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, usually receiving over 500,000 local, domestic and international visitors each year. North Head is listed on the National Heritage List.

This project 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).

Construction works at the North Head Scenic Area

Carparks 1 and 2, walking paths and the new bus stop have reopened. The carparking and landscape works are now complete following significant weather-related delays. We look forward to welcoming you back to this spectacular location.

The works will enhance your visitor experience and improve visitor access and safety through:

  • creating 2,500 square metres of new turfed recreation space for visitors to sit and enjoy views across the harbour
  • the installation of pedestrian crossings and 600 metres of new accessible pathways to improve safety, access and pedestrian circulation
  • traffic calming measures to reduce speed and improve pedestrian (and bandicoot) safety
  • a new bus stop, including shelter and seating
  • improved rubbish facilities and bike hoops
  • a new picnic shelter and table
  • accessible parking and ramps.

North Head Scenic Area - artist sketch, Sydney Harbour National Park

Access to the North Head Scenic Area

Construction of the two new lookouts has commenced. The Fairfax Walk and the North Head Scenic Drive loop will remain closed to pedestrians while the lookouts are being constructed.

Below are details of changes to access while the lookouts are under construction:

  • visitors can drive and park at the North Fort
  • Fairfax track will remain closed to pedestrians until the new lookouts are reopened (expected in November 2022)
  • the loop road has reopened
  • Carpark 1 and Carpark 2 have reopened
  • the bus stop at North Fort has reopened.

These closures will not affect the Q-Station, Bella Vista Café and North Head Sanctuary (managed by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust).

Please refer to the following map for closures and check current alerts when planning your visit.

North Head Scenic Area - construction access plan

New lookouts have been designed to replace the original Fairfax lookouts. These were closed due to the geotechnical risk associated with the unstable nature of the sandstone cliff faces.

We worked with local architects CHROFI and Aboriginal consultancy Bangawarra to design lookouts that address geotechnical risk, maintain visitor safety, maximise viewing space, and use materials that can withstand the harsh environment whilst responding to Country and the character of the surrounding landscape.

During March, contractors were on site to demolish the closed lookouts.

Work on the new lookouts are expected to start in mid-2022.

The Fairfax track and the new lookouts will be fully accessible once complete and disabled parking is provided at the entrance to the track.

The concept plans for the lookouts are available for download to the right hand side.

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

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

The upgrade of the carparks area has been affected by recent heavy rainfall. This work is now complete.

Concept designs for the new lookouts were released for public consultation in November 2021, and detailed design is complete. Demolition of the closed lookouts was undertaken in March 2022. Construction of the new lookouts commenced in July 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. We are currently working with partners and experts, including Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, Australian Wildlife Conservancy, 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. To find out more, please visit the bushfire recovery webpage.

In October 2021, 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.

New lookouts were designed in 2021 and were released for public consultation in November 2021. In March 2022, the closed lookouts were demolished, and construction of the new lookouts commenced in July 2022.

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

The Fairfax walking track will be temporarily closed until further notice while works are underway, including road and footpath upgrades, fence replacement and lookout construction. Unfortunately, due to delays caused by poor weather, we’re unable to provide a confirmed reopening date at this time.

Walking tracks through the North Fort, which are managed by the Harbour Trust, remain open. Please check the current alerts before planning your visit.

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.

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