White Rock Peak and look out walk is a wonderful bush walk due to it’s relative closeness to Cairns, easy to moderate track difficulty, comfortable length, and if you scramble down the last 50m to White Rock proper and the look out point, an unparalleled view over the Trinity Inlet from the city to the left, all the way to Walshs Pyramid to the right.
Length – 5.5 kms from Lake Morris Road parking point.
Duration – 1.5 hrs return, not including stops. Allow up to 2.5 hours with kids and stops.
Track difficulty – easy to moderate. Steep beginning. Some sections of uneven track with tree roots. Very steep, rough 50m descent to look out point at White Rock. Good bush track for majority of walk.
Kid friendly? Yes, to the survey marker. Young kids not recommended at lookout point – see comments below.
Map of White Rock Peak walking trail
Map with points along the walk – click on a pin for detail.
Getting to the Trail Head
The trail head can be found at a service track for Powerlink Communications Site MTSR MT Sheridan along Lake Morris Road. At the turn off from Brinsmead Rd – Reservoir Road, set your odometer to zero, and drive for 9.7 km. This will take you approximately 15 minutes at a slow drive. Make sure you obey the speed limits and one lane signs as this road is a designated training route for cyclists, and at stages there is very little room to pass, so be considerate.
If you stop at the lookout after 3 minutes’ drive, you’ve only covered 2.1kms. It’s worth a quick stop, but don’t get distracted as the views from White Rock are so much better. Get going again, and travel a further 7.6km, which should take about 13 minutes. (I know, my times don’t add up. I think I’ve introduced rounding errors when I stopped at the lookout above Kanimbla Heights).
Locating the parking area
Along the way, keep your eye out as every half kilometer there is a white marker post with distance stamped on it – these are for cyclists using the road for training, but very useful in case you’ve forgotten to zero your odometer. I found my odometer was reading 100, ahead of these markers, so the parking area at 9.7km should come up just after the 9.5km marker post.
Take extreme care crossing over to the grassed parking area. This is a blind corner, and I’d suggest you make sure you have a clear view ahead of you before committing to turn off, as you won’t hear a cyclist coming downhill in the opposite direction.
There’s plenty of space to park well off the road, although you’ll be surprised how many people are doing the same thing if the weather is fine, so make sure you think about parking in a place that allows for an easy exit! You don’t want to find yourself boxed in, just because you parked in the shade at the beginning of your adventure.
From the grassed parking area, the access track is only 50m up the road. Again, be careful walking along the road. The same blind corner is the issue. Watch your kids if they’re young, as just because you’ve got out of the car and are about to start your walk, make sure you keep your eyes and ears out for other vehicles that are passing through on their way to Lake Morris and Copperlode Dam.
Trail head begins at the gate
Walk up the gravel track to the gate. The gate is locked, so you’ll need to squeeze through the triangular framework. It’s quite possibly the most over-engineered gate in Queensland, and most unforgiving if you miscalculate your squeeze. You’ll wear the bump to your head for some time, at no damage to the gate. Trust me. Words of experience.
Follow the track up to the first tower. It’s a gentle uphill climb and lulls you into thinking that you’re in for a leisurely stroll through the bush. Don’t be fooled. At the pylon there’s a glimpse of the suburbs in the distance, but it’s more a tease than anything – no position quite gets a decent vista without trees interfering with the view. Again, as with the lookout I stopped at on the way in the car, you’re in for far better, so just keep on – the fun is just about to begin.
Up the track perhaps another 100m, there is a fork. Stick to the left and continue up the hill. The lower fork is an access route to another pylon.
At this point, it’s all uphill. And it’s deceptively steep. Your lungs will get a good work out, as will your legs. And it just gets steeper the closer you get to the actual start of the walking track – this is just the access road to the Communications Site and meant to be traveled in the luxury of a four-wheel drive with low range at snail’s pace, but you’re on foot, so head down and keep grinding away! If you’re walking with kids, this is where they’ll start to complain. Rest assured, I think this is the most difficult part, save for the short scramble down (and conversely the ragged ascent back up) to the lookout point. It’s worth stopping several times at this point with kids, just to give them their confidence, a drink of water, a snack, and let them know that the rest of the track is nowhere near this difficult.
Compounding the steepness of the track is the loose rock that makes it uneven and can shift under a foot. It is particularly treacherous on the way down, and certainly the jelly-legs will kick in, adding to the challenge.
Communications Site and Pylon mark the start of the foot trail
When you think you can’t cope with any more uphill, and your lungs are bursting, you’ll suddenly spot the tower and communications site. This marks the true start of the walking track.
Catch your breath and walk around either side of the perimeter fence that surrounds the base of the site to find the beginning of the walking track on the exact opposite point from the vehicle track. It’s not hidden and should be straightforward to locate.
From this point, the walking is thoroughly enjoyable, relatively easy for the whole way to the official survey marker and provides some glimpses of the ranges on either sides of the ridgelines that you’ll encounter. There are some patches of path that are crisscrossed in roots, so take care and don’t get complacent. At a number of points you’re likely to encounter fallen trees of various sizes. Some of these may obstruct the path, so work out where you need to get to, and work your way past, carefully avoiding the Wait-a-While vine.
The track is flagged and marked – I’m not sure if officially or by hiking clubs or others – so keep a look out for pink, yellow, blue and green flags tied around branches and trees, and orange metal triangles nailed (yep – kinda old school, that one) into some trees. I’d consider this an easy trail to follow, but there were definitely points where the track was diverted from the original path due to fallen vegetation, and these flags serve a very good purpose for confirming you’re on the right track.
I should note that the photos of tags should not be taken literally. Some of these photos may have been taken on my second walk when I continued on past the survey marker to the right. The point is, the track is flagged – I just can’t recall which colours you’ll encounter at which location.
Reaching the survey marker
Keep an eye on the time, as at a brisk to steady gait with no kids I arrived at the marker post at around 40 minutes from where I parked my car. This is the point where there is a fork in the track which can be easy to miss.
There is a metal post with chipped white paint a couple of metres from the official brass survey marker point which lies on a concrete base. Both are nondescript, and although clearly stick out as man made objects along a bush track, they can also be missed if you’re caught up in the enjoyment of the walk.
Descent to White Rock – stick to the left track!
At the metal post, keep to the LEFT (the post and marker should be at your right as you pass them) and barely a few metres beyond the survey marker you’ll be standing at the top of the 50 metre mad scramble down to White Rock proper.
The first and most recent times I’ve walked this track, the left-hand path was easy to find. However, after recent heavy rain, the second time I walked this I completely missed it. I think there was vegetation covering the path, and I followed the right-hand track which if I’d kept going would have lead me on to Mt Sheridan I believe. (I didn’t continue and turned around eventually. If you’ve walked this right hand track down to the end, leave a comment – I’d love to know how long it takes, and where it comes out.)
Although the 50 metres to White Rock lookout point is straight down the hill, there are lots of saplings to grab onto and swing from. It’s not too bad all things considered.
Arriving at White Rock
At the point where it just starts to level briefly again, and you’re keen to barrel on, there’s a twisted tree branch that curls away from you along the pathway. It’s a pretty obvious tree as it is right in front of you as you descend, and serves as the marker point for White Rock.
You’ve made it! Look to your right, and where there’s a gap in the rocks that appear to your right, squeeze through to be met by a view that reveals itself more by the centimetre as you scramble over and up on to White Rock.
Enjoy the view. Carefully.
TAKE CARE. This is not a tourist location with guard rails and safety barriers, or friendly guides to remind you to maintain a healthy distance from the edge. This is a rock with an edge, over which is a long way to an uncomfortable landing. I’ve only ever walked this in the dry, but I imagine with the lichen and moss, it may prove extremely slippery in the wet.
There are a couple of convenient rocks to perch on and take in the view. I’ve enjoyed my snacks up here, enjoying the stunning landscape and winding waters of the Trinity Inlet from the city. From this point you can still easily hear the traffic below, and the hustle and bustle of industry, yet also the sounds of the bush, including birds and insects.
Once you’ve enjoyed the rest, check that you’ve got all your belongings including any rubbish, and head back. It’s the same way back with no surprises, except, as mentioned, the last bit from the Communications Site to the gate where the shifting and unstable surface of the vehicle access track can make the downhill awkward.
Some points to note
Leeches – two of the three times I’ve walked this track I’ve encountered leeches. They drop from vegetation as you walk past, and you won’t know they’ve landed on you. They’re harmless – I think – and were simply plucked off. One managed to stow away in my sock and wasn’t noticed until I got home, so was pretty fat and healthy looking, but again, no lasting problems except for a mark that took a while to stop bleeding.
Mosquitoes – didn’t really notice any. Not to say they weren’t there though, as they don’t tend to go for me anyway.
Ticks – you should always look for these after any sort of bush walk. Check behind the ears and other sneaky places.
Mobile phone reception – it’s largely good coverage. I’m using an Optus network provider, and there is a substantial gap in reception from shortly after the beginning of the trail to about two thirds of the way along. Should you take a phone? Absolutely. Whilst I’d considerate it an easy track (I’ve called it “moderate” due to the beginning and the end – really, it’s pretty easy) there are plenty of opportunities to twist an ankle.
“I’ve got a dodgy knee – is this walk suitable for me?” Well, no. And more to the point, I’m not a doctor. Ask your GP ? . I have a knee that gives me extreme pain on downhills. It’s completely alright on uphills of any steepness but extended downhill walking will kill me. Recently I purchased a knee brace which I wore on my last walk, and it saved me. No pain whatsoever. Now I’m no medical practitioner, so don’t quote me in court after you’ve been rescue-choppered out of the bush because you bought a knee brace like mine, and ended up painfully stuck along the trail… but it worked for me. Mine cost $80 from Rebel Sports. I was reluctant to spend the money, but after experiencing a pain-free walk, it was worth every penny.
“Would you really recommend this for kids?” Well I took mine. They’re middle-school age. I’d be very wary of younger kids climbing around on White Rock itself. Actually, I’d be terrified. I’m not saying don’t take them, but if you’ve got younger kids, make sure you’re holding them at all times, and maybe just make the actual White Rock visit a brief one to look at the view, with hands firmly held. Again, like the advice above, use your own judgement. I’m certainly not telling you not to take kids to White Rock look out, but I’m equally not taking responsibility for your kids! It’s not a place to make a mistake.
Best time to go? Well nothing beats bush walking around the Far North in winter. I’ve walked it in May and June. I’d recommend starting no later than 230pm. I’ve walked this track starting both early morning, and late afternoon. The morning one was great for walking, but the sun is in front of you at White Rock, or at least high in the sky. Leaving around 2pm means you’ll get there around 245pm with the sun behind you and providing excellent lighting over the landscape below. That being said, if the skies are clear, no time is bad. Just make sure you leave early enough in the afternoon to return with plenty of light, if it’s in winter.