A semi-disastrous day trip to Ettalong

I’d read* about Ettalong, a beachy Central Coast suburb accessible by ferry from Palm Beach,  a few months before our trip to Sydney and thought it had the makings of a pretty cool day trip. It mixed in a few elements that I was sure would make things a sure-fire winner – it involved Palm Beach, which is one of my very favourite places on Earth. It involved a boat, which was sure to keep S happy (he is descended from Spanish pirates – long story – and loves anything boat or ocean related). It involved going out somewhere for lunch, pretty scenery, and a new destination to explore. I also secretly hoped we’d have the chance to get an ice cream, as my quota was running dangerously low for the holiday so far.

So on one of our last few days, we headed up the A3 towards the Northern Beaches. The day had already gotten off to a rocky start after having to reschedule the whole thing at the last minute, but never mind. We were on the open road with our nose pointed to adventure. We took a detour along McCarrs Creek Road, which goes through some very scenic parts of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. So far, so great.

We successfully located the wharf at Palm Beach (it’s on the Pittwater side). There’s a small car park with no fares advertised as you drive in, so we just merrily parked up and by the time we’d located the machine and discovered the prices, it was too late to go and find a free park back out on the main road. Those spots are kind of like gold dust and now I understand why.


Feeling slightly stung, we hung around on the wharf for a little while, waiting for our ferry to arrive. The view from the wharf was absolutely beautiful:


And I became slightly mesmerised by all the tiny fishies swimming about below the jetty.


The arrival of our boat snapped me out of my trance and on we climbed, straight up to the front of the open air top deck. After watching the poor boat hand (I’m sure there’s a technical term but I’m clueless about these things, not being part-pirate myself) trying for ages to un-lasso the boat from the jetty, we were on our way!


The amazing views started coming and they did not stop coming until we pulled into Ettalong 30 minutes later. We saw the backside of Barrenjoey head – oh hey, you still look beautiful from this angle.


We watched plenty of sail boats going ham (there was a stiff breeze).


We got up close with some bush whilst skirting a sand bar.


We noticed the clouds with some trepidation. I definitely had not come dressed for cloudy weather. We were going to the beach! It’s hot at the beach. Right?


At some point in the midst of this we bought our tickets from this very vintage looking set up, and I discovered that it’s best to not try and stand up to take pictures. Like I said, stiff breeze. Luckily, I did get my hat back from a very kind gentleman four rows behind us.


So after bouncing up and down the whole boat ride like kids at Disney, we found ourselves on the final approach to Ettalong. Having had a bustling seaside town in mind we had a bit of an expectation adjustment when we saw the small wooden jetty with a queue of patient ferry-goers.


As we disembarked, I spotted a pelican doing his thang near the old jetty. Hey, maybe sleepy smalltown isn’t so bad. I promise there is actually a pelican in there somewhere…


Then we saw this sign and things started to look up. A veritable plethora of things to do! The only decision was which thing to pick first. We decided to turn right towards the cinema, markets, restaurants and retail, ignoring everyone else who disembarked the ferry and headed straight towards the memorial club (or possibly the post office, you never know).


How quaint, a vintage sign for the cinema.


Ah! This must be the market. Funny, looks a bit dark…


Yes, we’d found the purpose-built market building which we wandered around for a few minutes before realising that nothing was open on a Monday. No-thing.

It was like the Marie-Celeste in there.

Alright, back out to the main road. We walked down almost the entire length of the main parade and discovered that there weren’t many other shops open either, and most of the restaurants were closed too. Note to self: always check the opening hours of things before you get on a half hour ferry ride.

Okay, not a problem. There’s a lovely beach here and I was sure there’d be somewhere good to eat. It’s Australia; food matters here.


We found a nice little bit of beach to sit on for a while and admire the view. The weather was beginning to warm up a little but I was still regretting my choice of shorts. We spotted a rather nice looking restaurant and decided to investigate.

We had stumbled upon the Box on the Water, and decided it looked like the perfect place for lunch. Unfortunately it was still only 11.45 and they didn’t open until 12. This put us in a quandry – with literally nothing else open, and the weather a bit too brisk to just sit on the beach all day, should we get the 12.20 ferry back again and call it an extended cruise? But that would mean no time for lunch. If however we stayed for lunch, we’d have to wait for the 2.30 boat.

In the end our stomachs won, and we were almost the first through the doors at the Box on the Water at about 12.02. Lucky thing too, as it’s extremely popular and the place filled up quick.


The Box on the Water turned out to be an amazing find, a mid-century paradise with the most amazing food. I liked that they had ceiling ferns, and the staff were incredibly friendly and accommodating of my gluten free needs.


While we sat and waited, we could watch the people on jetskis zooming up and down the strait.


I settled on a salad which has now become my favourite ever salad and I’ve decided I’m going to recreate at any possible opportunity. It’s really quite simple: watermelon, cucumber, mint, feta and a little bit of rocket with some grilled salmon served over it. There was a citrus glaze which was like magical unicorns it was so good.


We also had chips, because I need carbs. They came with a hollandaisey type thing and chilli salt and were just as delicious as the salad.


Suitably fortified, we decided to take a relaxing and romantic walk up the beach. The atmosphere was shattered slightly by the sight of a dog doing a massive poo on the sand and then its owner not cleaning up after it. What is wrong with people?! Giving the fresh dog bomb a wide berth, we continued on, watching our steps carefully.

We were rewarded by some pretty great views. Things were beginning to warm up too, which helped. I mean, just look at the water!


Even better, on our way back from our walk we realised that the Kiosk which is attached to the back of the Box on the Water sells ice creams. So that was my quota vastly improved for the day.


After that we walked about some more, and then found a nice tree to sit under to wait for the ferry. Someone may have had a small nap (ahem S).


The ferry arrived right on time and we boarded, amused to notice that there was a special stowing area for surfboards.


You know, it would be tempting to chalk that day up as being a damp squib, if not a total disaster. We went all that way expecting a bustling seaside town and all we found were empty markets. However, sometimes you’ve got to just loosen up a bit, have a laugh at yourself and make the best of things. We had one of the best meals of our trip and I found a new favourite recipe, we both thoroughly enjoyed the ferry ride and it was probably a good thing that we were forced to take it slow for (half a) day. We were coming out of a hectic few months and I’m sure it did us good to stop, breathe, and have an ice cream. Oh, and when we got back to the wharf car park we gave our all-day ticket to a family who pulled in just as we were leaving. It made them really happy, which made me happy.

Have you ever had a day trip that turned out a little differently than you expected? What did you learn?


*Thanks to Lydia for inspiring our day trip, if only I’d read your post more closely we may have had more success….

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  1. Kerri Taylor
    5th February 2016 / 19:32

    what a lovely trip it turned out to be. good thing you stayed for lunch! i’d take a nap under that tree that’s for sure 🙂 happy weekend!

    xoxo cheshire kat

    • 7th February 2016 / 19:01

      It was! Lunch was totally worth it (but then any meal usually is the high point of my day, so…). Happy weekend to you too!

  2. Corinne Vail
    6th February 2016 / 09:34

    Ah, A quiet Monday! We often find that on our excursions, too.

    • 7th February 2016 / 19:01

      I really should get better at checking opening times before I set off somewhere! Still, it didn’t turn out too badly in the end 🙂

    • 7th February 2016 / 19:02

      Exactly! And we’ll just have to go back on a day when everything is open!

  3. 7th February 2016 / 11:31

    Oh it’s a shame that the day wasn’t anything like you had anticipated, but it does sound like a wonderfully relaxing way to spend the day 🙂 And the food (and ice cream!) all look great!

    Away From The Blue Blog

    • 7th February 2016 / 19:03

      It was great in the end, and definitely taught us a lesson! The food was exquisite. So delicious. And ice cream is always delicious!

  4. 8th February 2016 / 11:14

    Oh wow Ettalong looks stunning, so wished we had checked it out when we were down in New South Wales, maybe another time!!
    Love that “The Box On The Water” catered for your Gluten free needs, we are on the GAPS way of living and are finding it hard to eat when out and about.
    Love your views from the beach 🙂

    • 10th February 2016 / 17:15

      It really was beautiful, I only wish we’d gone when stuff was actually open! Still, the boat ride and the scenery and especially lunch made up for it. Such good food. It makes me particularly happy when people can cater for a coeliac, because it’s quite a limiting factor for travel – as you obviously appreciate! Excuse my ignorance, what’s GAPS?

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