For generations the Mount Keira Ring Track has been the stamping ground for many Scouts, picnickers and bushwalkers.
But it's the history beyond that makes this beautiful place so significant and special in the hearts of many Wollongong locals.
This is a detailed guide, featuring all the local tricks and in's and out's of the trail so you can make your way around the wonderful ring - and maybe even take a few side trails.
A brief history
Mount Keira has enormous cultural significance to the local Wodi Wodi people (part of the Dharawal group), who have inhabited the area for more than 30,000 years. They named the mountain Geera or Djera (wild turkey or mountain), which over time changed to the spelling as we know it today, and told the story of its close connection to the Five Islands off the coast.
Parts were extensively logged in the early-1800s, before being granted to James Stares Spearing in 1925. With farm help from 20 or so convicts, Spearing established orchards and crops on the foothills and sent the produce via ship to Sydney.
Suite of walks
The complete ring track only recently reopened after a spate of rockfalls in the area forced its closure in 2014. While many tracks were still widely accessible, only since October could the ring be fully completed again in all its glory.
A very attractive feature to the circuit is the availability of different trails and terrains that sprout from the main track. In fact, even completing 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.
Warning: There are giant stinging trees along - and on - the trail. Please ensure you know what they look like and avoid their trunks and leaves (be especially careful of kids picking up leaves from the ground).
The best starting spot is Byarong Park car park. If you are driving up from Wollongong on Mount Keira Road, keep an eye out for the 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 area on the northern side (a great spot for a picnic after your walk) and 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-intersection we suggest you go clockwise (turn left). Take note of this junction so that you know how to get back to your car at the end of the walk. The trail is clear from here, generally following the mountain around, and providing sneaky views of Robertson Lookout, cheeky birdlife and interesting plant life (maybe some fungi in the cooler months). Soon you will 'pop out' to be greeted with signage back on the road outside the driveway to the Scout Camp.
SIDE TRAIL: there is an option here to cross the road, go through the service gate and follow the Dave Walsh trail to Mount Keira Summit.
To follow the ring trail, stay on the same side of the road. Just before the Scout's driveway gate, you'll find little wooden steps heading down to the rainforest and a lovely little creek crossing (when there's enough water about). You might be lucky enough to spot a lyrebird here. At the creek, meander back up the hill through the vines and take a little driveway crossing to once again meet the trail - which is very clear until your next junction.
The next stopping point is a set of steel stairs with signage.
SIDE TRAIL: 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 Mount Keira Road, which you will need to cross to continue to 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 sturdy wooden stairs that take you to another creek crossing (in wet weather) and into another magnificent rainforest, filled with cabbage tree palms, tree ferns and old trees. Take your time, look up and enjoy the birds and the view. There's a bench chair where you can have a rest and drink if you wish.
From here it is uphill to the other side of the valley. 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: Follow the stone stairs up to go back onto Mount Keira Road and up 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 - directly on the pathway too. So please be very careful and stay clear as there are no informational signs to point them out.
You will start making your way down a lot of stairs - a new addition to the trail. They are ridiculously skinny and impractical for passing. 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, as well as iconic beach vistas.
At the bottom of the stairs, continue around on raised walking grates. There are some fabulous large trees - and plenty of stinging trees - in the area, 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.
Here is the lowdown: turn left (north) to go to Mount 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 and a quiet little trail that takes you around to the eastern side of the mountain. You'll come to a large open space in the forest, an old creek. As you weave up the stone stairs, 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 takes you back to the hairpin bend - also known as Geordies Flat - on Mount Keira Road. (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 Mount Pleasant and also joins onto the Ken Ausburn trail down to the uni. However, to continue on 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: Take the service gate 'exit' to continue through to Mount 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 car park; this will meander nearer to the road until you need to cross the road. The stairs on the other side are 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. Very limited parking, but there are three car park options if one is full - Byarong Park, the hairpin or Geordies Flat and, at the top of Mount 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.
Directions: From Wollongong simply drive up Mount 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.
Trail advice: While suitable for children of all ages, the trail is steep in sections and may be considered a long walk for some. There is a high chance of leeches in the area after rain, so take adequate protection. There is a risk of spraining ankles or falling due to areas that are slippery underfoot with uneven ground, tree roots and potential mud, so take your time and 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: for those with a general idea of the area, the trail is easy to navigate with clear pathways. 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. 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 and cell coverage: Phone coverage is generally good. Always carry a basic first aid kit in case of an emergency.
Demographic: 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 - you get to pick the difficulty, length and adventure. It's ideal to go mid-week to avoid any crowds.
Fitness: 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 commonsense 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 round trip is roughly a 5km walk, depending on side trails you take in. We took about 2.5 hours 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!
Prohibited: All dogs (except for assistance dogs), bikes, fires, camping, smoking and alcohol.
References and resources:
Visit Bushwalk the Gong's Facebook page here and follow them on Instagram @bushwalkthegong
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.