Mt Killiecrankie circuit (Flinders Is)

A partly off-track circuit on Flinders Island to the Mt Killiecrankie summit and back along the rugged coast from The Dock.

Described as “one of the most majestic islands in the Furneaux Group” and “arguably the most majestic mountain and bay combination in Bass Strait”, Mt Killiecrankie (316m) is the highest peak at the northern end of Flinders Island. While significantly less high than Mt Strzelecki, it’s a tougher walk and offers equally impressive views from the top.

There’s a few different approaches to the summit, all of them at least partly off-track… I’m taking what seems to be the “easiest” route to the top. The intended route follows Killiecrankie beach around to the northern end, where there is a 4WD track for part of the ascent.

After walking along the beach for about 2.6km (slightly easier and quicker at low tide), I pick up a signposted 4WD track that starts just above the beach (Quion Road). It’s a private road; my “Walks of Flinders Island” book suggests this as one of the summit approaches, and recommends seeking approval from the manager of the Quion cattle farm (access via this route may change if the development of a $5 million premium tourist resort goes ahead). Being on my own and not sure how to contact the manager, I set-off up the track which climbs steadily up the hill. After about 1.2km, I reach a gate, where I turn left and follow the fence line for a few hundred metres. There’s now a short section of off-tracking walking through fairly thick forest, before I reach another 4WD track.

The next section of (disused) 4WD track continues heading up towards the summit, and offers a bit of shade on a clear and fairly warm April day.  Not long after reaching this upper 4WD trail (at Palana 735917) , there’s the first views over the coast for the first time from a rock platform, and a memorial plaque to Peter Grant Hay and his wife Margaret Maisie. Hay was an Australian brewer, landowner, pastoralist and thoroughbred racehorse breeder who founded the Richmond N.S. Brewing Co. Ltd (now Carlton & United Breweries) and owned land on Flinders Island. Interestingly, there’s no mention of the plaque in my hiking guide or on-line.

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Another 200m and there’s a fork in the track; after consulting the map, I take the left-hand option. The rough track continues ascending directly towards the peak, which soon becomes visible directly ahead.

While the summit is clearly visible in the distance, there’s no obvious track to the summit from the 4WD track which continues around the base of the mountain. I find a very narrow and indistinct foot track through fairly thick scrub (Palana 737925 or 39°48’51.4″S 147°51’40.4″E) which seems the best option. This trail winds through the scrub, before emerging at a large, exposed rock platform.  In front of me are views of the coast, and behind me looms the large rock outcrop of the summit,

The notes in my guide book, while fairly accurate for the initial part of the walk, seem to bear little resemblance to the tracks I’ve found as I near the summit. I’m at the southern end of Mt Killiecrankie, which is the steeper ascent, and I can’t find any track that allows an easier approach from the northern end. While parts of the ascent appear a little daunting (in terms of height and exposure), the alternate requires navigating through some pretty thick scrub to the northern end of the granite outcrop. I manage to find a route up the last 50m of rock face, finally reaching the Killiecrankie summit after 6.2km and just over two hours walking.

The views are fantastic in all directions, with an almost cloudless sky. To the south is Killiecrankie Bay, with farmland adjacent and further inland, the Wingaroo Nature Reserve.

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To the north is Blyth Point and Palana, and in the far distance the Inner Sister and Outer Sister islands.

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After a well-earned break on the top, it’s time to figure out how to get back… I’m reluctant to descend the same way as I came up, being very steep and exposed. Heading down the “back” of Mt Killiecrankie (the northern approach) is much easier. I follow a long series of rock slabs; just before the last boulder is a short drop on the left into a gully. From here my intent was to navigate back to the southern end of the summit outcrop, and re-trace my steps…

…but, with thick scrub all the way up the base of the rock, I follow a faint trail that leads further north. I figure it’s heading downhill, it must go somewhere and it’s a hell of a lot easier than “bush bashing” through dense scrub! The trail is marked by cairns, taking me under large boulders, across exposed rock platforms and traversing some interesting granite formations!

After about half an hour, there’s a sign pointing to “The White Eyed Man” (map reference Palana 738934). It’s a little surreal, being the only sign I’ve encountered on the entire walk, so I make the 80m detour. I’m not quite sure to expect! The White Eyed Man is an imposing rock formation, which does look a little like a pointy-nosed person looking over the coast. There’s no mention of this formation in my guide, or checking later, anywhere on-line.

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From here the track is fairly easy to follow through medium-thick scrub, as it gets closer to The Dock Road which I can see below. I’d avoided this route up as the guide book described it as being un-tracked and through thick scrub, so it was a pleasant surprise to find it the easiest route down as it meant I could return to Killiecrankie via a circuitous route!

It takes less than an hour to reach The Dock Road, emerging from the scrub next to a “4WD only” sign (although locals assure me the road is 2WD suitable and it is in good condition). From the road, there is almost no sign of the track – it’s the little gap in the bushes in the picture below right.

From here, it’s a quick 15min down the unsealed road to The Dock, which consists of a number of small sandy beaches set in a kilometre of rocky coastline. It’s a pleasant spot and I have a quick swim before continuing on my way along the coast.

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The well-marked track follows the rocky coast fairly closely, with the Mt Killiecrankie mountain range not very far inland.

I’m making fairly good progress until I reach the climbers camping area, which is near the coast (Palana 725936). There’s a path that leads up to the base of the cliffs, where it abruptly stops – the guide book suggests continuing off-track but with the time getting late and the shrub fairly thick, I eventually re-trace my steps to the climbers camping area. Here I quickly find the main track that follows the coast and resume my journey back to Killiecrankie. The going is a bit slower from here, even after I’m back on the correct trail, with the setting sun almost directly ahead and the terrain consisting of rock formations and patches of soft sand.

It’s a relief to reach the granite slabs on the headland below Old Man’s Head, where the walking is a bit easier.

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Soon after, with Old Man’s Head jutting into the sky behind me, I meet the only other hikers I’ve seen all day, heading toward The Dock.

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It’s a bit slower again for the next section to Stacky’s Bight, with the track heading inland and skirting around some steep sections of shoreline. Stacky’s Bight is a sheltered cove featuring a couple of sea arches, and would make a worthwhile destination for a shorter day-trip.

It’s now almost 5pm, and great light for photography as I navigate the last sections of rocky coastline before reaching Killiecrankie Bay, the rocks almost glowing in the afternoon sun.

I’m back at the (far) end of Killiecrankie Bay with the sun just over the horizon.

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There’s just 2km (or so) of easy beach walking before I’m back at the car; in the distance is Mt Killiecrankie. It’s been a tough walk but my favourite Flinders Island walk so far, combining a small mountain peak with some varied coastal walking.

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Location Start at Killiecrankie beach car park.
Distance 18km circuit
Grade Hard. 370m total scent
Season/s All year round.
Map TasMap Flinders 1:100K or Palana 1:25K
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Walks of Flinders Island” book by Ken Martin (walks 6, 12, 13 & 18).
Book available in Whitemark or via Amazon

ssMap-KilliecrankieCircuit

Castle Rock (Flinders Island)

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.

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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.

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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.

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There’s a great view from this half-way headland: a typical Flinders Island outlook of sea, sand and some dramatic, weathered sandstone formations.

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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.

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Finally, I reach Castle Rock, an imposing, monolithic boulder on the end of the headland.

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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.

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Location 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.
Distance 4km one-way.
Grade Easy. <50m total ascent
Season/s All year round. Easier at low tide / outgoing tide.
Map TasMap Flinders 1:100K. Track is well sign-posted
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Walks of Flinders Island” book by Ken Martin (p.77). Available in Whitemark or via Amazon
Tas Parks “60 Great Short Walks

 

Map-CastleRock
Map of Allports Beach to Castle Rock on Flinders Island

The Spit to Manly (Sydney)

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).

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.

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.

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.

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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).

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.

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!

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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.)

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!

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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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)…

…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”).

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Location Start/finish at The Spit (accessible by bus or water taxi, and parking available) or Manly Beach (bus, ferry).
Distance 10km one-way
Grade Easy. 350m total ascent.
Season/s All year round. Generally busy on weekends.
Map None required as very well signposted and marked.
Download official Manly Scenic Walkway map (3MB)
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources Sydney Coast Walk website
Wildwalks has detailed track notes
Notes
  • Plenty of parking available near The Spit – but it’s not cheap!
  • Food/coffee at The Spit, Clotarf Beach (kiosk) and of course Manly
  • No dogs/pets allowed
Map-Spit-to-Manly
Map of Spit to Manly walk. Source: Manly Scenic Walkway brochure. See link above to download.

Bairne to Basin Circuit, West Head

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 last section of the trail to Soldiers Point starts descending gradually, with the forest providing a bit more shade.

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.

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.)

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

Location Park at Bairne or Basin trackhead (both on the right-hand side of West Head Road, about half-way along)
Distance 12km circuit. (3-4 hours).
Grade Easy/Moderate. 205m total ascent.
Season/s All year round
Map 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.
Resources National Parks Web site – Bairne Track and Basin Track
Google Street View Trekker – Bairne Track & Basin Track
Ferry timetable (FantaSea) – Palm Beach to Coasters Retreat
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.
  • The Basin picnic area now has a $3 day-use fee
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Map of Bairne to Basin circuit (West Head, Ku-ring-gai Chase)

Freycinet Peninsula

A rewarding hike that combines picturesque bays, turquoise water and majestic views of the Tasmanian coast.

The Freycinet Peninsula Circuit has been on my “to do” list for a long time. It was originally intended as a long one-day hike, but with my 8-year son (Luke) showing increasing enthusiasm for hiking and camping it became a 2-night/3-day adventure. It’s been many years since I’ve walked with a 20kg pack and the first time Luke’s been on an overnight walk. So this could be a great experience… or the chance to see how effective my emergency beacon is!

We arrive in Launceston the evening before our walk and stay with a Taswegian friend overnight, so we can make a relatively early start the following day for the 2.5-hour drive to Coles Bay. There’s time for an egg and bacon roll before we hit the track – the last palatable food for the next 48 hours.

Day 1

At 11am we’re on the track from Wineglass Bay car park to Hazzards Beach. It’s a slow start, with a friendly wallaby posing for photos at the trackhead. Despite signs saying “don’t feed the wildlife”, this wallaby was very tame and was obviously used to receiving food from tourists. At least it had been fed fruit, and not bread which is bad for them. I was happy it was a friendly one; the signs along the road to Freycinet were rather ominous and warned of kangaroos that would flip your vehicle with a single paw. It’s not surprising that international visitors are scared of our wildlife!

The first 5km is relatively flat, following the coast from the car park to Hazards Beach (said to be named after local whaler, African-American Captain Richard Hazard). It’s pleasant walking, despite being a warm day and carrying having a heavy pack, which I’m not used to. There are views out to the west over Promise Bay towards Swansea and the Eastern Tiers.

After about 1.5 hours we’ve almost reached Hazards Beach; just before we get there we spot an idyllic bay. Across the (almost warm) turquoise water is Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham, which we climb tomorrow. Unlike the exposed beach, it has plenty of shade. And another friendly wallaby. We stop here for lunch and a swim.

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Reluctantly, we leave the bay around 2:30pm, continuing our walk along Hazards Beach. This doesn’t disappoint either, and we could easily spend a few hours lingering here. Except that we have a campsite to get to.

There’s a campsite at the end of the beach, which is shaded and fairly empty. From here the track follows the coast through low scrub and casuarina trees, but while there is some shade this section of track feels much longer than the 4km that it is. We’re glad to reach Cooks Beach.

A short walk along Cooks Beach brings us to our camp site, and the end of Day 1. We’ve covered about 17km, but it’s been easy walking. We set up camp a stone’s throw from the ocean, on a small hill just before the entrance to the official campground. There’s water here from a tank at Cooks Hut a stroll away, where we chat to the friendly Park volunteers before enjoying a hot chocolate and tea as the sun sets. Apart from my lamentable attempt at cooking sausages on my camp stove, it’s been a fantastic day.

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Day 2

We awaken early the next day. To be specific, Luke wakes up early and tells me I need to get up. I’d be happy to snooze another couple of hours. We’re underway around 7am, heading back along Cooks Beach to the turn-off up to Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham. Today will be a big day.

From the northern end of Cooks beach, the track ascends steadily up to and then along the East Freycinet saddle, gaining about 375m over 5km. It’s tough going after a very “flat” first day and carrying a heavy pack, but we’re walking through dry sclerophyll forest and in shade. It takes us just over two hours to reach the side-track to Mt Freycinet. I feel slightly bad telling Luke that climbing the highest peak in Freycinet is not optional, and we leave our packs at the bottom.

The climb is steep: only 750m in distance, but climbing from 375m up to the top at 620m. There are cairns and orange markers designating the rough track that goes directly up the side of the mountain, with some boulder-scrambling at the top. The views towards Wineglass Bay as  you reach the summit suggest it’s worth the effort. Luke doesn’t share my opinion. I am currently the Worst Dad in the World.

The view from the top is incredible (although I am not yet forgiven). You can see the main track continuing up over Mt Graham to the north-east. Directly north is a magnificent vista that takes in Hazards Beach and Wineglass Bay, with Hazards Lagoon in the middle and “The Hazards” in the background. If you’re doing the Freycinet Peninsula circuit, it’s worth making the effort.

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The view north over Hazards Beach and Wineglass Bay

The descent is much quicker. We re-shoulder our packs at the bottom, and start our second ascent up Mt Graham (579m). The track is now in full sun as it climbs steadily up through low heath to our second summit of the day.

Mt Graham is not really a peak – there’s a 100m pad up to the “summit” from the main track, with views of Mt Freycinet to the south and Wineglass Bay to the north. The views are not as dramatic as Mt Freycinet, but being a “flat” peak (Mt Freycinet is more a collection of large boulders) you get uninterrupted 360-degree views. Strong winds and some cool mist suggests how quickly the Tasmanian weather can change.

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From here the track descends to Wineglass Bay, but remains exposed and it’s another section that feels much longer than it it really is. Wineglass Bay still looks far away…

I’m unsure whether there is water at Wineglass Bay, so I’m hoping that we can replenish our water supplies on the way down. We find a few unappealing, brackish streams before eventually striking a clear stream that crosses the track (Graham Creek) and we refill our three 1.5L water bottles. I explained to Luke that, worst case, we could suck the nectar out of banksia flowers (although most were pretty dry).

Finally, we reach our camp for the second night, after 16km and over 1000m of climbing. Wineglass Bay is rated one of the best beaches in the world (by Traveller.com, UK Telegraph and Lonely Planet to mention just a few publications) and it is just spectacular. Clear, blue water and white sand with the peaks of The Hazards forming the background.

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The only downside is the number of mosquitoes. The large campground, which is right on the water, is not full despite it being a summer weekend. But as all the premium water-front plots are taken, we find a nice secluded camp site toward the back of the campground. Big mistake. I feel as we are the guests of honour at the Tasmanian National Mosquito Conference. I’ve never seen so many mozzies. We quickly cook our dinner (another culinary miss, with Luke declaring my expensive Back Country Honey Soy Chicken packet a bunch of inedible vegetables), watch the sun set and climb into our tents. Despite this, we sleep well and are ready for the final hike out the next morning.

Day 3

Another early-ish (7:30am) start – we are both ready for an egg and bacon roll and a cold drink at Coles Bay, after our last few meals… It should be pretty easy as as we’re walking around Wineglass Bay along the beach, although the sand is soft and we can feel our muscles! Wineglass Bay looks pretty impressive from this angle too, this time with Mt Freycinet and Mt Graham in the background.

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The track ascends from the the north end of Wineglass Bay. Being a popular day-walk, the track is now of a considerably higher standard, but we’ve got a 200m climb up to the Wineglass Bay lookout. We start seeing a lot more people, for the first time in three days.

It’s not a bad view over Wineglass Bay… but we’ve been spoilt by the last two days and the weather is a bit overcast for the first time (although it soon clears). There’s many people here, with the lookout rated as one of the “most photogenic destinations” in the world, according to Traveller.

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It’s now all down-hill for the last two or so kilometres, on a well-graded track that feels more like a highway than a trail after the rest of our hike. We’re welcomed by another friendly wallaby, as we make our way back to the car-park (and our well-earned egg and bacon roll). It’s been exactly 40km in 48 hours. We’ve both had a great time on our first overnight hike, and thinking about where we might go next…

Lessons and Suggestions

It’s been many years since I’ve done an overnight walk… and we’ve done pretty well with our preparation and gear. Next time, I’ll definitely be packing insect repellent. Some light-weight thongs or “slippers” would have been helpful around camp. And you can never bring too much wine…

If you’re not up for overnight-camping, there are are a few companies that offer Freycinet trips, often using boats to avoid sections of hiking and including accommodation in a lodge near Coles Bay:

Hike details and map

Location Starts at the Wineglass Bay carpark, near Coles Bay. About 2.5-hours from Hobart or Launceston airports.
Distance 40km circuit. 1180m total ascent. 1-3 days.
Grade Moderate
Season/s All year round
Map TasMap Frecyinet National Park 1:50,000
GPS route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources  Parks and Wildlife “Freycinet Peninsula Circuit” overview
Photos Google photos albums – Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3
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Map showing Freycinet Peninsula Circuit route and elevation gain.

Hamilton Pool

An impressive waterfall cascades over a semi-circular cave, into a turquoise pool ringed by trees.

My last stop on the way to the airport – I wasn’t expecting anything much, but Hamilton Pool seemed to warrant a short detour from Enchanted Rock.

I arrive around 2pm – I’ve read that there may be a queue and people may be turned away during busy periods, but I have no problems. The situation may be different at peak times, so worth checking if reservations are required – or arrive early! In any case, I quickly pay the entry fee and park; the carpark is perhaps 60% full, but it’s not too busy.

Heading down the steep path to Hamilton Creek, it’s only 10min before I reach the creek (it’s only a 1/2-mile or 800m round-trip from the carpark to the pool) and turn right toward Hamilton Pool.

The pool is breathtaking. One of those spots where you know the photos won’t do justice to the scene. I try anyway, and spend some time walking around the cave and behind the waterfall. Part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, the pool and grotto were formed when the dome of an underground river collapsed due to massive erosion thousands of years ago.

There’s an inviting beach and the pool has been used as a swimming hole; a number of signs prohibit swimming due to high bacteria level. (On questioning the very friendly and helpful park ranger on my way out, it appears that there have been a couple of swimming deaths in recent years, and the swimming ban is less about bacteria and more about preventing any further drownings.)

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I’ve got a bit more time before I need to leave, so I continue down the trail towards the Pedernales River. There’s few people on this section, which is about 1.5 miles (2.4km) to the river and back to the car park. The trail closely follows the creek and it’s a pleasant and shaded walk, with very clear turquoise water. I don’t quite make it the whole way as I’m getting short of time, but I’ve really enjoyed this walk – it greatly exceeded expectations and is somewhere I’d definitely visit again.

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Location About 30 miles west of Austin on FM 3238
Distance 800m round-trip to pool. 2.4km to Pedernales River and back.
Grade Easy.
Season/s All year round. Can get very busy on weekends and public holidays
Map USGS Topo Map Quad: Hammetts Crossing
Resources County Parks web site

Senja and the Lofoten Islands

After an amazing week in Svalbard, we travel south in search of the Northern Lights with a trip around Lyngen, Senja and the Lofoten Islands. We’ve hired a car from Tromsø (having flown into here from Longyearbyen in Svalbard), and cover about 1,500km over ten days, finishing at Svolvaer where we leave the car and take the Hurtigruten down to Bergen.

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About Lofoten

Lofoten is a chain of islands to the north-west of Norway in the county of Nordland. Known for its distinctive terrain of dramatic mountains and peaks that form a backdrop to the fjords, the scenery lives up to it’s reputation!

Also in Nordland, at the start of our drive to the Lofoten Islands, is Lyngen. The Lyngen peninsula (also known as the Lyngen Alps) is a scenic and mountainous area, and contains many of the highest peaks in Troms county (the highest being Jiekkevarre at 1,833 metres).

South-west of Lyngen and just north of the Lofoten Islands is Senja,  the second largest island in Norway which is connected to the mainland by the 1,147 metre long Gisund Bridge. A popular tourist destination known for its scenery (a mix of sea, mountains, fishing villages and beaches), Senja has been described as “Norway in miniature” with the island’s diverse scenery reflecting almost the entire span of Norwegian nature.

(Nordland extends about 500 km from Nord-Trøndelag to Troms, or 800km by road, and is one of the least polluted areas in Europe. So it’s also great for watching the northern lights!)

Nordland has a long history of fishing, with the Lofoten Islands being a centre of of cod fisheries for over 1,000 years. Fish became Norway’s first significant export commodity in the Middle Ages, addressing a market for dried fish in England and on the continent (stockfish being the term for air-dried cod). For centuries, stockfish was the country’s biggest export. The fishing season is in February/March, with the fish then hung on hjell from February to May to dry.

The famous Moskstraumen (Malstrøm), a system of tidal eddies, is located in western Lofoten and the the root of the term maelstrom. It’s the second strongest whirlpool in the world with flow currents reaching speeds as high as 32 km/h [Wikipedia].

When to go (and for how long)

While the Lofoten Islands lie within the Arctic Circle, they have one of the world’s largest elevated temperature anomalies relative to their high latitude [Wikipedia]. We visited in September, where we were still able to enjoy relatively long days, amazing displays of northern lights and great hiking (all hiking trails being snow-free and accessible). In hindsight, this was a great time to visit – although our timing was somewhat dictated by Australian school holidays – given our objective of seeing as much as we could by car while fitting in as much hiking as possible.

The only caveat at this time of year is that many restaurants are closed or facilities are not fully operational. For example, while almost everywhere we stayed had a hot tub, all (except one) had closed these for the season. Many fishing tours or “summer activities” were no longer offered, or had to be booked well in advance. Conversely, we enjoyed staying in many fishing villages where we were just about the only guests! It felt to us that tourism in the Lofoten Islands “shuts down” at the end of summer.

Personally, travelling in the middle of summer – despite the attraction of the midnight sun – is not so appealing, as I enjoyed the relative solitude of all but the most-popular walks. I think our experience would have been very different a few months earlier (August would be a good time, though).

Around April/May would also be appealing, as the mountains would be snow-covered and look even more spectacular… but without skis and/or snow-shoes and a lot of alpine hiking experience, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the hikes that I enjoyed so much. If you’re not into hiking (or prefer skiing), I think March-May would be a great time to visit.

For the pros & cons of when to go, 69North has a useful When to Visit Lofoten page on their Web site that explains what to expect at different times of the year.

We spent a week in the Lofoten Islands, staying 1-2 nights at each location – plus three days getting there (from Tromsø). The scenery around Lyngen and Senja was as spectacular as Lofoten, so I’d recommend adding a few extra days if you’re driving. We could easily have spent a few more days in Lofoten: there are many more hikes I could have done, and having 2-3 days at each location would have provided a bit more flexibility to pick the best weather for the higher-altitude walks. If you’re just driving and not doing outdoor activities, 5-7 days would enable to cover all the major attractions. For fishing tours or wildlife tours, book (at least) a week in advance,

Getting there

We flew into Tromsø from Svalbard, and then drove via Alta, Lyngen and Senja – a most enjoyable drive of about 900km over a number of days as we initially went north, before heading to the Lofoten Islands. (It would have been an easy and shorter 300km drive if we’d gone directly to the Lofoten Islands!) We then returned the car at Svolvaer, taking the Hurtigruten from there (which cost about USD$400 extra for a one-way rental).

There are flights into Leknes and Svolvær, these are generally not direct flights from either Tromsø or Oslo. It would be a long (1,300km) drive from Oslo, so flying into Leknes (one direct flight per week with Wideroe or via an intermediate stop with SAS or Wideroe would be an option).

The Hurtigruten (coastal passenger ferry) stops at Stamsund and Svolvær in the Lofoten Islands, and can take you from Bergen (which is a 450m drive from Oslo or a short 50min flight).

Travelling though the Lofoten Islands by public transport is not something I’d recommend: the scenery is amazing and having a car allows you to stop or take scenic detours. We were travelling off-season, so almost everywhere that we stayed the restaurant was closed, meaning a drive to the nearest large town or picking up something to eat on the way. Finally, many of the hiking trails start a short distance from any towns, so having a car makes it much easier to get off the beaten track.

Food & Accommodation

Expensive! While no more expensive than anywhere else in Norway, food and dining out is not cheap. We would have easily spent NOK 1,500 (AUD$230) per day on food for a family of four, eating at mid-range restaurants or cafes. Most of the cabins we stayed at were self-catering, and we did get take-away pizzas and other meals a few times, that we could easily re-heat. Being off-season, finding somewhere to eat was often the challenge, with nothing open outside the major towns. Local cuisine – especially reindeer and fish – were a pretty staple menu item, and most of the restaurants had a slightly cheaper kids menu.

By comparison, accommodation was reasonably good value, with an average cost of NOK 2,000 (AUD $300) per night for the four of us, generally in 2-bedroom cabins. We were really happy with the quality of accommodation, with all of our cabins being clean (with the exception of one place that appeared to have been used for a cigar-smoking competition) and in great locations. As we were booking out of peak season, we had no problems with availability.

Northern Lights

There are many experienced aurora photographers providing advice on how to get great photos of the northern lights, so I’ll just add a few suggestions that might be useful:

  • Forget auto-focus – you need to set the focus manually. If you’re using an SLR, it can be useful to note on the lens where the “infinity” focus point is during the day, or find somewhere bright enough on the horizon for the autofocus to lock onto, then switch to manual focus.
  • Set the exposure manually – I found ISO 2000-3200 with an aperture of F4 and shutter speed of around 2sec was a good starting point. Some articles I read suggest using higher ISO and faster shutter speed to avoid “blurring” of the lights; the downside is the images can be a bit noisy/grainy. I was happy with the results I got with shutter speeds up to 5sec.
  • Pick your spots before sunset – unless it’s polar night and dark all the time, scope a few places during the day where there are mountains in the background or water in the foreground (or both), so you can quickly move between different locations.
  • Don’t get too excited – I failed rather miserably on this one, and ended up with a few bruises from running around excitedly with camera in one hand, tripod in the other while looking at the sky, only to trip over a large boulder that was in front of me. Miraculously, I managed to never actually fall into a fjord…

The Itinerary

Alta to Lyngen

We leave our accommodation (Ongajok Mountain Lodge, located at the end of a forest road in the Norwegian Lapland, about 28km south of Alta) around 10am, having a full day for the relatively short drive to Rotsund in Lyngen.

After a slow start down a narrow forest road back to the E6 highway, we follow the E6 along the Alta fjord (Altafjorden) and then the narrower Lang Fjord (Langfjorden). It’s a pleasant and easy drive, with not much traffic, and a backdrop of steep mountains and autumn colours.

After a few hours driving, the road rises up from the coast, with views over Badderfjorden. There’s some roadwork along this winding section of the E6, and we maneuver around the large trucks that are re-surfacing the road.

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It’s now mid-afternoon and we are all pretty hungry… there’s been nowhere to eat along the way so far, and by luck we find the På Taket Kafé in Sørkjosen. Half-expecting it to be closed, we happily discover that it’s not only open, but has an extensive menu (pizzas, burgers, sandwiches) and a balcony with views over the fjord. And very good coffee.

After our late lunch, we have just over an hour’s driving before reaching our destination. The Lyngen Alps, still seeming far away, form an impressive backdrop. We reach our self-contained house at Lyngen North (in the small town of Spåkenes, near Rotsund) around 3pm, and are welcomed by the very friendly owners. The property is right on the water, a spectacular setting with the impressive Lyngen Alps on the other side of the fjord. There’s even two “glass igloos” for couples, so you can watch the northern lights from your bed!

Having a few hours of daylight left, the kids – for reasons that only they can (possibly) explain – think that going for a swim in the arctic waters of the fjord is a good idea, followed by a session in the sauna. Meanwhile, with helpful instructions from the property owners, I tackle the mountain just behind our house.

Storhaugen hike (1,1,42m)
A steep climb up to Dalberget and Storhaugen, with increasingly spectacular views of Lyngenfjord and the snow-covered Lyngen Alps as you gain altitude. Near the foot of the mountain and not far from the E6 road are the ruins of the Spåkenes fort, built in 1941 by the German army.
Full hike details
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After a successful swim and a slightly less successful hike (my enthusiasm was not quite matched by my navigation skills) we have dinner at the house. There’s no restaurant anywhere nearby that’s open, so we’ve bought some things to heat up in the oven.

Later that evening we experience our first Norwegian light show. The aurora lasts about an hour, as it slowly moves from the east (over the Lyngen alps) to the west.

From Alta to Lyngen
Driving distance: 200km (total 5 hours, with 3.5 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Lyngen North (formerly known as Spåkenes Sjøbuer). Self-contained two-bedroom house. (1 night)

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Route from near Alta to our accommodation in Lyngen (Spåkenes, near Rotsund)

Lyngen to Senja

We continue along the E6 the following day as it follows the Lyngen fjord, passing the Route 81 ferry that goes to Tromsø and skirting around the narrow Kafjorden, with views of the Lyngen Alps in the distance. After an hour of half of driving, we spot a “Visit Lyngenfjord” tourist office in Skibotn, which we think may contain food. It sort of does: we get some hot chocolates for the kids and biscuits to keep us going. With very few places to eat and many of those places closed in September, we’ve started to adopt a “sea food” diet – when see anything resembling a cafe or restaurant, we stop and eat!

Following our brunch stop, we continue along the E6, following Storfjorden and the southern end of Balsfjorden as we head west towards Finnsnes.

It’s a great drive, with the forests reflecting the onset of autumn as the leaves change colour.

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We have a very late lunch in in the town of Finnsnes at Senjastua, which serves traditional Norwegian food and has a children’s menu. With a population of only 4,371 people in 2013, the village of Finnsnes was granted town status in 2000. Despite this somewhat small population, there’s a traffic jam over the the Gisund Bridge, which connects Finnsnes to the villages of Silsand and Laukhella on the island of Senja.

Nearing our destination, we cross the suspension bridge at Straumnes, on the island of Senja. In the background are are the mountains of Skaland, across the Bergsfjorden on the northwest side of the island of Senja.

We reach Hamn around 4pm, where we have a self-contained apartment in a holiday resort for one night. Hamn i Senja is located in an old fishing village dating back to the 1880s; the word “hamn” means harbour. We explore the sea-side property, which includes a lighthouse with panoramic views over Bergsfjorden, before borrowing some fishing rods that the kids cast into the harbour (they somehow manage to catch two small fish, that we throw back in). Being September the restaurant is closed (there’s also no fishing trips or fjord cruises unless booked well in advance), but we have bought some food to cook in the well-appointed kitchen.

We’re hopeful to see the northern lights again tonight after a very clear day, with the lighthouse being a great vantage point. Unfortunately, the sky starts to cloud over in the evening and there’s no auroral activity tonight (at least, none that we can see!). Just some impressive cloud formations with the moon occasionally peeking through.

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The next morning, I’m up early to hike Sukertoppen (Sugar Peak), the 456m peak that rises up behind Hamn, before we continue on our trip.

Sukkertoppen hike (456m)
The views from the top of Sukkertoppen are impressive – whilst not a particularly high peak it feels like you’re perched almost vertically about the coastline. Looking to the north, you can see the town of Hamn and its protected harbour, and across Bergsfjorden to the mountains of Skaland.
Full hike details
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From Lyngen to Senja
Driving distance: 255km (total 7 hours, with 4.45 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Hamn i Senja in Senja (1 night)

Senja to Sjøvegan

We’re on the road by 10am, taking the Rv 862 which is a National Tourist Route; while we have less distance to cover than yesterday, there are many sights on the way.  The first (brief) stop is at Senjatrollet (Senja Troll) about 10min away. The world’s biggest troll at 18m high and 125,000kg according by the Guinness Book of Records, the Senja Troll can be clearly seen from the carpark. Which is as close we get, as Senjatrollet, like many other attractions, is closed from early September.

We reach Bergsbotn after another 20min and one tunnel later: this 1,894m long tunnel, Skalandtunellen, has two reviews on Google. One of which translates to “Very badly illuminated tunnel by bicycle”. It’s a 4.5-star-rated tunnel, if you’re interested.  I’m not sure if I was cycling through a country with over 900 road tunnels I’d stop and write a review of a road tunnel, but each to their own.

Bergsbotn (7 Google reviews and 4.8 stars) is a vantage point off the National Tourist Route, with panoramic views from a 44-metre long platform over Bergsfjord and the surrounding peaks. Designed by Code Arkitektur and installed in 2010, it’s located at the first place where you can once again see the ocean when travelling across Senja.

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The road winds steeply down to the Bergsfjord, which it then follows for a while before entering another tunnel at Steinfjord. There’s more roadwork, so we’re escorted through the tunnel by a “Ledebil”, which we guess must mean”leader vehicle”. Disappointingly, this tunnel has no Google reviews or ratings.

As a result of waiting for our Ledebil to escort us, it takes another half an hour or so (rather than 15min) to reach the Tungeneset viewing point. The Tungeneset rest area is on the end a promontory that separates two fjords, the Steinsfjord and Ersfjord. A walkway designed by Code Arkitektur in Siberian larch leads out over the rocks, providing a view of the razor-sharp Okshornan peaks to the east, Husfjellet to the west and the Arctic Ocean to the north.

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We don’t make very far until our next stop at Ersfjord Beach, which is “perhaps the finest beach in north Norway”. With rugged mountains towering above the sandy beach and village it’s very photogenic – though a little too chilly for swimming in late September!

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From here we continue eastwards, with the road following the coast and going through many more (unreviewed) tunnels, the landscape still very dramatic.

Our next photo-stop, where we hope to fund lunch (but the best we can do is some packets of chips from the general store) is Husøy, a village in the municipality of Lenvik. The picturesque village covers the entire island of Husøy and is connected to the mainland by a 300m long causeway. It’s an active fishing community with a few hundred permanent inhabitants.

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With everyone now a little hungry, we make a small detour to the village of Botnhamn (on the west side of the fjord of Stønnesbotn) and then stop in Finnsnes for a late afternoon tea before turning off the Rv 86 and onto Rv 84. After another couple of hours drive we arrive at Garsnes Brygge, where we’re staying the next two nights. A resort and retreat with restaurant and cabins, the complex is situated on Sagfjorden near Sjøvegan. Not all the cabins are full, but it’s one of the busiest places we’ve stayed, and the restaurant is open and has a decent range of really good food using local ingredients, including a few options to keep the (fussy) kids happy!

The following day I’ve got time in the morning for a hike before we drive to the Polar Park in the afternoon, and head off by foot from Garsnes Brygge for the hike to Sommarset-vatnet, which starts nearby.

Sommarsetvatnet hike
Ascending from the fjord near Sommerset up to an alpine lake, the walk starts in the forest before rising above the tree-line to a more alpine landscape. The trail stops at the picturesque Sommarsetvatnet (lake) surrounded by mountiaims, but it’s possible to climb up to the adjacent peak.
Full hike details
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We head to the Polar Park Arctic Wildlife Center in Narvik at 11am, which is the world’s northernmost animal park. Polar Park is home to Norway’s large predators such as bears, wolves, lynx, wolverines and foxes, as well as their prey such as deer, elk, reindeer and musk ox. The animals are all in large enclosures (so it doesn’t feel like a zoo), and the guided tour, which includes predator feeding, was educational and entertaining for the adults – and the kids. Watching the lynxes being fed and hearing the wolves howling was pretty amazing.

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A great day hiking and animal-watching is topped off by our second Norwegian aurora, which went for almost two hours before the clouds started to obscure the lights.

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From Senja to Sjøvegan
Driving distance: 195km (total 7 hours, with 5 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Garsnes Brygges (2 nights)

Sjøvegan to Kabelvåg

It’s a bit of a miserable day as we leave Senja around 10am, heading further south on Fv 84 to the Lofoten Islands. Although when it’s not actually raining, the clouds and mist enhance the mountainous landscape. By the side of the road on the shore of Lavangsfjorden is lonely war memorial that pays tribute to the Norwegian and allied forces that fought the Germans in World War II. The Sjøvegan-Tennevoll road that we’ve just driven down was the marching ground two battalions, and the battle of Gratangsbotn (which is a little further south) was the biggest single attack against German forces on Norwegian soil.

Another hour of driving and we reach Tjeldsund Bridge (Tjeldsundbrua), a 1,007 metre long, 32-span suspension road bridge that crosses the Tjeldsundet strait between the mainland and the island of Hinnøya.

About half-way between the Tjeldsund Bridge and our destination in Storvågan, we pass Valbukta bay and a small side road off the E10 that leads across a narrow spit to Holdøya, and few minutes later there’s a nice view over Sløverfjorden with the mountains in the background.

We arrive at Nyvågar Rorbuhotell in Storvåganveien (1km west of Kabelvåg and 6km  west of Svolvær)  at 3:30pm, where we are staying for in a fisherman’s shack or “rorbu” for one night. It’s a great location, with our cosy cottage looking out over the fjord to the small hills of Hopen on the other side.

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We seem to be about the only guests staying at the (reception is closed and our key has been left in the door of our cottage), and the restaurant has no sign of life. After unpacking we drive to Svolvaer, 10 minutes away, where there is a wide range of restaurants.

After a cloudy day when the sun has never come out, we’re pleasantly surprised in the evening when the sky clears and we’re treated to a light show for many hours. The long deck that runs in front of all the cabins and and jetty provide many vantage points for photographing the aurora.

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From Sjøvegan to Kabelvåg
Driving distance: 255km (total 6 hours, with 5 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Nyvågar Rorbuhotell (1 night)

Kabelvåg to Nusfjord

The next day is looking much nicer, as we take a few last photos from our cabin of the mountains that were covered in cloud only 12 hours ago, and resume our journey south, further into the Lofoten Islands.

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First stop is a “quick” ascent of Glomtinden, just off the E10, as the rest of the family seek breakfast and explore the active fishing village of Henningsvaer (nicknamed the “Venice of Lofoten”).

Glomtinden hike (419m)
A relatively short walk, starting on an old gravel road and ending with a steep scramble to the summit. The rocky peak offers 360-degree views, from Rørvikvatnet lake to the west, the lakes of Hopsvatnet and Hopspollen to the north-east,  and Kabelvag and Svolvaer to the east.
Full hike details
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After my hike, the scenery from the E10 doesn’t disappoint, as we travel along the Rorvik valley, surrounded by jagged mountain peaks, and then follow the foot of the mountains around the coast.

We’re soon crossing the Gimsøystraumen Bridge (Gimsøybrua), a cantilever road bridge that crosses the Gimsøystraumen strait between the islands of Austvågøya and Gimsøya – one of the many bridges connecting the islands of Lofoten as part of the E10 highway.

Having crossed the Gimsøystraumen strait, we make a little detour around the 46.4-square-kilometre island of Gimsøya. At the “top” of the island is Hov, where Lofoten Links is located – one of the few courses in the world where you can play golf in the sun for 24 hours! Beside the golf course is a horse farm with friendly Icelandic horses, which we stop and say hello to.

We continue through the mountainous terrain on the E10, stopping along the way at the Torvdalshalsen rest area (Torvdalshalsen rasteplass), which is one of the National Tourist Route attractions. Located on a hilltop south of Torvdalsvatnet lake and featuring a long screen with benches, it’s incredibly windy but offers a great view of Vestvågøy island.

About 3km after this rest stop, we make another detour to Eggum via the Eggum Tourist route, to the remains of a World War II German radar station. Built on a small hill overlooking the ocean, it’s surrounded by towering cliffs. With an architecturally-designed visitor centre and a huge car park, it looks capable of handling hundreds of visitors in summer… in late September, we are the only people visiting…

There’s another hour of driving through more spectacular countryside before we reach today’s destination. We pause briefly at Lofotr Vikingmuseum (we’re coming back here for dinner) and stop at the major town of Leknes, where we have a late lunch.

We arrive at Nusfjord in the late afternoon, one of the oldest and best-preserved fishing villages with long Lofoten fishery traditions, about 6km off the E10 highway. We’re staying in one of the 46 traditional fishing huts or rorbu in the village – it feels like the other 45 are village feels very quiet.

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After a few moments of panic when the reception is closed and there’s no-one around, we find someone who helps us find our our key and the directions to our cabin, which is perched over the water. There’s nowhere to eat in the village, but we’ve booked dinner at Lofotr Viking Museum, a historical museum based on the reconstruction and archaeological excavation of a Viking chieftain’s village on the island of Vestvågøya.

It should be only a 45min drive back up the E10 to the museum, but much to our kids’ consternation (they are getting hungry and inpatient!) we stop every five minutes to take photos of the fantastic sunset and evening light.

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We arrive a little late for our 7pm Viking feast, which is held in the longhouse. Before dinner we have some time to explore the museum, which includes a full reconstruction of the 83m long chieftain’s house, a blacksmith’s forge and two Viking ships. The Viking feast includes a leg of lamb from Lofoten and honeywine-mead, and is accompanied by an explanation of how the Vikings lived (and ate), role-playing and traditional Viking songs and dances. It’s great fun, and despite being a late night the kids really enjoy it. Especially the bit where they play with the swords and shields!

A great day is completed with an aurora show as we drive back to our cabin – probably the most intense lights we’ve seen so far!

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From Kabelvåg to Nusfjord
Driving distance: 215km (total 7:30 hours, with 4 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Nusfjord Rorbuer (1 night)

Nusfjord to Reine

Leaving late the following morning – it’s a very short drive today – we skirt around the Storvatnet on a narrow road before re-joining the E10.

It’s not far to our first stop at Skagsanden beach near Flakstad, one of Norway’s most-photographed beaches. In the distance are the mountains of Moskenesøya. There’s no-one at the campground. Or on the beach. Or anywhere…

A little further in the quaint, small town of Ramberg we find a small restaurant in a historic building, Kafe Friisgarden. Even more surprisingly, it’s actually open! We’re the only customers for lunch, but they serve a great soup for the adults and chicken nuggets for the kids.

From here it’s a short drive to Reine, a fishing village (and the administrative centre of the municipality of Moskenes) located situated on a promontory just off the E10.

It’s a very picturesque village, selected as “the most beautiful village in Norway” by the Norwegian Allers magazine in the 1970s. We’re staying in one of the 32 “rorbu” or fishing huts in Reine Rorbuer – it’s surprisingly busy compared to most of the other places we’ve stayed, and the resort/hotel has a couple of restaurants and a sports and outdoor shop that are all open.

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Having arrived in the early afternoon, there’s time for an afternoon hike. I’m joined by my son for our walk, which starts a short drive away in the small fishing town of Å to the south of Reine.

Stokkvikskaret hike
A very muddy walk along Lake Ågvatnet, with chains assisting on the steeper parts. We stop near the end of the lake; the track continues up to the Stokkvikskaret Pass and then onto the town of Stokkvika on the other side of the ridge.
Full hike details
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We have dinner at the on-site restaurant, Gammelbua (once the old general store in Reine) – the food is good with a focus on local cuisine, but it’s a limited menu with not many kid-friendly options. Later in the evening we enjoy some more northern lights, with many great spots to take photos around the hotel.

We have two days in Reine, so on the following day we wander around the village in the morning, before Luke and I tackle the nearby mountain peak.

Reinebringen (448m)
A fairly short but challenging trail, starting near the town of Reine. Initially wet, muddy and slippery, the trail soon gets very steep and slippery. It’s well worth the effort, with breathtaking views over Reine and the surrounding mountain peaks.
Full hike details
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Out second (and last) night in Reine is also our last Lofoten aurora, with the weather deteriorating. Of all the places we’ve stayed, Reine is probably the best location for aurora photography, with many different vantage points.

As we prepare to leave Reine and head back north to catch the Hurtigruten from Svolvaer, we’re farewelled with a rainbow over Reinevagen Bay.

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From Nusfjord to Reine
Driving distance: 50km (total 3 hours, with 1 hour driving time)
Accommodation: Reine Rorbuer (2 nights)

Reine to Ballstad

We’re headed for Ballstad today, a bit over half-way to Svolvaer where we swap our rented car for a ferry… It’s a little overcast, but not raining.

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We are more or less re-tracing the route we took south a few days ago, with a quick stop at Skagsanden Beach.

We make a short detour to Vikten, situated on the coast and surrounded by steep mountains. It’s also the site of Glasshytta Vikten, Northern Norway’s first glass studio which was founded in 1976. The ex-fisherman and now glass-blower Åsvar Tangrand creates his art here – you can watch glass being blown and there’s many pieces for sale.

Rather than going directly to Ballstad, we head to Leknes for lunch at the Frk. Lillemor Cafe, and then toward Stamsund. There’s time for quick walk in the afternoon…

Justadtinden (738m)
A 12km round trip to one of Vestvågøy’s highest peaks, on an easy-to-follow path. After about two hours walking there’s a final scramble up some steep rocks to the top of Justadtinden. Unfortunately there’s no view due to the weather – but the rocky peak would yield some impressive photos in clear weather.
Full hike details
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After my hike, we continue to Stamsund,  a fishing village on the southern side of the island of Vestvågøy. Overlooking the coast in Stamsund is a statue called “The Tourist” which looks “like a mixture of David Livingstone and Donald Duck”. It was created in eastern Norway based on an African design and brought to Stamsund by Baktruppen (an artist collective) in 2003. The intent was to lower the statue onto the seabed where it could only be viewed by underwater cameras… but there was an outcry and a poll conducted where 95% of respondents wanted the sculpture kept on land!

We follow the 817 road around the scenic Stamsund coast, before heading back toward Ballstad.

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We reach our accommodation, Hattvika Lodge, around 5pm where we have a modern and recently renovated self-contained apartment in a fishing village opposite the harbour of Hattvika.

I think we’re the only people staying here and there’s no local dining, so after unpacking we drive to Leknes (only 15min away) where we enjoy what must be the most expensive pizza we’ve ever eaten at Peppes Pizza.

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From Reine to Ballstad
Driving distance: 130km (total 7 hours, with 3 hours driving time)
Accommodation: Hattvika Lodge (1 night)

Ballstad to Svolvaer

It’s a miserable and wet last day in the Lofotens for us as we drive back to Svolvaer, where we need to drop off our car and take the Hurtigruten ferry south to Bergen.

We arrive just before lunch, and taking advantage of what I hope is a break in the weather, I walk up to the northern end of the town. Overshadowing Svolvaer, Fløya is popular with hikers and climbers (although in today’s miserable weather I only see three other people on the hike).

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Fløya (590m)
A very steep and sometimes slippery trail up to the 590m peak of Fløya, with great views from the saddle despite the wet and misty conditions. There are clear views of Svolværgeita or “The Svolvær Goat” – Lofoten’s most famous mountain formation, on the way up.
Full hike details
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I’m completely drenched and rather cold when I get back to the Svolvaer town centre; after changing clothes we have a few hours before the Hurtigruten docks. Luke and I have a quick visit to Magic Ice, an ice sculpture gallery near the wharf. They give you a warm overcoat and cold drink in an ice cup, and there’s a lot of ice sculptures to look at.

We watch the Hurtigruten ferry arriving into Svolvaer. My wife boards here with our luggage; I have drawn the short straw and am taking the two kids on a pre-booked “Lofoten by horse” excursion. We take a mini-bus from Svolvaer for the horse-riding at Hoy on Gimsøya (the same place we visited a few days ago).

I’d like to describe this a graceful ride along the beach under the northern lights… it would be more accurate to say I was clinging on to my horse as it plodded up various tracks hoping I wouldn’t fall off.

The horse ride lasts a good hour before we thankfully dismount, and our mini-bus takes us to Stamsund where we board the Hurtigruten.

It’s been an amazing ten-day journey with even more spectacular scenery than we had expected, and many hiking opportunities each with an equally fantastic view over the mountainous landscape.

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From Ballstad to Svolvaer
Driving distance: 80km (1:45min driving time)
Accommodation: We leave on the Hurtigruten ferry in the evening.

More Information

For general information the Visit Norway Web site is always helpful; we used TripAdvisor for research and Booking.com for all of our accommodation bookings. As well as an olde-fashioned print copy of Lonely Planet Norway.

To help work out when to go and how much sunlight you’ll have (outside the polar summer), try Time and Date, and 68 North has useful information on the different seasons.

For hiking, Switchback Travel has an overview of their Top 10 hikes, and 68 North has some general information on hiking in the Lofoten Islands. The book  “Explore Lofoten” by Kristin Folsland Olsen is really good – it doesn’t seem to be readily available for purchase on-line, but you should find it bookshops or outdoor shops in the Lofoten Islands.

If you’re into GPS mapping or just want an alternative to Google Maps for looking at where to go or where you’ve been, GodTur.no provides a free, on-line and interactive topographical map. This is particuarly useful if you’re hiking, to check exactly where the hike starts.

West Head walks

A multitude of short walks 90min north of Sydney, from secluded beaches to rocky outcrops with views over Pittwater.

West Head, part of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, is one of my favourite destinations for short hikes – or to find a beach that won’t be crowded even on a summer weekend. There are about 20 trails, almost all of them starting on West Head Road and well sign-posted.

Even if you’re not a hiker, the drive to the lookout at the end of West Head Road offers spectacular views over Broken Bay and towards Palm Beach. (Note: there is a gate that 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, the walking trails may be closed. Park entry fees apply, from $12 per vehicle.)

Walks include:

Waratah Trail (Aug 2016)

A long fire trail along the ridge, culminating in views over Cowan and Coal and Candle Creeks.

The sandy fire trail descends gradually down the ridge from West Head Road, through low heath. It’s nicer in spring when the wildflowers are out and can get hot in summer as there’s not much tree cover. Although it’s not the most exciting walk at any time of the year!

(After about 3.5km there’s a faint trail off to the right (north) that’s marked on some maps – this doesn’t go very far before disappearing.)

At the end of the Waratah Track there’s a large rock platform; in the distance you can see Yeomens Bay (a tributary of Cowan Creek) in the distance.

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Location First trail on the left, at start of West Head Road
Distance 9.5km return (2-3hrs)
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 135m.
Resources National Parks web site. Google Street View Trekker

Bairne Trail (June 2016)

A longer (but easy) track along the ridge line, that leads to great views over Pittwater.

Bairne Trail should really be Bairne Trails, as there are a few different options you can take. All of them start from the main track off West Head Road. The fire trail follows the ridge, and is fairly flat. It’s not the most exciting of walks. After 2.4km there’s a small cairn on the left-hand side and what seems to be a faint trail leading down-hill. Ignore this, as it soon peters out. A little further, about 2.6km from the start, there is a major fork and decision to be made…

Take the the right fork and the trail continues for another 900m, descending a little until it reaches a lookout above the cliff-line. There’s views across Pittwater to Scotland Island and beyond, and to the right (south-west) is Towlers Bay, accessible by boat or via another walking trail from West Head.

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Or, take the left fork which becomes the Soldiers Point Track (there’s an unmarked track off to the right after 100m). I haven’t taken this trail yet – and reports suggest the last section is a little overgrown – which leads to another lookout over Pittwater, and then down to Coasters Retreat, a small bush community of 50 houses beside the beach. The town is serviced by the Palm Beach Ferry Service (Bonnie Doon Wharf), providing another means of access. Or you could link up with the Basin Trail, to form a circular walk (returning to the start of the Bairne Track along West Head Road).

Finally, you can take the left fork and turn right after 100m down a narrow, unmarked track – this is the now-defunct Portuguese Track. It continues for about 500m, descending down a spur, before it stops. There’s a sign saying “track closed” and the trail is completely overgrown after the first few metres. It looks like it may still be possible to “bush bash” down to Portuguese Bay and Beach, but it would be hard work.

Location Right-hand (east) side of West Head Road, about half-way
Distance 9.6km return (taking in both look-outs)
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 150m
Resources National Parks web site. Google Street View Trekker

Willunga Trail (June 2016)

A very short track to a trig point, which is the highest lookout in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park (albeit, only about 240m above sea level).

The track goes from dry heathland to woodland, with scribbly gums and red bloodwoods. From the top, there are 360-degree views across the national park, toward Pittwater and as far as the city of Sydney to the south.

Location Left-hand (west) side of West Head Road
Distance 1.5km return (30min)
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 60m
Resources National Parks web site. Google Street View Trekker

America Bay Track (June 2016)

One of the few West Head tracks that offers Aboriginal engravings, a waterfall, views (over Cowan Water) as well as descending down to the water.

Near the start of the walk, a short detour leads to rock engravings on a sandstone shelf.

The trail descends gradually for about a kilometre, crossing a creek which is then followed down to a waterfall and rock platform. From here there are views over America Bay and out to Cowan Water, with the creek dropping off the sheer cliff.

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If you continue about 100m along the track past the platform, there is a rough track that leads down a through a gap in the cliff. It’s only about 150m but very steep, meeting the creek just before finishing at America Bay.

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Location About half-way down West Head Road on the left
Distance 2.6km return (including down to bay). 1hr
Grade Easy to lookout. Moderate to bay. Total ascent of 125m
Resources Wildwalks track notes. National Parks web site.
Google Street View Trekker

West Head Beach (May 2016)

A very short walk to a secluded beach – you can also extend this walk into the 4.3km Resolute Loop Trail.

Starting at the West Head lookout (very end of West Head Road), a well-marked track heads directly down to West Head Beach (it will be sign-posted as “Resolute Beach”). Follow this sandy track for about 400m, initially going down some rock steps and later a section of timber stairs. Just after you cross a small creek, a side-track leads down to West Head Beach.

Directly opposite Barrenjoey Peninsula, which you can see across Pittwater, it’s a sheltered, picturesque beach. It’s rarely busy and there’s lot of shaded spots. The beach is a bit rocky and best at high tide; you can go back up the hill and follow the track a bit further to Resolute Beach (another 600m).

From West Head Beach, return to the car the same way. Or you can do a loop and return via Resolute Beach and the Resolute Loop Trail.

Location Park at the end of West Head Road
Distance 800m return (20min).
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 100m
Resources Weekend Notes

Towlers Bay (Mar 2016)

An easy walk on a 4WD / management road, that leads down from West Head Road to Towlers Bay (where there are are a few houses that are accessed via water only). There’s also a YHA youth hostel at Towlers Bay, accessed via this track or by ferry/water taxi.

The tracks starts with a very gradual descent, becoming steeper after about 2km as it heads towards Morning Bay, when views of Pittwater below start to emerge.

At around the 3km mark, the track starts to follow the coast (still 50-60m above sea level), with side-tracks down to Lovetts Bay and houses, and after another kilometre Woody Point is reached. There’s a sign to the ferry wharf, and another to the youth hostel. Continue along the coast to Towlers Bay, which is reached after about 4.5km.

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At Towlers Bay, there’s a dilapidated house (with an empty swimming pool) close to the shore. From the scarce information I’ve been able to find, it was built around 1963-64 on private land and was named “Cove Lee”, having  landscaped gardens and manicured lawns. The property was compulsorily acquired not long after being constructed; there was an intent to acquire all private holdings in the area, but this was too costly. There’s also some references to this having been used as a safe-house for Petrov when he defected, which I can’t verify (and the dates don’t correspond).

It’s a fine setting for a house and a shame it’s been left to decay. There’s an old jetty that stretches out into the bay, and views across Pittwater to Bigola and Avalon on the other side of the water. There’s also crabs. Swarms (or schools, to be precise) of light-blue soldier crabs that are scurrying across the exposed mangrove flats. It’s quite a sight, which I’ve never seen before.

Location Near the start of West Head Road; right-hand (east) side
Distance 9.4km return (2-3 hours)
Grade Easy. Total ascent of 184m climb.
Resources Wildwalks track notes

Flint and Steel Beach & Bay (March 2016)

This is my second-favourite walk (after the Resolute Loop Trail), with the option of going to either the beach (the more popular walk, and a good swimming and fishing spot) or the bay (where you’re unlikely to see anyone else). You can also connect the two, and walk around from the beach to the bay (or vice versa) – this is a harder walk, that’s covered by the Wildwalks web site (see info box below).

The track starts near the end of West Head Road, descending steadily on a good track through light forest. After about 300m, the track splits and there’s a sign-post.

Head left for Flint and Steel Bay; the track continues to descend for another 500m before reaching the water. You can see the ruins of McGaw House here, although not much remains except some well-built sandstone foundations. The history is fascinating and documented by an archaeological student in a detailed report: the house was built by E.R. McGraw from 1920-65, and while the land was resumed as part of Ku-ring-gai National Park in 1939, the McGaws were permitted to stay. It wasn’t until 1968 that the NPWS requested that all structures be removed. There was an application to include the house in the Register of Historic Buildings, which the NPWS reluctantly agreed to – but in 1971 the house was destroyed by a fire. According to the report, there is a spring behind the house with fresh water.

The track continues along the shoreline of Flint and Steel Bay, with views across Pittwater.

A few hundred metres further along the track (which is now more of a pad) is White Horse Beach, which is where the track ends. It’s a nice spot for a swim or picnic.

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For Flint and Steel Beach (which is where I often go for a swim with the kids), turn right after 300m (it’s sign-posted) and follow the track down another 700m to the beach.

After about 500m you can see the end of the beach below, with Lion Island Nature Reserve in the background.

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It’s a great spot, with many shaded areas to sit, rock pools at the western end and I’ve often seen wallabies grazing just behind the beach. It’s a popular fishing spot, but there’s rarely more than a handful of people around (although it’s getting more popular).

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Location Left-hand (west) side of West Head Road, just before end of road
Distance 3.4km loop (1:30hr). Approx 2km return to either the bay or the beach
Grade Easy/Moderate. Total ascent of 130m
Resources Wildwalks track notes for loop walk

Maps

For all these walks, the free map at the West Head entry station is sufficient; for a more detailed topographical map there’s the “Ku-ring-gai & Berowra Valley” visitor guide, which you can purchase from the Information Centre at Bobbin Head. You won’t need a 1:25,000 topographical map; Broken Bay (9130-1N), Mona Vale (9130-1S) and Hornsby (9130-4S) would be needed to cover all the walks.

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Resolute Loop Trail

A great little walk that passes an Aboriginal engraving site, offers great views over Pittwater and provides access to two secluded beaches.

Starting at the West Head lookout (at the very end of West Head Road), take the well-marked track to Red Hands Cave. The track descends a little, then climbs about 60m with a long section of well-made steps. At dawn or dusk there’s a good chance of seeing wildlife – wallabies, kookaburras, lyrebirds and a green tree-snake are some of my sightings. Today’s hike is in the late afternoon, so I see a lot more wildlife than usual.

The track reaches the Red Hands Cave after 1km – this natural cave with with ochre hand-prints is one of the most famous Aboriginal heritage sites in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. (The traditional Guringai people of West Head were decimated by smallpox within a year of the arrival of the First Fleet.)

Shortly after the cave, the narrow bush track meets the Resolute Track, which is a wide fire trail. Turn left (going right takes you to the Resolute Picnic Ground, which is an alternate starting point) and follow the sandy fire trail, which descends gradually. Shortly after the turn-off, there’s a sign on the left marking a site of Aboriginal rock engravings. There are views over Pittwater towards Avalon and the Barrenjoey Peninsula from the trail.

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After about 900m the fire trail forks; keep to the left (there is a big sign at this junction). Another kilometre of downhill walking, and you’re at the end of the fire trail. A small sign marks the narrow track that continues steeply down, through tall casuarina trees. Soon you reach the North Mackerel Trail which goes to Great Mackerel Beach; turn left and then take the track down to the beach.

Resolute Beach is always quiet, even on weekends. Directly opposite Barrenjoey Beach, it’s a sheltered swimming spot with views across Pittwater, and plenty of shaded areas if you’re spending the day there. It’s been described by Best Sydney Walks as “one of those secluded beaches in Sydney that you should visit at least once in your life”.

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You’ve now done most of the walking… from Resolute Beach, head back up the steep track and turn right when you reach the main track. This follows the coastline around “Second Head”, initially crossing a stream and after about 500m the track passes a concrete observation post that was built in WWII to protect Sydney from enemy boats. It’s not sign-posted, but is visible and accessible from the track.

It’s about 600m until the turn-off to West Head Beach, which is down another short but steep track. This secluded beach is very similar to Resolute Beach, but a bit more rocky than Resolute, and always has a few more people (although it too is never busy).

That’s about it… there’s just the final 300m ascent back to the car park at West Head.

Enjoy the view from West Head Lookout before you leave… direcrly in front is Barrenjoey Peninsula and the lighthouse, and to the left across the Hawkesbury River is Lion Island Nature Reserve and the beaches of the Central Coast, including Patonga and Umina Beach.

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Location Park at the end of West Head Road
Distance 4.3km loop (1:30hr). 140m ascent
Grade Easy.
Season/s All year round
Map Ku-ring-gai & Berowra Valley Visitor Guide (from Info Centre)
Or the free map from entry station
Resources  Google Street View Trekker
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.
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Source: Best Sydney Walks