The rocky outcrop where crew of The Endeavour first stepped onto the Australian shore
Kurnell is known as the birthplace of modern Australia as it is the landing spot of Captain James Cook, the man who ‘discovered’ Australia. It is also known as the place where the land was dispossessed from the local Aboriginals. Here you will find a number of monuments erected in memory of Captain James Cook and other crew, a heritage listed national park, an interesting visitor’s centre, a number of walking tracks, a lovely bay beach, a couple of vibrant cafes, information on the local Aboriginals and at certain times of the year – whale watching. So join me on this easy day trip from Sydney – and discover a beautiful landscape with an interesting history.
Where is Kurnell
Kurnell is about 22 kilometres south of Sydney’s Central Business District. It is located on the shores of Botany Bay, actually on the south Headland of the bay, in the local government area of the Sutherland Shire.
How to get to Kurnell
Kurnell can be reached either by car or train and bus. When travelling by car you will take Captain Cook Drive from Woolooware all the way to Kurnell. Having a car will make it easier and quicker to get to Kurnell and you will be able to drive through the Kamay Botany Bay National Park rather than walk. If you don’t have a car you can always rent one. Check out RentalCars daily rates here.
If you are taking the train and bus, take a train from Sydney to Cronulla (the Illawarra Train Line). From Cronulla Train Station, you can catch the 987 bus to Kurnell which leaves from outside of the train station.
The Birthplace of Modern Australia – A brief History of Kurnell
Captain James Cook, credited with discovering Australia
As mentioned, Kurnell is known as the birthplace of modern Australia. They say this is where Captain James Cook first stepped ashore and claimed the land for Great Britain. The story though begins in England on 26 August 1768 when the HMS Endeavour, under the Command of Captain James Cook, left Plymouth in England to search for the great southern continent in the Pacific. If this land was found, Captain Cook was to chart it and record information about plants, animals and soils. And this is exactly what he did.
Captain Cook reached the east coast of the great southern land on 20 April 1770. Due to the conditions at the time, the ship was prevented to make landfall – so The Endeavour sailed north. Some 9 days later, the first safe harbour Cook found he dropped anchor in. This was on 29 April 1770 and the place where they stepped ashore is now called Kurnell. You will find a small plaque marking the spot.
Captain Cook and his crew spent 8 days at Kurnell discovering the native flora and fauna, and also coming in contact with the locals, the Gweagal people, who Cook wrote did not greet them in a friendly manner. Well, would you, if your land was being dispossessed? Cook named the bay Botany Bay after all the botanical specimens discovered and collected by two of his crew, botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander. Cook though thought Kurnell, being at the entrance of the bay was very open, so it was decided a more sheltered port should be found. The Endeavour sailed northwards along the coast and found what was named Port Jackson, which was more secluded. And as you may know, Port Jackson became the site for Sydney.
Kurnell over the years has remained a sleepy little seaside village best known for the oil refinery built there. However, the refinery has closed and the area is being developed with seaside homes offering ‘million dollar views’. The area of significance where Captain Cook landed and the area they explored and discovered, full of flora and fauna, is now a national park – the Kamay Botany Bay National Park. So Kurnell and the national park are linked together and easily explored as one.
What to see and do in Kurnell and the Kamay Botany Bay National Park
The Obolesque (and the Obolesque covered in scaffolding the day I was there – because it was being spruced up for the 250th anniversary of the landing of Captain Cook).
You can begin your visit to Kurnell by parking along the foreshore and walking into the park – this will cost you nothing. Or you could drive to the Kurnell Visitor Centre within the national park and park. There is an entrance fee of $10 to the park which is open daily – but does close overnight. You can easily buy a ticket from one of the machines in the car park near the Kurnell Visitor Centre.
Kurnell Visitor Centre
The Kurnell Visitor Centre is only tiny but it is well worth a visit. Inside you will find many interesting facts about Captain James Cook and his time in Kurnell. Plus how the area’s Aboriginal inhabitants lived at the time when Captain Cook arrived. There are a number of artefacts and hands on displays to experience as well as an art gallery, theatrette, shop and a cafe. It is well worth starting your journey in Kurnell here. From the centre you can easily take the walks or you could drive to certain spots in the national park. Or just walk along the foreshore where there are a number of historical sites, like where Captain James Cook first stepped ashore. You can pick up a map at the Kurnell Visitor Centre.
The historical sites and the Walking Tracks to see them
Kurnell and the Kamay Botany Bay National Park have a number of historical sights which are marked by plaques and even an obelisk. The best way to see them is to take the walks and find out about each sight. A good walk to take is the Burrawang Walk Loop which will provide you with a great historical insight into this fascinating area.
Burrawang Walk Loop
The Burrawang Walk Loop is a 1.2km loop which can take around 15 to 45 minutes to walk. It’s difficulty rating is ‘easy’ and I suggest after walking it, it is. It begins at the Kurnell Visitor Centre. As you walk along, it provides you with the story of the meeting of European and indigenous Aboriginal culture. Then you will pass several historic sites – including the Welcome Wall, Meeting Place, Soundscape, Cook’s Landing Place, Ferry Shelter Shed, Banks’ Memorial and the freshwater stream. Each site has a plaque and information to help you discover and understand what occurred at each site.
The Banks Solander Track is also an easy walk of 700m, which takes 15-30 minutes. It is a very peaceful walk that takes you past eucalypts, banksias and ferns – plants that Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander documented so much information about. There are plenty of informative panels showcasing the numerous plants as you walk along. I particularly love the banksias and have some in my own garden.
Maru and Yena Loop
The Maru and Yena Loop is about 2.5km long and will take about 1 hour – depending on how fast you walk and what you stop to look at. This track takes you out to the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and back again. It is rather spectacular. I would make sure it is a nice clear day to ensure you can see everything.
Cape Baily Coast Walk
The Cape Baily Coast Walk is the longest of all the walks and is classified as ‘medium’. It is about 8km, 4km each way, and can take around 2.5 hours depending on how fast you walk and what you look at.
You can start on this track at a couple of points. You can walk the Yena Trail which joins the Solander Track and leads to the Cape Baily Coast Walk.
The Cape Baily Coast Walk is quite spectacular and takes you past clifftops overlooking the Pacific Ocean, diverse flora and fauna and the Cape Baily Lighthouse. At the end of this walk you will need to either turn back to Kurnell or continue another 5km to Cronulla.
Whale watching at Cape Solander
Cape Solander is a fantastic place to whale watch. Every year between May and July the whales migrate north – and migrate south between September and November. If lucky you will see Southern Right and Humpback Whales and loads of dolphins swimming and playing in the area. You can visit Cape Solander when you take one of the walks – or you could drive. If you drive you will need to pay the $10 entrance fee to the park.
Seaside Village and Silver Beach
Sit along the shore and enjoy the view
As a child visiting Kurnell, I remember a corner grocery store and maybe a shop to get an ice-cream. The grocery store still exists but there are now coffee shops and stores to wile away your time. Or you can walk along Silver Beach as many locals and visitors do. You could have a swim or just take in the view overlooking Botany Bay. There are views to Sydney Airport, where you will see the planes landing and taking off. Or you could sit on the foreshore. If you would like to have a picnic, bring some food.
For more information about Kurnell and the local area visit https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/kurnell-area
Where to stay in Kurnell – if you want to stay longer than a day
The accommodation in Kurnell is very limited. There is a caravan park along Silver Beach or there are holiday homes to rent. Other accommodation can be found in Cronulla. There are a number of options there including: For budget travellers there is the excellent Cronulla Beach Backpackers. For budget to mid-range accommodation try the Cronulla Motor Inn and the Quest Cronulla Beach. For a mid to high-range accommodation try the Rydges Cronulla Beachside. If an apartment is more your style try the Cronulla Beach Break or the Coquillage Cronulla Beachside Apartment.
What to bring to Kurnell
You might want to bring some food for a picnic. If you plan to do some of the walks, I suggest you have a water bottle, a good waterproof jacket (as along the cliff faces it can be very windy) and a good pair of walking shoes. And maybe a towel to cool off in the ocean.
A final Word on visiting Kurnell
Kurnell and the Kamay Botany Bay National Park are both very interesting. They will provide a glimpse into the history of Australia from both the Aboriginal and the European point of view. Whatever you may think about what happened here in Kurnell and how Kurnell is known as the birthplace of modern Australia, it is an easy day trip from Sydney to discover for yourself.