I am not a Big-City-type person.
Give me the wide open spaces and country air any day. However, I know my biases make me blinkered and sometimes I need to ‘get over’ myself, and be open to what metro-areas have to offer. When I finally pause and do that, I am very often rewarded with some real gems.
The short hike up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse is just one of those special experiences revealing the hidden beauty tucked away in Sydney’s suburbia.
Lace up your walking shoes and let’s go…
Barrenjoey Lighthouse is located high on a promontory in the far northern Sydney suburb of Palm Beach. The whole headland is part of Australia’s second oldest National Park, the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Its dusty green 149.8km² stretches over a large number of coves, inlets and rough and remote bushland ridges.
Palm Beach is a good 1.5hrs by bus from the centre of Sydney and is quirkily referred to as being part of the insular peninsula such is its isolation from the rest of Sydney’s urban sprawl and its rumoured elitist and exclusive mindset. It does feel like you are a world away from the chaos and claustrophobia of the city and the local residents have every right to feel they are pretty special and a cut above the rest of us as this is a pretty exceptional part of the coast.
Here are the Nuts and Bolts of this little walk:
- Distance: 2.4km return, up to 161m in altitude.
- Rating: Grade 2 or 3. These numbers don’t mean much so I will describe it as ‘Moderate’ or ‘Difficult’, depending on your fitness level.
- Terrain: Lighthouses are located in high places for very good reasons and unsurprisingly, the terrain is steep! The surfaces vary underfoot from coarse concrete/asphalt to dirt, gravel, boulders and thousands of steps. See my comments in the next dot point for more information.
- Path: There are two paths that will lead you up to the lighthouse. The Access Trail is the easier of the two as it is a solid concrete surface used by vehicles. If you are fit and motivated it would be possible to push a baby stroller (or similar) up this path, but I have absolutely no desire (or the strength) to attempt that! The Access Trail is rated Grade 2 and signage states it is 800m in length. It delivers glorious views over the protected Pittwater area and endless bays and coves. The Smugglers Track is only 400m long, but is a steep Grade 3 and includes a multitude of steps and stairs, with views straight up Palm Beach and out to sea. Sneakers/running shoes are more than sufficient to safely access either path.
- What Else There is to See: Other than astounding 360° views, this small patch of national park oozes history. Its first lighthouses, the wooden Stewart Towers, were erected in 1868 and then later were replaced by the more permanent lighthouse in 1881. There are a few memorials scattered about in the bush commemorating the life and times of the people of the lighthouse and apparently National Parks and Wildlife do conduct guided tours at certain times of the year. From a marine perspective, it would be an amazing place to watch the annual North/South whale migration or simply kick back and observe the matchbox sized ferries shuttling backwards and forwards to Patonga and Ettalong or the seaplanes cruising in for landing and take-off on the Pittwater.
- Who is this walk for:
- Fitness: You don’t need to be super-fit to enjoy this path, just be prepared for the steep terrain going up and, of course, down. Take your time, catch your breath and enjoy the views that surround you.
- Birdwatchers: Busy bush turkeys wandered on and off the path and hawks of some description soared on the thermals.
- Botanists: I think I missed the best of the Spring blooms, but there was still some scarlet bottlebrush on show and many other hardy shrubs.
- Mobile Phone Coverage: Telephone reception is readily available.
- Water: Take your water bottle with you. Signage at the bottom of the headland states that there is no drinking water up at the lighthouse, but this is incorrect as there is a clearly-marked watering point adjacent to one of the old buildings.
- Sun Protection: Wear a hat and sunscreen. Even though there is some shade on the path, the Australian sun is unforgiving.
- Snakes: This area would be prime snake country in summertime. Be conscious of your surrounds and be careful where you step.
- Bushfires: Avoid cigarettes or any naked flame. Sometimes you are walking through thick patches of bush with no real escape routes, so take care.
- Toilets: Again, in contradiction to what the signs say, there are toilet facilities adjacent to the lighthouse.
- This walk is highly recommended if you don’t mind getting your heart-rate up a bit. All that effort is rewarded by a beautiful walk through a gorgeous section of Australian native bush, as well as the endless stunning views.
- I am not sure what the geology of the place is, but it is littered with massive sandstone boulders, rocky caves and overhangs. These boulders seem to sing ancient stories and I can only imagine how important this area was and is to the local Eora people.
- I was a bit disappointed that the grey of the early morning didn’t do justice to all the beauty I was seeing. On a crystal clear day, this site would be simply amazing. Still, I enjoyed the exercise, the views and the stiff breeze blowing the cobwebs out.
- The way the bush bordered and trees overhung the Smugglers Path, at times I felt like I was actually walking through the treetops. I could almost peer straight into the birds’ homes as they chattered a welcome. Or was that a definite ‘KEEP OUT’?
- Note: No dogs are allowed on this path, not even on a leash. I found that out the hard way after thinking I was doing the right thing taking a friend’s dog for a walk, only to have to return dogless the next day. I obviously didn’t think that one through well, understanding that national parks and dogs are not a great combination.
Life is good in the Great Outdoors, especially with sea air and sunrise.
What short walks would you recommend?
Where: Barrenjoey Lighthouse is 45km north of Sydney. To get to Barrenjoey Lighthouse, walk to the very northern end of Palm Beach, follow the path west across the sand dunes to the Pittwater side of the peninsula and follow the signs.
When: You could walk this path at any time of year however I would recommend avoiding the serious heat of Summer due to the patchy shade and the potential risk of bushfire. An early morning or late afternoon visit would increase your chance of seeing native wildlife. You may also be able to see the annual north-south humpback whale migration from early June through to late October.
Why: For the joy of a sunrise and a good walk.
How: Park your car at the designated carparks (metered) on the peninsula and walk northwards. Signs are located at the northern end of the carpark. To get there by bus, catch the L190X from Wynyard Station or bus 199 from Manly.
Who: This path is not very accessible for those with mobility difficulties.
Related Posts: For another short bushwalk, but this time well inland, read about a very picturesque stroll to Castle Rocks in the Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve. And, if this area looks a little familiar, then you are correct, this is the home of the TV soap opera, Home and Away.
Related Blogs: If you have a thing for lighthouses, then join Theresa on her blog as she explores all sorts of lighthouses throughout the USA.
Read About It: To get into the spirit of this part of NSW, grab a copy of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River as she tells the story of early colonial settlement in this part of the World, especially up the nearby Hawksbury River. Grab a copy from Book Depository.
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