanist, Allan Cunningham.1
In 1873, Walter Hill lead an expedition to Far North Queensland – including a trip to Mount Bellenden Ker area – to document and collect native plants. Also in 1873, Robert Arthur Johnstone climbed to the North Peak with George Elphinstone Dalrymple.2 In March 1889, another expedition to the Centre Peak was lead by Archibald Meston claiming the first European ascent. Adventurer Archibald Meston led several expeditions to explore the north Queensland rainforests, claiming the first ascent of numerous mountains in the region, despite sometimes conflicting information. The route of choice was via Behana Creek passing Clamshell Falls and then following a ridge line up to the summit in 1800s.3
In 1967, Robert O'Sullivan and company surveyed the mountain from a coastal cane farm making a control survey for aerial photography to map the route for a cable-car to service the proposed PMG communication and TV microwave transmission tower on the summit of Mount Bellenden Ker.
Further reading about the first european ascent route - https://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/2763/