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After living in Sydney for over a year, I finally got round to visiting Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park recently, and I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed! The serene view across Pittwater on the western side of the peninsula leading up to Palm Beach is one of my all-time favourites in Sydney, so catching the ferry across the water and visiting the secluded beaches is something that’s been on my to-do list for a long time.
The hilly-but-beautiful walk to West Head Lookout from Great Mackerel Beach in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase is about 5km long, and takes around three hours to complete. Allow extra time to visit Resolute Beach and have a swim to cool off on your way back though! Even if you don’t fancy the walk, the view from West Head Lookout is absolutely stunning, and is accessible by car, so I’d recommend driving up there one day if you can.
Fantasea Ferry from Palm Beach to Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park
The journey starts up at Palm Beach, the gleaming gem in the tip of Sydney’s crown and home to beautiful beaches, hillside mansions and the kind of relaxed seaside living you just don’t get in the city. If you’re driving, there’s metered parking next to the wharf or unrestricted parking on Barrenjoey Road or Illuka Road. If you’re using public transport, check timetables here; it takes about an hour and a half by bus from the city.
The Fantasea ferry to Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park leaves from Palm Beach Wharf on Barrenjoey Road, on the western side of the peninsula. A return ticket, stopping at Bennett’s, Bonnie Doon, Basin, Currawong and Mackerel costs $16.20 for adults. Check timetables here.
I caught the first ferry on a Monday morning, and since the only other passengers were a few tradesmen going over to work on properties across the water, I had the whole upper deck to myself!
The ferry ride is an attraction in itself, crossing over calm and beautiful Pittwater and cruising past hidden beaches in Ku-Ring-Gai.
After about 30 minutes, you’ll need to disembark at Mackerel.
1 – Great Mackerel Beach, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park
You’ll step off the wharf straight onto Great Mackerel Beach in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, a beautiful stretch of sand backed by green hills. Note that there aren’t any facilities here, just a row of amazingly located beachfront properties.
Great Mackerel Beach is number 1 (and 9) on the map below, and the 5km return walk to West Head Lookout through Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park follows the circular route from 1 to 9.
2 – Resolute Beach Turnoff
To start the walk to West Head Lookout, keep the water on your right and walk over to the rocks and trees at the northern end of Great Mackerel Beach. Look for the two tall palm trees (they’re the only palm trees there, but still hard to spot amongst the greenery!) and the green pole on the rocks below marking the start of the walk.
Climb over the rocks, and follow the track behind it. As you head uphill through the trees you’ll be rewarded with beautiful glimpses over the turquoise water. You might even see the stubborn goanna that was very reluctant to move out of the way when I tried to pass him!
About 30 minutes later you’ll spot beautiful Resolute Beach below you. If you want to visit the beach at this point, keep going then follow the track down to the sand. If you want to head inland to do the circuit walk first, and stop at Resolute Beach on the way back, keep reading.
3 – Resolute Trail
Climb the steep wooden steps on your left, and pass the signed Aboriginal Middens that indigenous Australians used to shelter under.
At the top of the hill, follow the sign to Resolute Picnic Area and enjoy the elevated views across Pittwater along the way.
Next you’ll come to a three-way junction (number 3 on the map) and the sign below.
Turn right along the wide track towards Resolute Picnic Area (note that the downward arrow means the track behind you if you’re facing the sign, not ahead of you!). The track to the right of the sign heading off behind it is the closed, North Mackerel Trail.
4 – Aboriginal Rock Engravings
Ten minutes later you’ll come to the Aboriginal Rock engravings. I’ll admit I only managed to find the fish one!
5 – Resolute Picnic Area
Keep walking and soon you’ll reach Resolute Picnic Area, where there are toilets, barbecues, information boards and picnic tables – the perfect place to refresh after your uphill journey!
6 – West Head Lookout via Red Hands Track
Once you’re well rested and refreshed, follow the sign to Red Hands Track, where you’ll pass by Red Hands Cave.
Follow the signs and continue on for about 15 minutes to West Head Lookout, which is absolutely stunning and reminded me of being in the Greek islands! You can see Palm Beach, Lion Island and right across the Central Coast.
7 – West Head Beach
Follow the sign to West Head Beach, just 500m away. This beach is beautiful but much rockier than Resolute, so if you want to chill for a while or swim, I’d wait until you get to that one.
8 – Resolute Beach
About ten minutes further along the main track is Resolute Beach. Head down the steps on your left at the fork, and you’ll come to the tropical beach below! There’s shade around the edges and calm water that’s perfect to cool off in.
9 – Great Mackerel Beach
Once you’re done for the day, walk back to Great Mackerel Beach to catch the ferry back to Palm Beach. Just don’t miss the last one!
For more beautiful walks in Sydney, check out my post on the cliffside walk to Cape Baily Lighthouse down in Kurnell, a popular spot for whale watching, or the short and pretty walk with great city views from Mosman Bay to Cremorne Point.
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Lisa Bull, founder of Dreaming of Down Under, has been living in Australia as a British expat since 2015. After travelling to every state and territory in Australia and living in Perth, Brisbane and Sydney, Lisa knows from first-hand experience the best destinations to visit in Australia and the best budget travel tips. Her guides on this blog have been read by over 700k readers and helped thousands of people achieve their dream of living in or travelling Australia.