The alarm clock’s piercing tone awoke me from a deep sleep at 3am. I felt like my head had only just hit the pillow, but no time to waste – we had an adventure ahead and so I jumped in the shower to wake myself up and awaited the arrival of my friends Vic, James & Elisa who were picking me up en-route to the airport.
We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare and met up with Andrew and Vaughan, and hit the koru lounge for a 4.30am round of champagne.
The trip was already off to a good start and although we didn’t know it yet, it was only going to get better…
Thankfully I managed to get a bit more sleep on the plane on the way to Sydney. When we landed, we picked up a Thrifty Rental Car people mover which could carry all six of us. After extensive research, renting a big car was going to be about the same price as an Uber, taxi or transfer to and from Pittwater (about 50km north of the airport – through the city) and it meant that we could go sightseeing, shopping and provisioning first.
With former Sydneysider Andrew at the wheel, we headed across the iconic harbour bridge in the direction of Crows Nest, a suburb on the North Shore to the Henri Lloyd outlet shop. I went on a big shopping spree, buying two new dresses, a jacket, jumper and two new T Shirts – all at about 60% off! I also got a really cool pair of Sperry Slider shoes from the Whitworths shop up the road.
When you spend more than AUD$300 in one shop, and if you are leaving the country, then you can claim the tax back! So with our combined spend, we were eligible for $88 back – simply keep your receipts, and download an app to enter all your details (you get to jump the long queue if you have completed the info on the app) and then go to the Tourist Refund desk at the airport (just after customs & security) and they will pay the money on to your credit card. More info here.
Then we hit the supermarket. As we often travel with friends, we find the best way to manage group cooking is to divvy up the meals – so we each had either a lunch or dinner to prepare. Everyone tends to want to impress everyone with their meal, so it means you also get to eat really well! We’d put all our ingredients on a combined list and each put AUD$250 in to a kitty to use for combined expenses, like the groceries, alcohol, fuel for the car and any other incidental costs. We bought a mountain of food, beer and wine for the five days ahead.
After all that shopping we were starving, so Andrew took us to the Newport Arms Hotel. Overlooking Pittwater this is an incredible place, with a variety of different bars and food areas dotted around an expansive sunny deck. They have a wharf and moorings available so you can even arrive by boat. We could have stayed for ages, but we had a boat to pick up!
We’d booked a Jeanneau 39i called Bandaleni from Smart Boating in Bayview Marina, Pittwater. A five day/four night charter was AUD$3588.00 – so AUD$150.00 per person per night. With three double cabins, she was the perfect size for us as close friends. She was a similar boat to what we hope to buy in a few years time, so it was the perfect opportunity for us to get a feel for size and how she handled.
After a thorough briefing on the yacht and her systems, we were off! We unfurled the sails and headed out to the Basin or Coasters Retreat – a stunning spot only three nautical miles from the marina.
Pittwater reminds me of the Marlborough Sounds, many waterways surrounded by thick bush covered hills dropping straight down to the water. This area is called the Ku-rin-guy National Park. We picked up one of the many public moorings in the Basin and enjoyed some fresh seafood for dinner.
We were all pretty shattered and turned in early for the night, and woke up early again the next day – deciding that we should all just stay on New Zealand time (2 hours earlier) to save us having to re-acclimatise when we got home!
We had a nice breeze and headed out for a sail around Lion Island – taking care to not go out too far and go beyond the charter limit. Then we picked up a mooring under Barrenjoey head, (watch out for the shallow patch over on this side of the inlet). We rowed ashore in the tippy dinghy and went for a walk up to the lighthouse and enjoyed the stunning views out over the Pacific Ocean on one side and Pittwater on the other. Some of you may recognise the beach as Summer Bay in the Aussie soap – Home and Away.
After our walk up the hill we wandered along the beach to the Boathouse Cafe which is a gorgeous spot but super busy. We ordered green smoothies and Vaughan ordered a wine despite it being only 10am Australian time. His argument – that we were staying on NZ time and it was midday ‘our time’. We were ok with that, but I am sure the waiter looked at us a bit strangely…
While we had been exploring, Andrew had been catching up with his sister Sue and her partner on board Bandaleni. They had paddled out in their super racey kayaks that the boys couldn’t resist having a go on.
Then it was time for more sailing. We ducked around the corner to another fabulous anchorage – Refuge Bay. We couldn’t believe how many boats there were! Literally hundreds. We managed to find a mooring, but got kicked off that one – apparently the one club mooring we weren’t allowed to use… but found another in a great spot. It was hot and sunny and we drank and ate and had a fantastic night.
The next morning we moved to a mooring a bit closer to the beach to save rowing the tippy dinghy too far, and we went ashore to check out the stunning waterfall. Vic and Elisa braved a freezing fresh water shower. Andrew disappeared off in to the bush to try and climb up to the top of the waterfall. We had attempted this climb on another trip four years earlier, and the ‘track’ hadn’t improved. I had a tantrum then, and did again this time. Basically there is no track – and when you are not overly keen on the idea of rustling around in big bushes that look like perfect places for the many poisonous things Australia has to offer, or clambering over massive boulders – then I don’t recommend this climb!
The cruising guide does say there is a track to the top, so perhaps we just missed the right one, although there certainly didn’t seem to be anything signposted.
It was another stunning sunny day. We had been really lucky with the weather considering that everyone was telling us that it had done nothing but rain for the last month. Being April, there does always seem to be a cyclone of one kind or another causing havoc in NZ or the East Coast of Australia.
We put the sails up and drifted down Cowan Waters – another arm of the many inlets and then in to Smith’s Creek. Vic, a keen fisherwoman, was keen to drop her rod over the side and see if anything was biting, so we took down the sails and slowly drifted along in the current. Sadly she didn’t catch anything.
Andrew had brought a couple of bottles of champagne, and so we decided to have a glass of bubbles before our lunch booking. We all got changed for lunch, some got a little more dressed up than others…
Then it was off to lunch. Andrew’s brother Dave, sister-in-law Georgie and friend Warwick were joining us at the Cottage Point Inn. Located waterside alongside a cluster of holiday houses, this is a fantastic restaurant. You can pick up a mooring or pull up alongside the wharf – but leave some space for the seaplanes that bring guests over from Sydney for a flash lunch. We had a fabulous lunch in the sun.
After lunch we stopped off at the general store nearby to pick up some more ice – which was super expensive but absolutely essential for the mojito’s that Vaughan was making us.
We found a lovely anchorage in Yeomans Bay and dropped the anchor just as the sun was going down. In the morning we were surrounded by thick fog that thankfully lifted to another stunning day.
We cruised around to Halletts Beach, where we’d heard from a guy at a cafe that there are goannas that live on the beach. Goannas are big lizards, which apparently can get up to a couple of metres long, but I am not sure about that, as there weren’t any on the beach when we got there. A lady we met said they usually come out in the afternoon. It was a stunning beach so we had a few beers in the sun admiring the view and waiting for the breeze to fill in so we could go sailing again.
As the afternoon breeze picked up, we went out sailing again out in to the ocean and back in to the main Pittwater inlet again. We headed back to the Basin – which was absolutely packed with boats, although we still managed to pick up a mooring. We headed ashore where there is a campsite and a lovely enclosed lagoon where people were paddle boarding and swimming and playing cricket on the beach. There were even wild wallabies hopping around, and a stunning sunset.
Then it was our final day. Why are these holidays always over so quickly? I can’t wait until we do this full time. We packed up the boat and did some serious eating of the remaining food. We dropped the boat back at 2pm, and then had a good run back through Sydney to the airport for our 7pm flight home.
Bandaleni had been a brilliant boat, and reinforced our decision to buy a 38-40′ yacht in the future. We were really pleased with how well she handled and how well she was maintained.
I’d highly recommend Pittwater as a sailing destination, close to Sydney and not far to the airport, there are heaps of different places to explore, lots of moorings if you aren’t confident anchoring, beautiful golden sandy beaches, tracks for walking and exploring, restaurants and supplies available if you need them, but lots of wilderness if you don’t. We only scratched the surface of places to explore.
Things to improve – we’d have liked an inflatable dinghy and an outboard – doing two trips rowing each time in the tippy dinghy put us off going ashore as much as we might have done had we been a bit more mobile, Bandaleni’s batteries had a habit of going flat and setting off a warning buzzer in the middle of the night, and the holding tank, sump got a bit smelly, but otherwise she was great.
If you want to get an idea of the history of the area, I read this book before I went and it details the life of some of the early European settlers to the area and their interaction with the Aboriginal people. The Secret River by Kate Grenville. Another great Australian History book is Girt by David Hunt. A fabulous kids book on this area is Those Eco-Pirate Kids by Jon Tucker. Here is a map from the book of the area and places they explore in the book.
The marine chart of the area is called Broken Bay – Australian East Coast, New South Wales.
I think we might just have to book another trip.
If you’ve been to Pittwater and have some good anchorages or other tips for the area, please add them below.