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Sustainable Destination: Mackerel Beach, Australia

In November 2014, Emily O’Mahoney, ASLA of Jupiter, Florida won LAF’s Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes: a trip to Mackerel Beach near Sydney, Australia. Accommodations would be an award-winning beach house on the Pittwater shoreline, 25 miles north of the city center at the edge of Ku-Ring-Gai National Park. The sweepstakes was sponsored by AECOM and LAF Board member Jacinta McCann, FAILA, who is originally from Sydney.

Emily and her husband, Brian, made the trip in September, adding on time at the beginning and end to explore Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Daintree Rain Forest. When they arrived in Sydney, they visited the Opera House, the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Darling Harbour area, and the Torango Zoo before heading to Hunter Valley and its wineries for two nights. They then made their way to the Sydney suburb of Palm Beach to catch the ferry over to the sweepstakes destination.

The architectural award-winning beach house, designed by Alec Tzannes, is built into the hillside on Mackerel Beach, where there are no shops or cars. All food and luggage must be carried along the beach to the house from the ferry. Here is how Emily described it in her travel journal:

“It is another world here. Most houses are vacation homes. There is an artist colony here too, down near the pier as I understand it. Foot paths are just that and the only way to get around once on land. You have the choice of taxi, ferry or private boat to get here. No cars, no roads. There are trail heads into the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park so hikers/walkers get off the ferry and disappear off the beach into the woods.”

pittwater-houseView of the house from the ferry depot — the one with the rounded roofpittwater-terraceEmily relaxing on the terrace

“It is a beautiful house situated in a beautiful location. There are two stories of steps to the front door and another story inside to the living area. And yes, another story to the loft/main sleeping room. Oh my, but the views. Lying in bed we had a wonderful view of the lights across the bay, the lighthouse and the stars.”

“There are 1.5 stories of straight rock right behind the house. Then there are several cisterns on up the hill to gather and store water. Quite a bit of real estate is given over to this endeavor. There are seven cisterns under the house with roof drains running to them.”

Emily and Brian took some short walks and enjoyed reading, playing Scrabble, and watching movies during their downtime. They saw wallabies, kookaburras, and other wildlife. They also did some longer hikes, which Emily describes in her travel journal:

pittwater-wallabyWallaby with a baby in her pouch, as seen from a house window

“We were on the trail about 8am and got back 3.5 hours later having seen no one, having the mountain to ourselves. We saw an Aborigine cave within the unique stone architecture. We saw beautiful views. I tried to get the feel of the landscape: grasstree, eucalyptuses and acacias. My book says that the forest here is a sclerophyll forest, an open forest dominated by eucalypts. We are in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. What a wonderful morning of climbing up and down and enjoying.”

“I went on a hike by myself to find the West End. There were patches of more tropical type vegetation (rain forest) around the valleys that feed streams that go down the mountain. Magical. The top of the mountain is more open so there are lots of wildflowers and plants blooming in this early spring. Lots of beautiful flowers and colors. The sandstone rock escarpments are beautiful and unique. Near the end of my 3 hours out, I saw the equivalent of a porcupine, an echidna.”

pittwater-overlookBrian on one of the many overlooks

“We climbed the hill outside the top level of the house where the cisterns are. It is not easy…at least for me. Once up on top we walked the distance of the Mackerel Service Trail up to the Basin trail.  We saw Aborigine pictograms on rocks.  We also saw some awesome rock formations and overlooks. The wild flowers are blooming in the open areas, which occur at the rim. This trail basically follows the crest of the hill/mountain. We had some light rain while out walking. By the time we got back I could sit in the sun on the terrace.

“What a wonderful vacation house! There are only 125 properties at Mackerel Bay. The whole area is a great relaxing place and only 1.5 hours from Sydney. We love watching the ferry come in on the hour at the half. We watch the sea planes, the sail boats, the motor boats, the ferries and the taxis. We watch the sun rise over Palm Beach and wake us before 6 every morning. We can see the stars at night.  It is all so very special. A trip of a lifetime. Thank you Jacinta McCann and Landscape Architecture Foundation.”

After five nights in Mackerel Beach, Emily and Brian flew to Cairns to explore the Great Barrier Reef and Green Island Sailing trip, then they traveld to an ecolodge in the Daintree Rain Forest for guided tours and an Aborigine art class. Details and photos from all of Emily’s adventures can be found at:

pittwater-sketchEmily's first sketch with the “Paint” software

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