Local walking expert Matt reveals his ten favourite walks around our bush-fringed city – and why they’re on his list of top ten.
Sydney is incredibly blessed with the most stunning backyard – if you draw a circle around our city, half of everything inside is bushland. The flip side to this is that it creates opportunities for unique walking experiences elevating your average walk to something entirely memorable. That means bushwalks with cafes, public transport, playgrounds, water views, city views, beaches, caves, remote areas, indigenous artworks – and even overnight walks staying in a lodge.
September is a great time of year before it gets too hot to start that bushwalking habit – so let’s get out there and explore the truly wild side of Sydney and its surrounds.
National Pass, Overcliff and Den Fenella Circuit – the Blue Mountains’ most spectacular walk http://wild.tl/npoadfc
4 hrs, 5 km circuit
Walking level: Hard and very hilly track
Features: Bus, cafe, waterfalls, cliffs, hills
This grand tour of the Wentworth Falls area explores many waterfalls, lookouts and cliff edges. The walk has a lot of steps and runs beside fenced cliff edges, so you will need to be fit and comfortable with heights. You will explore the historic 100 year-old National Pass, Wentworth Falls, the Valley of the Waters and many other highlights. There’s an optional side trip to the Conservation Hut for lunch – really a must-do in my view, before returning to the start via the Overcliff Walk and Den Fenella tracks.
T Start from the Wentworth Falls Picnic Area on Sir H Burrell Drive, Wentworth Falls. Plenty of car parking. The 685 bus from Leura Station gets within 500m walk of the start. Alternatively check out nearby walks on www.wildwalks.com for versions that start at Wentworth Falls station.
Berowra to Cowan via Berowra Waters – feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere http://wild.tl/bbwc
6 hrs, 13 km one way walk.
Walking level: Hard and hilly track
Features: Train, cafe, water views, hills
With a train station at each end, this walk explores the ridges and valleys around Berowra Waters. There are plenty of excellent views, especially at Naa Badu Lookout and the many creek and water views along the way. There are some solid climbs on this walk so be sure to allow enough time. Berowra Waters, in the middle of the walk, is a great place for lunch or an ice cream, by taking the optional side trip across the river on the free car-ferry, a pleasant ride in itself. This walk is surprisingly remote – soon after leaving the Berowra you feel in the middle of nowhere. You’re then greeted with creature comforts in the middle, then back into a an even more wild and remote landscape as you walk up to Cowan. An amazing day out for people who are used to longer day walks. There are also cafes at Berowra and a corner store at Cowan for munchies on the return trip. If you want even more, check out the walk Mt Kuring-gai to Cowan version on wildwalks.com to add in the lovely Calna Creek to the day.
T This walks starts from Berowra Station and ends at Cowan Station, so the train is a great way to go. There is also plenty of on-street parking at each end.
Grand Canyon, Blue Mountains – an ancient landscape revealed http://wild.tl/gcw
3 hrs 30 mins. 5.4 km circuit walk
Walking level: Hard track but suitable for most fit people
Features: Waterfalls, views
This classic walk first established in 1907, takes you along a clear path through the deep and narrow canyon. In places, the track follows a path cut halfway up the cliff, giving you a unique perspective of the walls canyon. You get to walk through a small cave, behind a waterfall and see some stunning views of the Grose Valley. The creek does flood after heavy rain, so check weather forecasts before heading off. The cool temperatures in the canyon make this walk particularly special on warmer days. Bring a packed lunch and take your time exploring this most ancient landscape and special place the the Blue Mountains.
T The walks starts from the Neates Glen car park 2.9km along Evans Lookout Rd, Blackheath. There is a 698 Bus from Katoomba that gets you within 1.3km of the walk, otherwise a 4km walk from Blackheath Station.
Jerusalem Bay Track (Cowan to Brooklyn) – with swims and great floral diversity http://wild.tl/ctbs
5 hrs 30 mins. 13.4 km one way
Walking level: Hard and hilly track
Features: Foreshores, lookouts, ridges
This Cowan to Brooklyn Station walk is a popular section of the Great North Walk, with scenery ranging from foreshore to ridge top lookouts. You will follow the Great North Walk from Cowan Station (from the end of walk 2, Berowra to Cowan) down to the picturesque Jerusalem Bay, then climb up over a series of ridges before descending into Brooklyn. Jerusalem Bay is a very special place where you can sit and soak up the wildness of the area, go for a swim or just unwind. After Jerusalem Bay there are a series of hills to test your fitness. This walk is a great one-way trip from station to station with a variety of water views, including a circumnavigation of Brooklyn Dam whilst enjoying a wonderful diversity of flora along the way. In Brooklyn there’s a pub, cafes and fish and chip options to refuel before the train home.
T This walks starts literally from the station (the leaving from a special gap on Platform 1 signposted as the Great North Walk). The walk ends at Hawkesbury train station so it’s easy to get back home or to Cowan. Plenty of parking at Cowan. On sunny weekends parking at Brooklyn is possible can be harder to find.
The Royal Coast Track – the only word is breathtaking http://wild.tl/tctto
1 big day or 2 Days. 27.4 km one way
Walking level: Hard track with hilly sections
Features: Huge sea views, whales and campsites
Heading south of Sydney, this walk covers the coastline of the Royal National Park and can truly only be described as amazing. With breathtaking coastal views from Bundeena to Otford, you’ll follow the cliffs along a well managed and signposted track. You can soak up the the truly fantastic views out to sea and along the cliffs, and at the right time of year see whales playing off the shore. If you’re a very fit and experienced walker then an early start means you can complete this in a day. This walk also makes for a good first overnight hike – you can book the campsite at North Era.
T Catch the train to Cronulla then ferry to Bundeena, where the walk starts. The walk finishes at Otford station. There is also plenty of free on-street parking at each end of the walk if you prefer. Bundeena has a number of great cafes to enjoy before the walk.
Hornsby Blue Gum Walk – a pretty, local loop with an ancient volcanic dyke and lyrebirds http://wild.tl/hbgw
3hrs 6.7km circuit
Walking level: Hard walk due to hills and creek crossing, drive to Rosemead Rd trackhead to cut out the biggest hill.
Features: Train, cafe, waterfalls
This delightful loop is one of the prettiest and most popular walks in the Hornsby area with wide physical variations, going from an environment of ferns and clear bushland to dry sandstone and bush near Berowra Creek. From Hornsby station, walk down the Depression era built sandstone steps into another world as you walk down the side of an ancient volcanic dyke into the Blue Gum Forest. As the walk loops around the back of Joe’s Mountain you follow section of the the Great North Walk along the lovely Berowra and Waitara Creeks. Make sure you take the extra few minutes and duck down the side trip to the crossing at Fishponds. You will enjoy a series of small cascades, sandstone caves and wildflowers. Keep an eye out for lyrebirds and water dragons.
T This walks starts and ends at main entrance of Hornsby station. There are again plenty of cafes to enjoy before heading into the bush. If you prefer to drive you can cut out the main hill and park at the end of Rosemead Rd.
Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach – great for tourists, visitors & those wanting a fix of Sydney’s icons http://wild.tl/tztbb
3 hrs 6.8 km one way
Walking level: Medium to hard track, and great for reasonably fit beginners and kids
Features: Famous icons, ferry, swimming, cafe, playground, bays and bushland
This walk explores a historic, beautiful and scenic section of the spectacular Sydney Harbour. Start walking from the Taronga Zoo ferry wharf with views of the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The views continue as you explore bushland and bays along the way. The walk also explores a historic section of the harbour, including the fortifications at Bradley’s Head and Chowder Bay. There are toilets about 1.2 km into the walk then again about half way at Chowder Bay, where you’ll also find a playground, cafes and netted swimming area at the beach. Soon after leaving Chowder Bay, head up a steep hill to very rewarding views at Bradley’s Head and some interesting sandstone gun emplacements. Finish with fish’n’chips on Balmoral Beach. A great day out for the whole family.
T Although there is some parking near the start of the walk, make a day of it and catch the ferry to Taronga Zoo wharf from Circular Quay. At the end you can catch the bus back to the city or Chatswood. Parking is possible at both ends, though likely to be difficult unless you arrive early.
Spit Bridge to Manly – offers gentle exercise with world-class views http://wild.tl/sbtm
3 hrs 45 mins, 9.1 km one way
Walking level: Moderate track – suitable for anyone who has done some bushwalking and can walk the distance
Features: Cafe, swimming, views
The Spit to Manly walk is one of those classic bushwalks that appears on most lists. The walk follows a well-maintained track and provides beautiful views over Middle Harbour. This walk is great for those looking for exercise or just a stroll along the shoreline of Sydney Harbour. It has become very popular, so you do frequently feel yourself stepping aside to let runners pass. If you have time, the side trips down to Grotto Point and up to Arabanoo Lookout are definitely worth the effort. There are plenty of short side trips to small secluded beaches that allow you to just enjoy getting the toes wet and soaking up the views. There are cafes, playgrounds and toilets scattered along the walk, so you can do this one for fitness, or as a casual lazy day out with friends.
T There is paid parking just at the start of the walk, or free road parking on Battle Bvd. For a hassle free day out, catch the 144 or 143 bus to Battle Bvd at Manly Rd. From Manly, there are plenty of ferry and bus options. Again parking in Manly is a hassle so get out your Opal card.
Hermitage Foreshore Track – natural beauty, city views and history all in one http://wild.tl/hfw
1 hr, 2.2 km one way
Walking level: Easy to moderate track
Features: Cafe, swimming
The Hermitage Foreshore Walk is a wonderful way to explore Sydney Harbour from the perspective of South Head. This walk starts from Nielsen Park, Vaucluse and follows a well-maintained track along the narrow strip of harbourside bushland to Bayview Hill Rd. Along the way, you will visit some secluded beaches and visit the historic Strickland House. A great walk exploring the history and natural beauty while enjoying a new perspective of the city. A great walk for kids, so bring your swimmers and towel on a warm day. And you guessed it, there’s a cafe at Nielson Park, making it a great way to start the walk.
T Catch the 325 bus from Town Hall, for easy access to the start and end of the walk. There is free street parking in the area. If you are driving plan to walk back to your car either via the roads or back along the way you came.
Gibberagong Track – a great family adventure http://wild.tl/gt
2 hrs 30 mins, 6.5 km one way
Walking level: Medium to hard track – great for a family who has done some bushwalking.
Features: Water views, mangrove wildlife, playground and kiosk
Not such a well known walk, but a great example of the surprises that Sydney has to offer. Starting in suburban Wahroonga, this track leads you down along Cockle Creek to Bobbin Head in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. There are a number of great water views, and two short side trips to add to this venture. The lower section of the walk follows a boardwalk, getting up close to the mangrove wildlife. The walk ends at the popular Bobbin Head picnic area, playground and kiosk, giving you the chance to relax and reflect on the journey.
T Catch the 576T or 575 bus or drive to the end of Grosvenor Rd, Wahroonga. From Bobbin Head you will need someone to pick you up, or maybe return the way you came after lunch or walk out to Mt Kuring-gai (5.3 km http://wild.tl/bhtmkvatb). A pick up if walking with kids or if you haven’t done longer walks before is advised.
________________________________________________________________________Matt McClelland has been a keen bushwalker since he was a Scout. Now living in Hornsby with a wife and two kids, he still loves to bushwalk. Matt has been a regular contributor of great walks in the area to the Monthly Chronicle for over two years, has published four bushwalking books, produces ‘Bushwalk Australia’ digital magazine and consults to government on bushwalking experience improvements as well as methods to improve access for people with disability. He also manages the National Parks Associations of NSW bushwalking program, whilst also running bushwalk.com and wildwalks.com.