The Great North Walk Section 2: Thornleigh to Berowra Heights

May 2016, 27km 9 hrs

Folks are so friendly toward hikers! I had such lovely chats all throughout the day with other hikers, climbers, runners and folks sitting at the train station. Hiking is such a positive activity and I’m glad others feel the same.

It’s getting harder and harder to spend a weekend without wanting to get out into nature. A trip to the shops feels like a complete waste of life. I had played with the idea of heading down to the snowy mountains again but snow has begun to fall so that’s off-limits until October (unless I go snowshoeing…). So my attention turned back to the Great North Walk, a 250km track connecting Sydney to Newcastle. I have already completed the first section last year (Sydney to Thornleigh) so it was time to knock off a few more k’s.

I should just point out, for anyone considering this trail, that it is characterised by many unreasonable vertical climbs. At one point the trail passed thru a tree, at another point it was simply a set of metal rings bolted into the side of a cliff (wish I got a photo of that)! It was awesome!

 

I always like to start my walks early so I woke at 4:45am and headed to the station. I had to catch the next trains else it would be another hour. It’s a 2.5k walk and I ended up running the last 800m! A nice gentleman on the platform asked me where I was headed and whether I was training for the Oxfam trailwalker. He had done this part of the trail himself and wished me well. It was a nice start to the day.

The walk was well sign-posted from Thornleigh station and quickly passed through residential streets to reach the trail which ran alongside a small creek. I could imagine living in the area and going for a morning stroll. The area was beautiful and some work was being done to create a natural filtration system to prevent town filth running into the creek. The first part of this walk led to me to a spot called “The Jungo” which is a small campsite near the junction of two creeks. Nice for a short adventure with the kids I suppose. Signage pointed to Cherrybrook lakes which would be worth a trip too I think. It was amazing to be surrounded by sandstone cliffs and creeks and bird filled bushland so close to town. The dawn chorus was mesmerizing and it felt great to be out there.
I carried on walking to a place called “Fishponds”, a set of waterholes that are quite popular. I looked at my map and saw that there was a sewerage works up the hill and a little too close for my liking. It would have to be a mighty hot day to get me swimming in there, though in fairness it was appealing and looked quite pretty. The trail to fishponds was also more interesting going up and over rock faces, crossing creeks and  passing by sandstone rock overhangs. Just before fishponds there was a creek crossing where the rocks had large deep erosional holes in them, apparently called “the spa”.

I didn’t get a good picture of the largest waterhole as I was distracted by the signage for a diversion around the local rifle range. The trail passes right through the range but in a valley and thus physically below where the firing took place so there wasn’t much danger. But the track was now closed – I had thought it was a 9-5 thing but there was no mention of timing so I took the alternate route which involved some dreary road walking. I found it odd that the trail and range had managed to operate together for so many years without incident but  was now closed. No one  wants to get shot or accidentally harm someone but they should be at least looking into a solution that both parties can agree to – maybe just create a new track around the around the range to the west. The chap who runs my favorite bushwalking website, wildwalks.com has proposed such a thing, in conjunction with out of hours access and I think he is spot on.

After the road walk, for which the only highlight was watching an arts student pick through roadside council cleanup day trash, I was back on the trail and traversing the top of a ridge. It was about here that the trail started to yield more people. The first I saw were two ladies in their fifties whom were out running. Then a possibly retired couple out for a stroll. The trail descended at an intersection and I found a lovely little waterfall to sit by and have morning tea. The trickle or the water, the cool of the morning shade, the bird song, all made for a very peaceful rest stop. I’m really glad I made myself stop as it is easy to push on and miss the details. I saw the two running ladies again (think it was the same ones) and I surmised that they have missed the turning for the descent as the trail carried on along the ridge too.

Galston gorge was my next destination and I could see on the map the it would be challenging in places. Thankfully the trail was fairly easy for a while. It soon joined up to a steeply rising fire trail and it was here that it started to become difficult. The fire trail was uninteresting and the views were well blocked by trees (trees spoiling the view…😄). The trail began to turn and I was finally at the intersection for the gorge itself. The signage was a tad confusing as if I was walking in the other direction I would have turned right instead of left which wasn’t the direction I had just come from! I think it is a dodgy sign but it could also be that the trail loops around somehow. Dunno.The descent was quite steep and surprisingly noisy. There is a road that winds down the gorge and the traffic noise was carried far and was quite unpleasant given the peacefulness of the walk so far. The terrain was also quite tricky, turning into a downward scramble over large rocks. It reached ludicrous when the only way down at one point was via a set of metal rungs drilled into the side of the cliff face. I began to miss my exos48 pack and it’s on the go pole stowage – my daypack needs an upgrade I think. Fortunately there was a gentleman and his son waiting at the bottom of the cliff who let me pass my poles down to him before I climbed down. He was waiting for his daughter and a group of Duke of Edinburgh scheme kids to pass through and was going to assist them down. He agreed that there was plenty of opportunity to break a leg or two well before you got to this point. It was nice to chat but I kept moving.

The trail wound down to cross a creek under a bridge. Some urban artwork covered the walls of the bridge and actually looked alright. I’d rather the graffiti be here than on the natural rock faces. The creek had purpose-built stepping-stones that made it easy to cross but I expect that after a heavy rain the crossing could present a problem.

 

The trial began to ascend again to climb out of the gorge. There were quite a few people on this part of the track and they all looked a bit tired. As I reached the top of the ridge I began to worry that I had lost the trail somehow. The trail was quite overgrown with sharp spiky bushes and seemed to come dangerously close the a sheer vertical drop. But I could see fresh boot prints and a look at the map showed me I was right where I needed to be. The trail did get confusing at one point where it seemed to ascend rather than descend. Another look at the map showed that there was a link track (I think to Hornsby Heights) and that I should go down rather than up. I’ve  become much more adept at reading the terrain off a map now and can anticipate the coming climbs or descents but I’m still not fantastic at judging just how hard it will be or how much time it will take. I’m not too far off though so I’m definitely improving.

The next few kilometers featured a number of small campsites that could only be accessed via walkers. The trail seemed flat on the map but there were quite a lot of small ups and downs that proved to be somewhat annoying. Up one meter, down two, up a meter etc. It was surprisingly more tiring than I had expected.

 

Fairly soon I arrived at Crosslands reserve where I sat down for lunch. I was interested in seeing this area as I wanted to take my two young children camping and figured this could be a nice place to start. There was a reasonable playground with a flying fox, a discovery trail, bike track, lots of ducks, and plenty of open space in which to play. I was also pleased with the cleanliness of the area. There were a lot of families here so I think it would be a perfect spot to take our kids. I took my shoes and socks off whilst I ate as I have found that this reduces blisters. I think the blast of fresh air really helps the feet and also helps the socks dry out.

My original plan for the day was to walk all the way to Cowan but in order to do so I would have had to have arrived at Crosslands and hour or so earlier than I had as the last section included steep climbs that would take time. My backup plan was to exit at Berowra Heights. I have found it handy now to have a backup plan as quite often I have goals that exceed my abilities. If I was to push on to Cowan I would be walking the last hour in the dark with a headlamp on. This may be fine for a thru-hike but not much fun for a microadventure. If I had gone to the snowy mountains I would have started the walk with an early morning night hike so that I could watch the sunrise from Mt Kosciuszko. An adventure for spring I think.

The next part of the walk put me within home territory so I was excited to see what the bushland in my local area could offer. There was a boardwalk out of crosslands with “The Great North Walk” engraved on each end. It passed over a sensitive saltmarsh area but it looked quite dry to me. I expect this isn’t always the case but the area of saltmarsh in the Sydney region is falling as time passes, so it was a little worrying to see it so dry. After the boardwalk, the trail crossed a river via a suspension bridge. I wanted to take a photo but the bridge was overtaken by girl guides (or girl scouts etc) so I didn’t think it appropriate to start snapping away… One of the girls gave me a cheesy “whoo hoo you did it” that made me smile. I have to say the kids that live in Berowra are awesome. I see them on the train each day and they are always respectful, allowing others to have a seat, talking softly and without swearing. I actually quite impressed. I expect it isn’t always like this but from what I have seen I am happy to be raising my children in such an area.

The walk followed Berowra creek and again had numerous small ups and downs. I heard a rustling in the bush and thought it would be another Goanna (I usually see one or two when I am out walking here) but no – it was a very large bird. I thought at first it was a brush turkey but the tail feathers were all wrong. No – I had finally seen my first Lyrebird! And they are powerful creatures! It was using its claws to dig for food (if I recall correctly it was ripping into a tree stump). Along here I also saw quite a few groups out training for the Oxfam Trailwalker event and I also met a number of climbers out for the day. Two of the climbers were looking for a specific climb called “lost and found” but I couldn’t help them. I seemed to recall a geocache with this name but couldn’t remember where and there was no reception on my phone so I couldn’t check.

I reached Sam’s creek, crossed and immediately lost the trail. There were at least two false trails that either went straight up the cliff side or carried on along the creek. Both of them evaporated after a hundred meters or so. The climbers that I had met before shouted something about a track – I’m not sure if it was to me or not but I backtracked to the crossing to see if I could find it. I realised that the trail forced one to climb some rather large boulders and I saw some triangular trail markers that soon led me to a flight of wooden steps. The climb from Sam’s creek to the top of the ridge was an absolute killer. It I wasn’t behind schedule before I sure was now! I stopped three or four times to catch my breath, was lapped by the trailwalkers and climbers until, toward the top of the climb there was a perfectly placed seat built into a small rock overhang. I had a good rest and ate the last of my jelly snakes. A final push took me to the spectacular Naa Badu lookout which presented views across the Berowra Valley. I finished the last of my water here – I must remember to fill up along the way.

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It was time to head home. Some signage pointed down to Berowra Waters but that will have to be an adventure for another day. I took the route out to Berowra Heights. There was a final climb along a fire trail (or service road) that brought me out onto Berkeley Close from where I called my wife to come and pick me up. I could have kept walking but I really was quite tired!

I really enjoyed this walk. What most impressed me was how much cleaner the track was compared to the Lane Cove section, especially the piece between Galston Gorge and Berowra Heights. The residents and visitors should be proud of themselves, I didn’t carry out a single piece of litter. I’m ignoring the couch cushion next to the bench at Naa Badu… those pesky kids! Having completed this section I have now walked all the way from my old home in the city to my new home in the bush! I’m pretty pleased with myself!

Below are the links to the other sections of the Great North Walk that I have completed. I will updated them as I go.

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

Next up: Berowra Heights to Cowan!

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10 thoughts on “The Great North Walk Section 2: Thornleigh to Berowra Heights

  1. Thanks for this – enjoyed your pics of the rocks in particular. I’m impressed by the distance you covered! If you have access to a boat, you can paddle about half of the distance you did on your walk, from quite a way upstream from Crosslands down to Berowra Waters (and beyond of course). The walk up from Sam’s Creek to Berowra Heights is pretty brutal – well done for making it at the end of the walk. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah that last part hurt!
      I could see a few folks out paddling and it looked rather fun. A couple of kids (twelve years old or so) had also taken out a kayak and paddled to a spot just past Crosslands to go fishing. I couldn’t help but think that they were making memories right there.
      I’m hoping to do Berowra to Cowan in the near future. I could possibly head all the way down to Brooklyn but am unsure of how brutal the climbs are heading up to Cowan. I’ll head out early and see what I can do. I really do love this area!

      Liked by 1 person

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