“Where the hell should I go this weekend?!”
You’re probably thinking this around about every Wednesday or Thursday, right? Ain’t nobody got time to organise some great getaway when you’re stressed-out, suffocated by work shirts, stupid meetings and frustrating colleagues….or do you?
Well, if you’re a Sydneysider and this situation is ringing a bell, I’ve got a great little solution to satisfy your aching wander-lusting heart: The Cape Banks Trail.
Here you can feel the raging ocean’s salt spray on your face while you mosey safely around an easy bush covered headland. When you’ve finished the loop, you can end up at the beach for a swim, or lunch at the infamous fish and chip cafes at ‘LaPa’. Luckily for us, the Cape Banks trail is a living, green, peaceful dream, only a hop, skip and a jump away…
Situated in Botany Bay National Park, the Cape Banks Trail and the connected Henry Head Track are accessible either by Cape Banks Road, Little Congwong Beach or Henry Head Lane. Let’s start from Cape Banks Road, shall we?
This 5km walk begins conveniently near the Westpac emergency helicopter base carpark.
Wander over the hill towards the sea on the left, and you’ll soon cross the seagrass ridge and see the expanse of sea cliffs.
If you visit between June and October, be sure to look up and scan the water. Be patient. Look for splashes and water sprays in the blue water – whales and dolphins are travelling up and down the coast during this time of the year. You might be lucky to see them frolicking in the distance!
Turn right and clamber over the rocks (and at times, the mud), towards the headland. If you’re adventurous and want to ground yourself, take your shoes off and feel the worn limestone under your feet. This adds another sensory experience to the sight of the deep calm blues of water and sky, the sound of seagulls and crashing waves, and the smell of salty seaweed.
Take some time here to be mindful of your surroundings. Look down at how the rock has been formed. The trickling freshwater from the golf course turns the iron in the rocks to rust. Seismic shifts from millions of years ago leave strata rocks tilted like a pack of fallen playing cards. Innocuous water drops create large perfectly rounded pools. Mosses as bright green as an English countryside cling to the weathered limestone rocks.
Zen if ever I did see.
Fishing for adventure
Rockfishing is a popular past time here. You’ll usually see some people casting over the cliff. Rockfishing is the most dangerous sport in Australia, so please, if you participate, wear a life jacket and be careful. If I can’t convince you, perhaps this sobering remembrance plaque can…
The raging sea
I can spend hours watching the waves crash onto the rugged rocks; it’s like an ancient battle that will continue for eternity. I sat in a safe spot and watched the ocean surge and recede, carving away at our coastline, grains at a time. What a way to feel connected to nature…and in my case, to realise how much more I can experience than just my daily 9-5.
Cape Banks Headland
Continue walking along the cliffs, and you’ll find a deep gash in the rock. You can’t go through it, over it or under it…you’ll have to go around it. Hug the coast, hook right. Steadily make your way from the cliff edge towards the small hairpin part of the track. It’s a thin, worn track in the sea grass – my tip is to head as high as you can. It’s easier that way.
Follow the track down a little further and you’ll come to the Cape Banks footbridge. Cross it of course! Take a wander around. You’ll see Hole 6 of the Championship Course next to the bridge. Could you make the 185m shot? I couldn’t throw a ball straight on that windy cape!
See if you can view any of the SS Minmi, a Scottish coal ship that ran aground on the rocks in dense fog and high seas in 1937. 100,000 people came to Cape Banks to view the wreck in over the next two days alone! I bet you’ll be pleased about the respectively small crowd you’ll encounter today.
Wander back over the bridge and continue to the left. If you’re able, go down to the shoreline and walk across the rocky beach. If not, walk across on the pathway on the golf course.
The Sheltered Cove at Little Bay
Now that you’ve left the open eastern face of the headland and have trekked down to the coastline of the bay inside the heads, things quieten down a little. The wind is softened, the waves are smaller and you’ll see the rocks are worn down differently. Even though the elements are quietened, there’s still a lot to notice. Living things. Like lichen!
I know this isn’t something most people go gaga over, but I do. I’ve always kept an eye out for this otherworldly combo of algae and fungus. I think the colours are amazing – citrus yellow-greens, burnt oranges, mint and blacks. I think the fact they exist is even more impressive – they only grow 1 MILLIMETER PER YEAR! Well done to this little trooper that is the size of my palm.
You may have heard of the Figure 8 pools down in the Royal National Park. These pools below are on their way to being the same shape…just give them a thousand more years 😉
When you’ve reached the small sand cove at the far end, you’ll see the stairs to Henry Head Track. Onwards and upwards!
The Bushwalk – Henry Head Track
This is the ‘bush’ part of the bush walk, though your feet don’t touch the ground. The grid platform continues up the hill and is actually a really good jogging track if you’re feeling energetic. Flanking the path are an abundance of native flowering plants, the hardy banksias, creeping vines and mushrooms.
You may hear animals scurrying about – never fear, they are just skinks and lizards. If you’re lucky you’ll see a blue tongue lizard too. They are harmless and adorable so please don’t bother them. In the sky, keep an eye out for the birds of prey, Kestrels, as well as Currawongs, Superb Fairy Wrens, Black Cockatoos, Eastern Mynas and Magpies.
Young Men these days aren’t what they used to be – (Thank goodness)
I wouldn’t know how to operate a gun or a cannon for shit. Imagine! Me, Ms Puny Arms, at the back-end of one of those cold metal monsters, grinding it into position, feeding the hungry violent beast its explosive ammo, steeling myself as I pull triggers and light fuses, holding on for dear life as it roars “BANG!!!!”
I’m reminded of my physical impotence, my bristling aversion to violence, and my gratefulness to have been born in the 1980’s (and alive now) in peacetime, every time I see the gun emplacements at Cape Banks. When I wander past them, I imagine I’m a young buck in the 1930 and 40’s, during World War 2, equal parts testosterone fueled and scared shitless, crouching in the concrete fort with a massive gunmetal grey heaving expeller of death in front of me, and it’s up to me to save the country from enemy invasion. If they reach the shore, it’s my fault.
What a nightmare.
I’m glad that we are living in peacetime, but I do wonder if ‘boys’ these days need to find something better to do than come down here with their spray paint cans and vandalise the place. I find it a really interesting point to ponder…
Could one say that their vandalism is a good sign of modern society? Although it’s butt ugly, and completely useless, I think the answer is ‘Yes’.
After all, the alternative is war…
The Little-Bit-Late Lighthouse
The Endeavour Lighthouse at Henry Head was built in 1955. Shame it wasn’t built before the SS Minmi took it’s fatal blow to the hull 18 years earlier.
Have a look at the top of the antenna – if there’s a light tan-coloured bird there, it’s likely the Kestrel! Wait a moment and you may watch it dive like a jet fighter plane into the bushes to catch its scurrying prey.
Back to the Graff
I am disappointed in the crummy work of ratbags who tag the historic buildings. At the very least write something clever or spray something interesting.
I’m talking to you, Nathan.
Remembering our roots
In stark contrast to Nathans handiwork, inside one of the gun placements is an artwork. A proper, completely other-side-of-the-spectrum, glorious creation.
A spray-painted masterpiece.
I don’t know who painted it, but it may very well be my favourite street art piece of all time. It also brings me to this important point.
The traditional owners of this land are the Muru-ora-dial clan of the Eora Nation. I am always aware of the country on which I walk and I pay respect. I pay particularly deep respect in this area as I realise that here, Botany Bay, is so painfully close to the area of the first, tragic and traumatic meeting between colonialists and Indigenous communities. Just over the other side of Botany Bay, in Kurnell, Captain Cook set foot on Australian land, Dharawal country, and changed the community and the countrys lives forever. You can read more about that here.
It is very much worth your while to learn about where you set foot when you are in Australia. Australia’s history is not only 230 years old…it predates all other cultures in the world. You can see the Country you are in now on maps like these.
While the other side of the bay has original Aboriginal rock paintings dating back tens of thousands of years, this place has this modern take that hopefully stands the test of time just as well as the originals. If you know who painted it, please let me know!
Choose Your Own Adventure – The Trek Back
You’ll continue down the path, with two offshoots on the left. These go down to Brown Rock Lookout and Little Congwong Beach. If you enjoy panoramas over water, go to Brown Rock. If you like nude beaches and fancy a dip, go down to ‘Little Congie’, strip off and jump in! It’s only unofficially a nude beach, and we’d like to keep it that way, so be on your best behaviour, and enjoy the sun peacefully.
It’s quite easy to walk from Little Congwong Beach to Congwong Beach (the clothed beach) and onwards to La Perouse’s cafes, museum and Bare Island Fort.
If you choose to continue to complete your loop, continue straight and you’ll see the NSW Golf Course sign again, and the road you took to go to the Helicopter Base carpark. Follow the road back to your starting point. Check the golf course for celebrities as you do. You never know who’ll be teeing off when you wander past.
If you’re a history buff, you may like to visit the Coast Hospital Cemetary along the way. It is on the left as you walk back to the carpark, just before the houses on the right.
Take a bag with you please, an empty one. Fill it with every bit of plastic litter you see, and throw it all in the bin when you get home. It’s not hard to be a fellow Fuckgiver and it sure feels good!
Enjoy your wander!
Ok! When you go (not IF you go) make sure to:
- Tag me on Instagram and/or hashtag #cyncoco
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- Comment below with your favourite part!