My last attempt to reach the small Iron Ladder Beach in Bouddi National Park was a failure: attempting to get to the beach by the most direct route down from the Box Head walking track, I ended up in thick scrub and turned back. This time I’m armed with a sketch map (many thanks to Anthony Dunk) that suggests a more viable route…
The bushwalk starts at the carpark at the end of Hawke Head Drive, and follows the firetrail down towards Box Head and the Box Head walking track.
The trick is to find the bushwalking track that descends to Iron Ladder Beach near the start of the Box Head walking track – the faint track is only 200m from the junction with with the Tallow Beach firetrail.
After a short distance, a small rock outcrop provides a view over Broken Bay to Lion Island, Pearl Beach and West Head.
I’m still expecting a bit of bush-bashing, so I’m relieved that the Iron Ladder Beach track continues to descend gradually down the ridge. The forest changes from the thick scrub that’s typical of this area to a section of grassland with tall trees near the bottom of the valley.
I’m soon just above the water, with a low cliff between me and the ocean.
The way to Iron Ladder Beach is via aslightly suspect piece of timber, which leads to a narrow slot down to the beach.
Iron Ladder Beach is not the most spectacular of beaches, although on a warmer day and at low tide you could enjoy a swim. At high tide there would not be much of a beach left. It’s described by Beachsafe as “at best a 50m long sliver of sand, backed by steep rocks and covered by most high tides”. The beach got it’s name from an iron ladder that at one point provided access down to the water.
I’d originally planned to return the same way, but decided top continue along the coast and up Box Head – which you can only safely do at low tide. Checking the tides times, it’s exactly half-way between low tide and high so hopefully I would make it through if I moved fairly quickly.
About halfway between Iron Ladder Beach and Box Head is a short but treacherous section of coastline that you can’t safely cross at high tide, when the water covers a sloping section of slippery rock. Timing my traverse between waves, I make it across another 30min and I would have had to turn back.
The rest of the rock-hopping along the shore is uneventful, with the sandstone platform now a bit high above the ocean.
Box Head is soon in sight, and I’m on the rough track up to the top of the headland (I’ve done this bit about three years ago, on the Box Head Loop when I came up from Tallow Beach on the opposite side of the headland).
It’s a steep but short climb, with some nice views back across to Lion Island.
At the top is the Box Head Lookout, which provides panoramic views over Broken Bay: Lion Island is to the south-west, with Middle Head to the right and West Head on the left.
The walk back along the Box Head walking track has some of the best views of Bouddi National Park (after Bullimah Spur!) of the Bouddi NP coastline. Directly ahead is Tallow Beach, and beyond it is Putty Beach.
I return the same way back to the car, with the walk taking just under two hours. (You could extend this bushwalk by continuing along the coast around Box Head to Tallow Beach, and taking the firetrail back up.)
I’ve still got just enough time before it gets dark to explore some of the Aboriginal rock art sites and spectacular overhangs around the Flannel Flower walking track.
Getting to Iron Ladder Beach
The walk starts from the end of the unsealed Hawke Head Drive (Killcare) to the north of Sydney – the road is generally OK for 2WD cars with care, but having some clearance or a 4WD is recommended. It’s about a 30min drive from Gosford, an hour from Hornsby or 1:30min from Sydney. From the carpark follow the signs towards Box Head, and look for the track tpo Iron Ladder Beach (it’s not signposted) about 200m after the junction of the Box Head Trail and Tallow Beach firetrail.
For more information on Bouddi National Park including all the bushwalks, picnic areas, beaches and the best lookouts, have a look at the Guide to Bouddi National Park.