GEMMA NISBET tackles the Granite Skywalk Trail
The signs by the car park warn of a steep ascent and an uneven trail surface “with some stony obstacles”, not to mention the notoriously changeable local weather conditions.
We’re in the Porongurups tackling the Granite Skywalk Trail, a walk whose relatively modest length, at 4.4km return, belies its challenges. Will it be worth the effort?
On a cool mid-week morning outside the school holidays, we quickly find we’re still sharing the trail with many other hikers.
They range from older couples to an extended family of international tourists. Then there’s the particularly well-quipped husband-and-wife duo, who are toting a docile 15-month-old baby and a rather more temperamental drone.
Not long after we narrowly avoid stepping on a tiger snake slithering its leisurely way across the path, the trail levels out and passes through a shady section of the jarrah, marri and karri forest and woodland that blanket much of the range.
The respite from the climb is only temporary, but it’s enough to keep us going. And soon enough, we emerge near the summit into a thicket of boulders, the most prominent among them a towering sphere of granite aptly named Balancing Rock.
Perched atop another rounded boulder, it looks a little like one of those precarious rocks with which Wile E. Coyote might have used in an attempt to take out the Road Runner in a Looney Tunes cartoon.
It has nothing, however, on what awaits us a little further up the trail: smooth lumps of granite that are bigger than elephants, casting their shadows across a sign promising two different routes to the view.
We opt first for the easier option, a short pathway that leads us to a vantage point known as Karri Lookout.
From here, on this clear sunny day, we can see all the way south to Albany and the Southern Ocean across a rustic patchwork of farmland and dams, vineyards and timber plantations, fence lines and roads and olive-green bush.
The pay-off is even greater, however, if you choose the more arduous route.
Accurately described on the aforementioned sign as a “65m scramble”, it involves pulling yourself up and over a series of rocks with the help of metal handles protruding from the boulders.
Then there’s a steep ladder of six or seven metres to scale the dome of Castle Rock itself, and you’ll find yourself atop the Granite Skywalk, a stainless-steel walkway that cantilevers out from the mottled bluff.
The hard-won reward that awaits is a super-charged version of the outlook on offer below — not to mention the heart-stopping drop visible through the steel mesh underfoot.
The structure, too, is impressive.
Again, the helpful signage provides some context, describing how the anchor points were drilled by abseilers and the walkway spans delivered by helicopter.
And though many of the other hikers seem almost relieved to climb back down after a shaky selfie, for me there’s a temptation to linger a little longer, standing there to stare at that ocean horizon.
Eventually, though, with the rising wind starting to whip at the rocks, it’s time to descend the ladder and start clambering down and across the rocks to the trail below.
A little way into our return trek to the car park, we pass a solitary middle-aged man panting his way up the track.
“Is it worth it?,” he asks, a familiar despair in his voice.
The verdict is unanimous: “Definitely.”
- Castle Rock and the Granite Skywalk are in Porongurup National Park, about a half-hour drive from both Albany and Mt Barker. Park entry fees apply. parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/park/porongurup
- About two hours is recommended for the hike, which is rated a class five. According to the Parks and Wildlife Service, this means walkers should be “fit, experienced and suitably equipped”.
- For details on wineries, restaurants and other attractions in the area, see porongurup.com.
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