McPherson State Forest loop

A loop through the McPherson State Forest on the Airfields Trail, exploring Swintons Cave and some of the rock outcrops along the ridges.

It’s hard to find any information on McPherson Forest, which is near Mangrove Mountain in the Central Coast north of Sydney. While listed on the NSW Forestry Corporation’s full list of forests, it has no dedicated recreation areas (it appears that the network of trails which cross the forest are not recognised as bushwalking trails). In 2018 a portion of the McPherson Forest adjoining Yengo National Park was transferred to the care of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (although the NPWS web site has not information on this either)… one of the reasons for the transfer of part of the forest is to protect its significant Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Within the Warre Warren Aboriginal Area, which is in the McPherson Forest, are hundreds of significant Aboriginal heritage sites. These include the spectacular Swintons Cave, a shelter with over 800 motifs (mostly handprints), which was one of the sites we were looking for on our walk today.


Starting near the end of Kyola Road, we’re taking the Airfields Trail, which runs down to Warre Warren Creek (to become the Warre Warren Trail on the other side).

There still very obvious signs of the 2019/20 bushfires which devastated the area, but also significant re-growth, helped by a very wet summer. What’s not so obvious is the “former airfield”, shown on Google Maps but now completely re-vegetated: it’s somewhere to the left of the track in the image below.


There’s almost no information online of what I believe was an emergency WWII airstrip. After scouring old parish maps, I finally dig out an old 1974 Mangrove 1:25K topographical map which confirms there was really an airfield here. Two intersecting runways, and a hangar right next to the the trail.


We’re continuing along what I believe is the Airfield Trail, past the invisible airstrip, and down towards Warre Warren Creek. The bush appears less burnt as we descend into the valley; large sections of the forest seems to have escaped the fires.

Just before we reach the bottom of the valley and Warre Warren Creek, we reach the junction with another, rough firetrail that goes back up the hill. 

About halfway up, we venture off-track to look for some rock engravings around a prominent rock outcrop. There’s an impressive and weathered rock overhang, with views over the forest below.

From the top there’s views over the rugged McPherson Forest.

But no Aboriginal art, other than a couple of circles, which may be naturally formed.

The trail continues to ascend, before meeting the Airfields Trail again to complete the loop.

The main attraction of this walk was Swinton’s Cave… and there’s a lot more rock and cave art hidden away in the Warre Warren area which I’d like to explore. The bushwalking along the firetrails is not particularly pleasant, and it would be better to go outside summer when it’s less hot.

Start / End points

Junction of Airfields Trail and Kyola Road, Kulnura.
May also be possible to start from Waratah Road, Mangrove Mountain but the access route crosses private property

Distance 13.5km loop.
Grade Moderate. Total 385m ascent.
Season/s All year.
GPS Route Gaia GPS map with option to download GPX / KML file

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