A Selection of Travel Writing
The Slow Route to Wineglass Bay
Precisely at the time I’m normally shooing kids out of the house for the trek to school, I reflect on my good fortune. It’s enough simply to be aboard a handsome 75-foot (23-metre) sailboat, slicing north through the Tasman Sea towards the Freycinet Peninsula. But from my position on the bow pulpit – that outcrop at the front of a boat that can turn a man’s thoughts to Kate Winslet in Titanic – I see four dolphins spearing through the water below me, weaving like braids through each other’s paths.
I’m a long way from being an old sea-dog – though, with my beard and beanie, I’m a touch Ernest Hemingway (with a worrying hint of Papa Smurf) – but it seems to me that the dolphins are doing nothing more than entertaining themselves and the notion pleases me greatly.
I had the same feeling half an hour earlier when our boat, the Lady Eugenie, pulled up on the lee of an Uluru-shaped island of granite called Ile des Phoques. As we rocked on a gentle swell, with a pair of sea eagles hovering above, we saw a colony of 100 or so fur seals barking in the shadows.
Abruptly, in a fleshy avalanche, dozens of them galumphed into the sea – at which point they transformed into sylphs, turning and arcing more elegantly and playfully than a calligrapher’s pen.
So goes a memorable morning on day four of the Tasmanian Walking Company’s Wineglass Bay Sail Walk (taswalkingco.com.au). Over six days, we’re transported from the vertiginous crag of Cape Hauy in Tasmania’s south-east to Freycinet’s iconic Wineglass Bay, about 130 kilometres north.
The Sail Walk is, in essence, a comfort-laden sea voyage peppered with optional day walks and activities. There’s a moderately rigorous eight-kilometre bush-and-boulder ascent on Maria Island, rock-hopping around the turquoise shores of Schouten Island and a 10-kilometre bush-and-beach stroll on the Freycinet Peninsula.
At the heart of all that is the Lady Eugenie, a vessel that bears us, houses us and literally rocks us to sleep at night. It’s halfway through day one when we get our first look at her. Earlier that day, I’d been driven the 100 kilometres from Hobart to serene Fortescue Bay in Tasman National Park with my six fellow guests – a couple in their seventies, one in their sixties and two female friends in their thirties. Leaving our luggage in the van so it could be transferred to the boat, we set off on foot carrying daypacks supplied by the company.
An hour or so into our four-kilometre hike towards Cape Hauy we stop for a tea break on a sloping slab of dolerite rock. As we discover, only one thing gets our loquacious and erudite guide Bert Spinks’ juices flowing more than Tassie’s native hens and Geelong Football Club: dolerite. “Tasmania is covered with this magnificent igneous rock,” he says, the faraway look in his eyes broken only when he spots movement way below. Bert’s co-guide, Di Ward, follows his gaze.
“Ah, there’s the Lady,” she announces, pointing to a streamlined ketch slipping into Fortescue Bay.
Excited by her appearance, the group pushes on towards Cape Hauy, rising and falling as we pass through she-oaks and blushes of wildflowers. We ascend, finally, to the cliff edges of the spectacular shark-fin-shaped summit. With the fresh wind in my face I peer over one of the stomach-flipping drops and marvel at two enormous freestanding columns of dolerite thrusting out of the ocean: the 100-metre-high Candlestick and the relatively skinny 60-metre-high Totem Pole, which Di tells us is an iconic rock-climbing destination.
Later, having returned to Fortescue Bay, we’re met by a dinghy operated by James McArthur, Lady Eugenie’s sole crew member. “Home, James,” quips Bert and the accommodating, bear-sized James smiles and guides us towards the Lady’s sleek hull.
On board we meet our skipper, the laconic Colin Brookes, whose permanently windswept hair hints at his occupation. I’m instantly won over by the boat’s teak decks, polished metal and varnished timber handrails. Her beauty comes with substance.
Adjacent to the cockpit, on the deck, there’s a comfortable seating area that’s sheltered from the elements. Given the views it affords it’s here we’ll spend most of our sailing time – reading books, napping and holding conversations that will spark up and drift away as we lose ourselves in our thoughts.
Below deck is a saloon with a dining table, a couch, an espresso machine called Dave and a small galley in which James cooks our hot breakfasts and dinners using recipes created by a chef back in Hobart.
At the stern – previously known to me as “the back” – are two cabins, each with glossy cabinetry, a double bed, shower and toilet. At the bow are two more guest cabins, similar to the others but with bunk beds. The cabins aren’t roomy – this is a yacht, not the Ritz – but they’re surprisingly comfortable.
Once we familiarise ourselves with the boat, we motor to nearby Canoe Bay to seek shelter from the prevailing current. Given the fickleness of the elements, the Sail Walk itinerary is subject to change but there are no dud anchor points around here. Canoe Bay is glassy and formed by a stunning amphitheatre of towering eucalypts that tinkle with life at sunrise. It can’t have changed much since 1642, when Dutch seafarer and merchant Abel Tasman mapped a coastline already familiar to the Aboriginal people of Oyster Bay.
Having settled in and taken a hot shower, I down a beer and nibblies before enjoying the company of my fellow guests over dinner. We’re served chicken thighs marinated in herbs and lemon, spiced rice with almonds and a pumpkin and fetta salad – accompanied, naturally, by a fine selection of Tasmanian wines, such as a Bangor pinot gris. The meal is very good. Is it as tasty as the coconut-braised beef cheek with rice and cucumber salad that James serves on day three? Or the pan-fried salmon with quinoa and cauliflower salad of day four? To ask such a question shows how small a problem this is.
That first night – as with all the others to come – I sleep soundly, a result, I expect, of exercise, sea air, sunshine and, quite possibly, motion sickness medication – a must for wobbly-legged landlubbers like myself.
Over the following days we immerse ourselves in the glorious sights from our aquatic vantage point: dolphins, seals, a humpback whale, pristine beaches and grand dolerite coastlines that fold in and out like a heavy theatre curtain at rest. When we make landfall there are treats to be had, such as the convict ruins on Maria Island and, at Bryans Beach on Freycinet’s south-western shore, a vast litter of bleached shells – remains of an Aboriginal midden showing how the First Australians enjoyed their time here.
Then there’s the jaunt on day two, when James drops us off at Lagoon Bay on the Forestier Peninsula so we can take a stroll over a knob of farmland. It’s the Bangor property, belonging to the Dunbabin family of farmers and winemakers.
And so, in a well-kept surprise, we’re met by farm manager Matt Dunbabin, who treats us to fresh Pacific oysters – doused in sparkling wine – and a selection of Bangor’s finest drops.
But it’s on the water that the Sail Walk best captures my imagination. As we cross the Mercury Passage one afternoon, the wind rushes in behind us and Colin and James hoist the sails. Colin shuts off the motor and we revel in the relative silence as the boat rushes forward like it’s about to take off. He invites me to take the helm and, once in position, I aim for a distant peak on the Tasmanian mainland.
With the sails full above I feel the boat shift and surge beneath me, responding to my adjustments of the wheel. If only the kids could see me now. I’m sailing. Well, okay, steering. But don’t distract me with details; the Lady and I are busy.
The Long, Winding Great Ocean Walk
Every long-distance hike seems to have its own version of Heartbreak Hill. We arrive at ours shortly after lunch on day two of our four-day, 55-kilometre trek along Victoria’s scenery-dripping southern coastline. Emerging from a cool carpet of ferns beneath a stand of stringybarks, we’re suddenly out in the open for a climb up a long, grassy hill – one so steep that my light daypack feels more like an Italian opera singer on my back. I haven’t paid this much attention to my boots for some time.
The ascent is over before anything ruptures and with it comes a reward: commanding views, east and west, of a spectacular row of rocky headlands thrust into the Southern Ocean like the gnarled paws of an ancient beast. As the gunmetal-grey water throws itself tirelessly against them, sending up a haze of sea spray, I exhale contentedly. A crackle of black cockatoos flies overhead towards the west, in the direction of our destination: those iconic limestone stacks known as the 12 Apostles. “Check out the serenity,” I’m about to say to my fellow walkers. But most are still panting up the slope so I let it slide. They’ll see for themselves soon enough.
The Great Ocean Road is a 240-kilometre-long winding strip of cliff-hugging tarmac that stretches between the Victorian coastal town of Torquay and Allansford, near Warrnambool. But, as I’m discovering, the Great Ocean Walk is another way – a considerably more immersive one – to experience the wild beauty of the same region. That it requires more physical effort than depressing an accelerator only enhances the experience.
Beginning at Apollo Bay – where the famous roadway, at its midway point, leaves the coast for an inland meander through the Great Otway National Park – the full length of the Great Ocean Walk (GOW) takes hikers 105 kilometres to the 12 Apostles, through eucalypt forests, wetlands and banks of tea-tree. Better yet, and this was apparent the moment we set out in a light mist from Castle Cove on day one, its path leads up and over wild sandstone headlands and onto and along a number of glorious all-but-deserted beaches. Beyond the snap of twigs and crunch of sand underfoot, the soundtrack to this undertaking isn’t car engines – which are busily engaged far away – but the ever-present roar of the ocean.
Anyone is free to walk, in full or in stages, the GOW (although designated camping sites must be booked and paid for through Parks Victoria at least two weeks before your trip). But if lugging your own supplies and nylon-based accommodation aren’t your thing there are other, more luxurious ways to experience the trail.
I find this out as a guest of the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk, which offers four-day, three-night tours along a 40-kilometre section of the GOW (or 55 kilometres if you take endurance options offered on the first three days). The company is one of a handful offering Melbourne transfers, accommodation and food on top of a guided walk; Hedonistic Hiking and Park Trek are others.
Having endured long-distance hikes with a heavy backpack and an evening symphony of tent zippers and snoring koalas, I feel almost sheepish when I see the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk’s eco lodge near Johanna – a small, stylish and spotless cabin with a comfortable, crisply made bed, a fully equipped bathroom and a bright common room where they serve the kind of meals you only dream about on a walking trail.
The dinners (rolled chicken, crisp-skinned salmon and eye fillet, as well as canapés and salads) have us all raving but, for me, it’s the lunches that seem particularly decadent. A few hours into our easy first day of 9.5 kilometres – it takes the 10 of us, plus our bushy-bearded guide, Jack, through a lovely grass-tree forest and undulating banks of tea-tree palsied and stunted by the onshore winds – we stop to eat.
From a high point overlooking the mist-dusted cliffs, I remove from the supplied daypack (my luggage is in my room, of course) a canister containing a delicious Thai beef noodle salad. To think my usual track snack would be a peanut-butter wrap. “I could get used to this,” someone quips as, in the distance, waves turn their heads to shore, throwing up manes of spray.
Ending that first day’s walk with an invigorating two-kilometre stroll across Johanna Beach, we’re met by a van that takes us to the lodge, where foot spas, drinks and food await (the van will return us to the same point the next morning).
As pampered as we are, we’re not physically carried along the GOW (hmmm, a gap in the market?), although Jack must feel he’s carrying at least one person in his huge pack: “Anyone misbehaves and you get to lug this,” he jokes early on. Hikers need to be fit enough to cover the distances and the terrain. Day two (20.5 kilometres), with its many elevations, is the most challenging but when every climb comes with glorious ocean views, there are tougher ways to spend your time.
Day two also acquaints us with the wildlife; mostly shy wallabies and echidnas who, like little kids, think you can’t see them when they simply cover their eyes (in this case by sticking their head into a bush). By contrast, the mob of kangaroos we encountered earlier that day – a couple of them so big and heavily muscled that they would have looked at home in boxing gloves – were too insouciant to hide.
The highlight of day three (17 kilometres) is descending some 350 steps onto Wreck Beach, a wild strip of sand into which a couple of anchors are still stuck since the boats they were connected to – the Marie Gabrielle and Fiji – ran aground on rock bars in the 1800s. Jack details their history and that of the Shipwreck Coast with the same easy manner he uses to tell us about the flora and fauna on our walk.
Late on our third day of hiking, I finally see our destination. Standing in the water, way over west, two limestone stacks are almost camouflaged against the cliffs behind them. The 12 Apostles! Well, two of the remaining eight that haven’t yet succumbed to erosion. “This time tomorrow you’ll be there,” says Jack but I’m not entirely enthused by the prospect. I’m not ready for the journey to be over. ￼
Holding the line in the Gulf of Carpentaria
Published by Qantas Magazine
I’m sitting on a fibreglass fishing boat a few metres from the rocky south-western tip of Groote Eylandt. As the sun beats down and a gentle swell slaps the hull, queenfish leap out of the water, their sleek silver scales catching the sun like mirrors before gravity compels them back into the drink. Beneath us, in water as clear as gin, is a maelstrom of baitfish, sportfish and at least three 1.5-metre sharks cruising about like spirits in a haunted house. No wonder those queenfish are jumpy. Who wouldn’t be?
Groote Eylandt (“Big Island”) – the name given to it by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman on a day in 1644 when his imagination failed him – is a 2300-square-kilometre island off the coast of East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.
The Gulf of Carpentaria is one of Australia’s best-stocked bodies of water: marlin and sailfish for Hemingway types, estuary barramundi for others and plenty of options for those who, like me, barely know their stern from their bow. These are the waters that fishing enthusiasts think about when they need to go to their happy place.
Inhabited by Aboriginal islanders for millennia, Groote Eylandt is home to – and owned by – the Anindilyakwa people. Their rock art, depicting mainly the fauna that sustained them, is a glorious and fascinating adornment on an island resplendent with raw tropical beauty – intricate sandstone formations and secluded bays where vast stretches of snow-white sand ease their way into the turquoise sea. And all of it basking under an endless blue sky that blazes pink and orange at the close of the day.
But first impressions give little hint of the beauty that awaits. The airport, which is run by the Groote Eylandt Mining Company (GEMCO), is no more than a stretch of tarmac and two large sheds with an awning in between. It sits beside one of the world’s largest manganese mines, which GEMCO leases from the island’s traditional owners. On the short drive from the airport to the north-western mining town of Alyangula, there’s little to see beyond (and largely because of) the vast road trains carting mounds of manganese from the mine to the nearby port.
After ducking through Alyangula, where signs remind passers-by of sleeping shift workers, and driving past the golf course on which crocodiles are known to bask, you reach a pocket of bushland that’s home to the island’s only visitor accommodation, Groote Eylandt Lodge.
It’s here that tourists, business travellers and locals treat themselves to a night out, either dining in the restaurant or taking up positions on the back deck overlooking the sea – one of Groote’s biggest drawcards. Which takes me back to the boat.
Although it’s taken us almost an hour to get here, skipping through the swell, I figure we’ll be moving on. After all, we’re hardly going to throw a line in when there are sharks about. Then again, what would I know? This is the first time I’ve been fishing (if you don’t count a school fete game involving a paddling pool and a magnet). “Let’s get amongst it,” says the boat’s skipper, Andrew Darby, casting a line, and when it stops fzzzzzzz-ing he thrusts the rod into my hands.
Almost instantly, it strains, trying to escape my grip. I shove the butt end into my belly. The fish on the end of the line zigs and zags, bending the rod into an arc so extreme I fear it will snap. I try to listen to Darby’s instructions but I reel when I should pull – and pull when I should reel.
I take so long about it that just as I see the enticing flash of the “queenie” beside the boat, it’s taken by a shark. “Bloody hell,” I exclaim. “What kind of sharks are they?” Darby’s burly offsider, full-bearded Groote Eylandt local Scott Wurramarrba, grins. “The kind with teeth,” he says. (Turns out they are whaler sharks.)
Less than an hour later, our boat, Inungura Arrarra (West Wind), is sitting two kilometres from shore with the sonar showing what looks like a helix of baitfish beneath us. “Where there’s baitfish, there’s usually something bigger sniffing around,” says Darby.
Again, we throw in our lines, this time rigged with sparkling lures that, to passing fish, apparently resemble aquatic morsels. The rod bends dramatically and after a fight that leaves bruises on my abdomen, I get the fish close enough to the side of the boat for Darby to snag it with a gaff and haul it in. The first fish I’ve ever caught turns out to be an 80-centimetre-long, seven-kilogram northern bluefin tuna.
It seems like a good time to retire from the sport but a further 20 kilometres out to sea, Darby cuts the engines and I get another bite. These waters really are idiot-proof. By the way the fish is pulling me about, Darby reckons it’s a “GT” (A what? I think). Although I’m distracted by an inexplicable craving for a gin and tonic, I manage to haul a tear-shaped, 15-kilogram giant trevally with lips like Angelina Jolie into the boat. I’d kiss it but I’m too busy losing my lunch over the side – all that rocking has finally taken its toll.
By dinner, thankfully, I’ve recovered. Courtesy of the lodge chef, my day’s work sits before me in the form of tuna sashimi, accompanied by a Spanish mackerel salad. I couldn’t be happier if I’d picked the grapes for the cold pinot grigio that complements it all.
The following day we’re back in the boat, heading to Groote’s tropical northern archipelago and ending up at North East Island, which Wurramarrba says used to be a stopover for Macassan trepangers (Indonesian fishers of sea cucumbers) from as early as the 1700s.
We explore an idyllic beach then cut in and out of gorgeous secluded bays framed by pandanus palms, cycads, stringybarks and casuarinas. Along the intricate shoreline are formations of orange-hued sandstone that look like badly stacked playing cards. The water lapping the rocks and small beaches is turquoise and clear – and it would be utterly inviting if not for the knowledge that crocodiles like it, too. Though the traditional people often fish and camp on these remote beaches, we don’t see another soul. It’s exhilarating.
But there’s more to Groote than a bountiful sea. On our final day on this island of contrasts, we pile into Wurramarrba’s four-wheel drive and, after visiting the townships of Umbakumba and Angurugu, where most of the island’s 1500 or so traditional owners live, we head bush.
A 15-kilometre bounce along a dirt road brings us to Groote’s northern coast and the spectacular Jagged Head, a wide scimitar of sand lying between parentheses of heaped rock. Then, retracing our route, we head south-west back towards Angurugu, where two Indigenous children tear about the quiet streets on a quad bike, their smiles almost incandescent. Diving into the bush again, we rumble alonga dirt tributary for a few kilometres until we pull up next to a sparsely vegetated hill that looks like a giant cairn of white boulders.
We climb to an overhanging ledge at the top, startling a rock wallaby on the way. When our eyes adjust to the dim light, we see that the underside of the ledge is coated, strikingly, with ochre-coloured paintings, some thousands of years old.
This is one of Groote Elylandt’s 80 or so rock art sites – and one of the best. Scenes and subjects spill into one another; every glance is rewarded with something new. Most paintings are depictions of Groote Eylandt’s abundant fauna: turtles, crayfish, goannas, fish. “The animals depicted were the food of the day back then and it hasn’t changed much,” says Wurramarrba. The artwork, he adds, indicates the respect the traditional owners have for the animals that have sustained them throughout history – and still do.
We drive back to the lodge as daylight begins to wane. Soon we’re cleaned up, sitting deck-side and gazing out to the bountiful sea. As the sun drops into the water, it sends out a silent instruction to pick up a cold beer. Given what nature has achieved in this rugged corner of the universe, who am I to argue?
Walking Sydney Harbour
The Sydney Morning Herald
Come the afternoon, battalions of newlyweds and their weary foot soldiers will lay siege to Observatory Hill, their teeth glinting like bayonets amid a barrage of wedding snaps. For now, though, with the sun barely having climbed the top arch of the Harbour Bridge, this picturesque hump of prime Sydney real estate is all but deserted. And how lovely it is.
But with Observatory Hill being the starting point of the Harbour Circle Walk, there are 26 kilometres to go so one can't stand around gawking at the serenity forever. There's ground to cover and many bridges to cross, beginning with the iconic "coathanger", which, from such close quarters, appears to be an impenetrable thicket of girders.
"Impressive, isn't it?" remarks my elder brother, B1, who's been conscripted as navigator despite the fact he once had to spend a freezing night in an Italian forest with no provisions or shelter because he lost his way during an afternoon's passeggiata. "S'pose," replies my younger brother, B3, who finds it difficult to get excited about anything that doesn't involve Star Trek and/or nudity.
Moments later we're on the bridge's eastern walkway. From here, the view is - as you'd expect - spectacular, though it's tempered somewhat by the rush of traffic just metres away and the morning stream of panting joggers, many of whom, bizarrely, are carrying enough water to contravene government restrictions. By comparison, we have a single bottle between us. And we don't have any food.
But since the walk runs through Lavender Bay, Wollstonecraft, Riverview and Hunters Hill, then back to the city via the Gladesville, Iron Cove and Anzac bridges, we figure there will be ample places to refuel.
Kirribilli steps to Greenwich
Off the bridge via its Kirribilli steps we stop to consult our map - only to discover that the one thing I had to remember I had forgotten. Fortunately, in a moment of inspiration the previous evening, B3 downloaded the directions from the NSW Planning Department's website onto B1's beloved digital organiser. Directionally refreshed, we head underneath the bridge and around into Lavender Bay, named after George Lavender, boatswain of the convict hulk Phoenix, which was moored in the bay in the 1830s (doing very little, you'd think, for local property prices).
Sticking to the boardwalk, we skirt past the wonderfully situated North Sydney Pool and Luna Park, which is doing a slow, scream-free trade. Then my heart skips a beat when, through the irregular dental work of the Luna Park clown, I spy the centrifugal tormentor that is "the rotor": the scene of a traumatic episode from my childhood involving two unwisely ingested hot dogs.
Leaving behind the gentle sway and clink of Lavender Bay's yachts, we head up through Watt Park, below artist Brett Whiteley's old digs and across Blues Point Road to Sawmillers Reserve, a bushland park atop Berrys Bay. Beneath its leafy canopy, delighted dogs are unleashed and a little boy urinates over remnants of the sawmills and timber yards that stood between 1880 and 1982. "Obviously not a history buff," quips B3.
Five minutes later, we're strolling through Waverton Park. Blistered with mud, its soccer field is hardly conducive to the beautiful game and the ball must frequently end up in the harbour but there can be few sports fields with such an aspect. It's one of the harbour's charms that you can be so close to the city yet enveloped within a secluded bay, seemingly a thousand miles from the nearest angry cabbie.
By now, the sun is high but a southerly is keeping things fresh. Perhaps that accounts for a surprising lack of people out and about. Apart from a few strolling locals, we don't appear to be sharing the route with any fellow trekkers, though, it should be said, the walk isn't really designed to be done in a single day but rather picked over at leisure by locals. But knowing it could take us years to complete the circuit, for old time's sake, as a band of brothers, we'd decided on a single hit-out.
Crossing over Balls Head Road, we head down a bush track past the entrance to HMAS Waterhen, a naval base whose name is unlikely to strike fear into the heart of the enemy. Flanked by slices of sandstone and banksia trees, the narrow, rock-strewn track sweeps around Wollstonecraft Bay and Oyster Cove then dives headlong into Badangi Reserve.
Through a lush undergrowth of ferns and glorious stands of Sydney red gum, we cross over Balls Head and into shady Gore Cove. After passing a family of four cheerfully bridging a small creek, we climb rather sharply to Vista Street, Greenwich.
In the distance, from a seldom-seen angle, the city's skyscrapers stick their heads proudly over Balls Head Reserve. With fingers of the harbour twinkling in the sun, it's a fine sight. Then I hear a groan. It's B3. He's spotted the Anzac Bridge, seemingly as far away as Pluto. Like B1, B3 is a champion walker but he tends to enjoy his walks with the benefit of hindsight - not when he's on them. "This," he says sombrely, "is going to take a while."
Northwood to Burns Bay
Leaving Badangi Reserve, our route takes us back to the footpath and through sleepy, old-world Greenwich. After a diversion through a bush amphitheatre dissected by Gore Creek (once used by colonial timber-getters), we head through Northwood and Longueville, where large historic homes and streets littered with BMWs and Audis stand as totems to John Howard's so-called aspirational Australians.
Freakily enough, it's while remarking on this we stop a couple in their 50s, who appear to be headed to a Liberal Party convention, to check on our location. Despite having the directions to hand, we're frequently muddled without a map and, more to the point, any kind of signage (although, apparently, that's in the works). When the man, dressed in a neat sweater, pressed slacks and tan shoes, turns to help us, we all but jump out of our skin. He's a dead ringer for the Prime Minister circa 1992.
A little spooked, we hightail it down a dead end and onto another bush track. From here we skirt around the tiny beaches and mudflats of woody Woodford Bay, where you could argue the story of Australia is summarised by two adjacent plaques. The first commemorates Lieutenant Ralph Clark and his marines who landed here on February 14, 1790, to "protect settlers". The plaque beside it, the "reconciliation memorial plaque", "honours and recognises the Cameraygal people who defended their country by resisting British invasion". They are at once both contradictory and complementary.
A short while later we are back into the bush following Waranoon Creek. After crossing a natural stone bridge, we can see Tambourine Bay twinkling through the eucalypts like a promise. As we get close to the mouth of the creek, we hear the chug of an outboard motor echoing around the bay just as we startle two shockingly green and red parrots into flight. By this stage we've been at it for more than four hours and are building up a mighty hunger. We haven't passed a single shop, let alone a pub.
Wondering if we'll have to eat the next person we come across, we rejoin the footpath to bypass the enormous grounds of Saint Ignatius' College, Riverview. Then we shoot around tiny Burns Bay - long ago known as Murdering Bay due to the calibre of its rough-edged inhabitants - where the burnt-out shell of Sydney University Boat Club suggests not only that it's seen better days but that we won't be getting any schooners or parmigianas here.
Fig Tree Bridge to Drummoyne
Minutes later we join Burns Bay Road at Fig Tree Bridge, which crosses Lane Cove River. After the wonderful bush still and suburban snooze of the walk to date, the traffic is affronting. But the sight of the Hunters Hill Hotel - "Hallelujah!" - quickens our step. Having walked some 13 foodless kilometres to reach this point, we are determined to reward ourselves with the kind of food and beverages not recommended by 10 out of 10 dieticians - burgers, chips and beautifully beaded schooners of beer.
Sated, we push on. Having negotiated Tarban Creek Bridge, then the long gentle swell of Gladesville Bridge, whose spectacular views must surely account for a great number of car accidents every year,
we walk through Drummoyne, parallel to but far enough away from Victoria Road. This is the thoroughfare that Bill Bryson remarked could be the "least agreeable road to walk along" in Australia (although Parramatta Road might have something to say about that).
Birkenhead Point to Observatory Hill
Passing Victorian weatherboard cottages that were once home to waterfront workers, we skirt the former Birkenhead rubber factory, which, after a stint manufacturing tyres for Dunlop, is now a shopping complex from which couples dutifully file out, bags dangling from their fingers. Before us lies the flat-topped Iron Cove Bridge and in west Balmain, opposite Birkenhead Point, an apartment development so vast and dense it looks like a slab of honeycomb.
On the city side of the Iron Cove Bridge, the route takes us through King Georges Park where walkers cruise the shoreline to and from Leichhardt Park in the dying sunlight. But we divert up through Sydney College of the Arts, a collection of handsome sandstone buildings that once formed part of the Rozelle Hospital and, before that, the Callan Park mental hospital.
Moments later we're among the timber cottages of Rozelle - where, at a corner shop, B1 buys a $2 banana that he wolfs down in 10 seconds - to the western ramp of the Anzac Bridge, which opened in 1995. Passing the statue of the Anzac soldier, we crest the bridge and see the city, salmon pink and resplendent in the day's last light.
Half an hour later, having crossed Pyrmont Bridge and diverted along King Street Wharf, we're back at Observatory Hill, where there are no signs of wedding carnage, just postcard views of the city at night. After almost nine hours on the go, our feet are certainly weary but we're on a high. We've got in among some of Sydney's most beautiful bays and inlets and its bush-fringed shores. We've gawked into the backyards of some stately homes and we've conquered Sydney's mightiest bridges.
Best of all, we've forged a new respect and love for each other. "You're kidding aren't you," B1 and B3 ask in unison as we recover over a few pints in The Rocks.
Yes, boys, I am.