Orroral Valley Tracking Station (former) carpark
Carpark at Orroral Tracking Station
Orroral Valley Tracking Station (former) carpark
October and March
While this trail is walkable year round it can however be prone to snow from between April and September so come prepared. The heat can be oppressive between November and February so if you are walking during the summer months it is best to start early and take breaks during the middle of the day to avoid the heat
The walk to Mt Bimberi, the highest peak in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is a long and difficult one that forms part of the Australian Alps Walking Trek (AAWT). The thing I really like about this hike is that it is about as remote as it gets – I have done this trail and not seen any other walkers. This is probably the ultimate multi-day training hike in the Canberra region.
This trail is usually considered a three day hike for the average walker but can be done in one or two days if you have a high level of fitness. The walk starts at the site of the decommissioned Orroral Valley Space Tracking Station and the facilities provide a great day picnic or overnight camp in its own right with a decent toilet block, picnic tables and gas BBQs.
The trail starts off with a 5.84 km walk along one of the fire trails before turning off the road onto the AAWT proper. The turnoff point is easy to miss so start paying attention at about the 5 km mark and look to the left side of the road (there is a photo of the turnoff point below). Once you turn onto the side trail, the track is undulating for about 1 km before a steep incline towards the top of the hill at Cotter Gap. Camping is possible in this area although not recommended. From Cotter Gap the trail is undulating but mainly downward and in relatively good condition although tree falls on this trail are common so you will usually have to climb over/under or around logs of various sizes. The trail continues downwards to Cotter Flat at approximately the 15 km mark. Cotter Flat is the best camping area on the trail with flat grassy ground kept short by the large local Kangaroo population. I highly recommend Cotter Flat as the place to pitch the tent. If you are doing this trip as a two or three day walk then you can drop your gear off here and hike to the summit of Mt Bimberi with a much lighter pack as the hills get very steep from here.
The walk from Cotter Flat to Mt Bimberi is where this trail really starts to get hard. From Cotter Flat to the top of Mt Bimberi it is approximately 12.5 km. There are two steep inclines on this section of the trail. The first is a fire trail that has a small section with a gradient of 1:4 or similar (I’m not joking) before flattening out for about 1.5 km prior to Murrays Gap. Murrays Gap is suggested as a camp site however I would avoid it unless you didn’t have a choice for a number of reasons:
The second steep ascent is not as steep as the one up to Murrays Gap however the trail from the Gap up to the summit of Mt Bimberi is overgrown, has a lot of loose rock, as well as a high number of tree falls over the trail. As a result, this final ascent to the summit will be the slowest of the whole trip. There are literally dozens of little rock cairns and in one case a pile of sticks (see photo below) marking the way to the summit. Pay very close attention when you have to go around fallen trees as you can very easily loose the trail. While a map and compass is helpful on the rest of the trail it is essential on the walk to the summit if you haven’t done it before. These maps are usually available at the larger camping stores and I would recommend buying them well in advance as they sell quickly.
From the summit you have a 360 degree view of both NSW and the ACT and you can see a number dams. It is without a doubt the best remote summit view in the Canberra region. Walking up to the summit of Mt Bimberi is like walking into an alien landscape and feels more remote than any other part of the walk which it is. The last time I walked this trail was December 2016, the day before Christmas and I didn’t not see any other walker. The week between Christmas and New Year is a very popular time for walkers.
The return walk back to Orroral is easier having only one steep section. However the descent starting from Mt Bimberi is slow as the rocks on the trail are loose and footing can be treacherous. From there the walk becomes easier and for most people the end of day two is back to their camp site at Cotter Flat.
The return trip to Orroral Valley is approximately 6 hours for walkers with good fitness. The hill leading up the Cotters Gap is the only serious one of the return trip and is much easier than the trip out. The last 6 km walk along the fire trail back to the tracking station can be a bit monotonous but the road surface is always in good condition.
This is a very enjoyable three day hike. As mentioned this trip can be done as a (very tough) one or two day hike but requires a very high level of fitness and a pack that doesn’t weight you down. I have done this trek using both hiking boots and hiking shoes and unless there is snow I would recomend the shoe option any day. If you want a multiday-trial in the Canberra region that is truely remote, then this is the one for you.
Listen to podcast episode 012-Mt Bimberi from the trail which is a series of recordings of my one day return trip to Mt Bomber
The former Orroral Valley Tracking Station complex provides an excellent carpark from which to base a number of walks in this region. To get to the tracking station drive from Tharwa approximately 30 km from the Tharwa Bridge along the Naas Road to the former Orroral Valley Tracking Station.
From Tharwa travel along Naas Road (this road changes to Boboyan Road) past Apollo Road and turn off onto Orroral Road which is approximately 18 km from Tharwa on the right. Continue on Orroral Road past the campground and the road will finish in the tracking station carpark approximately 10 km from the turnoff. If you are hiking in summer arrive early in the morning to snag one of the few heavily shaded carparks that will keep the car cool for the day.
Road from Tharwa, south of Canberra
This is one serious hike with the worse incline section being just on 1:4
Orroral Tracking Station carpark
Toilet block. Note the space age design that references the tracking station
Bushwalking register: remember to sign in and out
Picnic and BBQ facilities at the carpark
Turnoff point approximately 5.9 km from the trailhead. This marker is easy to miss if you are not paying attention
Fires are not allowed in the Bimberi Wilderness because if they get out of control it would damage a wilderness area and would also be very hard to control
There are species of Funnel Web spiders in this area and it is not unusual for the males to seek out mates. Out of habit I always check inside my footwear before putting them on. If camping check the ground to make sure you are not camping on top of a females burrow which is obvious if you know what to look for.
Red Bellied Black snake. In December 2016 they were every where at Murrays Gap hunting for food. When startled they go under the grass and you can’t see them, but they are still there. I walked around a bush and almost stood on this one and luckily I was looking where I was putting my feet. I also came upon one in the middle of the trail in a totally different area on my return trip. I stopped to get out my tracking poles and the snake put its head up, saw me and rapidly retreated into the long grass. The ground was so soft that hikers didn’t create much vibration on the ground to warn snakes that we are approaching
Typical trail example
Top of Mt Bimberi
Obligatory selfie at the summit!
A pile of sticks marking the trail
Rock cairns marking the way. They are everywhere going up Mt Bimberi. Pay attention as it is easy to get lost
The camping at Cotter Flat is the best on this trail