While I had heard of The Pittwater I actually visited the northernmost part of Sydney’s Northern Beaches Council Area to see Palm Beach and the Barrenjoey Lighthouse and because the Lighthouse was to be the starting point for my coastal walk from here, the most northerly point of Greater Sydney, to Cronulla Beach, some 100kms south and the city’s most southerly beach. The full walk will be done over an unspecified period of time!
Getting to the recognised start of the walk up to the lighthouse, I walked along Barrenjoey Beach, a beach I had not heard of, sitting, as it does, in the shadow of its much more famous sister, Palm Beach, located on the Pacific Ocean, a few hundred metres away across a narrow peninsula.
Not only was I impressed with the beach I was bowled over by the Pittwater itself and the view west to the main part of the of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.
The Pittwater is one finger, or a bay, of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River estuary and thus part of the large water mass that separates Sydney from the Central Coast. While some ferries and boats still ply these waters their numbers dwindle with improvements in road and rail connections between Sydney and the Central Coast. That said anyone who has travelled from Sydney CBD to say Avoca Beach can attest to the fact that the road journey between the two remains lengthy, despite the fact that Avoca is a only short hop across the water from the Barrenjoey Headland.
The Pittwater was surveyed by crew members of the HMS Sirius and other First Fleet ships in 1788. New South Wales’ first Governor then referred to it as “… the finest piece of Water I ever saw, and which I honoured with the name of Pitt Water …” . Governor Phillips had named it after William Pitt the Younger then Prime Minister of Britain. It is thought to have been the first place in Australia to have been formerly named by European settlers. Off course, Aboriginals had been here for thousands of years prior to European settlement but in 1789 between 50% and 90% of them were wiped out in a smallpox epidemic.
In the early 1800s land in the area was granted to a mix of pardoned convicts and free settlers. Escaped convicts also took up residence in this then fairly remote and rugged area. In more heady times the Pittwater, which provided an important shipping route for Sydney, became a hotbed for piracy and smuggling.
Land around the water was cleared for cultivation and to provide timber for both fuel and building. The area soon became an important farming district, providing food to the burgeoning city of Sydney, then some distance to the south.
Over time Sydney expanded and farming gave way to residential property, specifically on the Pittwater Peninsula (the east side of the Pittwater) which has some of the most amazing beaches in Australia, and indeed in the world. Eat your hearts out Bondi and Manly!
Today the suburb of Palm Beach on the north of the Pittwater Peninsula sports multimillion dollar mansions (mainly well secluded) and top of the range BMWs seem to be the entry level, when it comes to vehicles – a far cry from being a convict and smuggler hide-out. The much more rugged western side of The Pittwater has been preserved as the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.
While the 18 km2 Pittwater, now popular for sailing, fishing and other watersports, can be admired from numerous vantage points I was pleased that I saw it from the Barrenjoey Beach and as I made my way up to the lighthouse on the headland. the latter gave me a bird’s-eye view of The Pittwater, to my right looking down, and the famous Palm Beach on my left. Viewers of the soap opera ‘Home and Away’ may know that it is filmed on Palm Beach (renamed Summer Beach for the soapie) and in its environs.
Lest you be tempted to sunbathe or otherwise linger on the southern part of Barrenjoey Beach, which would be entirely understandable, do have a look at my words of caution on errant golf balls, relayed in my separate review – Barrenjoey Lighthouse Walk.
In visiting Pittwater I took the L90 bus (90 minutes) from Wynyard Station in the city centre and got off at the Palm Beach Golf Club. This is the only public transport option – thankfully it runs regularly from very early morning to late at night. There is also ample (expensive) paid parking at various points along Palm Beach and around the golf club should you chose to drive (approx 1 hr).