Time taken: 3.5 hours (with lunch and photo stops)
USP: Amazing views down Cowan Creek
This walk starts right at the end of Platform 1, Mount Kuring-Gai station. That means from the Eastern Suburbs it’s easily under 60 minutes, door to forest and another free trip if you’ve done your usual Monday – Friday commute. Walking off the platform it’s a left turn at the tunnel and a short walk down Harwood Street, which abruptly ends, giving way to the trail proper.
The path starts wide, easy and slightly downhill. Tall bushes on either side give sneak peeks into the tree covered valley to the south. Although the start of the walk crosses the M1 motorway (by bridge… don’t panic), the sounds of the traffic are quickly muffled and replaced by the wind, the path underfoot and the bird song, shutting out real life for the next few hours.
It didn’t take long before we came across an area of shrubs teeming with birds. A flock of White Eyes bounced through the understory of the trees in front of us, keeping in contact with each other through high pitched ‘tseees’ as they went. Higher up in the canopy, Lewin’s Honeyeater were chasing each other and Wattle Birds ‘barked’ somewhere out of sight. While watching the Honeyeaters higher up, something much brighter and larger caught our eye. A beautiful Golden Whistler was calmly hopping from branch to branch, displaying more calm and purpose than the frenetic flock around it. The yellow breast, jet black head and bright white chin patch glowed and vibrated against the deep, blue sky above.
We’d only gone a few hundred meters and already felt as if we were in the middle of nowhere. At this pace, it was going to be a lot longer than the advertised 4 hours to cover all 8km.
We walked along the ridge for another 30 minutes, always heading down hill and catching glimpses of the Cowan Creek, glinting and shimmering to the North East of us. A few steeper hairpins, some scrambling over boulders and we’d reached water level and the creek itself.
The path split here, left and right. The right fork leads to Bobbin Head and Apple Tree Bay. A walk we did a few weeks later. The left fork leads to a path that hugs the Cowan Creek’s Western bank and heads upstream, eventually reaching Berowra Water station – our destination for today. And this is where the path got a lot more technical. A few attempts to walk and look for bird life led to a number of stumbles over exposed roots and protruding rocks. The palms and ferns closed in on the path and tangles of vines hung over head. Concentration was needed here if we were going to make it without any broken ankles.
Throughout the walk we came across several groups of roving birds, always comprised of White Eyes and usually hiding something else within their numbers. The rust and navy of an Eastern Spinebill or the drab markings of a Grey Fantail, belying their frantic aerobatics as they conduct sorties from bare branches to snap insects out of the crisp, fresh air.
As the trail traces the outline of the creek, there are numerous areas to pull up and grab a bite or just take in the view. The silence is regularly interrupted by speedboats and fishing tinnies racing by on their way to more remote backwaters, but the silence always returns once they’re out of sight, weighing heavier than before. Their wake lapping against the rocks wile the water settles back to glass.
It also gave us a break from watching our step on the technical trail and allowed us to take in the beauty. While sitting on a rock that jutted into the waters a White Bellied Sea Eagle drifted along the far bank, round a bend and out of view, never flapping once. Little Pied Cormorants disappeared and reappeared in the crystal clear shallows and a shy Kingfisher darted past on whirring wings.
After 5km or so hugging the creek-side and exploring jumbles of boulders in the quiet corners of the many bays, it was time to leave the water’s edge and make the climb up Waratah Creek to Berorwa Station. The light was getting low by this point and a golden soft glow was filtering through the leaves, soaking our eyes with the last of the day. True to the majority of the walk, the climb out of the basin was rocky and called for concentration. Pace falling into step with breath as we wordlessly stomped up the slope.
Just like the start of the walk, the end of the trail leads right to the station. Getting closer, bird song and wind gives way to combustion engines and car horns. Reality coming back into focus as we stepped out of the forest and back across the motorway bridge.
A 15 minute wait for the next train was just long enough to dart over the Pacific Highway to a welcome BWS for a few cheeky travellers to enjoy on the journey back to the city… dirty, tired and smug at another free trip so close to home.