Snapshots of Wollongong – Ken Ausburn Track

This post returns to the Snapshots of Wollongong Series. I haven’t done one for quite awhile! With lockdown still keeping us close to home in the Greater Sydney region, I went looking for some novel walks. I came across a short track that links to the Mt Keira Ring Track which I have featured in a previous Snapshot post.

The Ken Ausburn Track starts at the northern end of Northfeilds Ave, just near the big roundabout and the University of Wollongong. The track, although managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife, is on land owned by the University and BHP. It is named after Kenneth Ausburn, who was the first Head of Physics at the Uni and a keen bushwalker.

Just a short stroll

The Ken Ausburn Track is very short, only about 1 .5 km but it is fairly steep. There are several flights of wooden steps and boardwalks and other areas with steps made with treated logs. At the end of the trail you can turn right towards Mt Pleasant (a further ~0.5 km) or left to get to the Ring Track. This short section of about 600 m is well used by mountain bike riders so make sure you listen out for them. The track is narrow and it would be a close squeeze if walkers and riders ended up in the same section. The track is mostly bare compacted dirt. It would be a terror in the wet, so I’d recommend avoiding it on a rainy day.

Deer Deer!

You’ll see plenty of deer poop on the grassy lower sections of the track. Feral deer are a big problem in the Illawarra and their numbers are increasing. I have written a post about this which you can find in my archives.

Feral deer are a significant issue in the Illawarra

Accessible by Public Transport

The University is on the free city bus route. You could get off at the main Uni bus area (see map below), walk up Northfields Ave for about 400 m and join the track. The trail head is easy to find although it looks a bit like someone’s back yard. You could use this track to access the Ring Track which is NOT serviced by public transport. If you did the Ken Ausburn Track plus the complete loop of the Ring Track it would be pleasant walk coming in at under 10 km. If you wanted a longer walk you could add in the Robertson Lookout (another 2.5km).

Architectural treats

In addition to the pleasant walk, there are two architectural treats along the way. Firstly, the Lawrence Hargrave Memorial and then the Kermira Brick Ventilation Shaft. The memorial is a modern stainless steel sculpture depicting a flying creature. It was crafted by Bert Flugelman in 1988. There is apparently a small replica in the grounds of the Uni itself. A friend told me that she watched the sculpture being airlifted in by an army helicopter when she was still in primary school. On the other hand, the ventilation shaft is constructed from red bricks and is rather elegant. It was erected in the 1890s. There are several interpretive signs on the route which point out plant species and the history of the track. It was originally a rail line for getting coal down the hill and then on to the harbour.

Best views

The best views are from the start of the track, specifically on the first flight of wooden stairs. You need to walk up a very steep grassed section first. From here you can see the city laid out in front of you and to the south, the Nan Tien Temple. As you get up higher there are too many trees blocking the view. (Darn nature!!) There is a section marked as a lookout a bit further up but it is very overgrown and you can’t see much.

Logisitcs.

As I said, you could catch the bus to the Uni. If you do drive be aware that the parking is limited and most is only for two hours (even on weekends). The section near the Uni colleges is not time limited but I think it would be hard to come by a spare space in peak periods and during Uni session times. There are publicly accessible toilets at the Uni. If you choose to add on the Ring Track, there is a toilet at Byarong Park. There is a coffee shop at the Mt Keira Summit but check the opening hours as it is not very reliable, especially in COVID times. Byarong Park has several picnic tables and is a great place to stop. Take full advantage of being outdoors and carry a packed lunch.

Of course, take enough water. Don’t be lulled into thinking it’s only a short walk and you won’t need water. It is very steep in sections and will get you puffing. If you add on the Ring Track there is no where to fill up your water bottle.

Google it!

Main Range Loop Track – Mt Kosciuszko

Due to unexpected changes in the itinerary for my Great Southern Road Trip I was able to walk the Main Range Loop Track to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko from Charlottes Pass. It was a fine sunny day with an expected maximum of 19oC and winds up to 25 kph.

While Australia’s highest peak comes in at a little more than a quarter of Everest it is still worth the investment of time to complete the 22 km circuit. For a start you can do it in a T-shirt and you don’t need oxygen! Oh and there are toilets near the top!

At the start.

Three ways to the roof of Australia

You can reach the summit of Mt Kosciuszko three ways ranging from super easy to harder then hardest. The easiest option is to use the chairlift from Thredbo. Next you can walk straight up the 8.8 km of the Kosciuszko Walk from Charlottes Pass and return downhill by the same route or take the chairlift back to Thredbo. This of course will only work if you are able to use a shuttle service to drop you off at Charlottes Pass.

A harder but certainly do-able option even for Old Chooks like me, is the more circuitous Main Range Loop Track. This track also starts at Charlottes Pass and the return portion from the summit is via the Kosciuszko Walking Track. The NSW National Parks website has some good information. You can find the map on AllTrails and ViewRanger. (Search using Kosciuszko Main Range Track).

Higher altitude mean higher fitness required

You need a good level of fitness for the longer walks as both have sustained uphill sections (as you’d expect to get to a summit) but also because for those who are not used to walking at higher altitudes there may be some increased difficulty due to less oxygen.

The shorter Kosciuszko Track is also very popular with trail bikers although you can not take your bike right up to the summit. The tracks are snow bound in winter so you should consider doing the walk in late spring to early winter, (September – June) although if cross country skiing or snowshoeing is your thing, the tracks remain open. 

Main Range Loop Track

The track is very well made and maintained as it is a very popular route. In some sections it is paved with actual pavers you’d use in your own yard. In other areas there are large granite flagstones, a metal boardwalk and plastic webbing on steeper sections which holds the loose scree in place. It is wide enough to walk two abreast except on the metal boardwalk and one short narrow section above Lake Albina. 

Lake Albina

Being a circuit track you could go either clockwise or anticlockwise. I would recommend going anticlockwise (and so does the signage) because the first section of the track is a very steep section heading down to a stream. The thought of doing this as your last kilometre after already having walked 21 km is not very inviting! The downhill walk using the Kosciuszko Walking Track is much more palatable!

At the very start of the track you need to cross a small creek. It is very clear and deeper than it looks! While there are stepping stones I still ended up with a boot full of water! (Given how well made the rest of the track is it is surprising that there is not a board walk over the creek?)

In season there are lots of delicate little wildflowers in the alpine meadows and around the gurgling streams. The views are expansive and the outcrops of granite add interest to the treeless slopes. There are no small shrubs or trees at this altitude, only low ground covers. 

Fees, toilets and that sort of stuff. 

You need to pay to access the National Park unless you already have an All Parks Annual Pass. The fee varies throughout the year and is more expensive in winter during the ski season. 

People at the Summit

The recommended time to complete the track is 7 – 9 hours so you will need to take food and water for a whole day. There is a lodge and cafe at Charlottes Pass where you can get a simple meal and coffee. 

There are toilets at Charlottes Pass and more near the summit. As stated it is a very popular walk so there are lots of people on good weather days. Along with the lack of vegetation this makes it a bit difficult to take a quick squat with your waste bag on the way!

Always be mindful that mountain weather can change very rapidly and it can get cold even in summer, so take layers! (And another pair of socks for when you get your boot full of water 500 metres from the start of the track!)

Wollongong Snapshot 3: The Active ‘Gong – a few free, fun outdoor activities when you visit Wollongong.

There’s plenty to see and do in my home town. People come here for holidays! You can easily fill up a weekend with active fun and fab food with very little effort. This post is about some free things you can do to keep active while spending time in Wollongong. I am not going to say much about accommodation or cafes etc. I will keep that for a separate post. This is certainly not an exhaustive guide but gives you a bit of an idea of things to do.

  1. Like swimming but not sand? Head down to the Continental Pools just on the other side of the breakwater from Belmore Basin.

    There are two 50 m pools side by side. They are filled with the sea water but not tidal and the bright blue pool shell makes them look like a regular chlorine pool. Entry is free! This blog post gives some more information about the pool. http://oceanpoolsnsw.net.au/continental-baths-wollongong-nsw-2529/ . The Wollongong Council website also has information about opening times. http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/facilities/beachespools/Pages/pools.aspx#gref

  2. Like swimming and don’t mind the sand? Wollongong has more sandy beaches than you can poke a boogie board at! From Stanwell Park in the north to “Farm” down at Killalea State Park there are all sorts of beaches.

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    Woonona Beach

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    Bulli Beach Sea Pool

    If you are in the CBD, you can easily walk to City Beach or North Beach. The Bathing Pavilion at North Beach has been renovated and has good change rooms and showers and there are some cafes there too.

    You can walk along the Blue Mile and around the lighthouses to get from one beach to the other. City Beach and North Beach are patrolled (by life guards) in season and you should swim between the flags. Belmore Basin is a small sandy beach on Wollongong Harbour. This is a great place for little kids and swimmers who don’t like waves. If you are a surfer have a look at this site for a few suggestions. http://www.backpackaround.com/things-to-do/destinations/new-south-wales/wollongong/wollongong-surfing.html

  3. Bushwalking. There are some very fine bushwalks in the Illawarra area.
  • Sublime Point Walk. If you are a bit of an extreme exercise enthusiast, you might like to try the Sublime Point Walk. It’s short (less than a kilometre one way) but it’s straight up (more or less) the escarpment. Lots of people try to beat their own personal best and get it done one way in less than 30 minutes. That’s easy if you come down the track but not so much if you start at Austinmer and go up. The National Parks website tells you how to get there and where to park. You can take the train and get off at Austinmer. This is also uphill and will take about 20 – 25 minutes. Take water and snacks. There is a café at the top but it is not open 24/7. Apart from trying to beat the speed record lots of people aim to get to the top by sunrise, so many start the walk in the near dark. Please note: the local residents will get VERY narky if you park in their driveway so play nice if you drive. You should be fit to do this walk – it’s a hard slog and will be tough on your knees. You need to be comfortable climbing ladders and there are lots of stairs. But the view!! The view is amazing!

http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/walking-tracks/sublime-point-walking-track

 

  1. The Park Run: The Park Run is a global volunteer-organised running club. There are three places you can do the Park Run in the Illawarra if you are a registered member. One in Sandon Pont, another that starts from Fairy Meadow Surf Club and then down south in Shellharbour. These 5 km timed runs are all in great locations and attract lots of locals and travellers. http://www.parkrun.com.au/northwollongong/ . Links to the Sandon Point and Shellharbour runs are on this page. The runs are held on Saturday mornings.

 

  1. Bike riding: Fancy a long ride along the beach? There is a bike/walk path that goes from the just south of the city up to Thirroul in the North – around 10 km all up. You will wind your way past several beaches, Bellambi Lagoon and some urban areas. You can also ride around Lake Illawarra (about 31 km) http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/facilities/sportrec/Pages/CyclingGuide.aspx

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The Seacliff Bridge

In the future it will be possible to walk/ride from Stanwell Park in the north right down to Lake Illawarra.  http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/services/majorprojects/Pages/grandpacificwalk.asp Some sections are completed but it is not yet possible unless you ride on the road. You can walk/ride across the iconic Seacliff Bridge which features in lots of car ads. The bridge is on Lawrence Hargrave Drive.

6.  Wollongong Botanic Gardens. For those who prefer a more gentle walk the WBG are a real treat. Both Native and exotic plants are on display with picnic areas and secret trails. http://www.wollongong.nsw.gov.au/botanicgarden/Pages/default.aspx. They also host a Sunset Cinema in summer (which is not free). You could also duck across the road and have a wander through the University of Wollongong’s grounds.

Need a rest?

The following ideas, while not active may also be of interest to round out your weekend!

  1. Feeling Spiritual? Australia is a secular country but there are several large temples and churches in the Illawarra area that are interesting to visit.

  • Nan Tien Temple. The Nan Tien Temple is a huge Buddhist Temple and conference centre. It has beautiful gardens and you can wander around and look at the interesting buildings, gong the peace bell and sit in on the free lectures about Buddhism. There is a very good vegan café. This page has information on how to get there and what to wear http://www.nantien.org.au/en/visitor-info/directions-and-dress-code
  • Sri Venkateswara Temple. This Hindu temple is in the northern most suburb of Wollongong; Helensburgh. While accessible by public transport and a 4 km walk, a car would make it much easier! It is closed between 12 – 4pm on week days. Once again you can buy vegetarian food here. Find more information here

 http://www.svtsydney.org/contactus.html

  1. Museums and Art Galleries:
  • Wollongong Art Gallery: There is a small regional art gallery in Wollongong’s city centre. It has a permanent collection as well as several exhibitions each year. It would be a great way to spend an hour or so on a very hot or wet day! http://www.wollongongartgallery.com/gallery/Pages/default.aspx
  • Illawarra Museum: This cute little museum which is run by the Illawarra Historical Society is right on the beach and in the old court building. It’s free to enter but they can use a donation if you would like to contribute. See their website for more http://www.illawarramuseum.com/

 

NOT FREE!

 

[1] This is for the full track – there are several paces to start so you can cut it down to 6 km one way if you wish.