A walk along Watson's Bay
Thursday, January 1, 1970
Sightseeing Sydney is never complete without its share of seaside walks. Blessed with a corrugated shoreline that runs for hundreds of kilometers, there is no dearth of coastal walks filled with the bounty of the Pacific blues, rocky escarpments and fauna so typical of the continent. Sydney’s shorelines can be imagined as three elongated and heavily gnarled fingers – the North Head (with its famous Manly to Spit walk), the Middle Head (housing the Taronga Zoo and the uber luxuriant Mosman suburb) and finally the South Head (read: Bondi to Coogee)
The South Head, Sydney
North of Bondi at the tip of the South Head lies Watson’s Bay – rich in geography while also contributing significantly to the nascent history of this new world. It is said that when James Cook first mapped Australia in 1770, he had marked Botany Bay (which is where his ships landed and interacted with the Cadigal Aborigines for the first time) as the spot for any future English settlement. Nearly two decades later, when Arthur Phillip landed in 1788 with the First Fleet for plans to set up a colony for Britain, he found the Botany Bay quite sparse and unsuitable. He sent a reconnaissance party and found that further north lied Port Jackson, offering better prospects to set up a harbor and a future settlement. Port Jackson being well guarded by the South Head, Arthur Phillip realised that any future supply ship from Britain would inevitably land on Botany Bay as marked by Cook and, finding no colony, would assume an unfortunate end of the First Fleet at sea. To avert this, he raised a huge flagstaff on South Head fluttering proudly with the Union Jack, therefore proclaiming the colony’s exact location for any future supply ships. Even today as you walk on the South Head heritage trail, you can find the foundation for this flagstaff which, though simple, was immensely important to the history and sustenance of the colony. This is not all – the South Head also boasts of the oldest lighthouses in Australia. Nearby lies Macquarie lighthouse – the first in the country, set up in 1793, while even more colorful in stripes of red and white is the Hornby Lighthouse set up in 1858. Both lighthouses are counted among the oldest functioning lighthouses anywhere in the world, adding that extra feather to the cap of this headland.
To the Watson’s Bay terminal
Coming back to my day out here, I took a ferry from the city to Watson’s Bay – a scenic cruise offering stunning views of the Opera House and the Sydney Bridge. Landing at the quay, I started a long and beautiful walk along the Bay to the Hornby Lighthouse. If you are hungry, take a break at the iconic Doyle’s – scrumptious fish and chips at Robertson Park makes for a wondrous start to the walk. The walk starts at Marine Parade, a long and thin sandy scimitar of a beach, and continues through old and charming houses (with funny and quirky signage in front of a few) creating an old worldly sense. The path continues to Laing’s point, slowly ascending up a hill and offering beautiful views of the harbor in front. There are still remnants of gun batteries along this track that were once installed to protect this British colony from her many enemies, changing from time to time, sometimes the Russians, then the French and finally the Japanese during World War II. Walking further on the Heritage Trail comes the Camp Cove with its second stretch of beach on the walk. The road further progresses through bush lands with numerous denizens including splendid wrens, finches and crested doves. Further on lies another small stretch of beach – Lady Bay beach. If you are in a mood for some skinny dipping, this is the place for Lady Bay beach is one of Sydney’s many nude beaches.
The iconic Hornby Lighthouse
The trail further continues up to the Hornby Lighthouse – the bush lands start getting thinner and allows one to walk over to the edge of the precipices here and gaze at the panoramic views. The city looks resplendent with its towers far away and seems framed on one side by the coat hanger Sydney bridge. The ferries keep ploughing through the deep indigo waters leaving a frothy trail of white and further adding to the picturesqueness of the cityscapes. Closer to the lighthouse, the rock faces become bare of vegetation, exposing its brownish hues and creating a well laid out contrast with the deep seas and a cerulean sky. Together with the lighthouse keeper’s cottage, the edifices have been well maintained as a part of the country’s heritage. The view from this point is commanding indeed, the city being left far behind while the unending expanse of the Pacific looms in front.
It was in 1857 that two ships capsized one after another, that necessitated the need for a lighthouse here. First was the Dunbar, wrecked in August 1857, with the loss of 121 lives. The second was Catherine Adamson, two months later with a loss of twenty-one lives. The lighthouse has since then been directing ships for over 150 years. Today it needs no lighthouse keepers, for it had been automated way back in 1930 but decades back, this spot – so serene and far off from the rest of the city, was the abode of light house keepers, who would gaze out into the immensity of the ocean and wait patiently for one more ship to arrive on the horizon, laden with not only goods, but also letters and information from what was once Home long ago, left far behind.
I headed back from the Hornby towards the quay, following the same route back – but there was one more landmark to check before I headed back to the city – the Gap. It is a steep precipice that one needs to climb through a multitude of stairs to get a brilliant and unforgettable view of the untamed ocean here, continually lashing against the sandstone rocks and frothing with its rage. Sadly it was this rage and fury that wrecked the Dunbar on the Gap years back leaving just one survivor. If you look around, you might be able to spot a few water dragons and even sulfur crested cockatoos. Also, the height of the cliffs here commands an amazing view towards the city as well.
Satiated thus with my quota of panoramas and fauna, I headed back for the return scenic ferry to the city, in the midst of the setting sun and a ruddy sunset. If you have some more time, and are interested in a walk, then there’s a long hike from the Gap all the way to Bondi – beautiful and scenic with its coastal views, but for me, that had to wait for another day.