For generations the Mount Keira Ring Track has been the ‘stomping ground’ for many Scouts, picnickers and bushwalkers… but it’s the history beyond, that makes this beautiful natural place so significant and special in the hearts of many Wollongong locals. This is a detailed guide, featuring all the local tricks of the in’s and out’s of the trail so you can make your way around the wonderful ring trail and maybe even take a few little side trails…
A brief history
The Mt Keira area has enormous cultural significance to the local indigenous Wodi Wodi people (part of the Dharawal group), naming the mountain Geera or Djera (wild turkey or mountain) which overtime has changed to the spelling as we know it today. For over 30,000 years the Dharawal people have inhabited the Wollongong area with the Dharawal story of Mt Keira having a close connection to the Five Islands off our spectacular coastline. You can read more here about the indigenous history of the area.
The area was extensively logged in the early 1800’s. In 1825, the land was granted to James Stares Spearing and from there agriculture and orchards were found on the foothills of the mountain, with farm help assistance by 20 or so convicts, sending the produce via ship to Sydney. In 1857, the oldest coal mine in Australia, opened here at the Kemira Colliery (remnants are still seen on the Ken Ausburn trail) where coal was transported to Belmore Basin for shipping. In 1835, Mt Keira Road was constructed by convicts as a consequence to demand for infrastructure in the area. Go here for an in depth history.
Suite of walks
Only recently has the complete ring track reopened after a spate of rockfalls in the area, although many tracks were still widely accessible, only since October 2019 could the ring be fully completed again in all its glory. A very attractive feature to the ring track is the availability of different trails and terrains that sprout from the main track, in fact, even doing the track in ‘reverse’ allows for a completely different experience. This trail guide will cover the actual ring track, but will make mention of other trails along the way, we also provide a detailed guide to the walk in a clockwise direction which is the most accessible for lesser fitness levels and most people.
There are Giant Stinging Trees directly on the trail, please ensure you know what they look like and avoid their trunks and leaves. Particularly, be careful of the kids picking up leaves off the ground!
Where to start
The best starting spot is Byarong Park car park. If you are driving up from Wollongong on Mt Keira Road, it is a small car park on the left, just before the Archery Range – if you go past the Girl Guide Camp you missed it, so turn around!
From Byarong Park, walk across the grassy park on the Northern side (great spot for a picnic after your walk!) you will see the NSW National Parks and Wildlife informational signage. Walk through the bushy pathway until you reach the gates of the Girl Guide Camp, cross the driveway and just near the road you will rejoin the trail. Follow the stairs up and up, until you come to a T-intersection – this is the official Ring Track!
From the T-interection we suggest you go clockwise (so turn left!) – just make note of this junction, you will need to be familiar with it so you can get back to your car at the end of your walk! The trail is very clear from here, generally following the mountain around, enjoy the sneaky views up to Robertson Lookout and notice the cheeky birdlife and interesting plant life – maybe some fungi in the cooler months. Soon you will ‘pop out’ and be greeted with signage back on the road outside the driveway to the Scout Camp.
SIDE TRAIL OPTION: there is an option here to cross the road, go through the service gate and follow the Dave Walsh trail which will take you up to Mt Keira Summit.
To follow the ring trail, stay on the same side of the road, and just before the Scout driveway gate, there is a little path of wooden steps heading down into the rainforest. Here is a lovely little creek crossing when there is water about, expect to see or hear Lyrebirds in the area. Once you reach the creek, you meander back up the hill through the vines, take a little driveway crossing to again meet the trail which is very clear until your next junction.
The next stopping point is a set of steel stairs, at this point there is signage, but most people continue past the stairs and end up going off the ring trail and head up to Robertson Lookout.
SIDE TRAIL OPTION: continue past the steel stairs and follow the signage to Robertson Lookout, you stay on this side of Mt Keira Road and head up to the lookout.
Once you get to the metal staircase – go up them! This will get you onto to Mt Keira Road, which you will need to cross to continue the ring track. Please be VERY careful crossing the road, there is often speeding motorbikes and cars, so take your time crossing. Once you cross over, you will find signage and a wooden staircase heading down from the road to rejoin the trail. You are now on the North-West side of the mountain. The trail continues with a slight decline, until you start heading down into another beautiful rainforest. There are adequate and sturdy wooden stairs that take you to another creek crossing (in wet weather). This is a magnificent forest filled with Cabbage Tree Palms, tree ferns and beautiful old trees. Take your time here and look up and enjoy the birds and view, from here it is uphill to the other side of the valley. There is a little bench chair where you can have a little rest and drink if you wish – or at least just enjoy the view!
Once you start to curve around you will find another sign warning about rockfalls – at this spot, there is a stone staircase on the right.
SIDE TRAIL OPTION: here is another option to reach the summit, follow the stone stairs up, it simply takes you back onto Mt Keira Road and you can walk the rest of the way on the road to the Summit Park.
To continue on the ring track, go past the stone stairs and follow the trail around to the left. You are now venturing into the new part of the ring track – those familiar with the old track will probably recognise where the old path veered off, despite it being overgrown now. You will find, stairs and chain rails to assist as you traverse across some steeper sections on the Northern side of the mountain. In this area you are going to start seeing Giant Stinging Trees, right on the pathway too. So please be very careful and stay clear – there are no informational signs to point them out.
You will then start making your way down a lot of stairs, a new addition to the trail. They are ridiculously ‘skinny’ and impractical for passing, so you will struggle to pass anyone and it is very steep off the path – so please take your time passing and be courteous – if you are trail running, you will likely need to stop to get past people or else someone will go flying down the embankment! Not ideal, but that’s what it is…
Make sure you stop and enjoy the Northern views back to Brokers Nose and iconic beach views.
At the bottom of the stairs you continue around with raised walking grates which makes the trail quite clear. Again, still plenty of stinging trees in the area as well as some fabulous large trees, so have a good look around! Once you get to the end of the grates, you will hit the infamous T-intersection with confusing NPWS signage that messes with most people! So here is the lowdown – turn left (North) to go to Mt Pleasant (not Byarong Park – despite the arrows), turn right (South) to continue on the Ring Track back to Byarong Park.
Once you continue right the trail is not as clear, but it is still quite easy and there is an occasional yellow arrow to keep you on track. This is such a lovely part of the walk, palms and forests, lovely large mossy boulders, a quiet little trail and takes you around to the Eastern side of the mountain. You come to a large open space in the forest which is an old creek as you weave up the stone stairs through this area, there is another little bench which is a great spot to take in the views and have a drink.
It’s only a short distance to another staircase heading down, which will take you back to Mt Keira Road, this area is known as Georgie’s Flat – or the hairpin bend. You can also park your car here if you wanted to start the trail in a different spot. From here there are two track options; the service gate takes you through to Mt Pleasant and also joins you onto the Ken Ausburn trail down to the Uni. However, to continue the ring track, walk to the other side of the car park and go through what looks like an old rusted gate, the path is pretty clear when you get up close.
SIDE TRAIL OPTION: Take the service gate ‘exit’ to continue through to Mt Pleasant, or turn right onto the Ken Ausburn trail back to the Uni.
To continue on the ring track, go through the rusted looking gates on the Eastern side of the carpark, this will meander nearer to the road until you need to cross the road. The stairs on the other side is easily identifiable and you can continue along the easy pathway. You will soon reach the Old Telegraph Camp site, marked with a carved stone. Continue along the path a short distance until you reach the t-intersection with Byarong Park (remember the one you were supposed to remember from the start?!), simply follow the sign, turn left and make your way back to your car. You made it! The full ring track!
Parking and Transport:
There is no public transport, car pooling is suggested. There is very limited parking, but there are three carpark options if one is full – one at Byarong Park, the hairpin or Georgies Flat and at the top of Mt Keira Road there is space before you turn up to the road to the summit. At each point there is easy access to the Ring Track and signage.
From Wollongong simply drive up Mt Keira Road to Byarong Park. The signage is not the greatest, if you go past the Archery and Girl Guide Camp, you went past Byarong Park so you will need to turn around.
It is completely suitable for children of all ages however, the trail is steep in sections and may be considered a long walk for some kids. There is a high chance of leeches in this area after rain, so take adequate protection. Some areas are slippery underfoot with uneven ground, tree roots and potential mud so there is a risk of spraining ankles or falling, so take your time, check your footing before you put your weight down. In the warmer months, be cautious of snake danger on the open sections of the trail.
Signage and Track Condition:
This trail is easy to navigate with clear pathways – when you have a general idea of the area! The signs have proven to be confusing to most, and we can see exactly why that has been the case with arrows that are not consistent with the trail. Don’t rely on Google Maps – the trails are wrong and could lead to more confusion. Take a map, or print out this trail guide should you be concerned about your navigation skills. The trail is well used, so you will pass people that are more than happy to assist with directions also. Don’t be turned off the trail, you’ll be fine!
It is very important that individuals do their best to stay on the main trail to avoid erosion and damage to the delicate environment. This is not too difficult and is critical to the ongoing integrity and future access of the trail.
Data & Cellular Coverage:
Phone coverage is generally good. Always carry a basic first aid kit in case of an emergency.
This track is ideal for birdwatchers, photographers or people looking to get fit on the stairs and enjoy a 5km loop. It’s a real ‘choose your own adventure trail’ so you choose the difficulty, length and adventure. If you can go mid-week to avoid any crowds it is ideal.
The walks in this area are generally moderate. Depending which way you do the loop, the anti-clockwise direction is steeper and the stair section will be a challenge to most. Going clockwise is easier, but the stairs going down can be harder for those with bad knees. Any direction is fine for the moderately fit, just take your time – or run it – whatever takes your fancy!
Hiking Grade: Grade 3
A little bit of commonsence required to navigate the signage, some steep stairs and a little distance makes this trail ideal for the bushwalker who is familar with walking in the bush and wants a longer walk with mixed scenery.
Distance and Time:
The track is a round trip being roughly a 5km walk, depending on side trails you take in. Time in the area is dependent on yourself, we took about 2.5hrs wandering and enjoying the area at a very leisurely pace.
Pollution/Rubbish Status: Grade 2
This trail can be a little grubby in areas, especially around the road areas.
Please ensure you take a garbage bag to collect rubbish, and don’t forget to take a photo of your collection and tag us in #bushwalkthegong #cleanupgongsbushland – let’s spread the word that littering in or around our bushland areas is NOT OK!
All dogs (except for assistance dogs), bikes, fires, camping, smoking and alcohol.
References and Resources: