This is the end of the road in Sydney, the Barrenjoey headland, the most northerly point in Sydney, quite literally, it’s the end of the road, you can’t go any further without getting wet. But to get right to the very end there’s a still a way to go, a short, sharp steep climb along a winding walkway. There seems to be a couple of distinct ways to enjoy this walk, it goes from Palm Beach to the Barrenjoey Headlands lighthouse. They both get you there, in the end, it’s just that one way, the way I’m doing it, takes a lot longer than the other. I’m dawdling along, checking out the views and the surrounding bushland, pausing to poke around in the undergrowth, admiring the bright green buds of the new growth after devastating fires ripped through the park a year or so ago, the other way, is head down flat out running. It seems that the new path that has replaced and upgraded the old rough dirt track has opened the walk up to recreational runners, out for their daily exercise dose. As I climb slowly higher and higher a couple of fitness fanatics pound past. Just north of Palm Beach, and famous, or infamous if you like, for being the location of TV soap opera Home and Away for many years, the current lighthouse has stood on top of the headlands since 1881. It’s pretty quiet here today, just me and the joggers who have disappeared around one of the steep bends, back in the 1880’s it must have been a desolate and windswept home for the few hardy folk who first ventured this way.
Before the lighthouse was finished a customs station had been built along the shore at the base of the hill, smugglers were the main prize for the customs officers then, sneaking their booty through the backdoor and on into Sydney. There’s no sign of smugglers or custom officers now though, the path to the lighthouse leads from the car park behind the surf beach along a short sandy beach before veering off and up along the climb up the hill.
In September 2013 a bushfire raced through the headland leaving the surrounding bush blackened and scarred, eighty fire fighters battled for over two days to save the historic buildings on top of the hill, just one building was damaged in the blaze, and that, only superficially, when some embers swirled in under the eaves.
The track to the top is now a pretty easy hike, fully paved and about a kilometre long, it’s quite steep in places but still an easy walk (or run) to the top, the views of the Pacific Ocean off to one side of the headland and the Pittwater along the west side are spectacular.Their are quite a few spots to pause and take in the view on the climb to the top, especially now that the bush has been thinned out by fire.
At twenty meters tall it’s not the biggest lighthouse built along this section of the coast, but it is one of the prettiest, made from a beautiful light red locally quarried sandstone and surrounded by the colonial era cottages, the residence and outhouses of the former keepers, it’s a very pleasant place to while away an hour or two. Unlike George Mulhall and his son who spent substantially more than a few hours here.
Once you’ve make your way up and had a poke around the lighthouse and its grounds make sure to take in the grave site of George Mulhall the first principal keeper of Barrenjoey Lighthouse, he died, as it were, on the job, after suffering a stroke in 1885, George had kept light here on the headland for five years before he passed the baton over to his son, imaginatively named George as well, who continued in the family line until his retirement in 1891.
(click on an image below to start a gallery)
It must have been long days and lonely nights at times for the Mulhall family in those days, perhaps just the odd ship passing and dropping supplies off for them.