Summary: The Bairne to Basin circuit connects two West Head (Ku-ring-gai Chase) walks by ferry - the Bairne Track and Basin Track - to form a circuit.

The Bairne to Basin Circuit connects the Bairne Track (or Bairne Trail) and Basin Track, which are on opposite sides of a narrow stretch of water. You can join these into a longer circuit thanks to a regular ferry service whch connects the two jetties… or at low tide you may be able wade across! (The Bairne Track was named after the historical Bairne Trigonometric Station, constructed near the trail in 1882 by Thomas Charles Swannell, who would chosen the name “Bairne” – but it’s not known who it is named after.)

Down the Bairne Track

It’s easier to start on the Bairne Track, as the ferry only goes in one direction; by doing the walk in reverse you’ll have a much longer trip, taking the ferry to its terminus at Palm Beach and then all the way back through a number of coastal villages. It’s also a bit tricky to find the narrow trail that goes back up from Coasters Retreat to the Bairne Track, which is not sign-posted.

From West Head Road, the Bairne Track (a well-formed maintenance trail) is fairly flat as it goes through low forest. After 2.4km there’s a small cairn on the left marking a fairly faint trail, which is shown on Google Maps as providing access to The Basin and Bonnie Doon wharf; ignore this and keep on the main track (this side-track seems to peter out, although it may provide another way to get down to The Basin). Another 200km on and there’s a big fork – take the left-hand option towards Soldiers Point. (The right-hand option leads to a very pleasant lookout over Pittwater, and is worth a detour if you have time.)

The last section of the trail to Soldiers Point starts descending gradually, with the forest providing a bit more shade.

The “official” end of the Bairne Track is at Soldiers Point, about 3.4km from West Head Road where I’ve started the walk. If I was a real estate agent I might describe it as “filtered views” of The Basin and Pittwater; there are some views but they not particularly good from here.

Down to Coasters Retreat from Soldiers Point

At the far end of the Soldiers Point there is a faint but obvious foot-track that heads steeply down the ridge. There are a couple of cairns, but the track is fairly easy to follow. (Note: this track down from Soldiers Points doesn’t appear on most maps.)


The track ends behind a couple of houses at Coasters Retreat, a small community of about fifty holiday houses set in the bush and beside the beach. While the earliest houses date back to 1922-26, the area was used from the early 1800s by boats heading our from Sydney: “From the earliest records of the colony the bay was known as Coasters Retreat and the lagoon was known as The Basin… It was here that the convoys were formed up, the cargoes trimmed for the voyage down the coast. The first recorded convoy left the shelter of Coasters Retreat on 3 March 1803.” [Pittwater History]

I walk between two houses to reach the track that runs along the water, in front of all the houses and past the rural fire brigade. Directly in front of me is the Bennetts Wharf, built in 1944 to service the holiday houses.

While I can catch the ferry across to The Basin from here, I continue walking to the far (west) end of Coasters Retreat. I’ve got plenty of time to the next ferry – and I want to see if it’s possible to cross the narrow stretch of water by foot. It’s about 800m to Bonnie Doon wharf at the other end of Coasters Retreat, which is the original wharf built in 1914 by the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park to provide access for campers and visitors.

I’m there just before low tide, and I’ve read reports that you can wade across. The Basin campground on the other side looks tantalizingly close, on the other side of the narrow inlet. So I take off my shoes, and hoping not to step on any sharp oyster shells I wade across, following the shark net. At about the half-way mark, I’m up to my waist and it is still getting deeper… not really wanting to replace my camera and iPhone again (after my rather poorly planned Wollangambe adventure earlier in the year), I give up.

It’s a quick walk back to the Bonnie Doon wharf, where the ferry takes about three minutes to deposit me (and a few other picnickers and hikers) at The Basin wharf, directly opposite. (The ferry service operated by FantaSea comes every hour from 9:15am to 5:15pm, with no ferry service at 1:15pm).

Up the Basin Track

From here, it’s a steep walk up the Basin Track (or Basil Trail) back up the hill. There’s a small cascade that tumbles next to and under the track, after about 500m with a small waterfall below the track.

It’s a generally unpleasant track, and (other than as a return route from the Bairne Track) not one I’d recommend: almost half the track is concreted, and while the road is closed to public vehicles, I don’t particularly like seeing speed signs when I’m bushwalking. There’s also very little shade alone the track.


After about 2km (from the wharf) the track flattens, and there’s a turn-off to Great Mackerel Beach (ignore this – it’s an alternative and nicer circular walk you can do). After another 300m there’s an the Basin Aboriginal Site, which has many engravings of animals and human figures, accompanied by interpretative signage.

Basin sitemap
Man's Legs Man Male Anthropomorph Man Man and Woman Man with fish Couple Moon (or boomerang) Fish Leaping wallabies Wallaby and Fish

Man's Legs

AWAT4051 LR Combine the Bairne Track and Basin Track at West Head with a short ferry ride

Two legs and "long, conical penis" - rest of figure is missing


AWAT4069 LR Combine the Bairne Track and Basin Track at West Head with a short ferry ride

A male figure with broader left arm, and an odd-looking right foot.

Male Anthropomorph

AWAT4026 LR 1 Combine the Bairne Track and Basin Track at West Head with a short ferry ride

A man (described as a male anthropomorph figure by Sim) has a long narrow object projecting from his head, and a fish within the outline of his body. A large fish (six feet in length) is next to the man.


AWAT4038 LR Combine the Bairne Track and Basin Track at West Head with a short ferry ride

The second man (in a group of three figures) has no eyes or neck, and four pointed figures on each hand.

Man and Woman

IMG 7596 LR Combine the Bairne Track and Basin Track at West Head with a short ferry ride

At the north-east corner of the site are two men, and a woman. The largest figure, a man has a four-rayhed headdress and is holding a broad fish in his right hand, and a sword club (boomerang) in his left hand. The woman has breasts, but no hands, feet or genitalia.

Man with fish

AWAT4017 LR Combine the Bairne Track and Basin Track at West Head with a short ferry ride

A man with a fish next to his right leg.


AWAT4006 LR Combine the Bairne Track and Basin Track at West Head with a short ferry ride

An intertwined couple (man and woman): early descriptions of the site (McCarthy and Sim) describe a sword club or boomerang above the man and woman, and don’t suggest any connection between the couple and the boomerang. However, a later interpretation of the site suggests that the couple is reaching for the moon.

Moon (or boomerang)

AWAT4009 LR Combine the Bairne Track and Basin Track at West Head with a short ferry ride

Moon (or boomerang) above couple. (Boomerangs typically have straight sides and rounded ends, whereas the crescent moon always has a curved shape and pointed ends.)


AWAT4080 LR Combine the Bairne Track and Basin Track at West Head with a short ferry ride

Single fish (near boardwalk)

Leaping wallabies

AWAT3981 LR Combine the Bairne Track and Basin Track at West Head with a short ferry ride

Two wallabies (or kangaroos) in a series of seven

Wallaby and Fish

AWAT4074 LR Combine the Bairne Track and Basin Track at West Head with a short ferry ride

First wallaby (or kangaroo) in a series of seven, next to a fish

And that’s about it: 400m further from the engraving site and I’m back at West Head Road, with just a rather dreary (but quick) 2.4km walk along West Head Road back to the car.

All up, the Bairne to Basin loop has taken a bit under three hours, including a half hour wait for the ferry.

More information on the Bairne to Basin loop

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Tori · April 16, 2017 at 11:48 pm

Hello, just wanted to let you know that this post was really helpful for me and ~20 friends who did this circuit on Saturday. We tacked on the Towlers Bay lookout, which was definitely worth the detour. The path down to Coasters Retreat from Soldiers Point was indeed faint but obvious! Everyone loved the mix of views and experiences- even the Basin Track had some great glimpses of the heads and the Central Coast. We had enough people to leave cars at both ends of West Head Rd so that was good to be able to skip the 2.4km walk.

Thanks so much for your time and effort to investigate this circuit and write it up!

Ada · January 9, 2019 at 2:46 am

are you possible to give me an idea how difficult this walk is please? what is the fitness grade needed? I can manage 15 km track walk, but a bit reluctant for the steep route. climb can be managed at not too high ascent and descent. thank you

    oliverd :-) · January 15, 2019 at 10:54 am

    Sorry for slow response… have been off hiking in Tassie!! It’s not particularly challenging… the Bairne track is fairly steep but you’re going down (unless of course you’re doing the walk in the opposite direction that I did!) and the track up from The Basin is a road (closed to traffic) so while it’s also somewhat steep it’s a gradient that vehicles can manage. Let me know how you go!!

Ada · January 9, 2019 at 2:46 am

oh, i don’t have comment, this is the first time I visit this website.

West Head walks – Hiking the world · March 26, 2017 at 12:54 pm

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