The Illawarra Escarpment Track has been on my To Do list for a while… it’s a great walk to do by public transport as it starts and finishes at a railway station (although to save time I drive to the starting point at Stanwell Park station). On a weekend, there’s plenty of parking in front of the small station, and the Wodi Wodi track starts right next to the platform on the other (western) side of the tracks.
The Illawarra Escarpment Track actually consists of multiple trails:
- Wodi Wodi Track
- Forest Walk
- Sublime Point Track
Stanwell Park to Mt Mitchell lookout (4km)
Starting at Stanwell Park station is the most difficult option (you could also commence the walk at Coalcliff railway station and there is a trackhead on Lawrence Hargrave Drive if you’re driving). The Wodi Wodi walk immediately starts climbing, which is what you expect since we’re heading for the top of the escarpment…
…but after a very short ascent, there’s a junction with a track that continues up to Stanwell Park railway station and from here the Wodi Wodi track descends through rainforest.
This track is fairly rough and slippery, especially since it has rained a few days ago, and there are some steep sections with rope to help with the descent. We encounter a few large groups along here, so it’s fairly slow going for a while.
After about 1.5km the track crosses the picturesque Stanwell Creek, which is surrounded by dense forest. (You can follow the creek down to a historic railway viaduct, but I don’t have the energy for this side-trip!)
From here the Wodi Wodi track starts ascending again for a short distance, reaching the Forest Walk trail at the 2km mark. This is also the junction with the track from Coalcliff station (1.8km).
The Forest Walk trail ascends 130m in just over a kilometres up the sandstone ridge, through more open eucalypt forest, as it heads to Mt Mitchell and the top of the escarpment.
As the track reaches the top of the ridge, we stop at a sandstone slab that offers the first coastal views, of Stanwell Beach and Stanwell Tops behind it.
A few hundred metres further, there’s another rock platform and overhang, where we have a rest and admire the view.
As well as Stanwell Beach almost directly below, you can see the historic railway viaduct over Stanwell Creek.
Another few hundred metres further is the Mt Mitchell lookout, which offers the same views that we’ve just enjoyed, but is crowded with a large number of people resting and having lunch.
Mt Mitchell lookout to Maddens Plains (5.8km)
The section of the Ilawarra Escarpment Track along the top of the escarpment climbs very gradually and is easy walking, through eucalypt forest and low heath.
At the south end of Mt Mitchell there’s a another rock outcrop just off the track that provdes sweeping views over the coast.
To the south is Coalcliff Village and the Seacliff Bridge.
This is the best view along the Illawarra Escarpment Track of the Seacliff Bridge which links Coalcliff and Clifton. The balanced cantilever bridge was opened in 2005 and has become a popular tourist attraction: it is one of only seven off-shore parallel-to-coast bridges in the world.
The track continues along the top of the escarpment, crossing Stony Creek which cascades down a series of sandstone platforms.
Just after crossing the creek, there’s a gap in the trees that provides a good view of the old cokeworks at Coalcliff, which closed in 2013 after 99 years of cokemaking, having been one of the oldest continuous coke-making operations in the world.
There’s another short side-track to the last lookout on the Forest Walk trail from a rocky outcrop, with the views now to the south, from Coledale and Austinmer below to Wollongong in the distance.
We’re nearing the end of the first section of the Forest Walk as it ascends through a nice, shaded section of rainforest and ferns.
Maddens Plains to Sublime Point (5.4km)
Although there’s no obvious demarcation between sections on my topographical map, a large signage board denotes a new section of the Forest Walk from Maddens Plains to Sublime Point lookout, after 10km (although according to the sign it’s only 8km).
This section of the Illawarra Escarpment Track is a little underwhelming at first… after a short section of boardwalk (to protect a swamp, apparently) the track follows a power line easement, which is rather unpleasant. The track also follows the Princes Highway fairly closely, so while you can’t see the road you can hear the distant drone of traffic in the background.
Eventually the track re-enters a nice forested area, although after the first six kilometres of the Forest Track the landscape is a bit monotonous.
It would be nice if there were a few lookouts along this section of the Illawarra Escarpment Track: although the route follows the edge of the escarpment quite closely, there are no official viewing points. There’s one faint track of to the left just after the power line section, whch we follow in the hope of a view. With a bit of “bush bashing” toward the end the short track, it does lead to a rock platform perched on the edge of the embankment offering views of Wombarra and Coledale.
The rest of the track is a mixture of vegetation, including eucalypt forest, dry-subtropical rainforest and coastal headland banksia scrub. There seems to significant biodiversity (at least in plant life – we haven’t seen many animals) considering there is minimal elevation gain along this part of the Forest Walk.
Just before reaching Sublime Point, the Forest Walk trail reaches the Woodward Nature Loop Track. We take the left-hand option, hoping there might be another lookout as it’s been a long time between views… Ignoring a sign that says “do not enter” and skirting a metal fence, we head down a trail that leads to the edge of the escarpment.
There’s a great view from here, as well as an interesting rock formation perched on the edge of the escarpment.
There’s just a few hundred metres from this “unofficial lookout” to Sublime Point.
Sublime Point to Austinmer (2.5km)
After seeing almost no-one since the Wodi Wodi track at the start of our walk, we suddenly find ourselves in the middle of Picnic Central! Sublime Point is a popular spot on a Sunday afternoon, with many people picnicing in the grounds around the lookout. We take advantage of the Sublime Point Cafe to buy a drink, and have a rest before the final section of our walk back down the escarpment.
The views are spectacular from here both up and down the coast – this is the highest point on the Illawarra Escarpment Track. Although it’s not obvious until I look at the elevation profile, we’ve been gradually ascending from Mt Mitchell (300m asl) to Sublime Point (415m asl).
This also means a steep descent back to Austinmer – although I’m not quite sure what to expect from the Sublime Point Track.
The well-built track starts descending immediately past steep sandstone cliffs.
Near the top there are some glimpses of the coast, still far below us.
It’s not long until the ladder start…
It’s fun coming down the many ladders – and I’m glad we’re descending, and not climbing up from Austinmer. The incredibly steep track descends 180m over a distance of just 400m from Sublime Point.
After the “ladder section” the Sublime Point Track descends another 90m in the next 400m, with a series of timber steps spiralling down through subtropical rainforest.
This is one of the best sections of the Illawarra Escarpment Track (at least, it is if you’re going dowhill!) with the vegetation changing as the track descends. At the bottom are tall coachwood and sassafras trees that grow in sheltered gullies.
It’s a nice end to our walk, which finishes at Foothills Road in Austinmer (the signage at the bottom states “Gibson Track”, which is an alternate loop you can take that finishes further north of the railway station). It’s just another 1.3km of easy walking along the road to Austinmer railway station. Fortunately we don’t have to wait long for a train back to our car, as we checked the timetable at Sublime Point – trains run only every two hours on weekends. Yes, they probably have a more regular railway service in third world countries!
I’ve enjoyed the Illawarra Escarpment Track – there were a few times along the Forest Walk when it got a bit monotonous. It’s a shame there are not more views from the top of the escarpment. But when you do reach a lookout or find a little trail to the edge of the escarpment, the views are stunning. And the Sublime Point Track down to the bottom was good fun!
0.0km Start at Stanwell Park railway station (Wodi Wodi track) 0.2km Junction with track up to Stanwell Tops railway station 1.5km Wodi Wodi Track crosses Stanwell Creek 2.0km Junction with Forest Walk 4.0km Mt Mitchell lookout 9.8km New section of Forest Walk (Maddens Plains to Sublime Point) 14.7km Junction with Woodward Nature Loop Track 15.2km Sublime Point lookout and cafe 15.6km Start of steep Sublime Point Track 16.4km Track head at Foothills Road 17.7km Austinmer railway station
More information on Illawarra Escarpment Track
- National Parks (NPWS) – Forest Walk to Sublime Point track
- Visit Wollongong – Grand Pacific Walking Trails [PDF]
- Visit Wollongong – Illawarra Escarpment Walking Track [PDF]