It’s a rather long way from Sydney to drive for a bike ride… but I’d stumbled across a reference to the Fernleigh Track on the Web a few weeks ago and it seemed worth the journey. Described as an “amazing shared path” and completed in 2011, the fact it’s relatively flat makes it perfect for a ride with the kids. You can start at either end or at a number of points along the 15km track (Lake Macquarie Council lists all the access points on their Ferneigh Track page).
I decided to start at Belmont based on advice I’d read on-line, and in hindsight it was the right decision: it’s harder in this direction with a long (albeit gradual) uphill section, rewarded at the end with a ride through a railway tunnel and a cafe near the track. The ride back to the car was then fairly easy for tired legs!
Belmont to Jewells (3.3km / +10m elevation gain)
There was plenty of parking near the Belmont trackhead on a holiday week-day, with the track very easy to find (and a number of places to eat or get drinks nearby). The original Belmont station has been left – as have most of the other stations – which adds to the attraction of the track.
The first section is pretty flat, as it goes through a wetland forest of paperbarks and swamp mahogany. There’s a 200m section of elevated timber boardwalk through the Belmont Wetland State Park, followed by a section of eucalpyt forest. The track is less than a kilometre inland from 9 Mile Beach, behind a 10,000-year-old sand dune system, although you’d have no idea you’re so close to the ocean.
It takes us about 20min to get to Jewells, where there’s a drinking fountain near the old railway station.
Jewells to Redhead (2.5km / +13m elevation gain)
We’re on our way after a quick stop and a drink; the next section of the Fernleigh Track is still flat as it goes through coastal heath, with sections of thick casuarina and tea tree forest. The old Redhead train station has been preserved, with north and southbound traffic separated by the former platform. This section has taken us another 20min. The kids are still happy…
Redhead to Whitebridge (4km / +66m elevation gain)
According to the official brochure, there are “ample ocean views looking back towards Redhead”, but I didn’t see any blue ocean. Only red, angry faces as the track climbed steadily up from Redhead. My counselling skills were tested as I promised we were almost at the top. Six times. We made good use of the frequent benches along the track. (We had a warm but fortunately cloudy day, as this would have been the most exposed section on a sunny day.)
It’s not actually steep, with a gradient of about 2%, but for small legs it’s a tiring section. The Fernleigh Track goes through the Awabakal Nature Reserve (scribbly gum bushland) as it heads up to the highest point of the track (89.3m above sea level), just before the old Whitehead station. Some sections of the old railway line have been left intact alongside the track. At Whitehead there are shops nearby (300m) if supplies are needed.
Whitebridge to Adamstown (5.6km / -50m elevation loss)
Technically this is two sections, with the track descending through the leafy forests of Glenrock State Conservation Area and passing through Kahibah. There’s long sections of the old railway line left in situ, but only the Kahaba station nameboard identifies the location and no trace remains of the platform.
The highlight of this section is the former rail tunnel under the Pacific Highway, which also marks the transition from the Lake Macquarie region to Newcastle.
The track curves through the well-illuminated tunnel, and is a nice end to the ride!
About 1.5km after the tunnel there’s sign pointing to a cafe just 80m from the track. We make the small detour to the Fernleigh Cafe, which has a nice courtyard at the back, a range of food and very friendly service. We’re just in time to order a late lunch and some drinks.
We’re now just 600m from the Adamstown trackhead, and we go another 300m to the intersection with Park Avenue, before turning back (the last 300m is on a footpath along the road and not very appealing). It’s taken us just under two hours to get to the cafe (15.1km).
Adamstown to Nine Mile Beach (14.7km)
The return trip is much quicker and easier, with a short initial climb and then a long downhill section. It takes under an hour to get to the turn-off to Nine Mile Beach, a couple of kilometres before the Belmont terminus.
Nine Mile Beach
There are a number of beaches accessible from the Fernleigh Track: Nine Mile Beach is the closest to the track, and also the closest beach to Belmont. So it was the logical spot for a detour a a quick swim on the back. (I was slightly concerned that in the middle of Nine Mile Beach is the Belmont Wastewater Treatment Works – I’d avoid swimming here after heavy rain. You can check water quality on the Beachwatch Web site).
Access to the beach is clearly sign-posted from the track, and the rough 4WD maintenance trail is suitable for mountain bikes. But, once you leave the Fernleigh Track there is no signage and it’s very unclear how to get to the beach. After a couple of failed attempts, we found a narrow walking track over the dunes from the 4WD track (starting at -33.03683, 151.67493) and continued on foot. It’s about 700m over the sandy dunes to the beach.
This section of beach is the most inaccessible along the Fernleigh Track – but you can drive along the beach by 4WD. So we had the beach almost to ourselves; there was a family camping near our access track, who were surprised you could get to the beach from the Fernleigh Track.
We would have had a proper swim – if we’d brought our swimmers! We enjoyed cooling our legs and the kids jumped off some of the dunes, before we walked back over the dunes to our bikes.
Once we’re back on the Fernleigh Track, it’s just a easy 1.4km back to the car – with one last stop to play on a tree swing installed just off the track.
It was worth the long-ish drive. Despite some “uphill grumpiness”, the kids enjoyed the day. All up, we did about 30km of cycling and 2km of (optional) walking to get to Nine Mile Beach.
Fernleigh Track Tips
- Going from Belmont to Adamstown is much easier – especially if cycling with small kids
- Bring swimmers and towels in a backpack, so you can enjoy a side-trip to one of the beaches
- There are water stations for drinking or to refill water bottles along the track at regular intervals.
- Cautions – there are a couple of road crossings (some with no pedestrian crossing). Keep an eye out for faster cyclists who use the track.