The perfect way to get to Watson’s Bay is by ferry. However, because I made a mistake with the timetable, I am on a rather crowded bus, winding through the Eastern Suburbs of Double Bay, Rose Bay and Vaucluse. There are views of the harbour, expensive houses and designer shops.
The final stop is Watson’s Bay near Robertson park, so named after Sir John Robertson who was a five-time Premier of NSW. His now demolished house, Clovelly, stood in what today is a treed and grassy park. Children chatter in the playground. A plane flies overhead and workers are preparing for the tourist onslaught, cleaning floors, sweeping pavements and unloading supplies. Watson’s Bay is Australia’s oldest fishing village. Fish and chips here, at Doyle’s, is a bucket list item for visitors to Sydney.
There is a stone bench near the wharf. Words carved into the sandstone inform me that Watson’s Bay was named after Robert Watson. His career included being Quartermaster of HMS Sirius and Superintendent of Macquarie Lighthouse. Walking along Marine Parade, the clear harbour water laps the sand. A yacht tender has the Aboriginal flag painted on its bow. A passesrby asks me if I know what the colours of the flag represent. I do. Red for the earth, black for the Aboriginal People themselves and yellow for the sun.
At the end of Marine Parade, a short flight of stairs leads to Pacific Street. The houses are a mixture of little old weatherboard cottages and new bigger and more modern homes. Brass plaques indicate that some of the cottages are on the National Register.
A timeline in a little park on the corner of Victoria Street explains that this area, once a lagoon, was a source of fish for Indigenous people and the new settlers. A Russian scientist then set up a Marine Biological Station here after which it was used by the army. The Heritage Station itself is hidden behind a tall fence.
An unclear path descends via a set of stairs to Green (Laings) Point. The water is calm. Two fishermen stand patiently on the rocks hoping for a bite. The city can be seen in the distance across the sparkling water. During WWII, an anti- torpedo and anti- midget submarine boom net stretched from here across the harbour to Georges Head. All that remains today is the floor of the winch house. The nearby obelisk has nothing to do with the boom. It was erected in the 1850s as a navigational marker. The circular track passes Green Point Cottage, which together with a couple of other heritage cottages is the subject of local protest against turning these Watson’s Bay icons into function centres.
A set of wooden stairs take me to the beach at Camp Cove. A man wades into the water for his morning swim while another dries himself off. He tells me the water is a balmy 17 degrees. The tide is going out, leaving a wavy line of vegetation along the sand. Bits of coloured plastic contrast against the sticks and drying seaweed. The battle to stop plastic entering our waterways has a long way to go.
The kiosk at the end of the beach is closed and I follow a path past a large black canon and other ‘tunnels’ – a reminder of the area’s military history. There are steep and according to the signs, dangerous cliffs on my left. The Military Base, HMAS Watson on my right has no public access. Tiny little superb fairy wrens flit around on the grass. The brightly coloured male is curious about my camera. He approaches, but not close enough for a reasonable photo.
Lady Bay Beach (or Lady Jane Beach as it is also called) is one of the few nudist beaches in Sydney. On the rocks in the distance a few bronzed bodies soak up the sun. It is a fabulous day for it. This walk is called The South Head Heritage Trail Loop. It goes past one of the two Lighthouse Keepers Cottages and takes me to the red and white striped Hornby Lighthouse around the corner. It is the third oldest lighthouse in New South Wales and still warns ships to keep clear of the dangerous cliffs. North Head is clearly visible across the water while the deep blue Pacific Ocean is flat and there’s a line of low white cloud hugging the horizon.
Returning to Watson’s Bay Wharf along the road I pass more pretty, old cottages along the way. For lunch, I decide on the customary plate of fish and chips. That and a cup of coffee set me up for the rest of my day. The plan for the afternoon is to walk along the cliff taking in the views from The Gap and The Gap Bluff and then to continue to The Gap Park. The view out to sea from the various lookouts is magnificent, but I can’t help thinking briefly about the negative aspects of The Gap, a known suicide spot. An emergency phone to Lifeline (13 11 14) is prominently placed near the steps. The beauty of my surroundings, the sun sparkling on the water and the hope of seeing a whale soon distract me.
A man in a black suit and tie seems out of place among the casually dressed tourists. He is a chauffeur, waiting for his client to finish lunch. He tells me that last week there was a whale in the harbour. My eyes follow the afternoon whale watching cruises hopefully. Suddenly there is a massive splash in the water. It is too far to make out anything more, but there are definitely whales out there.
On the coastal path is the huge anchor that was recovered from the 1857 wreck of the Dunbar when all but one of the 122 passengers and crew on board perished. Interestingly the sole survivor, James Johnson, became the first Head Lighthouse keeper when the lighthouse was completed the following year. The path meanders along the coastline to a clearing where I find a tribute to Don Richie “The Angel or Watchman of The Gap”. Don was a local man who would approach people who seemed to be contemplating jumping and ask if he could help them. His kind words saved many lives. To quote Don, ‘Always remember the power of a simple smile, A helping hand, a listening ear and a kind word ‘.
There are three heritage listed buildings to see in Old South Head Road. The quaint sandstone St Peter’s Church has amazing views of the harbour. Further along, and back from the road, is an old scout hall and former school residence. Next door is the larger Our Lady Star of the Sea church. They are all worth a quick look.
At the end of Salisbury street, a path leads to the site of the old Lifeboat Station (more recently a Pilot Station). Then, it’s a flat walk along the harbour foreshore to Watson’s Bay Wharf. I pass the baths (more plastic debris cluttering up the sand), the Library and Tea House, the Vaucluse Yacht Club and Dunbar House where people are enjoying lunch out on the veranda.
My timing is perfect. The return ferry to the city is just pulling in. After a lovely day walking harbourside and along the coast, discovering history along the way, I am glad that I caught the bus here and can take the ferry back. My day has come in full circle.
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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 toilet map may be of use.
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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):