From where I live, it takes me two hours to reach the Northern Beaches. But, a blog about suburban Sydney must include these wonderful seaside suburbs. To make the journey more pleasurable, I’ll get the ferry to Manly and walk through Manly (touristy and not a high priority for me) to Freshwater. Apart from Freshwater Beach, there is a heritage trail there that that I’m keen to explore.
As the ferry passes Garden Island, I reminisce about one of my first suburban discoveries. I alighted at Garden Island and explored the museum and enjoyed the stunning views. In Manly I look for somewhere for breakfast. Café Moustache is a little hole in the wall with a few small tables in an arcade. When my generous bowl of muesli, yoghurt and honey with fruit arrives I am pleased I stopped here. The meal is beautifully presented and delicious.
The path along the beach is relatively busy for a weekday. A group of mums with babies in strollers are finishing off an exercise class. Dog walkers stop and greet each other. Tourists pose for photographs or remove their shoes and set off across the sand to test the water.
At the northern end of the beach, I cross the sand and head for the swimming pool. One hardy person is swimming laps. A young woman in exercise gear poses for photographs. Beyond the pool, I clamber over rocks, aiming for the pink heart painted on the rock face at the end of the headland. The heart marks the entrance to a ‘secret’ tunnel. I am pleased to be wearing sturdy shoes. The wet rocks are slippery in places and the ‘beware of rockfalls’ signs are rather disconcerting. I don’t think I would attempt this at high tide. There, just as described, and to the left of the heart is the tunnel entrance. The Wormhole or Queenscliff Tunnel as it is called, was cut into the rock by local fishermen in 1908. A colourful door hanging has been painted over the opening. I can just see light reflecting on the wet walls and floor at the Freshwater end of the tunnel. I walk carefully over the uneven surface to the other side where, the expansive view of the ocean is mine to enjoy. I listen to the sound of the crashing waves and inspect the beautifully weathered sandstone before retracing my steps. I don’t attempt to walk on to Freshwater via the rocks. A woman and her two children are making their way to the tunnel. It is not so secret after all.
Beyond the swimming pool, I climb the stairs to Freshwater. I was here a few years ago when I walked the 50km Coastrek. Today is rather more relaxed. A sign carved into a rock indicates the way to Harbord, evidence that Freshwater was once known as Harbord. The suburb was first called Freshwater and the local public school, built in 1912, was Freshwater Public. In 1923 after a strong community push, the suburb became Harbord after the Harbord Estate. In 2008 after a public consultation and vote it reverted to the original name of Freshwater.
I turn right into Pavilion Street, towards Freshwater View Reserve. The sandstone archway leads me into a beautiful garden surrounded by a beautiful high sandstone wall. The manicured lawns and magnificent view of Freshwater beach and beyond make this a very special place. It reminds me of The Bible Garden that I discovered when exploring Palm Beach, tucked away as it is between two houses.
I pause to take in the view before returning to Crown Road, turning into Bridge Road and descending the steps and a pedestrian pathway to the beach. It is a pleasant walk along the beach to the rock pool where, in winter, the occasional New Zealand seal may be seen baking on the surrounding rocks. There is no seal today but a large pied cormorant is sunning itself on a nearby rock
Wetsuits are drying over balconies, and surfboards lean against walls. This is a suburb of surfers. After climbing the stairs to Evans Street, I turn right and walk past the Harbord Diggers (that name again). In McKillop park I find the commemorative statue of Duke Kahanamoku (Hawaiian Olympic Swimmer) demonstrating surfing on his long board in Freshwater in 1915. His visit to Australia helped to popularise surfing in Australia. I read about Duke doing a similar demonstration in North Cronulla when I explored that suburb.
My route takes me back through a car park parallel to the beach. This area is the first World Surfing Reserve in Australia. I walk along the Life Member Avenue to The Freshwater Surf Lifesaving Club. Apparently, Duke’s board and other memorabilia are in the heritage room here, but I can’t see how to access it.
The next stop on my map is a fine example of a federation style weatherboard building. Today the heritage building is home to the two hatted Pilu Restaurant. Further on is the Harbord Beach Hotel, with its interwar architecture and Californian bungalow influence. The route takes me past a shopping village. Similar to many suburbs of Sydney, I get the feeling that this part of the walk is going to be a disappointment. The next two points of interest on the map are underwhelming but then I get inspired again.
Soldiers Avenue is lined with brushboxes, planted to commemorate local residents who died in WWll. The remaining trees are heritage listed. I can only find one of the two remaining original tree guards, but laminated histories and photographs of local people who fought and died in the service of our country are pinned to trees. At the end of the street a marble wall identifies the street as one of the last remaining Soldiers Avenue of Honour in Greater Sydney.
In nearby Jacka Park, children from the local school practice throwing and catching. In a corner is the Wall of Remembrance with rosemary bushes planted in a row on either side of the obelisk.
I make my way back to the beach and on to Manly. Apart from interesting street art, and the soothing sounds of the ocean waves, there is nothing more of note. I don’t get to the beach often enough and enjoyed my time today. But, if you decide to go to Freshwater, apart from a quick side trip to Soldier’s Avenue, I suggest you investigate the tunnel, find Dukes statue and enjoy a walk along the beach.
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Next Stop: Paddington
Click here to plan your trip.
Sometimes you have to go. I use any or all of the following: pubs or hotels, train stations (not always open or clean) and I always use the facilities when I have lunch. This map may be of use.
This is the map I vaguely followed.
And a map to assist you: (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):