Location - Townsville, North Queensland, Australia
Distance - approximately 13 km return, depending on route
Time - allow 6-8 hours
Grade - 5 (AWTGS), steep in some parts
The Sisters Mountains are located in the northeast corner of Australia, just south of Townsville and Elliot Springs. The Sisters Mountains actually consist of three peaks, including the East Sister (422 m), Middle Sister (429 m), and West Sister (425 m). The three sisters and the main ridgeline that runs between them make up the isolated range and provide some of the best views across Townsville. Take the day to summit all three peaks, and enjoy the different views and vegetation each has to offer.
The area is open bushland but scrubby with lots of lantana (Lantana camara), Chinese apple (Ziziphus mauritiana), spear grass (Heteropogon contortus), rubber vine (Cryptostegia grandiflora), corkwood wattle (Acacia bidwillii), and what appears to be Bursaria sp., which is also spikey. So, be sure you take your secateurs to help clear your path if you get caught up in the vegetation. There are also some pretty trees like Kapok (Ceiba pentandra) and gum trees to enjoy along the way.
You are likely to encounter plenty of golden orb or orb-weaving spiders, such as Trichonephila edulis and other Nephila spp., as well as jewel spiders – also orb-weavers – such as Austracantha minax, which is endemic to Australia and has five subspecies, each with different colour and spine patterns. The elaborate orb webs that each of these species engineer will undoubtedly occupy the paths you choose while on this hike. Keep an eye out for the larger, more elaborate and ornate female usually in the centre of the web and the tiny, dwarfed male spider nearby.
The annual rainfall of The Sisters Mountains is about 1,122 mm, with the most rain recorded in one day being 549 mm. Still, this hike is best done during the cooler months of the year, as the exposed nature of it can make for quite a hot day during the summer months. As the creeks are seasonal, there may not be water in them, especially during the dry season. Therefore it is quite important to bring plenty of water for this hike.
En route, you will encounter several rocky outcrops and cliffs that provide grand views across the landscape, which some would argue is the best part of this hike. The East Sister is accessed via an old, seemingly unused, bulldozered dirt road. You will gain 180 metres in elevation along this dirt road, but it is obvious and easy to follow and technically on-track the whole way.
The Middle Sister is the highest point of this isolated range and requires an off-track route. To reach the summit, you will follow a technical rocky razor ridgeline from the east. Look for the rock cairn that marks the true summit of the Middle Sister. There are a few ironbark trees near the East Sister and Middle Sister that were presumably cut decades upon decades ago for trig points or possibly cleared to allow trig points to be more visible.
Descending the Middle Sister and summiting the West Sister also requires off-track routes. And while the views from the summit of the West Sister are not as grand as the views from the other two peaks, you simply must complete the family. Consider taking your morning tea or lunch break at either the summit of the East Sister or Middle Sister for the best scenery.
How to get there
Either start at the end of Mount Panorama Drive next to Slippery Rocks Creek or from Elliot Springs.
Note: both suggested starting points traverse through private property, and permission to hike here is required before you commence your trip. You could also join the Townsville Bushwalking Club the next time they do this hike.
After you summit the (final) West Sister, you can descend and finish your hike via Slippery Rocks Creek. While descending the West Sister is off-track, once you reach the creek, it is easy to follow. While in the creek bed, you may see yellow belly black snakes, which are actually non-venomous common tree snakes (Dendrelaphis punctulata). Alongside the creek and across the pastures, you will likely see grazing cattle, and you may also see a few wallabies hopping by as well.
What you need
- Plenty of water (3-4 litres recommended per person)
- Long pants, long shirt, and gaiters to protect from sun and vegetation
- Hat and sunscreen
- Insect repellent
- Food and snacks
- GPS and navigation tools
- Waterproof dry bags
- First Aid Kit (including electrolytes) and PLB