Do Sydney’s Great North Walk one leg at a time

Fancy tackling the Great North Walk from Sydney to Newcastle, but don’t have the time to do the full 260km in one thru-hike and/or a bit nervous of getting lost along the way?

Guided walks

The Great North Walk can seem daunting by yourself

That’s exactly how I felt. Billed as Australia’s most accessible trail, it’s possible to do it in stages, using public transport to get to and from each section. But I was still nervous about taking a wrong track or running late for the last bus at the end of the day. Basically, I lacked the motivation to do it by myself.

So I was thrilled to find you could walk the first 150km, one leg at a time, in the company of a national park guide over ten months, which is what I did last year. Abdicating responsibility for navigating and time keeping, I was free to absorb my surroundings; historic harbour slipways, hidden parks beneath busy freeways, peaceful riverside woodlands, ferny fairylands and vast sandstone escarpments.

Meet like-minded people

Enjoy the company of fellow walkers

Within Sydney’s heart were fragile fungi and feathery ferns, tiny wildflowers and towering trees, gurgling streams and gushing waterfalls, cloistered vistas and vast views. Initially the dreary drone of traffic competed with the sounds of nature, but as we walked further from the city the urban cacophony gave way to a bush symphony of rustling foliage, croaking frogs, trilling insects and piercing bird calls.

Take time to admire where you've been

Yes, we climbed that peak – Mount Wondabyne

Guide Warren Irish, a NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service volunteer, has been leading monthly hikes of the Great North Walk from Sydney Cove to Somersby (about halfway to Newcastle) for the past eight years, and is doing so again in 2016.

Vlunteer guide Warren Irish

NPWS Volunteer guide Warren Irish teaches as he walks

Accompanied by fellow volunteer, Wendy Hurdwell, Warren  enriched our knowledge with historical anecdotes, astonishing statistics and a passion for botany that was infectious – I can now tell a mountain devil from a grevillea and know a waratah belongs to the genus telopea, which means ‘seen from afar’ (something which scored me a recent trivia point!).

Swamp honey myrtle

Learn about the wildflowers, like this swamp honey myrtle

There’s no doubting Warren’s love of the bush – he pats majestic trees as he passes and when asked about his favourite section of the Great North Walk, like a faithful father not wanting to choose a preferred child, he said he loves it all. I can understand his viewpoint, as each walk has its own charms, which change with the weather and the season. By walking each month I experienced the full floral calendar and witnessed the power of a summer storm on the landscape.

sandstone country

There’s lots to photograph in sandstone country

The walks run on both a Wednesday and a Sunday (starting 21st Feb). Group sizes vary from week to week, with some people doing all the walks, others just those that take their fancy or that they missed the previous year. The Sunday walks attract full-time workers and families, while the Wednesday walks are a mix of part-time or self employed workers and active retirees. You get to meet fellow hikers, and while the odd one might talk too much, you’re likely to strike up friendships with like-minded people. I walked mid-week and was thrilled, given how much I travel, to make nine of the ten walks, and was able to undertake the one I missed with a fellow hiker I’d met during the year.

The terrain varies on each walk

The terrain varies on each walk

Initially a was little worried about handling the sometimes multiple ascents and descents of some walks, but Warren stops regularly for people who need to catch their breath and Wendy brings up the rear with slower-paced walkers. I’d recommend exercising your thighs before tackling the 280-odd sandstone Depression Steps on section three though, if you’d like to walk pain-free the next day.

The views are worth the climbs

The views are worth the climbs, like this one of Berowra

Walks need to be booked by the day before by phoning Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park’s Kalkari Discovery Centre, when meeting place details will be confirmed. Phone 02 9472 9300. Cost is $15 per walk.

Walks commence Sunday 21 February and Wednesday 24 February 2016.

Follow this link for details of the first walk and how to book. Great North Walk Stage 1  (Update:  Unfortunately, the National Park website only seems to upload the upcoming walk, not the year’s schedule, and they do not alwyas come up when searching, so phone Kalkari and they should be able to give you the full schedule. )

Happy hiking!

Postscript May 31 2016: It is with great sadness that I learned Warren Irish passed away this week. For those that would like to attend his service, it will be held in Sydney at the Magnolia Chapel, Macquarie Park Crematorium, 2pm Friday 3rd June. Condolences to family and friends.

About Briar's Travel Beat

Briar Jensen is a Sydney-based freelance travel writer. In her blog, Briar's Travel Beat, she shares her travel experiences to inform, entertain and inspire.
This entry was posted in Australia, Events, Great North Walk, Hawkesbury, National Parks, New South Wales, Travel, Walking and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Do Sydney’s Great North Walk one leg at a time

  1. What a great idea to do it in stages (and with help!) – looks gorgeous.


  2. Pingback: Postcard of the week – Glorious gum trees | Briar's Travel Beat

  3. Vicky C says:

    Thank you for sharing this… we have been doing these walks with Warren for over a year, and his knowledge and passion weaves magic into every moment… So very, very saddened to hear of his passing… A true gentleman of the bush, a lovely, warm and caring human being – his loss in the bushwalking world will be keenly felt…


  4. Sally291 says:

    I did a part of this walk for my DofE Bronze qualifying hike- through berowra to Mt Kuring-Gai, it was so lovely and pretty!


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