If you want solitude… avoid this walk! Or at least, try and avoid weekends. I’m here on a Friday evening, and while it wasn’t crowded, there were still a few people around. Which is not surprising, as there’s not many other walks so close to Sydney that offer such great view for relatively little effort! The walk starts at the very end of the Palm Beach car park, with a walk along Station Beach (the more sheltered Pittwater side of the peninsula).
Near the end of the beach, signage shows the start of the path up to the top of the headland and the lighthouse. Near the bottom of the track are two options: Smugglers Track, a steeper but shorter foot-track, and the Access Trail.
I head up the Smugglers Track, which got its name from customs officers who built the steep track in the 19th century to look for any smugglers that were bringing contraband into Broken Bay. It doesn’t take long before the first views looking back to the south, over the Barrenjoey Peninsula. (Originally spelt “Barrenjuee” by Governor Phillip in 1788, the word comes from the Aboriginal name for a small wallaby.)
Towards the top of the track, there’s also a view to the west over Pittwater and West Head on the opposite side.
At the top of the trail and just below the Lighthouse is a magnificent view over the Barrenjoey Peninsula, with the Pacific Ocean to the left and Pittwater to the right. In the distance is Bangalley Head, near Whale Beach.
At the top of the headland at 91m above sea level is the Barrenjoey Lighthouse, built in 1881 from sandstone quarried on site. The heritage-listed lighthouse, oil room and keepers’ cottages remain unpainted in the original stone finish. After multiple shipwrecks in the area, the first official lighthouse began operating in 1868 from two wooden buildings called the Stewart Towers. It was recommened by Francis Hixson (President of the Marine Board of NSW) in 1872 that a single permanent lighthouse replace the temporary Stewart Towers. Construction of the current lighthouse started in April 1880 and was completed the following year. The lighthouse was converted to electric operation in 1932 and automated in 1972, when the the lightkeepers were no longer needed and were finally withdrawn.
Near the base of the lighthouse on the northern side os the Gledhill Lookout; there’s a brass plaque showing distant landmarks and information on the whales which make their way past Barrenjoey Head.
A rough path goes a short distance to the edge of the cliff, where there’s unobstructed view across Broken Bay, with Lion Island to the left.
Straight ahead is Umina Beach, and to the right is Bouddi National Park.
Another rough track leads down from the lighthouse to the grave of George Mulhall, the first lighthouse keeper (from 1881 to 1885). Folklore says that George Mulhall was killed by lightning, with Tales from Barranjoey written by Jervis Sparks (the lighthouse ‘historian’) alleging: “On a stormy night in June, 1885, George Mulhall venturing out for more firewood, was struck down by a tremendous bolt of lightning, and as the journalism of that day recorded, was burnt to a cinder.” The death certificate stated that he actually died from a stroke after 3 days of illness. His son, George Junior, succeeded him as the the second lighthouse keeper (from 1881-1891) and was struck by lightening, which resulted in a badly burnt arm.
The track continues to the end of the headland, with more great views over the Barrenjoey Peninsula.
Numerous Aboriginal heritage sites have been recorded on the Barrenjoey Headland, including three listed Aboriginal archaeological sites, two middens and a cave. A group of three fading fish engravings, all showing two eyes, enjoys fine water views.
From the easternmost tip of Barrenjoey Head, there’s a precipitous drop to the ocean and many weathered sandstone formations on the rocky headland.
We return the same way to the lighthouse, and then descend down the Access Trail. A short scramble up from the trail through the bush is needed to reach TS7220 BARRENJOEY, a trig station that’s missing its vane (it was damaged in the 2013 bushfires). At 104m above sea level, the trig is 13m higher than the base of the lighthouse – and was the site of one of the original ‘Stewart Towers’ lighthouse. (It’s just one of hundred of old trig stations hidden around Sydney…)
Although the service trail is, as the name suggests, a service road for maintenance and NPWS vehicles, it’s a pleasant walk with views ahead of us over Pittwater…
…and behind us back up to to the lighthouse.
I make one last off-track scramble to look at a potential Aboriginal engraving site; not finding any engravings, but enjoying more views over both Barrenjoey Peninsula to the south, and Lion Island to the north.
I also spot a nice cluster of flannel flowers (Actinotus helianthi), which flourish in this area. One my favourite native flowers, they derive their name from the soft woolly feel of the plant.
With the sun starting to get set, we continue down the Access Trail, which offer more nice views to the south and west.
It’s only towards the end of the track that it descends back into taller forest, leaving just some filtered views of the water until we reach Station Beach again.
It’s not exactly a challenging walk – but an enjoyable loop which I haven’t done for many years. There’s not much evidence left of the 2013 fires, when 80 firefighters and three helicopters managed to contain a fire that swept across the Barrenjoey Headland and threatened the lighthouse. While I normally avoid service trails, both the Smugglers Track and the Access Trail offer slightly different perspectives, and it’s worth doing a loop using both tracks.
0.0km End of Palm Beach carpark (walka along Station Beach) 0.4km Start of walking tracks up to Barrenjoey Head 0.5km Turn onto Smugglers Track 0.9km Barrenjoey Lighthouse 1.5km Eastern end of Barrenjoey Head 1.9km Start of Access Trail 2.6km Bottom of Access Trail 3.0km Back to Palm Beach carpark