Palm Beach: A guide to the best of Sydney's Northern Beaches
With sand between your toes and an ice cream in your hand, this northernmost suburb of Sydney's Northern Beaches is the perfect place to explore on a warm day.
It's the setting for Home and Away's fictional Summer Bay, but in reality it's home to wealthy individuals and swanky holiday houses.
We spent a glorious sunny day in the area and have plenty to recommend if you're planning a day trip from Sydney. The only problem with Palm Beach is that you may not want to leave...
This historic lighthouse and accompanying cottages are reached by a relatively steep but short trail from ground level. We walked the track in Birkenstocks and thongs (flip-flops to our fellow Brits!) and had no problems.
Offering superb panoramic views over Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Pittwater and the Central Coast, it's worth the walk. If you visit in springtime, you may be lucky enough to spot migrating whales too.
HIT the Beaches
With two beaches facing different directions, you get the best of both worlds. You'll find crashing waves offering excellent surf conditions on one side, and the tranquil waters of Pittwater on the other. Bring your esky, bathing suit and a beach towel and you're set!
wander the Township
With boutique shops and local children selling homemade lemonade at the roadside, a relaxed wander through Palm Beach's streets can easily steal an hour or so.
Where to eat
We dined at Barrenjoey House, which sits just across from Pittwater near where the ferries arrive and depart. The food was delicious and the rooms airy, just what we needed on a hot December day.
We stopped briefly at The Boat House but didn't end up eating there. It was very busy and they operate a 'grab-a-table-yourselves' policy which became too competitive for our liking, but we've heard the food is terrific. Dunes is also worth a look.
Get out on the water
Barrenjoey Boat Hire rents our kayaks, paddleboards or tinnies. We also spotted a few jet skis whizzing around, but unsure if you can hire these. Whale watching season is between May and November, so you could also join a cruise to spot these majestic creatures during their migration. Or, do what we did, and take a boat over to an awesome swimming spot...
A twenty-minute boat ride at a cost of $16.20 return will get you to The Basin, a popular campground with a sheltered deep water lagoon and BBQ facilities.
We dumped our stuff on a shaded patch of lawn and jumped into the deepwater lake: the perfect place to cool off on a humid day!
You can hike from The Basin to an Aboriginal art site to see some interesting rock engravings. If you're feeling energised, you can tackle several other walking trails and explore more of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.
Great Mackerel Beach
After visiting the Aboriginal art site, we decided to head to Great Mackerel Beach and take the ferry back to Palm Beach from there, instead of The Basin.
We clambered down the rocky path, shaded beneath trees that obscured our view of the ocean. We turned a corner and there it was: a view of turquoise blue waters gently lapping the boulders below. Kudos to whoever owns the gorgeous house pictured above!
It was the right decision: idyllic Mackerel has around 40 full-time residents, with national park trails and beach metres away from each doorstep.
The last ferry departs Mackerel at 6.30pm, allowing plenty of time to splash around in the clear waters.
We drove back to the city exhausted but with some incredible memories. For a break from inner city life, and to experience other shores besides the standard Sydney beaches (Bondi, Manly, Coogee...), Palm Beach is a terrific place to visit.
Getting there & where to stay
Palm Beach is around an hour's drive from Sydney CBD, though be warned: parking is a nightmare. We fortunately found a free spot on the outskirts of town, around a five minute walk to Barrenjoey House restaurant. If you want to be closer to the lighthouse, prepare to drive around car parks aimlessly for a while!
The L90 bus goes from Sydney CBD every half an hour and gets to Palm Beach in around 1 hour 45 minutes. Check the transport for NSW website for details.
Ferries are run by Fantasea to The Basin and Mackerel mentioned above, and also Ettalong on the Central Coast. Timings/price details can be found here.
Accommodation options are limited and expensive: check out Air BnB, Booking.com and Stayz.