Glow Worm Tunnel via Pagoda Track

One of the shorter access routes to the Glow Worm Tunnel, passing through the spectacular pagoda-like rock formations on the way.

It’s been over three years since my last visit to the Glow Worm Tunnel, which I hiked with friends via the much longer track from Newnes after camping nearby. This time it’s a day-trip I’m leading with our local Cub pack, reaching the Glow Worm Tunnel via the shorter Old Coach Road and Pagoda Track.

At the the car park on Old Coach Road, there’s a log book. It’s a good time to explain to the Cubs that map-reading skills are important to make sure you’re at the right starting point! As one of the entries shows, there is an alternate carpark at the end of Glow Worm Tunnel Road, which is even closer to the tunnel than our start point.

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The walking track is the continuation of Old Coach Road, which is closed to traffic as is descends into the valley. There aren’t many flowers along the track even though it’s Spring – but the wattles are out in force!

After less than 500m there’s views from the track of the surrounding  pagodas, and

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A bit further on, and the pagodas are on both sides of the track, proving too much of a temptation for the Cubs!

The pagodas are the result of vertical cracks forming in a very thick layer of sandstone, which break along these joints into roughly rectangular blocks. Water erodes the rock more quickly than in the centre of the sandstone blocks, so the top of each block becomes a dome shape. Differences in the texture of the sandstone causes some layers to wear more quickly than others, generating the terraced appearance of the domes.

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It’s a pretty spectacular landscape!

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It’s pretty impressive from above too…

We finally drag the Cubs away from their Pagoda rock-climbing and continue down Old Coach Road. The road continues descending, passing a gate as it nears the bottom of the valley.

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Just after the gate, Old Coach Road joins the Pagoda Track, a narrower bush track. There’s a few huge caves and overhangs, and a hollowed-out tree that provides some more distractions for the Cubs as we descend the last section of track to the bottom of the valley. After about one kilometre the Pagoda Track meets the shorter track that leads from the carpark at the end of Glow Worm Tunnel Road, which is the shortest route to the tunnel.

The landscape changes along the valley floor, with towering eucalypts, ferns and patches or rainforest as we neat the tunnel entrance.

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Finally we arrive at the Glow Worm Tunnel entrance, half-hidden by ferns, and put on our head-torches for the last part of our walk through the tunnel.

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We all see the glow-worms once our torches are off, and our eyes adjust to the dark. The tunnel is quite busy today – and the Cubs were much more impressed with climbing the rock pagodas on the way down than the tunnel itself!

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We make our way back the same way, for a late BBQ lunch at the car park. The tunnel itself was much busier than my last visit, with most people accessing it via the Glow Worm Tunnel car park (1km), rather then the 3km route from the carpark at Old Coach Route. It’s also disappointing to see quite a few people behaving like dickheads – bringing their dog (which is prohibited in national parks, and clearly stated on the signs) and one person even smoking a cigarette as they walked through the tunnel. If you can, visit during the week or get here early.

Location Access from the top – as described above
Leave the Bells Line of Road at Clarence (Zig Zag Railway), and follow the gravel road through Newnes State Forest for 34kms. 

  • Park at the Glow Worm Tunnel parking area (1km each way) located 3km past the junction of the Glow Worm Tunnel Road and the Old Coach Road
  • Continue down Old Coach Road to the carpark (3km each way). This is what we did. Note: if using Google Maps, the carpark is not marked, but is at the intersection of Old Coach Road and the Tigersnake Canyon Track (-33.246764, 150.236225)

Access from the bottom (long walk) – refer previous blog post
Newnes is situated at the end of Wolgan Road, accessed via a turnoff from the Castlereagh Highway. (Head west from Lithgow for about 11km to a junction leading to Mudgee, then right onto the Castlereagh Highway; from here it’s another 5min until you reach Wolgan Road on your right).

Distance 6.8km return as walked
Grade Easy (215m ascent)
Season/s All year round
Maps
  • 89314S Ben Bullen (walk is well sign-posted)
  • Zig Zag Public School students created a cool guide to the Glow Worm Tunnel walks – download PDF
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Notes
  • Bring torches (ideally a head torch) for the tunnel – but don’t shine the light onto the glow worms (and switch off torches to see the worms!)
  • To take photos, you’ll obviously need a tripod (try an exposure of 30sec / F4 at ISO1250 to capture the glow worms)
Map-GlowWormTunnel
Map showing route taken (Glow Worm Tunnel via Old Coach Road and Pagoda Track)

Bulcamatta Falls Track (Burralow Creek)

Bulcamatta Falls Track is a short and shaded walk from the Burralow Creek camping ground, to a small grotto and waterfall. 

A last minute decision to go camping on a rather damp long weekend sees us arriving at Burralow Creek camping ground on Saturday afternoon. We’re hoping the recent rain might mean it’s not too crowded… the reality is that while there’s still a few spots left in the large, grassy area, it’s pretty busy. I guess being less than two hours from Sydney, it’s going to be busy on any long weekend, even in the middle of winter. It’s a good lesson: don’t leave home on a long weekend!

We find a spot that’s not too close to anyone, and set-up camp. We’ll come back here on a “normal” weekend, as it’s a very nice campground – and even on a winter weekend the weather is pretty mild (a degree or two colder than Sydney).

On the following day, after a leisurely start (the kids cook us bacon & egg rolls), we set out to find the “short walk to a waterfall”. The start of the walk is not marked, but is fairly easy to find. on the western side of the camping ground. Shortly after the metal gate at the start, the track crosses the creek on a dubious “bridge” of logs. Here there is a sign.

The track is very flat – it’s easy walking – as it follows the alluvial flats through tall forest, not far from Burralow Creek. After about 500m there’s a pit constructed from sandstone blocks that’s part of an old settlement. Early settlers thought the swampy area would be suitable for irrigated agriculture: Burralow Creek camping ground is the site of the first rice farm in Australia!  A short side track leads to an impressive termite mound, and a little further there’s a a natural stone grotto and a natural stone grotto.

The track then follows a smaller side-creek through sections of fern and  increasingly moist vegetation.

After about 1.5km a narrow and shaded gorge is reached, in an area of temperate rainforest (coachwood, sassafras, cedar wattle and umbrella ferns).

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At the head of the grotto and surrounded by ferns is the picturesque small waterfall that we’ve set out to visit! We’re told that glow worms can be seen near the waterfall at night – so we’ll try the walk at night next time!

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It’s back the same way – a very pleasant and easy walk with lots to see. (Next visit, we’ll try the slightly harder track to Burralow Creek, which descends steeply to the valley.)

Location Walk starts at the western side of Burralow Creek campground (the campground is reached via Bells Line of Road near Kurrajong (take Warks Hill Road and then Burralow Road). 4WD/AWD required.
Distance 3km return walk
Grade Easy. Total elevation 20m
Season/s All year. Campground very busy on long weekends / school holidays
Maps Kurranjong 9030-4N (1:25,000). Track is not shown on the map.
GPS Route Google GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources National Parks Burralow Creek campground web page

Drawing Room Rocks

Drawing Room Rocks is a natural rock feature near Berry on the edge of the Illawarra escarpment, offering extensive views over Kangaroo Valley and Berry.

The walk to Drawing Room Rocks (in the Barren Grounds Nature Reserve) is relatively short – and offers a lot of reward for relatively little effort, with sweeping views over the mountains to the south and the ocean to the east. Of the shorter walks in the area, I’d argue Drawing Room Rocks is one of the best walks in the Shoalhaven area! Apparently the walk is not actively promoted due to “access and safety concerns”, although it’s the first in my “Best Walks of the Shoalhaven” book and is in walking distance of our accommodation on the outskirts of Berry.

While my hiking book (and a number of Web sites) state the walk is 4.5km return, part of this distance includes a section of unsealed road that is open to traffic. Parking is limited near the trackhead, but there was ample parking on the Easter weekend when I visited. From the start of the walking track, it’s only 1.4km to the Drawing Room Rocks plateau.

 

 

The well-worn track rises constantly but is never very steep, as the track goes from semi-rainforest to more open eucalypt forest. About half-way up there are a couple of indistinct tracks to the left and right, that provide  the first views to the east and west.

 

 

As the track nears the top, it passes a section of thick banksia scrub, with exposed roots in the sandy soil. The last section of track goes through thick hakea and tea trees, before ending at Drawing Room Rocks.

 

 

The track abruptly ends at a wide rock platform, from which there are sweeping views east to the ocean and west towards Kangaroo Valley. Directly ahead (below) is Broughton Head,  a long, cliff-lined sandstone mesa that’s part of the Rodway Nature Reserve.

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A short distance away at the edge of the rock platform are the features that give Drawing Room Rocks their name – the result of weathering that give the rocks an appearance of flat table tops and chairs. The softer Hawkesbury sandstone has been eroded by wind and rain, while the broad tops which consist of a harder and more resistant mineral layer have remained.

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When I arrive, about an hour before sunset, I’ve got the rock platform almost to myself There’s just Richard and Amy, also keen photographers, who share the view with me as the sun begins to set.

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Shortly before dark, a small throng of people arrive: Drawing Room Rocks is clearly a popular spot for locals. There’s wine, beers and more cheese than the local deli laid out on the rocks, as people settle in to watch the sun set. And it’s hard to think of a better spot to be!

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I head back just after sunset – I’ve got a torch but the track is uneven. And dinner is waiting… It’s a quick 20min walk back down to the car and an even quicker drive to my accommodation for the weekend at Drawing Rooms of Berry.

Location Take Brogers Creek Road (7km north of Berry) and then after 100m turn right into an unsealed road. The trackhead is signposted at the end of this road, next to a gate that leads to a private residence. There’s some parking spots just before the track.
Distance 2.8km return from the start of the walking track.
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain 190m.
Season/s All year. Great vantage point for sunrise or sunset.
Maps Kangaroo Valley 9028-4S
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Best Walks of the Shoalhaven” book, p.12

Fitzroy Falls East to West Rim

Fitzroy Falls East to West Rim is one of the shorter but more scenic walks in Kangaroo Valley. The full walk traverses the east and west rims of the Yarrunga Creek gorge, with spectacular views over the valley and of Fitzroy Falls from both escarpments.

If you’ve got two cars – or you can get dropped off at one end as I was – you can do the “east rim” of the Fitzroy Falls as a one-way walk. Which I’d recommend, as the east rim of Fitzroy Falls is definitely the less spectacular side. The start of the walk is not particularly easy to find as doing the east rim as a one-way walk is not recommended, but there is 4WD track from Nowra Road that joins the East Rim track (it’s about 300m from the main road).

From here there is a well-marked track that follows the top of the escarpment, with a number of lookouts over the Yarrunga Creek gorge. The first lookout, Yarrunga Lookout, offers broad views over Morton National Park to the south-west, with Mt Carrialoo and the more rounded Mt Moollattoo to the left and Bundanoon in the distance. To the other direction (looking north-east) is Fitzroy Falls, which is at the end of the Yarrunga Creek gorge – but is not yet visible!

A bit further along the track is Valley View Lookout, with views over the Yarrunga Creek gorge again.

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The next viewpoint is the Lamond Lookout, which offers similar views over the valley. Shortly after this lookout is the Warrawong Lookout, and the start of the Janet Cosh Wildflower Walk (named in honour of a local plant collector). I’ve walked 2.5km from the start of the walk, with another 1.2k to the Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre. As well as a view over the narrowing gorge, there’s the first sighting of Fitzroy Falls, at the head of the valley.

 

The walk so far has been through eucalypt forest and fairly flat, as it closely follows the edge of the escarpment. So it’s a pleasant change when it drops into the lush Ferny Gully, passing a stand of tree ferns below a tall rainforest canopy, and crossing a couple of small creeks.

The last lookout before the end of the east rim trail is the May Lookout, perched over the edge of the gorge.

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Shortly after this last East Rim lookout, the track crosses Yarrunga Creek, and becomes the West Rim track. A short distance from here is the Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre, which has lots of information on the areas and a cafe. The West Rim is far more impressive than the East Rim, and would be the best option if you haven’t got time for the full walk. It’s also much more trafficked, and not so pleasant on a busy Easter weekend!

Heading west along the track, which is now more a boardwalk than a bushwalk, the first lookout is reached after 200m.

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Cantilevered 80m above the valley floor, the metal platform provides a view to the base of the falls as well as down the length of the Yarrunga Creek valley.

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A couple of hundred metres further, Jersey Lookout provides a view back to the head of the valley and to Fitzroy Falls, with part of the lower falls visible.

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A gradual uphill section leads to the next viewpoint, Richardson Lookout.

There’s a couple more viewpoints, before the track crosses a side-creek, just before The Grotto. Even with the Easter crowds, this section of the walk is fantastic – it would be even better on a day with no-else around!

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A  short detour off the main track is The Grotto, an overhang with coachwood and water gums in front of a small cascade. Despite it being a busy day, I have the serene grotto to myself for a few minutes.

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Fitzroy Falls to The Grotto is the most scenic section of the walk; continuing another 900m takes you past Starkeys Lookout and to the final viewpoint, Renown Lookout. The last view points

From here, it’s back the same way to the Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre; if you’re doing a car shuffle you can save about 500m by finishing on a fire trail near Glen Road (but it’s hardly worth it). It’s an easy but nice walk, especially after heavy rain when Fitzroy Falls is in full swing!

Location Start at Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre or at the end of the East Rim track, on Nowra Road (Kangaroo Valley, about 3 hours south-west of Sydney)
Distance 8.1km in total (East Rim one-way and West Rim as a return walk)
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain 270m
Season/s All year. Falls more impressive after heavy rain.
Maps Kangaroo Valley 9028-4S
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Best Walks of the Shoalhaven” book, p.72 (Walk 14)
fitzroy_falls_area_map
Map showing East and West Rim trails, Fitzroy Falls

Piles Creek Loop (Brisbane Water NP)

A varied track through a valley and along ridges in Brisbane Water National Park, combining the longer Piles Creek Loop and short Girrakool Loop tracks. 

Today’s walk is to check out a potential route for the 2nd Gordon Cub pack; we’ll be staying at the nearby Kariong Scout Camp. There is a link track that joins the Piles Creek Loop track.

I’ve started at the Girakool Picnic Area, which is a really nice spot, with free gas barbecues and running water. The various tracks are well sign-posted, as I set off down the Girrakool Loop track (which starts off as a paved track that is almost wheelchair-accessible).

The first lookout, Broula Lookout, is reached after less than five minutes from the car park, with a view across the valley. Shortly after this is Illoura Lookout, meaning “creek in a gully”. From here you can see a nice pool formed by Piles Creek.

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The lookout is also the junction of the much shorter Girrakool Loop and longer Piles Creek track; I continue to the left along the Piles Loop track. The trail crosses Pile Creek along a natural causeway with stepping stones just above the falls.

From here the track follows the top of the ridge above the valley formed by Piles Creek. It’s a pleasant combination of eucalpyt forest and is mostly in the shade, with some deep overhangs in the sandstone cliffs.

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After 1.4km I reach the (sign-posted) turn-off to Kariong Camp Scout, which you would normally ignore… as I’m on a reconnaissance mission for our upcoming Cub camp, I take this track which climbs gently up to the Scout property (it adds about 800m each way to the Piles Creek Loop).

Just after this turn-off is another (unnamed) lookout over the valley and the cliffs on the other side.

The track continues along the top of the valley, passing a large and weathered rock that I suspect will require an extended stop as the Cubs use it for some parkour practice (reminder: pack first aid kit!).

After about 3.5km (or 1.8km without the Scout Camp detour) the track starts descending fairly steeply down the into the valley, crossing a small side creek with the aid of some small bridges made of timber planks.

Shortly after this creek crossing is another well-marked intersection with the Great North Walk (GNW); the next section of the Girrakool Loop track is part of the GNW. A bit further on – and the lowest part of the walk – the track crosses Piles Creek on the very sturdy Phil Houghton Bridge (suspension bridge). The Cubs will enjoy this 🙂

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The bridge was built in 1998; the original bridge was washed away in a flood, and some parts of it still stand. This might be a nice swimming hole if there’s been some rain, but today it looks brown and not particularly tempting, even on a hot day.

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Just after the bridge is a nice and shaded campsite, which is used by Great North Walkers. Immediately after the campsite, the track climbs steeply up the other side of the valley.

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Fortunately, being a warm day, this part of the track is well shaded, passing some high rock overhangs and sections of dry rainforest.

After the initial climb up from Piles Creek, the track continues gently climbing along the valley. Parts of the track are exposed to the sun, although there are a few caves and overhangs that make a nice spot for break.

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Eventually Bundilla Lookout is reached, just before the track reaches the intersection with the Girrakool Loop track. The view isn’t particularly great, but from the right-hand side of the lookout it’s a relatively easy scramble down to Pile Creek and the natural pool (the same one we saw from the other side of the valley at the start of the walk). On a warm afternoon, it’s a very welcome diversion and and great spot to cool off and have a swim.

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After re-joining the Piles Creek Loop track, it’s only about junction with the Girrakool Loop track. It would be a few hundred metres back to the car park from here, but instead I turn left and take the longer route back along the Girrakool Loop track.

It’s not an unpleasant walk, but doesn’t compare to the Piles Creek Loop track – I wouldn’t recommend coming here just to do the shorter loop. The track follows Leek Creek (which feeds Piles Creek) in a northerly direction, before reaching Boondi Lookout. The view from the lookout over the eucalpyt forest is very ordinary, but just below the lookout is an almost semi-circular cliff covered with ferns. It would be an idyllic spot… but it’s located about 30m from the M1 Pacific Highway. You can’t see the highway, which is above the cliff, but the constant drone of traffic takes away from the ambience a little!

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From here, it’s an easy 400m walk back to the car park.

In short: I’d recommend the Piles Creek circuit, a quite varied walk with the option of a swim on on a hot day if you “bush bash” a short distance to the creek. I wouldn’t bother with the shorter Girrakool Loop unless you’re in the area and really only have time for this (and even if you do, just do the return walk to the Illoura Lookout.

Location Start at Girakool Picnic Area at the end of Girakool Road, off the old Pacific Highway
Distance 5.7km circuit (Girrakool Loop and Piles Creek Loop).
7.4km as walked, including side-track to Kariong Scout Camp
Girrakool Circuit only is about 1km.
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain 200m.
Season/s All year.
Maps Gosford 9131-2S 1:25K. Track is well sign-posted.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • Wildwalks Pile Creek loop track notes
  • Take a Walk – Sydney to Port Macquarie (John and Lyn Daly) p.104 and p.106

Hawkesbury River Circuit

A circular paddle from Brooklyn, visiting some nearby lower Hawkesbury River beaches, including the secluded Croppy Beach and Gunyah Beach.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been kayaking, and I’ve just bought a Winner Otium kayak that I’m keen to take for a test-paddle… so I’m swapping hiking shoes for water transport today.  My plan is to explore a few of the beaches within easy striking distance of Brooklyn, in the hope of finding a suitable beach I can take the kids camping one weekend.

I’m used to paddling a sit-on kayak that’s a lot more stable, and I do a great job of entertaining the local boaties as I capsize my new kayak in attempting to get in. After finally settling into the cockpit, in what must be about the most ungainly entrance possible, I’m on my way… the kayak is easy to paddle and tracks very straight. I’ll just have to Google “getting into a kayak for dummies” when I get home!

I head across the Hawkesbury River, to the small Croppy Beach (just after Croppy Point) – I find out afterwards the name was given to the beach by local Aborigines as it was a favourite spot where Irish convict escapees crossed the Hawkesbury (and the term “croppy” was applied to anyone with hair cut short, especially the Irish).

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It’s a nice beach with some shade, but not really anywhere to camp – it also seems to be private land and not national park (possibly a part of the nearby Broken Bay Sport and Recreation Centre). I take a few photos, and re-cross the Hawkesbury to have a look at Gunyah Beach and the adjoining Little Gunyah Beach (below), just to the north.

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This beach is great: white sand and lots of shade. At one end is a small lagoon (which seems to be fed by a stream, but looked very brackish) and a potential camping site; near the middle is a large, grassy area well above the high tide mark.

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This would be a very pleasant spot for an afternoon – or a weekend!

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With the wind picking up and the water getting increasingly choppy, it’s time to head back. I follow the rocky coast back up past Green Point and past Sandy Bay, returning to the boat ramp in time to get some lunch in Brooklyn, before the drive home.

Location Start from Parsley Bay Boat Ramp, Brooklyn (has sandy beach adjacent to boat ramp)
Distance 8.75km circuit
Difficulty Easy navigation. Easy padding, unless water is very choppy
Tide/s Minimal impact from tides
Maps Cowan 9130-4N 1:25K
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.

Steamers Beach (Jervis Bay)

Steamers Beach is a surf beach accessed by a rough 4WD track, which can also be combined into a longer circuit.

A wide and sandy 4WD trail (closed to vehicles) is clearly marked at the Steamers Beach car park, in Booderee National Park (Jervis Bay). It’s well shaded by large eucalypt trees, which still bear the signs of bushfires in September 2017 that burnt a large portion of Booderee National Park. After 1.2km the trail forks; take the left-hand track.

After another kilometre of easy walking, we reach a small clearing. And a sign warning of a steep descent to the beach… Just what we were hoping for 🙂

From here, the last hundred metres or so are on a fairly steep and narrow path before we reach the wide and exposed beach. The high, vegetation-covered sand dunes behind the beach are a result of a “mega tsunami” which occurred around 6700–7000 BC. We have the beach almost to ourselves: there’s just two other people here, a big difference to our walk yesterday to Murrays Beach.

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Being an exposed beach, with a large swell, we would have had the water to ourselves… if we had gone in! There were large waves breaking against the headlands at both ends, and what looked like a dangerous rip in the middle of the beach. Not very appealing for a swim.

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We head back up the path, but instead of re-tracing our steps we head left (west) to visit Brooks Lookout, about 900m along a wide firetrail (this section of the track is more exposed). Despite warnings of “dangerous cliffs”, the lookout is very ordinary and is set well-back from any cliffs. You can see Steamers Head beyond thick scrub, but not Steamers Beach.

An aerial view is more impressive: to the south-west is St Georges Head, with the track that goes out to the end of this headland clearly visible.

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In the opposite direction, to the east, is Steamers Head and Steamers Beach, with the 100m high sand dunes behind the beach.

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From the lookout, it’s possible to return via a shorter route to the Steamer Beach car park, by continuing west along the St Georges Head track for about 500m – it’s well signposted. You could also continue onto Blacks Waterhole and St Georges Head, to extend the walk.

Location Steamers Beach carpark, accessed via Jervis Bay Road, Wreck Bay Road and Stony Creek Road, through Booderee National Park (entry fee payable)
Distance 6.3km return for circuit, as walked
Approx 16km circuit including St Georges Head and Whiting Beach
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain 150m.
Season/s All year.
Maps Sussex Inlet 9027-4S (1:25,000). Track is well sign-posted.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources

 

Murrays Beach and Governor Head (Jervis Bay)

A short walk to a very beautiful (but busy) beach on the South Coast, with views from Governors Head across to Bowen Island.

Murrays Beach is a sheltered and very scenic beach in Booderee National Park (Jervis Bay). It’s accessed via a fairly short (300m) walk from the car park – or by following the coast around from the jetty. (If taking the track rather than rock-hopping along the coast, continue past the first car-park to the parking area that’s furthest from the entry road. There are multiple, huge car parking areas that probably reflects the decision in 1969 to build a nuclear power station here, resulting in land being cleared and footings built for the decision was reversed in 1971.)

As we make our way slowly across the rocks (it was close to high tide, and would be much easier this way at low tide), we spot what seems to be a naval training exercise on the opposite of Jervis Bay.

It doesn’t take long to reach Murrays Beach, which has been described as “the jewel in the Booderee National Park”. It has the same white sand as the famous Hyams Beach, very clear water and supposedly less people – although it was pretty busy today!

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It’s also protected from bad weather by Bowen Island, which bears the brunt of any big swells and means even on a day with dangerous surf warnings, the kids could safely swim.

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From Murrays Beach it’s an additional 800m to Governors Head, directly opposite the peninsula. (This is part of a longer walk that goes up past Hole in the Wall and up to Green Patch.) It’s a wide and easy to follow track through eucalypt forest, with some interpretative signage.

The track follow the edge of the cliff, which gets steeper towards the end of the peninsula. A fenced viewing area at the end provides a great view towards Bowen Island, with the shallow channel bearing the brunt of strong winds and a high swell.

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Going back, I follow the coast instead of the marked track, descending down the steep slope to the rocky shore, which is fairly easy to follow. There are a few other people observing the massive waves, and a pair of sooty oystercatchers, foraging in the inter-tidal zone.

There’s a few sections where I need to detour slightly inland to avoid small inlets – it’s not difficult walking but I wouldn’t recommend going this way with small children. Eventually I reach the shore again, and walk back along Murrays Beach to my starting point.

It’s a great beach for swimming, and adding the short walk to Governors Head was worth it for the view (especially if it’s a day with a big swell). With more time, I would have liked to continue up the coast at least to Hole in the Wall. But that will have to be another day!

Location Murrays Beach carpark, accessed via Jervis Bay Road through Booderee National Park (entry fee payable)
Distance Approx 3km return for beach and Governors Head lookout
Up to 10km return if going up to Green Patch (and back)
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain 20m.
Season/s All year.
Maps Sussex Inlet 9027-4S (1:25,000). Track is well sign-posted.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources NPWS Jervis Bay web page

 

Fernleigh Track (Lake Macquarie)

An easy cycling path (or hiking track) between Belmont and Adamstown on the Central Coast, which follows a disused rail line.

It’s a rather long way from Sydney to drive for a bike ride… but I’d stumbled across a reference to the Fernleigh Track on the Web a few weeks ago and it seemed worth the journey. Described as an “amazing shared path” and completed in 2011, the fact it’s relatively flat makes it perfect for a ride with the kids. You can start at either end or at a number of points along the 15km track (Lake Macquarie Council lists all the access points on their Web site).

I decided to start at Belmont based on advice I’d read on-line, and in hindsight it was the right decision: it’s harder in this direction with a long (albeit gradual) uphill section, rewarded at the end with a ride through a railway tunnel and a cafe near the track. The ride back to the car was then fairly easy for tired legs!

Belmont to Jewells (3.3km / +10m elevation gain)

There was plenty of parking near the Belmont trackhead on a holiday week-day, with the track very easy to find (and a number of places to eat or get drinks nearby). The original Belmont station has been left – as have most of the other stations – which adds to the attraction of the track.

The first section is pretty flat, as it goes through a wetland forest of paperbarks and swamp mahogany. There’s a 200m section of elevated timber boardwalk through the Belmont Wetland State Park, followed by a section of eucalpyt forest. The track is  less than a kilometre inland from 9 Mile Beach, behind a 10,000-year-old sand dune system, although you’d have no idea you’re so close to the ocean.

It takes us about 20min to get to Jewells, where there’s a drinking fountain near the old railway station.

Jewells to Redhead (2.5km / +13m elevation gain)

We’re on our way after a quick stop and a drink; the next section is still ]flat as it goes through coastal heath, with sections of thick casuarina and tea tree forest. The old Redhead train station has been preserved, with north and southbound traffic separated by the former platform. This section has taken us another 20min. The kids are still happy…

Redhead to Whitebridge (4km / +66m elevation gain)

According to the official brochure, there are “ample ocean views looking back towards
Redhead”, but I didn’t see any blue ocean. Only red, angry faces as the track climbed steadily up from Redhead. My counselling skills were tested as I promised we were almost at the top. Six times. We made good use of the frequent benches along the track. (We had a warm but fortunately cloudy day, as this would have been the most exposed section on a sunny day.)

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It’s not actually steep, with a gradient of about 2%, but for small legs it’s a tiring section. The track goes through the Awabakal Nature Reserve (scribbly gum bushland) as it heads up to the highest point of the track (89.3m above sea level), just before the old Whitehead station. Some sections of the old railway line have been left intact alongside the track. At Whitehead there are shops nearby (300m) if supplies are needed.

Whitebridge to Adamstown (5.6km / -50m elevation loss)

Technically this is two sections, with the track descending through the leafy forests of Glenrock State Conservation Area and passing through Kahibah. There’s long sections of the old railway line left in situ, but only the Kahaba station nameboard identifies the location and no trace remains of the platform.

The highlight of this section is the former rail tunnel under the Pacific Highway, which also marks the transition from the Lake Macquarie region to Newcastle.

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The track curves through the well-illuminated tunnel, and is a nice end to the ride!

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About 1.5km after the tunnel there’s  sign pointing to a cafe just 80m from the track. We make the small detour to the Fernleigh Cafe, which has a nice courtyard at the back, a range of food and very friendly service. We’re just in time to order a late lunch and some drinks.

We’re now just 600m from the Adamstown trackhead, and we go another 300m to the intersection with Park Avenue, before turning back (the last 300m is on a footpath along the road and not very appealing). It’s taken us just under two hours to get to the cafe (15.1km).

Adamstown to Nine Mile Beach (14.7km)

The return trip is much quicker and easier, with a short initial climb and then a long downhill section. It takes under an hour to get to the turn-off to Nine Mile Beach, a couple of kilometres before the Belmont terminus.

Nine Mile Beach

There are a number of beaches accessible from the Fernleigh Track: Nine Mile Beach is the closest to the track, and also the closest beach to Belmont. So it was the logical spot for a detour a a quick swim on the back. (I was slightly concerned that in the middle of Nine Mile Beach is the Belmont Wastewater Treatment Works – I’d avoid swimming here after heavy rain. You cam check water quality on the Beachwatch Web site).

Access to the beach is clearly sign-posted from the track, and the rough 4WD maintenance trail is suitable for mountain bikes. But, once you leave the Fernleigh Track there is no signage and it’s very unclear how to get to the beach. After a couple of failed attempts, we found a narrow walking track over the dunes from the 4WD track (starting at -33.03683, 151.67493) and continued on foot. It’s about 700m over the sandy dunes to the beach.

This section of beach is the most inaccessible along the Fernleigh Track – but you can drive along the beach by 4WD. So we had the beach almost to ourselves; there was a family camping near our access track, who were surprised you could get to the beach from the Fernleigh Track.

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We would have a proper swim – if we’d brought our swimmers! We enjoyed cooling our legs and the kids jumped off some of the dunes, before we walked back over the dunes t our bikes.

Once we’re back on the Fernleigh Track, it’s just a easy 1.4km back to the car – with one last stop to play on a tree swing installed just off the track.

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It was worth the long-ish drive. Despite some “uphill grumpiness”, the kids enjoyed the day. All up, we did about 30km of cycling and 2km of (optional) walking to get to Nine Mile Beach.

 

Location Start at Belmont or Adamstown on the Central Coast
Distance 30km return (approx) + 2.5km if adding a walk to the beach
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain 260. Maximum ~2% incline.
Season/s All year.
Maps None required – signage along route. Download and print PDF below, which includes maps of the trail.
GPS Route Google Maps GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources
Notes
  • Going from Belmont to Adamstown is much easier – especially if cycling with small kids
  • Bring swimmers and towels in a backpack, so you can enjoy a side-trip to one of the beaches
  • There are water stations for drinking or to refill water bottles along the track at regular intervals.
  • Cautions – there are a couple of road crossings (some with no pedestrian crossing). Keep an eye out of faster cyclists who use the track.

Kanangra Walls to Kowmung River

A tough overnight walk from Kanangra Walls in the Blue Mountains, down to the wild Kowmung River.

The plan was to tackle the Katoomba to Kanangra walk, a “classic” route I’ve been wanting to do for many years. A group of intrepid Venturer Scouts are doing this walk starting at Kanangra, so by starting at the opposite end we could avoid a lengthy car shuffle by swapping vehicles. We would drive the car they left at Kanangra back to Katoomba, once we’d done the walk in the opposite direction. (The “we” on this hike being Andy, father of one of the Venturers, and myself). A most excellent plan, we thought. Until the weather forecast indicated that most of our hike would be in 35+ degree temperatures.

The Venturers, being more fit and/or foolhardy than us, proceeded with their planned walk. Our Plan B, since we needed to collect their car from Kanangra Walls, was a slightly more “leisurely” hike down to the Kowmung River. Armed with a bottle of wine and gourmet sausages from Blackheath purchased on the way, we started our hike at 2:15pm with the temperature around 34 degrees.

The first part of the walk is along the well-marked Plateau Track: it’s pretty warm (actually, it’s bloody hot and we are questioning why we’re not at the nearest pub). There’s no-one else** stupid enough to be out walking (** except of course the Venturers, but they are nowhere near us).

There’s some nice views of Kanangra Walls extending out into the distance, as the path drops down between Mount Kanangra and the Kanangra Wall plateau.

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In this gap lies Dance Floor Cave, a short detour off the Plateau Track. Located on the old cattle route from the Burragorang Valley to Oberon, the cave became such a popular meeting place in the 18th century that a wooden dance floor was erected. Now it’s just used as occasional shelter for hikers.

The Plateau Track, not surprisingly, follows the heath-covered Kanangra Tops plateau in an easterly direction. It’s easy to follow and fairly flat, occasionally crossing some rock platforms where some care is needed not to lose the track.

There’s also some fantastic views from the edge of the cliffs, and into Kanangra Gorge.

Across the other side of Kanagra Gorge are the Thurat Walls and Thurat Spires, rising 600m above the valley floor.

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After about 1.9km along the Plateau Track we veer right onto an unnamed track that heads towards Maxwell Top (Kanangra 8930-3S GR342358 or -33.98511, 150.12235). According to Google Maps, it’s called the Coal Seam Walking Track, but it’s not named on the topographical map. (The original Kanangra to Katoomba plan would have had us continuing straight ahead, along the plateau.)

This track is also well-defined and fairly flat, as it follows the very wide Murrarang plateau in a southerly direction. We follow this track for just over a kilometre before nearing Murrarang Top at the end of the plateau, where the track forks (Yerranderie 8929-4N GR344340 or  -34.00172, 150.12445). Here it’s a bit confusing, as one of our maps shows a single trail and the other shows two ways of getting down the small cliffs. We take the left trail; in hindsight I suspect either track would have worked. There’s a short and easy scramble down a cleft in the rocks, and we’re at the base of Murrarang Head where we follow the base of the small cliff.

At the end of the cliffs is the impressive Coal Seam Cave, although it’s not named on any of our maps. While not a particularly deep cave, it’s very long and the sandstone above the coal seam has been eroded in a way that makes it seem (no pun intended!) as if it’s been very precisely cut. There’s a barrel here collecting water that drips from the sandstone, and even on a hot day when most creeks were dry, it was 3/4 full. There would be plenty of space for a few tents, too.

So far, so good… At the end of the long cave, the track drops quick steeply down to a saddle. We’re now on the Gingra Trail, which follows the Gingra Range and eventually reaches the Kowmung River. From this trail, there are multiple trails that go down to the Kowmung. The track is easy to follow and it’s fairly easy walk along the shaded ridge-top, although the temperature is still in the 30s.

We pass Cottage Rock, just visible from the main track (there’s no obvious trail up to here, and it’s too hot to entertain sightseeing detours!). As we ascend about 50m (although it feels like a lot more) up to First Top Mountain, we see what looks like a side-track down Brumby Ridge. This was our intended route, being the shortest track to the Kowmung. But the faint trail quickly peters out and we decide to try Roots Ridge, which is marked on our topographical map. Another kilometre along the Gingra Trail and we reach the Roots Ridge Track. This will, hopefully, take us from the Gingra Range at around 800m down to the Kowmung River at 220m. We set off down Roots Ridge: the track is very faint but the route is easy to follow, as it descends the top of the ridge.

As we near the bottom of Roots Ridge, we get our first and very welcome sight of the Kowmung River below us.

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Just a (steep) kilometre to go until we reach the bottom… the 800m descent from the Gingra Trail is about 4km in length, but starts of gradually and gets steeper towards the end. The track is not very distinct, but the route is fairly obvious.

We enjoy a well-earned swim before setting up camp. According to my watch, the average temperature since we started around 2pm has been 33.6 degrees, and it’s still about this temperature at 7:30pm (it’s taken us about 5:30min to cover about 13km). We’ve got the river to ourselves, and there’s a nice, flat and grassy area close to the river. It is a beautiful and tranquil spot, with a deep enough pool for a swim and clean, flowing water (we filtered the water just to be safe, but the Kowmung is generally considered safe to drink).

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Tomorrow is forecast to be even hotter, so we try and get some sleep despite the heat, with alarms set for 5am the next morning.

It’s the same way back tomorrow, and while it’s cool when we set-off around 5:30am the temperature has reached about 30 degrees by the time we reach the Gingra Trail.

On the way back, I make the short off-track detour up the steep slope to Cottage Rock from the Gingra Trail. Someone’s helpfully made a rock step to help get onto the outcrop.

The view from the top isn’t spectacular, but you can see the Gingra Range that we’ve been following and the surrounding peaks of the Kanangra-Boyd National Park.

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One more steep section from Cottage Rock up to Coal Seam Cave, and then it’s fairly easy walking back to the car. It has taken us 5:30min to get back; about the same time as the descent. It feels very hot up on the plateau, and we discover later that today is the hottest temperature on record for Sydney’s west.

Location Start at Kanangra Walls car park (end of Kanangra Walls Road).
210km (3:30hr) from Sydney / 110km (2hr) from Katoomba
Distance 26km return (approx)
Grade Moderate/Hard. Total 1,100m ascent. Some off-track walking.
Season/s All year.
Maps
  • Kanangra 8930-3S 1:25K
  • Yerranderie 8929-4N 1:25K
GPS Route Google Maps GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources
  • Part of the walk covered by Buswalking NSW Web site
  • National Parks – Kanangra-Boyd Web site
Notes
  • If travelling to Kanangra Walls via Jenolan, please note that the road is closed to traffic leaving Jenolan in the direction of Katoomba every day from 11.45am to 1.15pm (ie. for 90 minutes the road becomes ‘one way’).
  • There are toilets at the Kanangra Walls car park, but don’t rely on water being available here.