“Kurnell – a suburb like no other” says a friend. Kurnell has never been on Travel with Joanne’s radar. It would take hours for me to get there by public transport, and an hour and a half by car from where I live.
Taking a Drive to Kurnell
But 2020 has changed many things. Being “in the area” after a very pleasant a couple of nights in Cronulla, we drove home via Kurnell taking my friend’s advice to “go to Captain Cook’s Landing Place, and Cape Solander”.
Similar to Brooklyn in Sydney’s north, there’s only one road leading into Kurnell, home to around 2200 people. Captain Cook Drive winds its way past industrial complexes. There’s the Sydney Desalination Plant and the old Refinery which now serves as a terminal for imported fuel.
We follow the road around to the waterfront. Newish looking double storey houses face the water. Opposite them the bay stretches out to Port Botany.
On the dog beach, a young golden retriever bounces and splashes in the shallow water. Other young dogs chase up and down the beach, their owners chatting amongst themselves. There’s a relaxed feel in the air on this weekday morning.
I guess, like Brooklyn, it gets parked out on the weekend.
Stepping out of his campervan, an old bus conversion, a man gesticulates towards his dog, telling it to go off. The dog hesitates and then runs off past the “No Dogs” sign to a rocky breakwater. Seabirds take flight at its approach.
A gate bars the entrance to a long jetty which juts out into the bay where a tanker awaits. Imported fuel flows inside the large wide pipes running along the length of the jetty.
Cook’s Landing Place
The footpath at the end of Silver Beach leads to Cook’s landing place. I step onto the beach to inspect a bronze sculpture more closely. It reminds me of the bones of a whale or the ribs of a boat. Carvings decorate each curved ‘rib’ of the sculpture.
Designed by Wadi Wadi and Walbanga artists Alison Page and Nik Lachacjzak, “The Eyes of the Land and the Sea” was installed in 2020.
On a short boardwalk, which provides a different view of the sculpture, signs tell the story of the encounter between the local indigenous people and Captain Cook and the crew of the Endeavour.
Further on another sculpture, two Nuwi Canoes, by Theresa Ardler and Julie Squires, rest on the sand. Bronze fish rest in the bow of one. Sand fills the other. In the bay huge tankers wait to be unloaded.
Waterbirds and La Perouse
Nearby I watch a stand-off between a group of oyster catchers with their distinctive long red beaks and a pair of lap wings or spur winged plovers.
Other historic landmarks recognizing Captain Cook’s Landing include an obelisk, flag poles and a seat commemorating Joseph Banks. Interpretive signs line the path.
Walking back to the car a tourist approaches me and shows me a photo of a whale sculpture. She asks in broken English if I know where it is. I can’t help her.
Finding the Whale
At the Visitor Centre, where we purchase a day pass, I ask about the whale sculpture. I learn that the whale is the totem of the Gweagal people and had we continued past the flag poles and around the corner we would have seen it. I hope the tourist found it.
All three bronze sculptures are part of the Kamay Project 2020 and mark the 250th anniversary of the first encounter between the Gweagal people and James Cook in 1770.
Driving towards Cape Solander, as we pass signs to Inscription Point and other walking trails. Today we’ll only scratch the surface.
The views from Cape Solander extend across the sandstone cliffs and deep blue sea dotted with white caps to the horizon. A sign suggests that the walk to the Cape Baily Lighthouse is 3.5kn and will take 45min to an hour one way.
Walk to Baily Lighthouse
As it’s midday and we’ve not yet had lunch, we don’t plan to go as far as the lighthouse. The boardwalk soon gives way to flat expanses of sandstone rock. The weathered rocks display beautiful natural patterns that swirl and ‘move’ in waves.
A young couple busy themselves with Instagram photos. With the coastline to my left, the blue expanse of sky above, and waves crashing against the rocks I chide myself for not doing this sort of thing more often.
At Tabbigai Gap I learn that during the 1920s a group of fishermen lived here on the cliff face. They built homes into and on the rock, only leaving in the 1960s when they were required to vacate.
The geological face of another narrow “gap” which reaches right down to the water, reminds me of a row of mattresses sandwiched together on their ends and then pushed over to a 45degree angle. The “mattresses” are held down in place with flat blocks of sandstone layered above them.
It’s Not Far???
A group coming from the direction of the lighthouse say that it’s “About 1.5km” away. Not too far, I think. Now that we’re here, we might as well go all the way.
Not much further on, to the same question, a woman grimaces and says “It’s far”. Later I look at the map from the Visitor’s Centre which states the distance is 4km return and will take approximately 2.5hours. That sounds more like it.
A dog bounds past us followed closely by a runner who hops from one rock to another. I take another swig of my water.
We reach the lighthouse, and admire it from a distance. There’s thick bush between it and the path. Hot and hungry now, we return to the car at a brisk walk and drive back to the waterfront for a late lunch.
Kurnell Surprised Me
Kurnell was a very pleasant surprise, and I’m really pleased to know that it’s so much more than an old refinery.
- Remember to purchase a day pass if you park or drive within the National Park. Passes can be obtained from the Kurnell Visitors Centre or from ticket machines.
- A map of the National Park from the Visitor’s Centre is marked with the walking tracks and places of interest.