I seldom venture to suburbs south of Sydney. Today I am traveling two hours each way to Cronulla. As I cross the river from my home on Dangar Island I am delighted to see a pod of dolphins. The early start has already been worthwhile.
When I get off the train at Cronulla Station, a surfer carrying his board gets off too. I recently learned that Cronulla is one of four iconic Sydney beaches featured on the National Surfing Reserve Register. Surfers are drawn to the waves here.I start my walk by going through the railway underpass as if I were going to the ferry and Bundeena. I didn’t take a photo last time. This time I do. Instead of taking the ferry, I’ll be walking along the shore of Gunnamatta Bay towards Bass and Flinders point and then on to the esplanade and beaches.
Sounds of domesticity come from the low rise units on my left. Someone is clearing away their breakfast dishes. The clear waters of Gunnamatta Bay are on my right. A man has climbed a mast at the sailing club. A woman in her bathing suit cleans the windows of a large cruiser. It is a lovely day to be outside.
A large Council sign warns that people who vandalise trees face a huge fine and that each vandalised tree will be replaced with five new ones. Another sign warns swimmers about the presence of blue ringed octopus. The swimmers in the enclosed baths don’t seem concerned.
Rather than walk through the fourteen acres of Gunnamatta Park, I take a chance and walk along the sandy foreshore hoping that the tide doesn’t cut me off. The crystal-clear water is very inviting. The houses are amazing with spectacular views across the bay. There is obviously a lot of money around here. There are boatsheds and swimming pools and I am reminded of walking along Clontarf Beach on the northern side of Sydney Harbour. The sand ends but fortunately there is a path up to the road. A shirtless workman lies on a roof scraping the fascia board. Expensive cars are parked in driveways. I reflect on my preconceived ideas of Cronulla and ‘The Shire’ and the people who live here. I wonder what locals think about the Cronulla Riots, over ten years ago. Is the suburb scarred by what happened then?
I admire the rich red bark of aged angophoras and the gnarled branches of old eucalypts. The entrance to Hungry Point appears to be private property. Instead I take the path down to Darook Park. What a beautiful, peaceful place. I sit on a bench and drink in the view. The clear water washes over the rockpools lining the shore.
Returning to the road, I find a path leading to the Esplanade. Taking a side track towards Hungry Point, I am surprised by a rustle in the bush beside the path. Hopefully it’s not a snake. The track ends at a steep drop down to flat weathered rocks below. There’s a rope to assist with the descent. I turn back towards Salmon Haul. Some young mums are swimming. The clarity of the water continues to amaze me. Looking across to Bundeena, I make out the ferry wharf and the route I took a few weeks ago.
A plaque amongst some Cabbage Palms explains that similar palms grew here in the 1700s. I am surprised to see a sign indicating Hungry Point. I thought the point was way behind me. It turns out to be a pretty ordinary fishing spot. There is no one there. I continue on to the Bass and Flinders monument which commemorates their discovery and naming of Port Hacking in 1796. A passing runner stops for water. The day is heating up.
The walk along The Esplanade meanders past pools and other swimming areas. People are enjoying the water and sunshine. I wonder how busy it gets on weekends. Turning a corner, the Town Centre and Cronulla Beach spread out in front of me. It is the longest and only beach accessible by train in Sydney.
The few unrenovated and unkempt cottages seem out of place alongside designer beach homes. Developers would be keeping an eye on them. A shirtless young man is sunbathing, a large Southern Cross tattooed across his side. A symbol of patriotism or a sign of racism?
The sun is beating down and I’m pleased to stop at The Nun’s Pool for an early lunch and large drink of icy water. While waiting for my zucchini and haloumi fritters, I read how the restaurant is named after a sea pool once used by nuns for discreet bathing.
A pleasant cooling breeze helps against the harsh heat of the sun. It is now over 30 degrees and I make good use of the bubblers placed at regular intervals along the path. The young woman wearing only a turquoise cossie is going be very sore tonight.
Near the beach, I read about the development of surfing in what was once known as the ‘Manly of the southern side of Sydney”. The excited chatter of children greets me. A large school group is learning to surf. A diving buoy makes me stop. I look for the diver and can just make out his flippers in the glistening water. The concrete path continues parallel to the shore. If it weren’t so hot, this would be a very pleasant walk. I consider calling it a day, but I want to reach the dunes that I can see in the distance. They were Heritage Listed in 2003. I soon realise that they are much further than anticipated. I’ll have to visit them another day.
The return walk is hot and unpleasant. I come across a Surfing Walk of Fame unveiled in 2015 to celebrate 100 years of surfing in Cronulla. I am looking for Grind, a much written about coffee shop. Instead I find myself in a mall, much like any other beachside mall. Finally, I relax at Grind. The 60s décor is interesting and the coffee good. But I wonder about the wisdom of always visiting the places that have been written up. Surely newer places also deserve a mention?
Walking back to the station, I notice a tattoo parlour. The window, unusually is clear and I can see three tattoo artists at work. I stand watching, fascinated. One of the artists sees me staring. He smiles and waves. A pretty young woman with pink and blue hair walks past me. She tells me to “come in” and “don’t be scared”. We chat and she shows me her most recent tattoo. The skin is still swollen and the area like a coloured scab. When she tells me to “come in whenever you’re ready”, I am so close to just walking in to get the scallop shell on my ankle that I have talked about ever since completing the Camino de Santiago (twice). If I wasn’t so hot and sweaty ……
Happily, the train home is air-conditioned. I am so pleased that I journeyed South today. I’ve had a good day and if I am honest, Cronulla surprised me. I’m even considering spending a couple of nights there to explore further. After all it is only 2 hours by train from my place.
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(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):