Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sydney - South Head Heritage Walk

We’re awake. What time is it? Ten to 5. Woah. Hubby and I need to be leaving asap!  We buzz around pulling some essentials together. Water? Check. A snack? Check. Sunscreen? Check.  Hat? Check. We’re off as I enthusiastically disavow Hubby of his impression that we have plenty of time. Yes, sunrise is just after  7 am but we need to be there at first light which is at least half an hour earlier.
We’re stopping by to pick up Son 2 at Coogee and as we wait in the car for him to come down from his apartment we have views over the water across to the horizon in the east. It’s getting light and it’s only 6.09 am. Hmm. Never mind. It’s only a little over a quarter of an hour in to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. What will be, will be. The roads are delightfully traffic free. It would not normally be like this. This is lovely. Only one other car at the point. Parking charges don’t start until 8 am.  I dash out of the vehicle. I’m keen to snap a quick photo of the Opera House, but even keener to get the hammer crane in silhouette. 
I’d never noticed the hammer crane until I did the fleet review a couple of years ago and it featured in the commentary on the ferry. It's the biggest hammer crane in... wherever.  Somehow it wormed its way into my heart that day. This morning I seem to be channelling Tim Burton. Oh. He's not dead. Can't really channel someone who's not dead can you... but there's something kind of freaky about the tracery of fig tendrils that reach out for the crane in the early morning light.
We muck about wandering this way and that and finally settling in to watch the colours change in the west behind the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge,
And this, the most attractive view of the Sydney cityscape.
Fully light by about 10 past 7, it becomes apparent that Son 2 hadn’t realised that Mrs Macquarie’s Chair is actually a stone seat carved in the headland, so we wander over and he checks it out, we pose for the inevitable tourist shots.
By 7.25 or so we’re definitely ready to move on. Watson’s Bay here we come. We have no idea what we’ll find there this early on Easter Saturday but we’re hoping for easy parking!
Now isn’t this a corporate advertising dream? As we travel down William Street we admire the heritage listed Coke sign, so dear to the heart of most Sydneysiders.
What a pleasure it is to wander along Old South Head Road clear of its usual congestion. It’s no hardship to admire the views out across the marinas to the water as we pass through the pretty foreshore areas of Rushcutter’s Bay and Rose Bay.  It is tempting to add Macquarie Lighthouse to my collection of lighthouse photos, but the sun is all wrong. Someone else can have all those parking spots there. In no time we’re arriving in Watsons Bay and can hardly believe our eyes.
There’s almost no one around and there is heaps of parking free at the beginning of Military Road and, happy day, it has no time limit. We pull up just near the kid’s play area and the amenities block and set about what proves to be a somewhat protracted exercise of getting ready to set off. Hubby takes issue with my choice of a non-disposable drink bottle today. Ha! I got him good with the camera! We laugh.
The views back down across Robertson Park to the city beyond some picturesque yachts are looking fine today. Watson’s Bay Boutique Hotel is certainly in a fantastic position. What a shame there isn’t more variety in the food options nearby. What a pity the food options nearby are overpriced and well, just not particularly good. 
We set off around the bay in the shadows of the early morning, appreciative of local efforts to keep the beach looking nice. I can think of worse jobs than pottering along the sand early in the morning, on an emu parade. 
Private waterfront properties with their own jetties oblige us to leave the immediate foreshore to get around to Green Point and this gives us an opportunity to appreciate the cute little cottages that dominate the surrounding streets. In this area of Sydney where real estate prices are sky high, I have to say this amazes me, in a very good way. I wonder if the local council has adopted rules to retain this traditional character of the area. If so then I am a huge fan of the judgement of those responsible.  The area is simply lovely.
More empty parking spaces at Green Point. I glance at my map and observe that it appears to intend us to go to the southern side first. It is a little bit ramshackle on the southern side. A taxi cab is blowing it's horn to get the attention of the people in Green Point Cottage. "Oh FGS, keep your socks on" I mutter in a brilliant display of geriatric mental sharpness, interrupting my contemplation of a suspicion that Green Point Cottage looks like National Park Accommodation so probably able to be rented. Hmm. I think that should be keep your shirt on.  I suppose that saying is a reference to starting a fight and taking off your shirt so you don't tear it. Oh well. In this day and age of kick boxing, perhaps I can settle for keeping socks on. Such are the deep and meaningful diversions of a sleep deprived middle aged Sydneysider on this fine sunny morning.
Hubby and Son2 hang around enjoying the scenery as I do a bit of a reccie and we dubiously make our way along the track on the water side of the cottage. The main features on Green Point are the relics of the boom net that was erected across the harbour in World War II with it’s interesting information board; and around to the north, a memorial to the landing at Camp Cove by Arthur Phillip in 1788.  Oh, and the prominently positioned toilet block near the memorial of course. The bank of garbage bins is also sensitively positioned.
It’s a short but steep flight of steps down onto Camp Cove beach. Some people who give an air of being local are lounging on the rocks at the bottom of the stairs deep in conversation. One trim older lady is standing in her one piece swim suit generously bedecked in heavy gold chains. Neck, wrists. She is wet and looks like she’s been swimming. Does she swim in those gold chains? She must. You surely wouldn't leave them in your towel on the beach.  Well I guess someone has to provide employment to the divers who make a living fetching lost valuables from under the waves.
Down on the sand as we've strolled around Green Point we've been observing a group of people who are doing some cross training. They've been running up and down the beach and diving into the water swimming. I learn a new track. Running on wet sand .
Camp Cove is a lovely beach. It looks so inviting here this morning. Who would ever think we are in the midst of such a large city? We pass by the little kiosk which is closed at present and climb up some stairs into Sydney Harbour National Park. Another toilet block for your convenience.
I  stop and gaze back at the beach waiting for Hubby and Son2 to catch up. The training folk are now running up and down the slope over at Green Point. 
A rowing team rounds the headland and enters the bay pulling up right in the middle of our view of Green Point. Thanks fellas. Perfect photo op. I was feeling all diligent and energetic getting out for a walk this morning. All these beautiful people make me feel like a slug dragging my carcass around the beauty spots of Sydney. Haha.
We’re taking our time. Who could hurry?  As we hang out overlooking the beach I notice that the kiosk has just opened. It’s 8.30.  We briefly explore the little hut on a jetty sticking out over the water. No idea what that is for but it looks quite picturesque. We move up onto the boardwalk and stroll along stopping very often to just soak it up. 
The training folk are now jumping off the little jetty into the water. They must know that area well to be jumping off like that. The water looked fairly shallow, and there’s lots of oyster covered rocks around there, you’d need to know where to leap to. Especially when the tide is out as it is this morning, a fact Son2 and Hubby have diagnosed from the exposed weed on the rocks. The older lady in the training group, who is clearly not as fit as most of the group thinks twice and clambers down the ladder before entering the water. Yeah... that’s what I’d do.
Now we are approaching one of the major historic features of the walk. Our path becomes a cobbled lane with stone walls that have small firing holes along it. Fortifications.  Fortifications are not something unique to this headland. Various headlands around the harbour have these old gun positions, but what I haven’t seen before for many years in an impressive gun in position. The one at South Head is a real beauty and it appears to be aimed directly at the city.
Another man comes past and gives us a cheery "Good Morning". Everyone around here has been giving us a cheery greeting, prompting a discussion of where and why people tend to do this. It's nice. 
As we reach the top of the modest incline, we enter a broad tarmac path with grassy verges and some rough vegetation bordering the steep incline to the water. The wild heath land of Middle Head sits ageless across the water. We’re are overtaken by the runners. They run, we sit, just for a short while on some seats overlooking the water.
Whoever prepared the facilities here must know many of us will take our time. MORE toilets. This is the perfect walk for people who need to go very frequently!  They have a sense of humour too. I chuckle as I read the earnest request to please keep off the bush regeneration area.  Haha. Oh, OK then.
Precious little bush regenerating in there. This looks more like a noxious weed demonstration site.  It really is an impressive display of weeds. Cobbler’s pegs, a sentimental favourite as they bring back memories of pulling the sticky seeds out of school day socks; morning glory clearly thriving and throwing out floral appeals for mercy with its pretty purple trumpets; lantana.. no.. can’t think of anything positive to say about lantana, not even the flowers are pretty enough to quell murderous urges toward it, though I guess it is a suitable companion for all the asparagus fern.
I assume that rock fishing is a popular pastime from this headland given the fisheries poster and threats of on the spot fines for collecting various seafood from the rocks. There’s even a dob in phone number supplied. I wish I had that at Long Reef a few weeks ago. I think I’ll put that number in my phone!
Our next location of note is Lady Bay Beach. A suitable spot for a skinny dip, but keep your clothes on until you are on the beach.. if there is a beach. We peer down the sand thinking it looks pretty secluded. Nudies wouldn’t bother anyone here, but it looks like the beach is distinctly tidal. I’m just contemplating whether it might be good to go down and check it out. We round the corner a little.. woah.. the fit people are running up the stairs from the beach, dripping wet. My god these people must be fit, though some are starting to flag now.  Most of the men look like they’d be content to keep this up all day. I duck back out of the way and am pleased to point the way to the toilets for one of the younger members of the group. Oh look, to be honest I probably could have pointed him in any direction and not been wrong.
The stops to just admire the gorgeous views are frequent.
Oh look, honeysuckle, just to give us a bit of a change from the morning glory, and poinsettia too. 
Our funny bones are tickled again as we admire this lookout. Nope, not even the taller members of our group can see a thing here! Haha Lovely banskias. It’s clear that at some point quite a lot of money and effort was spent on this heritage walk. Perhaps responsibility has been transferred or something. There must be some reason why those responsible seem to have simply abandoned it. I guess competing priorities have won and I suppose that an organisation responsible for parks were there is actually useful habitat to be managed must make that their priority.  Still, it’s a shame. This place is such a great resource for people to enjoy and it surely would be a massive tourist attraction given a bit of love and care. Weeds or not, New Holland Honeyeaters are here in abundance. Such resilient little birds and so quick to move in to take advantage of banksias in bloom.
We emerge again into an open area with uninterrupted water views of the northern harbour,  complemented by a gorgeous stone cottage, once the domain of the assistant light house keeper. We loiter to read the information provided. I’m interested to learn that it was the loss of the Dunbar on the rocks when trying to enter the harbour which lead to the building of our little stripey beauty.  I’m also pleased to read that it has always had the stripes to distinguish it from the Macquarie lighthouse only a couple of kms to the south. I had been wondering about that and whether it had always been painted like this. I just don’t remember ever noticing it sitting there so dapper until recent years.  I stop and try to imagine my forebears back in 1858 discussing the shipwreck and the construction work as it progressed. They were all involved on the harbour in some way, so it must surely have been a topic of conversation. The loss of the Dunbar made quite an impact you see it commemorated quite a lot.
Stopping to look back there's a clear view of Lady Bay Beach. Ooh. The further we come the more of a look you get. It's not as secluded as it felt back at the steps. I could get a really easy titillating photo from here with my new camera were I a pervert... if someone was down there in the nuddie... 
The centre of this photo is the entrance to Middle Harbour. Middle head to the left, Dobroyd Head to the right.
It’s hard to know where to look first. Middle harbour? Over to Manly? Across to North Head? Beautiful. Son2 asks about what we can see and I spend a little time pointing out what's what around the harbour. Yeah, that is Manly. Dobroyd Head, the entrance to Middle Harbour.
There’s a gun emplacement here too, and I know there’s more over on North Head. We owe the preservation of a number of the headlands natural beauty to military use since Sydney's earliest days. We've been working our way around the perimeter of HMAS Watson as we wander South Head. What's the HMAS stand for? Her (or His depending on the gender of the Monarch at the time) Majesty's Australian Ship. Yeah, it's not literally a ship it's a posting naval station, so it gets the HMAS. HMAS Penguin is another land base over at Balmoral on Middle Head.
There's plenty to detain us here. The signage is really interesting, the views are beautiful. I just love the sandstone cottage. I'm grateful it has been restored. It must surely have been a very pleasant existence for the staff here compared to other light stations. 
The head lightkeepers cottage is still in use and protected from peering eyes by high shrubbery. You’d hardly know it was there. Round the corner and we hit major pay dirt. The Hornby light.
It is this which really made me want to do this walk. I’ve been admiring this natty little fellow lately as I’ve ridden the Manly ferry. It’s a short little light. Maintained by Sydney Ports Corporation. I can see their priority is the light mechanism rather than the paintwork. I wonder if this light has heritage protection. I hope so.
There’s no fencing around the cliffs, but plenty of temptation to lean over. Fishermen are down on the rocks, a dangerous pastime that claims lives around the country every year. A form of fishing that Dad was, hmm, I supposed I’d say alarmed by. Or at least he was alarmed by what he seemed to consider was the stupidity of so many of the people who choose to fish that way. Turning their backs to the waves, not using the appropriate safety gear and so on. I’d love a better look at the fishermen, but even where I am, quite a long way from the edge by Hubby’s perspective, the height is giving me the willies. What if I stepped down to that next edge and the cliff gave way? Shudder.
Waves on rocks. Mesmerising. I am caught in suspended animation, hypnotised by the rhythmic action of the waves filling a deep hole in a rock and receding, creating a steady and surprisingly long lived waterfall. 
I've been scouting out various angles on the light as I've explored the grounds. Is this be best view? Shame about the concrete thing right there. Its suit is dapper, but it’s not the Angelina Jolie of lighthouse poses really, that would surely go to Cape du Couedic.  Perhaps this pose is a little more Kelly Osbourne?  I guess the concrete thing must have been an observation post in the war. Nothing tells us specifically about it that I've noticed.
Son2 heads off in search of a comfort stop. Never a toilet around when you need one. Haha. Hubby and I explore the fortifications and wander down a dank corridor. We're glad my phone has a torch feature. Nothing to see in there. Just an alcove.  
The interpretive signage points out to us the historic uses of the area and the long standing prominence of South Head as a view point. A hundred and more years ago people flocked here to the bare headland to watch military exhibitions or to welcome newly arrived boats. Even in modern times it is a major viewpoint for watching the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Boxing Day each year. I've never done that. It would be a magnificent sight.

Back in weed central someone has put a padlock on this stylish fence. Hmm. Is this one of those stupid padlock and throw away the key things you see at tourist spots the world over? Now a bridge over the Seine is one thing. What does padlocking a symbol of your love on a weed patch on South Head say? “ah, my love for you grows like a weed in Sydney bushland in the rainy season. Our commitment to each other is as strong as a cobbler’s peg on a sock...”.
A New Holland Honeyeater, briefly sitting still
One of the native trees in the weed patch is popular with the birds. They love a bare branch for checking out the action. In this area where the tall banksias abound, the birds are abundant. 
A brush wattle bird gives  a sort of melodic choking call as it feeds among the honey-laden flower cones. 
I've lagged behind but catch up to the others and once again we pause to enjoy the views over Camp Cove. We move on, the kiosk is now sporting a quite attractive awning over the serving window. I'm pleased to get a chance to have a look at what they are selling. It's an interesting shop. They seem to have an eclectic approach and offer snacks and drinks but overwhelmingly there's a focus on things you might want at the beach, but have forgotten to bring, or might need if the beauty of the place tempts you to stay longer than anticipated. Are your kids bored? How about some sand toys? Brilliant idea. I guess the prices might be scary though.
There's no shortage of helpful signage around here. More dob in phone numbers and the number for a water taxi. Now that is the "best" way to come here. Absolutely. Not the cheapest, but definitely the "best".We step out into Cliff St. 
I don’t know why, but I am surprised to find more parking here, or is the surprise actually finding that at almost 10 oclock on a glorious, warm, autumn morning there is still almost no one here.  
It is another urban walk along the frontages of gorgeous little weatherboard cottages until we head on past the main gates of the naval station. Someone has poked a frangipani flower into the house number on a wall.
More parking along here, we say good morning to some Brits who are hanging about a camper van then I check my map again. We’re supposed to be heading distinctly eastward at this point.  Stop. We’ve missed the turn. I head back to the gates. Where’s the path? Crikey, this is not a frequently used path, you can barely see it when you’re actually hunting for it though it is clearer once you get a short way in.  I have managed to get ahead and stop to wait for Hubby. We’ve lost Son2. He’s hungry and gone in search of some milk. We've all got phones.
This little track presents an opportunity for bush bashing. I take a Hansel and Gretel shot just in case. 
We emerged from that track here. It’s not real obvious.
We’ve come to a road. I study the route on my walk guide. Another couple of young ladies is also looking for the way to the Gap, pleased we have a map. They look like they mean business all kitted out in exercise wear. I think it goes up this way, says I. It’s what the map, which is short on detail, seems to indicate. We head in. Our new companions quickly rule this out as a route. We are made of sterner stuff. Either that or we’re slow learners, but eventually we conclude that there is NO route this way.
Not even if you get past the huge slice of fallen banksia tree.  It’s funny though and we have a good laugh. We resume the road. Hubby contemplates heading in a crazy direction, but he comes with me in the end. She who has the map rules the walking....not always very well, as we have just seen, but there you go. 
The road is nice and shady. What’s that over there. Sheesh. MORE toilets? Perhaps the few remaining footings of a former barracks complex explain that long grass where the mowing is clearly detoured. 
We head along. Past the Gap Bluff Centre and some signage about how this building here, with a great wall of glass doors which must provide spectacular views, was the officer’s mess. 
We nose around wondering if there’s a route up between the various buildings to the cliff walk, but decide to stick to the entrance road with it’s shady cover of Norfolk Island Pines. Very pleasant. 
We emerge at the top of Robertson Park and the Gap is right here. Well then. Our location is confirmed by the emergency phone and encouraging signs as we approach. 

The Gap is Sydney’s most famous suicide spot. Iconic even. References to the Gap are often used as a euphemism for suicide.  A bloke who lives near here got an award recently in recognition of the hundreds of lives he’s saved by keeping an eye out for jumpers.
Hubby is trying to contact Son2 on the mobile. I get ahead on a reccie up the track along the cliffs to the north. An artist has set up and is underway on an oil of the cliffs and surf washed rocks below.
Hubby sings out. Wait. Son2 is coming to meet us up here. We hang out. Son2 has bought himself some chips from Doyle’s take away. He’s had his fill, do we want some?  Oh yeah. We sample. Not real good are they. Son2 looks like he’s about to play devils advocate but then just sighs and says. No. They really aren’t.
We loiter enjoying both ocean and harbour views. We head a little further along the track but there is work that is apparently currently in progress and we come to a dead end, but not before identifying that we would have emerged here had we gone up through the buildings of the Gap Bluff Centre.
The work site has some modern boardwalk platforms and I wonder, have these banksia leaves just fallen this way, or has some artisitic soul just broken in and carefully placed them up ended in the tiny holes of the walkway?
Well, we’re getting to the stage where we’ll need to call time on the day trip thing. We have some errands to run at home this arvo.  Son2 is still after his milk which is acquired from the milk bar up the road. I head over to check out the bus stop. Yep, timetable is conveniently provided.
Robertson park makes a pleasant route back to our car. We’re ready to head off by 11 am. Slight delay as Son2 spots the monkey bars in the playground and runs over to have a quick go before jogging back.  One day I’ve got to get him up to Townsville. He’d love the Strand and all the adult play equipment there.
I’m glad to be finishing and not starting out now as it is starting to get quite warm and the sunshine is strong. We retrace steps. Tommie is guiding. Hubby wants me to I show him the location of a beautiful home unit I viewed with a friend a few years ago before we did our demolish rebuild. I was almost tempted to just buy that unit instead, but the kids couldn’t afford to live around here when they get round to having babies and I don’t want to live somewhere the kids can’t so scratch that idea, but it was a lovely spot.  I’m evasive. I can’t really remember where it was. He insists. OK. Well actually I think it was in Rose Bay, turn back here and we’ll have a scout around and see if I can find it. It was in an avenue covered over by fig trees. Old style, say 20s or 30s ish. I THINK it was one of these. Lovely ground floor unit. I think it was about 6 or 7 hundred thousand dollars. Generous sized rooms. Very comfortable.  Yeah along here. There was a fabulous patisserie around the corner.   We turn and there is the stylish strip of shops. There's the patisserie. Yep that’s it.  Yes this is definitely where it was. We all agree. Lovely area.. but I guess it might go under when global warming is at full effect. It's pretty close to sea level.  Time to head back to our manor house up on a hill with the grandkids around the corner. No regrets.

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