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Published January 20th 2016
Mix with the wildlife of Northern Sydney
If you're a bushwalker in need of a new challenge, you're ready for 11 kilometres of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park on this 4-hour escape from suburbia and city life. The park is a worthy northern rival to the south's Royal National Park in size and age. Despite enveloping you in an Australian forest which hosted Skippy the Bush Kangaroo's iconic television adventures, the walk is easily accessed by two train stations.
Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (by PanBK at Wikipedia)
Travel on the T1 Northern Line line for the hour-long trip to Mount Kuring-Gai Station, walking toward the ocean along Harwood St to enter the park. Entering the park named after the original Aboriginal group, you'll begin on the sandy, well-cleared track. For the first 2 kilometres, you'll note the steady shift from woodland, interspersed by towering sandstone blocks. Grass tree spikes burst from their charred trunks, scarred survivors of bushfires, the most recent in the summers of 1994 and 2002. As eucalypts surge into the sun, their broad roots push the earth into jagged channels best traversed with your favourite hiking boots.
While watching your step, remember to glance into the taller branches to glimpse some of the 100 bird species gliding above you. Crimson rosellas are particularly striking and a rare wedge-tailed eagle, our largest predatory bird with a broad 2-metre wingspan, is our police force's emblem for good reason. On the ground, bandicoot probe for marching ants and wriggling worms with noses equalling Pinocchio's. If you're camping (They love the night so you'll probably need camp at the Basin campgrounds in the north-east of the park to spot them.
Wedge-tailed eagle (by Ron Knight at Wikipedia)
Old man banksias prove that aging is beautiful by flaunting ornate yellow and green flowers which carry a subtle beauty to overshadow the ubiquitous red banksia flowering on the nature strips of many Sydney streets. The park even carries graffiti from the local inhabitants with moths leaving their nonsensical scratchings on scribbly gum trees as they bore through the bark.
Scribbly gum (by Tatters at Flickr)
To avoid tumbling, the drop into Cowan Waters is a zig-zag rivalling San Francisco's Lombard St. You're rewarded however with a rest stop at the river, shared with the native wildlife. This clearing opens onto Cowan Creek, a stretch of water you'll be following for the next third of your journey. Nearby boat launches, originally used for pleasure-craft and logging ships, share the waterline with a rusting iron cabin.
Lombard St (by Rachel Kramer at Flickr)
With Cowan Creek on your right shoulder, forge north along the water's edge. The trickling water will act as a counterpoint to your footsteps as you keep within sight of the water for this section of the trail. The track suddenly curves west then east. If you're in a hurry, you could swim across this small cove instead. The trail continues north before again veering west to cross Winson Gully Creek then north-east. Before the creek flows sharply to the east into Winson Bay, you'll turn left, still keeping the water on your right. Endlessly bobbing on the water, the skeleton of a rusting boat on Waratah Bay is the last remnant of Edward Windybark's stay in the park while he built the rail line you'll use to ride home.
Cowan Creek (by XLerate at Wikipedia)
As you turn north and leave Cowan Creek, you'll make the first of three crossings over the tight Waratah Gully Creek. During each of these chances to get your feet wet, you'll be travelling west, occasionally winding to the north-west or south-west. After the last water crossing, the trail straightens and climbs into the setting sun until drawing you north-west over the Pacific Motorway and into Berowra Station.
If you started early and didn't stop for lunch in the park, you can treat yourself to a Pad Thai at Ayothaya's, a slice of pie at Berowra Pizza or a cold drink at the RSL. For a new challenge, you can travel the reverse path, punishing your legs on the steep climb at the final push into Ku-ring-gai Station.