Looking for a late afternoon walk on the way home from a meeting in the south of Sydney, I head to Kamay Botany Bay National Park for the Cape Baily Coast Walk. It’s been many years since I last visited, and with warm weather forecast a walk along the coast seems like a good idea. I set off along the Cape Baily Track from the large parking area at the end of Cape Solander Drive.
The Cape Baily Track follows the edge of the Hawkesbury sandstone cliffs, formed around 7,400 years ago by wave action when the sea levels stopped rising. While the idea of a coastal walk on a warm afternoon seemed like a smart idea, there’s no access to the water for swimming anywhere around here!
After one kilometre is the Tabbigai Gap, a deep and narrow sea-inlet also known as a zawn. Signage near here explains how a small community of fishermen constructed houses into the Tabbigai Cliffs between 1920 and 1969. Water was piped into tanks from a natural spring above the cliffs, and a network of paths and steps connected the dwellings. Just before the Tabbigai Gap, the Tabbigai Gap Trail heads directly inland.
I decide to take the Tabbigai Gap Trail, to form a loop (returning along the coast) – although as I soon discover the inland trail is not particularly pleasant walking. The wide service trail heads directly west, away from the ocean, before reaching the boundary of the Caltex Kurnell Terminal. The trail follows the boundary fence for a while, before reaching Sir Joseph Banks Drive.
Keen to avoid walking along the road, I go “off track”, following the boundary of the Sydney Desalination Plant towards the coast- but the thick scrub along the road is too much of a challenge. So I continue walking down Sir Joseph Banks Drive, keeping an eye out for a spot where the bush might be a bit less formidable. After 500m, there’s a sandy firetrail that seems to go in the right direction (although it’s not shown on any of my maps), so I follow this.
The track crosses a large sand dune before reaching a trail that is on my map. Continuing towards the coast, the track gradually becomes less sandy, as it traverses low heathland and coastal grassland. It reaches the coast near Boat Harbour, a small beach and aquatic reserve on the north-eastern side of the Kurnell Peninsula. While there are no permanent houses at Boat Harbour, there is a collection of shacks caravans which are on land owned by the Holt Group (which has mined sand from the Kurnell Peninsula for decades).
At the eastern end of Boat Harbour are some rock overhangs and access to the water, where I go for a quick swim (it’s a bit rocky, but fairly easy to access the ocean).
There are some small cliffs behind the shoreline, and a view over Boat Harbour to Cronulla in the distance.
From here, the Cape Baily Coast Walk (which is also part of the Botany Bay Coastal Walk) follows the coastline, alongside a rusty and disused water pipeline and though low coastal shrubbery.
I follow the edge of the coastline, although the official track goes a bit further inland. There’s a a small and sheltered beach, just before Doughboy Head.
By following the coast, rather than the walking trail, I miss the end of Sir Joseph Banks Drive, where there is a carpark and access to the coastal trail. Easy access means there are a few more people around – until now I haven’t seen anyone since the start of the walk at Cape Solander.
From Doughboy Head I climb up onto Potter Point, a low headland marked by a number of exhaust stacks: Sutherland Shire’s sewage is discharged into the ocean from here (one of the four major treatment plants serving the greater metropolitan area). Boat Harbour has been one of the most polluted beaches in Sydney, although water quality has improved with better sewage treatment. It’s interesting the Sydney water desalination plant is built so close to an sewage effluent outlet, although the desal process removes any bacteria.
With easy access from Sir Joseph Banks Drive, it’s a popular spot for fishing off the rocks.
The Cape Baily Track continues across the headland, with some interesting sandstone formatioms along this section, sculpted by wind and water.
The cliffs get taller and more dramatic as the Cape Baily Track continues northwards. The track is a bit futher back from the cliffs, but you can pick your own path along the rocky platform.
Some sections of the track are steel boardwalk, with the Cape Baily Lighthouse becoming more prominent on the headland.
The Cape Baily Track veers inland for a short distance, through low shrubs that are recovering from a bushfire a few years ago, before it returns to the cliff line. A side-track goes up to the lighthouse: it was built in the 1950s to allow north-bound ships to travel closer to the shore-line and avoid strong southerly currents that are further out to sea.
The track follows the coast pretty closely, with some nice view of the cliffs to the south. A low flying RAAF Hercules plane passes me just above the cliffs – being close to the international airport at Botany, there are a few airplanes above.
Looking back towards the Cape Baily Lighthouse, there are a few menacing clouds and plumes of rain to the south.
There are long sections of steel boardwalk, as the Cape Baily Coast Walk continues hugging the coast. There’s another zawn, where the track diverts around a narrow sea inlet.
The rain seems is getting closer and the sky more dramatic, as I continue northwards.
The track veers even further inland around Blue Hole Gap, another zawn (sea inlet). There’s a mass of flannel flowers along the track, and both sea inlets have had dense bush along the top.
Hoping to beat the rain, I make good to the Tabbigai Gap, where I previously headed inland on the Tabbigai Gap Trail, and back to the carpark at Cape Solander.
(I’m about five minutes too slow to beat the rain, with the rainstorm dumping heavy rain and some hail over Cape Solander as it passes over southern Sydney.)
It’s been a nice walk – although I can’t say that I particularly recommend going inland. If I did this walk again, I’d just follow the coast, returning the same way. Or, take public transport, to do a one-way walk from Kurnell to Cronulla.
0.0km Cape Solander parking area
1.0km Turn onto Tabbigai Gap Track
2.8km Sir Joseph Banks Drive
3.3km Service trail off Sir Joseph Banks Drive
5.2km Service track meets Cape Baily Track
6.3km Potter Point
8.0km Cape Baily Lighthouse
9.3km Blue Hole Gap
10.3km Tabbigai Gap
11.2km Cape Solander