Whether it’s picture-perfect wild swimming or fascinating local history, there’s something for every kind of adventurer at Jerusalem Bay, just an hour north of Sydney.
- Wild swimming with a mega jump rock
- Ancient Indigenous carvings
- Easy access by train
Into the Valley
Jerusalem Bay will always have a special place in my heart. As a kid, it was one of the first walks I did without an adult, and it’s since become a regular for me. But even if you aren’t as clearly biased as I am, this one should be on your to-do list.
It’s close to Sydney and a fairly easy walk, with top-notch wild swimming. It also boasts one of the weirdest ways to start a hike.
Beginning at Cowan train station (where there’s normally parking available), you’ll have to cross the tracks at the level crossing, walk down the stairs about halfway up the southbound platform, and then follow the disused train tracks to reach the track head.
From here it’s smooth sailing – the track is part of the Great North Walk, so it’s well marked and easy to follow the whole way down. If you take your time, you’ll be at Jerusalem Bay in about an hour.
Side Trip 1: Indigenous Carvings
If you’re up for a bit more adventure, this quick side trip’s definitely worth doing. Jerusalem Bay is on Dharug land, and evidence of the Traditional Owners of the land remains today.
About a kilometre from the start, you’ll notice the track briefly opens out onto a small rock platform, with a narrow channel in the rock to the left. Just past here you’ll find a small track heading off to the right — it’s usually fairly overgrown, so take care not to miss it.
Follow the track for about 100 metres and you’ll come out onto a large, rust-streaked rock platform. In his 1899 book, ‘Aboriginal Carvings of Port Jackson and Broken Bay’, William Dugald Campbell describes four carvings at this particular site.
The main one, he writes, is ‘a large composite figure of a seal, fifteen feet long, with a man’s face and arms, and six radially cut short lines from the head.’
While his surveying was meticulous, I’m not so sure about his interpretation (the book never mentions actually speaking to any Traditional Owners). I’ve actually been told two other stories about this figure that seem more likely than the seal description.
First, that it’s actually a fish – a sign to the Dharug people when they passed through this area that they could fish in the water not far away.
The second story seems more compelling – that the figure is an expression of the Dharug people’s creation story, where spirits were formed in the sea by Mirrigal, the creator, and then rose onto the land.
This isn’t the only carving here though – look carefully and you’ll find three other figures – a human, eel and bird.
On The Way To The Bay
Back on the main track, and it’s about 20 minutes further to Jerusalem Bay. You’ll cross a creek that normally doesn’t have much water in it (‘creek’ is really too strong a word for it. Most of the time, it’s just a puddle and a couple of damp rocks), and you’re getting close when the track starts to flatten out and you see water on the right.
The Main Event
Once you’re at Jerusalem Bay, you’ve got plenty of options, depending on your preferred stoke factor.
For some high-adrenaline fun, wade across the shallow part of the bay, and on the other side you’ll find a rough track going up the slope. Climb up here and make your way along to the top of the cliff. From here it’s a 10-metre heart-in-your-mouth fall to the water below. Tuck your arms in and point your feet on the way down to avoid a painful slap.
Bonus Tip: While it’s trickier to get across to the jump rock at high tide, you’ll have a shorter distance to fall!
Not keen on the jump? Not to worry! In summer, the water’s perfect for a quick dip. Just bring some reef shoes or old sneakers to protect your feet from the oysters.
Or if lazing about is more your style, set up shop on the grassy knoll with a picnic blanket and some snacks. You’ll be following in the footsteps of George and Agnes Rhodes, who built their home, as well as a boatshed and a wharf here in 1885.
They hired out paddle boats to eager tourists who made the walk down. Their business did so well that there was talk of putting a road in.
The palm tree that stands on the knoll today was planted by the family in 1921, and part of their home’s retaining wall still remains.
For most day-trippers, this is where the fun ends. The easiest way back to civilisation is back up the hill to Cowan. If your route-finding skills are up to scratch and you don’t mind a bit of rock scrambling, the adventure is just beginning.
Side Trip 2: Taffys Rock
Full disclosure – this one gets a bit gnarly. While there’s a rough track for most of this side trip, it’s not marked on the standard Department of Lands topographic maps (but is marked on OpenStreetMap).
This side trip takes you out to Taffys Rock, where you’ll score some killer views over the Hawkesbury River.
After stopping at Jerusalem Bay, continue down the stairs along the Great North Walk track, walk around a small bay, and then climb to the top of the mother of all hills (there are two seats to sit on and rest on the way up, that’s how much it hurts).
When you get to the top take a right turn onto the rough track behind the sign marking the distances to Brooklyn and Cowan.
For most of the way, the track’s easy to follow. For those with printed topographic maps, it follows Govett Ridge for almost 4km. The track disappears at times, and there are some rock scrambles that were particularly nasty when we did it in the wet (and would still be somewhat tricky in good weather).
But if you soldier on to Taffy’s Rock, you’ll be rewarded with expansive views out to Lion Island and Broken Bay. If you look hard, you’ll also find a memorial plaque for Dorothy ‘Taffy’ Townson, who the rock is named after.
Once you’ve soaked up the views, head back to the main track. From here, you can either return the way you came, or push on another 7km to Brooklyn, where you can get back to Cowan station by train.
- Good walking shoes or boots
- Swimmers and reef shoes/old sneakers
- Food and water
- Sun protection
- Topographic map and compass for the Taffys Rock side trip
How To Get There
Access is from Cowan train station, about an hour’s drive north of Sydney. There’s usually plenty of parking available at the station. If you’re catching the train to Cowan station, be aware that it’s a short platform! So make sure you’re in the right carriage so you can depart the train.
- Cliff jumping (at your own discretion – check depth & submerged objects)
Beginner level for Jerusalem Bay, intermediate for Taffy’s Rock.
Distance Travelled / Time Taken
Jerusalem Bay & Carvings
Photos by @thetantrap unless stated