Flinders Island

In search of somewhere new to visit in the school holidays, we’ve booked a week on Flinders Island, which lies between the Australian mainland and Tasmania. It seems to offer both hiking opportunities and less strenuous sightseeing by car – as well as lots of beaches for the kids to swim at!

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About Flinders Island

Flinders Island is the largest of the 52 islands in the Furneaux Group, which are dotted across Bass Strait to the north-east of Tasmania (between Tasmania and the mainland). The island is closer to Tasmania than the mainland, and is located right on the 40° south latitude – also known as the Roaring Forties (although we didn’t experience any of the wild weather for which the island is renowned).

The island is about 62km in length and 37km across with a total land area of 1,333 square kilometres.  About a third of the island is mountainous, with ridges of granite running the length of the island. The coastal areas are predominantly covered in thick scrub, with a wide strip of sandy dunes along the shoreline (although there are large areas of cleared land that support over 50 lamb and beef farmers).

Some of the Furneaux Group islands were recorded in 1773 by British navigator Tobias Furneaux, who commanded one of the support boats James Cook’s second voyage, and the southern islands were charted by Matthew Flinders in February 1798. (James Cook named the group of islands after Tobias Furneaux, and Phillip Parker King – also an explorer – later named the largest island Flinders Island after Matthew Flinders.)

Flinders Island was frequented by sealers and Aboriginal women (who had been taken from mainland tribes) in the late 18th century; when seal stocks collapsed in the late 1820s many sealing families stayed in the Furneaux Group, subsisting on cattle grazing and mutton-birding. It wasn’t until the 1950s that a proper settlement scheme was initiated, drawing settlers from mainland Tasmania and central NSW to Flinders Island’s eastern shore. Sixty years later, in the 2011, the population of Flinders Islands was 700 people with a median age of 45. [Source: Wikipedia]

When to go (and for how long)

There’s not really a “bad” time to visit Flinders Island – although the climate is surprisingly varied for an island, with recorded extremes of -3.5 degrees in winter to 41.5 degrees in summer. Initially I’d planned to visit in early January, before discovering the flights were at their most expensive and accommodation options limited. I was more successful in booking our family trip in the April school holidays – which in hindsight was a good result. While summer would have been ideal for swimming in the many beaches and coves, it would have been less pleasant for hiking. Autumn was ideal – just warm enough for the kids to have a quick swim (definitely too cold for the adults!) and perfect for exploring the island on foot.

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Source: Bureau of Metereology via Wikipedia

As for how long to stay? We had eight days on the island and could easily have spent up to a couple of weeks. There’s lots to see, and had we stayed longer we could have enjoyed a few “quiet days” at our well-appointed beach house, or ventured out to one of the neighbouring islands (by chartering a boat). A week was needed to really explore all corners of the island, especially if you’re planning a few weeks.

Getting there and around

There’s really only one option for getting here (unless you own your own boat!), which is flying with Sharp Airlines from either Launceston (Tasmania) or Essendon (Victoria). The 19-seat turboprop plane takes about 30min from Tassie and an hour from Victoria – every seat is a window seat (except for one, which I’m assigned on both flights!), so you get nice views coming into Flinders Island.

There is a ferry from Bridport in Tasmania that is operated weekly by Furneaux Freight, allowing you to bring your own vehicle. It’s an 8-hour trip with a schedule that is dependent on tides and weather conditions… we had considered this option before realising our trip out would have meant a departure time of 1am!

Once on the island, a car is essential unless you’re on an organised tour. There is one option – Flinders Island Car Hire – which is located at the airport. Despite having a ground transportation monopoly, the prices are reasonable ($75-$80 per day), albeit the the cars are up to ten years old. The staff at the car hire desk are very friendly, meeting each flight and providing local advice and maps before sending you on your way. Although most roads are unsealed, we found them all to be in good condition and easily navigated in our 2WD rental car.

Food & Accommodation

There’s many places to stay – even in my initial attempt to book a trip in January, there was still availability a month or so prior. In April, a few places were booked a couple of months prior but we had a lot of choices: we ended up booking West End Beach House, towards the northern end of Flinders Island. A great choice – the house was well appointed, and in a very private location overlooking the ocean (the beach being  a 5-10min walk away through the sand dunes, behind the house). Sawyers Bay Shacks is another option that looked appealing.

Other than the type of accommodation, the main decision you’ll need to make is how close to “civilisation” you want to be… There are dining-out options at Whitemark and Lady Barron, and a supermarket at Whitemark (and a much smaller one at Lady Barron). And that’s about it. We were a good 45min drive away, so we had planned to stock-up every few days and cook our own dinners. It would have been pretty tedious driving at dusk/night every day to eat out for dinner.

As far as dining out goes, we met some friends for lunch at the Furneaux Tavern (Lady Barron) at the end of our stay, which wasn’t bad. Although the seafood options on the menu weren’t caught locally, there was a decent range of food and prices were reasonable. It seemed almost impossible to buy locally caught fish (there were rumours of a local who sold fresh seafood out of the back of his truck at the local pub once a week – but he hadn’t been seen for a few weeks). I  did manage to track down a purveyor of crayfish – and bought a freshly caught and cooked cray that made a delicious evening meal. We even got a tour of the crayfish and abalone holding tanks that are located at the Lady Barron wharves.

What we found consistently impressive: the local meat, which we bought at the butcher in Whitemark. While the Flinders Island (human) population represents only 0.02% of Tasmania, Flinders Island farmers produce approximately 15% of Tasmanian beef production and 9% of Tasmanian lamb production. (The chicken schnitzels were also fantastic, although they were “imported” as there’s no commercial poultry operations on the island). For a coffee fix or pre-prepared meals, A Taste of Flinders (next door to the butcher) was a regular stop.

The Itinerary

The general plan was to see as much of the island as possible in ten days (we do manage to cover a lot of ground), and I wanted to fit in a few hikes. The “highlights” of our trip:

  • Best beaches – Trousers Point was the stand-out (it just missed out on the The Mercury’s Tasmania’s Top 10 Beaches list) and has a picnic area with free BBQ. Also very picturesque are Killiecrankie Bay, Sawyers Bay and the bays and beaches around North East Rock.
  • Best hikesMt Strzelecki is worth the effort, but you need a very clear day. I found Mt Killiecrankie even more rewarding, but tougher than than Strzelecki (as it’s partly off-track). For coastal walks, Castle Rock deserves it’s place as one of Tasmania’s Great Short Walks.
  • Best Lookouts – For vantage points that can be reached by car, Mount Tanner to the north offers good views and is good spot to catch the sun rising or setting. Walkers Lookout is the one to visit, for the best views of the island.

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Getting to West End (Day 1)

Due to flight scheduling challenges (we’re coming from Sydney), it wasn’t feasible or cost-effective to get to Flinders Island in one day. So, we flew to Launceston on the previous day, arriving late afternoon. Today we had time for a visit to Platypus World in the Tamar Valley before our flight from Launceston Airport. Check-in was very quick and straightforward, and after a half hour wait we took off on our fairly short flight to Whitemark, where we picked up our car around midday.

Having picked up our car, we set off northwards on Palana Road. The road is initially sealed and passes through open farmlands, with views over the coast from Emita. After about 20min, at the junction to the C801 to Memana, the sealed road turns to gravel and it starts to feel like we’re the only ones on the island!

Another 20min or so further, and we turn left onto West End Road. The light is starting to fade, so we take it fairly slowly as there’s a lot of wildlife around. I later read in one of the guides at the house that due to ideal conditions and lack of predators, there’s about 400% more wildlife on Flinders Island compared to mainland Tasmania. Which explain the huge amount of roadkill, considering the relatively light traffic on the island. We spot a wombat by the side of the road, and a little further on a rather pale (and shy) echidna. We discover later that Flinders Island has an echidna population that includes an uncommon subset of pale or ‘albino’ echidnas.

We finally make it to our West End Beach House, just in time for a fantastic sunset and a quick swim on the beach (well, not for me, it’s way too cold but my son is part-seal!).

It feels like we’re on holiday!

North West Coast (Day 2)

We commence our island exploration with a tour of the west and north-west, continuing along West End Road and up to Mount Tanner, which is far as we can go with a 2WD car. We’d been told to avoid this road, but it seemed to have been recently graded, and was no problem for our car as it wound up the hill to the 332m summit of Mount Tanner. At the top is a microwave communications tower built to connect the island to Victoria and mainland Tasmania in 1967. The views from here stretch in all directions: to the north (below) is Killiecrankie Bay and Mount Killiecrankie.

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On the way back down, we spot a tiny frog that’s almost blended into the gravel, which the kids helpfully shepherd off the road…

Having descended back the same way, we head south, past our house and toward Whitemark. Our next stop is Long Point and the Arthur Bay Conservation Area (off Palana Road, on the west coast). One one side of the narrow road is the ocean, and on the other side a sheltered bay that has a viewing hide to observe the many sea birds.

While the kids and Mum have lunch and observe the bird life from the hide (I don’t have the patience required for bird-watching), I walk back along Long Point Beach and around to Sawyers Bay. Between Long Point Beach and the start of Arthur Bay is Blue Rocks, an outcrop of lichen-covered boulders, with the Mt Strzelecki ranges in the distance.

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Our last stop for the day is just a bit further north, where there’s a short walk from Emita along the coast to the imposing Castle Rock. (I did the 4km one-way walk; after dropping me off the rest of the family parked near the rock, which you can also get to via a short 4WD track from the car park – it’s well worth it, especially at sunset.)

Castle Rock walk (4km one-way)
One of the Tasmanian “Great Short Walks”. The trail traverses secluded beaches, weathered sandstone formations and grassland before reaching Castle Rock, an imposing, monolithic boulder on the end of the headland.
Full hike details
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Patriarch Wildlife Sanctuary (Day 3)

Another clear and sunny day awaits us… today we’re driving to the Patriarch Conservation Area, on the eastern side of the island. On the way, we make a small diversion to Tobias Furneaux Lookout.

The views aren’t spectacular, but they do give you a view over the interior of the island.

Continuing along the well-graded Memana Road (C803), we stop a couple of times to photograph the Cape Barren Geese.  They are “a most peculiar goose of uncertain affiliations, which may either belong into the “true geese” and swan subfamily Anserinae or into the shelduck subfamily” [Wikipedia], and are one of the unique birds that live around the Furneaux Group. Considered an endangered species only about 40 years ago, a breeding program to increase their numbers of geese was so successful that in recent years the numbers of geese have grown to plague proportions. As a result they are now allowed to be hunted in certain times of the year – which is probably why they take flight as soon you get too close.

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We arrive at the Patriarch Wildlife Sanctuary mid-morning, which is a habitat for abundant wildlife and bird life including wombats, wallabies and Cape Barren Geese. There’s an an A-frame building with bunk beds and cooking facilities inside, and a shaded (free) gas barbecue area outside. A big container of wallaby feed ensures that a large population of almost “tame” wallabies around the building!

Unfortunately, the relaxed vibe is broken when my wife goes searching for some birds to photograph in the nearby pond… and a snake rears it head out of the water and makes a beeline for her!

The area is named after the “Patriarchs” – three granite mountains that were named after Matthew Flinders, as they stand out on the low plains. I had allowed time to hike to the summit of one of them, the South Patriarch (the route is described in “Walks of Flinders Island”). It’s an untracked walk, and after a brief attempt to traverse the thick scrub (particularly heavy due to a bushfire a few years ago that resulted in heavy re-growth) I give up. I’m discovering that off-track walking on Flinders Island requires a certain level of long clothing and commitment!

Being now mid-afternoon, we head back to our house at West End.

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After a brief stop at the house, it’s back in the car for the 15min back up to Mount Tanner to take some sunset photos. The late afternoon light is fantastic!

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To the east are clear views of Killiecrankie Bay, and on the other side of the telecom tower the sun is setting over the ocean.

After dinner back at the house, I make a final trip for the day back to Mount Tanner, to take advantage of the clear skies and watch the moon, which is rising just after 10pm. The photos don’t really do justice to the amazingly clear views of the milky way, and the orange glow of the rising moon. I could stay here a long time. But it’s getting late chilly!

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Mt Strzelecki (Day 4)

Today’s plan is to start relatively early, and take advantage of the continuing fine weather for an ascent of Mt Strzelecki, the highest peak on Flinders Island at 756m.

Mt Strzelecki (6.6km return)
Another of the three Tasmanian “Great Short Walks” on Flinders Island. The well-marked track climbs steadily and relentlessly to the peak, through a variety of different environments.
Full hike details
 

It’s well worth the effort, despite the potentially spectacular views in all direction being partly obscured by cloud. The general recommendation is to go early (which we did) – the mountain seems to attract clouds and create its own weather at the top.

We cool off afterwards at the nearby Trousers Point Beach, with Mt Strzelecki reminding us of its presence in the background. Frustratingly, the top now looks clear of cloud!

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After driving back to West End there’s time for a swim at West End Beach, followed by a short circular walk along West End Beach and back up West End Road to our house. The sunsets haven’t disappointed so far!

It’s pretty chilly outside… but not too cold for the kids to enjoy some marshmallows over the firepit before going to bed.

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Killiecrankie (Day 5)

Another long walk – and some fossicking – is planned for today. It’s the warmest day so far, and there’s not a cloud in the sky.

We drive to Killiecrankie Beach, a little to the north. It’s one of the places to search for the Killiecrankie Diamond, and we have our shovels and sieves that we hired a few days ago in Whitemark.  The “Killiecrankie Diamond” is a type of clear topaz that has been washed down from the granite mountains.

Leaving the rest of the group to (hopefully) pay for our holiday** with their fossicking efforts, I head off around Killiecrankie Bay with my sights set on reaching the top of Mt Killiecrankie. It ends up being the most rewarding, but also the longest and toughest walk I do on the island.

Killiecrankie Circuit (18km)
A partly off-track circuit to the summit of Mt Killiecrankie summit, which offers
360-degrees over the island. The circular route back follows the rugged coast from The Dock and around Old Man’s Head.
Full hike details
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I don’t finish the hike until just after dark, walking back around Killiecrankie Bay as the sun sets over the ocean. (It’s another great sunset vantage point, which we re-visit a couple of days later).

** After collecting many small and shiny rocks, the helpful lady at Killiecrankie Enterprises (where we’v hired our fossicking equipment) explains that we have a nice collection of quartz. But not a single Killiecrankie Diamond.

Trousers Point (Day 6)

Disappointed by the less than perfect view from the summit of Mt Strzelecki two days prior due to cloud around the peak, I set the alarm clock super-early. I’m up at 3:30am and back on the summit track by 4:30am. I plan to catch the sunrise from the summit and get some clear shots from the highest vantage point on the island!

Alas, my second summit attempt is a complete disaster, with not just heavy cloud but rain falling near the peak. After returning to the car, I drive to Walkers Lookout, which is also mist-bound. Looking at Mt Strzelecki from Whitemark, the entire mountain range is shrouded in thick cloud. (I’m increasingly less convinced by the “climb early in the morning before the clouds form” school of thought. And slightly paranoid that the Strzelecki mountain gods have taken a dislike to me.)

I head to Trousers Point: the plan is to meet the rest of the family here for lunch after they’ve purchased some local beef sausages for lunch. The weather is quickly improving, and the clear water is very inviting, despite the temperature being in the low twenties.

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It’s never too cold for the kids to swim, of course… and in a clear case of the mountain gods mocking me, the top now seems completely free of cloud. I don’t have the energy for a third ascent.

This a great spot for a BBQ – like a few other places on the island, the BBQ facilities are free and spotless. This would be one of the top picks on the island for a BBQ or picnic – and yet in our three hours here we see only one other group of visitors.

After lunch, I undertake the Trousers Point Walk, the third and last of the “Great Short Walks” on Flinders Island. The return walk is just over 4.5km in length and takes me about 45min of brisk walking. It’s the shortest of the Great Short Walks, which follows the coastline along the Trousers Point headland. It’s also the least great of the Great Short Walks. It’s a nice walk along the rocky shore, with some interesting rock formations, but there’s far less variety than the other two Great Short Walks.

On the way home, we detour past Walkers Lookout again – this time it’s a far more impressive vista than the 20m visibility I had earlier in the morning. There are clear views in every direction, with signage that points out the major features in every direction. The Strzelecki ranges can be seen in the distance to the south and the Patriarchs to the east. For lookouts accessible by car, this is definitely the best one.

There’s still a few hours left in the day, but we head back to our house to avoid driving at dusk. It’s been another great day on Flinders Island.

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Palana and the North East (Day 7)

We haven’t explored the north east corner of Flinders Island yet, so we head off in this direction, taking the North East River Road all the way to the north-east tip of the island (Holloway Point).

For the last few kilometres the road follows the North East River, which resembles a tidal estuary more than a river. There’s thousands of tiny crabs swarming on the mud flats of the river, and it’s teeming with birdlife.

At the end of the road, there’s a few parking spots and a toilet block. Although my guide book says the road can get busy in summer, there is no-one here today, so we can have the place to ourselves to explore and look for shells.

On the south side of Holloway Point, a long and rocky promontory, the North East River flows into Bass Strait. There’s a small sheltered bay and a nice, long stretch of sand along the mouth of the river. It would be a great spot to swim on a warm day – today, it’s too cold even for the kids!

A short walk away, over the rocky promontory, there’s another north-facing beach that’s more exposed.

It’s a great spot for photography, especially today with the weather and light constantly changing.

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We spend a couple of hours here, before heading to Palana, on the western side of the island. Palana Beach is the most northern beach on Flinders Island; there’s a number of beach houses you can rent here, but (like our house at West End) it’s a long drive to the nearest restaurant or grocery store.

At the end of Palana Road is a very sheltered harbour or bay with a jetty. There’s also a very solid concrete bunker. There’s no explanation or signage  – and it’s the only one of it’s type I’ve seen on the entire island. Later research indicates it’s a World War II bunker.

Access to Palana Beach (which is poorly signposted) is a few hundred metres back along the road. The very last section is a bit eroded and we fear our 2WD car won’t make it, so so we leave the near the turn-off to the beach and walk down the last 250m.

It’s a nice beach, but not as nice as Trousers Point or even our last stop at North East River Inlet. I walk down the beach to the end – there are some steep sand dunes toward the far end, and a mini-lagoon where the water is a bit warmer.

At the end of the beach, there’s a good view of Inner Sister Island directly ahead (there’s also an Outer Sister Island). One of the largest of the approximately one hundred outer islands in the Furneaux Group, Inner Sister Island is a granite and dolerite island, that supports seabirds and waders and is grazed by sheep.

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No more stops are planned after our very late lunch and stroll along Palana Beach… but… as we near the turn-off to Killiecrankie the sunset seems to be another nice one. Not what we’re expecting, as it’s been a fairly overcast day. We make an impromptu diversion to Killiecrankie Bay.

The colour of the sky is getting more orange as we arrive and scope out the best spot for photos.

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It gets more spectacular as the sun emerges from the clouds, bathing the surrounding rocks and Mt Killiecrankie on the other side of the bay in a warm glow. We stay until the sun has fully set, and finally head back to the house.

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Around West End (Day 8)

It’s a quiet day today… the weather is overcast and rain threatens. The kids and I set off for a beach stroll and Killiecrankie Diamond fossicking attempt in the morning. This time we go to Tanners Bay, just south of West End Beach. While Tanners Bay can be accessed by foot from West End Beach, we drive a short way up West End Road, where our map indicates that there is a roads leading down to the beach. We leave our car on main road and walk down one of these side-tracks… which seems to be a private road leading to a house. No-one is around, so we’re quickly on the beach, but a bit confused as to which of the tracks down to the beach are public and which are private driveways.

We’re now looking for a creek bed that would have carried the “diamonds” down from Mt Tanner, but we’re really not sure if we are anywhere near the right spot. Nevertheless, we dig and sieve away with diminishing enthusiasm: there’s not a lot of reward for our effort!

Having  tried a few different spots and not far from giving up, I spot what seems to be a seal resting on the beach. Walking a bit closer, it turns out it IS a seal, which is a pleasant surprise – it’s the only seal we see on the island.

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It gives us a baleful look, and (rather inelegantly) waddles into the ocean

As the sky darkens, we head back to the car – there a brief downpour on the way back, which is the first rain we’ve had in eight days (so we can’t really complain).

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By late afternoon, the weather has significantly improved so I take the opportunity to do one more walk… from our beach house at West End I’m walking to Egg Beach. I start behind our house, walking over the sand dunes and following West End Beach north.

Egg Beach (8km)
From West End Beach, the untracked route follows the coastline, crossing secluded coves and beaches as well as rocky sections of the shore before reaching the peculiar Egg Beach. The return journey is via an old 4WD track.
Full hike details
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Lady Barron (Day 9)

Our last full day on Flinders Island… After meeting friends (who are circumnavigating Tasmania by yacht) for lunch at the Furneaux Tavern in Lady Barron, we have a look around the jetty area. In the distance, across Petrifaction Bay are the Strzelecki Ranges, and directly in front of us is Cape Barren Island.

Driving back to West End, we spot another echidna near the road.

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Leaving Flinders Island (Day 10)

We wake to the first wet and miserable day we’ve had in ten days, as we finish packing and make our way to Whitemark for our flight to Essendon (Victoria) and connecting flight to Sydney. We’ve seen a lot of the island, and it’s definitely somewhere I’d visit again.

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More Information

For general information the Visit Flinders Island Web site is helpful and lists the many accommodation options (many places are not listed on Stayz or other booking sites that I’d normally use).

For hiking, a copy of “Walks of Flinders Island” (Ken Martin) which I bought at the general store in Whitemark was really helpful, providing details and maps of over 50 walks from well-marked trails to off-track routes. The 1:100,000 Flinders Island topographical map was also useful for planning walks and drives (purchase on-line at the TASMAP eShop or available on the island).

Egg Beach (Flinders Island)

An easy coastal walk on the north-west part of Flinders Island, with secluded coves, interesting rock formations and the peculiar “Egg Beach” at the end

This is my last walk on Flinders Island, and it’s not really planned… with a few hours of daylight left and the clouds clearing, I look at what nearby hikes are possible. As I’m staying on West End Beach, the walk to Egg Beach (also referred to as Egg Rock Beach) is one I can do from the back door!

I start directly behind our rented house, walking over the sand dunes and following West End Beach north.

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Being late afternoon, the light is great for photography and while the weather has been improving, there’s some dramatic cloud formations in the sky.

It doesn’t take too long of very easy walking to reach the northern end of West End Beach. Normally the walk would start here, with the beach being accessed via the track that starts next to the West End homestead, on West End Road. From here there is a short rocky section to traverse, interspersed with some small sheltered bays.

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In the distance is Roydon Island – we’ve seen smoke from a small fire on the island over the last couple of days, which I suspect has been deliberately lit as part of a strategy by volunteers to tackle the spread of boxthorn weed.

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Sooner after this headland there’s a secluded and beautiful beach, followed by another rocky section that’s characterized by odd-shaped stones. Despite the very rocky shoreline, there are many unbroken shells to be found along this section of the walk.

This last section is rather slow going due to the uneven and rocky terrain – I’m not sure if I’ll be able to reach my destination before it gets dark. But I press on around the last rocky headland, with the rocks are starting to look distinctly more “eggy”!

Almost out of nowhere, I’m confronted by Egg Beach. It’s pretty obvious how it got it’s name, and looks quite odd – like each grain of sand has been magnified 1000%! In the distance is Twelve Hour Point, the headland at the far end of the beach.

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It’s getting too late to return the same way – the untracked coastal route has taken me longer than I thought, with some easy beach walking, but also many slow sections of boulder hopping and rocky ground. There is supposed to be an alternate 4WD track that runs parallel to the shore, so I head directly up the hill behind Egg Beach, through low grass. It doesn’t take long before I reach a rough but very distinct vehicular track.

This is much easier walking, and I make quick progress back towards my starting point. I could stay on this 4WD track all the way back to West End Road – but with the potential of another beautiful sunset, just before West End Beach I retrace my steps along the shore.

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I soon reach West End Beach, with its collection of boulders and deep piles of seaweed welcoming me back to my “home beach”!

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I reach the track up through the sand dunes and back to the house just before dark. It’s been a satisfying final Flinders Island walk!

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Location Start at West End Beach, near the north-western end of Flinders Island (track to the beach next to the West End homestead)
Distance Approx 5km return (8.6km as walked from West End Beach House)
Grade Easy. <50m total ascent
Season/s All year round. Easier at low tide / outgoing tide.
Map TasMap Flinders 1:100K. No signage.
GPS Route Routie GPS trail. View route and export to KML format.
Resources “Walks of Flinders Island” book by Ken Martin (p.73). Available in Whitemark or via Amazon

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
Map-Bairne-to-Basin
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.

Three Capes in A Day

A one day “express” version of the new Three Capes Track in Tasmania, on the Tasman Peninsula

There’s been a bit of controversy over the new Three Capes Track, which is on the Tasman Peninsula about 90min south of Hobart. It has been designed as a 4 day/3 night walk covering 46km , staying in newly constructed huts. There’s a maximum of 48 people that can start each day. You can’t vary the itinerary. And there’s a cost of (around) $500 per person. Why the controversy: because multiple bush-camping sites have been removed, with just one remaining camping site that has space for six tents for those wanting to do an “unassisted” walk.

I think it’s a great idea: the cost is reasonable, it will hopefully generate a new income stream for Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service and it enables people to undertake this walk who aren’t willing or able to carry a tent, stove and other supplies… All the huts were full, so the concept seems to be working. The downside is you’re often walking on a highly-engineered “track” that’s more akin to a metropolitan boardwalk than a bushwalk. There were a few sections where I expected to see a travelator… Or for a butler to pop out from behind a casuarina and offer to carry my bag.

I will clarify at this juncture: my one-day hiking of the track was not a protest at the track fees: I just didn’t have four days to spare and I was too lazy to carry all my camping gear!

After a late-evening arrival into Hobart International Airport (which doesn’t actually have a single, scheduled international flight) and an early morning start the following day, I reached Fortescue Bay at 8:30am. While the “official” walk starts at Port Arthur with a boat trip to the trailhead at Denman’s Cove and finishes at Fortescue Bay, this first section of track can only be done as part of the paid Three Capes walk. I start (and finish) at Fortescue Bay. Armed with my two Snickers bars, two litres of water and sunscreen, I head off at a fairly fast pace, as I need to get back to the airport by 8pm.

The Old Cape Pillar Track starts a few hundred metres up the road from the car park at Fortescue Bay, climbing gently up to 275m altitude where it meets the new / upgraded Cape Pillar Track (map below). It’s mostly in light forest, and in the hour and a bit it takes me to cover the first 7km I meet a couple of hikers, two wallabies and a large black snake.  I continue on the (new) Cape Pillar Track for another two kilometres – I am now following the official Three Capes Experience route – before I reach the Munro hut. It’s an impressive construction, and sitting on a deck chair watching the sun set would not be an unpleasant way to spend an evening (although it’s not really possible since the deck is facing east, but you get the idea.)

I push 0n toward Cape Pillar. I’m making good time on the well-graded track, which becomes a boardwalk super-highway for a number of kilometres along the Cape. I’m now encountering most of the 48 people who are on Day 3 of their 4-day Cape trip. They’re friendly and seem to be enjoying the walk, with a number of families on the trail.

After a few more kilometres, the track starts hugging the southern edge of Cape Pillar. The track undulates between about 250m to 350m above the Tasman Sea, which crashes into the cliffs below us. The views are impressive in all directions and frequent photo stops are required.

I reach the tip of Cape Pillar and ascend The Blade at 11:30am; I’ve walked just under 17km and have reached the furthest point from the start (and end) of my hike. The view is incredible: Tasman Island lies directly head, and the cliffs of Cape Pillar can be seen on both sides of the rocky promontory.

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I continue after a short break and my first chocolate bar, re-tracing my steps back along Cape Pillar and past Munro Hut. Not long after Munro Hut I reach Retakunna hut, where most of the hikers I met will spend their last night on the trail. It too looks as luxurious as bush huts get, and I take the opportunity to fill my water bottle and consume my second nutritional Snickers bar. There’s no-one here yet, as I start the steepest section of the walk, climbing through rain forest from 235m up to the highest point of the Three Capes track at 489m.

It’s not a particularly tough climb, but I’m happy to have completed this section and descended 300m back down to the cliff line again, with the views getting more impressive as I get closer to Cape Huay.

The Cape Huay track snakes up and down along the second cape of the walk, with views back up the coast to Fortescue Bay where I’ll finish the walk. The track is exposed and I’m glad I’ve brought sunscreen!

Not quite as spectacular as Cape Pillar, but worth the 2km detour, the second cape** of the trip towers vertically above the ocean. I can hear climbers somewhere on the Totem Pole that’s directly in front of us and a series of jet boats circle underneath us getting a view of the sheer cliffs from below.

(** While it’s called the Three Capes walk, it is currently a Two Capes walk… the third cape is Cape Raoul, which is stage 3 of this project and will add another 32km of track and two more huts.)

Another 5km or so and I’m back at Fortescue Bay, for a refreshing swim before the drive back to Hobart. It’s taken 8.5 hours to walk the 41km: faster than I had anticipated, but a $28m investment in building and upgrading the track means very easy walking.

Would I recommend it? For families with small children or people that really can’t manage more than 10-15km per day of fairly easy walking, yes. The scenery is great and the huts world-class. But there are long sections of monotonous track, so it’s hard to recommend this walk over Cradle Mountain or many other tracks that are serviced by tourism operators that offer hut accommodation.

Location From Fortescue Bay on the Tasman Peninsula (90min from Hobart)
Distance 41km “lollipop” walk. 1120m total ascent.
Grade Hard due to length. Moderate for Cape Huay / Cape Pillar only.
Season/s All year round
Map TasMap “Peninsula Walks” or Tasman Peninsula 1:50,000
Resources Three Capes Track web site for details of 4 day/3 night walk
Photos Google Photos gallery
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Map of Three Capes track, showing route and Three Capes Experience walk.

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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Changi Boardwalk

An urban walk overlooking Serangoon Harbour, and a good place for watching the sun set.

Singapore isn’t well-known for hiking… the Changi Boardwalk, located at the of Changi Point, is about the closest I could find during my last (brief) visit to Singapore. It’s also walking distance from my (allegedly haunted) hotel, the Raintr33 Hotel.

The boardwalk has six sections, but Section 3 (Cliff Walk) was closed while I was there due to repairs, so I only had the opportunity to walk (more of a stroll, really) the first two sections.

Kelong walk extends into the sea, built above water on stilts. There was almost no-one around, except for locals fishing. Some with multiple rod and enough equipment to start a fishing shop. No-one seems to have caught anything though..

At the far end (below) right, the boardwalk rises a few metres into the forest, where it becomes the Cliff Walk – this was closed. In the middle is the Changi Beach Club (originally the Changi Swimming Club in the 1970s). It’s now private, and there’s a reasonably-priced seafood restaurant, with views over the harbour.

At the western end is the short Sunset Walk, which is also a boardwalk that extends over the water, ending at set of large boulders.

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Not surprisingly, it is a good place to watch the sun set…

Location Changi Point- enter Changi Village Road, Gosport Road or Changi Sailing Club
Distance 2.2km one-way. Sections 4 & 5 are 320m one-way.
Grade Super Easy.
Season/s All year.
Photos Google Photo album
Resources National Parks brochure (PDF)

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