Sydney Aboriginal Rock Art Tour to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park with Sydney OutBack
This small group Sydney Aboriginal rock art tour will introduce you to the New South Wales capital’s fascinating Indigenous heritage. Visit a number of rock art sites in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, and enjoy an afternoon river cruise. A delicious lunch is included. Duration: 8 hours (approx.)
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There are a handful of Aboriginal rock carvings in the reserve behind my home in Sydney.
Unfortunately they are fading over time, but today I have the opportunity to visit an area of the city rich in Indigenous rock art. I’m joining Sydney OutBack on their Wilderness and Aboriginal Explorer tour and river cruise in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park — the second oldest national park in Australia.
The skies are clear as we set off from the Sydney CBD. It’s a warm autumn day — perfect for exploring the Australian bush. Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is located 45 minutes’ drive north of the city, and is home to more than 1,500 recorded Aboriginal cultural sites. Today we’ll visit some of the lesser known ones, and some that are only accessible by water.
As we enter the park, a road sign warns drivers that bandicoots are endangered and to be careful behind the wheel. We stop and listen. The silence is broken only by bird calls. There are no other cars or people. It’s a strange sensation for a city dweller.
Nearby, a beautiful Banksia tree is in flower. Our guide Paul explains how the cones were once rubbed in animal fat for use as torches by the first inhabitants. Paul spent more than a year learning the many uses of the land from Guringai elders (the traditional owners of the region). He studied their culture and traditions closely, and shares that knowledge with tour guests.
We drive for some distance through the park, before taking a short walk to West Head lookout for the spectacular views. We’re looking at the meeting point of no less than five different waterways. The water sparkles in the sunlight and I can see for miles down the Hawkesbury River and up the coastline.
Paul encourages all guests on this Sydney Aboriginal rock art tour to imagine how it would have been for those people arriving on a boat from England in the early days of the colony, with virtually no knowledge of how to survive in this harsh land. Of course, the local Aboriginal people knew how to survive and Paul shares some of that knowledge with us. The base of a long slender leaf from a grass-like plant provided nourishment and water. The seeds could be ground into flour.
Other plants had medicinal uses. I run my hand down the cool trunk of a Sydney red gum. Hugging the tree would provide pleasant relief on a hot day. We see where a shield-shaped chunk of bark was carved from a hardwood tree many years ago to make a coolamon (carrying vessel).
As we continue on our way, a young swamp wallaby bounds across the road. Its brown fur glistens in the sun. We stop to observe it for a while before driving on towards a sacred Aboriginal rock art site. Paul gets as close as he can in the vehicle and then we set off through the bush on foot. A hidden track carves its way through shoulder height scrub. We need to walk in single file, pushing branches aside. The bush opens out to reveal a tessellated rock platform — the site of more than 20 well-preserved and deeply symbolic carvings. They were cut into the sandstone thousands of years ago.
Paul sprays water on the rock to better define the first carving. It is part-man, part-emu, and represents the transformation from an earthly being to a celestial one. There are also shields, more emus and a whale. The story of the rainbow serpent comes alive when I see it carved in the rock before me.
As we prepare to depart the site, Paul pauses for a moment to pay respect to the Guringai people.
An inviting lunch is served as we set out on the afternoon river cruise down Coal and Candle Creek. Beautiful sandstone rock formations line the waterway, and tall trees cling precariously to the rocky escarpments. Two sea eagles perch on a branch near a large nest, oblivious to the binoculars trained on them.
Our captain guides the boat up to a rock face. There are three fish are painted on the rock, signifying a fish breeding ground. Further on there’s a lone fish and a row of hand stencils. These artworks are only accessible by water and only to those who know where to look.
As we cruise back to the marina, Paul brings out a selection of artefacts for us to examine — spears, boomerangs and message sticks. There are also some samples of bush tucker to try. The time passes quickly and soon we’re on the road back to Sydney.
This Sydney Aboriginal rock art tour offers guests access to a part of the city that is seldom seen. On the journey home I reflect on the great beauty of the Australian bush and the wisdom of the people who walked this land long before any other.
Joanne travelled as a guest of Sydney OutBack.
Joanne Karcz is a Sydney-based writer and blogger. She published a blog when she walked the Camino de Santiago some years ago and has been writing about her travels ever since. She is also an aspiring travel photographer and takes her camera wherever she goes. Joanne has travelled through Europe, South America and Southern Africa. She loves discovering new things to see and do in her own Sydney backyard, and blogs regularly about the city’s suburbs.