The Great North Walk: Section 1

Sydney to Thornleigh: Nov 2015

Distance: 33 km

Time: 10 hours

We have finally done it. We have uprooted our family and made the move from the city to the bush. So what better way to mark the transition than to actually walk from the city to the bush! Allow me to introduce “The Great North Walk”, a 250 km trail leading from the centre of Sydney to the coast of Newcastle, passing by my new home along the way!  Although I would love to thru-hike the whole trail, it wouldn’t be fair on my family, so I have decided to complete the journey in sections over time.

A good summary of the walk can be found on a government website here and the section that I walked, technically a two day walk that I pushed through in one day, is found on my favorite go-to resource at wildwalks.com here.

My 5 am alarm went off. My arm reached out to tap it for the usual five more minutes when I suddenly clicked that needed to be up and out! I tapped it anyway and five minutes later I was up! I caught a cab to Macquarie Place, whose obelisk, an original 19th century mile stone that most folks would wander by without noticing, marked the official start of the Great North Walk. I snapped a few photo’s but hurried along as the first leg of the walk was actually a ferry ride across Sydney Harbour to Woolwich and I didn’t want to be late.

The early morning light made an always beautiful harbour even more lovely. The ferry passed the Sydney Opera House, went under the Sydney Harbour bridge, carried on past Cockatoo Island (a UNESCO world heritage site – formerly a convict penal settlement and a shipyard, now a popular camping or “Glamping” destination), until finally arriving a Woolwich ferry wharf. The ferry trip had nicely covered off 5 km of my “walk”!

The stroll through Woolwich was quite pleasant with lovely tree lined streets soon leading down to the waters edge. The highlight was entering Kelly’s Bush, whose story interested me as it was the site of the worlds first green ban. It was once a patch of land set aside next to an old smelter but once the smelter was no longer in business the locals fought very hard to preserve the bush land against numerous attempts to have it sold off and developed. The signage in the area quite proudly tells the story in detail and I recommend pausing to read them. Much of the early part of this walk forms part of the Hunters Hill heritage trail which is marked by circular plaques set into the footpath celebrate historic places and people who have contributed to the history of Hunters Hill. After walking along a street with a very french influence, I stopped in at a local french patisserie for a coffee and croissant.

After a horrible piece of road walking the walk returned to bush land via Boronia Park. This was where I met the first true signpost that marked a track head along the Great North Walk. It was here I pulled out my geocaching app and decided to go off into the bush in search of a cache. Geocaching is a wonderful international treasure hunting game that is totally free and just pure simple good fun. Click here for more details. Anyway I found the cache, signed the log but realized I was slightly lost! I headed off in the direction that I thought would put me back on the track but I soon found myself back at the track head. Ho-hum, I get to walk the same bit twice!

The track soon joined up to the Buffalo Creek area and its highly sensitive salt marsh mangroves. The was a wooden viewing platform but little to see so I carried on. Passing the Buffalo Creek track head sign I soon found myself on a timber boardwalk that passed directly through the Mangroves. Looking down I could see literally thousands of small crabs popping in and out of their holes. The mangroves are apparently where crabs are born and are important to their life cycle. I had been to this area before with my kids so I knew a geocache was nearby. I didn’t find it on my first visit but my more experienced geocaching eyes now knew exactly where to look . The cache was a bonanza filled with lots of goodies. I didn’t take anything as I had nothing to leave in its place but I signed the log book and carefully put the cache back. If  I had dropped it it would have landed in the Mangrove below the deck and it would have been impossible to retrieve.

The walk joined up to the Lane Cove River and I saw a lovely little wooden boat with three men on board. They looked like they were enjoying themselves, just messing about on the river.There was another horrible piece of road walking and I realized that what had been bugging me about this walk so far was all the traffic noise. It was non stop. The walk only really existed because of the steep sided banks of the river being more difficult to develop. Once I recognized the noise – I couldn’t shut it out.

The next highlight was passing through an area once called the Fairylands Pleasure grounds, an old site the used to be a popular picnic area with beautiful gardens and a boat launching point . To be honest, if the informative signage was not present one would think it was simply another overgrown section of track, but looking closely one can see the site of the old park, with ornamental trees looking out of place amongst the bush land. It was interesting to try to transport your mind back to when this place was teeming with activity.

The walk continued along the riverside to Lane Cove National Park where one could camp the night. Along the way I saw Goannas and several large, copper bellied skinks. A set of large sandstone overhangs was also quite impressive. I paused to cool down under a tiny waterfall. I stopped for lunch at Lane Cove.

The track from here on was a little confusing as the distances on the signage seemed too short. I had to loop back at one point to ensure I was still on the right track.The walk now wove through true bushland, crossing creeks numerous times as well as the occasional waterhole. I saw a young lad and his Dad out for a walk and I couldn’t help but think that that boy would always remember these walks. There is a meme doing the rounds on facebook that says” no one ever remembers their best day of watching TV”. It’s true. We always remember nature.

Walking alongside the river I heard a loud “plopping” noise and for some reason thought there was a fish jumping out of the water. Yeah, I don’t know much about fish. After hearing a rustling in the bushes I saw a family of bearded dragons (a type of lizard) heading for the water. Sure enough the plopped in a swam away. I encountered quite a lot of these lizards and they always seemed to be in little groups.

 I’m a fan of trail markers. They had quite a few different types.

There was a lot of valley walking now, taking me well away from the river and into creek country. I was getting very tired and kept seeing side trails that would take me out to civilization. Very tempting. I sat down at one point, around 3:30 pm and noticed a few school kids coming down the track. It occurred to me that they would do this section of the walk daily on their way to school. That gave me a little kick and I pushed on. I was trying out my new Kathmandu hiking boots on this walk and felt a blister pop. I would wear these boots in over the next couple of walks. My knee was no longer an issue but I was feeling the blisters and my ankle was calling out to me. I pressed on. Eventually, I emerged from the trail at the Thornleigh track-head and hobbled my way to the train station. It took a couple of days to recover from this one!

One thing I did take out from this walk though was that I should probably limit myself to 20 km days. The extra few kilometers were just exhausting and takes away some of the enjoyment. I also was too tired to even take pictures towards the end. I did this walk in November and it has taken me until march to write it up! Now that summer has passed we are entering good bush walking weather so I intend to complete at least one more section of this great walk this year. As it is, even though I did not walk from my old home to my new home, I did actually walk from my old council area to my new one!

Links: 1:Sydney to Thornleigh, 2:Thornleigh to Berowra Heights, 3:Berowra Heights to Cowan, 4.Cowan to Brooklyn5: Patonga to Wondabyne

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