by Elisa Parry
Sarah is rarely serious. She is one of the most effervescent people I know, you can almost hear her laughter bubbling beneath each word before it spills out at the end of a sentence. But right now she lowers her voice and lays a hand on my arm as we walk.
“You should always take a torch into the bush with you.”
My iPhone illuminates our feet chasing the small arc of light into the night.
“The other night, it was a full moon so I thought I wouldn’t bother. Then right there in front of me on the path was a Death Adder!”
I keep my eyes on the ground, regretting my choice of thongs. I shine the light a little further up ahead. Death Adders are suddenly transformed into branches, shadows, piles of leaves.
There are only six of us marching down from the Hostel, but in the quiet of the night we sound like an army.
“It’s time to turn off the torch now.”
I reluctantly flick the switch. The moon isn’t full, but it’s still bright. The dirt track stretches out in a pale line before us. I can’t stop thinking about snakes.
Slowly the lights of the bay come into focus through the trees. The thrum on a boats engine cuts through the air and I can feel it running through me. At first you think it’s just another light from the bay, but it hovers above the path, heading straight towards us, flicking on and off. Then another one starts off to the side – and another further back. Surely we’re in the pages of a children’s book, some far off place, much further than a short hour north of Sydney. But there they are, right in front of me, burning bright against the night. Fireflies.
This is just one reason why it’s worth making the trip out to Pittwater YHA. Not that you will see Fireflies, they only come around once every three years. But the Hostel itself, tucked away in a secret fold of Pittwater Harbour is just as precious a sight.
“So are you moving there?” My friend Gabi eyes my backpack as I heave it over my shoulders. I’ve never been good at packing light. We’re waiting for the ferry at Church Point. Across the harbour they have started back burning for summer. The smoke curls over the water obscuring the view. The ferry appears at the end of the Jetty, gently nudging the pontoon. We jump on board. As we head across to Scotland Island I can’t help but smile. The adventure has begun.
It only takes about 20 minutes to get to Halls Wharf. The little shelter looks like it’s been painted onto the shore. In fact, most of the scenery on Pittwater Harbour belongs in a coffee table book. I dare you to try and find a bad view.
We begin the hike up to the hostel. It’s a steep climb. By the time we reach the top I’m a sweaty mess but it doesn’t stop Michael giving me a hug on arrival. Michael and Sarah have been managing Pittwater YHA for the last twelve years. They are absolute legends – but then I would say that, because they are also my Aunt and Uncle. Though you’d only need to ask any one of their consistently recurring guests to verify their legendary status.
A deep rumble from my stomach announces it’s time for lunch. The kettle is on, the snacks are unloaded and lunch is served on the verandah high up in the trees, overlooking the water. This is what weekends are made for.
Pittwater is not your average Hostel. You’ll find no shop, no bar and no nightly pub-crawls here. It’s a place to escape to. That’s not to say you can’t bring your own fun, in fact that’s exactly what you have to do. All food and drink must be carried with you up the track – which certainly makes you think about how many bottles of wine you really need…
“It’s so special because you have to put in a bit of effort to get here,” Michael explains over lunch.
“We have the same conversation with people all the time. They will call up to see if we have vacancy for the night, we do, so then I explain that they can leave their car at Church Point and catch the last ferry over at 6:30. Then they just ask again if I’m sure they can’t drive here.” He gestures at the harbour before us, reiterating his point. “It’s a shame because they don’t know what they’re missing out on.”
It makes me realise how we’ve become so used to convenience. These days not having things like free Wi-Fi, a bar or café in a hostel can be an immediate turn off for travellers. There is Internet at Pittwater for those who need it. But if you do get the chance to come out here, I challenge you to treat yourself to some technology free time (unless your using your iPhone as a torch when checking for snakes).
After lunch it’s time for a kayak. Armed with life jackets and paddles, we march back down the track to Morning Bay Wharf, yet another stunningly picturesque jetty, to spend the afternoon paddling through the mangroves and deciding which waterfront mansion we’ll buy when we win the lottery.
The evening presents us with many touch decisions. Should we play scrabble or Balderdash? Should we read our books in the hammocks or enjoy wine, cheese and crackers on the deck? Wine and cheese will always win.
We share dinner with Michael and Sarah at their cottage. It sits just below the hostel clinging to the grassy slope that’s home to wallabies, goannas, bush turkeys and any other form of wildlife you can think of. After a night of good food, good company, fireflies and of course, a game of celebrity heads it’s time to call it a day.
We wake up with the birds. After a brief breakfast of pancakes (yes the single egg I brought from home managed the entire journey without breaking) we’re off exploring. There are a number of bush walking tracks around the Hostel each offering incredible views of the harbour and surrounding bush land. We climb up to a lookout above the hostel for a 360 view of Pittwater Harbour and then follow the track down and around the bay.
When we get back there’s time for a nap in the hammock before we begin the journey back. The Sunday afternoon sads hit pretty hard on the ferry ride home. It’s not the kind of place that’s easy to leave. But the point is that it’s there. Just an hour and a bit out of Sydney, a drive, a short boat ride and walk – yes it’s an effort, but a pretty small effort considering the reward. So next time you have a weekend free, leave your laptop at home, leave the city behind and escape to Pittwater to experience another side of Sydney. You won’t regret it.
For more info and to book visit here.
All photos by Elisa Parry.
Elisa grew up in a sleepy town on the far south coast of New South Wales. When she was seventeen she moved to Denmark on a Rotary Exchange for a year before returning to study Creative Writing and Media and Communications at the University of Wollongong. Having become well acquainted with the travel bug, it wasn’t long before she secured a scholarship to study abroad in Spain. Since then she’s backpacked across Europe, camper-vanned around New Zealand and explored the Yasawa Islands of Fiji. She’s spent the last two years writing for radio, has previously worked in Publicity, and has had a number of short stories published.