One of the more popular and varied sections of the Great North Walk, which traverses the Berowra Valley Regional Park. It can be done in sections from around 7km to 30km, over 1-2 days.
I start the walk at the Baden Powell Scout Centre in Pennant Hills (which seems a fitting starting point for a bushwalk!) as the kids have an overnight school band camp here. The actual starting point for the walk is about 2km away in Thornleigh near the end of Morgan St. From here the narrow trail follows the Zig Zig Creek behind some houses, before it enters the Berowra Valley Regional Park and joins the Bellamy Trail. A “Great North Walk” sign confirms I’m going the right way!
About 500m further, and there’s a junction, with the Bellamy Trail continuing to the right and the main trail – the Benowie Walking Track – continuing straight ahead. Crossing the bridge to the right and following the Bellamy Trail would take me to the old Thornleigh quarry, behind the Oakleigh Oval. The Zig Zag Creek that the track has been following is named after the Thornleigh Zig-Zag Railway, which hauled crushed sandstone from the quarry up a steep gradient to Thornleigh station.
I continue straight ahead on the Benowie Walking Track, which is a wide (and not particularly interesting) 4WD track; after about 1.5km there’s another junction and I take the narrow track to the right (going straight ahead would take me to Cherrybrook Lakes via the Stringybark Ridge management trail. From here the track’s a bit more interesting as it crosses Nyrippin Creek and then follows Berowra Creek along the valley.
From here it’s a pleasant walk for the next four kilometres along the Benowie Track until it reaches the Fishponds; there are a few junctions with side-tracks, but the main track is always well-marked.
The Fishponds is a waterhole on Berowra Creek: the water gushes through very deep, weathered grooves in the sandstone. Just before reaching Fishponds there’s a lookout over the creek and waterhole; the path then descends and crosses Berowra Creek at the Fishponds. There’s a large rock platform and it would be a nice spot for a break or lunch – but today’s there a large group of hikers here, so I continue after taking a few quick photos. (My official Great North Walk track notes describes the pools as being popular for swimming; however, there’s a sign warning that penalties of up $3,300 apply for swimming. Some deaths from jumping in the creek have meant swimming is discouraged.)
From Fishponds, the official Great North Walk ascends to Manor Rd where it leaves the Berowra Valley Regional Park and skirts around the park along the road. Another management trail a little further north takes you back to the original Great North Walk route. This diversion is to avoid entering an exclusion zone for the Hornsby District Rifle Range – while the Great North Walk had previously traversed this “danger zone”, it was determined in the late 1990s that the risk was too great. It’s a shame – and in my opinion, disgraceful – that a section of one of the most popular walks in Sydney has been closed.
It’s also one of the nicer sections of the walk, with the now-closed section Benowie Track following Berowra Creek north. The track is still there, with just the route markings removed, so perhaps one day this section can be official re-opened. Unlikely, but I hope so!
At the other end of the closed Benowie Track section is the historic military “Steele” bridge; constructed in 1945-1946 to give fire fighting vehicle access from Hornsby to Dural, the bridge is known as a Steele bridge after Major General Sir Clive Steele. It’s one of only four remaining in service (although I can’t find any references to the other three…).
The track crosses Berowra Creek using the Steele bridge, and continues up to the ridge on a wide management trail. The flora gradually changes as the track ascends. About 14km from the start of the walk is Tunks Ridge Rest Area, one of the recommend Great North Walk camp sites. It’s a large, open camping area but there’s no water, and there was a bit of rubbish strewn around.
It’s another 1.5km along a wide management trail to the top of Galston Gorge, where the trail drops very quickly – with the aid of a few steel spikes in the rock – down to Galston Road. This is about the half-way point of my walk today, and the first time in 15km that the track intersects a road… although I don’t need to actually cross the road, as the trail goes under the vehicular bridge and crosses Berowra Creek via some concrete stepping stones.
The next section of the trail from Galston Gorge to Crosslands is pleasant, but feels much longer than the sign-posted distance (6.8km)… it’s a narrow bush track again, which traverses through a shaded section of ferns and grass trees, before rising gently up to the ridge where it follows a rock platform. The trail is mostly in the shade, with a couple of small streams and waterfalls just off the trail. After a couple of kilometres the track descends to Berowra Creek, which is now much wider, and follows the creek fairly closely to Crosslands. (There’s a couple of camping areas along this section, which are more attractive if doing a multi-day walk then the previous Tunks Ridge campground.)
Crosslands is a bit of anti-climax after the 22km I’ve walked so far: accessible via car, it’s a very popular camp ground and day-trip destination for picnickers and kayakers (there are toilets, picnic tables, barbecues, a playground and a lot of open space for camping). It also offers town water, so I can fill-up my water bottles before I quickly traverse the expansive area and re-join the Great North Walk at the far end.
The first 1.4km of this sectop track is an interpretative walk with a combination of boardwalk and very smooth dirt – so it’s easy walking! The track follows Berowra Creek, which is now wide & deep, and a popular area for kayaking; it’s a very pleasant walk in the afternoon winter sun! There’s a few signs along the track that explain the different aspects of the local areas and Aboriginal history.
At the end of the “interpretative walk” is the Calna Creek bridge. The current (steel) bridge was opened in 2015, over two years after the original timber bridge (which was built in 1980 by the Army) collapsed. This meant – other than swimming across fairly deep, tidal water – a large diversion to the Great North Walk until the bridge was repaired. The signage suggests the previous bridge was destroyed by hikers jumping up and down on it; the previous, timber bridge was in a fairly poor state so you could equally point to lack of maintenance and no contingency plan as the reason there was no bridge for two year! Regardless, it’s great to see an investment being made in a new bridge that should last for a while.
I’m getting tired now, but it’s the last stretch: a toss of the coin determines that I’ll finish the walk at Berowra. It’s about the same distance to Mt Ku-ring-gai station from here. I continue along the Great North Walk, crossing a wide area of grassland before following Berowra Creek again.
It’s not far – about 1.5km – before the track starts climbing steeply up the ridge, with a number of stone and timber stairs. Just the work-out I need at the end of long day!
At the top of this short, but steep, section there’s a wide management trail. Left continues toward Berowra Water and Newcastle. Right is to Berowra station. I head right. After about 1.5km along the fire trail, a narrow foot-track to the right ascends to the ridge, with a few more steps and steep sections before I reach Crowley Road, Berowra.
From here it’s less than a kilometre to the railway station at Berowra, and the train home. It’s been about 29km and six hours of walking. I’m ready for a beer.
|Location||Start (or finish) at Thornleigh (Bellamy St trackhead) to Mt-Ku-ring-gai or Berowra station, to the north of Sydney.|
|Distance||29km one-way (26km from Thornleigh trackhead to Berowra station)|
|Grade||Moderate-hard. 550m total ascent.|
|Season/s||All year round|
|GPS Route||Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.|
|Resources||Wildwalks has track notes for Thornleigh to Mt Ku-ring-gai|