I had long wanted to visit Pittwater YHA on the edge of Sydney, a hostel surrounded by Kuringai Chase National Park and the Pittwater and accessible only by small ferry from Church Point.  But what would it really be like?  Just another mini hotel, crowded with people, noisy too?

We left the car at Church Point.  Luckily the car park pay stations took credit cards (but not debit cards)  as we didn’t have 17 $2 coins for the parking ticket for 3 days.   The wait for the ferry was fortuitous as it allowed us to relax after the long drive from Canberra and across Sydney.  One should never step from the city into wilderness as one always needs time to settle into wilderness mode.  The ferry ride to Halls Wharf in the evening light was lovely and effectively gave us the transition we needed from urban living.

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Late afternoon, waiting at Church Point for the ferry

The 15 minute walk to the hostel through the beautiful forest catching the last of the golden light started to give us a glimpse of the other world we were entering.  As we left the dark tunnel of trees, walking towards the warmth of late, golden sun, a figure hailed us from the distance, warmly welcoming.   This was Michael, hostel manager extraordinaire, at one with his unique, wilderness environment and gently teasing if he ever gets the chance!  Ever sensitive to his surroundings and to people, he suggested that we make the most of the twilight before bothering with the paperwork.  We sat there, enchanted.

This old hostel is a wonderful place to stay.  It is high on a ridge, surrounded by forest and birdcalls, with views down to the water and across to more forested ridges. Sunset and twilight here are magical times.  The verandahs with their seats call one to sit and dream, as the birdsong increases before the evening hush, and a golden light illumines the bush while the sun sets, followed by the magical afterglow.  Wallabies graze on the lawn. The land exudes antiquity, the beginning of time, deep peace.  The rooms have French doors opening out onto the verandah.  How wonderful to lie in bed listening to the haunting calls of a mopoke owl.

Michael quickly made me firelighter in chief.  How lovely to sit in the pleasant lounge after dinner, reading in front of the fire.  Before going to bed Michael decided we and our only fellow guest, Kristina from Sweden, should experience something special together, drawing us together.  Would we like to see the sunrise?  Despite the early start, how could we refuse?

At 6.30 am next morning the 4 of us gathered in front of the office in the dark and predawn chill.  Michael quickly led us up through the bush to a lookout of wonderful sandstone rocks overlooking the Pittwater. Waiting there in the dawn was magical, and we could easily imagine Aborigines of long ago sitting here on the flat rock overhanging the valley, watching the first rosy light flush the sky as we were doing.  Then the golden sun slowly edged above the horizon, goldening the bush and staining red the trunks of the Sydney Red Gums.

What a magical moment the 4 of us shared.  Peace, harmony, beauty. The glory of a new beginning.

20080702_Pittwater Sydney waitoing for sunrise, YHA Lookout, Michael, Cynthia, Kristina July 08 _0007

Waiting in the dark for the dawn

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Slowly, light and colour tinge the day.

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20080702_Pittwater Sydney Sunrise, YHA Lookout July 08 _0012

Sunrise from the lookout, a very special place.  One can feel the spirits of Aborigines sitting here, waiting for the sun.

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20080702_Pittwater Sydney, dawn, Pittwater, Northern Beaches, Pacific from YHA lookout July 08 _0005

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20080703_Pittwater Sydney, Spotted gums, YHA lookout July 08 _0030

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Still at the lookout

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acacia (wattle) flowers

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At the lookout

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View from the hostel


Michael took us back to the hostel by a different route and we were lucky enough to hear a lyrebird.

Back at the hostel, we ate breakfast on the verandah in the warm sun on a perfect day.  We were joined by Kristina which was lovely.  We chatted for a long time and it was hard to pull ourselves away to go hiking, such is the magic of this place.  When there is such peace and beauty and harmony, how can one leave?

There are many pleasant hikes one can do from here, and our first one was to see some Aboriginal petroglyphs.  Michael gave us a map and excellent directions, and we now found ourselves slipping into this other world that exists on the Pittwater.  We walked down to Halls Wharf where we unfurled a red flag to summon the ferry that does the rounds here and which would otherwise have by-passed Halls Wharf.  We were dropped off at Elvina Bay North and walked up the hill with a young woman who has the good fortune to live here.

Following Michael’s directions we took a road to the left, around a prominent “Swiss Chalet” and then almost immediately branched off to the right along a bush track.  Soon we passed the gravestones of a young boy who had been killed when he fell from a horse in the 19th century.  Somehow we missed the main path, and found ourselves without a track.  However, that was alright, for we knew that the track went to a lookout before heading off to the petroglyphs.  We enjoyed finding our way through the bush, and up through delightful sandstone outcrops to the lookout where we again picked up the main track.  Now we were up on heathland where many plants were in flower, including banksia, boronia, grevillea, epacris and hakea.

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approaching Lovett Bay

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Starting the walk.  Lovett Bay from the track which started at Elvina North 

20080702_Pittwater Sydney, Sandstone outcrop, enroute to petroglyphs July 08 _0019

climbing up onto the heathland plateau but off-track!

20080702_Pittwater Sydney Boronia Sp. on hike to Petroglyphs July 08 _0022


20080702_Pittwater Sydney Grevillea sp. on hike to petroglyphs July 08 _0024


20080702_Pittwater Sydney, Banksia sp. on hike to petroglyphs July 08 _0023

Banksia ericafolia

The petroglyphs cover a large area of fairly level rock and are most interesting to see.  We spent some time here just enjoying being there, and fascinated by the “etchings”. Unfortunately, the photos of the petraglyphs were too hard to capture well on the camera.

On our return, we took the fire trail to Elvina Bay South where we had lunch in a delightful small park on the water’s edge.  However, be warned.  Hidden dangers lie here.  We were sitting side by side on the bench.  Without warning something brushed my cheek and then Cynthia’s sandwich was snatched from her hand as she was about to take a bite.  A very large kookaburra had attacked us.

Aside from predatory birds, it was lovely sitting in the sun in such a dreamy place, waiting for the ferry, summoned by another red flag.  Our next stop was Bell Wharf on Scotland Island.  (As long as we did not return to Church Point all these ferry rides were free!)  Here we walked south and then north around Scotland Island, eventually finding the track which goes over the summit and down to the western shore where we picked up the track to Tennis Wharf.  Soon the ferry pulled in and we were dropped off at Halls Wharf where Kristina boarded it.  She was leaving, but had spent her day hiking to Birnie Lookout.  Back at our room we were delighted to find her note of farewell under our door.

This “expedition” from start to finish had taken only some 4 hours.

Another magical evening watching the pathos of the afterglow, before settling down in front of the fire.  We had been joined by a young couple who only stayed the night and also by Patricia and Ilona.  We heard the young couple complaining about there being no radio and TV, about the intense quiet.  They sat in the lounge for a few minutes, making the comment “one knitting, one reading, how civilized” and then left.

On the following day we first of all went up to the lookout again to take more photos and afterwards we hiked to Birnie Lookout.

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The hostel

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20080703_Pittwater, YH Lookout, Sydney July 08 _0035

The  hike to Birnie Lookout  did not involve a ferry ride, but took us through some semi-rainforest before climbing up onto the heathland of the plateau with its wonderful sandstone outcrops and many species of flowers.  The semi rainforest is so very different from the typical Australian bush.  It is damp, lush and green, with enchanting rays of golden light lighting  ferns and other flora in flashes of bright green.

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20080703_Pittwater Sydney track to Birnie Lookout July 08 _0056

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20080703_Pittwater Sydney, track to Birnie Lookout, July 08 _0078

Then we were back in typical bush, with its wonderful eucalyptus scent and many wildflowers.  Nearing the summit we rounded a corner and burst out laughing.  The track passed through a cave where someone with a whimsical sense of humour had erected a table and benches!  We could not go by without sitting there!

20080703_Pittwater Sydney, Epacris sp., track to Birnie Lookout July 08 _0062 (A)

20080703_Pittwater Sydney, track to Birnie Lookout July 08 _0063 (A)

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From there it was but a short way to the lookout, for which we were unprepared.  One comes out of the bush without warning onto a flat rock platform overhanging the water far below.  The views are extensive, the bays full of yachts, and and houses are tucked away in the bush.  We were entranced and sat there for over an hour, having our lunch.

20080703_Pittwater Sydney, Birnie Lookout, Lovett Bay, Church Point, Scotland Island, July 08 _0074

20080703_Pittwater Sydney, from Birnie Lookout, Lovett Bay, Church Point July 08 _0071

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20080703_Pittwater Sydney, Lovett Bay, track to Bernie Lookout July 08 _0083

Back near the hostel we decided to walk to the head of Morning Bay where the creek flows in and where there are some mangroves and also a salt marsh.  It was lovely.  Another perfect day.  Late afternoon tea sitting in the sun on Morning Bay Wharf, the water a reflecting pool of peace and beauty, watching Michael and friends putting up a mast on a friend’s yacht.

20080703_Pittwater Sydney mangroves, Lovett Bay July 08 _0084

On the mangrove walk

Back at the hostel we again drank in the twilight hour while having a cup of tea and writing our diaries.  After dinner Ilona joined us in front of the fire where we chatted for ages.  Again, mopokes calling in the night.

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Pittwater map

Sketch map by my friend, Cynthia while we were there

Quite amazing – Kristina, with whom we had shared only a few minutes really, had gone to the trouble of leaving us a farewell note, saying how much she had enjoyed her stay and our company.  Now, on this last morning,  packing in our room, the French doors open, I sang the one word,  “Somewhere”, and Cynthia continued “over the rainbow”.   Seconds later,  Patricia, sitting on the verandah,  picked up the song and and in a lovely voice continued it.  Michael walked up to say goodbye and  joined the two girls on the verandah.  It was with sadness that we took our leave of this magical place, and of Michael, Patricia and Ilona (as we had earlier of Kristina).  This bewitching place had beguiled us, and we felt that we were leaving behind people and a place that were part of us.  Only rarely in life does one experience a total oneness with place, a oneness that takes one out of this world to somewhere special to another world.  Here, strange forces had come together, to create that feeling of oneness.  Everything had been in harmony: people, place, atmosphere, the very days themselves, peace, beauty. The true happiness that comes with peace and harmony.   A touch of paradise.  Somewhere over the rainbow.

20080704_Pittwater YHA Sydney , Goodbye, Patricia, Ilona, Michael, July 08 _0088

Goodbye.  Patricia, Ilona and Michael