After a quick stop to look at the Maroota Aboriginal engraving site, we take Wisemans Ferry across the Hawkesbury River for a short loop walk that’s focused on more recent European history. The circuit combines Finchs Line (the original Great North Road from Wisemans Ferry to Mount Manning) with a revised route up Devines Hill.
Finchs Line walk
We’re undertaking the circuit in chronological order, starting with the original Finchs Line route, which climbs up from Wisemans Ferry Road about 2km from the ferry. Finchs Line was surveyed in 1825 by the colony’s Assistant Surveyor, Heneage Finch. Construction began three years later in March 1828, by the Number 25 Road Party and part of the Number 3 Iron Gang.
There’s no shortage of interpretative signage along the trail, which explains the Aboriginal and early European history.
The narrow trail ascends fairly gently up the side of the ridge: it’s thought to follow an Aboriginal travelling route, with the local Aboriginal people having deliberately diverted the European road surveyors away from their sacred sites.
After about 600m, the trail gets much steeper as it starts zig-zagging up the ridge towards the top of the hill. It’s this section that resulted in Governor Darling determining that the route was too steep, winding and perilous: he demanded a new route be surveyed, and work on Finchs Line was abandoned in January 1829. The middle section of Finchs Line was not completed, but enough work was done for it be used while a new road was built.
Just before reaching the top of the hill, the trail swings around the hill, and there are some nice views to the east over Roses Creek and into rugged Dharug National Park.
Once the trail reaches the end of the long hill, it continues along the top of the ridge. There are some great views over the Hawkesbury River from a rock platform on the ridge-top: very romantic and beautiful views of the river winding along between immense rock mountains covered with wood, and relieved by small patches of low land in cultivation with white cottages and farm buildings (Sarah, 1833).
You can clearly see the two car ferries operating across the Hawkesbury, which winds around Wisemans Ferry, and the McDonald River flowing into it from the north.
Although construction was started from both ends, the trail is now wider and feels more like a road. A pile of roughly hewn rocks lies abandoned next to the trail.
A bit further on, an informal side-track leads to another vantage point on the edge of the steep cliffs, looking almost directly over the Hawkesbury River and the car ferry.
Another detour, this time off-track, takes us up to an old trig station. Described as being in “fantastic condition”, the Wiseman trig station (TS5643 WISEMAN) is still intact, but looks like it got a bit singed in the 2019/20 bushfires.
It’s easy walking as we continue along Finchs Line, which follows the ridge. There’s evidence of the bushfires from a year ago, but also signs of regeneration, and the track is fairly well shaded by the tall forest.
Old Great North Road (Devines Hill)
After 5.7km (about halfway, if you ignore our occasional detours), we reach a junction with the Old Great North Road. This is the new Devines Hill section, which was completed in 1832, taking three years to build after the Finchs Line route was abandoned. The Old Great North Road (OGNR) continues for 39km past Ten Mile Hollow up to Mount Manning, near Bucketty, where it meets Wollombi Road.
The road also descends 1.8km down to Wisemans Ferry, which marks the start (or end) of the Old Great North Road, as the Devines Hill section. (The entire section of road from Wisemans Ferry to Mount Manning is called the Old Great North Road, as it’s the most intact section of the original road, which remains undeveloped. The first 7km from Wisemans Ferry is UNESCO World Heritage-listed.)
In stark contrast to Finchs Line, the Devines Hill section of the Old Great North Road is much wider, the incline more gentle and the level of construction (considering this was all done by hand) far more impressive.
A very short side-track leads to the site of a stockade, used to house the “more troublesome convicts”. (As well as a Convict Road app – see Info box at bottom – there’s constant interpretative signage along this section of the road.)
A little further is the Hangmans Cave: legend has it that convicts were hanged through the hole in the roof of the cave. In reality this is not likely to have occurred, and it’s uncertain what purpose the cave has, with it’s stone steps and bench seat cut into the sandstone.
Towards the bottom of the Devines Hill section, the amount of engineering that went into the Old Great North Road is more evident. The buttressed retaining walls are up to nine metres in height, and there’s an elaborate drainage system. It’s even more impressive considering that the 600kg sandstone blocks were hewn from the nearby cliffs by hand, before being hand carted and placed by over 550 convicts.
There’s some views through the trees over Hawkesbury River, before the well-signposted start/end of the Convict Trail on Wisemans Ferry Road,
0.0km Start of Finchs Line trail (Wisemans Ferry Road) 2.3km Lookout over Hawkesbury River 3.8km Turn off Finchs Line trail for Trig Station [250m detour] 5.5km Junction with Old Great North Road / Devines Hill section 6.3km Stockade Site 6.8km Hangmans Cave (aka Hangmans Rock) 7.9km Start of Devine Hill / Convict Trail (Wisemans Ferry Road) 10.4km Start of Finchs Line trail - walk along Wisemans Ferry Road