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Mount Ku-ring-gai's Red Hands Cave Walk

Home > Sydney > Beaches | Escape the City | Free | Outdoor | Walks
by Barry J (subscribe)
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Published January 24th 2016
Walk from red hands to palm beaches
Overlooking Palm Beach and Barrenjoey Lighthouse, this 5-kilometre circuit of the West Head area of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is just a short drive or bike ride from Terrey Hills in Sydney's north. In only a few hours of walking, you'll explore ancient Aboriginal art, spectacular ocean views and a diverse landscape of heathland, forest and beaches thriving with native wildlife.

Barrenjoey Lighthouse
Barrenjoey Lighthouse (by John Dalton at Wikipedia)

You can drive or combine public transport and a bicycle to reach the start point for this walk. If driving from Central Station, travel northbound for 30 kilometres through Chatswood, Forestville and Terrey Hills, entering the park in 40 minutes. You'll pay $12 for car entry, driving north along McCarrs Creek Rd and West Head Rd for 15 minutes to reach the Resolute Picnic Ground. If you're cycling, take a train to Wynyard Station, boarding the 270 bus from Clarence St to reach Terrey Hills within an hour. From there, cycle north along into the park to reach the same starting point. Cycling into the park sets a serene tone for your walk as you slowly leave suburbia. It is also convenient as the park is within reach of the city's centre, ensuring the highlights can be enjoyed without rushing to return home at the day's end.

From the Resolute picnic grounds, join the Resolute Loop Track heading south. The track forks to the left for access to the Red Hands Cave track. These hand prints were created by grinding clay and sandstone rocks, similiar to the oxidised reds of the Northern Territory's Uluru, into a powder. Mixing the power with water, the Guringai peoples would spray the ochre dye over their outstretched hands, creating some of the earliest examples of art in our human history. These prints represented a connection to this region, both spiritually and physically. The prints in the higher sections belong to the senior members of the group. They would also include the wrist and lower arm to denote status. The site is protected with a barrier to discourage visitors from touching the enduring art but it can still be closely examined.

Red hand
Red hand (by Schomynv at Wikipedia)

Retrace your steps west to return to the track, turning left to continue south. During this push into denser forest, you may hear laughter from kookaburras, echoing through the red gum trees or see paw-prints from the rare long-nosed bandicoot, prodding at insect nests with a Pinocchio-like snout. At the stone clearing, you'll marvel at striking stone engravings, featuring an outline of a man and fish. The meanings are unclear, however they are reminiscent of artwork in Arnhem Land featuring Aboriginal Dreaming stories.

At the fork with North Mackerel Trail, take the leftmost path, remaining on the Resolute Loop Track. It slowly winds north, tracing the beach past Second Head. Nearing the sandy stretch spreading from West Head Beach, you may see wedge-tailed eagles, circling overhead after scanning the waters for fish or sun-bathing lizards.

Wedge-tailed Eagle
Wedge-tailed Eagle (by Ron Knight at Wikipedia)

From the sands, you'll turn inland to reach West Head Lookout for panoramic views over Broken Bay. Barrenjoey Lighthouse, standing for over 130 years and featured on Home and Away, is on a thin spit of land with beach on either side. Water streams with ferries and yachts travelling north from Palm Beach past Lion Island to Wagstaffe and Ettalong. Beyond the lighthouse, the Pacific Ocean continues beyond the horizon, the blue and white waves occasionally broken by whales bursting to the surface during their annual migration between April and December. To the north, you'll spot popular Central Coast beaches across the Hawkesbury River, including Patonga and Pearl.

Humpback whale
Humpback whale (by Fritz Geller-Grimm at Wikipedia)

If you can't resist a visit across the water, return south past Second Head, reaching Great Mackerel Beach in 500 metres. You can catch the ferry from here to Palm Beach for the short walk north to Barrenjoey Lighthouse or continue on to Umina for another day of exploration. Otherwise, you can continue west to join the Red Hands Track, a straight hike to your starting point at Resolute car park.

Palm Beach
Palm Beach (by Graeme Churchard at Flickr)
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Why? Walking Sydney's Aboriginal History
When: Open 6am - 5.30pm (8pm during daylight savings), 365 days a year
Phone: Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park (02) 9472 8949
Where: Mount Kuring-Gai Station
Cost: Free on bicycle, $12 per car
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