It’s Mum and my third and final day together on the Sydney Coast and Harbour Walk so we catch a bus up to the northern terminus at Palm Beach. It’s about 1.5 hours by bus from Manly with a change half way. Today the bus ride gives the sky a chance to clear a bit so that we don’t have to start our walk in the drizzle that is falling when we leave the hotel.
We disembark from the bus on the harbour side of Palm Beach just south of Barrenjoey Headland. The view out over Pitwater Bay is spectacular. Mum tells me that it reminds her of Greece, which immediately makes me want to add Greece to my ever expanding list of places to visit. The sight of all the yachts moored in the bay conjures up mental images of deck shoes, linen clothes, blue skies, sandy beaches and tangled hair. Having sailed as a child, I know the reality is something different but it’s nice to have these mental images.
The sand on the shores of Pitwater Bay is hard and easy to walk along. We follow it north towards Barrenjoey Headland.
At the end of the beach a restored sandstone roadway leads away from the beach and up towards the lighthouse. As always, Sydney’s rocky landscape takes my breath away. It feels so wild and epic to be amongst these small cliff lines and massive boulders.
We pass the Smugglers Route and follow the restored roadway to the headland instead. It’s incredibly steep! The road simply climbs up without concern for gradient. It’s a good workout.
With rewarding views of Palm Beach from the top.
The Barrenjoey Lighthouse is a stunning sandstone structure. It was built in 1881 from sandstone that was quarried onsite. The Smuggler’s Route to the top (which we follow back down the headland) was built in the 1850s to allow local authorities to monitor local waterways for smugglers. You can take tours of the lighthouse on Sundays, which is something I might do in future.
After a spot of geocaching we descended down the Smugglers Route and walked out onto the seaward-facing Palm Beach. It felt good to take my shoes off and walk along the beach for a short distance feeling the sand between my toes. But only for a short distance. The sand was soft and I have to admit my legs were feeling a bit fatigued from four days of walking so we soon retreated to the path just above the beach.
One of the things I like about the Sydney Coast and Harbour Walk is that it is so civilised. There are many cafés, restaurants and take away shops at which to refuel and enjoy the beach culture. In the past I always scoffed at this type of luxury hiking but now I enjoy a more balanced view, being quite happy to have a mix of roughing it and comfort in my life. We stop for some morning tea treats at a cute place with a view of the beach commenting on how lovely the presentation of the shop and food is.
No sooner do we leave the café than we are challenged by the next steep climb of the day. Multiple flights of steep rough steps take us up to the top of the headland between Palm Beach and Whale Beach. The path is a narrow old easement between closely spaced houses but it feels quite wild due to the greenery that hugs the rocks.
We detour briefly from the trail to visit the Biblical Gardens. The gardens are stunning. They have been established and maintained by a local church group and contain a range of biblical and edible plants, such as a fig tree, a Jonas tree and an apple tree. The view north from this gorgeous resting place makes the climb worthwhile. We can see exactly where we’ve walked so far as well as the seascape beyond Barrenjoey Headland.
The next section of the trail follows steep local roads around the heads. It passes houses with million dollar views and impossibly steep driveways. From the road we look out over Whale Beach and the next headland we will need to cross. Everywhere there are houses perched along the waterfront and headlands, all competing for the best ocean views.
There are surfers at every beach we pass. The culture is certainly alive and well here on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Men and women of all ages hit the waves under the gaze of the mansions sitting on their manicured lawns.
There is a seawater pool at the southern end of Whale Beach and, beyond it around the heads, there is this sculpture. I learned about it through the geocaching game and it was worth the extra few hundred meters walking to come here. The sculpture is an old man surrounded by lizards and a turtle. I don’t know how or why the sculpture is there tucked away from most prying eyes. Even a Google search came up blank. But it is a stunning work of art that shows the mystery artist’s skills.
Back on Whale Beach we stop for lunch under the shade of the pines. We’ve carried some tinned tuna, bread rolls and a Greek salad. I love this sort of picnic where you have simple food on a bench in a park or natural place.
After lunch we set off on the final leg of today’s walk. Again we have to leave the beach to cross another headland. This time we have the pleasure of leaving the road to walk up a bush path. Being Sydney there are many rock steps to scale. This is one of the most beautiful stretches of this most northern section of the trail. It takes us from Whale Beach across to Avalon Beach.
As with the rest of the walk, the path takes us to breathtaking views of the confluence between nature and man. The place where cliffs and pounding waves meet mansions and manicured lawns.
I wasn’t sure what to expect on my Sydney Coast and Harbour Walk adventure. I learned about it through Lotsa Fresh Air’s blog. When there were some cheap flights available between the Gold Coast and Sydney I booked on a whim. What I have discovered is that Sydney is not all corporate suits and hectic traffic. There is a whole other side to this much maligned Australian city. There are beaches and cliffs, views and mansions. But mostly, there is an amazing strong surfing culture that booms as loud as the crashing waves. I’m no surfer but I love to watch it and have enjoyed lessons in the past. I can see myself coming back to Sydney more regularly to explore the rest of the Sydney Coast and Harbour Walk, take a few more surfing lessons, paddle a kayak and explore the many dining options available.
If you are interested in this walk, check out the Sydney Coast and Harbour Walk website. There are more than 300km of trails to explore so I have only touched on a small section.