I’ve been meaning to do this bushwalk in Marramarra National Park for a long time. According to NPWS “Canoelands Ridge walking track is a beautiful day walk”; the reality is that’s a long walk along a firetrail, before the steep drop to the Gentlemans Halt. Somehow I manage to convince Matt he should join me, so at least I have someone to talk to as we trudge along the 8km or so (each way) of firetrail – although we do explore a few side-trips along the way.
We see one other person as we set-off along Canoelands Ridge from the end of Canoelands Road – and we only see a couple more bushwalkers over the entire day.
It’s not certain where the name Canoelands Ridge comes from, but it was suggested by John Powell (Placenames of the Greater Hawkesbury Region) that the Dharug Aboriginal people obtained bark suitable for making canoes in this area. This is consistent with the reference to scarred trees in George Collingridge’s fascinating book Berowra and the the Unsolved Mystery of its Amazing Ridge, where he writes:
Then, all at once, in the mirific distance, I noticed what looked like ring-barked trees. When I got nearer I found that those trees had been stripped of their bark, in six and seven feet lengths.
However, while scarred trees have been recorded in other areas of Marramarra, there are none along this ridge – so Canoelands Ridge may not be the correct location for the canoe-making trees. We don’t see any scarred trees, but do see an Aboriginal engraving site just below the ridge of a mundoe, or foot.
After the first kilometre there are (very) distant views of the Hawkesbury River (Deerubbin) – and although it’s a bit early for peak wildflower season, there’s some photogenic grevilleas along the firetrail (Hakea bakeriana – thanks Matt!)
As the firetrail continues along Canoelands Ridge, there’s more views of the Hawkesbury River, looking back towards the town of Spencer.
The firetrail then dips below the top of the Canoelands Ridge to the west, with the track a lot more shaded and the temperature dropping a few degrees. Once the trail climbs back to the ridge-top, there are more nice views of the river looking downstream. Almost directly opposite us is the town of Spencer.
There are a couple of “National Varroa Mite Response” boxes” along the trail – in case you’re wondering, Varroa mites (Varroa destructor) are tiny red-brown external parasites of honey bees. Over 650 beehives were destroyed in the Hunter Valley in late 2022, after the Varroa mite was detected in Quarrobolong near Cessnock.
Just before the end of the ridge, there’s some great view again of a long section of the Hawkesbury River.
Down to Gentlemans Halt (and back up)
The firetrail stops before the end of Canoelands Ridge, and a bushwalking track continues to the Gentlemans Halt at the bottom of the ridge. Although it’s a steep descent, it’s nice to leave the monotomy of the firetrail behind. The bushwalking track is initial fairly flat, as it continues along the ridge, with some river views to the east.
It’s not long before the start of the short but very steep descent down the end of the ridge.
Compensating (a little) for the strenuous descent are some of the best Hawkesbury River views of the walk.
The track passes some nice sandstone overhangs, before entering a forested area towards the base of the ridge.
It’s easy walking again for the last 1.5km to Gentlemans Halt, which is through shaded eucalyptus and casuarina forest.
The Gentlemans Halt campground is near the tip of the Canoelands Ridge, with the Hawkesbury River on both sides (but the area to the east between the campground and river is saltmarsh). It’s thought that the name Gentlemans Halt dates back to the exploration of the Hawkesbury River by Governor Arthur Phillip, Captain John Hunter and others in June 1789, who camped “just south of Spencer on the opposite side of the river where a flat rock enabled the party to land and unload their tents and provisions”.
The campground can still be accessed by water as well as the 22km-return bushwalk, and the large grassy areas has a number of fireplaces, picnic tables and a pit toilet.
There’s access to the river at the campground – although it’s a bit muddy and mangrove-y, and not too enticing as a swimming spot. A wide service trail goes south from the campground to concrete steps, which provides access for boats.
We return the same way to the top of the ridge – at low tide it may be possible to continue along the Hawkesbury River to re-joins the Gentlemans Halt track just before the sateep ascent. But it looks like this may involve either wet feet or bushbashing.
A side-to the Hawkebury River Lookout
Once back at the firetrail on the top of Canoelands Ridge, we make the first of a couple of sidetrips, out to the Hawkebury River Lookout. The firetrail follows a spur off the main ridge, and would have been made to allow access to some electricity pylons.
Although the high-tension electricity wires crossing the river mar the view a little, the sweepings views from the Hawkesbury River Lookout are a little better than from along the main Canoelands Ridge Trail.
To the north, you get a good view over the end of the Canoelands Ridge.
In search of the Ivory Trig
The second side-trip is to find a now-abandoned trig station, which is on the top of a small hill next to the firetrail. The first bit is easy, with a service trail taking care of the ascent, up to the base of an electricitry pylon where there’s a view of the river.
It’s then a bush-bash out to the end of the spur, to the slightly-sorry looking Ivory Trig. The concrete column sits next to the remains of the stone cairn from the original trig station.
Back along the Canoelands Ridge Trail
It’s an uneventful walk back along the firetrail, with the late afternoon sun making for some great photos over the Hawkesbury River.
The return bushwalk to Gentlemans Halt is about 21km return; with a few side-trips the total distance we covered was just over 24km. It’s a relatively easy walk, but graded Moderate due to the total distance and the steep descent to Gentlemans Halt campground.
Getting to Canoelands Ridge Trail
The start of the bushwalk is from the end of Canoelands Road, where there is a small carpark next to the locked gate on the Canoelands Ridge Trail. It’s a 30min (28.4km) drive from Galston and 45min (40.5km) from Hornsby in Sydney’s north.
- National Parks (NPWS) – Canoelands Ridge walking track
- George Collingridge’s – Berowra and the the Unsolved Mystery of its Amazing Ridge [PDF]
For more bushwalks (as well as trig stations and indigenous rock art sites) in Marramarra National Park, have a look at the Guide to Marramarra National Park.