If you happen to be in Sydney and looking to get out of the city for the weekend in the bush, then this short section of the Great North Walk may fit the bill. Arrive by train, depart by ferry, walk hard for a few hours and unwind a lot.
Cowan, the starting point of this segment of the Great North Walk, is about an hour by train from Sydney Central Station. Its not a big town so best to have your weekend supplies in the pack as you step from the train, just in case. Drinking water can be scarce on the route so be well prepared.
Brooklyn, a small town on the Hawkesbury River, is about 12km and 4 hours away. From there it is just a small water ferry to Patonga and a camp for the night.
The walk is through the beautiful Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, an area with rich Aboriginal heritage. Jerusalem Bay, off Cowan Creek, is not far into the trek, but is a beautiful location for morning tea. Stingrays can occasionally be seen basking in the shallow waters; the edges of the bay ringed by irregular sandstone formations.
Close to the end of the day's walk you will pass a campsite by a small lake (Brooklyn Dam), more appropriately located for those doing a longer section of the GNW. From there, the walk is along the northern end of Porto Ridge to a view over Brooklyn and the Hawkesbury River, with Brisbane Water National Park away in the distance.
Patonga is a pretty hamlet set on the shore of Brisk Bay, with the Brisbane Water National Park as its northern neighbour. The town has all that a walker needs - camping area, hotel, fish cafe, Patonga Bakehouse Gallery, and a ferry service to Palm Beach and the connecting bus to Sydney.
The day draws to a close with fish & chips on the beach, watching pelicans in silhouette by a setting sun as they wait hungrily beside fishing boats cleaning the day's catch.
With the Sunday ferry not arriving until mid-afternoon there is plenty of time the next day for a short-ish walk through the forest to Pearl Beach. Along the way we were lucky to view lyrebirds fossicking in the gully below the track, though the glimpse was rather fleeting.
Pearl Beach is a small national trust village where quaint historic cottages mingle with more modern residences. A beach of golden sand and backdrop formed by the Brisbane Water National Park, makes for a near-ideal place for lunch.
While it is possible to fit all this in a weekend, we chose to stay the extra night, and spend the third day taking a cruise on the Hawkesbury. The ferry departs Patonga late in the morning for lunch at Bobbin Head before returning to Palm Beach, where a regular bus service provides the means to return to Sydney.