Flint and Steel

Sunlight pierces the eucalypt canopy above us as we make our way expectantly through the bush towards the sea.  In the distance blue water glistens, beckoning us closer, while all about us the bush shimmers in shades of grey and green.  There’s the tinkling song of rosellas and lorikeets overhead, while somewhere off to our right comes the thump and dry crack of twigs as a wallaby passes by unseen.

If it wasn’t for the distant sound of jet skis and the thrumming of the seaplanes overhead, you would think we were hiking some far more remote place.  Instead, it is a sunny Saturday in autumn and my husband, one year old and I are out bushwalking in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, a 40 minute drive north of Sydney.  Keen to escape our urban oasis, we had packed our swimmers, a picnic lunch and baby survival kit (the usual nappies, wipes and creams etc) and gone bush for the day.

Bushwalking in Australia (or hiking / tramping elsewhere in the world!) offers the perfect chance to escape and unwind, work up a bit of a sweat and reconnect with nature.  You don’t need to drive for hours or travel too far from home – even in our cities there are bushwalking and hiking opportunities if you know where to find them.  Bushwalking is a brilliant activity for families with babies and young kids.  All you need is the right gear (see below) and, most importantly, the right attitude.

Flint and Steel Track 

The Flint and Steel track is one of many walking tracks in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, about a 10km drive from the park entrance.  The track commences at the small car park just off West Head Rd and quickly drops down into an ancient volcanic gully filled with majestic gum trees, Cabbage Tree palms and impressive sandstone formations.

It’s a short and steep, yet scenic route to a secluded beach with sweeping views across the Hawkesbury River to Lion Island, Patonga and Killcare on the Central Coast.  The view from the top of the ridge out to Lion Island is incredible, particularly on a breezy day with sailboats zigzagging across the waterways and seaplanes overhead.  We were lucky enough to also witness an aerial show as a biplane practised death rolls and stalls over the ocean to the north.  Quite spectacular!

About halfway along the track we dropped down into a lush gully shaded by towering Cabbage Tree palms growing from every angle.  Their fan-shaped leaves created beautiful patterns in the canopy above while a gentle breeze saw the spreading, green fronds fluttering and gently shifting in the sunlight.  A short distance beyond the water came into view again, much closer now.  A few fishermen on the rocks and one other young family splashing in the water and that was it.

nsw, sydney bushwalking baby   australia   travel toddler family

Cabbage Tree palms create intricate patterns in the canopy

We picked a shady picnic spot on the rocks and let Coco loose while we prepped lunch.  She began intensely investigating the surrounding rockpools, tickling the anemones shut, plucking out sea snails and nibbling the salty seaweed.  Crabs scuttled in and out of rocky crevasses flushed with saltwater with each incoming wave while long-legged birds stepped delicately across the rocks hunting for tiny fish.

All three of us spent an hour at least playing in and around the rockpools – a pastime neither my husband nor I had engaged in since we were both kids.  It was just one more example of what I love most about travelling and exploring with our daughter – things we would normally overlook suddenly become exciting and intriguing again, as if we’re children again and seeing something for the first time.

After the rockpools we hit the beach for a swim then wandered down to the rocks at the eastern end of the beach.  Spectacular sandstone cliffs stretched up from the rock shelf, swirling orange and yellow patterns in the rock.  Overhead a pair of sea eagles circled the bay while back up the beach the swamp wallaby we had heard thumping by suddenly appeared, chasing the afternoon sun.  Curious, he came down onto the sand and watched the few random humans relaxing and playing on his normally private beach.

A curious swamp wallaby enjoying the afternoon sun at Flint and Steel beach.

Coco led us to a pile of gnarled driftwood which we amused ourselves with for another three-quarters of an hour, banging the logs with smaller branches as if they were Polynesian drums. By this time the sun had begun to drop behind the hillside and it was time to head back up the hill towards home. Feeling refreshed and recharged after our day in the bush, we drove home reflecting on what a beautiful, perfect day it had been. A perfect day spent with just the three of us, a pair of eagles and a curious swamp wallaby.

Getting there

Flint and Steel Track is located within the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, which is about a 40 minute drive from Sydney.

Follow West Head Road from the park entrance for about 10 kilometres until you see the sign for Flint and Steel on your left.  Park in the small car park at the top of the track and then make your way the 2kms or so down to the beach.

Entry to the park is $12 per vehicle (cash and Eftpos available, but cash is probably easier).  Make sure to display your ticket on the dashboard to avoid a fine.  If you’re keen to make bushwalking a regular thing, you can also buy an annual or two-year pass. Check out the NSW National Parks website for more info (you can get a discount when renewing your car rego online too!).

What to take

If you’re a casual or beginner bush walker, rest assured that you don’t necessarily need a heap of gear.  To begin all you really need are some sturdy shoes and a good baby carrier.  For shorter walks a carrier like the Ergobaby is perfectly fine.  We use the Ergobaby performance and so far it’s been great and Coco loves it.  It did get a little sweaty where our bodies connected, but loosening the straps a touch and ensuring we had cool, cotton clothing on helped.

If you’re going on longer walks, have an older toddler or have back issues, then perhaps invest in a more structured carrier (something like the Phil and Teds escape carrier looks good).

Here is a list of other bits and pieces we took on our bushwalk:

  • 2 x Turkish beach towels (light, small when folded and quick drying).
  • Swimmers, including Coco’s UV-rated onesie.
  • Nappies, nappy cream and wipes.
  • Snacks and a picnic lunch.
  • Lots of water – it’s always best to carry more than you think you’ll need, just in case.
  • Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses.
  • Plastic bags for rubbish.
  • A small first aid kid – a compression bandage, paracetamol, hand sanisiter, bandaids, capsules of sterile water, large safety pins, strapping tape (good for sprains or rolled ankles), pocket knife, a couple of cotton hankies.
  • Spare baby clothes, just in case!
  • Phones with GPS and/or a map.
  • Camera.