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 Girrakool 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 Girakool 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 futher 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.

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.

Bullimah Spur Track (Bouddi NP)

A short and very picturesque circuit in Bouddi National Park, with some of the best views in the park and a stop at beautiful Maitland Bay.

There are a few ways to get to Maitland Bay, the “jewel” (I would argue) of the Bouddi National Park. One of these is the Bouddi Coastal Walk, which I did a few weeks ago, and is one of my regular walks. Today I’m taking a much shorter route, going down via the Bullimah Spur (on the aptly named Bullimah Spur Track) and back up the main Maitland Bay Track.

The Maitland Bay carpark is almost full at 11am on a hot day in December; each year the park seems to get more popular. I’m hoping that taking the Bullimah Spur Track will avoid the crowds. Starting on the well-trodden and well-marked Maitland Bay Track from the carpark, after about 100m there’s a sign for the Bullimah Spur Track off to the right.

So, I’m surprised when we hear a group of eight hikers coming up behind us! We let them pass, and they turn out to be the only other hikers we see on this trail. The track follows the Bullimah Spur which heads away from Maitland Bay, descending very gradually through shaded eucalypt forest.

Less than a kilometre from the start of the walk, there’s the first of a few sandstone outcrops that provide stunning views over Maitland Bay. The Bouddi Coastal Walk can be seen winding its way along the top of the cliffs on the left.

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The second lookout, just off to the left of the Bullimah Spur Track, offers even better views – if that’s possible!

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To the east is Maitland Bay and the protected waters of the Bouddi Marine Extension.

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To the west and on the other side of the Bullimah Spur, the Bouddi Coastal Track snakes along the cliffs to Putty Beach. Lion Island is in the distance, and Killcare is on the other side of the peninsula. While it feels like you’re far from civilisation on most of the Coastal Walk, Killcare and Killcare Heights protrude into the middle of Bouddi National Park. At the far end of the Bouddi peninsula, on the other side of Putty Beach, is Box Head and Tallow Beach where it’s national park again.

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A short distance further (1.4km from the carpark) is Bullimah Outlook, a rocky outcrop at the end of the Bullimah Spur.

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There’s great views out to the west over Gerrin Point and Putty Beach / Killcare Beach. There’s a plaque on the rock commemorating Charles Darcy Roberts (a bushwalker and former trustee of Bouddi National Park) as well as “other bushwalkers who lost their lives in World War II”.

According to the map, the track stops here… but it doesn’t. Marked by white arrows, a well-marked track descends steeply from the Bullimah Spur, through shaded forest – although on a warm day, I’m glad we’re going down this section, and not up.

About two-thirds of the way down, there’s a “mini-cliff” (it’s only about 5m high), with a rope to help descend (or ascend) this section.

There’s another hundred metres before the track joins the main Bouddi Coastal Track. (If you’re doing the walk in the other direction there’s no signage: look for an unmarked track that goes past a large boulder, about 60m north of Gerrin Point lookout – 33°31’47.0″S / 151°22’59.1″E)

It’s a very short detour to Gerrin Point lookout, with a large sandstone platform directly below the cliffs and views of Maitland Bay and beyond.

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From Gerrin Point, it’s a 1.4km walk along the Bouddi Coastal Track (which mostly follows the coastline) to reach the junction with the Maitland Bay Track. There are occasional glimpses of Maitland Bay as we get closer and a few exposed sections of track, but we’re mostly walking through light forest and in shade.

Maitland Bay is never crowded but is fairly busy today, being a warm day in the December holiday period. We could have found a shaded spot near the middle of the beach, but decided to have a quick swim and head back to the car. (There’s also the wreck of the SS Maitland, which sank in 1898, located at the far end of the beach. It’s worth having a look, especially at low tide when the rusted remains are most visible.)

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After a refreshing swim, it’s an easy (and shaded) walk straight back up the Maitland Bay track to the car.

It’s taken us just over two hours, including a quick swim – but we (or rather I!) stopped many times to take photos along the Bullimah Spur, and as a result our pace was fairly slow. It’s the first time I’ve walked to Maitland Bay this way, but won’t be the last. While not the quickest route, the views are stunning from the Bullimah ridge, and even on the busiest days you’ll have the track (almost) to yourself!

Location Start at Maitland Bay car park, on The Scenic Road
Distance 4.6km circuit (2.6km return for Bullimah Outlook only)
Grade Easy. Total 180m ascent.
Season/s All year.
Maps
  • Broken Bay topographic map (NSW 9130-1N) 1:25K
  • Bouddi National Park sketch map from park office. 1:25K
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources
Map-BouddiNationalPark-BullimahSpurCircuit
Map showing route of Bullimah Spur Circuit

Flannel Flower Beach (West Head)

A scramble over rocks to reach a narrow and exposed beach on West Head.

Looking for short walk to do with one of the kids not too far from home after Christmas lunch, I found a beach that hopefully could be accessed via the West Head Amy Track. I had walked down to the old World War II gun embankments at West Head earlier in the year, but hadn’t seen any obvious track along the coast. So it’s a bit of an exploratory trip on a somewhat bleak afternoon!

Once we reach the first gun casing (the one on the left, or northern-most side), we start following the the rocks along the shoreline. My daughter (11yrs) is with me, and my sister who’s visiting from overseas. There’s some scrambling involved, but nothing too challenging.

After a few hundred metres along the rocks, we clamber up a bit higher, where we find an old steel and concrete structure which may also date back to World War II.

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It’s harder going further up the slope, which is quite steep, so we soon drop back down to the rocks along the shoreline. There’s a “mini tessellated pavement” as we near the headland before the beach, and some flat areas of sandstone where make good progress.

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Progress along the coast stops as we reach the small headland in front of the beach: there’s some large boulders that make it impossible to continue. There’s a nice rock platform with some rock pools with views towards Lion Island. But although we’re almost at Flannel Flower Beach, we still can’t see it.

I complete the last, short leg on my own. It’s an easy “climb” up and around the headland, avoiding the rocks along the shore, and then I’m at the end of the beach. While it’s not the best beach around, the challenge getting to it means you’ll probably have it to yourself… at least at low tide!

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Flannel Flower Beach is a narrow sliver of sand backed by a 5m sandstone bluff. So I’m not sure there would be much of a beach at high tide – and getting to the beach would be much harder and possibly dangerous on a rising tide or at high tide.

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It’s been a fun hour and a half, with some rock scrambling / parkour – and the climb back up to West Head car park helping to offset a few of the calories consumed at out Christmas lunch…

Location Park at the end of West Head Road (at the lookout)
Distance Approx 2km in total. Flannel Flower Beach is about 500m from the end of the Army Track.
Grade Moderate. Total 105 ascent; rock scrambling
Season/s All year at low tide.
Maps Ku-ring-gai & Berowra Valley Visitor Guide (from Info Centre)
Or the free map from entry station
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Notes
  • The gate to West Head is locked at night – from 8:30pm to 6am during daylight savings periods and 6pm to 6am at other times of the year
  • In times of extreme fire danger, walking trails may be closed.
  • Park entry fees apply, from $12 per vehicle.

 

Figure Eight Pool (Royal NP)

A relatively short walk to a (very) popular natural rock formation in the Royal National Park, an hour south of Sydney.

If you’re after crowds of people taking selfies, this is the walk you need to do! Actually, it wasn’t too busy on the very hot, 40-degree day I picked to visit the Figure Eight Pool (or Figure 8 Pool). It was a weekday, which would have helped. There were about ten people around the pools, but a local I spoke to on the nearby beach said on some days there could be hundreds of people visiting. There are over 14,000 photos on Instagram alone that have been taken at the pools, which have become a “social media sensation“!

I’ve walked past the Figure Eight Pool many times: the Otford to Bundeena coastal walk is one of my favourite summer walks. But I’ve never taken the time to make the short detour around the rocky headland to see this attraction, so today I’m taking the most direct route to the pool. The return trip from the Garrawarra Farm car park is about 6.5km, mostly on good tracks. It’s well sign-posted, as it heads down the Burgh Ridge towards the coast.

After about a kilometre, Burning Palms Beach can be seen below.

Despite being accessible only by foot, Burning Palms Beach has a Surf Life Saving Club that was formed in 1939 and patrols the beach every Sunday and public holidays from the last weekend in September to the end of April each year (the beach has a permanent rip at the northern end).

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The track so far has been in the shade, as it descends fairly steeply through the forest. After the first kilometre it gets more exposed. You can see one of the rock platforms that must be traversed, and there’s another warning sign about safety at the pools There’s been a number of injuries from waves sweeping over the rocks, including 70 people injured by a freak wave in 2016. The pools should only be accessed around low tide, and avoided when there is a high swell. (At high tide, the Figure Eight Pool is underwater, and inaccessible.)

Another 600m along the steel track (1.8km in total from the carpark), past a few weekender cabins and the Surf Lifesaving Club, and I’m on Burning Palms Beach. Looking back up the beach, you can see most of the cabins that were built as weekenders between 1930 and 1950, before the area was gazetted as a national park (there are 28 cabins here, 20 at Little Garie and 95 at South Era). The National Parks and Wildlife Service has unsuccessfully tried a few times to have the cabins removed. For some time there was a policy of removing the cabins on the death of the owner, or if rent fell into arrears. However, in the 1980s the communities sought and achieved heritage listing with the National Trust of Australia and a moratorium was placed on cabin demolition. With the cabins now recognised as “the largest and most intact groups of vernacular coastal weekender cabins remaining in NSW” it’s likely the current structures are here to stay.

From here there’s no marked track to the Figure Eight Pool, but it’s simple to find… follow the beach to the rocks at the end, then follow the base of the cliffs around the headland.

It’s about an hour before low tide and there’s no problem walking across the rock platforms – but it’s easy to see how dangerous it would on a rising tide or during a heavy swell.

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It’s just under a kilometre from the end of the beach, around the first headland and across a rocky bay to get to the Figure Eight Pool (total distance, 3.2km).

Figure 8 Pool is one of a number of rock pools on the large rock platform, formed by twi circular sinkholes merging. It’s much smaller than I expected, but is very beautiful. It would be a great place to spend an hour or two, if you could find a time where it wasn’t over-run with people! I’ll try and re-visit very early one morning when the tides are right!

From here, I re-trace my steps back along the coast and up the ridge to the car park. There’s a couple of rangers at the top, explaining to a group of tourists that they really need to take water and to be equipped for a 2-hour bushwalk…

Location Start (and end) Garrawarra Farm car park in Royal National Park
Distance 6.5km return
Grade Easy. Some rock-scrambling along the coast. Total 280m ascent.
Season/s All year – but must be within ~1 hour of low tide to access pools
Maps
  • Royal National Park Tourist Map 1:35,000 (try Visitors Centre)
  • Downloadable Royal Park map (PDF)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources
Map-RoyalNP-Figure8Pool
Map showing route from Garawarra Farm car park to Figure Eight Pool, Royal National Park

Bouddi Coastal Walk

One of the best coastal walks around Sydney, traversing a number of beautiful beaches and scenic lookouts.

The Bouddi Coastal Walk follows the coast from Little Beach to Putty Beach, through the Bouddi National Park an hour north of Sydney. You can do this walk in both directions, with a few variations to minimize “back-tracking”. I’ve always started at Little Beach – which has the advantage that, if time permits, you can get a cold drink or even lunch at the kiosk at Killcare Beach, before returning. Or you could organise a car shuffle and do the walk in one direction. You can also do the walk in shorter sections. It’s a fantastic and fairly easy walk  that was nominated as “one of the 18 best day walks in Australia” by  Australian Geographic. (If you’re after a shorter walk that offers the best of Bouddi National Park, I’d strongly recommend the Bullimah Spur circuit).

Starting near Little Beach, you can take either the “Old Quarry Trail” or “the Bouddi Coastal Walk” trail from the carpark, both join up eventually (the Coast Walk track is narrower and more of a foot trail).

 

(Little Beach can be accessed via a separate path from the carpark, or a short detour off the Coast track. It’s a small, sheltered beach with a grassy area where camping is permitted. On a warm day, a good spot for a final swim before returning to the car but it’s not the nicest beach along this section of coast.)

After 400m the two trails join and become a wide fire trail for a while, before turning back to a narrow trail again about two kilometres from the start.

 

From here the track follows the coastline quite closely, and while a bit exposed, I think it’s one of the nicest sections of the Coastal Track. There’s great views over the ocean and along the coast: Bouddi Point is just ahead, followed by Gerrin Point, and far off in the distance is Box Head.

 

After 3.5km, we’re at Maitland Bay (I’m doing this walk with my father). The track descends steeply down to the eastern end of the the beach.

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A sheltered bay, Maitland Bay is one of the most picturesque beaches around Sydney. It’s often mentioned as one of the top “secret” beaches in NSW (eg. Australian Traveller’s “21 Secret Beaches in Sydney and NSW“). If you have time, it’s a nice spot for lunch or a swim, with many shaded areas along the middle of the beach. It’s never busy, although every year there’s a few more people on the beach… If you go mid-week you’ll probably have the beach to yourself (we saw two other people on a Thursday).

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The beach is named after the SS Maitland (having previously been called Boat Harbour), a paddle steamer which ran aground and sank in 1898, killing 27 people. The remains of the boat can be seen at low tide, just off the rocks at Bouddi Point.

 

From here, we follow the beach around to the far end, taking the Maitland Bay track at the other end of the beach. After a couple of hundred metres the main track continues up the hill (this is the shortest access to the beach) but we go left, continuing along the Coastal Track.

 

This is another nice section of the Coastal Walk, again closely following the coast and offering a combination of views and shaded sections of forest.

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It’s not far from here (about 1.5km from Maitland Bay) to Gerrin Point Lookout, where there’s a timber platform perched on the edge of the cliffs. It’s a great spot for whale watching; not that I have the patience to stand there and look for passing whales! But if you had the patience, it would be a good spot at the right time of year.

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From the lookout you can see the crescent-shaped Maitland Bay, where we’ve come from, and over the Bouddi National Park Marine Extension. We’ve done just under six kilometres so far, and are nearing the end of the walk.

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The last section is the most popular, and you’re unlikely to be on your own… A timber boardwalk follows the coast, with a turn-off to the small Bullimah Beach just after Gerrin Point.

 

A little further on is the tessellated pavement, where the the sandstone has been subdivided into regular rectangles.

 

A bit more boardwalk, and I’m at the end of Putty Beach. This is the longest beach in the Bouddi National Park, consisting of Putty Beach at the northern end and Killcare Beach at the southern end. A stroll along the beach to the far end takes you to Killcare Surf Life Saving Club, where there is a kiosk that’s open every day until about 3pm.

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It’s 7km to Putty Beach; there’s no choice from here other than to return the same way along the boardwalk superhighway to Gerrin Point and then the track to Maitland Bay. (I discover later that the Bullimah Spur Walking Track actually joins the Coastal Walk near Gerrin Point, which is not shown on any of the maps – so I’ll come back another time to walk this route.)

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From Maitland Bay, to avoid returning the same way, we take the Maitland Bay Track, which climbs steadily up to the ridge. It’s a shaded track that provides the most direct access to the beach.

 

At the end of this trail is the carpark, and the Bouddi National Park Information Centre, open for a few hours on weekends. We continue along the Stroms Trail. A wide track that follows the road, it’s also suitable for mountain biking.  There’s rarely anyone else on this trail – today there’s just a lace monitor, one of of Australia’s largest lizards sharing the track with us.

 

The Stroms Trail follows the ridge for about 2.3km, before joining the main road (The Scenic Road). From here it’s a rather boring 2km walk along the The Scenic Road and down Grahame Drive back to the car (although mostly in the shade and downhill, so it’s not too bad on a hot day).

Start / End points
Distance 14km return
(18km return if going to the end of Putty/Killcare Beach and back)
Grade Easy. Total 450m ascent.
Season/s All year.
Maps
  • Broken Bay topographic map (NSW 9130-1N) 1:25K
  • Bouddi National Park sketch map from park office. 1:25K
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources
Map-BouddiNationalPark-CoastalWalk
Map showing Bouddi Coastal Walk route with different route options