Indigenous walks uncovered

Stencilled hands, dating back 2,000 years
Stencilled hands, dating back 2,000 years

Explore Sydney’s Aboriginal heritage with these great local walks

The Hornsby* Ku-ring-gai area is rich in history of the people who lived, played and learned here for the past ten’s of thousands of years. The Australian Aboriginals do not stamp their name with pyramids or other grand architectural buildings, instead they walk in one, with the land. They do not dominate the land but choose to live with and as part of it. They choose to respect their place as part of country, to respect the elders that came before them and the generations that will come afterwards.

Included here are a few sites to visit to get a sense of this ancient culture engraved in stone. I ask as you visit these places you do so, not as a tourist who wants to get the best photo and tick the items off the list, but as a pilgrim on a journey to better understand and know the people who have lived here for many thousands of years and who still today have a connection to country that is far more intimate than I can understand. Even better, do a walk with an Aboriginal guide who can help you on this journey.

*In an effort to protect these special areas, most aboriginal engraving sites are not publicised.The Hornsby area has many sites that remain secret for their protection, especially in and around Berowra Valley National Park. There are two sites that are public but also heavily disturbed, one at the end of Quarter Sessions Road (Westleigh)  and another just beyond the end of Kirkpatrick Way (Berowra Waters).

Here’s 6 great bushwalks to appreciate some local Aboriginal heritage….

Red Hands Cave, West Head Road, Ku-ring-gai Chase A 30 min, 403 m circuit, and moderate track.

It’s a short walk down to Red Hands Cave from the Resolute Picnic Area. The walk loops from the picnic area through the heath and down to the overhang of the cave. The Aboriginal rock art, hand stencil is faded, unsurprising given it’s estimated to be over 2,000 years old. This makes for an interesting cultural walk, you can also enjoy a picnic lunch at Resolute Picnic Area and the spectacular views from the end of West Head Rd whilst in the area. Full notes and maps

America Bay A 45 mins 1.9 km return, moderate track

This short walk is a great way to see a slice of what Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park has on offer. The track visits some historic Aboriginal engravings, and enjoys water views, heath and forest environments. The engraving site is only 100m into the walk if you don’t walk to walk the whole track. Full notes and maps

The Basin A 2 hrs 30 mins 5.6 km return, moderate track

The Basin Track is the only land access to The Basin, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park’s only formal campsite. The walk mostly follows a management trail and heads across the plateau away from West Head Road, with a great side trip to Aboriginal rock engravings and The Basin Dam. The Basin itself is a great place for a swim or overnight stay. There’s a ferry service from the Basin if you don’t want to walk back up. The Aboriginal rock engraving site is about 400m into the walk, so you don’t have to do the full walk. Full notes and maps:

Elvina Bay Aboriginal Engraving Walk. A 15 mins, 500m return, moderate track

This short, mostly flat walk offers good examples of local aboriginal rock engravings on an attractive elevated rock platform, with views into the distance. From the car park, the walk travels through mostly flat, scrubby bush, before gently rising through heath onto a tessellated rock platform. Rock engravings are best observed in the early morning, late afternoon, or after rain. The track and trail are followed back to the car park. Full notes and maps

Bobbin Head Rainforest walk A 40 mins 1.6km return, moderate track

This pleasant walk starts from the southern end of Bobbin Head, and enjoys a blend of mangrove and rainforest. The well-signposted track gives you the opportunity to see the mangrove wildlife up close, and also a historic Aboriginal axe grinding stone site and some temperate rainforest.The axe grinding site is near the top of the hill about 600m into the walk. Full notes and maps  

Sphinx, Warrimoo and Bobbin Head tracks A 4 hrs 9.6 km circuit, harder track

This great walk starts at the Sphinx Memorial and loops around via Cowan Creek, exploring diverse environments as it changes altitude. Whilst walking alongside Cowan Creek you will discover many shell middens, piles of shell debris accumulated over time from Aboriginal people eating shellfish. Also about 7.7km into this walk is the Bobbin Head Track Aboriginal Engraving Site, which although faded, is well worth visiting. There is an optional side trip to the Empire Marina and cafe for a recharge before the climb back up to the Sphinx. Full notes and maps  

Bulgandry Engravings, Central Coast). A 20 mins 800m return, a very easy track which is wheelchair accessible.

This short walk follows a footpath to a large rock platform with some well-preserved Aboriginal engravings. Named after Bulgandry man, an ancestral hero and one of the more detailed engravings at the site, this is clearly a special place. The footpath gently winds through the bush before following a timber platform around the engravings. Full notes and maps

Ways to respect Aboriginal sites & culture

  • Acknowledge to yourself and others in the group that you are on Aboriginal land
  • Pay your respect to Aboriginal elders, both past and present
  • Stop to read signs, understand and consider the journeys of Aboriginal people
  • Avoid touching engravings and paintings as each touch contributes to wear
  • Walk barefoot on rock platforms with engravings
  • Seek out more experiences that help you better understand the culture of Aboriginal people.

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