It will take some effort, but it is worth every step
The Tomaree Head Summit Walk is a must-do for locals and tourists, when exploring the scenic Port Stephens region. The entrance to the walk is located at the far end of Shoal Bay, in the Tomaree National Park. It is a steep 1 kilometre walk up to the summit, which is 161 metres above sea level, and then you are rewarded with some of the most spectacular views over the entire region.
This scenic walk often features on tourist brochures for Port Stephens, showing people with their arms outstretched at the top, enjoying the sweeping views over Zenith Beach and Shoal Bay below. As I laced up my sneakers and headed up the track for the fist time however, I realised that I had never gave much thought to how hard it would be to get to the top. In hindsight, I realised that although the walk was short, it wasn't going to be easy - it's a big hill! So prepare yourself for some of the best scenery you will ever see in your life - but you are also going to have to work to get it. These are my personal Top 5 Tips for walking the Tomaree Head Summit Walk, to make the most of your adventure this weekend...
Looking down to Zenith Beach, from near the top of the summit
The walk begins on a narrow brick path, which twists and turns up the side of the hill with many areas that are quite steep. There are signs along the way warning that the path may be slippery when wet, so ensure you wear sturdy shoes with good grip - especially if it has just been raining. The start of the walk tests your aerobic fitness and leg muscles, however there are benches positioned along the way if you need a rest or you find that your shoes are slippery. As you slowly get higher, you catch glimpses of the clear, blue waters of Shoal Bay below, which gives you motivation to keep going up further.
The walk begins with a brick pathway that starts its ascent upwards
After less than 10 minutes from the start of the walk, you come to a junction where you can walk up the stairs to the summit walk, or continue to the remains of Fort Tomaree - the gun emplacements that were used in the defence of east coast Australia during World War II. The extra walk is worth it, to learn about the history of Australia during wartime and how this area played its role.
When you get to the gun emplacements, there are signs to read which explain why it was crucial to defend the entry to Port Stephens in World War II. Steel was an important commodity during war, so the defence force needed to defend Newcastle city and also the Williamtown Aerodrome in particular. If enemy craft were able to infiltrate the waters of the Port Stephens region, it would give them close proximity to two important Australian landmarks used in the war effort. Today, they may be just remains and overgrown, however you can imagine a time when they were built and manned. When you have finished looking, return the way you came and back to the vertical stairs up to the summit.
Junction where you keep walking left for the gun emplacements, or up the stairs for the summit walk
The next section of this walk is why the National Parks have graded it as a Grade 5 walk - the metal staircases are steep, the stairs are rocky and the path is uneven underfoot. Although I saw families with kids and older seniors walking up and down the pathway, I must admit that it wouldn't be a walk that I would take my young daughter or mother on - it was hard enough to do it myself! It is imperative at this stage that you have a bottle of water with you, especially in the hotter months, to prevent dehydration.
As you get further up, however, you soon forget about your need for water as the metal staircase starts to level out into a platform, the wind starts the blow and the view unveils itself in all its glory...
If you look on the Instagram for Port Stephens Tourism, you will find many photos of locals and tourists taking selfies on the metal platform that you stand on, just before the last walk up to the summit. It is a sensational place to stay for a while , catch your breath, enjoy the breeze and soak up the scenery. If you have a phone or camera with a panoramic setting, this is the ideal place to use it, as the 180-degree views across to Fingal Spit, Zenith Beach and then over to Shoal Bay on the other side, is as beautiful as they come.
Zenith Beach on the left, Shoal Bay to the right...
Port Stephens is a premier whale-watching location, so take your binoculars and look for the tell-tale spray of a humpback whale or see if you can spot dolphins closer to shore. When you are up at the very top of the summit, there are two metal platforms to appreciate the views from both directions, so you could easily stay there awhile and spot a few go by, if you time it right. The best time to view whales is between May to November.
This walk may be hard on the legs - but it is good for your body, heart and soul. It really is the best way to experience the beauty of this pristine, wild and wonderful region. Why don't you pack your water bottle and your swimming costume and tackle it this weekend?
Enjoy the wind, views & wildlife from the summit...