Back in London, before I left at the end of 2012, I dreamt of beaches.
Living in a City that was over an hour away from the coast had really started to affect me, and that was one of the decisions that led us to move to Sydney after our big trip.
Arriving in Sydney with not much money and with no jobs set up made it hard to get our own place. You need to have 4 weeks deposit and 4 weeks up front for rent and with how expensive it is to rent in Sydney, that is a hell of a lot of moolah!
We were lucky enough to be put up by a good friend in Mona Vale in the Northern beaches for our first couple of weeks, but not wanting to out stay our welcome, we decided that our plan of attack would be to find a sublet for 1 -2 months to give us a chance to find work before we decided where we wanted to live long term.
Searching on gumtree we managed to find a two month sublet for a one bedroom apartment in Coogee. The price was right and so was the timing.
I have always wanted to live in Coogee, ever since my first visit way back when I was 17 and travelling in Australia with my Dad and brother. My cousin lived there back then and we stayed with her for three nights before moving on to our next destination. I loved this little village by the sea and I vowed to live there one day.
And now I have.
Coogee has changed a lot in the past 14 years since my first visit but I still love it. It is a lot busier these days and has definitely been discovered by the tourist masses not unlike its big brother, Bondi, but despite this it still has its laid back charm and the beach is just as beautiful as it ever was.
Coogee is located in the affluent Eastern suburbs of Sydney and is 30 minutes by bus into the City (unless it is rush hour, where it can be double that). Although it is a suburb of Sydney, it definitely retains a village-like feel with a bustling main street with lots of foot traffic, complete with a supermarket, retail outlets, restaurants, cafes and bars.
Our little one bedroom apartment had seen better days. Paint was peeling off the window sills, the coating on the bath was cracked and there were stains on the carpet. But it was only five minutes’ walk from the beach and we could see the ocean from our bedroom window. On quiet nights I could hear the waves crashing.
It was a perfect time to be in Coogee, in the height of summer we could take advantage of the beach and the world famous coastal walk right on our doorstep.
For the first month, we were looking for work, so we would spend a couple of hours in the morning, searching and applying for jobs on SEEK, then we would try to get out and about the rest of the day.
Because of our rapidly depleting funds, we were careful to not spend too much money but still took advantage of the fantastic cafes and restaurants in Coogee. Our favourites were Coogee Café or Cozzi for fantastic coffee, Chilli Box Thai for beautiful Thai food and their super cheap lunch menu, A Fish called Coogee for a more upscale fish and chips experience, Bloo Moo for frozen yoghurt with decadent toppings and Beach Burrito Company for their prawn and fish tacos.
There were so many more eateries that I would have liked to try but we ran out of time and some places were a bit too expensive for our meagre budget.
The Coogee Bay Hotel is a Sydney icon and has a fantastic beer garden. It is a massive place and is comprised of 7 bars and a nightclub! It can get pretty rowdy on a Friday and Saturday night and that was one definite downside to living on Coogee Bay Road, those were earplug nights. We went there for drinks on a couple of occasions but early on in the evening before it got crazy. It’s actually quite pleasant if you are there before 9pm.
The Beach Palace Hotel is another Coogee watering hole. I met a friend for a drink on the roof terrace there one afternoon. I remembered it being quite flashy the last time I was there on a trip back in 2009, but it exudes more of a faded glamour these days and is definitely overdue for a refurbishment.
When we weren’t eating, drinking or searching for work, we explored the gorgeous coast, up to Bondi in the north and down to Maroubra in the South.
Most days we would walk along the coastal path towards Bondi, sometimes all the way but usually to one of the beaches in between. There is a reason why the Bondi to Coogee walk is one of the top things to do when visiting Sydney; it may get crowded but it really is spectacular. Giant cliffs drop sharply into the frothy surf. Pods of Dolphins play offshore, catching waves beside bronze surf gods. If you are lucky you can catch sight of humpback whales during their migration in Winter. The coastal path winds above the cliffs with awesome ocean views pretty much the whole way.
Coogee is a stunning beach and although packed to the gills on weekends, there were never many people on week days, just us bums and a few tourists. Because of the rocky Wedding cake Island perched just off shore, it was usually pretty calm so therefore not an attraction to surfers. There did tend to be a consistent shore break which made it tricky to get in without getting pummelled. Once you were past that though you could float to your heart’s content, only needing to be mindful of man eating sharks without the addition of rogue waves.
To avoid worrying about sharks altogether, Coogee has three beach pools. Three! Most beaches only have one if any at all. One of the pools is for women and children only, there is a pool right on the beach for everyone and a larger well maintained pool for laps where you have to pay entry to. We used the beachside pool a couple of times but there was another swimming area that I was a lot more interested in.
At the northern end of Coogee Beach there is a memorial arch for the victims of the 2002 Bali bombings where 88 Australians lost their lives. There is one word ‘Baths’ on the top of the arch but I couldn’t see where these ‘Baths’ were from the beach. Walking up there for a closer look, I descended a step set of stairs down to the rocks and discovered something fantastic: a natural rock ‘pool’ with crystal clear water to swim in. The ‘pool’ was created by large rocks that blocked the waves with a little bit of artfully placed concrete and a couple more giant rocks to enclose the area further. It is such a great place for a swim. The water is so clean and clear here that you can open your eyes underwater.
Up on the cliff above the Baths is an unusual shrine to Coogee’s ‘Virgin Mary’. On 30th January 2003, a vision of the Virgin Mary was spotted from a Laundromat in Coogee that looked out over Dolphin Point. This drew crowds from all over the City the following day when the vision showed up again between 3.30pm and 5pm. People prayed and cried, left rosaries and flowers by the fence post where the apparition appeared.
The vision was an optical illusion caused by the fence and the shadow it threw against the ground and headland, although many believed it was the blessed virgin herself, with her appearance somehow related to the Bali bombing victims.
The fence was knocked down by vandals one month later and the apparition hasn’t been seen since. Now all that remains is the small shrine with some rosary beads, plastic flowers and pictures of the Virgin.
Rugged Gordon’s Bay is the first cove over from Coogee. There is an underwater nature trail and it is popular for snorkelling. A lot of people swim off the rocks here too. It is the least ‘beachy’ beach on the coastal walk with its Rocky surroundings and fishing boats moored on the small seaweed laden beach. I think that is why it is so popular with Sydneysiders, it is something different.
Clovelly is a very narrow beach surrounded on both sides with concrete. Sunbathers lay out on the concrete and swimmers do laps from the small sandy beach to the rocky entry of the bay and back. Another very popular beach but I’m not a big fan of all the concrete.
Waverley Cemetery has to have one of the best locations of any cemetery in the world. Cliffside overlooking the ocean, the mind boggles to think of what that piece of real estate would be worth now! At least if you were buried there you know that relatives would visit, if only for the view.
Bronte beach is the half-way point between Coogee and Bondi and along with its smaller neighbour, Tamarama, it is one of my favourite beaches in Sydney. Bronte is one of the larger beaches along the coastal walk and is a lovely crescent shape with a surf club, large park, great cafes, beachside promenade and man-made lap pool. But the main reason that I adore Bronte is the rock pool. A natural rock pool like the one in Coogee, it also has incredibly clear, turquoise water and is a great spot for a dip.
Tamarama is another delightful beach. It is quite narrow but has a perfect patch of golden sand, a park with coin operated BBQs and a great café. For some reason this beach tends to be the most empty, it could be because the waves can get quite rough here and there are no swimming signs up some of the time. That is one of the main reasons that I like it, you can actually see the sand while other more popular beaches can seem like a mass of bodies with hardly a gap between them.
Mackenzies Bay is a small inlet that is popular with body boarders. Every few years waves sweeping sand into the bay from nearby sand bars turns Mackenzies Bay into Mackenzies Beach. It hasn’t been a ‘beach’ since 2007, so maybe it is due for another sand dump.
Ah, Bondi. Probably the most famous beach in all of Australia. It is a gorgeous sight. As you round the coastline from Mackenzies Bay, the first thing you see is the beautiful Bondi Icebergs pool, turquoise waters perched out over the deep blue ocean. Bondi beach is the beach to see and be seen and has a gorgeous stretch of golden sand. The TV show, Bondi Rescue, is filmed here. Surf shops line the promenade and there is great eating to be had along Hall Street and Bondi Road. For the most amazing gelato, try the salted caramel and white chocolate scoop at Messina – heavenly.
There is a fab Canadian Restaurant and Bar on Bondi Road called the Stuffed Beaver. It does a ridiculously good pulled pork sandwich and be sure to get a side order of frickles, which are deep fried pickles.
Despite the backpacker crowd being fairly prevalent, there are still a lot of friendly locals fiercely proud of their little beach paradise. Every Sunday there is a eclectic market in the Bondi Beach Public School Grounds. Fantastic hand-made jewellery, arts and crafts, vintage clothing and quirky gift options abound. The vendors are friendly and happy to chat and answer any questions about their products and it has a lovely local feel to it.
Walking south from Coogee on the lesser known part of the coastal path, it takes about 1 – 1 ½ hours to reach the surfie suburb of Maroubra. There are no beaches between Coogee and Maroubra, just a rocky coastline, but it is still beautiful. There is a fantastic rock pool along the way, seemingly carved into the flat rock. It is definitely worth a stop for a swim in the crystalline water while waves crash nearby.
Maroubra is a lot less affluent than the other beaches along the east coast and there is a lot of low income housing in this beachside suburb. The notorious surf gang, the Bra Boys, live and surf in Maroubra. The Bra Boys has produced more than a few top surfers and Bra boy Koby Abberton beat world champion Kelly Slater at the Australian open held in Maroubra in 2004. With its undeveloped rugged coastline and small, low key main street, Maroubra is far removed from cosmopolitan Sydney and in that lies its charm.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time by the beach in Coogee, despite the hecticness on weekends. We are living in the suburb of Randwick now and although I like how quiet it is (no more ear plugs!), I miss the feeling of being by the water.
The ocean is starting to beckon again.