I’ve walked to both Flint and Steel Bay and Flint and Steel Beach many times (the beach is one of my favourite swimming spots) – but never completed the Flint and Steel Loop around the headland. So a hot and sunny Sunday afternoon presents the perfect opportunity for this short West Head walk, with a swim at the end before the climb back up. The walk starts near the end of West Head Road, with a carpark that’s often full on weekends. Starting after 4pm means you’ll avoid most of the crowds.
It’s only about 300m down to where the path splits into two: the left-hand fork goes down to the bay, and the beach is to the right.
You can do the Flint and Steel Loop in either direction, but I take the left-hand trail towards Flint and Steel Bay, so I can enjoy a swim at the beach on the way back (you can also swim at the bay, but it’s not as nice). Unlike the well-trodden path to the beach, this track to the bay is a bit overgrown, and not the most pleasant walking (especially on a hot day).
Just before reaching the coast, the track passes the remains of the McGaw House (although not much remains except some well-built sandstone foundations). The history is fascinating and documented by an archaeological student in a detailed report: the house was built by Eardley Henderson (ER) McGaw from 1920-65, and while the land was reclaimed as part of Ku-ring-gai National Park in 1939, the McGaws were permitted to stay.
It wasn’t until 1968 that the NPWS requested that all structures be removed. There was an application to include the house in the Register of Historic Buildings, which the NPWS reluctantly agreed to – but in 1971 the house was destroyed by a fire. According to the report, there is a spring behind the house with fresh water, but I’ve never been able to find this and suspect it has dried up.
The secluded and generally quiet Whitehorse Beach is a little bit further along the coast to the south. You can also “rock hop” further along the coast, all the way to Hungry Beach (low tide is best for this adventure). For the Flint and Steel Loop, the trick is to find a faint path near the front of the McGaw ruins, which continues along the coast in the opposite direction to Whitehorse Beach.
There’s another small beach just below the track, which can be reached via a short scramble down from the Flint and Steel Loop track.
It’s a rocky beach that’s not great for swimning, but has some interesting eroded sandstone rocks and nice views over Flint and Steel Bay and the Hawkesbury River.
To the south – looking up the Hawkesbury River – is Hungry Beach (the small sliver of white sand), and beyond that the headland jutting out is Challenger Head.
After passing a small gully with ferns and cabbage palms, there’s another small and rocky beach, and more natural sandstone sculptures.
There’s a rough track that follows the coast, staying very close to the shoreline. Low tide is best for this walk, but you could do it at at high tide (although there are a few sections where it’s easier to walk along the rocks).
As the Flint and Steel Loop track gets closer to the end of the headland, it swings to the east and provides a different perspective over the Hawkesbury River.
Directly north is on the opposite side of the river is Patonga; to the left is Pacific Head and Walker Point, and then Little Patonga Beach to the left.
The track drops down to a wide rock platform at Flint and Steel Point, at the end of the headland. A small rock cairn marks the very rough trail from the rocks.
From Flint and Steel Point, there’s a view over the Hawkesbury River to Patonga and Lion Island; behind Lion Island is Box Head (a headland at the end of Bouddi National Park).
It’s a nice beach, which never gets too busy – late on a Sunday afternoon there’s only a handful of people left. Behind the wide and fairly sheltered beach is a grassy hill, and there’s a good chance you’ll see a swamp wallaby on the beach at dawn or dusk (in the day, they shelter in the tall grass).
From the beach it’s back up the hill, with filtered views of the beach through the shaded eucalypt forest.
There’s some more views over the Hawkesbury River and Lion Island on the walk as it ascends the ridge.
Just before the Flint and Steel Loop track reaches the junction with the Flint and Steel Bay track, there’s a dense patch of cabbage-tree palms; at certain times of the year you’ll hear a noisy flock of cockatoos feasting on the fruits of the taller trees. (The cabbage-tree palm was called “Dtharowal” by the local Aboriginal people, and was as useful plant as new tree growth could be cooked or eaten raw, the heart of the trunk could be cooked as a medicine to ease a sore throat and the leaves were used for shelter and fibres for string, rope and fishing lines.)
From the junction of the Bay and Beach track, it’s only ten minutes back to the carpark. The Flint and Steel Loop feels like a much longer walk than it actually is; you could walk this in under an hour, but allow a couple of hours to enjoy the scenery and a swim.
0.0km Flint and Steel Bay carpark 0.3km Veer left onto Flint and Steel Bay tracks 0.7km McGaw House ruins 1.7km Flint and Steel Point 2.5km Junction with Flint and Steel Bay track 2.8km Carpark
More information on Flint and Steel Loop bushwalk
Guide to West Head