Today I am going to Palm Beach. Preferring to use public transport, I am delighted to discover that I can catch a ferry. Train, bus and ferry to be exact, but quicker for me than getting the bus from the city. The kindly bus driver drives out of his way to the ferry wharf. That’s service for you (or me rather).
The ferry leaves Ettalong Beach Wharf, passes Lion Island and then sails past the wharf where I expected it to pull up. Oh dear. I may be walking further today than I expected. As I stride up the road towards the lighthouse, I am reminded of the Portuguese Camino which I walked last year. A painted white line is all that separates me from the traffic. At least I’ve had plenty of road walking practice.
Besides the golfers enjoying the late autumn sunshine, there is hardly anyone about. A child being pushed on a swing in the playground. A couple looking out to sea from the beach. And “Home and Away” fans photographing the Surf Lifesaving Club. Of course, Palm Beach is “Summer Bay” in the long running soapie.
I make my way past Dunes Kiosk and The Boathouse towards the Barrenjoey Headland. The waters of Pittwater lap the sand. Windsurfers, a couple of yachts and a kite surfer are making the most of the unseasonably warm weather. I take the shorter but more strenuous Smugglers route up to the lighthouse, stopping often for a breather (there are lots and lots of stairs) and to look back at the spectacular view. I love the gentle sound of the waves in the background. Many of the few people on the track are speaking languages other than English. Perhaps after visiting the main Sydney sights, Pittwater is up there on the tourist to do list. It certainly is worth the bus trip from the city.
At the top of the headland the sandstone lighthouse and red roofed buildings stand out against the blue sky. I take a side track passing the grave of the first lighthouse keeper to the site of one of two towers which were the first wooden lighthouses. I can see for miles up the coast. Later in the year I could be lucky and see a whale. I return to sea level via the access route which has been in use since the late 1800s. Steep in places, it has recently been renovated and incorporates sections of the old road into its design. The views continue to amaze me and I stop regularly to take them in.
I have a bite to eat at The Boathouse where women seem to make up most of the clientele. There are young mums with their mums, older women chatting over tea and cake. It’s Thursday, but the place is busy. The car park (ticketed) and picnic areas are less so. I imagine the weekends are hectic and that the BBQs would be in constant use.
Walking along the beach towards the southern end I observe the few people around me. A man strips off and dives under a wave. Another sunbakes. A woman, sits on her chair reading. I chat to a fisherman and his partner who are hoping for salmon for dinner. A group of young people are honing their rock climbing skills. Apparently there are all grades of climbs around here. Some distance ahead a man in a white robe and prayer cap walks along the shore next to a woman in a flowing black burqa. They stop occasionally to point out to sea or inspect something on the golden sand.
My plan is to walk up the stairs at the end of the beach to a garden I read about in my research. It is a garden planted with every plant mentioned in the Bible. A place for quiet reflection. I am sure that a great view awaits me. Following Google Maps, I turn right at the top of the stairs. My map tells me to double back. But there’s only a driveway, no obvious path. I walk back and forth searching for the route. No path. Finally, anxiously, I walk up the driveway. If I’m trespassing, they can only send me back. I come to someone’s garage. As I turn back I spy a sign, hidden in the bushes on my left, pointing to a public path. The locals sure hide the fact that this is a public route. More confident now, I follow my map to 6 Mitchell Road. Here the so-called Bible Garden with its beautifully manicured lawn, terraces and benches is a lovely place for peaceful contemplation, and a place where ordinary me can take in a view usually only seen from the million dollar properties around me.
I’ve about half an hour before the next ferry. Just enough time to wander down to the wharf. I reckon I’ve walked about eight kilometres today, exploring the bush and residential side of Palm Beach and I’m looking forward to the ferry ride back to Ettalong Beach. A relaxing way to end a lovely day.
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Next stop: Balmain
- Half-hour guided tours of the lighthouse are conducted every Sunday. Call (02) 9472 9300 for further information.
- There is no water or toilets at the Lighthouse so take drinks and food with you.
- Parking is $3.40 per hour up to $20 per day. Parking is patrolled.
- From the city take the L88 or L90 bus
- By train take the Central Coast/Newcastle line to Woy Woy. Bus to Ettalong Beach and Ferry from Ettalong Beach. Call 131500 for timetables or use Trip Planner
And a map to assist you:
(NOTE that the time indicated on the map does not allow for any stops. I take an average of 4-5 hours when I explore):