The Ruined Castle is a rocky outcrop in the beautiful Jamison Valley of Australia’s Blue Mountains, which is home to the much more famous “Three Sisters” formation. To get to the castle you walk down the precipitous Golden Staircase to the valley’s edge before walking through rainforest and eucalypt forest to the outcrop itself. The view as you walk down the staircase is amazing and has to be seen to be believed.
Special Photographic Features or Notes.
The main feature of this area is the spectacular views of the valley and the surrounding cliff walls that you get at various points along the walk. The walk starts on the Narrow Neck Peninsula where you have views out over the farmland to the West. A couple of minutes walk down the track brings you to a lookout that has views back towards the Three Sisters and towards the Ruined Castle with Mount Solitary in the background. The first 1.5 kilometres of the track is very steep but there are metal staircases in the more difficult parts. Whilst you can see glimpses down into the valley floor it is difficult to find any unobstructed views. When you reach the track junction turn to the right and follow the track which at this point is following an old railway that used to service the shale coal mines. This means that for a little while the walking is fairly easy and you can catch your breath. The track then passes through an area of reasonably deep rainforest and you are in the shadow of the Narrow Neck Peninsula that towers above the valley. The trees are covered in green moss and after rain sometimes gets fungul growth on them. There are large areas of tree-ferns in this area as well of varying heights. After a couple of kilometres you pass by an area of old stone walls on the right which I guess are related to the old coal mines.
Eventually the track passes out of the shadow of the cliff and the vegetation changes to more open dry Eucalypt forest. When you reach a track junction take the left fork and you will see a sign saying that the track is in poor condition ahead. The track is fairly badly eroded at this point but it isn’t all that bad. You climb up towards the ridgeline for about a 100 metres. The track becomes less distinct but is still fairly well defined, it goes past a small rock overhang. There are a couple of small outcrops before you get to the main formation. If you climb this you will have views in all directions. To get back just return the way that you came or you can follow the track back down to where it rejoins the main trail. Once there you can follow the trail back to the Golden Stairs.
The photographic opportunities at this location is very dependant on the weather conditions. The Blue Mountains are prone to heavy fog and mist that obviously affect the view. Whilst you won’t get the amazing shots of the valley and cliffs in this weather it makes for an amazing atmosphere in the forest. It is a somewhat eerie experience to walk down the staircase surrounded by white clouds yet knowing that the valley floor is down there somewhere. See the Special Equipment section for some of the things that need to be considered when the weather is wet. When the weather is good, the views stretch out across the valley past the “Three Sisters” which you’ll see from a different angle to the postcards.
I’ve never been to this location in the night-time so I can’t comment on what opportunities might exist for that kind of photography. The location is only just outside the Sydney-basin so I’d expect that it suffers considerably from light pollution. You can walk on towards Mount Solitary where it is possible to camp overnight, I haven’t done that yet but if I do I’ll update this with what I discover. If anybody else has info on night photography in this area let me know.
There is a small flat space around the base of the rocks at the top of ruined castle, where it is possible to lay out a groundsheet and sleeping bag for an overnight bivvy that will enable you to catch the sunset and sunrise, although ruined castle itself won’t catch the light of the rising or setting sun.
You need all the equipment you’d normally take on a half-day bushwalk. There is no water available where the walk starts and there isn’t access to water anywhere on this track. There is an area of the staircase where a small amount of water seeps out of the cliff-face and down the stone stairs but there is a wire rope to hold onto once you get down about 10 metres further. I’ve done this walk using a trekking pole and without it, I’m torn between whether it is an asset or whether it is just something else to get in the way. The other problem they present is that it is another thing you need to hold onto etc when you’re taking photos..
When it has been raining you will be confronted by leeches but at least if you’re expecting them it doesn’t come as such a suprise. Gaiters are of some help in slowing them down but to be honest there isn’t that much you can do to avoid them. I’m told that insect repellant will perhaps not suprisingly repel them but I haven’t found it to be terribly effective. This link has details on how to remove them if one does latch onto you, Removal of Leeches. If the idea of leeches is that big a turn-off come to this area when the weather is dry. I have walked this track when it is dry and there hasn’t been any sign of them.
I’d recommend using a Graduated Neutral Density Filter to try and deal with the big light range between the shadows of the cliffs and the sky. I haven’t had much luck with macro photography in this area because in the rainforest area there is a lack of natural light. So if you have a ring-flash this is the place to bring it along.
Best Time of the Day.
Like many places sunrise is a good time to be at this location because it will light up the valleys and cliff-lines. Personally I wouldn’t like to try and walk the Golden Staircase in the dark so I can’t envisage getting to the Ruined Castle itself in time for sunrise. But you get good views of the valley from near the top of the staircase so that shouldn’t be a problem. Depending on what time you start the walk you’ll be able to get around to some of the lookouts on the other side of the plateau where the sun will be lighting up the cliffs on that side of the valley.
To get to the Narrow-neck Plateau follow the Great Western Highway from Sydney to Katoomba. Follow the signs to the Scenic Railway on Cliff Drive and keep on driving past the entrance to it. The road follows the cliff-line around past several small lookouts. Please be careful stopping or parking at these lookouts as it potentially makes it dangerous for cars that come along behind you. You’ll come to the turn-off on the left to Glenraphael Drive which is a gravel road. There are a few pot-holes and corrugations but you just need to take it slowly. Follow it until you come to the track down to the Golden Stair-case which is marked by a large information sign. There is room for 4-5 cars to park at this location.
Click here to open the location in Google Maps
Spatial Information eXchange. This is a really useful resource from the NSW Department of Lands that has topographic and aerial maps of the State. You need to install a plug-in to use the site but it is a great asset.
Ruined Castle Bushwalking Notes. Good track notes for this and other walks in the area.
Canberra Photographers. A flickr group for photographers in the Canberra area.