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Published January 19th 2016
North Parramatta's Best Walk
Walk off the week's stress with this leisurely 2-hour circuit of Lake Parramatta. 75 hectares of Australian bushland surround this man-made reservoir, channelled by a 160-year-old dam marking the finish line of your 4.2km walk. Recently, the lake's waters have been cleaned, converting the oily soup into a clear pool you can dive into without risking a trip to the nearby Westmead Hospital.
Azure Kingfisher (by JJ Harrison at Wikipedia)
The lake is in the centre of North Parramatta, a short bus trip on the 609 from Parramatta Station. After leaving the bus at Bourke St, turn right into Lackey St but you won't be a sycophant for long as you continue straight onto Illawong Dr. to enter the park. You can also park here if driving. If you need a quick coffee or a sneaky snack, pop into the Lake Parramatta Cafe before striding to the water's edge. The choice is yours, but walking anti-clockwise with the water ebbing at your left shoulder will save the peaceful and historic highlight, the dam, till the end of your journey. Don't worry about dodging bicycles as you begin – uneven sections would cause many bike riders to tumble over their handlebars on the trails you'll enjoy.
The first section of your walk through the south-east region is She-Oak Track. As you push east, you'll be surrounded by towering red gums and broad eucalypts. As the trail turns in on it's self, you'll enter the 2nd quarter of the trail, Banksia Track, walking north by Hairpin Banksias, wattles and hedgehog grass. Grey Gum and Red Bloodwood trees shade your steps. You might spot a few cyclists racing along the parallel fire trail but you'll soon leave them behind as the trail veers west into the most spectacular half of the trail, Lake Circuit.
Hairpin Banksia flower (by John Tann at Wikipedia)
Enter a rainforest bursting with life - violets, bluebells, daisies and wildflowers paint the green and brown ferns and palms with bright floral colours during the milder months. The trail juts north to cross Hunts Creek then reverses to south back along the lake. Keep your head up to find the source of the squawking, laughing and chirping from galahs, kookaburras, kingfishers and bats. Underfoot, you'll share the banks with banjo frogs, geckos and the lace monitor, a lean goanna growing up to 2 metres. Take gentle turns to the east and west but always keep the lake by your side. It's only when you cross Heritage Rd that the trail turns north-west before curving south toward a highlight of the walk – the dam used by Parramatta's residents for over 50 years to quench their thirsts.
Lace Monitor lizard (by Quartl at Wikipedia)
The masonry arch, originally a Roman design, used red sandstone bricks, still glowing in the sunlight. A walk atop the dam would be thrilling but access is blocked by iron grates to avoid slips against the rocks. If you have spare time, settle at a quiet spot on the waterside to fish for the non-native carp. Carp are a pest in Australia, overpopulating our waterways, surviving in the worst of conditions and driving out native species. Enjoy the peaceful wait for a nibble and the thrill when reeling in your catch but avoid eating the large fish, some up to 20 years old, as they've likely swum in the lake when it was a chemical morass.
Lake Parramatta Dam (by Greg Harper at Wikipedia)
Before you finish with a cool drink at the Cafe, visit the Bush Food Garden for a history lesson about the Aboriginal Darug people, originally living in this region before European settlement. The exhibits highlight the fascinating hand stencils, cooking middens and cave shelters they created before the spread of smallpox decimated the population. If you're a local keen for a return visit, you can get your hands dirty as a volunteer for the council's Bushcare group (email bushcare@ parracity.nsw.gov.au or phone 02 9806 5050).