North Head Scenic Area upgrade

The National Parks and Wildlife Service is improving visitor access at North Head, Sydney Harbour National Park.

North Head, in Sydney Harbour National Park, is a diverse site with significant cultural and environmental values receiving over 500,000 local, domestic and international visitors each year. North Head is listed on the National Heritage List.

This is being delivered as part of the largest visitor infrastructure program in national park history and aligns with the outcomes for North Head outlined in the Sydney Harbour National Park Plan of Management (2012).

What's happening at the North Head Scenic Area?

The North Head Scenic Area upgrade is expected to start on 18 October and take approximately 3 months to complete. This project will enhance the visitor experience and improve visitor access and safety through:

  • the reconfiguration of car parks to provide more accessible parking spaces and overflow parking
  • extending the open landscaped by reducing carpark areas to provide a space for visitors to enjoy views across the harbour
  • the installation of pedestrian crossings and a pedestrian path to improve safety, access and pedestrian circulation
  • the installation of a new bus stop to the east of the Bella Vista Café
  • improvements to the entry of the Fairfax Walking Track.

These works will require the closure of North Head Scenic Drive starting near the Bella Vista Café to include all of the National Parks and Wildlife Service carparks for the full works duration. This approach will enable a shorter works program than staged openings and closings of these car park areas.

There will be unavoidable impacts to visitation:

  • visitors will be able to drive and park at the North Fort
  • the North Head Sanctuary and Bella Vistas Café will still be accessible
  • pedestrian access to the Fairfax loop will be closed during the first stage of construction (approximately 6 weeks) – this will be reinstated once works are complete for new footpaths
  • buses will be required to stop at the roundabout at the Q-Station
  • other large vehicles will not be able to access North Head past the Q-Station.

Please refer to the map, and please check current alerts when planning your visit.

North Head Scenic Area assess plan - closed paths

During 2020, National Parks and Wildlife Service undertook site investigation and analysis, detailed design development and approvals.

Concept plans (32MB) for the upgrade of the North Head Scenic Area were released in April 2021 for community feedback. Submissions closed on 17 May 2021.

The upgrade of the carparks area is expected to start on 18 October and are scheduled to take approximately 3-4 months. Please check current alerts when planning your visit.

Construction of the new lookouts will commence in 2022.

We will keep stakeholders and visitors informed of this project as it develops. Updates will be available on this project webpage.

You can also opt in to receive newsletters about the North Head Scenic Area upgrade directly to your inbox. Anyone can sign up to receive these emails by registering your details below.

We will carefully manage the project to ensure no impacts upon threatened vegetation or fauna species. This includes Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub Threatened Ecological Community, bandicoots and other small mammals. Rigorous environmental assessment of the proposed works with input from relevant specialists, in accordance with NSW planning legislation has been carried out to inform this project. These proposed works align with the outcomes for North Head outlined in the Sydney Harbour National Park Plan of Management (2012).

We aim to provide enriching and memorable experiences in the park, improve access to the park for all and contribute to the goal of easy and safe transport to and within the park.

On 17 October 2020 a planned hazard reduction burn at North Head spotted over containment lines. This was driven by strong winds that arrived earlier than previously predicted. NPWS is currently working with partners and experts including Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), Taronga Zoo, Sydney University, Australian Registry for Wildlife Health and Northern Beaches Council to implement the fire recovery program.

The fire recovery is being managed by the NPWS Sydney North team and is separate to the upgrade works. If you would like to sign up to receive updates specifically regarding the fire recovery, please email: npws.sydneynorth@environment.nsw.gov.au

In October, we engaged a geotechnical engineer to assess the cliff edge and its stability along the Fairfax walk. Based on engineering advice, the lookouts were closed while further investigations were done. In 2016, a rockfall occurred 100 metres away from the existing lookout, so it is essential to manage this carefully. Investigations and assessments are continuing and we will release concept plans for community feedback once these are ready.

The lookouts will remain closed, and work on the new lookouts is scheduled to start in 2022. Please do not enter the closed areas during this time.

The Fairfax Lookout is in proximity to the 2016 rock fall and has been closed for visitors safety.

The walking track is open. If you are visiting the area, please stay on the walking track at all times.

We have installed temporary fencing for your safety and to keep people off the fragile regenerating vegetation, while we replace the fencing destroyed by the fire.

Response to community feedback

The concept plans for the North Head Scenic Area were released for community feedback during April and May 2021. We received a number of thoughtful and considered questions, suggestions and comments which were largely supportive of the project.

We thank everyone who provided a submission. This feedback is a valuable part of the project development and have been considered by the project team. Below is a summary of responses to the suggestions, comments and issues raised.

The proposed upgrades are funded under the Improving Access to National Parks program, which aims to improve access and safety to our national parks in New South Wales. The purpose of these works is to improve the area for all visitors. By providing increased landscaped open space, pathways, pedestrian crossings and traffic calming measures, seating, rubbish bins, a new bus stop and shelter, and accessible parking, the community can expect a safer and more comfortable experience when visiting the North Head Scenic Area.

Weed management is an ongoing priority for us. At North Head, the prevalence of weeds is complicated due to poor drainage and accessibility, particularly along the steep banks in front of the carparking areas. Weed removal is limited to hand weeding, which requires substantial resourcing, including help from Bush Care volunteers. More weed removal will be carried out near the carparks within the upgrade area as part of these works.

North Head is very popular with walkers and bike riders. We will provide safe and direct access for pedestrians from the open landscaped viewing areas and carparks to the Fairfax walking track and lookouts with off-road and on-road pedestrian paths. Traffic management measures will improve safety for pedestrians and bike riders. Designating the road as a shared zone with a reduced speed limit of 10km/hr was considered. However, reducing speeds to 20km/hr, incorporating traffic calming devices, flat top speed bumps and separating pedestrians from bike riders and vehicles was the preferred option for safety reasons. We will consider the most appropriate way of separating this pedestrian zone along North Head Scenic Road during the detailed design stage, for example, painted lines, raised kerbs, bollards or tactile surfaces.

Bike parking will be included in the detailed design plans at Carpark 1 and the Fairfax walk entry.

We have been working to protect native animals at North Head, including the endangered long-nosed bandicoot. This project will support these efforts by introducing further traffic calming measures to reduce vehicle speeds. Native animals must have the ability to move freely around the headland. Measures such as fencing along the road were not considered appropriate in this setting. The protection of native animals is an ongoing priority. We are working with our partners, particularly in the post-fire recovery, to closely monitor native animals, providing shelters and supplementary food.

Public toilets are located at the Quarantine Station carpark and behind the Bella Vista Café at the North Fort for visitors to North Head. Extra toilets were not included in this project's scope. There are no existing services (such as water or sewerage infrastructure) and no suitable location to install new toilets within national parks land at the carparks or near the Fairfax loop without creating significant environmental impacts.

Issues were identified with the existing bus stop located opposite the entry to the North Fort. Several options were considered to make this bus stop safer, more comfortable and accessible, and adhere to current Australian standards. The proposed location at Carpark 1 has enough space to provide a shelter, seating, and bus pull-in area. This location also provides clear sightlines (no blind spots) and is close to the North Fort entry, Bella Vista Café and public toilets. Traffic management measures, including signs and bollards, are proposed to discourage other buses and large vehicles from using the carparks as layover spaces.

The popularity of North Head for picnics, sightseeing and walking was a key consideration in developing the landscape plans. The open landscaped area at Carpark 1 will be expanded by moving the existing kerb back towards the road, reducing the hard surfaces and adding retaining structures where the existing slope starts to formalise the turfed area and provide a more comfortable space for visitors to enjoy the harbour views. We are not planning to remove native vegetation or use additional fill to accommodate this expanded landscaped area; rather the carpark area will be reduced.

As visitation can be high during peak periods, the selection of turf needs to consider species hardiness, maintenance requirements and environmental factors. Turf species used at similar locations in national parks in New South Wales, for example, Audley in Royal National Park, will be considered for this project. Surrounding vegetation will be native species, including suitable native groundcovers where possible.

The detailed design plans will also consider incorporating seating and simple shelters to protect from sun and rain without impacting significant views. A shelter will also be installed at the relocated bus stop at Carpark 1.

The current plans reduce the hard surfaces and number of carparking spaces at Carpark 1 to provide increased open landscaped space, pathways and seating for visitors to enjoy this primary viewing area. This will be done by moving the existing kerb back towards North Head Scenic Road and adding retaining structures at the existing slope to formalise the turfed area. This will reduce car parking at Carpark 1 from 22 spaces to 12 and 2 accessible parking bays. Overflow parking is planned at the current bus stop location once this has been relocated to Carpark 1. Carpark 2 will also be reconfigured with the existing kerb moved back to provide a pedestrian path, accessible parking and a small open landscaped area. There will be no increase to the current number of parking spaces within Carpark 2, and removal of vegetation in the median island will be limited. There will be a moderate increase of car parking spaces from 42 to 51 spaces across the existing 2 carparks and the proposed new overflow parking.

North Head Scenic Area will remain open during the construction phase, which will be staged during 2021 and 2022 to limit impacts on visitation. Some temporary restrictions to certain areas will be required for the safety of visitors and the work crew. Current alerts will be available on the North Head webpage. Check this before you go to plan your visit.

While the formal feedback period has now closed, we welcome your questions and comments at anytime during the project. Queries can be sent to the project team using the online form.

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