Day 1, Palm Beach Lighthouse to Kiddies Corner
Sydney’s northern beaches stretch 30 km from Palm Beach in the north to North Head near Manly on Sydney Harbour. This stretch of coastline is a jewel in Sydney’s crown offering easy walks and wonderful scenery, with just a few challenging sections if you wish to choose them.
Over the coming weeks of September and October 2010 I plan to walk the length of this fabulous coastline and record the Places, Faces, Photos, Facts and Folks I enjoy along the way. I would appreciate any feed back or requests you would care to give me. Photo courtesy of Google Earth.
Fathers Day 2010 and Louise my daughter and I set off from the car park at North Palm Beach for the climb to the top of Barrenjoey 113 metres. It is a beautiful clear day but there is a strong westerly blowing that sees us as the only walkers on our hike.
The walk to the top takes 15 – 30 minutes, normally you have a choice of two tracks but at the moment the main one is closed for restoration so we used the “Smugglers Track” which is a little steeper but the same great views.
Barrenjoey Lighthouse was built-in 1881 and gives four flashes every 20 seconds that are visible 40 kilometres out to sea, tours are available. Views are expansive from here north to the Cental Coast, west over Broken Bay and Pittwater and south to Manly my final destination. Barrenjoey is part of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park with the main body of the park across the water surrounding West Head.
Just below Barrenjoey there is a great summer surf break called “The Joey”, the 1 kilometre walk from the car park is well rewarded and often you can have the break to yourself. The sand hills to the south of the headland are a popular training ground for the Sea Eagles rugby league team and on occasions the Australian Navy Clearance Divers.
On the walk down the beach you may come across Midget Farrelly, he became the first World Surfing Champion at Manly in 1964 and lives and surfs locally. The Palm Beach Longboarders meet here regularly but the strong westerly gale had cancelled today’s competition and members had gone home early for Father’s day. At the North Palm Beach Surf Club keep an eye out for the stars from Home and Away, many scenes are shot near the clubhouse. The Palm Beach Golf Club is a great place for a beer or snack, with a number of other take-away places also available.
Kiddies Corner at the southern end of the beach is a protected area when the wind is from the south or west and the southerly waves are closing out else where. A great spot to learn how to surf or even to snorkel. A few other things to look out for are the crock carvings and sculptures east of the pool, just take care if the tide is high or the waves large. They are a well-kept local secret, but now you know!
The walk today took about 90 minutes but we could easily have spent the day enjoying the scenery, waves and food at Palm Beach, a wonderful place to start this walk.
Day 2, Kiddies Corner to Avalon Beach
The Sydney Morning Herald’s website forecasted Monster Waves on Sydney’s beaches so it seemed like a good day to walk from Kiddies Corner at Palm Beach to North Avalon. I had eaten my lunch on the headland at South Avalon and watched the building surf and the one lone surfer out in 3 meter + swell. So mid-afternoon I drove to Palm Beach where sadly the onshore wind had flattened a lot of the promising swell but the day was perfect for an energetic walk.
Palm Beach is famous for its wealthy residents and expensive housing, home to the Packer family and the many stories surrounding the legendry Kerry Packer. It has many good surf spots from the “Joey” in the north to “Kiddies” in the south and my walk today starts at Kiddies and behind the swimming pool, there are 228 steps that take you up to the road that links “Palmy” to Whale Beach. There is a secret surf spot half way between the two beaches, I am sure it has a name but I don’t have it, so seek and you will find it working in the right swell. There are some fabulous houses and amazing views as you walk south, just keep your eyes peeled for surfers in cars who have one eye on the ocean and the other one sometimes on the road. This afternoon I spotted Midget heading back to Palmy with his paddle board on his van and towing a surfboat. Midget has had great success as a sweep for an all-girl surfboat crew, showing there is life after you have been World Champion.
The Whale Beach area is famous for its artists, TV and Movie stars that live there, one of the friendliest is Yahoo Serious the star of hit movie Young Einstein (1988), he is a regular walker in the area, easy going and always flat out keeping up with his jack russell terrier.
One of the nicest guys you will meet in the water or on the beach is local resident and World Surfing Champion (1987) Barton Lynch. I have been fortunate to surf a few times with Barton and despite his status as a top surfer, he will call you on to a wave when he could easily have taken it for himself, big reputation but well-grounded and all round nice guy who is giving a lot back to his sport of choice.
As I walked along “Whalie” I came across a young couple who had just tied the knot, I couldn’t resist including them as a highlight of my day, they made a lovely picture and were couple who seemed very much in love, totally oblivious to the large seas pounding behind them. The groom in his naval uniform was a brilliant contrast to the bride’s flowing wedding gown.
Whale Beach’s premier surf spot is the “Wedge” at the northern end of the beach, it is very popular but can be rewarding if you are lucky enough to get it un-crowded.
The final section of the walk was another 200+ steps up to Bangalley Head, this reserve is cared for by the Pittwater Bushcare group it is the finest piece of native bushland to be found on the northern beaches. Not only does it have stunning views both north and south but it has a fantastic range of flora that you would have to visit a national park to find such a selection. It is a well-kept secret spot with plenty of vantage points to sit and forget you are only a 10 minute walk from the beach and shops at Avalon.
Today’s walk took 1 hour and 25 minutes but once again it could easily have been stretched out into a 4 hour leisurely hike. There is a kiosk at Whale Beach for a drink or snack and toilets at the southern end near the pool. The L90 bus service that runs every 20 minutes had me back at Palm Beach and my car in minutes.
Day 3, Great Waves at Avalon
The plan today was to walk from Avalon to Newport, but when I saw the surf I decided to remain at Avalon and shoot the many surfers out enjoying the large near perfect waves. In just the space of an hour I counted 23 surfers joining the pack with only 2 others leaving the line-up. There were 2 main take-off points one being LA (Little Avalon to you non locals) a wave of serious consequences that breaks on a rock ledge in front of some high cliffs at the southern end of the beach. It involves a long paddle or a “take your life in your hands” jump of the rocks which seems to be the prefered option, one body-boarder I saw today lost his board as he dived in and had to swim the best part of a kilometer back to the shore. He didn’t go out again, what a surprise!
Avalon is blessed with its position to be able to handle giant waves, be they cyclonic summer waves from the northeast or gnarly winter waves from the east or south. There are many hot local surfers but my pick would be a couple of older surfers, first and foremost would be Mick Dooley who competed in the 1964 World Surfing Titles, a real gentleman and a great longboard maker, and Mark Warren a bit younger than Mick but once again an all round good guy who is a wonderful ambassador for the sport of surfing.
Avalon Beach is a fabulous spot with large selection of coffee and gift shops with Beach Without Sand at North Avalon being my favourite surf shop with a laid back attitude.
Day 4, Avalon to Mona Vale Beach
Avalon was a hive of activity as I prepared to walk to Mona Vale Beach, I passed a very Avalon style garage sale, one customer was already walking away with one of the 5 surfboards on sale. There were numerous wetsuits and what seem to be 50 + swimming flippers all various designs, colours and shapes and as I heard a customer being told “there were only a few matching pairs”. My guess is they were booty found on the beach from bodyboarders who have come to grief out at LA.
The head land at South Avalon has an awesome view over the beach and one of the best places with this view is owned by 9 times world Surfing Champion Kelly Slater, follow Kelly’s quest for a 10th title at CAN THE KING RECLAIM HIS CROWN? A final look at Avalon Beach shows a surfing contest up at North Av and a bunch of trainee lifesavers heading out to sea on their rescue boards, there is a 3-4’ swell rolling in.
The walk to Bilgola Beach is easy and gives the walker views south to Manly, Bilgola is not renowned for its surf breaks which mean you can have a hassle free wave there on occasions.
Newport Beach is not a hassle free surf spot and can be very much a “Locals Only” especially The Peak where you are only a local if your leg-rope stretches from your house to the beach. However one of the true locals in the real sense of the word is World Surfing Champion Tom Carroll, Tom (TC) and his mate Barton Lynch from Whale Beach have established themselves as masters of “Tow-in-Surfing” on the northern beaches. The other great spot when the swell is big is The Reef not as “tribal” as the Peak but on its day as good a wave as any in Sydney. There is also “Cross-waves” but this is not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced.
Two “must do” things when you are in Newport are (1) visit Tongue Teasers Gourmet Deli, Sue and the girls serve the best “sandos” and coffee and TC calls in there regularly for his takeaway. (2) Call in and see Mick Mock at the Little Dragon surf shop, it is not your average surf shop, either inside or out, but I guarantee you will be delighted with the Aladdin’s Cave of vintage surf “stuff”.
The walk to Bungan Beach is a gentle uphill stroll and at the top at 78 Bungan Head Road is Bungan Castle. Bungan Castle is a private, heritage listed residence and as I am photographing the castle from across the road a voice calls out that he hopes it is a good photo. The source of the voice was John Webeck the owner, and when I told him of my blog and project he invited me up to the tower of the castle to snap the magnificent views down the coast to my final destination Manly. John was a wonderful knowledgeable host / guide and shared the history of the building and the area with me. As I left under the watchful eye of two water dragons I felt very privileged to have had such an unexpected tour after driving and walking past this impressive building for the last 40 years.
The rest of the walk was non-eventful except to see Joey Johns of Rugby League fame, running in his spring-suit (wet suit to you non surfers) short board under his arm heading for Bungan, I didn’t know he was living in the area or that he surfed. Just before you drop down to Mona Vale there are great views to be had from Mona Vale Headland, this is a great spot for fish and chips on a warm summer’s night with free million dollar views. Close by is the home of Shane Steadman the inventor of the “popout” surfboard and a man with a long history in the surfing industry. His run in with big business over the “Ugg boot” is worth a read on two levels (1) surf history (2) patent & copyright law.
Day 5, Mona Vale to Narrabeen
Mona Vale is not renowned for its surf breaks, which is just fine by MV locals who know that it is one of the most consistent beaches with great options depending on the swell directions. The only swell direction it does not handle very well is south-east, but get the left-hander working in a big north-east swell in front of the surf club and you know you have lived. On the other side of the pool to the north in the Basin, you can enjoy beautiful little well-shaped 1-3’ waves that break over a rock shelf in summer, the trick here is to “kick-out” early before the shore break.
The walk south from Mona Vale is via the golf course and it brings you to the cliff face and park near Mona Vale Hospital. This section of the beach gets consistent waves and is known as Cooks Terrace. There is a made track down to the beach and outside of the weekends the area is very quiet and un-crowded and worth the walk down.
Warriewood Beach has a few great places to eat and the surf club has a coffee shop with great views that is open most days. Warriewood handles mega huge south-east winter swells, and is only for the experienced and the brave. When the “lines” are banked up to the horizon and the weather is cold and the chill factor makes it feel like you are surfing in Tasmania then Warriewood is at its best, but take care! Turimetta Beach is just around the corner, I have never surfed there and despite walking past on many occasions have never seen a wave worth the trek down to the beach from the walking track high above the beach.
The walking track above the beach is one of Sydney’s special secret spots with views all the way to Manly and as you will see from the photo a great place to sit and consider how lucky you are.
North Narrabeen is considered one of the most consistent waves in Sydney and has a hard-core group of locals who jealousy guards its waves to the extent they have been referred to as Narrabeen Nazis. Upset them at your peril, there are lots of other breaks in this area not as good but substantially more hassle free. One of Narrabeen favorite sons is Simon Anderson the inventor of the “Thruster Surfboard” 30 years ago. Narrabeen was mentioned in the Beach Boys No 1 hit back in the 1960s Surfing USA. There are a good selection of coffee shops and surf shops at Narrabeen. North Narrabeen was declared a National Surfing Reserve in 2009.
The walk takes less than an hour but the round trip is a pleasant two-hour hike with stops for coffee or photos adding to the enjoyment. There is plenty of free car parking at Mona Vale Beach.
Day 6, Narrabeen to Long Reef
Narrabeen to Long Reef is a totally flat walk until you reach the pool at Collaroy where you have to walk up 20 (gasp) steps, however the terrain may be flat but the area is far from boring.
After you leave Narrabeen there are a couple of semi-secret spots at the end of a few cull de sack streets that lead to the beach, The Gardens is the pick but they all are quiet fickle and need the banks and the swell to be just right. Nat Young grew up in this area before becoming a dominant force in surfing when the era of longboards gave way to the short board revolution. Nat has written a number of books and has a split following of lovers and haters of his contribution to surfing.
Collaroy is one of the best beaches in Sydney to handle big south swell, so when it is working you can bet your money it will be crowded. If you catch it on a day when there has been a un expected pulse in the surf you can score long right-handers that will put a major smile on your face. There are also a number of other good waves between here and Long Reef, with names like The Kick, Brownwater, Fishermans and White Rock and Little Makaha, all are great on their day but require you to know what you are doing as those waves “jack up” out of nowhere and you are a long way from help.
Collaroy has a heap of places to eat but if you have company and you want to thank him or her for hanging around while you have been surfing take them for a meal, drink or snack to the Long Reef Golf Club, million dollar views all the way up the coast and at coffee shop prices.
To finish I want to tell you about this classic longboard (value $3,000 to $5,000) that hangs on a wall in a courtyard of a house at Long Reef. Back in the early 1960s a proud dad gave his 3 daughters a Christmas present of this board; it took the 3 girls working as a team to carry it across the golf course to the beach. Ros the sister who still has the board tells me she has promised it to a young cousin when she passes away, and she assures me of all her relatives he is the one who always asks her how she is feeling when they meet! The deal is, he gets the board to paddle out on and spread her ashes when she leaves us, and he gets to keep the board afterwards. Great deal!
The walk takes about 2 hours and the L90 bus will drop you back to Narrabeen. There are lots of Public Facilities and coffee shops for you convenience along the way.
Day 7, Long Reef to Curlie
Long Reef has an amazing line up of waves that handle just about every swell and wind direction. With names like German Bank, 1st and 2nd Bombie, Butter Box and No Man’s Land, these spots are home to a special breed of guys and girls, T.O.A.D.S. (Take Off And Die Surfers). If you are lucky enough to have surfed these breaks in good conditions you can tell stories with the best of them. There is also a hard crew of longboarders here, Reef Riders Malibu Club they can match it with surfers from any part of the world, but if you are good enough you will not have a problem, so “Go hard or go home” if you are out at Long Reef! There are lots of less demanding waves from No Man’s Land to Dee Why and it is an easy walk from the surf club at either end.
Dee Why has a strong “Locals Only” feel to the point, with a super critical take off and an easy outside section that the less gifted (we want to live) of us can sit and pick up the wider breaking waves. It is a great spot to sit and watch mega big surf when the swell is from the east or south. Your biggest problem in finding somewhere to eat and drink at Dee Why will be making the choice, every budget and taste is catered for, enjoy!
The walk out along Dee Why headland gives you wonderful views north along the coastline to Palm Beach and the houses that enjoy this view can give you aspirations to go out and rob a few banks to get a deposit on these very expensive pieces of Sydney real estate. The views to the south are to Manly your final destination.
The next beach is Curl Curl or “Curlie”. Many years ago when I was a local at Mona Vale Beach (you quickly lose your local status if you show up less than 7 days a week) there was a well know ex North Narrabeen Natzi surfer called Robert, no surname has been used to protect me from his vicious drop-ins that I would suffer the next time we go surfing together up or down the coast. Anyway, Robert’s creed was “Curlie always has a wave”, so when Mona Vale and surrounding beaches were flat we would descend on Curlie and never failed to score a wave. I hope your visits are as rewarding. The Curl Curl Surf Club has a café that has top views at low prices and just on the next headland is the Diggers RSL Club again with wonderful views and slightly more formal dining. The walk today took 3 hours but there were many stops for photos and coffee.
- Always a wave at Curlie, even if you have to cause it yourself.
- Day 8, Curlie to Manly
The track leading from Curl Curl to Freshwater Beach is reasonably flat; it is away from the road, has great ocean views and at this time of year is covered in wild flowers. To your right is the statue of Duke Kahanamoku looking over Freshwater Beach where he introduced surfing to Australia in 1915. Freshwater Beach is now a very popular longboarding beach and this year has with Manly Beach been declared a National Surfing Reserve.
The walk from Freshwater to Manly is a bit of a climb but well is worth the effort. The area between the two beaches was once infamous as a red light district, where sailors, visitors and locals would visit after some heavy drinking at Manly. Today the area’s high real estate prices have changed that part of the area’s character.
Manly referred to in Mark Warren’s Atlas of Australian Surfing (1988) “The once great beach of Manly, for so long one of Sydney’s tourist attractions, is sadly now one of the city’s most polluted beaches” but now I am delighted to report it is back to it’s magnificent best thanks to the source of the pollution being taken way out to sea. Manly is a Mecca for surfers, walkers and takeaway food devotees but I believe the surfers have the best choice with a lineup of classic wave breaks from Queenscliff to Winkipop that caters for all standards of surfers. I have surfed all of them except the Queeenscliff Bombora which Mark Warren writes “is a true test of courage” in his Atlas of Australian surfing.
The final section of the walk is up to the cliff face above Shelly Beach looking over Winkipop , this is a serious wave that demands commitment and courage. Further inside is the softer wave of Fairy Bower but extreme caution is required when you attempt to pass Surge or Serge Rock that can pop up in the middle of the wave leaving many surfers and surfboards worse off for the encounter.
The walk today took two hours but one can spend the whole day surfing, walking and exploring this fabulous area. Manly has a huge choice of places to eat from takeaway cafes to very upmarket restaurants, enjoy!
Day 9, Manly to North Head
The walk from Manly to North Head was more challenging than I had expected but also more rewarding. I started from outside the Manly Public School built in 1882, where there is a larger than life statue of Sir Roden Cutler VC, war hero, longest-serving Governor of New South Wales and a “local” Manly boy. Sir Roden’s brush with a shark at Manly is worth reading about in the above link.
On your way up the hill there are some wonderfully restored cottages that will take your mind off the walk back to a bygone era. St Patrick’s Seminary stands imposingly looking north all the way up to the central coast. It is said that the founding colonial rulers in an effort to stop the Catholic Church nagging them for some land gave them the site at Manly which was then far away from the centre of Sydney; however it is now a very valuable piece of real estate. The seminary closed in 1995 and is now the International College of Management but the property is still owned by the church.
The Parkhill entrance to North Head and Sydney Harbour National Park is impressive and the sign declares you are “11 km from a city of four million people’ and “There is a sense of Isolation here and a magnificent outlook”.
North Head Sanctuary where the School of Artillery once was is a day tour in itself. There are maps for self-guided tours and a history buff will be lost for hours as they wander around this wonderful area, with helpful volunteer information officers at hand to answer any questions.
The Quarantine Station no longer operates and ships have long since stop anchoring nearby with their black flag raised to indicate disease aboard, but the site is a fabulous place to visit and their Ghost Tour is excellent.
The views across the harbour to Sydney from the “City Lookout“ is not to be missed and will make your walk through the Banksias, Grass Trees and Coastal Tea-Tree worthwhile. This location should be a must visit area for all visitors to Sydney but it is surprising how many locals have never bothered to visit and enjoy this diamond in the crown of Sydney Harbour.
The walk today took 3 hours, you will need to bring food and drink as the café in the park is under renovation at the moment.