Slug Guide: climbing Ella Rock without a guide

Welcome to our first ever Slug Guide!

We spend a lot of time online looking for more detailed information about a lot of the things we do. Often though, we come up short, or find information that is slightly out of date.

In order to 'pay it forward', we're going to start creating Slug Guides whenever we find ourselves doing something we wish we'd had more information about before we did it ourselves.

Since this is our first Slug Guide, we weren't very good at taking photos of the turn offs - but we'll be better next time, promise!

Climbing Ella Rock

Climbing Ella Rock was easily the best thing we did in Ella. Taking about 3-4 hours depending on your pace, this moderately challenging hike rewards you with expansive views through Ella Gap. There's even a stall up the top where you can get a sweet, hot tea to sip while you enjoy the view.

General tips

The hike is about 5km each way, and requires a reasonable level of fitness. The last part of the hike is fairly challenging, so make sure you're prepared for a bit of a climb. More importantly, make sure you have the agility to climb back down the track - there are no stairs!

Make sure you're prepared for the weather. We set out early (0700h) to avoid the full heat of the day, but it was still hot as we hiked back down. Make sure you're wearing sunscreen and a hat, and ensure you bring water with you (although there are stalls along the way if you need to buy some).

The last 30 minutes or so are a bit of an uphill scramble, so make sure you wear good shoes, especially if it's been raining.

We read plenty of reports of fake signs, aggressive 'guides' telling people they'd gone the wrong way (or actively sending them the wrong way), and confusing locals. We didn't experience any of this. It appears there are multiple ways to get to the summit, and some are easier than others without a guide. We chose to follow the instructions of Atlas and Boots who had written a guide recently that was very clear. Using that, we didn't have much trouble finding the path. That said, the rock they use as a landmark has now been obscured, so we thought we'd update with instructions of our own.

Starting point: Ella Train Station

Start by making your way to Ella Train Station. You can ignore the sign as you enter the platform that says you can be fined for being on the platform without a ticket. We made a couple of trips through the train station, and never saw anyone checking tickets. This is an incredibly popular walk, so people walk through the train station all the time. Once you're on the platform, turn left and walk to the end, towards Kithalella train station. Again, ignore the signs telling you that it's illegal to walk along the tracks. Depending on the time you set off, you probably pass dozens of locals walking along the tracks to get to school or work - probably a far safer option than walking along the road in Ella!

Ella Train Station, looking right. Go the other way!

From here, you'll be walking along the tracks for about 40 minutes. Remember that this is a working railroad, so keep an eye and ear out for trains, and move off the tracks if one is coming. On our return walk, Zev and I saw a train passing, and it was pretty cool seeing people hanging out the doors and windows filming, taking photos, and waving.

Enjoy the walk on the rails, saying hi to locals going about their business. At one point, you'll pass over a black rail bridge, which affords an amazing view in its own right.

Rail bridge and Madushantha Restaurant

The rail bridge on the return hike

Very shortly after the rail bridge, you'll come to Madushantha Restaurant, and the turn off to Small Ravena Falls on the left. Plenty of reports we read said that this was a 'fake' turn off, or a 'fake' sign, and that this was where many of the guides hung out, trying to tell people to go the wrong way. As far as we could tell, this is just another route that will take you to the top - in fact, this is the route written in the Lonely Planet guidebook. By all reports it's a more confusing route, which makes it easier to get lost without a guide, but we're choosing to look on the bright side and believe that this is just an alternative route, rather than anyone trying to trick anyone!

The 'fake' turn off

Kithalella Station

From here, we carried on towards Kithalella Station, which is (from memory) about 200m past this turn off. Once you hit the train station, it's not far to the turn off to Ella Rock. Keep an eye out for the mile markers on the left hand side of the track - you want to go past 166 1/2, but not as far as 166 1/4.

The turn off

About 500m past the train station on the left is the turn off. Many posts we read said to keep an eye out for a blue painted rock, but when we hiked it, it was gone or covered up. If you're standing at the trail head with your back toward Kithalella Station, not far in front of you will be a yellow sign saying 'Speed 15km/h'.

The sign just past the turn off (so from this photo, the turn off is behind you and to the left)

The path itself switches back so that when you turn off the train tracks you're almost facing back the way you came. Check out Atlas and Boots' photo here. On the day we hiked it, much of the vegetation around the trail head had been burnt, so it was all black. Luckily for us, a friendly local assured us that was the correct way, and a few steps in, we could identify some of the trees in the photo.

Follow the path and cross the footbridge. Immediately after the footbridge, the path splits - take the left path up the hill. It seems like all the paths will take you where you're going, some are just a little more direct than others. Here, the path wanders through a tea plantation, and you might wonder if you're on the right track. You are. Occasionally you might see some faded blue paint on a rock, but don't worry if you don't - just stay on the path (don't turn off) and you'll go the right way.

Soon, the tea plantation will take you through some long grass - it was over our heads when we were there. Don't turn off the path, and soon enough the grass will clear and you'll come to a shop selling drinks. From here it would be pretty hard to get lost - all roads lead to Ella Rock.

Carry on past the stall, and don't forget to check out the incredible views on your way up.

Enjoying a break before tackling the hill

Follow the path around the hill to the right, and you'll find yourself at the bottom of a tree covered slope. From here, it's a reasonably short but steep climb to the summit. Again, from here, you can't really go wrong - the path is pretty well worn, and as long as you're going up, you're going the right way!

After about 30 minutes, depending on your pace, you'll reach the top of the hill. At the top, there's a small stall set up by a local couple selling water and tea, but it looks as though they're in the process of building something a little more permanent.

Enjoy the view - you've earned it!

Not bad!

The return journey

Getting back, of course, is easy. Head back the way you came. On the way back, Zev and I detoured via Madushantha Restaurant to Small Ravena Falls - definitely worth the walk if you have the time. It's about a 2 minute walk from the railway tracks, and it's free. Depending on your stomach for heights and appetite for adventure, you can climb down the falls to admire the view. We spent about half an hour here climbing around.

Zev learning the hard way that the falls are VERY slippery

From here you can just follow the same path back to the train tracks. Zev and I stopped at Madushantha Restaurant for some much needed cold drinks on our way back, before carrying on towards Ella Train Station. Not long before the station, we followed a turn off to Ella Town, which took us down a road and brought us out at the opposite end of town to Ella Train Station on the main road.

By the time we got back into Ella, it was around 1130h, so the hike including both stops had taken us around 4.5 hours. 

We highly recommend this hike to anyone who finds themselves in Ella, and hopefully our instructions help you find your way!

Lots of love,
S & Z