Passage Peak and Escape Beach, Hamilton Island

A combination of trails on Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays that combines sunrise from Passage Peak, a stop at the remote Escape Beach and views from the Resort Lookout.

It’s an early morning start to catch the sunrise from Passage Peak. I set off from the Hamilton Island Resort Lookout Trail entrance, torch in hand, at 6am. The narrow but well-constructed trail ascends steadily from the resort towards Saddle Junction. There are views from the track toward Whitsunday Island and Whitsunday Peak to the east.

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After a kilometre the walking trail meets a maintenance / 4WD road that follows the ridge, and shortly afterwards there’s a small detour along the road to the Flat Top Hill Lookout. Although it’s still a bit dark, there are views over Hamilton Island resort and Catseye Bay.

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With the sky starting to lighten I fear I’ve started the walk a bit late (shouldn’t have hit the snooze button three times on my ‘phone before finally getting out of bed!). I push on towards Saddle Junction: from here there’s just under a kilometre to go, but it’s the steepest part of the walk. I can see my destination ahead – what looks like a small hill in the distance.

There’s more views from the trail to the north-west as it climbs up towards Passage Peak.

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The last 200m is quite steep, but I make it just in time to see the sun rising above the ocean, behind Haslewood Island.

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There’s 360-degree views from the top of Passage Peak – the highest point on Hamilton (although it’s only 234m above sea level).

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To the south-east is Perseverance Island, the closest one to Hamilton Island, and in the distance Pentecost Island and Lindeman Island.

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To the west is Catseye Bay and Hamilton Island Resort, and just behind the resort is Dent Island (home of the Hamilton Island Golf Club), with Long Island and the mainland in the distance. You can also see the maintenance road that goes along the ridge to the end of Hamilton Island.

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I spend ten minutes or so on at the lookout, before heading back – it’s much quicker going down 🙂

I’m only re-tracing my steps for 200m, back to South East Head Junction. From here I’m taking the long way back, via South East Head and Escape Beach. The first few hundred metres is a wide maintenance track, and then I turn onto a narrow walking trail that roughly follows the coast south.

Halfway along the trail, there’s an abrupt change from light forest to a sea of grass trees (these are quite common on the sandy and infertile soil of ridges on Whitsunday islands).

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A sulphur-crested cockatoo is enjoying the large flowering spike of the grass trees.

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The trail is getting closer to the coast as it nears South East head, with Perseverance Island just across the narrow channel.

The trail rounds the headland, with South East Head jutting out into the ocean. The track is still fairly exposed here, although it’s only 7:30am so it’s pleasant walking even without shade.

The track drops into a small valley, crossing a small stream before ascending very gradually through a section of forest. Soon Escape Beach is visible below the trail.

There’s a very obvious (but not sign-posted) track down to the secluded Escape Beach. At this time of the day there’s no-one here – and I suggest there’s a good chance of having the beach to yourself for most of the day. It’s not particularly picturesque at low tide – high tide would be the best time to visit.

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From Escape Beach the walking track ascends gently up to Saddle Junction, which will complete the circuit of South East Head.

From Saddle Junction I’m re-tracing my steps along the walking track to Resort Lookout Junction. Except now it’s daylight, while two hours ago I was walking up the same track by torch-light.

Once I reach the Resort Lookout Junction, I take the left fork towards the Resort
Lookout – this part of my route is on a graded maintenance road (also used by ATV tours) and it not particularly nice walking. It adds about 4km to the walk, but I want to go back via one more lookout…

…Resort Lookout is a huge cleared area, that’s above the Hamilton Island airport and is also used for weather monitoring equipment. There’s a picnic table here, but it’s not a particularly nice place. The views are pretty good though, if you walk around the edge of the large lookout area. The lookout is almost directly above the resort and Reef View towers.

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In the opposite direction is the mainland.

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The quickest way back to the resort would be to return to Resort Lookout Junction and take the trail down to the Resort Trail Entrance. In hindsight, I should have done that… but instead I follow the maintenance road to Palm Valley. I’m heading away from Passage Peak, at the other end of the island, and towards the airport.

The trail leaves the park near the southern end of the runway, on Palm Valley Way. From here it’s about 2km along the road, past the Hamilton Island Airport and past the marina back to the resort. It means I’ve done a second big circuit rather than returning the same way from the Resort Lookout – but the walk from the last lookout to the resort isn’t particularly nice walking.

Location Starts at Resort Trail Entrance near the Hamilton Island resort. Return to same location or Palm Valley Way near Hamilton Island airport.
Distance 13.9km as walked (combining three separate walks)
Grade Easy/Moderate. Total elevation gain of 550m
Season/s All year. Temperatures most pleasant in winter.
Maps Resort Walking Trail Map is useful. Walks are well sign-posted
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources

Chance Bay, Whitsunday Islands National Park

Chance Bay, a secluded bay in the Whitsunday Islands National Park is a short walk from the popular Whitehaven Beach.

Located on Whitsunday Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Whitehaven Beach is considered one of the world’s most unspoiled and beautiful beaches and was named ‘number one beach in Australia’ by TripAdvisor in their Travellers’ Choice Beaches Awards. Getting there is a 30min boat ride from Hamilton Island – slightly longer today due to several stops to watch whales breaching on both sides of the boat.

The 7km-long Whitehaven Beach is stunning – white sand and crystal-clear sand. We moor at the southern end, near a few other commercial boats.

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The walk to Chance Bay (and Solway Circuit) starts near the very southern end of Whitehaven Beach, and is well sign-posted.

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Guarded by a monitor lizard, the recently wood-chipped path heads gradually up and away from the beach. Although it’s still mid-afternoon, the forest provides shade along most of the trail.

It’s easy walking and only 500m before the turn-off to Chance Bay (on the other side of the headland) is reached. I take this trail and head up to the lookout on the way back – if there’s time. I’ve got about 90min before our boat leaves, and according to the information I found on-line it’s a 7.2km return walk.

The sandy trail is pretty flat and and remains shaded as it traverses a mix of eucalypt, hoop pine and grass tree forest.

As I’ve discovered a few times with Queensland trails, the signage is grossly incorrect – not sure if it’s incompetence or an attempt to discourage people from doing the walk. I reach Chance Bay in just under half an hour, with my GPS measuring the distance as 2.3km (a rather large discrepancy from the signage and on-line information that has the distance as 3.6km each way). The small beach has the same white silica sand as Whitehaven Beach – without the crowds. I’ve seen a handful of people heading the other way, and when I reach Chance Bay I have the entire beach to myself.

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In the distance is Pentecost Island, the Lindeman Group and Cape Conway directly ahead.

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I’ve got time for a quick swim here, before heading back up the trail.

When I reach the main trail again, I turn right, to continue to the end of the trail and the Solway Lookout. The lookout is part of the Solway Circuit, a circular walk, but from April 2018 – June 2019 part of the circuit is closed due to construction activity. Although the lookout elevation is only about 50m, there’s views over Solway Passage, Pentecost and Haslewood islands and Cape Conway.

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From the lookout, it’s a short 700m back to Whitehaven Beach, and then back onto our boat for the return trip to Hamilton Island.

Location Whitehaven Beach can be reached by boat or seaplane from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island, in the Whitsunday Islands. (Closest major airports are Proserpine on the mainland, and on Hamilton Island. Both have direct flights from Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.)
Distance Return distance to Chance Bay and Solway Lookout is 5.1km
(Ignore the signs – distances shown are incorrect.)
Grade Easy. Total elevation gain of 100m
Season/s All year. Temperatures most pleasant in winter.
Maps None required.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail – view route and export to KML format.
Resources About Whitsunday Islands Web page with details of walks

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.

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