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Botany Bay Walk - Captain Cook's Landing Site to Cape Baily Lighthouse

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by Barry J (subscribe)
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Published January 23rd 2016
Walk with James Cook at Botany Bay
Botany Bay's National Park features easily accessible wildlife, beaches, a lighthouse and one of the most significant sites in Australia. The park has been carefully managed to create a fascinating 9-kilometre walk through our history. You'll only need 3 hours to experience the landscape in Kurnell, a region quickly rebuilding after a recent tornado tore roofs from exposed homes.

Botany Bay at Inscription Point
Botany Bay at Inscription Point (by Philip Terry Graham at Wikipedia)

The starting point can be reached by car or public transport. By car, drive 50 minutes south from Sydney, passing Mascot, Brighton-Le-Sands and Taren Point. Turn left onto Captain Cook Drive, driving east for 10 kilometres to park at the beachside on Prince Charles Parade or turn right onto Solander Dr to enter the park.

You can also board a train from Central Station on the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line to Cronulla for an hour-long ride then take the 987 bus for the 15-minute journey to Kurnell Reserve. Whether by car or bus, look to your right on Captain Cook Drive for the imposing Caltex Refinery. The haunting steel towers jut into the sky, silenced after the site was abandoned in 2014.

Begin walking east along the beach and onto Burrawang walk. The horizon to the north at Port Botany is busy with the endlessly shuffling cranes plucking shipping containers from docked ships to the queue of semi-trailers. A stream of cargo ships form a blockade in Botany Bay, waiting to unload cars, toys and televisions.

Botany Bay cargo ship
Botany Bay cargo ship (by J Bar at Wikipedia)

On your right, an obelisk memorialises the beginning of Australia's colonial history. At this site, Lieutenant James Cook sailed from the HMS Endeavour to land on our island continent, meeting the existing Aboriginal inhabitants. The Goorawal and Gweagal Peoples lived in this part of Australia. The inscriptions record excerpts from Cook's logs. Dramatic language highlights the significant differences of these two cultures. The result of this encounter is a rich history of over 2 centuries of clashes, compromises, regrets and achievements.

Botany Bay Obelisk
Botany Bay Obelisk (by J Bar at Wikipedia)

Continue into the forest of giant red gums, underneath the broad leaves of paperbark trees, silent observers to the events of 1770. The obelisk sets a tone for this walk, urging visitors to imagine stepping in the footprints of the first European explorers, experiencing a foreign landscape with exotic flowers for the first time. The path progressively opens, guiding you toward a soundscape of Aboriginal stories, clap stick melodies and bird song.

Beyond the audio, the Kurnell Visitor Centre contains detailed exhibits about Captain Cook, his crew and ship. There are stories of discovery and adventure which slowly filtered into England, influencing and expanding the culture of Europe. Snacks, drinks, books and souvenirs are sold and toilets are available here.

Leaving toward the south-east, walk over the bridge and cross Cape Solander Track. Continue south, passing the intersection to Muru Trail on your left to enter the Kurnell Lookout Trail. At the lookout, you can pause for the panoramic view, from Centrepoint Tower to the north, to Cronulla Beach in the southwest. Southward, you'll enter the Yena Trail, passing Cape Baily Track on your left. Lookout for the water tank on your right as you step into the heathland of tightly clumped grass trees, clinging to sand constantly swept by the fresh Pacific wind gusts. These same breezes drag the sand over smooth rock shelves, highlighting the yellow and orange sandstone hues with pockmarks.

Botany Bay sand dunes
Botany Bay sand dunes (by Adam.J.W.C. at Wikipedia)

You've tackled one third of this 9-kilometre return trip, stepping over wide expanses of sand dunes, surrounding the hanging swamps of Blue Hole Swamp to your right. The hanging swamp is a curious result of constant channels of water flowing through rocky crevices. These streams carry the soil and sand blown from dunes. Peat steadily grows, providing a natural carpet for other plant life to bloom like a gravity-defying flower pot. Amongst the pools of water, look for impressions in the sands from Green and Golden Bell Frogs.

Green and Golden Bell Frog
Green and Golden Bell Frog (by Tnarg 12345 at Wikipedia)

Follow this sandy track southward for another kilometre, shared with the Eastern Long-necked Turtle. The heath will suddenly open toward a clearing on your right. This is your path to the cape's beacon – the Cape Baily Lighthouse.

Cape Baily Lighthouse
Cape Baily Lighthouse (by wildwalks at Wikipedia)

The simple wooden tower, erected over 65 years ago, lit the coastline for northbound ships. The revolving lamp kept ships from running aground on the cape which juts from the northern arc of Cronulla's Bate Bay. Rest here with lunch before retracing your steps on the 4.5-kilometre return walk.

Botany Bay Flags at sunset
Botany Bay Flags at sunset (by J Bar at Wikipedia)
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Why? Walk in James Cook's footsteps
When: Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
Phone: Kamay Botany Bay National Park Visitor Centre (02) 9668 2000
Where: Kamay Botany Bay National Park
Cost: Free!
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