What: thru-hike of the Great North Walk (GNW) trail
Where: Newcastle to Sydney, Australia
When: September 14 – 22, 2011 (9 days)
Distance: about 156 miles
Highlights: well maintained and documented trail, Eucalyptus forests, fabulous birds
The New South Wales Department of Lands publishes and sells the Great North Walk Discover Kit. The kit includes a set of maps and information about shops and water sources. These maps are essential and sufficient.
We found lots of information at The Great North Walk website, however it looks like this site is outdated and many links are no longer working.
Great North Walk Wikipedia page.
Why we went
The primary purpose of our trip to southeast Australia was to hike the Great South Coast Walk from Sydney to Mallacoota. Adding the GNW to our itinerary was straight-forward and inexpensive, making it an easy decision to include this hike on our trip to Oz.
Click map to open an interactive CalTopo map in a new browser tab. Instructions for using CalTopo.
This walk was a worthwhile addition to our southeast Australia itinerary. It was a straight-forward walk, required nominal planning effort, and offered no logistical headaches. The flora and fauna, particularly the birds, made this trip fun since they are so different from home. The scenery was enjoyable but not grand. I would not recommend traveling a long distance in order to hike the GNW, but is worthwhile for hikers who are in Sydney and have spare time.
I appreciate the ability to show up and hike for a week or more on a well documented and maintained trail. The effort put forth to design, document, and maintain a long trail is substantial and I was a beneficiary of that effort. Thank you Department of Lands!
For the most part, I found the route to be quite enjoyable. The scenery is pleasant but not outstanding. This is a nice regional walk, but it is not a world-class route. I would not recommend traveling any great distance to take this hike, but if you are the area and have the time, the GNW is worth doing.
Notes for Potential Hikers
The GNW is a government sponsored and way-marked 250 kilometer route between Newcastle and Sydney generally running through the coastal mountains.
There is one overly long section of road-walking west of Teralba, but otherwise the GNW does a good job of avoiding most pavement. Much of the walk is in eucalyptus forest so there are few expansive views. There is some diversity with a bit of coastal walking near Newcastle, the Hawkesbury River, and the surprisingly un-urban and cleverly twisted route through suburban Sydney.
Technically, the walk is not difficult. It is hilly, but the altitude gains and losses are modest. The path is generally easy to follow and the tread is good. We had little boggy trail and there are only a few rocky sections. In many places, steps have been cut into the soft rock making climbing up and down the frequent short vertical bluffs quite easy. Trail maintenance was generally good and only a few short sections had overhanging brush. During our walk, water availability was good and insects were not a problem.
We did not encounter any other through-hikers on our trip. There were very few people on any kind of hike out on the trail.
After completing the GNW we went on to hike the Great South Coast Walk from Sydney to Mallacoota. This was a preamble to that much longer route.
The GNW is way-marked with both signboards and arrow-posts. The arrow-posts do not have a consistent graphic format but were rarely confusing. In a few places during our walk, the trail had been re-routed and the printed maps had not yet caught up; however, the re-routes were well marked on the ground and route finding was never a problem. Navigating this route should not be difficult for anyone with basic map reading skills and a sense of direction.
The one ambiguous portion of the route is crossing the Hawkesbury River. There are four options:
- The primary GNW requires a ferry ride between Potonga Wharf and Brooklyn. The problem is that the ferry must be booked in advance and only runs when there are enough people to make it worthwhile. The ferry is offered only once a day, so even if it is running, it may require a long wait. All this requires you to predict when you will reach Patonga or Brooklyn and make arrangements in advance to ensure the ferry is available. This was not practical for our unstructured style of hiking.
- We took the train across the river between Wondabyne Station and Brooklyn. Trains stop regularly in Brooklyn and can be stopped on demand at Wondabyne. A spur trail leads from the main GNW to Wondabyne Station. The spur trail is signposted as a GNW alternate route.
- The third possibility is to follow a spur track that splits off of the main GNW south of a railroad crossing and goes on to Wobby Beach. There are daily ferry connections to Dangar Island and Wobby Beach from Brooklyn. This alternative looked promising on the map, but we were never able to obtain definitive information about the condition of the spur track to Wobby Beach nor were we able to find the path looking at satellite imagery. Some Australian walkers we corresponded with implied that the track might be difficult to follow in places due to lack of maintenance and overgrown bush. If a good track exists, this might be the best alternative.
- The water was calm enough that packrafts could be used.
Our trip was during Australia’s early spring. We had cool to very warm, but not hot, temperatures and no rain. We would likely not have enjoyed the GNW if the temperatures had been hotter. Since it is mostly an interior route, it may get quite warm later in the season.
There are a couple of multi-day stretches without re-supply possibilities unless you go significantly off route. Shop locations are identified on the map.
- The small store at Heaton Gap was very useful. While the stock is a bit limited, we found everything we needed and the very friendly proprietor made us some hot take-away sandwiches and some salads. He also gave us complementary tea and baklava.
- The store in Yarmalong was great. Not a huge variety in stock, but enough. They did have a grill and cooked us a fine meal. The people were very nice.
- The store is Somersby is another story. There was very little on the shelves and the woman we interacted with was grumpy and screwed up our breakfast order. It is amazing it was still in business.
- The restaurant at the marina in Berowra was expensive and the food was not good. There is a tiny deli there as well, but offered nothing useful for walkers. The ferry to the marina, however, is free.
We camped every night on this walk. Some sites might be considered stealth camping, but we never had any problems. In some place, the underbrush is thick enough and made finding a comfortable place a little troublesome. We camped one night on the edge of a golf course and another in a picnic area at Lane Cove National Park just a few miles from downtown Sydney.