Window on Sydney's northern beaches

Sydney is more than just a very large city. It has many diverse neighbourhoods that stretch from the Blue Mountains to the coast, north and south.

As you might expect, in the city and many suburbs there is plenty of noise and traffic, but it's not all like that.

The beaches and bays and inlets are legendary, so let's take a look at some of the beautiful spaces to the north of the Central Business District.


Manly Beach

Thousands of visitors to Manly arrive this way, on one of the fleet of ferries which have been bringing workers and holiday-makers to Manly for many decades. Once the slogan was 'seven miles from Sydney, a thousand miles from care'. Convert that to kilometres if you like, but it's not as catchy.

Many visitors are so excited to finally reach this legendary beach suburb that they may not take time to glance to the left and see one of the  most gracious places on the northern side of Sydney. A white wedding cake of a building, it has stood here since 1933 when it was built by the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company.

Originally a bathing pavilion, the plan was to provide modest bathers with a private place to shed their day clothes and come out daringly exposed in neck-to-knee woollen garments, ready to swim in the specially-made swimming pool on the waters' edge. Today much has changed of course in bathing habits, but that gorgeous view across Manly Cove and beyond to the Sydney Heads is still enough to make a first-time visitor gasp.

Now, there is even more to make people exclaim. The Bistro, headed up by Tuscan born Chef Andrea Corsi is making waves - of a different kind to those just beyond the windows. 

Corsi's chef's pedigree is impeccable. After learning his craft in Italian cuisine, he expanded into French cuisine under the guidance of Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in the UK, before moving to Australia.

In Sydney he met Giovanni Pilu who would become his great friend and mentor and he worked for a decade at both Cala Luna and Pilu at Freshwater before he and Pilu opened and co-owned Cavallino. During this time Chef Andrea also successfully became a Certified Sommelier.


There's a definite Left Bank feel to Hemingway's Manly, but here the sight of water across the road is not the Seine, but the South Tasman Sea. Owners Emmanuel Deleuse and Sonia Piantoni could see the potential for this place when they visited some time back, and when they took over about a year ago, they had a clear idea of what they wanted to make of the place. 

And the food spells it out perfectly. Relaxed - a paper bag of the best shoestring chips ($10); and indulgent - they're accompanied by a tub of truffled aioli so irresistible that you automatically say 'no, I can't touch that!' and then find yourself dipping back and back into it again.

Hemingway's chef Hungarian-born Zsolt Kovacs has had 12 years experience fine-tuning his skills as a chef, starting his training in the Rhineland in Germany, before moving on to Munich, Berlin and Bavaria. Zsolt has trained with many renowned French chefs throughout his career and it shows in the food. 

Many of the dishes are ideal for sharing, such as this tarte flambe from Alsace, a sort of white pizza with cheese and onions and bacon. Perfect with beers and a great starter.

Easy to find, just a block from The Corso, and across the road from the beach, this place is worth remembering.


Balmoral Beach

Food lovers come to this beach to dine at the former bathing pavilion which was reborn decades ago as The Bather's Pavilion restaurant owned by renowned French-born chef, Serge Dansereau. While to facade faces the street...

...diners get to enjoy the full frontal view of lovely Balmoral Bay. The building combines both a full restaurant and a more casual cafe, there is something for all diners here.


Freshwater Beach

Surfing is the number one sport on Sydney's Northern Beaches and there has been some dispute as to who should be credited with introducing it to Australia.

Legendary Hawaiian swimmer and surfer Duke Kahanamoku is believed to have raised an interest in it when he visited Sydney in 1914 and demonstrated his skill at Freshwater Beach.

On the bushy headland next to the Harbord Diggers carpark, a memorial walk features decorative mosaic plaques recognising many local surfers as well as a statue to ‘The Duke’. The headland overlooks North Curl Curl Beach on one side and Freshwater on the other.



Dee Why Beach

Although Dee Why is a popular surfing beach....

.... the rock pool is popular in rough weather, and at other times for families and those who simply want to swim. Many of the northern beaches have these pools.

Beyond the beachfront park, take time to enjoy one of the many cafes and restaurants. This is Girdlers Cafe which serves vegan and vegetarian food as well as more mainstream healthy dishes- and good coffee. Owned by a former local football star, the cafe is proud of its  good and honest (and often organic) food.



Avalon Beach

Head still further north, with the south Tasman Sea on your right. Notice that this is technically not the Pacific Ocean. After passing several other popular surfing beaches: Collaroy, Narrabeen, Warriewood, Mona Vale and Bilgola (the last one fondly referred to as 'Billies'), finally you reach this one.

By now you will probably be hungry again - all that sea air does it every time! - and this restaurant located in the surf club is the ideal spot to stop... 

... and enjoy some good fresh fish and chips.....

...with this view right outside the window.

Or you can simply go surfing!



Whale Beach

There is an almost aerial view of the beach from Jonah's Restaurant clifftop position. Fun fact: In season you may be lucky enough to spot groups of migrating whales moving north at the start of winter or heading south again from September to November. Whales at Whale Beach - why not?

Since it first opened as a roadhouse in 1929, Jonah's, perched far above the ocean and beach, has been a fascinating property. Many celebrities have dined in the restaurant including Sir Lawrence Olivier, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall and Bono.

Today, the building also offers elegant boutique accommodation. Although Whale Beach is at the tip of the Northern Beaches peninsula, a flight by seaplane makes it just a 15-minute transfer from Rose Bay on Sydney Harbour.



Palm Beach

Finally at the tip of a peninsula, that you can walk across in a couple of minutes, is a place known to people all around the world, courtesy of the popular TV series Home and Away.

This lighthouse is often seen in episodes, and it marks the northernmost point of Barrenjoey peninsula.

In the early years of the colony people came here to fish, extract salt and burn lime. In 1843 a customs station was established at the headland to prevent smugglers bringing goods into Sydney through Broken Bay and Pittwater.

As the bay was used by ships as a safe haven during storms, a beacon to assist them (basically, a fire raised in a basket) was begun from as early as 1855. Today’s lighthouse constructed from stone quarried from the headland is the third one built, completed in 1881.

Unmanned after 1932, Barrenjoey is now under the control of the National Parks and Wildlife Service New South Wales

Palm Beach is doubly blessed with two beaches, one on the Pittwater side and the other on the ocean, known to many as Summer Bay

This jetty at Taylors Point, further down the inlet, also features occasionally as a film set in H&A.

At the northern end of Pittwater where the Hawkesbury river meets the Tasman Sea, stands Lion Island. Not open to visitors, its only inhabitants are a colony of fairy penguins.



Meet some locals

While the penguins may not be available, there are many other birds and animals living in the area. Kookaburras are friendly, especially if food is available. Their cry is a raucous 'laugh', but keep an eye on them if you are having a barbecue or picnic. It is no laughing matter if one swoops in and takes the steak or sausage from your picnic platter!

Rainbow lorikeets are beautiful but pushy small birds. They stop at nothing to make sure they have the best (and the most) of any food available... well as foraging from native bushes.

These sulphur-crested cockatoos have comical personalities, and many become almost tame - again when food is involved. They are quite large, but are excellent fliers and you may see them in suburbs, wheeling around over traffic, or hanging upside-down from a branch or an overhead wire.

Top-knot pigeons are rarer and more shy, but very dapper-looking.

Short-beaked corellas travel in pairs and they have a loud and harsh cry. Note the fancy eye makeup!

Another local visitor is the king parrot, regally decked out with a scarlet head and breast. These are so friendly they may sit on your hand – if sunflower seeds are involved.

Nocturnal animals include owls, bandicoots and possums. This is a ringtail possum, a marsupial. Her baby has moved from the pouch, now preferring to be carried on mum's back.  If startled, she can move fast, so junior needs those long claws to hang on to her thick fur, as it will be a speedy (and rough) ride to safety.

'Boss Cocky' of his mob of thirteen cockatoos, this one will let us stroke the silky feathers on his back.




Enjoy our beautiful video of Pittwater

Let's get back to Pittwater. By now you will recognise this wharf and Lion Island.

Yachting is a favourite activity for many locals, and there are marinas in most of the bays of this estuary.


Clareville Beach

One of Sydney's best family beaches, Clareville is a hidden gem not widely known outside the area.

Located about half-way along the eastern side of Pittwater...

.... it is secluded and quiet, a place where children still build sandcastles...

...paddle in the shallows...

..and where lovers can relax with a glass of wine...

... while enjoying the sunset.

Seagulls and boathouses...

..and the boats themselves. It has something for everyone.



Explore Pittwater and beyond

Palm Beach wharf is the departure point for ferries to other parts of Pittwater as well as further afield. In 25 minutes you can reach Ettalong, a small coastal town on the NSW Central Coast, with a busy weekend market. By road the trip would take a couple of hours, but this way makes it a pleasantly short trip.


Take a trip around Scotland Island

The local ferry from Church Point (above) is the ideal way to see this car-free island which is central to Pittwater. Local residents use the ferry for their daily commute to the mainland, or use their own dinghies or motor boats.

By taking a round trip on the ferry you can see all the various stops and maybe chat to locals with their shopping bags and dogs and children as they head home. 

Turn to look the other way and you may find yourself amongst racing yachts in full sail.

The ferry service has been in operation for many years...

....and is vital to the daily life of the thousand or so people who call Scotland Island home.

The trip takes about 45 minutes....

.... and is not expensive.

The area is so tranquil, you may even consider moving there!

Occasionally the ferry passes houseboats where the owners live part time, or even fulltime.

And these are the 'garages' you have if you are an island dweller!

Finally when you return to the wharf at Church Point, you might choose to have a meal or a coffee at the restaurant that faces the island.




The beauty of Pittwater is well-known, but never more than at sunset, the perfect conclusion to a day spent in this lovely part of  Sydney.

Consider these, and no doubt you will agree....



Finally, a word from a wise old friend.....

"When you visit Sydney make sure you don't miss these northern beaches and waterways."


Words: ©Sally Hammond

Photos: ©Gordon and Sally Hammond

Video: ©Gordon Hammond

More information..... 


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