West Head walks

A multitude of short walks 90min north of Sydney, from secluded beaches to rocky outcrops with views over Pittwater.

West Head, part of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, is one of my favourite destinations for short hikes – or to find a beach that won’t be crowded even on a summer weekend. There are about 20 trails, almost all of them starting on West Head Road and well sign-posted.

Even if you’re not a hiker, the drive to the lookout at the end of West Head Road offers spectacular views over Broken Bay and towards Palm Beach. (Note: there is a gate that is locked at night – from 8:30pm to 6am during daylight savings periods and 6pm to 6am at other times of the year. In times of extreme fire danger, the walking trails may be closed. Park entry fees apply, from $12 per vehicle.)

Walks include:

Waratah Trail (Aug 2016)

A long fire trail along the ridge, culminating in views over Cowan and Coal and Candle Creeks.

The sandy fire trail descends gradually down the ridge from West Head Road, through low heath. It’s nicer in spring when the wildflowers are out and can get hot in summer as there’s not much tree cover. Although it’s not the most exciting walk at any time of the year!

(After about 3.5km there’s a faint trail off to the right (north) that’s marked on some maps – this doesn’t go very far before disappearing.)

At the end of the Waratah Track there’s a large rock platform; in the distance you can see Yeomens Bay (a tributary of Cowan Creek) in the distance.

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Location First trail on the left, at start of West Head Road
Distance 9.5km return (2-3hrs)
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 135m.
Resources National Parks web site. Google Street View Trekker

Bairne Trail (June 2016)

A longer (but easy) track along the ridge line, that leads to great views over Pittwater.

Bairne Trail should really be Bairne Trails, as there are a few different options you can take. All of them start from the main track off West Head Road. The fire trail follows the ridge, and is fairly flat. It’s not the most exciting of walks. After 2.4km there’s a small cairn on the left-hand side and what seems to be a faint trail leading down-hill. Ignore this, as it soon peters out. A little further, about 2.6km from the start, there is a major fork and decision to be made…

Take the the right fork and the trail continues for another 900m, descending a little until it reaches a lookout above the cliff-line. There’s views across Pittwater to Scotland Island and beyond, and to the right (south-west) is Towlers Bay, accessible by boat or via another walking trail from West Head.

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Or, take the left fork which becomes the Soldiers Point Track (there’s an unmarked track off to the right after 100m). I haven’t taken this trail yet – and reports suggest the last section is a little overgrown – which leads to another lookout over Pittwater, and then down to Coasters Retreat, a small bush community of 50 houses beside the beach. The town is serviced by the Palm Beach Ferry Service (Bonnie Doon Wharf), providing another means of access. Or you could link up with the Basin Trail, to form a circular walk (returning to the start of the Bairne Track along West Head Road).

Finally, you can take the left fork and turn right after 100m down a narrow, unmarked track – this is the now-defunct Portuguese Track. It continues for about 500m, descending down a spur, before it stops. There’s a sign saying “track closed” and the trail is completely overgrown after the first few metres. It looks like it may still be possible to “bush bash” down to Portuguese Bay and Beach, but it would be hard work.

Location Right-hand (east) side of West Head Road, about half-way
Distance 9.6km return (taking in both look-outs)
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 150m
Resources National Parks web site. Google Street View Trekker

Willunga Trail (June 2016)

A very short track to a trig point, which is the highest lookout in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park (albeit, only about 240m above sea level).

The track goes from dry heathland to woodland, with scribbly gums and red bloodwoods. From the top, there are 360-degree views across the national park, toward Pittwater and as far as the city of Sydney to the south.

Location Left-hand (west) side of West Head Road
Distance 1.5km return (30min)
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 60m
Resources National Parks web site. Google Street View Trekker

America Bay Track (June 2016)

One of the few West Head tracks that offers Aboriginal engravings, a waterfall, views (over Cowan Water) as well as descending down to the water.

Near the start of the walk, a short detour leads to rock engravings on a sandstone shelf.

The trail descends gradually for about a kilometre, crossing a creek which is then followed down to a waterfall and rock platform. From here there are views over America Bay and out to Cowan Water, with the creek dropping off the sheer cliff.

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If you continue about 100m along the track past the platform, there is a rough track that leads down a through a gap in the cliff. It’s only about 150m but very steep, meeting the creek just before finishing at America Bay.

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Location About half-way down West Head Road on the left
Distance 2.6km return (including down to bay). 1hr
Grade Easy to lookout. Moderate to bay. Total ascent of 125m
Resources Wildwalks track notes. National Parks web site.
Google Street View Trekker

West Head Beach (May 2016)

A very short walk to a secluded beach – you can also extend this walk into the 4.3km Resolute Loop Trail.

Starting at the West Head lookout (very end of West Head Road), a well-marked track heads directly down to West Head Beach (it will be sign-posted as “Resolute Beach”). Follow this sandy track for about 400m, initially going down some rock steps and later a section of timber stairs. Just after you cross a small creek, a side-track leads down to West Head Beach.

Directly opposite Barrenjoey Peninsula, which you can see across Pittwater, it’s a sheltered, picturesque beach. It’s rarely busy and there’s lot of shaded spots. The beach is a bit rocky and best at high tide; you can go back up the hill and follow the track a bit further to Resolute Beach (another 600m).

From West Head Beach, return to the car the same way. Or you can do a loop and return via Resolute Beach and the Resolute Loop Trail.

Location Park at the end of West Head Road
Distance 800m return (20min).
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 100m
Resources Weekend Notes

Towlers Bay (Mar 2016)

An easy walk on a 4WD / management road, that leads down from West Head Road to Towlers Bay (where there are are a few houses that are accessed via water only). There’s also a YHA youth hostel at Towlers Bay, accessed via this track or by ferry/water taxi.

The tracks starts with a very gradual descent, becoming steeper after about 2km as it heads towards Morning Bay, when views of Pittwater below start to emerge.

At around the 3km mark, the track starts to follow the coast (still 50-60m above sea level), with side-tracks down to Lovetts Bay and houses, and after another kilometre Woody Point is reached. There’s a sign to the ferry wharf, and another to the youth hostel. Continue along the coast to Towlers Bay, which is reached after about 4.5km.

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At Towlers Bay, there’s a dilapidated house (with an empty swimming pool) close to the shore. From the scarce information I’ve been able to find, it was built around 1963-64 on private land and was named “Cove Lee”, having  landscaped gardens and manicured lawns. The property was compulsorily acquired not long after being constructed; there was an intent to acquire all private holdings in the area, but this was too costly. There’s also some references to this having been used as a safe-house for Petrov when he defected, which I can’t verify (and the dates don’t correspond).

It’s a fine setting for a house and a shame it’s been left to decay. There’s an old jetty that stretches out into the bay, and views across Pittwater to Bigola and Avalon on the other side of the water. There’s also crabs. Swarms (or schools, to be precise) of light-blue soldier crabs that are scurrying across the exposed mangrove flats. It’s quite a sight, which I’ve never seen before.

Location Near the start of West Head Road; right-hand (east) side
Distance 9.4km return (2-3 hours)
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 184m climb.
Resources Wildwalks track notes

Flint and Steel Beach & Bay (March 2016)

This is my second-favourite walk (after the Resolute Loop Trail), with the option of going to either the beach (the more popular walk, and a good swimming and fishing spot) or the bay (where you’re unlikely to see anyone else). You can also connect the two, and walk around from the beach to the bay (or vice versa) – this is a harder walk, that’s covered by the Wildwalks web site (see info box below).

The track starts near the end of West Head Road, descending steadily on a good track through light forest. After about 300m, the track splits and there’s a sign-post.

Head left for Flint and Steel Bay; the track continues to descend for another 500m before reaching the water. You can see the ruins of McGaw House here, although not much remains except some well-built sandstone foundations. The history is fascinating and documented by an archaeological student in a detailed report: the house was built by E.R. McGraw from 1920-65, and while the land was resumed as part of Ku-ring-gai National Park in 1939, the McGaws were permitted to stay. It wasn’t until 1968 that the NPWS requested that all structures be removed. There was an application to include the house in the Register of Historic Buildings, which the NPWS reluctantly agreed to – but in 1971 the house was destroyed by a fire. According to the report, there is a spring behind the house with fresh water.

The track continues along the shoreline of Flint and Steel Bay, with views across Pittwater.

A few hundred metres further along the track (which is now more of a pad) is White Horse Beach, which is where the track ends. It’s a nice spot for a swim or picnic.

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For Flint and Steel Beach (which is where I often go for a swim with the kids), turn right after 300m (it’s sign-posted) and follow the track down another 700m to the beach.

After about 500m you can see the end of the beach below, with Lion Island Nature Reserve in the background.

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It’s a great spot, with many shaded areas to sit, rock pools at the western end and I’ve often seen wallabies grazing just behind the beach. It’s a popular fishing spot, but there’s rarely more than a handful of people around (although it’s getting more popular).

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Location Left-hand (west) side of West Head Road, just before end of road
Distance 3.4km loop (1:30hr). Approx 2km return to either the bay or the beach
Grade Easy/Moderate. Total ascent of 130m
Resources Wildwalks track notes for loop walk

Maps

For all these walks, the free map at the West Head entry station is sufficient; for a more detailed topographical map there’s the “Ku-ring-gai & Berowra Valley” visitor guide, which you can purchase from the Information Centre at Bobbin Head. You won’t need a 1:25,000 topographical map; Broken Bay (9130-1N), Mona Vale (9130-1S) and Hornsby (9130-4S) would be needed to cover all the walks.

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6 thoughts on “West Head walks

  1. Hello, this is a great resource – thanks!

    With the Bairne Track, I know you said you didn’t go via Soldiers Point but I’m keen to take up your suggestion to link up this walk to the Basin Track.

    Do you know if you can get from the lookout to the Coasters Retreat village? It would be great if we could get the ferry from Bennets/Bonnie Doon to the Basin and get back to West Head Road along the Basin track.

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    1. Hi Tori, thanks for your feedback. I am fairly confident you can get down to Coasters Retreat. I will try and do this circuit as soon as it stops raining! But please let me know if you do manage to complete the circuit in the meantime! Oliver

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  2. Hi Oliver, that’s awesome that you managed to get out there in this weather! This makes me think I should definitely use the Bairne Track to get to the Basin. Will try to pop down to Towler’s Bay for a better view, but then double back to Soldiers Point to get to the Basin. Thanks so much!

    Liked by 1 person

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