27 July 2020.
Set in the lush Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, the Jerusalem Bay Track offers up a wonderful natural escape on the outskirts of Sydney.
Weaving through dense eucalyptus forests where the scents of citrus of and vanilla permeate the air, you’ll trace the shores of the gin-clear inlet of Jerusalem Bay before tackling the steep climb that carries you past Brooklyn Dam and into the quaint seaside hamlet of Brooklyn.
Located just an hour from the city centre, the hike runs from Cowan to Brooklyn and makes up one stage of the famous Great North Walk, an epic 250km trail which meanders through the urban environments and vast countryside that lie between Sydney and Newcastle.
Looking for a beautiful walk within easy reach of the city? This short guide covers everything you need to know for the Jerusalem Bay Track.
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Distance | 12km
Duration | 4 to 5 hours
Difficulty | Easy. Mostly flat with some steep hills
Start | Cowan
End | Brooklyn
Trailhead | The Jerusalem Bay Track begins at Cowan Train Station which can be reached by train directly from Central Station or Newcastle on the Central Coast & Newcastle Line. If you’re arriving by car, you’ll find a small parking lot at the station or space alongside the road.
From the station, cross over the train tracks and turn left, continuing parallel to the tracks. A short way along, you’ll find a bridge to carry you across the motorway and a signposted trail heading directly into the forest.
Setting off from Cowan Train Station, the Jerusalem Bay Track winds gently downhill through a forest of eucalypts towards the Jerusalem Creek. Follow the contours of the valley floor alongside the river until the landscapes widen and lead you to the edge of Jerusalem Bay.
With crystal clear waters and the morning sunshine just washing across the treetops, it’s an incredibly picturesque spot and if you’re lucky enough to visit on a calm day, you’ll be rewarded with perfect reflections across the bay.
Enveloped in serenity, this lovely waterside spot makes an ideal place for a short break or swim with the possibility to camp for those aiming to stay overnight.
From here, the track climbs steeply uphill along a narrow trail with a few scrambly sections to tackle before reaching a fire trail that marks the halfway point.
In my recent hiking adventures around Sydney, something I have come to really cherish about the Australian bush is that wildflowers aren’t just reserved for the incoming warmth of spring and alongside this stretch of road you’ll find native flowers blanketing the roadside in pops of delicate lilac and buttercup yellow.
Amidst a sea of gum trees, it’s a real treat for the senses.
Things are mostly downhill from here and the fire trail will guide you for the rest of the hike with breaks in the trees rewarding you with glimpses of the Brooklyn Bridge and Hawkesbury River. For much of this section, the trail runs parallel to the motorway and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to hear the traffic racing by, but thankfully it’s not long before you’ll be absorbed in the sounds of nature once again.
After a couple of steep switchbacks, the trail veers away from the approaching town and arrives at Brooklyn Dam. With a smattering of water lilies, the rustle of reeds and plenty of shade, this is another wonderfully peaceful spot along the Jerusalem Bay Track to stop and drink in your surroundings.
The large shaded camping area on the far side also makes a great spot for those staying overnight as part of a multi-day hike along the Great North Walk.
Departing from the Brooklyn Dam, you’ve made it to the home stretch.
From here, the trail is mostly flat with one short uphill section and a final ridiculously steep downhill stretch that will lead you into the backstreets of Brooklyn.
Arriving back to civilisation, you can either make your way directly to the train station, or the better option is to take the road right towards the marina and follow the trail alongside the water around McKell Park Reserve.
You’ll find plenty of pretty rock platforms to sprawl out in the sun and enjoy the scenery as well as a large picnic area where families and groups tend to congregate on weekends. If you’re after a bite to eat, there are a handful of cute cafes here to refuel, otherwise, follow the path all the way along to the train station for the return journey to Cowan or the city.
Check The Train Schedule | The train journey between Brooklyn and Cowan is short – just 9 minutes – but as the train only passes about once every hour, it’s a good idea to check the timetable so you don’t need to spend too much time waiting around. Check the Transport for NSW website or download the Tripview App.
Arrive Early On Weekends | Sitting within easy reach of the city and meandering through a wonderful pocket of bushland, the Jerusalem Bay Track is, unsurprisingly, a popular choice for Sydneysiders on weekends. While you’re unlikely to notice this when you’re on the actual trail, the parking lot in Cowan does fill up which can make it tricky to find a decent place to leave your car. Therefore, it’s a good idea to arrive early in the day if you’re visiting on a weekend or consider arriving by train.
Savour The Moment | There are plenty of beautiful places to stop along the Jerusalem Bay Track so make a point of packing a thermos, some snacks or even a picnic lunch and settling in somewhere along the route to better savour your time in the bush. Particularly pretty are Jerusalem Bay, Brooklyn Dam and McKell Park Reserve overlooking Dangar Island.
Opal Card | You’ll need your Opal Card to tap on and off when taking the train. The card terminals sit at the entrance to the stairwells at either platform and the trip costs just $1.80 for an adult.
Water Bottle | There’s nowhere to fill up with water along the route so be sure to take plenty with you for the hike. Though the steep uphill sections are relatively short, in the hot summer sun you’ll want to stay hydrated. Once in Brooklyn, you’ll be able to fill up your water bottle at any of the cafes or water fountains in the picnic area.
Sun Protection | The harsh Aussie sun is no joke! Be sure to apply suncream before setting off and wear a hat and t-shirt to avoid getting horribly sunburnt.
Hiking Poles | Though I’m not quite a convert to the whole hiking pole thing just yet, the ridiculously steep final stretch of the hike that leads you into Brooklyn was certainly rough on the knees. If you have sensitive joints, having a pair of hiking poles or a walking stick on hand will help to take some of the pressure off.
Snacks | With a few challenging uphill stretches, you’ll want to bring some trail snacks to keep you motivated for the hike. On the other side, you can buy lunch from any of Brooklyn’s three cafes.