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Published February 1st 2016
Discover nature without the crowds
Heathcote National Park, east of the Royal National Park and linked by 2 train stations, is filled with diverse wildlife to explore on foot. This 11-kilometre loop will test the hardened hiker for about 4 hours. In the park, you can swim beneath waterfalls in lakes and pools, track an endless green pipeline, picnic and camp in your own piece of over 2000 hectares of Australian outback, undisturbed by other visitors.
Heathcote Creek (by Adam.J.W.C. at Wikipedia)
From Central Station, step aboard the southbound train on the T4 Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra Line for the 45-minute journey to Heathcote station. Before heading west along Oliver St, tip your hat to the volunteers and firefighters at the SES and Rural Fire Brigade stations, battling Sydney's summer fire and storm season. Turn left onto Boundary Rd then right onto Freeman Rd. Once on this road, you'll finally sense the landscape that awaits you, tantalisingly close on your left. Continue straight into the park, beginning your adventure.
The track will wind south then drive east, the gentle flow of Scout Gully running alongside your left shoulder. You're now on Pipeline Trail, named for the green metal piping bordering the trail. Completed during World War 2, the 27-kilometre pipe funnels water from Woronora Dam to the surrounding suburbs in the Sutherland Shire. As the pipe became critical infrastructure during that war, it was camouflaged with green paint to prevent sabotage from collaborators with the Japanese or German forces. Later, it was repainted with a blinding silver tone before it's final coat of green in the 1980s, transforming an eyesore into a structure which blends with the surrounding flora. Big enough to climb into, it's fortunately sealed to prevent Hangover-style pranks on Bucks' nights, ending with the groom being washed into a river.
Eucalyptus tree (by Adam.J.W.C. at Wikipedia)
The trail will flow south-east, crossing over Origma Gully with a bridge of steel grating. You'll follow along Heathcote Creek, reaching the Mirang Pool for a swim after 3 kilometres. Dry off and continue over Mirang Gully, pushing onward to the Battery Causeway. There's no electricity in sight but you won't need it unless your riding a hoverboard.
Lake Eckersley (by Sardaka at Wikipedia)
You'll now tackle a 3-kilometre loop of Battery Knob. Circle the knob anti-clockwise, veering sharply north before walking south. Just after you begin, you'll see a tiny trail on your right leading to a short walk to the Woronora River, overlooked by Eckersley Point. During your expedition, you might be joined by an eastern blue-tongue lizard, flashing it's garish tongue from a broad, smirking mouth as it ploddingly chases beetles and scarlet perchers for lunch. Overhead, black cockatoos will squawk at the blazing sun, swishing their yellow tails from the treetops.
Scarlet Percher (by John Tann at Flickr)
Return back to the Pipeline Trail until you reach Eckersley Rd on your right and the Goanna Track on your left. Slither onto the Goanna Track, keeping a close lookout for the left turn north onto Bullawarring Track after 500 metres. From here, continue around the other side of Battery Knob, taking another swim in Gunner Pool and a picnic lunch in Gunners Cave. Sweet mint scents waft through from Sydney peppermint trees, blooming around the broad red gums and towering eucalypts. Once the cockatoos take a break, more subtle chatter from friar birds will break the silence.
Friar bird (by sandid at Pixabay)
Refreshed, continue north back to the Battery Causeway, completing the loop and now retracing your steps for the 4 kilometres back to the train station. If you ran through the walk without stopping for lunch, the seafood at Heathcote Fish and Chips are the best this side of the Royal (on the other side, you could try catching your own on the Coastal Track).