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From the vast outback to our beautiful coastlines, Australia offers some of the greatest drives in the world. We’ve partnered with Avis to bring you a series of tales from the road. This time, we drove 50 minutes north of Sydney to spend a night at one of the city’s best kept secrets.
11am: It’s a Saturday morning, so there’s no way on earth my travelling companion and I will be getting out of bed before 10am. Luckily, our destination for the weekend is less than an hour’s drive north of Sydney, so all we have to do is pack some books, bed linen and clothes, collect the hire Holden from Avis, stop by a shopping centre to buy enough food for dinner and breakfast, and we’re on our way. Our destination? One of Sydney’s best kept secrets: the Pittwater YHA.
The house has been used as a youth hostel since the ‘40s, but it’s still a bit of an open secret amongst Sydneysiders – a place accessible only by boat, where you can escape deep into the bush, while still being less than an hour’s drive from the Sydney CBD, and for a very reasonable rate ($29 a night for a dorm room or $70 a night for private double).
There are two routes to get the Pittwater YHA – the long route via Seaforth and Collaroy Beach, and the faster (but less interesting) journey along Warringah Rd and the Wakehurst Parkway. The faster route has one scenic advantage – when you turn off Mona Vale Roadd into Ku-ring-gai National Park you’re immediately dropped into deep bush with the swooping (and fun to drive) curves that Australia’s national park roads are renowned for. But this time, we elect to go for the slightly longer two-hour route to catch some sea views and some classic greasy fish and chips.
12:30pm: Road trips exist in a special culinary universe, where consuming unholy quantities of fast food, soft drink, lollies and their ilk is not a decadent luxury but an absolute necessity. Maybe it’s the constant motion – even though you’re sitting still – but few things make you hungrier than a road trip, and so we pull over at Collaroy Beach to hit one of the local fish and chip shops and scoff it down at a beachside park bench, with Bubble O’Bills for dessert to really hammer home those childhood holiday memories.
1.30pm: We’ve now wound our way along Pittwater Road, with the water of Maybanke Cove on our right hand side, and pulled into the car park of Church Point, a small hamlet that’s the ferry jump-off point for spots like Scotland Island and Morning Bay (which is where we’re headed, to Halls Wharf). It’s decided to pour with rain this afternoon, but luckily there’s the Waterfront Café where we kill time with caffeine until the hourly ferry service arrives.
2pm: There’s nothing quite as adventurous as arriving at your destination by boat – pulling up to a deserted wharf and disembarking for the unknown with nothing but your backpack and provisions. In this case, though, we know we’re not bound for a damp tent but a comfortable dry bedroom in a compact compound with a huge, clinically-sterile kitchen, a warm living room and a massive balcony running the full length of the house, offering stunning views out over Morning Bay.
The Pittwater YHA is hidden away up a 15-minute bush trail and built around a heritage house made in the ‘20s to house a dentist and his family. These days it’s run by a couple – Sarah and Michael – who share it with a couple of chew-eared rescue wallabies, a gang of brushturkeys and the guests occupying their few dorm and private rooms. On a normal weekend, you’d have to book fairly far in advance, and the place would be full (which means maybe a couple dozen people hanging about), but this weekend the weather has turned against us, so the only guests are my travelling companion and I, a couple of random Australian visitors and an Italian backpacker.
Coming straight from the traffic and sounds of the inner city, the absolute lack of human noise takes some getting used to, and we take a little chill time to adjust to the sound of the rain – and say hi to the other guests – while we wait for manager Sarah to arrive and get us booked in. We decide it’s worth paying an extra $20 to get a flexible late check-out the next day so we can get some bushwalking in, drop our gear in our room, and then settle into the hammock on the balcony to do some reading until dinner time.
7pm: Anyone who’s been a regular on the youth hostel circuit knows that you always meet some interesting characters at every hostel, and Pittwater is no exception. There’s the young Italian backpacker who’s working at the hostel in exchange for board, a nurse from Western Sydney on a mission to explore every beach spot in striking distance of the city, and the charity worker from the Blue Mountains who’s on a budget solo holiday. And what else do you do when hanging with a bunch of strangers than play cards? So begins a pick-up game of 500 that starts falteringly as people remember the rules (or learn them for the first time), but ends in stiff, wine-fuelled competition at close to midnight.
11am: It’s still drizzling in the morning so we take advantage of the chance to sleep in, waking up just in time for a lunch of handmade gnocchi one of the other guests has decided to knock together. If the sun were out then our plans for the afternoon would be all about walking 20 minutes down to the small private beach and maybe borrowing the hostel’s kayaks and life jackets to go exploring the various coves and hidden beaches of the bay. But with just a short break in the rain coming up, we decide to tackle one of the four main bushwalks in the area instead.
12pm: Time and weather constraints mean we can’t tackle the big four-hour return bushwalk that goes through the National Park and past Aboriginal engravings, so instead we decide to hit the one-hour loop that goes up to the Morning Bay lookout and back, trekking meditatively through the dripping bush to the seriously impressive view out over Pittwater’s various bays and headlands.
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3pm: Back at the hostel, we’ve got a couple of hours to just sit around on the balcony, drink coffee and read until it’s time to finally pack things up and take the short trudge back down the hill to catch the ferry back to Church Point. A word of advice – if the visibility isn’t great, ring the ferry master on his mobile ahead of the scheduled stop time and make sure he’s going to stop at your wharf, because sometimes just putting the red flag out (to signal for a pick-up) won’t suffice and you’ll have a long – though scenic – wait for the next ferry service. As you’re motored back across the bay, though, it’s hard not to want to pack in city life and come live in a shack in a place only accessible by irregular water-borne public transport.
5pm: After dropping off our gear at the house and the car at the Avis hire desk, we’re safely back home less than 30 hours after leaving – but it feels like we’ve been on an epic journey deep into the bush and back. As one commenter on the YHA Pittwater website eloquently put it, the place is “a little touch of paradise” just outside the city.
(Lead image: Pete The Poet/Flickr)
Avis car hire is the perfect way to make more of your holiday. Roadtrips give you the opportunity to see different sides of your destination. With such freedom, the possibilities are truly limitless. Stay tuned for more Avis roadtrips.
Nick Jarvis is the editor of global dance music community inthemix, and the former editor of Time Out Beirut, The Brag and 3D World. He writes for Junkee, FasterLouder and various other outlets.