Best Day Hikes around Sydney

Selecting the “best walks” near Sydney is not an easy task… for a start, there’s over 500 bushwalks to select from, ranging from a few hundred metres to multi-day hikes. There’s coastal walks where you can start and finish with a coffee or an ice-cream, and remote canyons that demand preparation and a high level of self-sufficiency. Here’s a few of my favourites within an hour or two of Sydney – and why you might want to do them…

I’m sure I’ve missed a few walks that should be here… let me know your favourite walk in the comments!

Coastal Treks
1. The Coast Track, Royal NP (27km one-way / full day or 2-day walk)
2. Resolute Circuit, Ku-ring-gai Chase NP (4.3km circuit / 2 hours)
3. Maitland Bay, Bouddi NP (4.6km circuit / 2 hours)
4. Spit to Manly (10km one-way / 3-4 hours)

Peaks and Views
5. Ruined Castle, Blue Mountains NP (14km return / 4-5 hours)
6. Lockleys Pylon, Blue Mountains NP  (9km return / 3 hours)
7. Illawarra Escarpment Track (17.7km one-way / 4-5 hours)

Pub to Pub walks (or Bushwalks with a Beer!)
8. Bouddi Coastal Walk, Bouddi NP (11-18km return / 3-5 hours)
9. Bobbin Head Circuit, Ku-ring-gai NP (9.7km circuit)

Swimming Holes and Summer Walks
10. Wollangambe Canyon, Wollemi NP (9km or 13.5km / 5-7 hours)
11. Jingga Pool, Dharawal NP (2.4km return / 1 hour)

Something a Bit Different!
12. Glow Worm Tunnel, Wollemi NP
13. West Head Army Track, Ku-ring-gai Chase NP

Coastal treks

There’s no shortage of walks around Sydney Harbour and along the coast; you can even walk for over 100km from Barrenjoey Lighthouse in the north to Cronulla in the south. The challenge with many of these walks is the they are more “urban walks” than bushwalks. The walks below are a few of the best ones that (mostly) avoid “civilisation” and traverse some of the most secnic parts of the coastline in and around Sydney.

1. The Coast Track, Royal National Park

This is a great full-day walk in any season, which follows the coast from Bundeena to Otford in the south of Sydney. Both ends of the walk are accessible via public transport; if you start at Otford you’ll finish with a ferry ride across Port Hacking to Cronulla, where there’s a short walk to the train station (just don’t miss the last ferry). The Royal National Park is the oldest in Sydney (and the second-oldest in the world after Yellowstone), being proclaimed on 26 April 1879. The walk covers almost the full length of the park, traversing multiple surf beaches and a sheltered lagoon, as well as impressive sandstone cliffs and rock formations.

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The track also passes two small settlements of beach shacks, built as weekenders between 1930 and 1950, and now heritage-listed with the National Trust of Australia.

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There’s multiple beaches you can swim at, some patrolled and some unpatrolled and fairly wild – and a sheltered freshwater lagoon at Wattamolla that’s about half-way along between Ortford and Bundeena. There’s a kiosk here that is open on weekends – it can get busy on summer weekends.

Why do it?

  • Some of the most spectacular coastal scenery around Sydney, including unspoilt beaches and a freshwater lagoon
  • Easy access via public transport at both ends of the walk
  • Good vantage point for whale watching (May-November)

What else is around?

  • You can do shorter sections of this walk – Figure 8 Pool from Garawarra Farm (6.5km return) or the Burning Palms loop from Otford (8.2km circuit)
  • A short but steep walk (2km return) down to Werrong Beach takes you to the only authorised nude bathing beach in the Royal NP.
Getting there Public transport best. Train to Otford on the South Coast line and ferry to Bundeena from Cronulla (short walk from Cronulla station).
Distance 27km (8-10 hours). Can be done as an overnight walk. (Camping is available at North Era – book in advance)
Grade Moderate
Season/s All year.
Map Royal National Park Tourist Map 1:25K (out of print)

2. Resolute Circuit, West Head

A short circular walk in Sydney’s north, that can easily be stretched into a half-day walk. The track passes both an Aboriginal engraving site and a cave with Aboriginal rock art, as well an old World War II bunker and two secluded beaches.

You can start the circular walk at Resolute Picnic Area or West Head – the views from the West Head Lookout are beautiful, especially at sunset (just make a note of what times the gates are locked). Both the beaches are fairly sheltered and have lot of shaded spots where you sit out of the sun.

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Why do it?

  • Sheltered and secluded beaches, which even on a summer weekend won’t be crowded
  • Aboriginal cultural site and old WWII fortifications.

What else is around?

  • You can go directly from West Head lookout down to West Head beach (800m return) if you want a short walk to a secluded beach
  • Flint and Steel Beach (2km return) is another secluded swimming beach that’s got lots of shade and is never crowded.
Getting there Park at the end of West Head Road or at Resolute Picnic Area
Distance 4.3km loop (1-2 hours).
Grade Easy. 140m ascent
Season/s All year.
Map Ku-ring-gai & Berowra Valley Visitor Guide (from Info Centre)
Or the free map from entry station

3. Maitland Bay, Bouddi NP

It would be hard to find a more picturesque beach than Maitland Bay, about 90min north of Sydney in the Bouddi National Park. You could take one of the two tracks that go directly to the beach… but for the best views and a more interesting route, do the loop via Bullimah Spur.

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Starting at the Maitland Bay carpark, take the well-trodden (main) Maitland Bay Track before veering right onto the Bullimah Spur Track after about 100m. This takes you down the Bullimah Spur, from where there are stunning views over Maitland Bay and Bouddi National Park, to Bullimah Outlook. From this rocky outcrop there’s a rough but well-marked track that continues all the way down to the main Bouddi Coastal Track.

Once you reach the main coastal track, turn left to go to Maitland Bay. As well as being a fairly calm beach that’s great for swimming, Maitland Bay is home to the wreck of the SS Maitland, which sank in 1898, located at the far end of the beach. The rusted remains of the boiler are most visible at low tide.

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To get back, head straight back up the much shorter Maitland Bay track to the car park (most of the walk is through eucalypt forest and is quite shaded).

Why do it?

  • One of the most beautiful beaches around Sydney (with a shipwreck to explore at the northern end)
  • Coastal scenery and views

What else is around?

  • Extend this into a day walk (see below) via the Bouddi Coastal Track
  • A short (1km return) walk takes you to the small and secluded Little Beach (there’s also a camping area here)
Getting there Start at Maitland Bay car park, on The Scenic Road
Distance 4.6km circuit (2.6km return for Bullimah Outlook only). 2 hours.
Grade Easy/Moderate. Total 180m ascent.
Season/s All year.
Map
  • Broken Bay topographic map (NSW 9130-1N) 1:25K
  • Bouddi National Park sketch map from park office. 1:25K

4. Spit to Manly walk

Should this walk be included? It’s arguably the most popular walk in Sydney – so don’t bother with this one on a sunny weekend if you’re seeking solitude. It could be considered an “urban walk” rather than a bushwalk. But while you’ll pass by some of Sydney’s most expensive real estate, much of this walk is through bushland (including Sydney National Park).

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The well-marked track closely follows the coast through a variety of flora, from coastal heath to rainforest. It passes many bays and beaches, and while the track is rarely far from civilisation it doesn’t feel you’re close to the middle of a big city. There’s a short detour to Grotto Point Lighthouse, an active beacon referred to as the ‘Disney Castle’ that is one of only four lighthouses in this style. A little further and just a few metres from the main track are some Aboriginal engravings. From the Crater Cove Lookout (the best views of the whole walk are from here) you can spot the ghost village“ below the sheer cliffs of Dobroyd Point: seven huts that were abandoned in 1984 after their last occupants were forced out.

Why do it?

  • An “iconic” Sydney walk that combines typical Sydney bushland with spectacular harbour views
  • Lots of opportunities to stop for a swim or just watch the boats go past.

What else is around?

  • Explore North Head (walk from Manly) for great views and a small beach that’s also home to a fairy penguin colony (Collins Beach)
  • An alternate “city coastal walk” is from Bondi to Coogee, which takes you past Tamarama Bay, Bronte Beach, Clovelly Bay. Almost all of this walk is on coastal reserves or along a beach.
Getting there Start/finish at The Spit (accessible by bus or water taxi, and parking available) or Manly Beach (bus, ferry, limited on-street parking).
Distance 10km one-way. 3-4 hours.
Grade Easy. 350m total ascent.
Season/s All year round. Generally busy on weekends.
Map None required as very well signposted and marked.
Download official Manly Scenic Walkway map (3MB)

Peaks and views

The Blue Mountains is really the only option for “mountains”, although you’re generally descending into a deep valley rather than climbing a peak! There’s also some walks along the Illawarra escarpment to the south and a few smaller peaks in the Ku-ring-gai National Park to the north that offer cliffs and sweeping views.

5. Ruined Castle, Blue Mountains NP

It’s hard to find a walk that gives you more spectacular views and varied terrain than you get from heading out to Ruined Castle in the Blue Mountains. This is one of my favourite day walks around Sydney.

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Long before you reach Ruined Castle, there’s classic Blue Mountains views of the Three Sisters and Katoomba Falls as you descend into the Jamison Valley, and a side-trip to an enchanting waterfall at Vera’s Grotto.

Once you reach the bottom, the Federal Pass track along the Jamison Valley takes you past abandoned shale mines and rusting steel buckets from a failed “flying fox”, before traversing a boulder field that was caused by a landslide in 1931. Much of the track is through rainforest, with thick vines hanging down from towering coachwood and sassafrass trees. The final steep but short section climbs up to Ruined Castle, a natural rock outcrop in the middle of the Jamison Valley from which there is a magnificent 360-degree view.

Narrow Neck seen from the giant landslide (which occurred in Feb 1909)

There are a few different options for getting to Ruined Castle: the shortest route commences at Glenraphael Drive and takes the Golden Stairs down to the Federal Pass track (6.6km). You can also start at Scenic World, and take the Scenic Railway down – it’s the steepest passenger railway in the world. Or can walk down via the Furber Steps that also start behind ScenicWorld for one of the most picturesque descents into the Jamison Valley.

Why do it?

  • Arguably one of the best views in the Blue Mountains
  • As well as the views, you get rainforest, land slides and ruins from the shale mining operations – it’s an interesting walk!

What else is around?

  • Continue on to Mt Solitary for a longer day-walk
  • Take the cable car from Scenic World and do the short walk on the other side of the valley, if you don’t want great views with minimal effort!
Getting there Start/finish at Scenic World (Corner Violet Street & Cliff Drive). Free parking. Alternate start point for a shorter walk is the Golden Staircase trackhead on Glenraphael Drive (graded dirt road; limited free parking at trackhead).
Distance 14km return (6.6km starting via Golden Staircase is shortest option)
Grade Moderate. 960m total ascent.
Season/s All year round. Generally busy on weekends.
Map
  • Katoomba 8930-1S topographical map (1:25k) and
  • Jamison 8930-2N topographical map (1:25k)

6. Lockleys Pylon, Blue Mountains NP

This Blue Mountains walk starts from Mt Hay Road near Leura, and is one of the less-visited trails. From the top of Lockleys Pylon there’s views in all directions, including Fortress Hill and Fortress Creek Fall. Walk another kilometre to Du Faur Head, a rocky outcrop on the edge of the escarpment, and you can see right down the Grose Valley (one of the most accessible wilderness areas for bushwalking).

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There are nice views along most of the track. It’s a somewhat unusual walk, in that the track to Lockleys Pylon and Du Faur Head is fairly flat. But if you’re after some serious exercise, just before Du Faur Head the track descends steeply down Shortridge Pass, dropping about 500m in just under two kilometres. At the bottom is Govetts Creek, and nearby is the beautiful Blue Gum Forest.

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Why do it?

  • Varied landscape; after forest and heath at the start there’s a long section through low grass that is more akin to the walking through the alpine landscape of the Snowy Mountains
  • Great views that you’ll probably have to yourself.

What else is around?

  • If you’ve still got time and energy after Lockley Pylon, 1.5km down Mt Hay Road (on the way back to Leura) is the trackhead to Fortress Ridge Lookout (7km return).
Getting there Follow Mt Hay Road from Leura for 10km (last 8km is on a rough dirt road, suitable for 2WD with careful driving). The trackhead is signposted and just past the Flat Top Lookout parking.
Distance 9km return to Du Faur Head (250m total ascent)
13.1km return to Blue Gum Forest (745m total ascent)
Grade Moderate
Season/s All year round
Map Katoomba (NSW 8930-1S 1:25K) to Lockleys Pylon
Mt Wilson (NSW 8930-1N 1:25K) for Lockleys Pylon to Blue Gum
Blue Mountains North 1:50K covers the entire route

7. Illawarra Escarpment Track

I’m not sure whether to include this one – mainly because while the views are spectacular, there are long sections along the track between lookouts that are a bit dreary. But the views you get from the escarpment are the best you’ll get outside the Blue Mountains. The walk starts at the Stanwell Park railway station, with the rough Wodi Wodi track descending to a small creek before ascending to the top of the escarpment. The views as the track reaches the top of the escarpment are of Stanwell Beach and the Royal National Park to the north.

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As the track gradually ascends to the highest point at Sublime Point, you can see all the way down the coast to Wollongong and Port Kembla. There is a cafe at Sublime Point, a park and picnic area accessible by car. From here the track drops almost 400m in about a kilometres with a series of ladders and steps down to the bottom of the escarpment, and Austinmer station.

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Why do it?

  • Spectacular views up and down the coast
  • Easily accessible by public transport at both ends (but note that trains only run every two hours on weekends)
  • You can have lunch or coffee at Sublime Point towards the end of the track.

What else is around?

  • If you just want the views, you can start from Austinmer station (or Foothills Road if driving) and do the short but crazily-steep track up to Sublime Point.
  • The walk can also be done from Stanwell Park to Coalcliff (3.8km) which means you miss all the views unless you walk up to Mt Mitchell, or Coalcliff to Austinmer which means you’re not doing the slightly muddy and very rough section of the Wodi Wodi track.
Getting there Start at Stanwell Park or Coalcliff railway station and finish at Austinmer station (or vice versa)
Distance 17.7km from Stanwell Park to Austinmer stations (4-5 hours)
Grade Moderate. 540m total ascent. Initial (Wodi Wodi) track steep and can get get muddy/slippery after rain
Season/s All year round
Map 9029-1S Appin (1:25K) topographical map
9029-2N Bulli (1:25K) topographical map

Pub to Pub walks (or Bushwalks with a Beer!)

This is more wishful thinking…  I can’t think of any bushwalks that incorporate a pub in the middle (although with many walks there will be a pub or kiosk at the end). The walks below are the closest I can think of, that allow you to enjoy a cold drink or meal mid-walk, before returning to the bush!

8. Bouddi Coastal Walk, Bouddi NP

The Bouddi Coast Walk is one of the best coastal walks around Sydney, traversing a number of beautiful beaches and scenic lookouts between Little Beach to the north and Putty Beach to the south. The best bit about this walk is that at the far end of Putty Beach there’s a kiosk (at the Killcare Surf Life Saving Club) as well as Spinnakers Restaurant. So you can plan to get a few snacks or sit down for a nice lunch, before returning to your car.

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Depending on how far you want to go, you can make the walk as long as 18km (from Little Beach car park to the end of Putty Beach), or start at Maitland Bay for an 11km return walk. The best section of the track is from Maitland Bay to Putty Beach, which closely tracks the rugged and beautiful coastline, including the Tessellated Pavement, as well stopping by a couple of beautiful beaches.

Why do it?

  • One of the best coastal walks around Sydney – the option of having a cold drink or lunch at the half-way point makes it even better!
  • Maitland Bay is a beautiful and sheltered beach that’s a great spot for a swim.

What else is around?

  • If you’re after fine dining, try Bells Restaurant after a day of bushwalking, or for something more casual there’s a cafe bakery and woodfire pizza restaurant near the Killcare Marina.
Getting there
Distance 11km (from Maitland Bay) or 18km (from Little Beach) return
Grade Easy/Moderate
Season/s All year round
Map Broken Bay topographic map (NSW 9130-1N) 1:25K
Bouddi National Park sketch map from park office. 1:25K

9. Bobbin Head Circuit, Ku-ring-gai NP

A combination of the Sphinx, Warrimoo and Bobbin Head tracks makes a nice circuit in the Ku-ring-gai National Park. The walk starts at the slightly incongruous Sphinx Memorial, carved out of sandstone by a returned soldier memory of lives lost in the First World War. From here the Sphinx Track descends past a stream and small cascades to Cowan Creek, where it meets the Warrimoo Track that follows the water to Bobbin Head.

The track eventually reaches the Empire Marina at Bobbin Head, and the Galley Foods Eatery which features an outdoor dining area overlooking the marina.

Returning via the Bobbin Head Track, there’s an initial steep climb up to the ridge before the narrow bush track meets a wide fire trail. Now closed to traffic, the rest of the Bobbin Head Track follows the route of the original access road up the ridge, back to Bobbin Head Road.

Why do it?

  • Varied landscape, with about half the walk along Cowan Creek
  • Aboriginal engraving site on the Bobbin Head track
  • Great food (and coffee) at the Bobbin Head Marina

What else is around?

  • You can also start at the end of Warrimoo Road (St Ives Chase) and take the Warrimoo Track to Bobbin Head. Return the same way or continue to Mt Ku-ring-gai station (11.9km)
  • A more challenging walk is from Berowra to Cowan (part of the Great North Walk) via Berowra Waters. A short detour across Berowra Creek on the (free) ferry takes you to Berowra Waters Marina and the Berowra Waters Fish Cafe (12.9km one-way)
Getting there Trackhead is at the Sphinx Memorial car park. If using public transport, there are regular private buses from Gordon Station to Warrimoo Avenue.
Distance 9.7km circuit (3-4 hours)
Grade Easy. 180m total ascent.
Season/s All year round
Map Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park (1:40K)

Swimming Holes and Summer Walks

All of the coastal treks above make great walks in summer – but for those stupidly hot days when it’s just too hot to walk, here are a few options. They are short walks to waterholes where you can swim or rest in the shade all day, or walks where you are mostly in the water so you stay cool!

10. Wollangambe Canyon, Wollemi NP

This is a great option for a hot day in summer – but you need to be well-prepared. There are two “non-technical” sections you can do with the aid of a li-lo (which is essential) and wetsuits (highly recommended). You also need to know where the exit points are for each of the two sections, as you don’t want to miss these. But with some preparation, these are a great way to stay cool on days where you really don’t want to be walking!

Wollangambe One (Upper Section) is accessed from the Mt Wilson fire station, with a steep walk down (and of course a steep walk back up) to get to the Wollangambe River.

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There’s also Wollangambe Two (Lower Section) which is accessed from the Cathedral Reserve Camping Ground in Mount Wilson. This is slightly longer than the Upper Section, with a couple of tricky descents, one of them aided by a (slightly frayed!) rope.

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Why do it?

  • Great option for a hot day when bushwalking is unpleasant
  • Experience a wild river and get a taste of canyoning
  • Spectacular scenery, including narrow sections through the canyon and sandstone rock formations

What else is around?

  • If you don’t feel comfortable doing one of these sections, there is a short “horseshoe” at the beginning of Wollangambe One that involves some wading (depending on river height) and gives you a taste of the canyon without committing to being many hours in the water.
Getting there Wollangambe One: start at Mt Wilson fire station
Wollangambe Two: start at Cathedral Reserve Camping Ground
Distance Wollangambe One: approx 9km (5-7 hours)
Wollangambe Two:  approx 13.5km (6-7 hours)
Grade Moderate/Hard
Season/s Summer. Avoid if any rain forecast.
Map 8931-2S Wollangambe (1:25,000)

11. Jingga Pool, Dharawal NP

One of the newest national parks in NSW (it was declared a National Park in 2012), Dharawal National Park is featured on many Web sites for its two swimming holes – Jingga Pool (below) and the women-only Minerva Pool.

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It’s a short (1.2km) but quite steep walk down to Jingga Pool; once you’re reach the shaded swimming hole there’s plenty of overhangs and shaded spots. It was busy on a summer weekend with local kids jumping off the rock and enjoying the cool water. Come on a weekday and you’ll probably have the water to yourself!

Why do it?

  • Clean and deep swimming hole with a relatively short walk in
  • Not too crowded on weekends (although you won’t have the place to yourself)
  • Easy to find a shady spot to relax out of the sun.

What else is around?

  • Minerva Pool is a similar distance from the carpark then Jingga Pool, but as a sacred women’s place for the Dharawal People only women and children should enter the water (2.8km return from car park)
  • The Dharawal NP also has a longer (15km one-way) service trail that’s ideal for mountain biking and is relatively flat, except for a steep descent at the end.
Getting there Start at the end of Victoria Road (Wedderburn), where there is a locked gate and parking area.
Distance 3.2km return (1 hour)
Grade Easy (there is a steep descent of about 110m from the ridge)
Season/s All year.
Map 9029-1S Appin (1:25,000)

Something a Bit Different!

If you’re looking for a walk that’s a bit different, here’s a couple of options 

12. Glow Worm Tunnel, Wollemi NP

You need to allow a full day for this trip – or make into a weekend excursion by camping at the fantastic Newnes camping ground. There are a few different ways to get to the Glow Worm tunnel – my recommendation is to go via the Pagoda Track, which takes you past the incredible formations that the Gardens of Stone National Park is known for. This is also the shortest route to the Glow Worm Tunnel.

Alternatively, you can take the longer track that starts near Newnes. After crossing the Wolgan River, the track ascends steeply up to the old Newnes railway formation which it then follows up to the Glow Worm Tunnel. It’a really nice walk with some great views of the Wolgan Valley.

Wolgan Valley

Regardless of which way you go, the destination is a 400m-long abandoned railway tunnel, now home to thousands of glow worms. Bring torch – but don’t shone the torch at the glow worms.

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Why do it?

  • One of the few places you can see glow worms in NSW and the closest to Sydney (the other being Glow Worm Glen in Bundanoon)
  • While the Glow Worm Tunnel is the star attraction, the route in from Newnes and the Pagoda Track are both great walks in their own right.

What else is around?

  • If you’re coming via Newnes, make a detour on the way to Hassans Wall Lookout, near Lithgow – it’s the highest lookout in the Blue Mountains and the views are spectacular.
Getting there From Newnes near the end of Wolgan Road or the carpark at the end of Old Coach Road
Distance 9km return from Newnes end / 6.8km return via Pagoda Track
Grade Easy/Moderate.
Season/s All year.
Map 89314S Ben Bullen (walk is well sign-posted)

13. West Head Army track

A relatively new (it was opened in May 2016) and short trail, the West Head Army Track provides access to World War II embankments that were positioned there to protect Sydney from naval attacks. Following the original route down the cliff to the water, you can enter and explore most of the concrete gun casings.

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If you’re feeling adventurous, you can continue around the coast to the secluded Flannel Flower Beach. There’s no track, so clambering around the rocky shore is best done at low tide.

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Why do it?

  • Short but fun track with a steel ladder and multiple WWII embankments you can explore
  • Option to go “off track” and visit a secluded beach
  • There’s a picnic area (with BBQs) and a lookout nearby.

What else is around?

  • There are over 15 walks around West Head – you can spend a day doing a few walks or swimming at one of the three beaches accessible via a walking track (Resolute Beach, West Head Beach and and Flint and Steel Beach).
Getting there Park at the end of West Head Road (at the lookout)
Distance 1.3km return. (30-45min). 105m total ascent
Add 1km (return) with scrambling for Flannel Flower Beach.
Grade Easy (but steep with one steel ladder)
Season/s All year.
Map Ku-ring-gai & Berowra Valley Visitor Guide (from Info Centre)

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