Going for a walk with public transport

Have you ever had to deal with a car shuffle? The frustration and logistics, the waiting and then more logistics. You set out to do a through (one way) hike and find yourself waiting around at the start and the end as cars are litterly shuffled around. And of course you need two cars (or a car and bicycle sometimes) and enough drivers and people to look after children who are going crazy waiting to walk. Yep, it’s the not fun bread with the meaty bushwalking in the middle.

However, there is a way to keep the kids happy and the cars at home. If you can somehow get public transport to work for you instead of relying on cars, you are in for a much easier ride. While intrepid adventures are often in corners of the world were public transport doesn’t dare to go, smaller and simpler walks can be accessible by bus, train, tram or ferry. These are the walks I like to take my kids on and they enjoy getting there as much as the walk itself.

Since having children, and basically giving up hope of going on multi-day hikes or muddy cycling tours, I’ve had to seek ways to enjoy nature closer to home. I have to admit, I thought this was going to be really hard – that I would need a car to get close to nature with a kid. However, with my son in a backpack I set off to see where the pubic transport network of Newcastle could meet short bush walks and I was pleasantly surprised, and I continue to be. So surprised, that I started putting together a carfree tourism guide for Newcastle which you can access here.

I have discovered many little walks, some with a playground at the end. And I’ve managed to link up different walks (with some ideas from friends) to make day walks through Newcastle. Last Friday, I set off to explore the Belmont Wetlands as part of a walk from Jewells along the coast back to Newcastle, and discovered amazing Sand dunes and creeks. I was shocked and almost embarrassed to realise I had never been here before and it was amazing. It’s on one of the major bus routes (the number 14) which makes it easy to get to. The ranger explained that a local elderly couple John and Carol had cared for this walk and the vegetation around it. Carol has passed away but John still visits daily.

And as I was walking along, I realised how amazing the diversity of my day would be. After running up and down sand dunes and walking along the beach, I walked through the the bush to a creek filled with paperbark trees and ducks.

Ducks at the end of Owen’s walk

Then along Owen’s walk, and couldn’t help thinking I would love to know the history of this walk too. This is an accessible walk going through forest, coastal scrub and sand dunes. And yes, there is a playground at the end! But my children weren’t with me, so I continued on to the Awabakal track, which shines with textures of green, the colours of native flowers and the glimpses of headlands and the sea.

Flannel flowers on the Awabakal Walk

After a short stint through the streets of Dudley, I was back in the bush down the Bombala track with it’s tall trees and sea breeze and then I hit the beach. And stayed in that space where the forest meets the sea until I came across the Merewether Baths. Normally from Dudley beach I head into Glenrock, but the tide was low and so I explored the rocks below the headland which were kind of amazing. Rock hopping is a special kind of meditation as you intuitively contemplate how you will land and leap from each rock as you choose between all the paths around you. A very different transport from anything I’ve talked about previously and I started to wonder how we could incorporate more rock hopping into our everyday.

Rocks between Dudley and Burwood Beach

The trickiest past of rock hopping in summer is working out when to take your shoes on and off and I’m quite sure my feet got a bit burnt in the process. So I was really looking forward to walking in the shallow water along Burwood beach. When I came across this beautiful piece of coal on the beach, I wondered what I could make of it. Between the history of my city, and of earth and what it had come to represent, all I could do was take a pretty picture of it and continue walking.

And as I arrived at Merewether I remembered we needed milk, so I caught the bus to the shops and then another one up the hill to home. It felt like a pretty special adventure, made possible by public transport. However, I still struggle with some walks to find good ways to make them work with buses and trains. I think there is still potential to improve the way our public transport offers ways for locals and tourists to enjoy the nature of the surrounds of Newcastle. Perhaps this isn’t the primary purpose of public transport, but for me it’s an important one – the one I missed most when we stopped using public transport during the lockdown. I’m always looking for more ideas, and keen to hear how you use public transport to access your adventures, so please get in touch or leave a comment.

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