Despite having spent my whole life living on the South Coast of NSW, the Budawangs in Morton National Park is an area I’d only heard of recently. After stumbling across some inspiring 1970’s film images from Dennis Rittson, I was more than surprised to learn such mountain ranges existed in NSW, let alone on the South Coast. I immediately connected with Dennis’ work and knew I had to experience this place for my myself. Below is a brief account of two seperate trips to the Budawangs which certainly won’t be the last.

Watching the sun rise

Without a doubt the most impressive mountain in the National Park is the almighty monument known as ‘The Castle’. Looking like Tasmania’s Barn Bluff from certain angles, this 831m high beast strikes an imposing figure and is what lures most hikers to the area. Accompanied by my friend Chris on both expeditions, summiting the Castle was the goal on our first trek which involved plenty of rock scrambling, rope climbs and minimal shade as the harsh summers sun beat down upon us for the 4-5 hour uphill slog.

With a large protected cave right on the summit, we spent the night with no sleeping bags or tent, perfectly sheltered by natures 5 million star hotel overlooking the vast horizon. Sleeping here allowed us to capture the sunrise perched on the cliffs edge overlooking Mt Byangee and Pigeon House out to the east. At sun up it was incredibly quiet and calm, with a freedom and inner peace that can’t be found or fabricated outside of the wilderness. Something I’m appreciating and needing more and more in this fast paced world.

Camping in a cave
Sunset in the Budawangs, Morton National Park
Overlooking Morton National Park at sunrise

The plan for day two was to try and summit nearby Mt Nibelung in order to look across and photograph the imposing walls of The Castle. With temperatures above 30 degreesC and no tracks up the mountain, we decided to play it safe and return in cooler conditions. Fast forward a month to April and we were back at the Yadboro River car park, throwing our bags and boots on yet again, however this time it was 8pm, well and truly cooler and much darker. In fact, we couldn’t see our hand in front of our face without flash lights. The plan on this second trip was to reach the halfway point during the night then spend a full day trying to summit Nibelung to shoot the Castle at sunset and sunrise.

With little to no information online regarding Mt Nibelung we really had to make things up as we went along. After reaching some caves close to the base of the Castle, night one finished around 11pm after a relatively smooth hike through the dark. We set up a tent this time and slept soundly on the well traversed ground. After brekky and a much needed cuppa we began the ascent up to the noticeably lush Monolith Valley where water was aplenty. From here we were on our own as we began up the Nibelung pass, searching for any possible ways to scour up the uninviting mountain walls that surrounded us.

Mountain Camping
Admiring the mountain view

Without wanting to waste too much time, we turned off the track not long up the pass, heading between two boulders into thick, unforgiving scrub. Going off pure instinct we pushed on toward a canyon in the hopes of finding a way upward. We had no luck but continued on to the next slot in the wall where we found another canyon type opening that was slightly off being vertical, allowing us to get some grip and begin climbing. Our joy was fast lived though as we climbed out onto a small plain with more head high scrub staring us in the face.

With just enough positive vibes pulsing through us from making it this far we charged on, climbing the arms of gnarled trees to get above stone walls and scattered boulders that made up the terrain. Finally we reached a large rocky slope at 45 degrees, stretching high enough that we couldn’t see beyond its peak. Could this be the final ascent? Chris charged ahead as I pulled some thorns from my shins and then I heard the sweet, sweet sound of a relieved ‘yeeeew!’ as Chris signalled that it was indeed the summit.

Eating breakfast in the rainforest
Standing before Monolith Valley NSW

Unlike the summit of the Castle, it was clear that Nibelung didn’t often receive visitors, hence the appeal. As we approached the crags we finally caught a glimpse of the western face of the Castle, the exact sight I’d been longing to see for months. The rugged mountain stands out dramatically among miles of green bush and rolling hills. I had envisioned shooting at sunset as the last light of day paints the summit gold. We set up camp and enjoyed a few hours of solidarity, no phone reception and just the sounds of nature accompanying us.

Rolling hills of Morton National Park

Finally the time had come and with a clear gap on the horizon, the light would indeed do as we had hoped, inflaming the vertical walls and face of the king of the Budawangs. It’s funny how much effort photographers can put into getting literally one shot. Hours of planning and solid hiking, dozens of cuts on both our arms and legs, water supply low due to a bottle bursting and weary hips from bearing heavy loads all came down to this 10 minute window of light. It was a beautiful sight, something that photo’s or words can’t really do justice to. It was of course rewarding and surreal seeing the image in my mind materialise before my eyes but it’s the experience that I’ll remember most. Sometimes in life the path we must take isn’t always clear, we have no choice but to walk into the unknown. A voice in our head will always be there to tell us we should turn back and that we are too weak to go on. But when we are able to dig deep, push through and silence that voice we learn to grow and reach heights like never before. Thanks for reading. WP

Sunset light on the Castle SummitNSW
Sunrise from the summit