Tomaree Head Summit walk is hard work but the mesmerizing birds-eye views of Port Stephens you get from the top are entirely worth it. The National Parks rate this walk as Grade 5, but to be honest, it surprised me. Yes, the walk is steep, but I have done steeper walks in the Blue Mountains and in Royal National Park that were rated as Grade 4. Most people I met on this walk felt that the climb was shorter than they anticipated.
And once you start getting the views of the impossibly brilliant aquamarine shades of the ocean fringed by the white strips of sandy beaches and forested peaks of the headlands, you’ll forget about the steep climb altogether.
Tomaree Head Summit walk stats
- Distance: 2.2 km return walk
- Elevation gain: 161 m
- Time: 1 hr walking time
- Grade: 5 – many steps
The walk starts at Tomaree Head carpark next to Tomaree Lodge – a former military camp and now residential disability accommodation. The trail runs alongside the fence of the lodge for the first few meters and then travels over the open ground before ducking into the eucalypt forest.
There are some information boards in this section with maps of Tomaree National Park that stretches from Tomaree Head – the Southern headland of Port Stephens to Anna Bay.
The first stretch of the walk is steep but travels over a paved path. The good this is that the headland is covered in a thick forest so the walk is shaded and cool. In the sense that the sun is not beating down onto your head. You do work up a sweat as you climb the steep trail.
After a few hundred meters you come to a signposted intersection with signs pointing towards the Picnic area and Gun Emplacements. Follow the Gun Emplacements trail and almost straight away you see a metal stairway and a sign pointing towards the summit.
This is where things get interesting. While the first half of the walk looked deceptively civilized (I was surprised to get out of breath on a paved path), the second half is not pretending to be anything it’s not. From this point on you will be climbing a series of metal stairways to ascend quicker over a short distance.
Thankfully after a few stairways and metal boardwalks you get your first view of the entire Shoal Bay and that view is a knock-out. This is one of the most scenic excuses to stop and catch your breath you’ll ever have.
The next view is of the narrow neck where Tomaree head joins the mainland at Nelson Bay. No doubt you’ve seen this view in Port Stephens marketing brochures. Now you can see it for yourself.
There is still a little bit to climb to the summit of Tomaree Head, but the views keep getting better, so you hardly notice the climb.
Finally, you arrive at the viewing platform at the summit. From here, the birds-eye view of Port Stephens is mesmerizing. You can see as far as Cabbage Tree and Boondelbah islands – the world’s only nesting sites for the endangered Gould’s petrel. This view is even more expansive than the famous Cambewarra Mountain panorama in Kangaroo Valley.
There are two platforms at the top, so make sure you visit both. From the south platform, you get the iconic sweeping views of Zenith, Wreck and Box Beaches, Fingal Island and Fingal Spit.
From the north platform, the view extends to Yacaaba Head, Cabbage Tree, Boondelbah and Broughton Islands.
There is a picnic bench at the lookout, so if you brought a lunch or a snack, this is as good a spot as you’ll ever find in Port Stephens to take a break and soak up the view. This is why you did the Tomaree Head Summit walk in the first place.
Humans are not the only beings that enjoy the beautiful spot of Port Stephens. Positioned between extensive beaches, the rocky headlands and islands before you are an obvious reference point for migrating wildlife.
Humpback whales can be sighted from the headland during their yearly migration between Antarctica and the Great Barrier Reef between late May and late October.
The Goulds Petrel, Australia’s rarest seabird is another long-distance traveller. They arrive on Cabbage Tree Island, visible from the lookout, in September to breed. Gould’s petrels lay a single egg in small rocky crevices. The survival of their chicks relies on the absence of mammalian predators such as cats and foxes. This is why public access to Cabbage Tree island is prohibited, to make sure the bird’s habitat is not disturbed.
A few years ago, I took part in seabird surveys on Little Broughton and Little Rock islands with the National Parks and Wildlife Services. While we didn’t go to Cabbage Tree Island and didn’t encounter Gould’s petrels, we’ve come across plenty of Wedge-tailed shearwaters and Snow petrels as well as some Little penguins.
Once you’ve had your fill of the jaw-dropping views, the walk down from the summit is a breeze. Once you back at the car park, make sure to swing by Zenith Beach. It is the first sandy beach you saw from the summit and it is stunning. And it’s a two-minute walk from the car park.
You can walk to Zenith Beach from the bottom car park (where you parked for the Tomaree Head Summit walk) or you can drive up Zenith Beach Loop Road and park at the top.
Remember that Zenith Beach is a sanctuary zone, so fishing and collecting of shells or other material is prohibited.
Lying between two headlands, Zenith Beach is sheltered and very pretty. It has a wild beach feeling to it that is incredibly inviting. The lookout just above the beach is a very picturesque spot for whale watching.
If you feel like another walk, you could do some of the Tomaree Coastal walks either to Wreck Beach (1.5km) or to Box Beach (2.2km). These are the other two beaches you have seen from the Tomaree Head Summit. The furthest, Box Beach is the beach on the other side of Fingal Spit and Fingal Beach.
Hopefully, I convinced you to put in the effort and do the Tomaree Head Summit walk and witness the stunning views for yourself.
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