Described as “one of Sydney’s best kept secrets”, the St Ives Wildflower Garden in Sydney’s north offers a variety of walks, multiple picnic grounds with barbecues and some “specialist” gardens (a fern house and a native garden). None of the walks are amazing – but even on a weekend you won’t see too many people outside the picnic areas. The Mueller Track skirts the perimeter of the park: it’s the longest track (despite being under 4km in length) and offers some variety of terrain.
I start the circular walk near the Visitor Centre (which is usually staffed, and sells cold drinks as well as offering free sketch maps of the park). The friendly ranger-on-duty suggests taking the Fitzgerald Track (which soon joins the Mueller Track) as it offers better views, so we take his advice and head off from the end of the paved access road to Cunningham’s Rest.
The narrow but well-marked Fitzgerald Track meets the Mueller Track after about 500m – all the intersections are very clearly marked. After another few hundred metres the Mueller Track intersects a 4WD management trail, which we follow for less than 100m..
Not long after this brief section of management trail, the Mueller Track descends gently down to Ku-ring-gai Creek. The landscape quickly changes from open eucalypt forest to a cool microclimate with giant Sydney Red Gums, an understorey of ferns, and lush coachwoods along the creekline, which the track follows.
After 1.6km of walking we have a brief stop at Phantom Falls, supposedly called this as it can be heard but not seen from the track. A very short side track leads to the small falls, or cascades, which would make a nice picnic spot.
The track continues along the creek, before reaching a three-way intersection after another 600m. We turn left, taking a short detour to the quiet and secluded Whipbird Gully, where Ku-ring-gai Creek drops down another set of cascades. This is the lowest point of our walk – we’ve descended almost 150m from Cunningham’s Rest. It would make another pleasant lunch or picnic spot. Just a few pieces of rubbish stuck in the branches overhanging the creek, which must have been snagged in a previous flood, mar the beauty of the place.
After re-tracing our steps to the intersection, we continue straight ahead (turning right would take us back to our starting point at Cunningham’s Rest via the Solander Trail.) The Mueller Track continues along the creek – but now it’s Tree Fern Gully Creek, which joins Ku-ring-gai Creek just below Whipbird Gully. The landscape now consists of taller gully forest with low ferns and various eucalypt trees,
About 500m from the turn-off to Whipbird Gully – and 3km from the starting point – an ominous signs states the track is closed, with an alternate route out that joins the Solander Track. We ignore the sign. We have plenty of time to turn back if the Mueller Track really is impassable. I’m very glad we do – a few hundred metres further and it appears that a small landslide has resulted in a 40cm gap between a set of wooden steps and the track. We step carefully over the terrifying drop of about one metre, as I question the lunacy of closing the track for such a minor issue. There are cracks in our local footpath more dangerous than this!
Just after this “major rockfall” is Billy’s Bridge, an impressive natural rock arch over a dry creek below.
From here the track starts to gradually ascend, passing by Tree Ferns Falls where the creek falls over a steep drop.
With the landscape gradually changing back to open forest, the Mueller Track crosses a couple of small streams as it climbs back towards the ridge.
Eventually the track crosses Brown Trail, with a final short section before reaching Lamberts Clearing.
The largest of the picnic ground, Lamberts Clearing has a playground, sheltered picnic tables and free BBQ facilities. The Fern House and Knoll Native Garden is also located here, so it’s an ideal end point if planning a post-walk picnic or lunch. Water and toilets are also available here.
This is the end of the 3.8km Mueller Track. As our car is at the Visitor Centre, there are a few different options for “closing the loop”. We walk through the native garden and take the Bentham Track back to Cunninghams Rest, which has quite different flora again, with low-growing shrubs and a variety of small trees and wildflowers.
It’s been a pleasant and not-too-challenging walk, and a successful reconnaissance mission to find a suitable weekend walk for our local Cub pack.