3. Australia Road Trip: The Old Home Town
Bundeena - sign of the times
It's Just a little village
On the Road
We begin our road trip in a trendy suburb on one of the Northern Beaches of Sydney, about 40km from downtown, we have to haul right through the centre of the "Big Smoke" and out the other side to reach the south coast. It's an adventurous, traffic-ridden, high speed journey along Barrenjoey and Pittwater Roads, then through suburbs such as Narrabeen, Dee Why and Manly, down the multi-million dollar mansion studded hill to the Spit Bridge, through the North Shore and onto the Expressway which takes us over the Harbour Bridge. There are other routes, including through the Harbour tunnel, but I love the spectacular view from the huge art deco structure that is the Bridge - the sparkling Harbour, the Opera House, The skyscrapers and the urban canyons that they create.
The fast moving expressway leads us into a tunnel and under Darlinghurst, out the other side and onto the airport. We skirt Botany Bay and are soon in the heart of old suburban Sydney. Over the Taren Point Bridge we go and onto Sutherland Shire. Our first stop will be at a place dear to my heart - a small village nestled on the southern side of Port Hacking. Bundeena is where I grew up and it provided the most idyllic of childhoods. The town is accessible in two ways. By Ferry from the suburb of Cronulla or by road through the beautiful Royal National Park.
The Park is some 40,000 acres of wild natural bushland, sporting a variety of coastal environments, from high, dry scrubland and heath to deep forested valleys and rainforests. Apparently it was the second place in the world dedicated as a national park, Yellowstone in the USA being the first. From Sutherland we head south on the Princes Highway for a few klicks before taking the National Park turnoff on the left. There's an admission fee unless you are going to Bundeena which is not under the Park's juristiction. We are now out of the city and in the bush. The road descends into a deep valley at the bottom of which is the Hacking River and a delightful picnic spot called Audley where you can hire row boats to explore upstream where there are sandstone cliffs and huge eucalyptus forests.
But we don't want to stop here. Artillery Hill lis a murderously steep incline up the other side of the valley. A few miles further on and we come to the Bundeena turn-off. It's six old miles along a high ridge to the township. On the right, over sweeping bushland we catch glimpses of the Pacific Ocean; to our left the many arms of Port Hacking snake through the green, forested hills that drop down to the deep blue waters. Straight ahead we can see Sydney in all its glory, some 30 kilometres away. On a clear day the distant city skyscrapers remind me of a city out of science fiction or perhaps Middle Earth, the way they sparkle and shine on the distant horizon. This is a great view of the metropolis, well know to local Aussies but seldom seen by the casual overseas tourist.
Bundeena on Port Hacking
Bundeena - little town surrounded by National Park and the sea. Peaceful, isolated, desirable... Sydney city is just an hour or so to the north.
Bundeena - One of Sydney's hidden gems
Bundeena, population about 3000, is nestled amongst the red gums on the foreshores of Port Hacking. As you come into the town, on the left there is a road that goes to Bonnievale, a picnic area with a campground. It is part of the Park so maybe you should have bought a ticket at the Entrance gate after all. My local knowledge helps me here, though I haven't lived in the place for decades. The Bundeena road continues up to Brighton Street where the shops are. There a few cafés, a general store, chemist and a few other businesses. There is also the ferry wharf and up the hill is the RSL club. RSL stands for Returned Servicemens League, so it is a kind of Legion Club, but different. RSLs, or Arees in Aussie slang, are common throughout New South Wales. They are often the social hub of small towns - pub, restuarant, cabaret, casino and pool hall all rolled into one. One-armed bandits (fruit machines) fill a big room, always spitting out less money than one puts into them. In Bundeena there is also a Bowling Club (The Bowlo) which is just like an Aree except they do lawn bowls and don't have a military connection.
Jibbon - King of Beaches
Being a Bundeenesian makes me a "son of a beach"
Bundeena has three main beaches. Hordons, Gunyah and Jibbon. Hordensis the busiest of the beaches as it is down by the shops and the ferry wharf; Gunyah is a secret rocky beach with a rustic, manmade sea-pool suitable for kids, while Jibbon is (to me) the King of Beaches - it is officially in the National Park and has been returned to its natural state over the years. There aren't even any bins here so take your rubbish with you. Jibbon is a golden crescent that ends in a rocky headland crowned with thick coastal scrub, mainly tea tree, banksia, acacia and of course eucalypts. Follow the beach (on foot), then find the sandy trail through the bush till you come to Jibbon Point at the wide entrance to Port Hacking. When I was a teenager we would surf here amongst the rocks and kelp on waves that wound themselves around the rocky headland. In a sheltered gash in the rocks there is a beach made of millions of tiny, crunchy shells. My Dad and others used to spearfish here back in the sixties long before it was banned, but there are some fantastic underwater rock shelfs to explore if you like diving and snorkelling. Just a bit further around the rocks and you are facing the wild, tumultuous Pacific. A mile or so off shore waves crash on the Bombora, a barely submerged reef and extreme shipping hazard. In a cliff face there is a poignant marble plaque embedded, dedicated to the two lives lost in the wreck of the launch Bobby back in the 1930s. At the Point, if you look south you can see that the shoreline turns dramatic. Huge cliffs known as The Balconies form the coast for many miles.
Hidden in the thick tea tree forest above the Point are the Aboriginal Carvings. This was a sacred place to the Darawhal aboriginal people who once lived in this region. The carvings are etched onto a large exposed expanse of grey, lichen covered sandstone. There are carvings of a kangaroo, a jellyfish, a sunfish, and a massive outline of a whale. The lines in the rock are truly ancient and care should be taken not to walk on them.
Bundeena township itself has small, gentle offerings. A few quaint old beach shacks still survive though there is some diabolical suburban architecture here too. Despite that, little has changed in reality, it is still a laid back, rustic retreat from the frenetic chaos that is modern day Sydney.
As for places to stay... there used to be a caravan park/campground in the town but as far as I know it is no longer taking guests. There are numerous bed and breakfasts and off course there is the basic campground at Bonnievale. We are lucky because my mate Victor lives here so we visit him and park up in his driveway for our first night on the road. Bundeena is dark and quiet at night. No traffic and not many street lights. Possums rustle about as do the dark silhouttes of fruit bats flitting across the sky. In the hot season cicadas, crickets and frogs form a chorus that reminds us that in Australia we are always very close to the edge of the wilderness.
Come on, lets get on the road...
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