Saturday, 5 February 2022

Cape Banks, Henry Head & La Perouse

Cape Banks, Henry Head & La Perouse 05-02-2022

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Route: Anzac Parade, Cape Banks Road, Grose Street, Jennifer Street Boardwalk, Cape Banks Road, Coast Hospital Cemetery, Life Save Helicopter Base, Cape Banks Firetrail, Cape Banks Management Trail, Cape Banks, Cape Banks Walking Track, Henry Head, Henry Head Walking Track, Brown Rock, Congwong Beach, Cann Park, Bare Island, La Perouse

Date: 05/02/2022
From: La Perouse

Parking: La Perouse - Anzac Parade
Start Point: La Perouse
Finish Point: La Perouse
Region: Kamay-Botany Bay National Park

Route length: 9.5km
Time taken: 02:28
Average speed: 4.6km/h
Ascent: 241m
Descent: 243m

Points of Interest: Cape Banks, Congwong Beach, La Perouse

This hike explores one of the southern-most parts of Sydney and was an obvious choice for a damp, windy day thanks to its proximity to All the Gear HQ. The names of the suburbs around these parts are shared between the British and French colonisers who arrived in the late 1700s to lay claim to Australia - La Perouse rubbing shoulders with Phillip Bay.

Much of this hike takes place in Kamay-Botany Bay National Park, probably our nearest national park with the exception of Sydney Harbour. The park is a mere 14km from the centre of Sydney and encompasses both the northern and southern headlands of Botany Bay, an important location in the modern history of Australia.

The southern coastline of the national park would be the highlight of the hike, with the first section interrupted by a large golf course. After parking in La Perouse, I made my way to the national park entrance located adjacent to Anzac Parade. A word of warning - La Perouse gets very busy at weekends so arrive early to have the best chance of nabbing a parking spot.
Kamay-Botany National Park
The Henry Head Walking Track makes a short, leafy foray into the national park before a side branch leads to Grove Street. I would be returning along the Henry Head Track later in the day. Instead, following Grove Street, I made my way to the Jennifer Street Boardwalk. The short, wheelchair friendly track passes through an area of Banksia scrub - an endangered community unique to the Sydney Basin. Spring is the best time to see the wildflowers in bloom.
The Jennifer Street boardwalk
Looking over the Banksia scrub towards the ocean
The Banksia plants that inhabit the national park
The boardwalk takes you to Cape Banks Road which carves through the centre of the vast St. Michaels / NSW Golf Club. It leads to the Coast Hospital Cemetary, first established in the early 1880s. It served the Coast Hospital, originally a smallpox hospital (people who died of smallpox were required to be buried at the hospital grounds to reduce the spread of the disease). The hospital was built far enough from the city to provide quarantine and for this reason, the hospital in time became an infectious diseases hospital, also treating patients with influenza, bubonic plague, typhoid fever and leprosy.
The St Michaels Golf Club
Heading to the Coast Hospital Cemetery
The Coast Hospital Cemetery
The Coast Hospital Cemetary
Now, the next section of the hike is in-advisable. I followed the 'Coast Firetrail' which is little more than an overgrown path through the scrub that emerges on the windswept clifftop above the sea. I turned south and walked a short distance to a dilapidated fence before engaging in some modest trespassing. The map shows a north-south path of sorts through here but there is little on the ground. A large incision into the cliffs blocks the way at the southern end requiring some unpleasant wading through waist-high vegetation to eventually reach the Cape Bank Management Trail. Following this trail from the cemetery would have been the smarter move.
One the Coast Firetrail
Looking north towards Little Bay
Kamay-Botany National Park
Looking out into the Pacific
Kamay-Botany National Park
Close to the management trail is the Life Saver Helicopter base, built next to an old artillery emplacement. The helicopters based here are part of the largest non-profit Aviation Search and Rescue organisations in Australia whose sole mission is saving lives.
The old WWII buildings near the Westpac helicopter base
Clouds and rain sweep along
From the helicopter base, the Cape Banks Management Trail makes its way southwards towards the promontory of Cape Banks which can be accessed via a small bridge. If you head for Cape Banks, you'll pass a tricky looking tee that belongs to the golf course, requiring golfers to hit the ball from the headland, over a narrow channel, back to the mainland. Sadly, I did not venture out to Cape Banks as a squally shower arrived at exactly the same time I did, making it an unappealing option.
Cape Banks
A path makes its way westwards along the fringe of the golf course until it reaches the Cape Banks Walking Track at Cruwee Cove. The next section of the hike is rather pleasant, following the coast to the Henry Head Lighthouse, located at the formed Henry Head Battery.
Cruwee Cove
Cruwee Cove Beach
Cruwee Cove and Cape Banks
Cruwee Cove
More showers over Cape Banks
Henry Head
Little Bay
Cape Solander on the opposite side of Botany Bay
Little Bay
The modest fort at Henry Head was built in 1895 and was armed up until the cessation of WWII. Its purpose was to protect the entrance to Botany Bay. Despite missing out on becoming the famed Sydney Harbour, Botany Bay is probably an economically more important area than its illustrious neighbour as it is now home to Sydney Airport and the container port.
Henry Head Battery
Inside the fort
The observation building, looking out to sea
A gun emplacement inside the battery
I say it missed out on becoming Sydney Harbour as, when Arthur Phillip arrived with the First Fleet, he was disappointed at the lack of water on the shores of Botany Bay and was dismayed by the large numbers of Aboriginal people inhabiting the place. Shortly after arriving, Phillip left Botany Bay and sailed for Port Jackson where the first settlement in Australia was made, ultimately becoming Sydney.
Bare Island with the container port beyond
The Henry Head Fire Trail leads away from the old fort and into the bush. Youn can undertake a short detour to Browns Rock, a popular fishing spot, however, you'll have to tackle a reasonable slope to get down to it.
Henry Head Firetrail
Browns Rock
The fire trail emerges from the bcuh at Congwong Beach, a usually crowded stretch of sand below the car park at La Perouse. There was not a soul around today, thanks to the dreary weather. ff
Congwong Beach
Bare Island
The small peninsula at La Perouse Point is home to several interesting buildings. First is the Macquarie Watchtower, a small, crenellated building that served as a watchtower to overlook the entrance to Botany Bay before becoming a Customs Station. It is the oldest surviving watchtower in Australia, having been built in 1820, and the only known tower built specifically for colonial border protection.

Second is the fort on Bare Island, accessed along a smart wooden causeway connecting to the mainland (access to the fort itself is limited to guided tours).
Macquarie Watchtower
Bare Island
Bare Island
Bare Island and Botany Bay
Bare Island fort
Bare Island fort
The name 'Bare Island' harks back to the original voyage of Captain Cook, who noted the islet in his journal as 'a small bare island'. The fort was built on the island in the 1880s to protect both Botany Bay and any backdoor routes to Sydney. The waters around the island are now popular with scuba divers.

Finally, La Perouse Point is home to the fine La Perouse Museum, shown below. The museum is housed within the old Cable Station building that once served as Australia's only link to the rest of the world. There are over 2,000 items that document the 1787-1788 expedition of French explorer the Comte de LapĂ©rouse, including the complete Atlas o the Voyage of La Perouse. LapĂ©rouse arrived in Botany Bay a week after the British First Fleet. His expedition was last seen in what is now national parkland before mysteriously vanishing.
The La Perouse Museum
Frenchmans Bay
The tomb of Friar Pere Receveur
Next to the museum is the tomb of Friar Pere Receveur, a Franciscan scientist who was part of the original La Perouse expedition. He died in Australia after being speared in Samoa. The inscription on the tomb in French says "Here lies L Receveur French Preist of Friars Minor, Scientist in the Voyage Around the World under the leadership of de Laperouse, died February 17th, 1788."

The objects dotted around La Perouse add a great deal of interest to the last section of the hike. In fact, a circuit of the headland is a worthy outing in its own right

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