Join me as I leave the city’s bright lights behind and head to the dramatic Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, and one of Sydney's most beautiful, and most remote, hostels
Venture just 25km north of vibrant Sydney and you will discover Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. More than 150 square kilometres of untouched Australian bush set alongside the tributaries of the magnificent Hawkesbury River. Known ‘Down Under’ as the setting for the TV series Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (the Aussies’ answer to Lassie), sheltered beaches, winding creeks and secret coves are just a few of the delights on offer. It's a popular tourist destination due to its proximity to Sydney but, armed with five other enthusiastic travellers, I headed there to see if I could escape the crowds at one of Sydney's most isolated hostels.
A hostel with a difference
For those with a love of nature, Pittwater Youth Hostel is the perfect place. About 90 minutes from Sydney, it is accessible only from the water, and the cosy, hillside lodge is nestled among the eucalyptus trees of Morning Bay.
The ferry (a generous term) to Pittwater YHA leaves hourly ($12.50 return) from Church Point, a tiny community near the suburb of Mona Vale. Water taxis are available, (Church Point Water Taxis +61 428 238190) but the ferry does a perfectly good job (last ferry is 7pm weekdays, 6.30pm weekends). After a quick stop to deliver the post to the residents of charming Scotland Island, we were dropped off at Hall’s Wharf. It really is the middle of nowhere and as the ferry chugged away it took all sense of civilisation with it.
From the wharf it’s a 15-minute uphill trek so be sure to pack light. The hostel is an attractive building, all wooden beams and grey stone, perfectly in keeping with its environment. We were enthusiastically welcomed by the lovely Sarah, who runs the hostel with her partner Michael. It can accommodate 32 guests in a variety of bedrooms from single-sex dorms to doubles. The rooms and bathrooms are basic but clean, the lounge and dining area spacious, and the kitchen fully equipped.
Speaking of the kitchen, an important point: bring your own food. The website tells you there are no shops in the park, and they aren’t kidding. After inadvertently ignoring this advice, our first dinner consisted of some rice cakes and a packet of Tim Tams (chocolate heaven). The closest store at Church Point can provide limited supplies, and there is a larger supermarket at Mona Vale.
Relax and unwind!
You may, like us, have the hostel to yourselves, and it is the perfect place to recharge your batteries and just do absolutely nothing at all. While you can’t pop down to the local for a pint (nope, there’s no pub either), you can bring moderate quantities of your own wine and beer; spirits are not permitted. The lounge room has a piano, as well as an acoustic guitar and, strangely, a ukulele. For the less musically inclined there is a good variety of board games.
Don't forget to take a moment to simply enjoy the breathtaking serenity. Inhale the faint aroma of eucalyptus and marvel at the surrounding beauty. The only sound to be heard is the monotone hum of cicadas. And the buzzing of the odd pesky mosquito (don't forget the bug spray).
Mosquitoes aside, Ku-ring-gai Chase is positively teeming with wildlife. The luckier visitors can see goannas effortlessly scale the trees, cockatoos swoop overhead, and wallabies lazily forage for food - all from the comfort of the veranda’s coveted hammock (competition for this prime spot is fierce). I even became acquainted with an especially friendly goanna who has taken to sunbathing on the deck – any food scraps sent her way are very well received.
Wander further into the park and you might spot endangered bandicoots, quolls (a type of native cat), eastern bent-wing bats, koalas, orb weaver spiders and even death adders. Yes, death adders. You're not in Kansas anymore Toto!
Being made of adventurous stuff, we tried out the hostel’s double kayaks for hire (easily paddled as a single). It’s a gentle way to discover the mangrove inlet and hidden beaches around Morning Bay. Numerous bush walks will lead you to spectacular view points. One of the most popular is West Head, which has panoramic views over the areas of Palm Beach and Lion Island (named for its shape, not its inhabitants - although it is home to a penguin colony). Scattered throughout the park are sites of Aboriginal significance, including rock carvings and paintings estimated to be 2000 years old.
A trip to the above mentioned Palm Beach (Summer Bay in Home and Away) via water taxi (around $55 per taxi) is a must for some well deserved sunbathing and excellent swimming. While there, you could take a walk up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse, built from the attractive Hawkesbury sandstone, and savour the view across the bay. If you have time, take a Hawkesbury River Cruise through Broken Bay and Cowan Water; the perfect way to explore more of the stunning river. (Departs 11am from Palm Beach, prices on inquiry, www.sydneysceniccruises.com, +61 414 466635).
One stop on this cruise is Cottage Point, Sydney's most unspoilt superb (also accessible by road and water taxi). The main reason to journey here, beside the superb vistas, is to sample the award winning cuisine at the Cottage Point Inn (2 Anderson Place, Cottage Point, NSW 2084, www.cottagepointinn.com.au, +61 294 561011). Wash down freshly caught trout with a glass of Australian or New Zealand wine, while watching fellow guests arrive in seaplanes from Sydney (main courses from $41).
If this is a bit on the pricey side, the Cottage Point Kiosk offers a range of quality snacks - including delicious cream teas - and seafood (from $6), as well as boat hire (from $80 for 2 hours), at much friendlier prices. (www.cottagepointkiosk.com.au, +61 294 563024).
Ku-ring-gai Chase has so much to offer, and you could easily spend a very relaxing week at Pittwater. Sadly, we had to go, and after a fond farewell to my new friend Joanna (the goanna), we reluctantly caught the ferry back to civilisation.
Travelling by car from Sydney, take the Warringah Freeway, then the Pacific Highway north until you reach the Mona Vale Road. Continue along this to Church Point. Pay and display parking, as well as limited off street parking, is available.
For those without a car, take the L88 or L90 bus from the city and change at Mona Vale for the 156 bus to Church point
Pittwater YHA has single sex dormitories from $26 per bed, twin and double rooms, from $64.50 per room, and a four share family room from $88. Bring your own linen, although it can be rented for $2. Sleeping bags are not allowed.