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The Great North Walk - Cowan to Jerusalem Bay

Home > Sydney > Walks | Outdoor | National Parks | Free | Animals and Wildlife
by Vanessa M (subscribe)
I am always looking out for new experiences, wherever I may find myself.
Published May 6th 2013
This walk just keeps getting better
If you have a few days to spare and feel like a mighty challenge, you may consider undertaking The Great North Walk, a 250 kilometre trek that connects Sydney to Newcastle. However, if you're more like me and prefer walks that can fit into the space of a single morning or afternoon, then you might want to attempt just a section.

One stretch I completed recently is the one lying between Cowan and Jerusalem Bay in Sydney's north. It's located within Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and is only 2.5 kilometres long, which took me about an hour to complete in each direction.

great north walk
I only attempted part of The Great North Walk


The walk doesn't seem like much when you set out. It begins behind Cowan Station and immediately crosses over the Freeway. Not long afterwards you're met with the worst part - a very steep, rocky section that had me looking at my feet the whole time. It was actually quite disheartening, because I knew how high Cowan was and wondered if the walk would be so steep the whole way, but I was assured it would get better.

great north walk stairs
This photo doesn't convey how steep and rocky this section was


Despite the fact that you're surrounded by bush on the very fringes of Sydney, there's little chance to feel like you're lost in nature during these early stages. The cars and trucks on the Freeway can be heard quite clearly and among the rockier sections of the track are man-made stairs and boardwalks (though I personally welcomed these).

great north walk
The boardwalk is much easier


Eventually the sound of trickling creeks and waterfalls become discernible, but you don't get to see the source of the sounds very often. There is one place where you do get to cross the creek though, and for a while after my companion and I did so I assumed we were down near sea level. I was wrong: we were only about halfway down the hill.

great north walk creek cowan
Crossing the creek


After the creek the walk starts to resemble many other bushwalks, with a steady rise and fall of the track, tangled tree roots and a few rocky sections. The drier surroundings of the higher sections also give way to a new, more rainforest-like environment of ferns and pine needles.

great north walk
There are flowers to be enjoyed too


It's along this section that the first glimpses of the water at the bottom become possible through the trees. The sight was a complete surprise to me as I hadn't expected it to still be so far away. I also hadn't expected it to look so green.

the great north walk
A nice flat section that is surrounded by ferns


There is a chance to get down to the water before you reach Jerusalem Bay, when a very short, overgrown track branches off the main path. It would be easily missed if it wasn't located next to a sign saying 'No camping or fires allowed' (or rather, since the corner has been broken off, 'camping or fires allowed'), which was the only reason my companion and I guessed there was anything to see on the other side of the trees.

After you've pushed through a few bushes, this track opens out onto a small rock platform on the edge of the water. The scene is impressive enough that when others I had recommended this walk to tried it they thought this area was the big finish and turned back afterwards.

great north walk hawkesbury river
I was lucky enough to get to this section at high tide


By not continuing on to Jerusalem Bay, those friends missed out on what might just be one of the best parts of The Great North Walk itself, or at least this section of it. The view you get is spectacular and there is even a rock where you can sit back and take it all in.

great north walk jerusalem bay
Jerusalem Bay


My companion and I sat here, had something to eat and re-hydrated ourselves (it was the first drink both of us had needed) as we watched the boats moored out on the water. The place seemed so quiet and peaceful that I almost felt like I was looking at a picture, except for the subtle but constant movement of light reflecting off the rippling water.

great north walk
The rock on the left made a convenient seat, with a great view of the bay


To our delight, as we relaxed an eagle started swooping in front of us, fishing for a snack of his own. We expected him to depart long before we had tired of watching him, but he was busy at his task the whole time we were there.

At another point, we were interrupted by some cyclists that we had passed earlier (you can't exactly ride bikes along much of The Great North Walk, so I'm not sure why they had brought them along). The pair told us there was a goanna on the path not far away, so we went and marveled at it too.

When we returned to our rock, we found the eagle was still busy fishing.

great north walk goanna
The goanna


After you've made it to Jerusalem Bay, you can choose to keep going towards Brooklyn, as the cyclists did, and catch a train back to Cowan if you've left your car there. However, my companion and I decided to return the way we had come. She had completed the stretch to Brooklyn before and described it 'soul-destroyingly hard'. I'm sure she was exaggerating, but why ruin what had so far been so enjoyable?

Of course, my satisfaction with the walk could still have been ruined by that pesky section we had first encountered, which would be the last bit I would do on the way back. However, after taking a rest stop along the way, I found I wasn't too tired when I got to it and it actually seemed easier going up than down. It also helped that the sound of traffic prevented me from having to wonder how close this set of stairs was to the beginning. I knew I was near the end when I could hear such signs of civilisation.

If Jerusalem Bay had road access, I'm sure it would be a very popular picnic spot, but for now it's reserved for those adventurous enough to walk there. It really feels like a hidden gem on the Hawkesbury River and it has made me wonder what other sights there are to discover around this area, if you just know where to look.
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Why? You'll be rewarded for your efforts at the end: Jerusalem Bay is beautiful.
When: Any day
Where: Between Cowan and Jerusalem Bay
Cost: Free
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