It was with shock and horror that onlookers watched a bushfire destroying the forest around Barrenjoey Lighthouse in September 2013. The fire destroyed pretty much everything on the south side of the peninsula, but it almost appears like a miracle that the historic lighthouse on top of the headland was saved. Barrenjoey Lighthouse is iconic and famous – it stars in the TV soap opera Home and Away that is broadcast all over the world. It is also located at the northern most point of Sydney, making it a popular destination for weekend guests and tourists alike.
Being a Northern Beaches girl, I have been to the lighthouse many times, also participated in the very interesting guided tour to the top of the tower and the actual light, but now it was time to revisit, not just to enjoy the marvellous views but also to see first hand how much damage the fire had caused and how nature was responding to this very evasive event.
There are two ways how you reach the top of the headland – the broad road-like and well paved 1km track which can be quite steep at times but offers great views of the Pittwater and the narrow strip of land between the Pacific and Broken Bay, as well as the so called Smugglers track which is shorter but requires the navigation of steps. What I usually do is I climb to the top using the first track and return to the base via the second. Somehow it feels and looks easier to take the steps down rather than up.
To reach the lighthouse you need to park your car on the narrow strip of land (metred parking) and then you walk along the Pittwater side beach until you reach the historic Customs House precinct. From there you will easily get to the point where both tracks start and end.
Before the fire, the track would wind through a thick forest. You could sense that behind the lush foliage there were fantastic views of your surroundings, but it was actually not that easy to get glimpses until you had reached the very top. As a matter of fact, you wouldn’t know that you had reached the lighthouse until you were almost running into it.
Alas, what a different picture it is today, after the bushfire. The foliage is gone. The trees have turned into charred black stumps, with branches that sometimes are reaching grotesquely into the air. It is almost bizarre how airy and empty the headland has become – you are much more exposed to the wind and the elements without proper bush around you.
But on the upside you can see the bush regenerating itself all around, and it’s heartwarming to witness. There’s lush green grass almost everywhere, little bushes and baby plants that you look at and realise they are about to grow into those big shrubs that you are familiar with from other natural reserves. There’s tea tree and banksias, and other natives that are happily conquering the space and filling in the gaps.
It’s a beautiful play of colours actually – the blue skies, the black tree stumps, the yellow sandstone floor, the cheerful green grasses and shrubs and then, like little miracles, from time to time bursts of colour from tiny blossoms – purples, whites and reds.
When we visit, the lighthouse and the keeper’s and assistant’s cottages were being renovated, hence the scaffolding. There have also been some updates to the area immediately around the cottages with new clean sandstone paths and stairs that are leading to the Smugglers track.
When you dare the climb up to the lighthouse make sure you take in the views from all sites, visit the first lighthouse operator’s grave and do the little track to the site where the first lighthouse was located. With the bush mostly gone at the moment it’s very easy to find.
While I understand that bushfires are a natural part of the Australian environment I am tremendously happy that these historic building have survived and are now being updated for future generations. If you have never been, put it in your calendar now.
The area in general is beautiful with the calm waters of Broken Bay, the violent waves at Palm Beach and a number of top restaurants and cafes that serve their very best menus daily to visitors and locals.
Barrenjoey Lighthouse (guided tours on Sundays). Palm Beach. http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/Ku-ring-gai-Chase-National-Park/Barrenjoey-Lighthouse/historic-site
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