Castle Rock Granite Skywalk
Start - Mount Barker Porongurup Road
Length - 4.4km (Return)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, Metal Platform
Vertical Climb - 269m
Time - 1-2 hours
Signed - Yes
Entry Fee - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 28th September 2019
Best Time - All Year Round
Directions - Located 40 mins from Albany, take Chester Pass Rd north and follow this for 36km until you reach the turn-off for Porongurup Rd. Keep going for another 3km until you see the signs for Castle Rock Granite Skywalk. There is ample parking and the trail head is easily located.
The Hike - With a five day stretch on the Bibbulmun Track completed and a couple of days in Albany afterwards spent exploring and relaxing, it was time to head home to Fremantle and resume normal life. With an excellent experience the previous afternoon checking out Bald Head and Peak Head at sunset, I thought I'd continue the theme of revisiting old posts on the website and properly photograph the Castle Rock Granite Skywalk. This was one of the first hikes in the South West that I did up for the website in 2015 and on that trip I didn't take many photos and the ones I did take weren't very good. Given this is a very popular destination in the area, I thought I would return and give it an update to truly reflect how great the experience is. If you want to check out the old post then it's still alive and can be accessed here. I almost didn't stop in as when I arrived, the car park was literally overflowing into the overflow car park and I thought the trail would just be mobbed by people and the photos wouldn't be any good. I actually left but thankfully a kilometre down the road I convinced myself that it would be a while since I would return and with great spring weather, it wouldn't get much better than this.
The reasons for the large numbers were that it was a lovely sunny day, it was the first day of the school holidays, it was AFL Grand Final Day that didn't involve a WA team and this hike gets a lot of marketing hype from the tourism accounts (although usually from the unrealistic drone perspective). I have a habit of visiting the Porongurups on Grand Final Day as I did the same thing in 2017 to hike Nancy Peak/Devils Slide, although that area was much quieter than today. I found a parking spot and hoped that everyone was going to be on their way down by the time I reached the Granite Skywalk. On my original post I barely featured any photos of the Karri forest leading up the hill and it looks like the whole hike is fairly easy then you're at the highlights galore region of the granite boulders. In reality the forest section is where you'll spend most of your time and I wanted to truly reflect that with a few more photos from the climb up the hill. From the trail head near the car park until pretty much the top you are in for a 2km stretch of solid uphill hiking but given it is through some of the best forest type in the state, this only adds to the experience.
With spring having most definitely sprung by the time of my visit, there were plenty of pea variety wildflowers in bloom so even though I wanted to finish the hike within an hour, I still found time to stop and admire some of my favourite wildflowers. While the forest does dominate proceedings early on, there are a couple of spots where you can step out onto a granite slab and get some open views of the surrounding landscape. The first of these is quite early on and frames the granite peaks you are climbing up to through the forest. It's fun to see where you'll be hiking but it's apparent how far you have to go and how high you still have to climb. Having done this before I was prepared for the constant uphill to the summit and I was probably in the best hiking shape of my life after a week of 20-30km days. Continuing on I passed a few groups heading up the hill and thankfully a few heading back down. The forest was lovely as always and I mostly had it to myself, able to photograph empty scenes when I wanted to and really settle down to enjoy the experience.
One thing that I love about the Karri forest is the ample shade it provides the under-storey and thus the ability for mosses and fungi to grow even in the warmer months of spring (and into summer). The granite peaks of the Porongurups are an outlier in the area and the Karri forest wouldn't exist without the run-off from the granite providing the high water volume it requires to thrive. The relationship between the two is quite remarkable and the result is hiking paradise with the mossy granite boulders on the way up the hill providing some nice scenes to photograph. Even though there had been a hint of rain over the past couple of days and then sunny conditions since then, the trail in sections was slippery with mud. Given the foot traffic that this trail supports, the trail erosion wasn't that bad although you could tell in places where people were stepping to the sides to avoid the mud, a phenomenon that only serves to widen the trail to the point where mud avoidance is not an option. As you climb higher this isn't an issue anymore as the emergence of stone steps becomes the way forward.
The second of the granite platforms can be found not far from the top and if you choose to take this short side trip then you are rewarded with excellent views looking out towards the Stirling Range. I love seeing the ridges and peaks of the Stirling Range and would have loved to have added a couple of extra days to my trip to hike some of the peaks again. Alas though, it was just a fleeting visit to the granite mountains north of Albany and a faraway glance is all I would get for now. As I went to move on from this spot there was a very large tour group of European tourists along with a large family descending down the path. It created a bit of a bottleneck at one of the staircases and I was actually happy to wait as I knew I was lucky that they were now leaving the area and I wouldn't have waited further on where it would have been a much bigger issue. Arriving at one of the highlights of the trail, the Balancing Rock, I took plenty of photos and admired the large granite boulder that appears to be defying gravity by just sitting on a rounded piece of granite. I'm sure it's been like that for perhaps hundreds of thousands of years or maybe millions but it creates a thought about when it might decide to capitulate to the forces of physics and roll down the hill.
A short distance ahead is where the fun really starts as the trail takes you closer to the towering granite boulders that mark the summit of Castle Rock and where they bolted the stainless steel viewing platform. It really is awe-inspiring from this perspective and with a bit of a queue in the slot where you climb through to access the ladder, I decided to check out the other lookout in the area for those not game enough to climb up to the Granite Skywalk. This one provides the nice views also but is really just a taste of what you'll get from higher up. Mount Manypeaks could be seen in the distance along with the endless farms stretching out towards the horizon, a sight that always leaves me a little melancholy as it reminds me of how much land has been cleared in WA over the years. With the crowd now dispersed I headed back to the point where you clamber over the granite to reach the ladder. This is done with a series of stainless steel grab handles and are fairly easy to negotiate if you're comfortable with a bit of scrambling. For shorter or less flexible members of society it will be a bit of a struggle but with the right technique you should be able to get through. There was a family waiting at the base of the ladder but were still getting their things together so once the person heading down the ladder was finished I quickly ducked in and started the 7m ascent up the ladder. With on wind about it was a breeze, even though I'm not a big fan of heights and I was soon on what looked like an empty platform.
Turns out there was a couple around the corner but with the car park as full as it was, this is about as good as I could have hoped for. Being able to get clear shots from many different angles was a delight and with fluffy clouds all over the bright blue sky, the scene was looking a million dollars. It's a really cool investment they've made here and it certainly adds an element of theatre to the experience, even if this is now the preferred method of drawing tourists to an area instead of more traditional trail building options. With amazing views looking across to the west at the taller Collier Peak, views south towards the farms, Mount Manypeaks and Albany, along with the Stirling Range to the north, you aren't short of things to photograph. It's a really cool place to just stand and take it all in and the couple that were already up here were doing just that. I joined them in admiring the views before picking a gap in the people coming up to slowly make my way down the ladder (carrying my camera in one hand wasn't a great idea). I continued to photograph the granite area around the ladder that I missed before with Collier Peak looking much nicer from this angle. With a four hour drive back to Fremantle still I ran down the hill to my car and that was the end of my Albany adventure. I'm happy I came back and the post now does the place justice so hopefully you enjoy your visit as much as I did.