Waiting for my connection at Central station, I watch the screen scrolling through the suburbs my train will pass through and realise how little time I’ve spent South of Sydney. I recognise place names, but have never set foot in most of them. That must change. Living on the northern outskirts of Sydney it will take me three hours, two trains and a ferry to reach Bundeena (on the South side), but as I’ve never been there, I think it’s worth the effort. I only hope the rain holds off.
I alight at Cronulla with thoughts of the riots, over ten years ago now, passing through my head. I don’t know this area at all. I follow a young, bare-footed, wetsuit clad man carrying a well waxed board off the train. He walks towards the beach. I, on the other hand, turn left towards the underpass and the Tonkin Street Public Wharf. Underpasses often are dark and smelly places and I approach the tunnel warily, but am pleasantly surprised. This one is fully tiled and decorated with artwork by local high school students.
The steady stream of people coming towards me indicates that the Bundeena ferry has arrived. A few people, some with backpacks and walking boots and one with a bike wait for the return journey. I chat to a woman who has lived in Cronulla for three years. This is her first visit to Bundeena. She tells me that this is Gunnamatta Bay, one of many bays in Port Hacking. I am again acutely aware of how little I know about these parts. At least now when I hear weather warnings for Port Hacking, I will know where it is.
Bundeena has close to 2000 residents and is bounded by Port Hacking and the Royal National Park. Road access is through the park. For me, the ferry is part of the adventure. Standing outside in the bow of the ferry, the air is nippy and others retreat inside. I stay, enjoying the freshness and wind in my hair. Fancy double storied waterfront houses with boatsheds line the shore. Hundreds of boats and yachts are moored in the bay. A catamaran sets out for a day on the water. A cormorant comes up for air nearby and then dives underwater again.
I hope to do the Jibbon Head Loop and a Heritage Walk. At Bundeena Wharf, I carelessly start walking without checking the map. I soon have to retrace my steps to the newsagency to get a brochure on the Heritage Walk. The woman at the Newsagent is very helpful, but has no brochure. Fortunately, I have printed a map. But I want to do a bush walk first. I walk past the shell of the RSL which was burnt down about 18 months ago. A notice on the fence updates the community about what is happening regarding the rebuilding. I get the feeling that there is a strong community here. Cockatoos appear to be nesting in one of the old gnarled eucalypts. They are making quite a ruckus. A large glass fronted house with a lift to the upper level dominates the street front. Around the corner is an older single story fibro cottage. This community, like many others, is changing.
I follow the path to Jibbon beach. The city and Kurnell Refinery are clearly visible across the water. Children play in the water. Someone has a kite. The distinctive call of a whip bird cuts through the sound of water lapping on the shore. The sand squeaks beneath my feet. I notice bird footprints amongst human ones on the shore. At the end of the beach I follow the track into the bush. My presence startles a wattle bird feeding deep in the foliage of a banksia. Large bushes are covered in flannel flowers. I pass signs to a ‘nudist beach’ (apparently it isn’t really) and head for the Aboriginal engravings. There’s a viewing platform and with the help of signage I can make out a kangaroo and a mythical figure.
Other carvings are less distinct. Continuing on towards the point, I wonder about the wisdom of doing this bushwalk alone. There are few people around and the track is uneven. Rain has been threatening but is holding off for now. I sit and drink in the view for a few minutes. In June or July whales migrate, but today only a large container ship and a few fishing boats are out at sea. As I set off again, vague feelings of anxiety return. No one really knows where I am and the path is not entirely clear. I walk through a changing landscape. Through thick bush, along the edge of a cliff face and across open areas. The track is at times very muddy and I’m pleased to have worn boots. A few spring blossoms brighten up the grey day. The now sandy path makes walking difficult.
A flash of blue catches my eye. The pretty coloured bird settles on a branch. I must look him up in my bird book when I get home. Another otherwise dull bird has a bright yellow patch on his wing. And what I think is a fairy wren flies very close to my feet across my path. Whip birds follow my progress, but remain hidden. This is a bird watchers’ paradise.
I’ve been walking for half an hour since the last signpost and start to worry again. Where is that turn off? What if I’ve made a mistake? Oh no there it is. I feel silly for worrying unnecessarily. I am sorry to leave the quiet peacefulness of the bush for suburbia once more. There are white ribbons tied to fences. I wonder what they signify. Later I confirm my suspicions. The ribbons are a reminder of the role domestic violence played in the recent death of a local woman. Even a beautiful and peaceful place like Bundeena has its problems.
The weather has turned and I’ll leave the Heritage walk for another day. Instead, I want to savour the memory of the sea, the bird and the bush. There’s time for a quick bite before starting my long journey home.
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(If you would like a pdf of the map, email me via the contact page, and I will send one to 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):