Walking Sydney: North Bondi to South Head

by wandering freditor / Mar 25, 2015 / 0 comments

When I was but a nipper, my folks couldn’t afford to buy me a bike. (No, I am not one of the four Yorkshiremen, this is not a tale of whose poverty is the greatest, wins a-la M Python!). We lived at the time, of what was the outskirts of Perth, Western Australia (although now an “inner suburb). Our asbestos-sheeted house stood in virgin bush, with only half a dozen houses nearby, many of them, with fellow Dutch immigrants and their kids. Ours was a life of “walking everywhere,” to school, a few miles away, to play cricket in a nearby paddock, down to the Swan river to go swimming. We took walking for granted in our “Huck Finn” environment. Later came trains, motor-bikes and cars, self driven and chauffeured, boats, yachts, and planes, from Cessna to Concorde. I appreciated them all. But now, in old age, I am back to walking, well almost everywhere, because it is a time to enjoy walking for pleasure, not necessity. While the bones may creak (the hips are brand new, of course!) and the muscles oft ache, better that than the Zimmer frame meander!

So … when a former colleague in diplomatic service suggested a walk around some of Sydney’s fabulous “viewing walks,” I jumped at it with both feet and unfettered joy, albeit that “today’s walk” started with train and bus journeys. On a day when the celestial bedclothes suggested grumpiness and grey lumpiness, perhaps a shower within the hour, we set forth. For walking North Bondi to South Head was reason enough to get up.


Glimpses of Sydney harbour from the road. From Walking Sydney: North Bondi to South Head

Glimpses of Sydney harbour from the road


We bused from Kings Cross to North Bondi via leafy, chic, Paddington, small terraced houses once the domain of the working class, now most delightfully done-up, and if not the domain of millionaires, most with a million dollar mortgage. Yuppies and Dinky’s, in lycra and leathers, Range Rovers and flash cycles, banker, boutique-ere, business-person, brothelier, high class, naturally, all living in a caffeinated, restaurant and delicatessen filled, trendy milieu. Towards North Bondi, it became more mundane, but still big bucks territory, even for a snippet of view. We got off the bus, and started walking, alas, only roof-tops and not Bondi’s scimitar of sand.

We headed North, uphill, with the occasional wee glimpse of the Harbour, the Opera House, and Bridge. Stopped for a coffee at the premises of a garrulous Greek-Australian, who like the Abba song, went on and on and on - bit like the Greek economic saga really, and delivered a similarly disappointing brew. Revived, more by rest and chatter than liquid sustenance, we turned toward the sea, along a dead end road, with an appropriate cliff beyond, fronted by houses with an abundance of glass - and blinds. The Due East morning sun comes up punchy. But the view, oh the view, was mesmerising, the surge of the Caribbean-coloured sea, the massive rocky cliffs urging the waves to do their worst, the brewing sky, and the daunting pathway, leading us on to a closer look at points on the celestial canvas.


Looking South. From Walking Sydney: North Bondi to South Head

Looking South


Looking North, towards North Head and in-between, the entrance to Sydney Harbour. From Walking Sydney: North Bondi to South Head

Looking North, toward North Head and in-between, the entrance to Sydney Harbour

Invariably, we stood for a while and looked at the majesty of it all, the sound and smell of the sea, the wheeling of the gulls. Then we descended, thighs and calves stretched, eyes swivelling like ground radar at an airport, houses to the left, the sea to the right. There are a few unsightly and ugly flats that should never have been allowed by Councils, and today simply wouldn’t be allowed. But I daresay, those beneficiaries who live in them are not the complainants, rather those whose views are ever obstructed by something of monstrous proportions. Joe and Joan Public however, regard them as a blot on the landscape.

Another blot on the landscape is the absence of comfort stops, surely a sin of gross omission (and discomfort!) on a journey travelled by many, locals and tourists alike. The local Councils (Waverley and Woollhara) are among the wealthiest in Sydney and deserve to be “pithed on,” from some height, for not providing a stop along the way between Bondi and Watson’s Bay. Sure, there are plenty of bushes and little parks, but go a little too far on the coast side, and you might be for the long drop!


 MacQuarie Lighthouse from afar, looking South along the coast. From Walking Sydney: North Bondi to South Head
MacQuarie Lighthouse from afar, looking South along the coast


We wandered past the landmark MacQuarie lighthouse, a place renowned to mariners, from the earliest days of colony, initially a bonfire-type warning, but in 1816, a “proper lighthouse” was started. The job was given to a brash, gifted architect turned forger, (sentenced to death but commuted to transportation) Francis Greenway, whom Governor MacQuarie instantly made the Acting Colony Architect. Greenway was prolific, designing everything from churches to buildings, barracks, houses, and obelisks, before he fell out of favour, and died a few years later, an embittered, protesting fellow. The original lighthouse, built in soft sandstone, eventually succumbed to fierce winds and frequent storms and was replaced in 1883 by the present ‘story-book’ lighthouse, by James Barnet, whom we met as the then colonial architect, in my Goulburn travel story. For a while, the new Macquarie lighthouse, which casts its beam 46 kilometres, was the most powerful in the world. It was automated in 1976 and the two lighthouse keepers cottages sold a few years later. In recent years, they have been on the market at well over a million dollars. In keeping with the incongruous architecture award I wrote of earlier, other staff quarters were demolished and four town houses have been built. Modernity totally out of place, in my, but not the residents’, view!


The 1881-83 MacQuarie Light House. From Walking Sydney: North Bondi to South Head

The MacQuarie Light House, built 1881-83


You reach the infamous “Gap” through a forest of signage boards to would be suicide contemplators, urging them “think again” and there are a number of help line numbers - alas too late for some. There is even a park dedicated to Don Ritchie, who lived across the road from the Gap, and helped over 150 would be suicide cases, from jumping. He was called The Angel of the Gap, and given the Order of Australia, our highest award, for his Samaritans’ work.


View from the street, near The Gap - as the Manly Ferry goes by in the distance. From Walking Sydney: North Bondi to South Head

View from the street, near The Gap - as the Manly Ferry goes by in the distance


Surging sea around the Gap. From Walking Sydney: North Bondi to South Head

Surging sea around the Gap


The Gap was also the site, in 1857, of the sinking of the sailing ship Dunbar. On a dark and stormy night, its Captain mistakenly turned into what he thought was Sydney Harbour, and 121 of the 122 ships passengers and crew were drowned or attacked by sharks. The only survivor waited at the cliff base for 36 hours till rescued. All the victims were buried in a mass grave. Huge crowds on their final journey through Sydney, watched the funeral cortege.


The anchor of the Dunbar. From Walking Sydney: North Bondi to South Head

The anchor of the Dunbar


Rugged cliffs that took the Dunbar. From Walking Sydney: North Bondi to South Head

Rugged cliffs that took the Dunbar


The Gap has also figured prominently in a long running murder trial where a model was thrown over the Gap by a jealous lover. Both the Defence and Prosecution called on university experts on flight trajectory, strength, wind conditions, motion, and landing position, to prove or disprove that the woman had not jumped. The jury concluded that all things considered, she would have required a Carl Lewis type leap, and she was thrown. The guy was found guilty, and is now in the slammer.

The view from the area of the Gap is generally awash with spectators every Boxing Day, for the start of the famous Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, contested by yachts from all over the world. Get there early enough, eke out a position with picnic basket and champers and watch over a hundred, including huge super-maxi yachts, jockey for position before the start of one of the world’s toughest races. By the time of the second, or fifth glass, turn around and see which yacht wins the prestigious claim to be first out of the Heads. We headed, with some relief, to the comfort stop at Watson’s Bay, the surrounding park alive with picnickers and rampant children. Then it was past HMAS Watson, which once held the Gunnery School, but is now a tri-service establishment, although mainly a naval facility, and on to the harbour shore pathway, to South Head.  


 Looking over Watson's Bay. From Walking Sydney: North Bondi to South Head

Looking over Watson's Bay


The view harbour side is more serene than spectacular, although we only saw the mainly male nude beach - from a distance! Yachts bobbed on the water in a mid-week race of sorts, and the Manly ferry periodically sailed by, like a matronly dowager, decks no doubt filled with camera-clicking tourists and the scent of suntan oils and sun resistance potions. We settled on the grass, opened rucksacks, and quietly chewed our sandwiches, human bovines amid the splendour. Nearby, the South Head lighthouse stood like a toothpaste extract sentinel, ensuring that there would be no more Dunbars, winking periodically, and guiding ships, both huge and small, to a safe haven and anchorage.


The South Head lighthouse, looking across the Heads to North Head. From Walking Sydney: North Bondi to South Head

The South Head lighthouse, looking across the Heads to North Head


Behind us, the weather was broody, and we set off past a sliver of beach, shark-fenced for security, and round the corner to Watson’s Bay, the ferry terminal and the Pilot Boat base to help ships around some of the harbour reefs. Doyle’s famous fish restaurant was doing its usual “there is no tomorrow” trade, and its nearby Fish and Chips shop, equally so, for those with smaller pockets and scoffing kids.


Harbour beach ... with shark-net! From Walking Sydney: North Bondi to South Head

Harbour beach ... with shark-net!


The Promenade at Watson's Bay Doyle's Fish Restaurant, under the awnings, and the ferry pier. From Walking Sydney: North Bondi to South Head

The Promenade at Watson's Bay Doyle's Fish Restaurant, under the awnings, and the ferry pier


Just enough time for us to have a wonderful gelato, a drink of revitalising water, and rest the feet, before taking the bus along the wandering worm that is the Old South Head road, back to Kings Cross. Then the journey home, after yet another wearying, wonderful walk.




Winfred Peppinck is the Tales of the Traveling Editor for Wandering Educators



All photos courtesy and copyright Winfred Peppinck