A new track opened in May 2016, the West Head Army Track follows the original wartime track down to the West Head Battery (WHB). The battery hosted two 4.7-inch ex-naval guns supported on 800kg pedestals (the only dual 4.7” gun battery in Australia), an observation post, ammunition storage and two searchlights. West Head was a key defence site that played a strategic role in the protecting Pittwater, the Hawkesbury River (and in particular the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge and Woy Woy railway tunnel) and northern Sydney. Heavy equipment was originally transported down the track via a purpose-built railway, using a rail system with a counterweight pulley to transport materials.
The restored West Head Army Track starts from the West Head lookout car park, and is clearly sign-posted. On a Saturday afternoon, there were a few people on the track (but it wasn’t busy).
Winding down the steep slope, the West Head Army Track reaches a set of steel stairs after about 300m, where the slope becomes more of a cliff.
Just beyond the bottom of the stairs and at the bottom of a cliff is the highest surviving structure, the Observation Post.
From the Observation Post there are views out across Broken Bay to the Pacific Ocean, with Lion Island to the left at the entrance to the Hawkesbury River.
Continuing down the West Head Army Track, which from here is a bit rougher but still easy to follow, takes you to the first covered concrete gun casing, which housed one of the 4.7” guns. (This structure is closed.)
Less than 100m to the south is the second gun casing, which can be entered. In the middle of the covered gun casing is the 7-ton gun pedestal, which was transported into position via the old army railway.
The final surviving structure is the ammunition magazine, which is cut into the cliff, with the southern emergency exit of the magazine mostly blocked by a fallen boulder. Happily ensconced in a corner of one of the underground rooms are a few bats, a species of microbat that are found in caves, tunnels and basements in the Sydney basin.
From here it’s back up the West Head Army Track and the staircase… despite the warning signs that the track is hard and involve “scaling ladders”, it’s really not a tough walk and the only ladder is the very solid steel staircase pictured below. The West Head Army Track should take no more than 30-45min – but allow extra time spent to explore the historic structures.
UPDATE: If you have sufficient time and energy – and the tide is low – you can extend this walk by visiting Flannel Flower Beach. Accessed by clambering around the rocks, you’ll reach a small, narrow and generally deserted beach.
For more information on the history and to put some context around the site, 4HResearch has a useful Web site. A scale model of the site, below, shows the observation post, two circular gun casings, the picket hut (centre right, only the foundations are now left) and the ammunition magazine to the left of the hut. The steep railway track cutting is to the left, and a horizontal railway track connects the two gun casings and the picket hut.