Rediscovering the Waratah Trail (West Head)

The Waratah Trail is one of the longer West Head firetrails; while not the most exciting bushwalk, hidden along its length are a number of Aboriginal engraving sites and lookouts.

I’ve walked the Waratah Trail before – it’s a firetrail I’ve described as fairly dreary, which goes from West Head Road out to the end of a ridge from where there are views of Coal and Candle Creek in the distance. I’m re-exploring the trail, with a view to finding some Aboriginal engravings sites around the trail, and a couple of trig stations…

Setting out on a Sunday afternoon with a few friends on the first of two Waratah Trail forays, we spot a fairly distinct engraving of a shield and boomerang just off the track, not far from the start.

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A bit further away from the Waratah Trail are some interesting rock formations, including a tesselated pavement, but no more engravings!

A bit further on, a faint track heads out southward from the main track, leading to a rock shelf with glimpses of Coal and Candle Creek in the distance. There’s also a couple of grooves in the rock that don’t look natural.

The next off-track excursion, about 2.5km from the start of the track and halfway to our destination, is a large, slopping tesselated rock slab. I’d read a description that there are axe grooves and circles here, and some of the stones bear deep grooves that look like axe-grinding grooves.

We spot another large sandstone platform below, and push on through thick bush and over a series of rock ledges to have a closer look. Overhead, a large swarm of black cockatoos fills the sky with their raucous cry, as we navigate the challenging terrain.

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It’s worth the perilous journey: carved across the rock is an enormous single whale, which was documented by W.D. Campbell in 1899 as being forty one feet in length. Some of the carving is hard to make out – the fin is the most obvious – but the entire outline of the whale can be seen.

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There’s one last, quite large engraving site which is right by the firetrail, but unmarked – which is a shame as it would be great to have some interpretative signage (and to make sure people don’t inadvertently ride their mountain bikes across the carvings).

Also documented by W. D. Campbell, the engravings here include a large whale within which is a man, a man and a purpoise-like figure (Figure 2, below). Nearby sites include a faint carving of an emu (Figure 1) and another large whale (Figure 3).

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I spot the man and the “purpoise”, which at the time I thought was a whale…

Waratah Trig and Paddys Castle

Nearing the end of the Waratah Trail, a bushwalking track leads to Waratah Trig, and a vantage point over Coal and Candle Creek.

To the north is TS4625 WARATAH, a trig station constructed in 1882 by Thomas Charles Swannell, a piling overseer in the Department of Lands, and last inspected in 1973. The post and vanes are missing, but the stone base is in pretty good condition.

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In the distance you can see Yeomans Bay to the right and Cottage Point at the junction of Coal & Candle Creek and Cowan Creek to the left.

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About 150m to the south is a rock formation informally known as Paddy’s Castle (possibly named after Patrick Duffy, an early landowner in the area who also gave Duffy’s Forest its name). There’s a short but easy clamber onto the top of the rock outcrop.

The sweeping views from here and impressive, and better than those from the slightly more elevated Waratah Trig.

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Arden Trig

There’s one more trig station on the way back to the start of the Waratah Track, which proves bit trickier to get to… the easiest way would be to follow the Waratah Track until reaching the ridge that goes up the the trig point (which meets the firetrail around 33°38’12.5″S 151°15’03.3″E). But I decide to take a more direct route straight up the side of the ridge, skirting a few small cliffs and overhangs that are too steep to climb, before reaching the ridge-line.

From the middle of the ridge, there’s already some nice views toward Coal and Candle Creek, and the Akuna Bay marina.

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It’s pretty easy going up the rocky ridge, and the trig station is soon in sight. TS638 ARDEN has been significantly ‘unpiled’, and doesn’t look too good – but unlike many other old trig stations, the views from the trig point are pretty good. About 6km to the south another trig point can be seen, the distinctive Baha’i Temple in Ingleside.

The best views, though, are just before the trig station where there is an rock outcrop that’s clear of trees and offers almost 360-degree views over West Head. Looking out to the east you can see Pittwater and the Barrenjoey Peninsula.

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Heading back down, I follow the ridge all the way back down to the Waratah Trail – which is much easier going than the way up!

I’ve probably spent more time “off track” then on the Waratah Trail – but it’s been a great two afternoons of exploring the area and finding some great lookouts and engraving sites.

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Location First trail on the left, at start of West Head Road
Distance Waratah Trail is 9.5km return. Allow 10-11km with side-trips.
Grade Hard. 200m total elevation gain. Thick scrub & uneven terrain.
Season/s All year. Best to avoid summer if going off-track (snakes)
Map/s 9130-4S Hornsby (1:25K)  Buy / Download

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