A Self-Guided Walk in Vaucluse
This morning I head East to one of the most affluent suburbs of Sydney, Vaucluse. The forecast is for a hot day, and I’m looking forward to a coastal breeze as well as wide views across the harbour.
My bus stops at Kincoppal-Rose Bay School, the beautiful stone school building standing out against the clear blue sky. The views stretch across the harbour to the city, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Later I see a tour bus stop here for a photo opportunity.
The Hermitage Foreshore Walk
The Hermitage Foreshore Walk is the starting point of my walk. Some young boys enter the path ahead of me. They have come up from Blakehurst for the day, having discovered the walk on the internet.
The path hugs the harbour foreshore and passes something unexpected, a cemetery with rows of uniform graves marked with identical steel crosses. The graves are in the grounds of Kincoppal. Apparently Sacré Coeur Sisters, from the Convent and school, are buried here.
Before long, I come across the tiny little Queen’s Beach. Two seagulls strut along the waters edge. The boys from Blakehurst inspect the rockpools while a seaplane takes off in the distance.
Continuing along the Hermitage Walk, the path meanders through a group of fig trees, their roots tumbling over rock edges and clinging to rock faces.
The mansions on my right would be worth a small fortune. Their occupants won’t need to leave their lounge room on New Year’s Eve to see the fireworks. I wonder what they think of the ordinary folk who wander past their front yards at all times of the day.
Hermit Point seems to be a popular spot for fishing, and picnicking. Unfortunately, some picnickers have up and left without taking their rubbish with them. The couple behind me voice what I am thinking “Oh look at that” and “who does that, it’s so gross”. Yet we all walk past the mess without picking it up.
Strickland House and Milk Beach
Scaffolding clads the heritage-listed Strickland House (formerly Carrara) which is currently being renovated. The grounds and garden are open to the public during the day, and I take a quick look around.
A couple sunbake on Milk Beach, another little-known tiny beach in front of Strickland House. It seems to me that the Hermitage Foreshore Walk is really a discovery walk of little harbourside beaches.
Shadows from the branches above me fall on the path ahead. One of the shadows moves. A wattle bird, totally unconcerned by my presence jumps from branch to branch. “You beautiful thing” passes through my mind.
A young man walking towards me tells his friends that “no one knew about this stuff ‘til Instagram really and now you come here and it’s just full of….” Noticing me and my camera, he stops. People are walking the Hermitage Walk, enjoying the outdoors and the view. But I disagree with him, the walk isn’t overrun with walkers or “full” at all.
The Hermitage Walk passes Greycliffe House, an historic sandstone mansion built in 1852. Listed on the Australian Register of the National Estate, it’s a good example of neo-gothic Victorian architecture. A sign warns that only New South Wales Parks and Wildlife Services people may enter the house while the Gardens are available for hire.
Sounds of laughter reach my ears as I approach Shark Beach. People sit under colourful umbrellas or on camp chairs on the grass lining the beach. Fortunately, the sea breeze provides a welcome relief from the hot baking sun.
Family groups trickle in carrying chairs, umbrellas and picnic bags. Nielsen Park is obviously a popular spot, perhaps made more so by the presence of a shark net and café.
Houses in Vaucluse
Continuing on, I pass Shakespeare’s Point and then Bottle and Glass Point arriving at a suburban street. Here the wealth of Vaucluse is evident. The houses are large and well-maintained houses, many obscured by walls and high neatly clipped hedges.
With street parking the only option for visitors to Nielsen Park, the street is lined with parked cars. Two women and their children pass me on the footpath, dragging towels, bags and other beach paraphernalia. They have a bit of a walk.
Unfortunately, there’s no time to explore Vaucluse House and its beautiful gardens. The Vaucluse Tearooms only open from Wednesday to Friday. Today is Monday and the milkshake I’ve been hanging out for will have to wait.
An interesting white tower gleams in the sun from a garden in Wentworth Road. Later research tells me that the tower is actually a light house – the rear Vaucluse leading light – that guides sailors down the Eastern Channel into Sydney Harbour . I also learn about the house and house prices in Vaucluse.
The six bedroom, four-bathroom house with large entertaining areas last sold in 2015 for over $10 000 000 having been owned by the Canadian government for the previous fifty years.
Johnston’s Lookout is a bit out of the way, but the view from here is nothing but spectacular. The panorama stretches from Manly and North Head round to the city. I walk back and forth absorbing the view and identifying familiar landmarks.
A large blue and white container ship glides through the calm harbour waters. The distinctive Manly Ferry comes into view and other craft cruise past.
My next stop is the Wentworth Mausoleum, managed by Sydney Living Museums as part of Vaucluse House. It lies between two private homes on Chapel Street and is separated from Vaucluse House by residential development.
A palisade fence surrounds the simple Mausoleum gardens. I walk through the open gate to investigate the small chapel. In the semi darkness, making out the sarcophagus and a slab concealing the crypt entrance. The stained-glass window adds colour to an otherwise gloomy scene.
A “Private, No Entry” sign deters me from taking the foot path to the heritage listed Wentworth Memorial Church behind the Mausoleum. Instead, taking the long way around, I pass an open garage door, left open by painters. The room behind the garage houses a billiard table.
Wentworth Memorial Church
At the church, ignoring another red and white “Keep Out” sign, I walk up the steep driveway to the church forecourt. Leaf litter piles up in corners and blows across the paving. It seems abandoned.
Later I discover that the property hasn’t been used as a church since 2006. Apparently bought by a funeral parlour in 2017, the building was resold mid-2018 for an undisclosed figure. So, in fact, I was trespassing.
A signposted path from the street takes me to the suspension bridge at Parsley Bay. Youths ignore the signs not to jump from the bridge. A dad in the water below them instructs his young sons to “keep away from the landing area”.
Parsley Bay is quieter than Nielsen Park. I buy myself a much sought after milkshake from the kiosk and rest in the shade under an umbrella.
Then I continue on to look for Kutti Beach, the last small beach for me to discover today.
Hidden away at the end of Wharf Road, Kutti Beach appears to be (but isn’t) a private beach accessed by a narrow set of wooden stairs which you’ll only find if you know where to look (see Day Notes). Two large black dogs run up and down the little beach, leads trailing behind them. The water is clear and the breeze refreshing.
Back up the stairs, a tradie pulls up in his ute and parks behind a Lamborghini. There certainly is money in this suburb.
The uphill walk to the other side of the South Head peninsula is an effort in the summer heat, but soon I stand on the crest of the ridge with the gleaming white Macquarie Lighthouse in front of me.
Designed by Francis Greenway, Macquarie Lighthouse (Australia’s first lighthouse), began operating in 1818. Sixty five years later, a new lighthouse replaced the original whose foundations were crumbling.
South Head General Cemetery
Down the road in South Head General Cemetery lie the graves of a number of well-known people including Australia’s first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton; the Packer family vault and a memorial to activist Juanita Nielsen.
A Day Well Spent
This Vaucluse discovery has opened my eyes to a side of Sydney I really should have known more about. I’ve walked the Hermitage Foreshore walk for the first time, found secluded little beaches, discovered a Mausoleum, and enjoyed spectacular views of Sydney Harbour. A day well spent.
And a couple of random photos
Do you know where there is another sandstone bus shelter in Sydney?