Stretching over approximately 9 kilometres and boasting some of Port Macquarie’s finest scenery, Candice Rose takes the new coastal walkway for a test drive … in fact, a test walk.
Port Macquarie meets with the Pacific, a clean cut divide between ocean and Earth. We have a coastline as beautiful as the Almalfi, with water cleaner than California and traffic less congested than Bondi. Now a single path running like a thread along the waterway has been announced officially open.
It was one of those mornings where I couldn’t resist a hearty session of exercise to balance the upcoming weekend pleasures (wine, BBQs, and a Chinese takeaway was forecast). I was warned that the coastal walkway, beginning from Settlement Point and finishing up on Lighthouse beach was not for the light footed. I had estimated a three hour, one way, brisk walk (perhaps a jog if my confidence was up).
It’s 9am and already kids are in kayaks and fishing lines have been cast at Settlement Point. There is little sound though, except for the calm lapping of water against the shoreline or the hum of a boat engine. And although there is no official pathway to start the journey, I couldn’t leave the Point off my list. It is an ‘unofficial’ but not to be forgotten chunk of our coast, and a nice flat surface to launch me into my journey. No jogging yet.
Through the canals we go, and I revel in the growth of this estate since I was a kid. What was once a vast mass of land has now been carved into a setting of picture perfect homes. Manicured lawns, colourfully cement rendered, ‘Wysteria Lane’ type streets, one after the other – perfection. Walkers can’t help but to ‘oohh’ and ‘ahh’ at the elite feel of The Canals estate. The walkway leads me further south, where I begin my descent into the politically stirred ‘foreshore area’, beginning at the Port Marina.
It has been proposed that the ‘Port Macquarie Foreshore will facilitate increased tourism visitations, community enjoyment, and active use of the area’. But with this objective has come a lot of debate and upheaval. There has always been a quiet, humble feel to the foreshore area, which is why there has been public unrest in regards to the proposed developments. Some want to leave it as it is, but others argue that its potential far outweighs a resistance to change.
I am undecided if I am batting for ‘team foreshore’ or not. The idea of a thriving waterfront is alluring. However, I resent the commercial make up of places like the Gold Coast. I would hate to think of our foreshore as a reflection of the same design. It is the understated personality of this town that has kept me coming back to it after all of these years.
I shift my mind from the politics of the foreshore to a sturdy powerwalk, as the pathway leads me across the William Street bridge and along the outskirts of the Port Macquarie CBD. I peer up through the beloved Clarence Street which is buzzing with holiday visitors and frantic shoppers. I decide I need a quick liquid refreshment and visit Warren and Tim at Cedro’s for one of Port’s best skinny cappuccinos. The boys always welcome patrons with a big hearty smile and a, “How you goin’?” – truly encapsulating the laid back and accommodating attitude of the locals. I love this town – most especially in the summer.
I curl around the walkway through the CBD and make my way to Town Beach, another standout for our area. The busy breakwall is always a pleasure to walk, and the ten minute promenade stroll takes more like half an hour, as I stop and start and then stop again to look at the brightly painted boulders. ‘MARRY ME SARAH?’… ‘R.I.P MICKO’… ‘PORT MACQUARIE 2008, THANKS FOR HAVING US’. I account this part of the walk as the most prominent attraction of our coastal face.
Two months ago they began working on the Town Beach car park overview, bulldozing dirt around and ripping bush that was spreading like wildfire from the earth. At the moment, it’s an eye-sore, and I look forward to the continuation of a well maintained promenade.
I wave to the life guards, who are busy scanning the beach and applying SPF to their noses. I say farewell to the more densely populated main beach and make my way through to my favourite part of the coastal walk – Flagstaff to Windmill Hill.
Secluded, white, sandy beaches, rocky cliff faces and a view that stretches out across the Pacific. I feel the enormity of the ocean as I travel along, the fresh sea breeze filling my lungs. Windmill Hill is spectacular, and it’s no wonder why handfuls of weddings are planned here each year. Windmill Hill was once known as Gillman’s Folly, and is where a beautiful windmill was built in 1825 to grind wheat and corn. In 1900 the remains of the windmill were accidentally destroyed by fire.
Rick Reynolds pays homage to the site’s history through his representation of the wooden shaft and stone grinding wheels of the windmill which once stood there. His sculpture, which was created in 2004, is appropriately named ‘Folly’ after the original title of the area.
Just past Windmill Hill comes the most talked about section of the Coastal Walkway. Previously, the residents of Port Macquarie had learned to live with a blotchy coastal walk, that had sporadic missing links along the pathway. But today, it seems Council have done it. After months of detours and witches hats, the section is complete and ready to be used by walkers and joggers. My only concern, as I descend into the Flynns Beach entrance, is the jolting staircase that seems to poke out into the middle of the road, an extreme hazard for drivers in the dark, and for walkers. Today, they are constructing a median strip to prevent any collisions – a very wise decision.
Through Flynns Beach area we go – one of Port Macquarie’s most unique areas. It’s home to Tommy’s by the Beach and other buzzing, quality restaurants, who seem to be booked out every night of the week this summer. Before I know it, we’re at Nobbys – Port’s beloved dog beach.
Everyone is following the rules today and carrying their plastic bags for ‘Lassie’s’ indiscretions, should they occur. There is a certain feel of freedom on this beach, as Labradors run loose and owners can put away their leads.
Continuing on my journey and knocking over the cluster of beautiful beaches as I walk, I find myself nestled at Shellys Beach for a five minute rest at the picnic area overlooking the sparkling lagoon. Like many, I have my own set of memories for Shelly Beach –knocking on the door of Harry Thompson’s caravan as a little girl to hand him some shells and seaweed I found on the beach (if ever he was feeling hungry). Harry made Shelly Beach his home from 1960 but passed away in 2000. Council constructed a memorial site where his caravan once was to say thank you for looking after the beach for all those years.
I hot foot it again and make my way to one of the most controversial areas of Port Macquarie – Miners Beach. I think I’ll keep my clothes on for this part of the walk. To my great surprise, I don’t see any nude sunbathers on the beach today. Perhaps the sun is a little too strong!
The climb up the hill is somewhat painful, as I start to feel the toll of the long coastal walk affecting my calf muscles. But soon I meet with the lush, shady Pacific Drive canopies once again and prepare myself for the last leg of the journey. Lighthouse Beach. My home, and the finale to the Port Macquarie Coastal Walk.
You can continue on through to Lake Cathie … Bonny Hills … Dunbogan if you choose. But for me, I call it quits and hit the water for a swim at Watonga Rocks to put a perfect end to a perfect day.
If you are looking for a great hiking session that covers the entire eastern shoreline of Port Macquarie, boasting our finest scenery and highlights, the new coastal walk is for you.
Story by Candice Rose