Walking from Cowan to Brooklyn via Brooklyn Dam on the Great North Walk
The Jerusalem Bay Track is a popular walking trail in the Mt Ku-ring-gai National Park — it links Cowan to Brooklyn via the Brooklyn Dam — and is part of the Great North Walk that links Sydney to Newcastle.
The first half of the 13.4km walk from Cowan is challenging, but once you hit the “letterbox” at the top of a ridge, near the M1 Pacific Motorway, the trail switches from a narrow bush track to a wider access track.
The walk takes about five to 5.5 hours — including short breaks.
The climbs out of Jerusalem Bay and Campbells Creek are steep — both of these sections felt like a 15 minute gym session on the stair-climb machine!
The walk from Cowan railway station begins on the eastern side of the train station.
The Jerusalem Bay Track is accessible at the northern end of the railway siding yard — follow the signs.
Immediately after you cross over the M1 Pacific Motorway, you’ll start walking over rocks and head downhill past the Yatala Creek towards Cowan Creek.
Fifty minutes into the walk you’ll soon come across the amazing Jerusalem Bay.
The access track down to Jerusalem Bay, from what was known at the time as Cowan Creek railway station, was created by George and Agnes Rhodes who established their home at the junction of the north & south arms of Yatala Creek in 1895.
They built a home and boat shed where they rented boats to people who would come to the area from Sydney.
The palm tree, that still stands today, was planted by the Rhodes family in 1921.
“During the war years the Rhodes boats were moved to other locations for defence reasons. In 1942 it had been suspected that foreign vessels were entering Broken Bay for water & lights had been seen by the Rhodes in the vicinity of Trafalgar Bay (now called Pinta Bay) where a good fresh water source was well known. An inspection of that site with police and military personnel was arranged by George Rhodes & evidence of its use discovered but never announced publicly. This was close to the time of the submarine attack on Sydney Harbour where two submarines were trapped and a third thought to have escaped” — Historian Nathan Tilbury, author of Berowra history book ‘Man Made the Cities but God Made the Bush.’
Once you leave Jerusalem Bay, you’ll start walking up the valley from Cowan Creek to Govett’s Ridge.
And then up another valley as you climb out of Campbells Creek.
The best tip that I can give you about this part of the walk is to be weary of the green seat — at this seat, there’s a track that appears to branch to the east. Don’t do what I did, and follow this track — it leads you along the ridge off the Great North Walk.
Instead follow the track north as if you’re climbing over the ridge.
You’ll come across a creek that appears to have an orange liquid running through it near Campbell’s Crater. “Some people commented on the rusty orange deposits on the bed of the stream. Apparently it is the product of natural bacteria which utilise iron and the colour is from a hydroxide of iron. It looks like pollution but is quite natural” — Sydney University Bushwalkers website.
At the top of the ridge is the ‘letterbox’.
The ‘letterbox’ is a walker’s registry created by the Department of Lands. You’ll find some pens and a registration log inside the letterbox. Walkers log the date and their walking intentions on the register.
A had a quick look through the log — and could see that there are more walkers registering their journeys on the Jerusalem Bay Track on weekends. I chose to walk the track on a Tuesday — and only passed seven walkers during my whole 5 hour trek.
The ‘letterbox’ area on the track comes as a relief to most walkers — it is at this point that you start walking along the wide fire access trail.
Before you leave the ‘letterbox’ area, walk 100 metres to the west along the fire trail. You’ll come across a place where you can view the M1 Pacific Motorway.
The walk from the ‘letterbox’ continues north across the ridge of the Porto Gully.
The access trail into Brooklyn follows the infrastructure established to supply power for the Central Coast and Newcastle electric railway line.
You’ll notice several short access trails that lead off the main access trail. They lead to poles that supply the railway electricity — during the walk you may find yourself accidentally following one of these dead end trails.
At the top of Porto Gully you’ll start to come across some excellent views of the Hawkesbury River.
The best view of the Hawkesbury River comes not long after Porto Gully. You won’t miss it.
From here you’ll enjoy a sweeping view across Brooklyn, Mooney Mooney and the Central Coast’s Mount Wondabyne.
Walking down the hill you’ll come across the Brooklyn Dam and campsite.
Tip: If you check Google Maps, you’ll notice there’s a track that isn’t sign-posted that leads down to the dam — if take this route, it could save you 20–30 minutes.
“In the late 1890s, a concrete dam was built above the steep escarpment at Brooklyn NSW to provide water to the steam trains then operating on the main northern rail line. The dam was later raised in the 1920s to increase its capacity. Later, and after electrification of the railway, the dam fell into disuse and was transferred to the National Park & Wildlife Service of NSW” — Shirley Consulting Engineers website.
You don’t want to swim in this dam, anglers have reported catching eels at this spot.
You can walk around the dam — via the south — or cut across the dam walk at the northern end.
There’s a campsite here. No toilets or other facilities.
“Part of the enlargement of the railway system consequent upon the building of the Hawkesbury Railway River Bridge (l889). Has aesthetic value in the unexpected appearance of a large sheet of water in unspoilt bushland. The dam site has industrial archaeology potential” — NSW heritage listing for the Brooklyn Dam.
The Brooklyn Railway Dam is the last place of note on this walk. The access trail into Brooklyn, at some stages, becomes a concrete road.
Near the end of the walk, south-east of William Street, I stumbled across the Brooklyn Youth Club.
It was shut and appears to be only used for youth camping. A peaceful spot though!
At the end of the walk, once you’re in suburbia, you can walk directly to the Brooklyn railway station / CBD — or choose to walk east through Parsely Bay around the headland at Lookout Bay to Brooklyn rail station.
This is a list of my timings for the walk from Cowan:
Jerusalem Bay — 50 minutes into the walk
Cowan Creek — Top of the ridge — 2 hours into the walk
Letterbox — 3 hours into the walk
Hawkesbury Lookout — 3 hours & 30 minutes into the walk
Brooklyn Dam — 4 hours & 45 minutes into the walk
Brooklyn Youth Club — 5 hours & 20 minutes into the walk
Parsley Bay, Brooklyn — 5 hours & 30 minutes into the walk
When you arrive at Brooklyn, you’ll find some shops, the pub and more eating spots at the Brooklyn marina.
Trains depart Brooklyn’s Hawkesbury River railway station about every hour for Sydney and the Central Coast / Newcastle.
- There are no cafes or toilets along the walking route.
- You’ll need to take a lot of water — I took 1.5 litres of water, and drank it all.
- I also took with me a packed lunch and some other items to eat along the way.
- For last minute supplies, there’s a cafe open Tuesday to Sunday approx 200 metres north of the Cowan train station on the Pacific Highway.
- Mobile phone coverage in the park is poor. Your mobile phone will drain a lot of power as it tries to continually find cell towers. I put my mobile phone onto ‘Aeroplane Mode’ as I entered the park, and then switched it off ‘Aeroplane Mode’ when I had a rest to check messages, etc. I wanted to preserve the mobile battery just in case I needed to use it for an emergency.
- I didn’t see any snakes on the trip, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t pass any. It might be worth wearing a pair of long hiking pants to help protect your lower legs.
- Try not to walk within 24 hours of rain in the area — the rocks will be slippery.
- Check for bushfires and planned hazard reduction burns on the Rural Fire Service website.
- Don’t forget to take your camera — there are some great views!
I hope you enjoy your walk.
I would love to hear about your experiences on the track. I’m on social media at @BrendenWood.
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