This “exploratory” walk turned out to be one of the best bushwalks in West Head, visiting the spectacular Birnie Lookout before descending to Towlers Bay. I’ve been down to Towlers Bay before via the Towlers Bay Trail and it was a pleasant walk – but nothing particularly special. The walk I’ve planned ths time heads to Birnie Lookout, accessed via the Towlers Bay Trail, and then hopefully continues “off track” to reach another nearby (unnamed lookout). I’m not sure what to expect, as AllTrails shows two lookouts in close proximity. However neither lookout or the connecting trail are shown on my detailed topographical map or on Google Maps.
The walk starts from West Head Road on the Towlers Bay Trail, which is easy walking through the coastal heath and low forest that’s typical of these ridges.
Looking back along Towlers Bay Trail is the highest point in West Head, Willunga Trig. After 1.2km the junction with the side-track to Birnie Lookout is reached – but it’s very easy to miss. Marked by a discreet cairn on the right-hand side of the firetrail, you can hardly tell there is a track here.
The narrow track is a bit overgrown but fairly easy to follow. After a few hundred metres there’s a nice view over the forest towards Pittwater.
Even though they are not really needed, a combination of rock cairns and white tape mark the track as it descends gradually through the low scrub.
I soon reach the point where my AllTrail map says the Birnie Lookout should be – but there is no lookout, and absolutely no view at all. However, while I thought I may have to “bush bash” from here through thick scrub, the rough but distinct track continues to the second lookout.
I’m pleasantly surprised when I’m suddenly on a rock platform, with sweeping views over Pittwater.
Positioned incorrectly on the AllTrails map and not marked at all on my topographical map, I’ve reached Birnie Lookout! I think it’s one of the best vantage points in West Head, perched above Lovett Bay and looking across to Elvina Bay, Scotland Island and Pittwater. In the distance is Barrenjoey Peninsula and the Pacific Ocean. Also known as Flagstaff Hill, the lookout was described by as “lovely in the extreme” as far back as 1896, so it’s odd that it is missing from so many maps. The description of the lookout from over 100 years ago is still just as valid today: For miles and miles in every direction spread, one of the most beautiful sights in New South Wales— a people’s park, old, older than history, yet new and almost untrodden. Never a more perfect picture has been seen in all this wide world than is to be seen from Flagstaff Hill. [Kuring-gai Chase Trust, 6 August 1896].
After admiring the view for a while, my next surprise as I continue down the hill towards Lovett Bay is a picnic table nestled under a large rock overhang.
The inside of the overhang or cave has been sculpted by the wind resulting in an incredible honeycomb appearance. Used as a rest stop dates from the late 1920s, the cave was first described in 1896: It is a wonderful spot indeed, for the architect or the builder has glorified the archway with the most weird and fantastic carving. It was carved by the wind. When the wild storms of wintry days swept over the Chase they took up grains of sand and tiny stones and flung them at the bold peak till they wore a passage through it.
There’s a few more sandstone caves and overhangs as the track starts to descend.
The track descends more steeply as it zig-zags down the side of the ridge, and the vegetation changes from dry sclerophyll forest to almost a rainforest environment. The track is fringed by ferns, and overhead are tall palms and tree ferns.
It’s a very nice section of track down to the water, where I have a decision to make: turn right toward Elvina Bay, and take Fredricks Track (or Elvina Track) up to West Head Road. Or turn left and head toward Lovett Bay and the Towlers Bay Track. Returning via Elvina Bay would make a longer loop – but also about 3.5km of walking along West Head Road to get back to the car. So I turn left, and follow the narrow walking track which follows the Lovett Bay shoreline. It’s pleasant walking along here too, through ferns and past a small stream that tumbles over some moss-covered boulders.
There’s a nice view across Lovett Bay, when there’s an occasional break in the foliage.
After a few hundred metres, the track reaches a handful of properties that are part of the Lovett Bay community, which is accessible by water only. I pass by the front of about five houses before reaching Lovett Bay Wharf. A few locals seem nonplussed by me walking past and told me to continue past the public wharf and in front of the next house when I asked which way to go. [EDIT: while the locals I spoke to had no issue with the route I took along the water, to avoid crossing private land you should veer inland near a dry creek bed at 33°37’56.7″S 151°16’32.1″E to go behind a number of properties, meeting a dirt road at 33°37’56.0″S 151°16’44.3″E.)
I’m soon back on Towlers Bay Track, a public access road which services the Lovett Bay and Towlers Bay community. The firetrail starts climbing gradually up behind Towlers Bay, through a eucalypt forest of tall trees.
From here it’s a pretty straightforward walk up the Towlers Bay Trail, which ascends for the first kilometre or so up to the ridge. There’s an unmarked track down to Morning Bay and the Pittwater Youth Hostel on the right, and then an informal lookout with views over Pittwater.
The best views are a bit further down from the firetrail, where some sandstone rocks are perched over the valley.
From here it’s fairly flat and easy walking back to the end of Towlers Bay Trail to West Head Road.
0.0km Start of Towlers Bay Trail on West Head Road (167m asl) 1.2km Junction with track to Birnie Lookout 1.9km Birnie Lookout (117m) 2.6km Track reaches Lovett Bay (turn left for shorter loop) 3.0km Lovetts Bay Wharf (3m) 4.4km Views over Pittwater (informal lookout) 6.5km West Head Road
More information on Birnie Lookout and the Towlers Bay Loop
While some of the trails in this route are not shown any maps, there is a bushwalking track from the Towlers Bay firetrail to Flagstaff Hill / Birnie Lookout and down Lovett Bay. To avoid crossing private property, you need to veer behind the waterfront properties and wharf at Lovetts
- Trove – Ku-ring-gai Chase Trust article describing Flagstaff Hill (Birnie Lookout)
Guide to West Head