When was the last time you ventured from your back door into the bushland of The Hills District? Because right throughout North West Sydney are some stunning walks that are a stone’s throw from residential neighbourhoods – yet they feel like a whole other world.
Where are the best walks in The Hills?
One of the great advantages of living in The Hills is that there are walks all over the region, and you don’t have to go far from home to find them. From Cattai Creek in Castle Hill to Lake Parramatta, Terry’s Creek and so many more, there are plenty of inspiring walks – in varying lengths and degrees of difficulty – waiting to be explored.
Jennifer Farrer, owner and tour guide at Boronia Tours, leads many a walk through the Sydney bushland, but her favourite track is close to home in West Pennant Hills.
“Starting from Richard Webb Reserve, the track goes down into a deep valley next to Darling Mills Creek and there are the most incredible high sandstone cliffs. It is lovely and cool down there, and when it’s been raining, there is a waterfall that is very nice to have a picnic at.
“I think I like it the best because it isn’t a hard walk and is easily accessible as it doesn’t require you to walk up hills or climb over rocks. It really is a very charming walk.”
What will you see on your Hills walks?
As Jennifer notes, the animals aren’t on the payroll so you never know what you’ll see; however, you’re likely to spot anything from small and large reptiles to eels in the creeks and occasionally possums in the trees, as well as an abundance of birdlife.
“Just the other week we saw 30 different species of birds in two hours, including rainbow lorikeets, galahs, white cockatoos, fairy wrens, honeyeaters, spinebills, Pardalotes, scrubwrens and red-browed finches.”
“Every season brings new wildlife and flora to enjoy and admire.”
It is possible to see flowers at any time of the year but June to October/November is the best time to witness spring flowers in bloom. And when they arrive, they certainly make an impact.
“The bush comes alive with flowers, it’s like a garden. And while they’re only small in size, it is the sheer number of them that stands out.
“It is one of the most special things about this part of Sydney, that everything is growing on very infertile soil – derived from sandstone it is very sandy and dry – so the diversity is amazing. It is though nature struggles so much to be able to grow here that it tries many different ways to beat it, and because of that we get to witness such a huge variety of species.”
And while visitors to the region, particularly those from overseas, are in awe of the Sydney bushland, it is often local residents who are most astonished by what they see.
“We find it’s those who live in the area who are the most surprised, mainly that there is so much to see, even in an urban area. The fact that we pull up at a track and not even 100 metres in you have people saying, ‘I’ve lived here for 15 years and I never knew this place existed’.”
The rich history of The Hills
Along with stunning nature, North West Sydney has plenty of interesting history that can be discovered in amongst the reserves and walks in the region.
Aboriginal people had lived in the area for 13,000 years before European settlement.
Aboriginal people had been settled here for over 13,000 years before Europeans began farming at the end of the 18th century. The land was then cultivated for fruit growing, with orange orchards becoming the mainstay for the area.
“However, nobody made their fortune here because the soil is not that fertile,” notes Jennifer. “And by the 1950s and 1960s the orchards started to disappear due to the expansion of Sydney.”
One of the most significant historic events in The Hills District was that of Australia’s first civil rebellion in 1804 – the Castle Hill convict rebellion where Irish political prisoners planned to overthrow the guards and march on Sydney to capture a ship to take home to Ireland. A whistleblower got in the way of such plans, but a small battle did occur between the military and the convicts, and was dubbed the Second Battle of Vinegar Hill ‒ after the first Battle of Vinegar Hill, which had taken place in 1798 in Ireland. The site of the rebellion can be visited today at the Castle Hill Heritage Park, a place where Jennifer takes history tours.
Sydney topography discouraged over-settlement
Anyone who lives in Sydney, and The Hills District in particular, doesn’t need to be told twice that the topography of the city is ‘hilly’. From cool rainforest valleys to hot sandstone ridges, there is a variety of landscapes to explore, and that’s why there is still plenty of bushland. The steep arms of the harbour and other waterways weren’t able to be farmed, or even built on.
There is still so much bush in The Hills because hilly sites weren’t conducive to farming.
For thousands of years, Aboriginal people lived off the land and sea around Sydney, and there are certainly a few aspects of ‘bush tucker’ that people still enjoy today. But Jennifer cautions you should always take care when it comes to eating something from the bush.
“One of the best known fruits is the Lilly Pilly and they’re relatively safe to pick, and so are the figs. But you do need to know what you can and can’t eat.”
Staying safe when exploring The Hills
Jennifer’s top tips for staying safe when exploring your neighbourhood bushland:
- Have a map so you know where you are going, and never stray from the track.
- Take a hat and always carry a litre of water and insect repellent to keep ticks and leeches away.
- Respect the bush. There are plenty of endangered species ‒ both plant and animal ‒ that are trying to survive out there.
- Pick a route that is within your capabilities.
- Tell someone where you are going.
- Always take your rubbish home with you.
- If you see a snake, stand still and give it the opportunity to exit. It is more scared of you that you are of it.
Enhancing The Hills lifestyle
For Jennifer, it is the accessibility that is the best thing about the bush to her. And she wishes more people, particularly those who live here, would get out and experience what their local nature reserves have to offer.
“There are so many places you can go walking without having to travel, minimising time and money spent getting somewhere. I find that a lot of people are very time poor these days, but there are some beautiful bush walks right here in our region that won’t take up any more time than a Sunday morning between breakfast and lunch.”
So ‒ are you inspired to take a walk in our beautiful Hills Shire?
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