One of the highlights of my Brisbane to Sydney road trip, was one of our very last stops in Palm Beach, part of Sydney’s Northern Beaches region. The town of Palm Beach is located at the very end of a thin peninsula which is part of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. It’s crazy how the land pinches in with 2 beaches back to back before opening up into the Barrenjoey Headland. A must do while in Palm Beach is the Barrenjoey Lighthouse walk to the top of the headland! Here’s my guide on what to expect!
Barrenjoey Lighthouse Walk
Where to Park
First things first, there is no vehicle access up to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse, the closest car park is in Governor Phillip Park. It’s pay and display and will set you back $8 for 2 hours or $20 for a day ticket. (This seems to be the going rate as it was $4 an hour to park at the Cape Byron Lighthouse in Byron Bay too.) There were plenty of spaces to park as well as a playground, toilet facilities and a drinking fountain. The majority of the centre of the park is actually taken up by the Palm Beach Golf Club! The address of Governor Phillip Park is:
Beach Road, Palm Beach, NSW
Getting Your Bearings
If you stand in the park looking up at the Barrenjoey Headland, North Palm Beach is to your right, this is also the filming location for Summer Bay Beach, part of the Australian TV show ‘Home and Away’. Directly in front of you is a dune land area with some walking tracks and to your left is a 2nd smaller beach where you’ll find the popular ‘Boathouse’ restaurant (which doubles up as the Pier Diner in Home and Away!). This is the direction which you want to head in to begin the Barrenjoey Lighthouse walk!
Walking to Barrenjoey Lighthouse
We were able to easily complete the walk to the lighthouse within the 2 hour time limit of our parking ticket. Walking from the car park, it takes around 30 minutes to reach the top. Once you’ve reached the Boathouse restaurant, it’s just a short walk along the beach to the start of the track. The sand on the beach is quite compact, making it a fairly easy walk. The track to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse begins near a small, what looks like an abandoned house (just putting it out there in case it’s knocked down at some point in the future!), but the trail is well sign posted so you shouldn’t miss it!
Now here comes the fun part! You have a choice of 2 separate routes that can be taken up the headland. You have the ‘Access Trail’ which is a fairly gentle incline consisting of switch backs up the hill. It’s 800m long and should take around 15 minutes to complete at a slow pace. OR the ‘Smugglers Track’ which is half the length at 400m BUT is steep steps the whole way to the top. The sign says it should take 10 minutes, but I know from other walks that are purely steps, that by the time you reach the top, your legs feel like jelly! I recommend taking the Access Trail UP, but the Smugglers Track DOWN, that way you get to experience both tracks and lets face it, it’s much easier going down stairs!
The Access Trail is a fairly smooth route up which plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy the views of Broken Bay and Palm Beach. A lot of the trail is shaded by trees, it’s only once you’re on the path that you can see the rocky cliffs that make up the headland!
Once you reach the top you are greeted by the sight of Barrenjoey Lighthouse which was built back in 1881. It’s made out of sandstone and still has its original brickwork colour (for example, some lighthouses in England were red and white striped back in the day). If you visit on a Sunday, the lighthouse is open for 30 minute guided tours between 11am – 3pm, where you can climb to the top of the tower and learn a little about the history. Entrance to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse is $5 for adults and $2 for children.
(As Barrenjoey Lighthouse is part an Australian National Park, it is also a drone no fly zone)
I visited on a Thursday, so the tours weren’t running, but the walk to the top was more than worth it, as I think it was one of my favourite views from the trip! Even from a height of 91m above sea level, you get a great view of the 2 beaches that make up Palm Beach with the hills of the rest of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park that is located on the other side of the bay. During the Australian winter months (May – September), you may even be able to spot migrating whales from this higher perspective!
So as mentioned previously, it’s worth taking the Smugglers Track back down! You’ll find this starts to the right hand side of the keeper’s cottage and again, it is sign posted. This track was first created by customs officers in the 1850’s (before the lighthouse was built!) as a way of being able to spot smugglers that were trying to sneak goods into the area. There are some narrow areas where you may have to ‘give way’ or move over to allow others to pass but I never felt like I was going to roll off the edge of the cliff or anything. Keep an eye out for the interesting rock formations along the trail too!
The Smugglers Track connects back up with the main trail near the bottom, so the last part back to the beach is the same as the start so you should then recognise where to go (ie. turn left 😉 )!
Once you have completed the Palm Beach Lighthouse walk, you may then still have a little bit of time left on the car parking ticket. Some other ideas of things to do in Palm Beach include: watching the cockatoos in Governor Phillip Park, have an ice cream from the Palm Beach Golf Club club house, walk along North Palm Beach or check out the Palm Beach Surf Club which has a “Summer Bay Surf Club – Club Patron: A. Stewart” sign on the front of it (Home and Away fans will get that reference!). During my winter visit, a lot of the other kiosks in the park were closed during the week because of the off season, but these could also be an option at a different time of the year!
Where to stay in Palm Beach
I really struggled to find accommodation in Palm Beach which was within my budget. There aren’t really any hotels and the few small ones that are around, are expensive. Palm Beach is around a 50 minute drive from Sydney (or a little longer if using public transport, there are buses that go from Sydney to Palm Beach), so staying in Sydney isn’t out of the question. I ended up staying at the NRMA Sydney Lakeside Holiday Park in Narrabeen, which is around a 20 minute drive from Palm Beach. They have very reasonable priced cabins (ours had 2 bedrooms and a separate living area) and Oceans Bar and Restaurant is a short walk away and is a good option for dinner.
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Have you completed the Palm Beach lighthouse walk? If you have a favourite walk in Australia, I’d love to hear your recommendations!