Date: 31/10/2023
Trip leader: Bruce Stafford
Party: Alla, Jackson, Lishan, Marselina.

Halloween walk: Dover Heights to South Head & Camp Cove.

With a 30 degree C day earlier (and with a total fire ban), I was wondering what the weather would be like in the late afternoon for this walk.

The five of us got to Christison Park at Vaucluse next to Macquarie Lighthouse in a rather cold southerly wind which had developed from a gentle seabreeze earlier that day into something fairly strong and cold by 6.30pm (50 minutes before sunset). In fact at one point the wind got so strong that the bushes were almost walking!

With the five of us altogether, we set off along the track (or rather footpath) behind the lighthouse and separated from the cliff edge by the aforementioned almost walking bushes. We came across some wildlife in the form of a Wattle Bird and its fledgeling chick (almost adult size itself) Then we came to a rather odd struicture on the cliff fence which would not be out of place at Bondi’s “Sculpture by the Sea”. It turned out to have a mirror inside by which the waves at the cliff base can be seen without leaning over the edge. Nearby there are the remains of WW2 naval gun emplacements (and there are more on South Head itself). The pathway itself provides lots of viewpoints where the cliff line can be seen as far as North Bondi; lots of white-capped waves could be seen – called “white horses” by sailors and are a sign of rough seas. From nearby Signal Hill Reserve there is a 200m walk along the footpath beside Old South Head Road which gives clear views across to Manly and North Head. Until 1960 this footpath was actually part of the Watsons Bay tramline, closed by the galahs and drongos of the then NSW government. (Refer to the ABC link at end of this report). Because sunset time was soon approaching, we went along the track higher up paralleling the cliff line to get better views of the sunset.

Harbour Bridge view.

Then back down to Don Ritchie Grove to access a footpath running down to Dunbar Street, but after less than 100 metres we entered a dirt track branching to the right. This is the Ghost Tram track which runs down another half km to Gap Lookout, and is part of the Watsons Bay tramline mentioned above. Since 2020 this track has been “prettied up” to make it smoother and remove trip hazards as it is becoming better known now. The result is that unless you know its history, you wouldn’t know now that it was a former tramline. It ends at the popular Gap Lookout, where I felt some light water spray on me, and I couldn’t work out where it was comiong from, as there was not a cloud in the sky. I thought that maybe someone was playing a “trick or treat” game, but it turned out to be sea spray from the waves crashing against the base of the cliff some 25 metres below; that’s how rough the sea was at the time.

CBD view from Watsons Bay (the “windows” are a camera affect).

By then some people were getting hungry and thinking of dinner, so first stop was the Gelato shop on Military Road opposite the bus stop, then down to the Beach Club at Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel for solid food! As it was 8pm by now, I was concerned that its cafe section might by this time of night be closed (as it had been on trips here a few years back with Athena) but thankfully it was open (until about 9pm they said). So Lishan, Marcelina and myself shared a large Pizza, and Alla tried their oysters. Jackson decided that the gelato he had earlier would do for dinner.

1870s cannon

After this dinner we walked along Cliff Street to Camp Cove Beach, and then up to the pathway to Hornby Light. Along the way we passed a cannon from the 1870s (put there to keep out the Russians AND the Americans (it’s complicated and something to do with the U.S. Civil War), and Lady Jane Beach. On last year’s walk here I burnt some Chinese Funereal Money on Lady Jane Beach (it’s Halloween after all) but due to this day’s total fire ban, that couldn’t be done this time. Also along this path we saw a little Ringtail Possum (very difficult to pick out in the photo) . After Lady Jane Beach the path is well lit as right next door is the HMAS Watson Naval Establishment, with stern signs attached to the fence warning about trespassing, along with one sign stating “NO DRONES”. Some people often ignore such signs in national parks, but if you do it here, you can quickly expect an “interview” with military police and your drone probably confiscated and sent to Ukraine. (If you doubt this, then read my Trip Report of last year’s walk here when Aaron was sternly told by a guard not to take any photos of the Base’s entrance gate ).

Eventually the path goes round the old Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage, now empty and no access possible. Some people have asserted that its haunted but that’s probably a made-up story. Not too far along the track is the searchlight shelter built in 1938 to scare the Germans away (and it worked; the Germans simply steered clear of it and laid mines further north along the Central Coast in 1940). Then there is Hornby Light, built in 1858 and still working, as the photo shows. Unfortunately there is at present construction fencing around it so we were were unable to go up its stairway. This lighthouse was built after the wreck of the ship SS Dunbar at the Gap in 1857; its master had mistaken The Gap for the entrance to Sydney Harbour.

The path then loops back towards Camp Cove, again passing Lady Bay Beach and then returning to Camp Cove Beach. From there we just walked along Cliff Street back to the bus terminus, noting several houses with Halloween decorations. As it was still several minutes before the bus would arrive, we went for a quick look at The Gap but although the sea could certainly be heard crashing against the base of the cliff, it was difficult to see anything there now as it was pitch black. The planet Jupiter was rising in the eastern sky, but it was too early for moonrise due at 10.10pm. After that it was a bus ride to Edgecliff Station and trains back to the City (except for Jackson who stayed on the bus to go to Wynyard).

It was an interesting trip, although probably could have fitted in more sights if there was more time. Most weekday trips however usually can’t start until about 6pm to enable people to get there from work or uni. The Park at South Head also closes at 10pm, another limiting factor.

One person texted me an hour ahead that “something came up” and he couldn’t come, which got me intrigued about what that something was. At least he let me know, unlike two outright “no shows” who have made no contact with me.

With reference to the photo of the site of the former tramline at Watsons Bay, here is the link: The relevant pic is the sixth one down the article. The myth that U.S. car makers urged the NSW Govt to close Sydney’s tram system is just that, a myth. It was British transport “experts” who did it.

See you on more walks, and there will be more in December.

Bruce Stafford.