A short, but surprisingly varied, coastal walk to a massive boulder on the eastern coast of Flinders Island.
As one of the three Tas Parks “60 Great Short Walks” in Tasmania on Flinders Island, I expected this to be a scenic track. And it didn’t disappoint!
I was dropped off at the start of the walk near Allports Beach, which is easy to find; the rest of the family is meeting me at the other end. The track starts a little inland with small orange markers pointing the way to the coast, which is quickly reached.
After about half a kilometre the first “beach”, consisting of many small boulders, is traversed: one of the attractions of the island is the variety of landscapes found along the coast, from soft (“normal”) sand to ground quartz and miniature boulders.
The track then diverts inland along a wide 4WD track for a few hundred metres, before a set of wooden steps that leads down to Old Jetty Beach Beach (also, incorrectly, called Emita Beach).
It’s an easy stroll along the beach, then up and over the headland at the end.
After the headland (and a small, rocky bay) is Emita Beach, another secluded and desolate beach. At high tide or stormy weather this section could get a bit tricky, but with calm seas and a fairly low tide I can easily skirt around some of the granite slabs and rocks that jut into the beach.
Looking back, I can still see my starting point in the distance, a few beaches away. I’ve covered about 2km, with another 2km to go.
There’s a great view from this half-way headland: a typical Flinders Island outlook of sea, sand and some dramatic, weathered sandstone formations.
There’s now another landscape change, with the track leaving the coast and winding through coastal grassland. Looking inland to the east, there’s many kilometres of native grasses and farming land, with Mulligans Hill Conservation area in the far distance.
There’s three final, adjoining beaches before Castle Rock, which is now visible in the distance. These beaches don’t seem to have a name, but are referred to as FI79, FI80 and FI81. Very imaginative. Behind the three beaches are two kilometres of dunes which are up to 38m in elevation.
Finally, I reach Castle Rock, an imposing, monolithic boulder on the end of the headland.
From here, you can return to the start the same way. Or, just beyond the rock if you continue along the beach you can join a 4WD track that takes you around to the end of the next beach (Marshall Beach). This is accessible by a 2WD road, and there’s a sall car parking area.
Start at Allports Beach (17km north of Whitemark). Can be done with a car shuffle (there’s a 2WD track that takes you to within 300m of Castle Rock) or return the same way.
Easy. <50m total ascent
All year round. Easier at low tide / outgoing tide.
A popular coastal walk in northern Sydney, from The Spit in Mosman to Manly, through pockets of rainforest and past secluded bays and beaches
The Spit to Manly walk is arguably Sydney’s most popular walk… a Google search yields 415,000 results for the term “Spit to Manly walk”, so if you’re seeking solitude – try a different walk! It’s popular for a reason: the well-marked track closely follows the coast through a variety of flora, from coastal heath to rainforest, passing many bays and beaches, and offering spectacular harbour views along the way.
The walk can be started at either end, and is most commonly walked in one direction, starting from The Spit. If using public transport (or if you can be dropped off the Spit), from Manly there are frequent ferries to the CBD.
After walking over The Spit bridge (one of Sydney’s worst traffic snarls), which crosses Middle Harbour, the track closely follows the water through Ellery’s Punt Reserve. This was the site of a punt across Middle Harbour until 1939 for foot, horse, tram and vehicular traffic. A bridge across the harbour was completed in 1924, and the current Spit bridge constructed in 1958 – it’s one of the only lift bridges still operational on a major arterial road (it opens to allow taller boats into Middle Harbour).
View from the Spit bridge over Middle Harbour
Ellery’s Punt Reserve at the start of Spit to Manly walk
Soon after this open parkland, enters sub-tropical rainforest as it goes around Fishers Bay and past a small creek, with a section of wooden boardwalk.
Boardwalk around Fishers Bay
Eastern Water Dragon by the track
Another 500m or so and the landscape changes again, and we pass the very wide Sandy Bay, enjoying a touch of suburbia and expensive real estate before we enter Clontarf Reserve.
View of the sheltered beach from Clontarf Reserve
The walk follows the coastline very closely, and we walk along a thin strip of sand between the sea and houses along Clontarf Beach. It feels like the beach has shrunk since doing this walk many years ago (probably my imagination, or it was low tide on my last visit). Although, studies (including the University of NSW’s Water Research Laboratory) have shown that Clontarf Reserve is one of the highest-risk areas in Sydney from global warming-induced sea rises or severe storms.
At the end of Clontarf Beach there’s a very short climb up into the Duke of Edinburgh reserve, a surprisingly dense patch of bush with views over Middle Harbour. At the far end of the reserve is Castle Rock beach, named after a distinctive rock (which can’t be seen from the track).
Middle Harbour from Duke of Edinburgh reserve
Castle Rock beach
Next up as we continue along the track – we’ve now covered about 3.5km – is my favourite section. Entering Sydney National Park, you wouldn’t realise you’re in the middle of a major city (well, if you ignore the houses on the other side of the harbour) as the track passes under sandstone overhangs and through coastal heath.
Boardwalk through Sydney National Park
Middle Harbour from Sydney National Park
There’s not a lot of fauna to be seen – thousands of people walking, jogging and running along the track is a bit of deterrent to any self-respecting native animal – so it’s a little surprising to encounter a few brazen water dragons. The Eastern Water Dragon below was definitely not going to move from its prime position above the harbour!
There’s a short (500m) detour not long after entering the national park to Grotto Point Lighthouse, an active beacon referred to as the ‘Disney Castle’. It was designed by architect Maurice Festu, built in 1910 and first lit on 1 September 1911, and is one of four lighthouses in this style. From here you can see The Heads and out to the Tasman Sea beyond. (The track is a bit muddy and rougher than the rest of the Spit to Manly walk.)
rotto Point Lighthouse
View from rotto Point Lighthouse
Returning back to the main track after my little diversion, there’s another brief stop to look at Aboriginal engravings, located only a few metres off the main track. Apparently they include images of boomerangs, fish and a giant wallaby, and there’s interpretative signage. I was in a bit of a rush to catch-up with the rest of the group after my solo lighthouse detour, so I just saw a fish. Compared to other engraving sites, it’s remarkably distinct and looks just like a fish!
Next stop, after the track (mostly on raised boardwalk) leaves the coast and goes a little inland, is the Crater Cove Lookout. This offers the best views of the whole walk across the harbour and out to The Heads. Manly, our destination, is now visible in the distance (there’s still another 4km or so to go). Almost directly below the lookout above the sheer cliffs of Dobroyd Point is a “ghost village“: seven huts, constructed from iron and wood between 1923 and 1963, that were abandoned in 1984 after their last occupants were forced out. Repaired and maintained by the National Park and Wildlife Service (which doesn’t promote their presence), they can be accessed via a steep, unmarked track.
Views from Crater Cove, with Manly visible top left
The abandoned Crater Cove huts can be seen above the cliffs on the left
The path veers inland again, heading down from the Crater Cove Lookout through low casuarina trees to Dobroyd Head (there’s a lookout here, but the view are not as good as those from the previous vantage point) and then onto Reef Beach. Once a depression-era camping ground and later proclaimed a nude beach by Neville Wran in the 1970s (revoked in 1993 due to public pressure) it’s fairly quiet and secluded, with scenic views of the Harbour and Manly Cove.
Spit to Manly track from Crater Cove Lookout from Dobroy Head to Reef Beach
The track follows the coast fairly closely again from here, emerging from greenery of Sydney National Park at Forty Baskets Beach. The origins of the name is believed to based on a catch of 40 baskets of fish sent to a contingent of NSW detained at the North Head Quarantine Station after returning from Sudan in 1885. There’s a netted swimming enclosure and it’s a pretty popular spot.
Forty Baskets Beach
End of Forty Baskets Beach
The track now re-joins “civilisation”, following the coastline all the way around North Harbour through Wellings Reserve and North Harbour Reserve. There are views over the harbour and it’s easy walking, but it’s the least nice part of the walk (there’s also a short section of road where the houses go right down to the high-tide mark). On the opposite side of North Harbour and nearing our destination is Fairlight Beach, also a nice (and popular) spot directly opposite The Heads.
We’re almost at the end… with water on one side and blocks of units on the other, the path (also known as the Fairlight Walk) follows the meandering coastline. We go past one last secluded beach (Delwood Beach) and Kay-Ye-My Point (named after the Aboriginal Kayimai clan living in Manly)…
Fishing off the rocks in Fairlight
…and after about 10km (or 11km including the Grotto Point side trip) we reach Manly, along with about 50,000 other people enjoying the warm autumn weather. It’s easy forgot that about an hour ago we were surrounded by bush!
The last attraction of the walk (other than a well-earned ice cream) is the iconic ferry back to Circular Quay (there’s also the slightly less iconic and slightly less crowded “fast ferry”).
Start/finish at The Spit (accessible by bus or water taxi, and parking available) or Manly Beach (bus, ferry).
The Bairne to Basin circuit connects two West Head (Ku-ring-gai Chase) walks by ferry – the Bairne Track and Basin Track – to form a circuit.
The Bairne Track (or Bairne Trail) and Basin Track both provide access to The Basin, on opposite sides of this narrow stretch of water. You can join these into a longer circuit thanks to a regular ferry service that connects the two jetties…
It’s easier to start on the Bairne Track, as the ferry only goes in one direction; by doing the walk in reverse you’ll have a much longer trip, taking the ferry to its terminus at Palm Beach and then all the way back through a number of coastal villages. It’s also a bit tricky to find the narrow trail that goes back up from Coasters Retreat to the Bairne Track, which is not sign-posted.
From West Head Road, the Bairne Track (a well-formed maintenance trail) is fairly flat as it goes through low forest. After 2.4km there’s a small cairn on the left marking a fairly faint trail, which is shown on Google Maps as providing access to The Basin and Bonnie Doon wharf; ignore this and keep on the main track (this side-track seems to peter out, although it may provide another way to get down to The Basin). Another 200km on and there’s a big fork – take the left-hand option towards Soldiers Point. (The right-hand option leads to a very pleasant lookout over Pittwater, and is worth a detour if you have time.)
The Bairne Track, near the start
Keep left here – the right-hand track leads to a lookout
The last section of the trail to Soldiers Point starts descending gradually, with the forest providing a bit more shade.
It’s been raining for the last three weeks. This mushroom is happy about it. I’m not.
Approaching Solders Point
The “official” end of the Bairne Track is at Soldiers Point, about 3.4km from West Head Road where I’ve started the walk. If I was a real estate agent I might describe it as “filtered views” of The Basin and Pittwater; there are some views but they not particularly good from here.
View from Soldiers Point
View from Soldiers Point
At the far end of the Soldiers Point there is a faint but obvious foot-track that heads steeply down the ridge. There are a couple of cairns, but the track is fairly easy to follow. (Note: this track down from Soldiers Points doesn’t appear on most maps.)
The track ends behind a couple of houses at Coasters Retreat, a small community of about fifty holiday houses set in the bush and beside the beach. While the earliest houses date back to 1922-26, the area was used from the early 1800s by boats heading our from Sydney: “From the earliest records of the colony the bay was known as Coasters Retreat and the lagoon was known as The Basin… It was here that the convoys were formed up, the cargoes trimmed for the voyage down the coast. The first recorded convoy left the shelter of Coasters Retreat on 3 March 1803.” [Pittwater History]
I walk between two houses to reach the track that runs along the water, in front of all the houses and past the rural fire brigade. Directly in front of me is the Bennetts Wharf, built in 1944 to service the holiday houses.
Looking west from Bennets Wharf towards The Basin
While I can catch the ferry across to The Basin from here, I continue walking to the far (west) end of Coasters Retreat. I’ve got plenty of time to the next ferry – and I want to see if it’s possible to cross the narrow stretch of water by foot. It’s about 800m to Bonnie Doon wharf at the other end of Coasters Retreat, which is the original wharf built in 1914 by the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park to provide access for campers and visitors.
Banksia flowering near the beach
Bonnie Doon wharf
I’m there just before low tide, and I’ve read reports that you can wade across. The Basin campground on the other side looks tantalizingly close, on the other side of the narrow inlet. So I take off my shoes, and hoping not to step on any sharp oyster shells I wade across, following the shark net. At about the half-way mark, I’m up to my waist and it is still getting deeper… not really wanting to replace my camera and iPhone again (after my rather poorly planned Wollangambe adventure earlier in the year), I give up.
Shark net at entrance to Inner Basin
Shark net at entrance to Inner Basin
It’s a quick walk back to the Bonnie Doon wharf, where the ferry takes about three minutes to deposit me (and a few other picnickers and hikers) at The Basin wharf, directly opposite. (The ferry service operated by FantaSea comes every hour from 9:15am to 5:15pm, with no ferry service at 1:15pm).
From here, it’s a steep walk up the Basin Track (or Basil Trail) back up the hill. There’s a small cascade that tumbles next to and under the track, after about 500m with a small waterfall below the track.
Small cascade next to Basin Track
It’s a generally unpleasant track, and (other than as a return route from the Bairne Track) not one I’d recommend: almost half the track is concreted, and while the road is closed to public vehicles, I don’t particularly like seeing speed signs when I’m bushwalking. There’s also very little shade alone the track.
After about 2km (from the wharf) the track flattens, and there’s a turn-off to Great Mackerel Beach (ignore this – it’s an alternative and nicer circular walk you can do). After another 300m there’s an Aboriginal engraving site, with outlines of animals and human figures, accompanied by interpretative signage.
Aboriginal engravings on the Basin Track
Aboriginal engravings on the Basin Track
And that’s about it: 400m from the engraving site and I’m back at West Head Road, and then there’s a rather dreary (but quick) 2.4km walk along West Head Road, back to the car.
All up, it’s taken a bit under three hours, including a half hour wait for the ferry.
Park at Bairne or Basin trackhead (both on the right-hand side of West Head Road, about half-way along)
12km circuit. (3-4 hours).
Easy/Moderate. 205m total ascent.
All year round
Ku-ring-gai & Berowra Valley Visitor Guide (from Info Centre)
Or the free map from entry station