The name "Ku-ring-gai"is an ethnonym referring to (a) an hypothesis regarding an aggregation of Indigenous Australian peoples occupying the territory between the southern borders of the Gamilaraay and the area around Sydney (b) perhaps an historical people with its own distinctive language, located in part of that territory, or (c) people of Aboriginal origin who identify themselves as descending from the original peoples denoted by (a) or (b) and who call themselves Guringai.
Little about the original inhabitants was recorded by Europeans at contact and their communities were soon destroyed through disease and conflict with European settlers.
The national park contains extensive evidence of Aboriginal occupation of the area prior to European contact, across more than 800 sites in the park. These include rock engravings, cave drawings, occupation sites, paintings and stencils, axe grinding grooves and middens providing significant evidence of the way of life of the Guringai people.
It was previously underdeveloped by early settlers due to poor accessibility and low soil fertility, except for some of the more fertile ridgetops. Sawmills were established in the 1830s, including at the upper reaches of Cowan Creek where Duffy's Wharf was built to transport logs.
The Pacific Highway and railway built along the ridgetop forming the park's current western border provided access to Cowan Creek along which pioneers settled. 40 hectares at Gerard Point, now Church Point, were granted to James Terry of Gordon.
Following pressure from a local citizen, Eccleston Du Faur, to establish a "National Park for North Sydney", approximately 13,500 hectares, including not only land areas but also most of Cowan Water, was set aside in 1894 as Ku-ring-gai Chase as a conservation area, and placed under the care, control and management of trustees. It is the third oldest national park in Australia, with the Royal National Park being the oldest.
The television series, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo was shot in northern Sydney at Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and the adjacent Waratah Park. Bushfires ravaged the park in January 1994.
Ku-ring-gai Chase is part of the Hornsby Plateau, a massive block of sandstone tilting upwards to the north. The park comprises a plateau with an elevation of generally 150–200 m above sea level. The plateau is divided into separate sections by the steep valleys of Cowan Creek, Coal and Candle Creek, and Smiths Creek. These "flooded" or "drowned" valleys, knowns as rias, were eroded into the sandstone much deeper than the current sea level during the glacial phases of the Pleistocene ice age. When the ice caps melted about 10,000 years ago, the sea levels rose and flooded the valleys of the park.
Flora and fauna
Visitor information centre
- 1 Bobbin Head Information Centre, 688 Ku-ring-gai Chase Road, Mount Colah. 10AM-4PM daily, closed during noon-12:30PM for lunch. Open 9AM-4PM during the NSW summer school holidays. Visitors can learn about the historic indigenous significance of the land to the Guringai people here, along with local flora and fauna.
Rail access is provided at Mount Colah, Mount Kuring-gai, Berowra and Cowan railway stations. All roads in the area are paved and all have collection gates where a daily fee is payable. Do note that going from one section of the park to another may require you to go out of the park and back in. If so, keep your ticket given, and it should say that it's valid until 23:59 that day.
Major entry points by car include Bobbin Head Road, and West Head Road. Access to Akuna Bay is from General San Martin Dr.
The only section where your ticket won't be valid is the Palm Beach section, however, that area is free to access and you won't need a ticket anyway given that the Palm Beach area is very small. You will however, need to pay parking fees for the council parking lot.
Fees and permits
Entry with a car is $12 for a day. For vehicles over 8 seats, the fees $4.40 per adult, $2.20 per child per day.
Many of the park's attractions are accessible only by walking track. Many kilometres of park front the southern shoreline of Broken Bay making it a good place to explore by boat.
Bobbin Head/Western side
- 1 Kalkari Discovery Centre, 402 Ku-Ring-Gai Chase Rd, Mount Colah, ☏ . 9AM-4:30PM. Closed Christmas. A little more on Aboriginal rock art here as well as some history and geography of the area.
- 2 Sphinx Memorial, Sphinx Rd, North Turramurra. 8AM-5:30PM. Created by a returned solider from WWI, the Sphinx Memorial was created in memory of those who had lost their lives during WWI.
- 3 Barrenjoey Lighthouse, 1199D Barrenjoey Rd, Palm Beach. Guided tours every Sunday. The northernmost point of Sydney, this lighthouse was built in 1881 and is made out of sandstone.
- 4 Basin Aboriginal art site. An aboriginal rock art. Although accessibility is hard, it's still worth the trek up here. Best viewed in the morning or arvos.
- Red Hands cave.
- Great North walk.
- 1 Topham walking track. 3.7km return track which takes about 1-2 hours, most suited for those interested in wildlife and scenic views.
- 2 Aboriginal Heritage walk. Passes through numerous Aboriginal rock art and engravings, and is one of the highlights of West Head. 4.4km loop and takes about 2.5-3.5 hours.
- West Head army track, ☏ . 0.45km trail one way. It should take about 15-35 minutes one way depending on fitness levels. There's also a steep ladder dropping an elevation of almost about 50m, so be prepared to climb up and down ladders if you're doing this trail.
- 1 Bobbin Inn Cafe, 688 Ku-Ring-Gai Chase Rd, Mount Colah, ☏ .
- Pittwater YHA, ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Halls Wharf. This quiet hostel is accessible only by ferry. There are lots of local bushwalking and kayaking opportunities. Dorm beds $23 per night. Double or twin rooms $60 per night. 
- The Basin campground, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Contact the National Parks and Wildlife staff. Booking is essential. This campground is near West Head on Pittwater. This is the national park's only campground. The campground is accessible by ferry from Palm Beach wharf or by water taxi from many local wharves. You can also drive or cycle to West Head and walk to the campground (2.8 km). The campground has drinking water, toilets and cold showers. There is a $10 per night fee for adults and $5 per night fee for children.