SYDNEY HARBOUR – could I walk 317km?

People pay very big bucks for houses and hotels with views like this. I can have them for nothing.

An interesting project just occurred to me. Yesterday I went out to Cockatoo Island and discovered that the excellent Outpost Project street art event was sponsored by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Trust. I’d never heard of that august body, though I wasn’t surprised to hear it existed. The parts of Sydney Harbour foreshore I’ve seen deserve a trust to look after them. I googled Sydney Harbour, and was intrigued to learn that it has 317km of foreshore.

Now there’s a challenge! How long would it take me to walk it all? It’s a long distance route, but I wouldn’t have to take a tent. I could go home at nights and sleep in my own bed. I could take days off or rest for a month, and pick up again where I left off. There are buses passing every few minutes. Or I could just do a bit of it every now and then. If there are boring sections along roads, I could do them on the bike.

New boots. I'll publish a picture of them at the end of the hike, assuming that it does come to an end some time.

So wearing a brand new pair of hiking boots, I went to South Head to test the waters. So far so good. It’s very interesting, beautiful and there are a lot of stories to discover along the way. This could be fun.

I took the ferry from Circular Quay to Watson’s Bay. The ride is worth doing for itself and I shared it (late morning) with dozens of older people heading for lunch at Doyles. Doyles Seafood Restaurant is a Sydney institution, though no longer at the cutting edge of fine dining. It does have an excellent location, however.

Across the park from the ferry pier is The Gap, a spectacular viewing point and sadly, also a popular suicide spot. From here I could see North Head, which would be the finishing point of my potential journey. It seemed a good place to switch on the Garmin GPS, locate some satellites and start walking.

The Gap, with North Head, potentially the finishing point of this mission, should I choose to accept it, sneaking itself into the background.

I’ve often been to Watson’s Bay, and occasionally eaten at Doyles, or its far more affordable cousin, Doyles on the Pier takeaway. But this was the first time I’d walked out to the Hornby Light.

There’s a story attached to it. Around midnight, August 20th, 1857 the sailing ship Dunbar, en route from England, was wrecked just south of the Gap, with the loss of 121 of its crew of 122. The sole survivor was a 20 year old seaman, James Johnson. All that way from England and so nearly there!

Shocked by the tragedy, the authorities of the day erected a light tower to guide ships into Sydney Harbour. The Hornby Light, 1858, is the second oldest lighthouse in Australia and is still in use. The first lighthouse keeper was James Johnson himself, and this was the cottage he lived in.

South Head lighthouse keeper's cottage.

And here is the light he tended.

The Hornby Light and fortifications on South Head.

On the way looping back to Watson’s Bay I passed Sydney’s only nude bathing spot – Lady Bay Beach. Disappointingly, nude bathing in Australia is not popular with uninhibited blonde Swedish backpackers; nude beaches are frequented by wrinkly brown older Australians who haven’t yet heard the word ‘melanoma’.

Around the corner is Camp Cove. No, it’s not a gay beach. It was the place where Captain Arthur Phillip landed with the first fleet in 1788.

This was also something new I learned today. I suspect many Sydneysiders (self included) assumed Phillip anchored the flagship somewhere off Circular Quay and got the chaps to carry him ashore, watched from a distance by curious Aboriginal people sheltering behind trees which stood where the Museum of Modern Art stands today. Wrong. The first European settlement of this continent began right here in Camp Cove, and there’s a plaque to prove it.

Camp Cove

Many good bits of Sydney Harbour foreshore are in private hands. Owning a water frontage and being able to keep it to yourself is a Sydney obsession. So I was forced to travel inland for a while, through the elegant streets of Vaucluse. Several times I tried to sneak back to the water, but found myself in cul-de-sacs, where grand houses had big gates, high walls and signs like this:

I get the message.

They did let me into Parsley Bay, however, which has a quiet beach, grass, trees, shade (much needed – the GPS was telling me it was 33 degrees where I was walking), a kiosk, toilets…a pleasant lunch spot.

Parsley Bay - all this and sculpture by the sea too.

Carbohydrates loaded, I started off up the hill again, and soon reached Vaucluse House. I know it well, from a drama project I once worked on there for the Historic Houses Trust. It’s worth a blog post on its own, but for now, let’s just admire it from the outside, and know that it was the home of W.C.Wentworth, drafter of the Australian constitution. It’s open to the public for a modest entry fee and the gardens and tea rooms are free.

Vaucluse House

Eastern water dragon. Nice to know there is some wildlife around.

Nielsen Park is a very popular beach and picnic spot, and one of the best vantage points for watching the spectacular start of the Sydney-Hobart yacht race on Boxing Day (December 26th).

The Hermitage Foreshore walk starts here – a couple of kilometres through bushland, with views across the water to the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. I’d done about 8 kilometres to get here, and my knees were starting to chant ‘Are we there yet?’ but I soldiered on.

More of that private water frontage forced me back up onto New South Head Rd, Rose Bay. This is the heartbreak hill feared by runners in the annual City to Surf fun run. I’ve only ever run up it, so it was good to be strolling down it this time. All the same, I noticed that it had been a while since I’d done any walking. My new boots could do with some soft insoles. Next time I’ll take a backpack that lets a bit of air flow across my shirt.

Rose Bay. A cool place to watch other people's boats.

It was a hot day. My water bottle was empty, but still I soldiered on. As I reached Point Piper, my GPS battery died. And a bus was coming. I caught it.

12.4km down, 304.6 to go. Hmm, maybe. Not tomorrow, but soon.

Today's route - 12.4km from South Head to Point Piper.

8 Comments

Filed under Hiking, Travel-Australia

8 responses to “SYDNEY HARBOUR – could I walk 317km?

  1. David Young

    Hi Richard, We often walk from Rose Bay to Watsons Bay, and one of the prettiest parts is between Rose Bay and Neilson Park. There is a waterside path just after the fortifications west of Neilson Park, which takes you past Strickland House and a graveyard for the Nuns at Kincoppal, at low tide you can go down on the rocks and around to the sandy beach at Rose Bay. Otherwise you have to go back to the main road to Rose Bay. Let me know when you continue as would love to join in. David.

    • Thanks David. All company will be welcome! And yes, I did find the track from Neilson Park to Rose Bay and made it around the Rose Bay beach at low tide. Missed the nuns’ graveyard though. Next leg would be around the rich people’s houses at Point Piper, Double Bay etc then Garden Island, Botanic Gardens, Opera House to Circular Quay. Later this week?

  2. What a brilliant idea, Richard. I love how you have managed to unearth all kinds of stories along the way, and look forward to more of this.

  3. Bravo! Brilliant! More! Great stories and pictures bring back memories of my own visits and treat me to delights I’ve missed. Onward! Excelsior! (well, maybe not literally excelsior…)

  4. James Winters

    Richard
    Don’t know if you’ve finished your walk uyet, but my wife and I are doing the last 18 km tomorrow morning, and then we’ll have walked the entire route as well. It’s been fun…

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