9am As the Central Coast’s southernmost suburb, Patonga has a sleepy charm few other postcodes have retained, making it a lovely launch point for a laidback adventure. Arrive early so you can order a coffee from The Boathouse Hotel, wander the quiet beach or enjoy a dip in the bay.
10.25am Board the small Merinda II ferry from Patonga Wharf ($25 return). The old-fashioned ferry oozes nautical charm with its timber benches and blue-and-white paint. It’s also recently been acquired by Boathouse Ferry Co, so you can expect friendly service and a punctual departure.
11am After the 30-minute crossing, we are greeted in Palm Beach by sailing boats, fishing tinnies and happy toddlers running along a beach. Across the road, Barrenjoey House sits pretty in pink frangipani, vintage lights and blue and white. I’m reminded of an old pub that’s been showered with affection. Inside to my left is a brilliantly colourful restaurant. To my right, a bar so smart I imagine an elderly yachtsman sitting there, reading a broadsheet, rum on the rocks in hand. I’m enamoured, and even more so when I push open the olive-green door to my room upstairs. The king bed is dressed in perky pillows and the bedside lampshades in a tropical print. Two picture windows have views of Pittwater, through Norfolk pines.
Noon For lunch, head over the hill to Dunes (about 15 minutes’ walk), a sophisticated yet relaxed eatery. Dishes consist of swordfish ceviche ($24), blue swimmer crab ($38) and watermelon granita ($16). There is also a kiosk with a simpler menu of paninis and seafood.
2pm From here, it’s tempting to head down onto North Palm Beach for a swim but Barrenjoey Lighthouse is calling. Follow the grassy foreshore past the golf course and continue through the car park and onto Station Beach (on the Pittwater side of the peninsula). Signs will lead the way to Barrenjoey Lighthouse. If you’re sure-footed, take Smugglers Track, 400 metres up stone steps (about 15 minutes). It’s fun and has fab views. At the top, you’ll find sandstone keepers’ quarters and a squat lighthouse that marks the northern point of Sydney. The lighthouse, built in 1881, is closed, but guided tours are sometimes available.
3pm As you make your way back to Barrenjoey House, pop into The Boathouse Home, a large store brimming with ocean-themed furnishings, from lobster fridge magnets to fish-shaped plates. When you finally arrive at the hotel, grab a towel and join local families across the road for a swim.
6pm Cap off your stay with an indulgent dinner in the hotel’s vibrant restaurant. My son orders the calamari (from the main menu) and is pleasantly surprised to be served battered octopus legs. I opt for the crispy-skin barramundi and tomato salad, and it’s the giant, flavoursome tomato paired with a delicious ball of burrata that steals the show. I recommend the banoffee pudding, too.
9am Before catching the ferry back to Patonga, set off along Barrenjoey Road until you reach Palm Beach Wine Co. This gourmet grocer is great for souvenirs, such as biscotti and artisan chocolate. Turn down Iluka Road and follow it until you reach a laneway that leads to a tiny public reserve. It’s a local’s secret and a good spot for more swimming, and perhaps a little dreaming, with views of the boat-access-only homes across peaceful Pittwater.
Barrenjoey House offers accommodation for adults above the age of 18 years only, but exceptions may be made. The writer travelled as a guest of The Boathouse Group
WORDS & PALM BEACH PHOTOS JENNIFER ENNION