The Basin: Camping in Sydney’s Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Occupying part of Sydney’s pristine Northern Beaches just a stone’s throw from the CBD, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is the perfect place to escape the bustle of the city and unwind for a weekend. Lose track of time swimming at secluded beaches, walking to panoramic lookouts, and patting friendly wallabies, all from the park’s only campsite, The Basin. I finally checked out this water-access campground with a few friends last weekend, and it was truly the perfect dose of nature and adventure to recharge my somewhat diminished energy levels.
All the details: The Basin Campground
Cost: Reserve your spot at The Basin by booking online for $34 (covers 2 people and a tent/swag). There are also clean bathrooms and sheltered bbq areas available for use.
Getting there: Ku-ring-gai Chase is just 45km (1hr) from central Sydney, and it’s best to drive here, as public transport requires quite a few transfers. While The Basin campground itself has no car access, you can either park at the West Head lookout and walk 2.5km or you can take a ferry from Palm Beach (highly recommended if you’re travelling with a swag/esky). Return tickets are $16.40 and can be purchased from the Fantasea ticket office directly across from the wharf in Palm Beach. Check the timetable here, but there’s usually a ferry leaving every hour (on the hour) and returning every hour (at 20min past) from 9am-5pm.
What to do: From the campsite, walk 2.5km up to the incredible West Head lookout for staggering views of the coastline; make friends with some of the local wallabies; go for a swim at the beach or in the sheltered lagoon to the far end of the campground.
Top tips: There’s a very limited amount of expensive metered parking at the ferry wharf, so arrive early and find a spot for your car on one of the residential streets a few blocks away.
Arriving in Palm Beach after little more than an hour’s drive from our place in south Sydney, we make a bee-line for the region’s most popular activity, a short walk up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse, and then spend the next few hours exploring the charming town and its colourful beaches. Aside from the staggering natural beauty, Palm Beach’s primary claim to fame is as “Summer Bay”, the fictional northern Sydney suburb where Home & Away takes place. And although I am far from a fan of this awkward soap, it’s inarguably one of Australia’s most iconic programs and has been running for over 30 years, so it’s something of an institution— every time I meet Poms overseas, they bring up Home & Away, so it’s probably also safe to say it’s Australia’s most beloved contribution to UK television.
After our morning of beaches and viewpoints, we finally start to think about heading towards the campsite. While our friends grab a quick bite at the fish & chip shop, Callum and I head over to the ticket office to book the next ferry, only to realise there’s no 1pm boat operating today and we’ll need to wait until 2pm to depart.. No matter— we use our extra time wander up the Stairway to Heaven, a steep series of stairs followed by a short trail through the gums, and drool over the incredible houses perched above Palm Beach. It’s hard to imagine living in a paradise like this, but a girl can dream!
Eventually, we head back to the ferry wharf to unload our belongings and move the car to a free spot. It looks as if we are moving house rather than just camping for one night, but at least we have a meat feast to cook up upon arrival and a few beverages to enjoy! After awkwardly cramming all of our things onto the boat, we head to the top deck and enjoy the leisurely 20 minute ride across the water. The sun is out, the views are spectacular, and I can’t wait to explore more of the national park.
Disembarking at The Basin, we find ourselves in a secluded beach paradise, surrounded by calm sea and sheltered lagoons, as well as several dozen wild wallabies who hop and nibble their way around the tents. Best yet, there are hardly any other people camping this weekend, so we enjoy much of the serene beauty all to ourselves.
Although the weather takes a dramatic turn for the wet and windy just after we set up the swags and fire up the bbq, which prevents us from doing any bushwalking, we have a phenomenal evening just enjoying the scenery (and following wallabies around, hoping for a cuddle). I’m not even mad that a kookaburra steals a sausage sandwich directly out of my hand THREE TIMES, I’m mostly just excited to have kookaburras at the campsite in the first place!
For a national park so close to the city, Ku-ring-gai Chase is truly a world away, overflowing with empty stretches of sand and cheeky local wildlife. Already, I know I’ll be back, hopefully in summer to properly enjoy all the perfect swim spots (it may be warm, but it’s still winter, so I’m not prepared to hop in just yet). Until next time!
What to do in & around Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Check out Station Beach
This sunny beach is the start to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse walk, but also a great, sheltered swimming spot. Enjoy the brilliantly clear water during a well deserved dip after your walk to the lighthouse.
Hike up to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse
In just 15min, make your way from beautiful Station Beach up to one of the best viewpoints in all of the Northern Beaches, Barrenjoey Lighthouse. This vantage point overlooking Palm Beach and Ocean Beach is absolutely unbeatable, so be sure to set an hour aside for this quick walk.
Visit Palm Beach
Make sure to check out the charming, upscale town of Palm Beach during your visit, as well as the golden strip of sand by the same name. Enjoy one of several cute cafes along the main strip or the lovely Boathouse Palm Beach, and then relax on Palm Beach itself. For the more adventurous, there’s even great bouldering to be had on some large rocks on the beach (and it’s an easy drop to the sand below)!
Explore Palm Beach Wharf
While you wait for your ferry across to The Basin, enjoy the beautiful stretch of Palm Beach in front of the wharf and the extensive collection of boats. If you need to kill a bit more time, there’s a fish & chip shop across the road and gelato just down the way, so grab a snack and enjoy it with a view.
Go for a bushwalk
There’s actually a heap of great walks in Ku-ring-gai that I am still yet to explore! In the meantime, check out this list from WildWalks on the best 9 trails to explore in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.