I recently discovered the Mackerel and Basin Loop in a “Walk my World” blog post , which described a route down to The Basin and the onto Currawong Beach. Connecting the Mackerel Track and Basin Track forms a loop bushwalk, with an off-track section along the coastline between The Basin and Currawong Beach. (A similar but longer bushwalk – the Bairne to Basin Circuit – connects the Bairne Track and Basin Track, but requires a section of walking along West Head Road to close the loop). The downside of both these loop walks is that the Basin Trail is the dreariest walk in West Head. It’s a firetrail used by NPWS vehicles to service the Basin campground, with the first section muddy after rain, and the last (steep) section a concreted road.
Near the start of the Basin Track is the Basin Aboriginal Site, which has 53 engravings and interpretative signage. It’s one of 25 Aboriginal engraving sites along the Basin and Mackerel Tracks – although only this one is signposted.
Down the Mackerel Track
A couple of hundred metres after the Aboriginal engraving site, we reach the junction with the Mackerel Track. You can do the loop in either direction, but being keen to get off the Basin Track, we turn left down the Mackerel Track. Although it starts as a firetrail, it’s a much nicer trail, with occasional glimpses of the ocean in the distance.
We make a brief detour along the Mackerel and Basin Loop to look at the Great Mackerel Shelter, a cave with many Aboriginal hand prints, and a drawings including a boomerang.
The Mackerel Track gradually narrows and gets more shaded. Below the Mackerel Track are some enormous towering cliffs and weathered overhangs, which we briefly explore. (There are more red ochre handprints along these high shelters.)
The Basin Track firetrail ends at an informal lookout, from where there are great views over Great Mackerel Beach to the north – which is almost below us – and across to Barrenjoey Peninsula and Barrenjoey Head.
While we’ve reached the end of the firetrail, a bushwalking track continues along the end of the ridge. It’s marked by red reflectors, and is a fairly obvious trail.
From a large boulder at the end of the ridge, there’s a view to the south of Currawong Beach, which we’re heading towards.
The track then descends fairly steeply, reaching a junction about half-way down: left to Great Mackerel Beach, or right to Currawong Beach and The Basin. The sign has a reminder that access to The Basin is at low tide only, which we knew (low tide was about an hour ago).
The track continues to descend, a bit less steeply now, through semi-rainforest to reach the end of Currawong Beach at the bottom.
Currawong Beach to The Basin
At the northern end of Currawong Beach is the remains of what I believe was a concrete dam, where a small creek meets the beach.
The quiet and secluded Currawong Beach was named by Traveller as one Sydney’s best “hidden” beaches in Best beaches without crowds: 18 of Australia’s best hidden beaches. As it can only be reached by boat (including an infrequent ferry from Palm Beach) and of course by foot via the Mackerel Track, it never gets very busy.
Currawong also has a fascinating early European history.
- Originally known as Little Mackerel Beach, land at Currawong was first granted in 1836 to Martin Burke, an Irish settler. He then leased it to Patrick Flynn (an ex-convict). The land was used for farming.
- Currawong changed hands a few times between 1854 and 1910, when it was purchased by Dr Bernard Stiles of Newtown. The Stiles family kept turkeys and cows, supplying fresh milk, butter, eggs and groceries to residents of nearby Great Mackerel Beach.
- After the original homestead burnt down, Stiles built a new homestead in 1917 as well as two additional buildings. These still stand today.
- Between 1942 and 1944 all of the land at Currawong was sold to the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company, who planned to build a picnic ground and shark-proof enclosure, as part of a larger tourism venture.
- By the late 1940s the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company suffered an economic downturn, and was forced to sell off many of its assets, including its holding at Currawong.
- In 1949, J. D. (Jim) Kenny – a prominent NSW unionist and also a board member of the steamship company – negotiated the purchase of the Currawong estate from the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Co Ltd for £10,000. The land was to be used for low-cost holiday accommodation for union members after two-week paid annual leave was introduced in 1944. Between 1949 and 1953 ten cabins were constructed.
- After operating for almost 60 years as a union workers’ holiday camp, in 2006 the NSW Labour Council announced plans to sell Currawong, and despite public outcry in 2007 it was sold to Eco Villages P/L for $15m who plans to redevelop the property with 25 new residences.
- After multiple development applications were rejected, in 2011 Currawong was acquired by the NSW State Government for $12.2m, and Pittwater Council (now Northern Beaches Council) was appointed to manage the site.
That’s the long version of Currawong’s history. The short(er) version is that after being farmed for over 100 years, the land at Currawong was used for a union workers’ holiday camp. It is the only remaining workers holiday camp across Australia that was consistently in use for 60 years, and as a result is now listed on the State Heritage Register as “an intact remaining example of a mid-twentieth century, union-organised workers’ holiday camp in NSW, designed for workers ‘to get away from crowded industrial areas and enjoy places normally frequented by richer people’ (Sydney Morning Herald 30/12/1947, p3).
Currawong Beach to The Basin
From Currawong Beach, it’s an off-track route from the end of the beach along the foreshore. It’s now about an hour after low tide, and it’s recommended that this section be done within a couple of hours of low tide.
It’s slow going with lots of scrambling over and around the boulders along the coastline. But so far we’ve kept our feet dry!
There’s also many interesting rock formations along the coastline, including “Elephant Rock” that juts 8 feet into the air.
About two-thirds of the way along this section there’s a small sandy beach: you can see the Currawong Beach jetty where we’ve come from, and Barrenjoey Head in the distance.
As we round the headland, there’s a broad rock platform that’s pretty slippery, but still well above the water.
Back up via the Basin Track
The Basin is fairly quiet; it can get very busy in the summer months, especially on weekends. Today there’s just one tent in the Basin Campground. And lot of (plump) wallabies enjoying the large, tent-free grassy expanse.
It’s a boring but easy walk up the Basin Track, which is concreted for the first few hundred metres. (I have since been told about an informal bushwalking trail that provides an alternate route down to The Basin – this would make the Mackerel and Basin Loop a much more enjoyable bushwalk!)
There’s one last Aboriginal engraving next to the Basin Track which we look at on the Mackerel and Basin Loop – an enormous speared shark.
The Mackerel and Basin Loop has been a pleasant circuit – and would make a good introduction to off-track walking at West Head. But, it’s marred a little by having to walk up the Basin Track, which is more of a road than a trail. I’d still put the Resolute Loop above this bushwalk, or if you want something a little more adventurous try the Flint and Steel Loop.
0.0km Basin Track carpark 0.4km Basin Aboriginal Site 0.6km Turn left onto Mackerel Track 2.1km Lookout at end of Mackerel Track 2.9km Currawong Beach 4.2km The Basin 6.2km Junction with Mackerel Track 6.7km Basin Track carpark
Staying at Currawong Beach or The Basin
You can book one of the cottages at Currawong, with pricing based on the cabin and time of year. Book online via the Northern Beaches Council “Currawong” site. You’ll need to bring your own food, but you can hire linen.
Alternatively, you can camp at The Basin (the only campground at West Head) – try and avoid the weekends in summer if you want to avoid the crowds! Book on-line via the National Parks (NPWS) web site.