At times, the way up to Sugarloaf Peak in the Cathedral Ranges (Nanadhong) feels more like an extended bouldering sesh than a hike, but that’s what makes it so fun!
- Some serious rock scrambling (more like free climbing!)
- A tight squeeze through Wells Cave
- Stunning views along the razorback of the Cathedral Ranges
The Cathedral Ranges Southern Circuit Via Sugarloaf Peak
Craving a challenge, we hit the road for one of the toughest day walks close to Melbourne, the Southern Circuit via Sugarloaf Peak in the Cathedral Ranges.
To walk to Sugarloaf Peak you have two choices. The first, Wells Cave Track, is a technical hike with as much rock scrambling as walking. The second choice is Canyon Track, which is still technical but doesn’t require the same level of climbing. As budding bouldering amateurs we wanted to try out the ‘free climbing’ the Wells Cave Track had to offer!
Wells Cave Track
On Wells Cave Track, orange arrows guide you through a clear path to the base of the cliff. However, once you begin your ascent the path becomes a little trickier to follow. After quite literally jumping over a roadblock and absentmindedly continuing along the ‘path’ we realised it had been 30 minutes since the last orange arrow!
We decided it was unwise to rely on our lacklustre navigation skills, so we turned around and backtracked to the last arrow.
Pro tip: If you go longer than five minutes without seeing an arrow, you’re almost definitely going the wrong way. The track’s well marked so always be on the lookout for the next one. On this hike, it was a common occurrence to have the arrows pointing straight up a cliff face.
Although the hike is steep, you don’t notice as you’re too busy looking for the next handhold and gaining serious elevation before you know it!
The walk continues zigzagging along the edge of the cliff with frequent climbs and rock scrambles. That is until you reach the namesake of the hike – Wells Cave. This ‘cave’ is actually more like a crack, so don’t go overboard on breakfast!
The cave exit looks tiny and far away when you begin and you’ll have to take off your pack and sidestep through. The experience of squeezing through this opening is unlike anything I’ve experienced on a hike, and it’s one of the highlights of the Cathedral Ranges.
Straight up Sugarloaf Mountain
Buzzing with adrenaline after the cave’s sideways scramble, we assumed we’d conquered the biggest challenge of the hike. Wrong.
Once again we came up against an orange arrow pointing straight up the cliff face with no certain climbing route. You’ll have to wedge yourself between a fallen sheet of rock and the cliff then manoeuvre yourself to the top of the rock. Then, after another brief scramble, you’ll reach Sugarloaf Peak and its 360° views of the valleys. This is the best place to stop, have lunch and take it in.
Safety Note: Rock scrambling is dangerous in wet weather. Don’t attempt this climb if it has been raining, or if rain is forecast.
Then, the razorback begins. This trail is quite technical and requires focus as you walk through the spectacular landscape. The razorback is truly unique, as the rocks appear to have wedged themselves together to stick out of the earth. Pretending I knew about geology, I remarked on the raggedness of the cliff, and how this means it’s a ‘young’ mountain range. After doing a bit of research, I found out that this was complete rubbish. In fact, it’s actually an old range, left jagged due to 400 million years of erosion.
The razorback continues for about an hour before the descent into the valley. You’ll pass through the Farmyard campsite, a campsite for overnight hikers continuing to the Northern Razorback (other campsites in the area are Ned’s Gully Campsite and Cooks Mill, both accessible by car).
Then you’ll step into the lush greenery of the national park. Along the path you have the chance to see all the wildlife this walk has to offer. The Superb Lyrebird is common in this park and is easy to spot if you’re quiet. Keep an eye out for these medium-sized, ground-dwelling, brown birds.
The hike finishes with a rather unimpressive 4km walk along the Cerberus Road back to the carpark.
This is truly one my favourite hikes near Melbourne. It’s challenging, fun and requires some serious climbing. If you’re after a challenge, head out east for a great adventure!
- Shoes with good grip
- Food and water
- First aid kit
- A small backpack (small because you may struggle to fit through Wells Cave if you have an overnight pack go via Canyon Track)
How To Get There
Head to Healesville. Take the Maroondah Highway and turn right on Cathedral Lane. Then, turn right on Little River Road. Turn right at the end of the road and you will come across Cooks Mill Campground. Take Cerberus Road to Jawbone parking, you can begin here, or if you want to start at Sugarloaf Peak, continue along Cerberus Road until you get to the Sugarloaf Saddle carpark.
Experienced. The trail was sometimes difficult to follow due to sporadic signage. The walk also requires difficult rock scrambling. Take care and only attempt the Wells Cave Track if you’re confident with scrambling and not afraid of heights.
Distance Covered / Elevation Gain
The walk is 10.6km in total, and the elevation gain is 900m. Once you climb to the peak the walk is reasonably flat. In total it takes about 4-5 hours, allowing time to stop for lunch and enjoy the views of the hike.