Port Hacking is a tide dominated, drowned valley estuary located approximately 30 kilometres south of the Sydney central business district. Much smaller than Sydney Harbour, Port Hacking has its source in the upper reaches of the Hacking River and several smaller creeks. The waterway is the northern boundary of Royal National Park.
Port Hacking and the the suburbs and localities that surround it are in the Shire of Sutherland, and as a consequence the locals refer to the whole area as The Shire . Port Hacking effectively forms the southern boundary of Sydney s suburban sprawl. The southern bank is largely undeveloped land within the Royal National Park, although the small communities of Bundeena and Maianbar are found there.
When development occurred around the Port Hacking foreshore, the priority appears to have been the creation of as many waterfront properties as possible, no doubt for the revenue they generate. As a result, access to the natural beauty surrounding Port Hacking s north shore suburbs is restricted to tiny pockets of bushland around the creeks, and some harbourside reserves. These reserves are excellent and have good facilities, but there are not enough of them.
Hand stencils in a rock shelter in the Cabbage Tree basin catchment. Photo: R.J. West
Aboriginal rock art
The area we now refer to as Port Hacking was known to the Dharawal People as Djeebahn, or Deeban. That Port Hacking must have been a favourite camping ground of the Aborigines is proved by the number of rock shelters, or, as they are locally styled, gunyahs , along its shores. In 1918 the worst tragedy in terms of human life in and around Port Hacking was reported due to the collapse of one of these shelters.
Sadly, the encroachment of suburbia has seen many of them destroyed by development or vandalism, or covered over by the landscaping of gardens. As with the various Aboriginal people around Australia, the Dreaming stories told through the rock art were the way in which information was archived and passed on through the generations. Animals feature in these stories because of the prominent place they play in the stories of creation and of their lives - the successes and failures, the reasons for things and so on, but for the coastal peoples, the Orca, or Killer Whale, assumed dominance.
Some engravings, carvings, paintings, tool-making sites and midden sites remain, however, providing a source for research, and the passing of the story by story, song and dance. Middens can also be seen at many points along the shores of the Port Hacking River, including Little Moon and Great Moon Bays, Yowie Bay, Gymea Bay, Beauty Point and Greys Point. Middens reveal much of the Aboriginal life and history around Port Hacking. Flints, a skull and bone implements have been found by archaeologists during an excavation at numerous locations, such as Yowie Point. Spear sharpening grooves are visible on the rocks surrounding creeks in the area. Many overhangs on these shores still bear the stains of smoke from Aboriginal cooking fires.
The existence of surviving Aboriginal cultural sites has been carefully recorded, resulting in an amazing catalogue of artifacts found around Port Hacking. Studies have revealed the particular importance of Warumbul (in the Royal National Park) as a gathering place where the Law would be told, and the surrounds contain clear indications of its importance in the passing down of the story of the local people. Understandably, the most easily identifiable archaeological relics occur in the areas of the least European disturbance, in particular in what is now the Royal National Park. There are well-recorded rock art, paintings, tool making and burial sites. Some of these sites may be easily viewed.
In order to protect what is left of the evidence of Aboriginal culture on the rock faces or Port Hacking, the location of such sites is not widely broadcast. A few sites, such as those on the Jibbon Headland near Bundeena, have been signposted and have interpretive signage. If you are interested in viewing Aboriginal sites, visiting them is recommended. Should you be bushwalking and come across rock art of other occupation sites, by all means stop and look, but please leave them as you found them.
A great destination for a day out, particularly in summer, Cronulla is the only Sydney ocean beach to have a direct rail service. Surfers looking for good waves but less crowds find Cronulla fits the bill perfectly. If surfing is not your scene, Cronulla has other alternatives on offer. The village of Bundeena is a 20 minute (each-way) ferry ride away.
Bundeena began life as a fishing village and has managed to retain its rural charm thanks to its isolated position on the northern boundary of Royal National Park. Situated opposite Cronulla on Port Hacking, Bundeena is a great desination for a day or half day outing or as a base for adventurers wishing to explore the Park in detail.
One of the major shopping, commercial and regional centres of the Sutherland Shire, Caringbah is 24 kilometres south of Sydney. Caringbah once stretched from Woolooware Bay on the Georges River to Yowie Bay and Burraneer Bay. EG Waterhouse Camellia Gardens features camellias, ferns and azaleas in a natural bush setting.
Lilli Pilli is a small suburb on the south west corner of the Caringbah Peninsula on Port Hacking, named for the Lilly Pilly native plant that grew on the point. Lilli Pilli Point Reserve is a great secluded picnic area that is often protected from the wind. Numerous Aboriginal rock carvings and middens can be found here.
A mainly residential area, Menai is named after Menai Bridge, a town on the Menai Straits between the Isle of Anglesey and Bangor, Wales. Neraby Lucas Heights is notable today for its nuclear reactor, the only one in Australia, used mainly for medical research. The Lucas Heights facility was established in 1958.
Royal National Park
Australia's oldest National Park, the Royal has much to offer the visitor, from bushland and coastal walking tracks, to waterfalls, indigenous rock art sites, coastal vistas and recreational acitivities centred around Audley and the ocean beaches. The park has a visitors centre, kiosks, boat hire, campgrounds and picnic areas.
The small town of Helensburgh in NSW is known as the gateway between the cities of Sydney and Wollongong, as it is located roughly halfway between the two. Helensburgh is surrounded by the bushland of the Royal National Park, the Garawarra State Conservation Area, the water catchment of the Woronora Dam and adjacent Heathcote National Park.
Gymea / Gymea Bay
Gymea is primarily a low density, residential suburb. Located close to Gymea railway station, the suburb s shopping strip is known as Gymea Shopping Village. Over the last decade it has become a popular shopping and cafe culture district with many cafes, restaurants, boutiques and gourmet food shops opened along Gymea Bay Road.
Situated on the North West Arm of Port Hacking to the south east of Gymea Bay, this leafy suburb abuts Royal National Park. Little of the suburb s history is known, except that it abounded in birdlife not even the origin of its name was recorded. Swallow Rock Reserve, on the Woronora River, is popular for picnics.
The suburb of Woronora is situated in the narrow valley of the Woronora River, to the east of Sutherland in Sydney s south. Homes line the waterfront, and plenty of others are built on the hillsides with views up and down the river, all less than an hour from the CBD. No wonder those lucky enough to call Woronora home think they are living in paradise!
Waterfall, one of the most southerly localities in the Sydney region, is 38 km south of the Sydney central business district. Waterfall is bordered to the north by the suburb of Heathcote and Engadine is further north. It is bounded by The Royal National Park to the east, and Heathcote National Park to the west.
Engadine is bounded by The Royal National Park to the east, Heathcote National Park to the south west and the Holsworthy Military Reserve to the west beyond the Woronora River. Natural landmarks along bushwalking tracks include the Needles and the Blue Lagoon along the Woronora River, and the Engadine Wetlands.
Located 36 km south of the Sydney in the Sutherland Shire, Heathcote is bordered by Engadine to the north and Waterfall to the south, Royal National Park to the east, and Heathcote National Park to the west. The Heathcote to Waterfall bushwalk is one of many in the area that are popular with bushwalkers.
Heathcote National Park
A close neighbour of Royal National Park, Heathcote is less frequently visited and is centred around the deep valleys carved out of the sandstone by Heathcote Creek and its tributaries. 32 km south of Sydney, the park can be entered on foot from a number of places around Heathcote and Waterfall area. The park features many Aboriginal sites.
Lilyvale is a beautiful and picturesque area that lies on the southern edges of the Royal National Park. Nestled in between Helensburgh to the north and Otford to the south. Lilyvale has several tributaries flowing through to the Hacking River, including Gardiners Creek and Hamilton's Creek (also known as Cedar Gully). Bush tracks give access to the surrounding bushland.