Escape to Pittwater: A Place to Kayak, Hike and Enjoy Nature
By Bonnie Way
A fire crackles in the fire place, and outside in the dark, the tree frogs are singing. Away over Morning Bay, house lights glimmer like fireflies while the hill across from us looks like a dark dinosaur silhouetted against the starry sky.
The cockatoos and kookaburras have gone to bed and the wallabies that were trimming the grass on the lawn have also retired.
In the lounge, one man strums a guitar, keeping tune with the crackling fire and the singing frogs.
It’s evening at Pittwater YHA — a relaxing, quiet place on the edge of the ocean and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, not far from Sydney, Australia.
Pittwater is one of those rare places where time stands still — watches aren’t needed to relax in the hammock, explore the hiking trails, or paddle a kayak around the bay.
I arrived on a quiet afternoon, after a two-hour trip via bus, ferry and foot. The simple brown sign announcing that I’d arrived brought a thrill of relief after my worries over missing my stop or getting on the wrong ferry. (After a few more trips back and forth, I realized that my fears were needless, as Sydney bus drivers are friendly and there was only one ferry.)
A whiteboard on the steps announced a welcome and had a room number beside my name. I was a bit taken aback by this informality, but I followed the open, airy hallway to the end and parked my things in room number 7. Australian plants were crowding around the door, as friendly as the wildlife and other visitors at the hostel.
I dug my food out of my duffel bag, as I’d been advised when booking this place that I’d need to bring all my foodstuffs with me. I now saw why. There were no street lights, restaurants or bars, or noisy cars and buses. Just the hostel, the wallabies, and the bushes. The closest houses were back down by the wharf, a fifteen-minute walk away.
I made my way back down the hallway, past the closed office and the empty lounge — a cozy looking place with a few bookshelves, big couches, and long tables — to the bright, open kitchen. I stashed my food in a bin, then grabbed a book from the lounge and went to test out the hammock hanging on the veranda.
Bushwalking in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
The hostel manager showed up later in the afternoon and provided a simple map for some of the local bushwalks. Time in the hammock had rejuvenated me, as it had so many travellers before me, and I was ready to do some exploring.
It had just stopped raining, so water hung on the branches and dripped into puddles. The trail started off as a wide fire road, curving around a hill and steadily winding upwards, then diminished to a shoulder-wide track that had me ducking branches and dodging spider webs.
The last part switch-backed up more steadily, though trees and overhanging branches kept me from seeing much of the surrounding scenery.
Finally, I burst out of the bushes at the top — a flat, rock-covered plateau with a 360-degree view of the countryside. There was even a bench for the tired hiker to relax on while admiring that view.
Behind me stretched a tree-covered hill — rolling green as far as I could see. In front, bays were formed by islands and spits, and beyond that, the flat, smooth line of the ocean. White sailboats polka-dotted the water while houses peeked out from the trees of the islands.
Throughout the rest of my stay there — which started out as two days and turned into two weeks — I explored the other trails in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, sometimes by myself, other times in tour groups led by the hostel managers or with other guests who shared my interest in hiking. Pittwater’s small size (it can sleep thirty guests) made it easy to get to know the other guests, from world travelers like myself to locals on weekend getaways from Sydney.
A Kayak Trip
Towards the end of my stay, I did a kayak excursion with a young German traveler named Ute. We were both familiar with kayaks, but the flat, open yellow kayaks rented by the hostel would be easy to handle by anyone.
A steady, forty-five minute paddle took us out of Morning Bay, around a spit of land, and into the Basin. The sun was bright, the morning still, and there were few other boats of any sort on the water.
The Basin was a beautiful clear pool of water with a picnic area and several hiking trails around it. Ute and I hid the kayak in some bushes, found a map at an information booth, and started up the trail.
Our first stop was the aboriginal engravings. These were pictures carved into the flat, grey rocks that broke up the waist-high bushes. A few signs explained the engravings, telling of local legends depicted in the rocks or how the aboriginals carved the pictures.
We zigzagged from picture to picture, walking around them and cocking our heads like a bird watching a worm as we tried to decipher what each one was. What was most amazing was to consider that one person’s creativity had lasted in the rocks for hundreds of years so that we could see it today.
From there, we hiked over to a lookout for a view of Palm Beach and Barrenjoey Lighthouse, perched on a hump of rock jutting from the smooth blue ocean. We sat on the rocks eating our lunches, watching boats crisscrossing the water below us and leaving long, rippling tracks behind them.
Back at the Basin, we stripped off our heavy hiking boots and let our toes curl in the warm sand and then wiggle in the cool water of the Basin. We wished for “swimmers,” as the Aussies would say, for the Basin was as clear as a swimming pool and had a net across the inlet to keep sharks out.
Since we hadn’t brought swimsuits, we settled for wading, with small, sand-coloured fish ogling our legs and then scattering whenever we moved.
Once on the way back, we paused our paddling while a speedboat went past, its waves leaving us rocking gently up and down, up and down, until it was long gone.
The seawater that dripped off our paddles and splashed into the kayak left salty marks on our skin and clothes. Back at the hostel, a hot shower rinsed the seawater away and soothed tired muscles. For our trek, we had good pictures, good memories, and a good workout.
I left Pittwater with the feeling that I had been there for much longer than two weeks, and with the knowledge that someday I would come back to this little piece of paradise.
Lonely Planet Reviews Pittwater (with map)
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Bonnie Way spent one summer in Australia before her last year of university. She is currently the editor of FellowScript, a quarterly writer’s newsletter. When she’s not writing, she’s busy as a wife and mom.
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