Sydney’s Coastal Walk

Halloween weekend was upon us and even though it was just after 10am the locals at Coogee beach were already well into the Halloween festivities. One prankster was well posed to present as an unconscious drunk (the latter was probably true), and his mates were asking passers by if they thought he was ok and if they should help this guy out. Sucked into the prank we considered calling for help, but the laughing group of teens soon gave the joke up before we moved onto the beach, slipping off the shoes and wandered onto the already warm sand. Welcome to Coogee!

Although not the start to walk I was expecting, it was just one of those out of the blue things that you can stumble across during a day out and showed that although a tourist hotspot, there was still some local character about the place and wasn’t sterile like some tourist spots have become. The walk that we took is called the Bondi to Coogee Coastal walk, but as we wanted to grab a bite for lunch at Bondi, we decided to do it backwards. Well, that and it’s where our tour guide (aka Cam’s Brother) drove us to Coogee and had planned it this way for us.

To start the walk simply get yourself to Coogee beach, face the ocean and turn left across the beach. You could take the path, but the feel of sand between your toes and a light spray from the gentle waves gives you a much more memorable experience.

Our walk along the beach was short lived as before you get used the feeling of the sand moving beneath your feet you are back on the track, complete with sand in your shoes, and heading up the hill into Dunnington reserve. Walking up the hill the monument to local residents  killed in the Bali bombings catches your eye before drawing you to the view back across Coogee Beach and out to sea where, in the distance you’ll see Wedding Cake Island. This island, potentially named for its resemblance to a wedding cake, complete with bird droppings making up the icing apparently protects the beach from major swells making it a popular swimming spot.

Beneath the cliff face lies the Coogee sea baths, but as we had only just started the walking tour we continued around the Dunnington Reserve before descending back down to sea level into the secluded Gordon’s Bay. There is a rustic charm with dinghy’s that look as if they had been washed up onto the old wooden racks many years ago surrounded by trees, dense undergrowth studded with rocky outcrops. A couple swimming with their dog alongside in clear sparkling water and a group of snorkeler’s further out made this little bay feel a hundred miles away from the city that was on the other side of these cliff faces.

Our trip was a leisurely stroll however this section of the path appeared to a popular jogging track, so if you are feeling a little more energetic, put on the runners, take off your shirt and you’ll fit right in. In contrast to the natural beauty of Gordon’s Bay and some of the local joggers, around the next corner lies Clovelly Bay, surrounded by rocky headlands, the bases of which are filled with concrete to create expansive concrete platforms surrounding both sides of the bay.

The concrete and breakwater make the bay a very calm and safer place to swim, although to be honest it looks more like a large swimming pool than a beach. Despite its concrete surrounds it has a small patch of beach, which features a wheelchair accessible entry making it easy for anyone to get into the water. The concrete platforms are said to be popular spots for sunbaking although I am yet to work out why you would travel to the beach just to lye on block of concrete. The accessibility and safety of Clovelly meant it was a little too populated with small children, so we kept walking along the headlands, soon coming across a plot of land with views to die for.

Waverly cemetery, perched on the cliff top overlooking the Pacific Ocean would be a developers dream, the only covenant is that you have to die to get into this patch of land. A relatively recent walkway safely puts you between the edge of the gravestones and the edge of a significant cliff with waves splashing against the rocks below. Some people venture out of the safety of the walkway onto outcrops on the cliff, however I’m not convinced this is allowed, or safe, so continue along taking in the old headstones and views of the upcoming Bronte and Tamarama Beaches from the walkway.

With our next Beach in sight, and our legs beginning to need a little bit of R&R we pulled off the shirts, slapped on the sunscreen and put up the feet as we relaxed just past where the waves met the beach. Being nice and close to the water the mist from each wave, caught in the gentle breeze provided a cool refreshing change from the beaming sun above. Further along the beach the flags were out and patrolled by the claimant’s of the worlds oldest Surf Life Saving Club which was established in 1903. If you are here in December you can witness a long distance open water swim that departs Bondi destined for Bronte, but for today there are just a few surfers out and some swimmers splashing on the shore.

I splashed around in water for a while, but the water being a little cooler than I liked, didn’t go deeper than my knees before retreating back to the warm beach to relax a little more. It would have been easy to lie on the beach all day, and probably have a little nap, but we had more beaches to see, and our pasty white skin would soon be lobster red if we didn’t brush off the sand that clung to our sunscreen covered skin and get back on the track.

Warnings of congested walkways ahead we pressed on into Tamarama beach, which today was filled with hundreds of visitors to the opening day of Sculptures by the Sea. The beach itself is small and stuck between high rocky headlands. Said to be one of the most dangerous swimming beaches in the Sydney due to its strong rips the life saving club is perched high on the cliff top and overlooks the stunning little bay. Rips aside today the surf culture was replaced with art and sculptures varying from giant feet in the sand, a bronzed dog to a modern OMG.

Held every year the festival scatters sculptures along the coastal walk from Tamarama all the way to Bondi and provides a great diversity of art on show to the public for free. The free art however proved to come in second place to many along the path as hundreds of people stood with their backs to the sculptures, looking out into sea to witness a pod of whales migrate along the coastline. At first, I had to admit I had no idea what they were all looking at, and even after a couple pointed out where the whales were, I found it difficult to see them. Were those splashes whales or just waves breaking I thought to myself until a whale surfaced and shot a spray of water from its blowhole after which I believed the hundreds of onlookers weren’t crazy at all.

If you want to see the whales, bring some binoculars as without them it is hard work to find them. Also make sure your camera has got a good zoom, as my 4x optical zoom on the digital point and shoot just didn’t have the power to capture these beautiful creatures. As the whales continued their migration for food and shelter we too continued ours along the headland, through the sculptures before passing the home of the Bondi Iceburgs. Fortunately for us we didn’t have to compete on three of four Sundays to walk past the Iceburgs pool, and fortunately today was a much warmer day than the Iceburgs name suggests to arrive at the iconic Bondi Beach.

The long beach with headlands at each end is heralded as one of the best beaches in the world attracting millions of visitors every year. Swimming is popular and is safer at the northern end of the beach where life savers have the flags set up today. The southern end is home to the backpacker express rip, named due to is proximity to the bus stop and the number of tourists too eager to get into the water that it captures. The walk to the northern flags on the beach was too much for us as by now our stomach’s were crying out for sustenance.

Along the beach there are plenty of restaurants, cafes and surf shops to choose from. We chose the one that was closest to us which provided a good eat, diverse personality set of the waiting staff, shelter from the sun and a nice view across the road to the beach. With a full stomach and after a brief walk around Bondi Beach we decided not to walk back to the car at Coogee, but instead took a connecting bus via Bondi Junction. You can jump on the Bondi express, which takes about half the time, but it you are on a budget and not in a rush the connection via the junction isn’t a problem. Plus if you want to shop there is an expansive shopping centre just across the road from the bus and train terminal which could easily be used as a retreat if the heavens opened up.

Fortunately for us the skies were clear today and with a bit of colour on our skin, legs well stretched and camera getting full of iconic beaches and equally stunning rocky outcrops it was a great way to spend a morning exploring what Sydney’s beaches have to offer. If you are on a budget it’s an ideal way to see it all without the expensive of a tour guide as the walk has plenty of maps along the path and the tourist information at each beach will fill in the rest. Take a picnic bag with you and the whole trip could end up costing you nothing more than a bit of sweat, and if you don’t keep up the sunscreen, a little more than a tan yet leave you with great memories and some spectacular scenery.

How to get there:

Get to Sydney from wherever you live and then either drive to Coogee or Bondi, or catch one of the many buses that depart from Circular Quay and run to both Bondi and Coogee. If the full walk is too much, pick a beach in between and start from there. You have to prepay for the bus which you can get from the small ticket booth opposite Customs House at Circular Quay, convenience stores or vending machines. Alternatively you can catch a train to Bondi Junction and then take a bus from there if you want to check out the shops on your way there or back (or if the weather turns bad and you want to retreat somewhere dry).

There are many tour operators that run various tours to Bondi and the beaches, but if you want to save yourself a few bucks or avoid driving in Sydney, the public transport seemed to get us to the beaches without too much waiting or fuss. For more transport options check out the NSW government public transport website at www.131500.com.au or phone 131 500 in NSW.

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