The Challenges and Rewards of the Mount Gulaga Walking Track

The hike up the visually rewarding Mount Gulaga Walking Track requires effort and hikers should be in sufficiently good condition to meet the challenge. Hikers should also plan their hike and prepare accordingly.

Mount Gulaga (formerly known as Mount Dromedary) and the Mount Gulaga National Park is situated in the lovely Tilba region of the south coast of New South Wales, about 400 kilometres south of Sydney. It is part of Australia’s densely forested Great Dividing Range which extends along the entire east coast of Australia.

Rolling green hills feauture in the Tilba-Gulaga region
The rolling green hills of Tilba

The pristine south coast of New South Wales is richly populated with forested national parks and farmlands. A narrow corridor of rolling hills separates forested mountains of the Great Dividing Range from a beautiful coastline. The visually rewarding Mount Gulaga walking track is nestled within this beautiful landscape which is abundant in flora and fauna.

The coastal corridor separates the sea from the ranges near Mount Gulaga (Mount Dromedary)
The south coastal corridor between sea and ranges from Mount Gulaga

There aren’t any cities or industries to blight the landscape and the isolated major coastal towns, once fishing villages, have been transformed into comfortable destinations for retirees, owners of holiday homes, vacationers and tourists. So when you travel along the coast to Mt Gulaga, the scenery is green, beautiful and relaxing.

The following images form a gallery. Click on any image to enlarge.

The images that include the dual peaks of Mt Gulaga clearly indicate why the original name of the mountain was Mt Dromedary.

The dual peaks of Mt Gulaga are seen when looking across from Narooma
The dual peaks of Mt Gulaga

Don’t be in such a hurry that you miss the natural beauty of the region.

The Patient Fisher waits his chance – we can all relate to the experience

How to Get to Mount Gulaga and the Walking Track

The Mount Gualga walking track, sometimes referred to as the Mount Dromedary Walking Track but more formally known as The Tilba Tilba Walking Track, is located at the small village of Tilba Tilba. Whether driving south on the A1 (Princes Highway) from Narooma (25 kms) or north from Bermagui (20 kms), you will easily recognise the hinterland’s dual-peaked Mt Gulaga and sense its watchful eye as you approach the well-labelled sign to Tilba Tilba. Once off the A1 and on the road to Tilba Tilba you will see farmlands and traditional Australian country homes sporting tin rooves and verandahs that entirely surround the homes. The verandahs shade the homes from the hot, Australian summer sun, preventing direct sunlight from penetrating the windows. Within a few minutes you will see your destination, a solitary cafe (don’t blink). Park the car in the car park next to the cafe .

The Tilba Tilba café located the start of the walk up Mt Gulaga
The starting location for the Mount Gulaga Walk (Mt Dromedary walk)
Parking area reserved for hikers
Parking area for hikers

Challenges and Rewards Along the Mount Gulaga Walking Track

The walk up the Mt Gulaga walking track and return is about 15 kms in length and ascends to a height of 800 metres (2,650 feet). The walk should not be an issue for experienced or fit hikers but others may find it a challenge. The duration of the walk differs, not only according to physical condition, but also interests. The sign at the entrance of the trail recommends 5 hours. This is probably a good estimate for walkers who just want to get to the top and down again. However, for visitors who are interested in other aspects of the Mt Gulaga hike, such as the trail geology, botany, the rainforest, or the remnants of historical gold mining that remain at the summit, then add an hour at least. Or forget all that and enjoy the reward of a day on the mountain. But you will need to plan for food and water.

The Mt Gulaga hike starts at the café. Consider letting the owner know before you set off that you’ll be on the mountain. A sign will direct you to an obvious, unsealed road that crosses the fields towards the forest and takes you to the National Park.

A road through the rolling fields leads towards Mt Gulaga (formerly Mt Dromedary)
Away from the café and sweep right to the forested Mt Gulaga Walking Track

Some visitors, filled with anticipation as they walk up the road away from the cafe while enjoying the scenery, become aware that their calves are already tightening and they are feeling a little bit of pain. Time to stop, take a breather and decide it’s not necessary to bolt along so quickly.

The incline leading to Mount Gulaga’s entrance is long and up hill
It’s only the start but it will hurt if you hurry

The road turns sharply to the right at the forest line at the top of the incline and then thins out to become the Mount Gulaga trail. You can’t miss seeing some very large outcrops of monzonite, an intrusive rock that contributes to the superstructure of Gulaga Mountain. Take a peek out to sea and you’ll see Montague Island about 10kms away. Montague Island is composed of the same rock. Monzonite is typically used in the construction industry and as road aggregate. There is a disused monzonite quarry at the rear of the nearby village, Central Tilba, and some very large masses of monzonite lie in situ along Central Tilba’s main street.

Monzonite as a boulder in situ at the start the Mt Gulaga walk
A monzonite boulder decorates the Tilba Valley to start the Mt Gulaga walk

You’ll soon encounter the entrance gate to the Gulaga National Park. The hike becomes a little more challenging because the trail surface quickly becomes uneven and is covered in rock fragments. It is necessary to concentrate on where you place your feet. This uneven surface over the duration of the walk punishes the feet and calves. Part of your planning should be to include suitable walking boots.

The incline gets steeper and the Mt Gulaga walking trail, broad enough to cater for a service vehicle, retains its slope albeit with variations and undulations all the way to the top. There isn’t any respite. There isn’t any seating along the trail until you reach Mount Gulaga’s rest area at the summit, so find your own comfortable pace. A peek through the increasingly dense bush provides a sight that no-one enjoys – the challenge ahead.

The summit of Mount Gulaga pokes above nearby vegetation
The summit at the end of the Mount Gulaga hiking trail

The trail to this point has been on the eastern side (facing ocean) of the mountain but now the trail swings to the right onto the mountain’s southern side. This change in direction opens up views along the eastern escarpment, shown below.

The eastern escarpment of Mt Gulaga reveals background ranges that have since been incinerated
The forest line on the eastern escarpment of Mount Gulaga

The forests seen adorning the background mountains in the image above are no longer with us. The ferocious fires in this region during the summer of 2019-2020 raged through on a strong southerly wind with close to zero percent humidity on a day when some areas in Sydney recorded 48.9 deg C (or 120.2 deg F). No, that’s not a mistake!

Ten minutes further along and the track allows another glimpse of what Australia has lost to the fires. This image, taken from the Mt Gulaga waking track, provides a view across to Bermagui, just discernible in the background. This image is characteristic of the south coast landscape along its entire length – beautiful surfing beaches of white sands with intermediate hills and waterways pointing to the ranges.

Coastal Bermagui from Mount Gulaga and an indication of what has been destroyed further south
Looking towards Bermagui

During the summer of 2019-2020 5,000 people from surrounding villages were crammed into the Bermagui Surf Club with a raging wall of flame heading in their direction. These flames were 60-70 metres high. Some residents had already sought shelter by standing waste deep at night in an inky black ocean. A resident stated that without the wind change that arrived just in time, the outcome could have been too dreadful to contemplate. Anyway, when you’re on the Gulaga trail and you reach a clearing, take a photo because there are very limited opportunities, if any, further up the track.

The trail now remains in permanent shade. The sun, crossing the northern sky, can’t so readily penetrate the dense foliage of Gulaga Mountain (Mt Dromedary) and warm its southern face.

The Mt Gulaga vegetation thickens up in shadier and moister conditions
The Mt Gulaga walking track in shade with growth encouraged by moisture

Half Way Up the Mt Gulaga Walking Track

There isn’t a half way marker as such. It is purely biological. Half way is where you decide it is. It’s when your legs tell you it’s halfway. You may now have moved from a little bit of pain to pain. Take 10 minutes to rest and have something to eat and drink. It doesn’t take long to rejuvenate. But if you feel challenged, unwell and uncomfortable about continuing, have someone escort you down. The images don’t relate very well how testing this hike can be. The gradient of the Gulaga mountain track is not so steep but the trail is long and the incline relentless. It never descends.

The incline of the Mt Gulaga trail is never steep but is always ascending
The Mt Gulaga hiking trail is long and the incline relentless

The Flora, Fauna and Geology Along the Mount Gulaga Walk

Whether finding the walk easy or difficult, the rewards are the same. You will find the peace and serenity wonderful. There aren’t any industrial sounds and motors of any kind are not to be heard. Birds twitter, wallabies stand and watch, the geologists categorise the hundredth rock through their hand lens and the botanists view the progression of vegetation through the forest. But there isn’t a view. (Please take note that it is not permitted to remove anything from a National Park).

The absence of panoramic views as you continue ascending will draw you into focusing on the natural assets found along the trail. The predominant plant species is eucalyptus but even at this stage, well below the summit, you will encounter hints of rainforest, particularly on sections where naturally formed channels drain the water from higher up the mountain.

Closer attention to the flora will increase your awareness of the many different types of plants that populate the mountain, many of which would have served as traditional sources of food or medicine for the Yuin people, the traditional owners of the mountain.

The mountain environment and climate is ideal for many recognisable bush animals, and already along the trail you may have seen foxes, wallabies and kangaroos. There is also an endless chorus from a large variety of birds, with the bell birds being particularly audible pinging away at lower elevations.

If you’re a rock hopper you’ll continue to see monzonite along the trail, as well as diorites and granites. What is missing are the darker volcanics, the rocks associated with lava. Where are they?

The sight of a wallaby on the Mt Gulaga hike is a reminder of how many have been lost to the fires
Wallaby sighting along the Mount Gulaga walking track
The feeding wallaby on the Mt Gulaga hike reminds us that starvation may follow
Wallaby feeding along the Mount Gulaga walking track

The image of the two wallabies brings it home. They are happy in their environment unaware that 1.25 million of their assorted colleagues didn’t make it through the fires. Such is the damage and tragedy when 11.5 million hectares of prime forest and habitat disappears literally in smoke and ash. But it for the animals that survive it’s not over. They will face a second threat that will loom as large as the first – starvation. The final count of the loss of fauna could be astronomical.

Reaching the End of the Mount Gulaga Walking Track – Or Is It?

The challenged hiker has been ascending for about three hours and is now a plodder, having graduated from pain to lots of pain. The struggling stride has shortened, the backpack full of lunch and water is heavier and any experienced hikers who happen to be on the mountain seem to flash by at light speed. Sadly, the mind of the struggler is fixed on the only reward that counts – getting to the top. Birds, wallabies, rocks, plants, smells, sounds … what are they? The brain doesn’t want to know.

Dense vegetation both sides of the trail lead to a lovely experience on the Mt Gulaga walking track
The beautiful experience of the Mt Gulaga walking track

Then something changes. Sunlight starts to filter through the trees onto the trail and that can only mean one thing. The amount of vegetation the sun’s rays have had to penetrate is thinning out. The summit must be close. And there it is! The Gulaga Mountain rest area. Saved!

The thinning of the vegetation and increase in light heralds the nearby Gulaga summit – maybe

The rest area located at the top of the trail is signed as Gulaga Mountain. A display board advises interesting facts about the trail and the mountain’s significance to indigenous belief. It is a place to be respected. A permanent table, seats and toilet facility are provided so you can eat and drink in relative comfort to replace the energy you used getting up the mountain. So plan to bring some food and drink that is not only sustaining but is also the basis of a pleasant lunch.

Perhaps for a little while, bask in your achievement. But if you are our struggling hiker, don’t look around otherwise you will see something you won’t want to see – a sign. A sign that reads, “To The Rainforest and Summit”. And it’s further up the mountain! You have just entered the fourth stage – a helluva lot of pain.

A sign ‘To the Summit’ alerts the hiker that there is more walking to be done along the Mt Gulaga walking track
A sign to break hearts – the challenge to reach the summit of Mt Gulaga remains

The Mount Gulaga Walking Track to the Rainforest and the Summit

The decision to walk to the rainforest and the Mt Gulaga summit may not be rewarded by a panoramic view over the south coast. The vegetation at the summit, most likely, will still be too dense to see through. So, if you decide to continue walking to see the rainforest, then it’s a rainforest that you will most likely see.

The walk to the rainforest adds about another hour to hour and a half to the Mt Gulaga walk. First, there is another long ascent, followed by a shorter descent which leads to a set of steps that ascend into the area signed as rainforest.

Steps to the rainforest along the Mount Gulaga walk
Steps leading up to the summit and rainforest on Mt Gulaga

The trail up Mont Gulaga in this area is a single track which winds its way through the forest, markers pointing the way. But it is a rainforest and it is beautiful and fresh. Should you continue along the trail you will be welcomed by a sign advising the Mt Gulaga summit has been reached.

Sign to the rainforest along the Mount Gulaga walk
Sign pointing to the rainforest on Mt Gulaga
The summit rainforest on Mt Gulaga
The track leads into the summit rainforest on Mt Gulaga

The following images form a gallery of the rainforest. Click to enlarge.

Sacred Places and Monoliths Along the Mount Gulaga Walking Track

Mount Gulaga is culturally and spiritually significant to the aboriginal Yuin people, it being a site of their Dreamtime. Walkers not only enjoy the rainforest but throughout the area will also see very large igneous monoliths. In their Dreamtime the Yuin people are custodians of the monoliths that populate Gulaga while the monoliths are caretakers standing as traditional guardians over the mountain and its people.

The granitic monoliths, sacred to the Yuin people, stand sentinel ove r Mt Gulaga and its people
The monoliths are the traditional guardians over Mount Gulaga and its people
The granitic monoliths, sacred to the Yuin people, stand sentinel ove r Mt Gulaga and its people
The monoliths are looked after by the Yuin people

Historical Gold Mining When the Mount Gulaga Walking Track Nears the Summit

When higher up the the Mount Gualga walking trail you will encounter evidence of the gold mining that predominated over 100 years ago. Gold is often associated with volcanoes. The gold is not formed in the volcano but vulcanism provides the conditions whereby the gold can be transported to the surface through fissures in the underlying rock. The gold then often becomes captured by silicate minerals, such as quartz. This may have been the case with Mt Gulaga.

Near the summit at Gulaga Mountain miners used torrents of water to isolate the gold-bearing quartz from the unwanted sediments. Some of the sluices that were cut into the mountain are still recognisable, appearing to have been transformed into naturally occurring channels that drain the rainwater off the mountain. Environmental damage resulting from unnatural waterways that were the result of the runoff from the water cannons was never reclaimed. It is recorded that over 400 people lived on the summit; miners with their families. The summit was devastated because the miners ripped its forest for fuel, mine props, shelters and sluice boards. The result for the miners? They took about 500 kilograms of gold.

The Geology of Mount Gulaga

If you’re into rocks then while you head back along the Mt Gulaga walking trail from the summit towards the rest area, you may see here and there some small natural clusters of dark rocks. Mount Gulaga was part of the uplift that formed the Great Dividing Range when Australia collided with what are now parts of South America and New Zealand. The dark rocks you are seeing were derived from the lava that flowed over the mountain millions of years ago. But these extrusive rocks, being so close to the summit, should be all over the place. Where are they? It’s apparent that they have been eroded away exposing the intrusive rocks such as monzonite and granites etc which were derived from the subterranean magma. In fact, Mount Gulaga was once twice as high as it is now and was buried under a layer of lava up to a thickness of one kilometre. This means that there was once a lot more mountain towering above where you are now standing but it is all gone. How big was the volcano? A good indication is that Montague Island, about 10 kilometres out to sea, is also composed of monzonite.

Geology Binds Mount Gulaga to Montague Island in the Aboriginal Dreamtime

Mount Gulaga is sacred to the Aboriginal Yuin people and both the mountain and Montague Island feature in their Dreamtime. It also shows this ancient people’s awareness of the very real physical connection between the two structures.

The Dreamtime recalls that Gulaga had two sons, Najanuka (Little Dromeday Mt) the youngest, and Baranguba (Montague Island) the eldest. When it was time for the eldest son to leave home he was sent to where he is today as represented by Montague Island. He has water blocking him from reuniting with his mother because he did not listen to her when he should have. When it was time for Najanuka the youngest son to leave home, Gulaga kept him close and only let him go as far as where he is today, little Dromedary Mountain.

The Dreamtime, through story-telling, ensures valuable knowledge and moral lessons are repeated throughout the generations. Can you identify the lesson being taught here?

The Return Along the Mt Gulaga Walking Track to Tilba Tilba

You might feel that you are in heaven when you return along the Mount Gulaga walking track to the rest area. It’s all downhill from here! A reward for your endurance.

A panorama from the Mt Gulaga walking track over the Tilba valley with hopes it will survive the fires
A final glimpse from the Mount Gulaga walking track

It generally takes about 3 hours to walk up to the Gulaga rest area and that includes a couple of pit stops for a rest and something to eat.
The rainforest and summit walk adds about 1 to 1.5 hours, not including about 10-20 mins for lunch. It takes half the time to descend, so about 1.5 hours from the Mt Gulaga rest area to Tilba Tilba. In all its probably between 15 and 20 kilometres.

When you return to the cafe you can feed up, rehydrate and gloat in the cafe where it all started. You might feel fine but at the other end of the spectrum, you may feel half dead.

There is only one way to find out.

Visit Central Tilba

Should you feel up to it, or pencil it in for another day, spend some time at Central Tilba.

Central Tilba is an historic site dating back to the mid 1800’s. The previous community was associated with its former cheese factory. Visitors in the past could visit the factory, watch the process of cheese-making from start to finish and sample the curds and whey. Cheese production at the factory was discontinued and so the town reinvented itself as a tourist attraction. Central Tilba has one street and it is lined with shops selling everything that may be of interest to tourists, including wood turning products, hand-made leather goods, pottery, jewellry, clothes made from hemp, food … A very interesting historical aspect of the town is that the stores trade from the original homes, providing historical insight into earlier times.

The Mount Gulaga Walking Track – Things to Consider

  • A walk up the Mount Gulaga hiking trail would be more challenging in the heat so during the warmer months consider an early start. And try to avoid the mistake of heading off too late. At the end of our walk we were intercepted at 3.30 pm by a couple who were heading off without provisions or a torch. It was going to be dark by 6pm and pitch dark on the mountain trail at nighttime.
  • Take some food and water plus some trail mix. We took 2 bread rolls, two snack bars and one litre of water for each of us. Fruit could replace snack bars. Our choice made for a heavy backpack when we started but we consumed everything by the time we finished
  • The cafe closes at 3pm so if you’re hanging out for coffee you will need to get back by then.
  • The Gulaga National Park and ascent to the summit is certainly worth doing provided you are in sufficient shape. If you feel unwell after starting, have someone escort you down
  • The Tilba region and the Mt Gulaga hiking trail are both safe venues although care must be taken where you place your feet. It would be easy to roll an ankle
  • Entry into the Gulaga National Park is free
  • The walk is family friendly but as there aren’t any barriers or railings along the trail you will need to supervise your children
  • Parking is available adjacent to the cafe
  • Day visits only as it is illegal to camp in the National Park
  • You get a message about your fitness the next day in terms of how stiff you are. As stated, we encountered a man in his seventies on the trail so the walk is achievable for older walkers if fit
  • Don’t forget the water and sunscreen!

The Mount Gulaga Walking Track – Final Thoughts

We found Mount Gulaga hike enriching in that being immersed in nature is a reward in itself. We don’t pretend that the walk wasn’t challenging and that we cruised up without having to stop. Quite the opposite. We hid our discomfort by taking time here and there to supposedly satisfy our broad interests; check a rock, look for wallabies, listen to the birds. The sighting of the fox was particularly timely.

It is subjective to rank the Mount Gulaga walk because there isn’t a baseline that everyone has experienced. If you have climbed the 1356 steps up to the fort at Kotor in Montenegro, then that was easier than the Gulaga Mountain climb. If you have completed the walk at Lukomir near Sarajevo, then that was harder than climbing Gulaga Mountain.

We prepare for any walk as thoughtfully as any other. Our backpack contained food and trail snacks and one litre of water each. We always include a first aid kit which contains bandages and band aids. We never walk without a hat and always dress appropriately. We wear hiking shoes and not joggers. We obtained the phone number of the cafe manager before setting off. We decided that in the event of an emergency he would know who to contact.

Our final thought. Take your time up the Mount Gulaga walking track and don’t bolt through it.

We have attempted to integrate the cost of the ongoing fires into our description of the Mount Gulaga walking track. Whereas we trust that we have conveyed some sense of the loss of beauty and habitat that has occurred, we have not attempted to comment on the true cost of these fires – the trauma and despair that accompanies the loss of 34 lives and over 3000 homes. No description of nature can do justice to that magnitude of loss.