Kur-ing-gai Chase National Park (Sydney, Australia)

The Kur-ing-gai Chase National Park covers a huge expanse of land, nestled between residential suburbs in the northeast of Sydney. The suburb Mt Kuring-gai, which shares its name with the national park to its east, was named for the Indigenous Australian group the Guringai, who are the traditional custodians of this region. This name translates to 'hunting ground of the men', providing an insight into the original use of the site by Australia's first peoples.

My journey to Kur-ing-gai Chase National Park was by car on a hot summer day, driving northward from the western Sydney area. Air conditioning on, in eternal combat with the unrelenting heat shining through the car windows, we arrived at the entry to the national park, marked by a toll booth where we paid our $12 entry fee. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, and we arrived squarely in the middle of the day.

For visitors to the national park, there are a number of points of interest. Driving through the entrance, we headed north using West Head Road, the main road for vehicles traversing the park. About three quarters of the way up West Head Road is the Basin Trail, a 9.6km return walk that is estimated to take 2-3 hours, leading down to the Basin Campground. Close to the West Head Road entrance, part-way down the Basin Trail, is the Basin Aboriginal engraving site. The entrance to the Basin site is along another dirt path that turns off the main trail, marked by the rusted figures of a human and two animals that allude to what lays beyond.

Entrance to Basin site
Credit: Google Streetview

Following the path, a sign to the side welcomes visitors to Guringai Land, echoing the large rock with the same message at the entrance to the site. A wooden bridge beyond the bend leads to the large open area that is the Basin site.

Basin Trail
Credit: Google Streetview

The Basin engraving site is quite remarkable for its depiction of human figures and a whole spectrum of different animal species. The carvings are made directly into the rock.

The engravings are relatively faint, and at times difficult to make out, but once your eye starts to focus you will soon keep noticing new lines and figures across the rock surface. These engravings date to approximately 5000 years ago, and were etched into the landscape using sharp tools. This site is one of about 800 Aboriginal sites throughout the national park.

Basin site Aboriginal engravings in rock face
Credit: Google Streetview

Heading back down the trail to our parked car on side of West Head Road we drove further north, stopping at another point a few minutes up the road. A short walk down the aptly named Red Hands Trail takes you past the Resolute Picnic Area and to the Red Hands Cave. A small sign identifies the part of the rock shelter where a hand print surrounded by ochre is visible. It is quite astounding to think that thousands of years ago someone stood at this exact spot and made this handprint, a long-lasting sign to mark that they were once here.

Ochre handprint on wall of Red Hands Cave
Credit: Google Streetview

Walking further along the relatively short Red Hands Trail, which is 600 metres return and takes approximately 30-45 minutes, takes you through the bush past other sites of heritage significance.

If you follow the trail all the way to the end, the West Head Lookout awaits you, with a view east over to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse on Barrenjoey Head, just north of the Palm Beach area. The beautiful view of the ocean and the peninsula are a great way to end your exploration of the Kur-ing-gai Chase National Park region, which is just one of the many examples of the intriguing combination of natural landscapes and cultural heritage around Sydney.

View of Barrenjoey Head from West Head Lookout
Credit: Google Streetview

From here, it was a short walk back along the Red Hands Trail to return to the car and make our way back out of the national park along West Head Road.

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