Determined to explore more of Sydney and surrounds by water, we escaped the city for the Central Coast by ferry from Palm Beach. A rather beautiful way to spend a sunny summer birthday weekend.
First stop was The Boathouse at Palm Beach, but as is typical, we didn’t really leave enough time, so just had a little squizz, found non-metered parking (outside The Boathouse Home), and walked over the hill and down to the ferry wharf, knowing we would dine as soon as we docked on the other side.
The ferry trip only takes around 25 minutes from Palm Beach Wharf and is done through FantaSea Cruising. You can get your ticket on board. We were blessed with a stunning day so the water passage of this trip was just one big tempting swim land. Sitting inside was never considered. We sat on the back lower deck and jumped up often to hang over the rails and watch as the ferry went past bush-covered land and little inlets. It felt miles away from Sydney.
It was sizzlingly hot when we docked at Ettalong, but thankfully it was a short stroll to our first destination – our beachside lunch spot The Box on the Water, which was one of my motivators for visiting the area. A ferry trip to the Central Coast where we could have a birthday lunch overlooking the sea? Sure thing.
TASTE – The Box on the Water
We were unsure whether we would just visit the attached kiosk (the menu looked fab) or dine at the restaurant (Phil is a vego so there wasn’t too much choice in the restaurant), but after arriving it was obvious would be dining it. The rustic kiosk is tucked up behind the restaurant and looked nothing special compared to the al fresco gem that was The Box on the Water. Without a booking, we tried to weasel our way into a waterfront seat, but one row back was fine. As I mentioned, it was my birthday, so we ordered a couple of Aperol spritzes for while we perused la menu. The restaurant was all wood and windows (mostly open) with floating ferns. The view beyond was boats, pale blue water and bush across the way.
I’m not sure how long I looked over the menu, but it didn’t matter because I spied fish and chips being taken to another table and that was that. The menu was seafood rich, with alternate mains of Angus fillet steak (Bois Boudran, crispy potato, Café de Paris beurre), jerk chicken (sweet potato crisps, coconut rice and beans, mango salsa) and duck breast (five spice reduction, radish and Asian greens). Phil went with the (very delicious, but petit for a main) roast field mushroom (balsamic glazed, cashew ‘cheese’, orange quinoa and cashew dukkah).
Dessert was a real stand-out. The Eton Mess with blood orange sorbet, meringue and orange sherbet was sweet powdery deliciousness. Best to share. And given we had recently made our first successful semi fredo and love salted caramel like every other human, we had to try the Popcorn Semi Fredo with salted caramel, popcorn and coco nibs and needless to say I still adore salted caramel. It was thick and sticky and can get stuck in my teeth anytime.
We took a little intermission from food, went for a swim and a relax on the beach and then went and checked into our Airbnb place in Woy Woy. The cute little granny flat we stayed in was nice, but we suggest staying right by the beach as we were a little far out and had to keep getting cabs. The Mantra in town is the obvious choice, but being January it was completely booked out when we went.
TASTE – Bar Toto
I want this place to exist on my block. The Bar Toto trattoria and bar on Ocean View Road ticked a few boxes for us: it was right next to Cinema Paradiso where we were to see a film later, it had Italian food (Phil is nuts for it) and it had a great cocktail list (with sours!) made by a guy made it into the top 100 cocktails list. It has outdoor seating, a narrow, intimate front bar and a larger, dimly lit lounge out the back.
For a (birthday) cocktail I chose the wonderful Jerry’s Coco Rumba because it featured my fave 1800 tequila, Solermo, lime and coconut cream 9and a pretty as pie flower on top!) and Phil had a Barrel Aged Negroni.
The pizzas are sold by the ‘slice’ (about a quarter pizza) and the Caprino with pancetta, goats cheese, basil and tomato base was a stand-out, but they were all really yum.
We ducked down to the beach to watch the sunset quickly before the film started and we’re glad we did as it was peaceful and serene, the warm pinks painted across the sky and water.
TASTE – Coast 175
On Sunday morning we made tracks for a cafe that I had spied from Bar Toto the evening before, Coast 175. It was on the opposite block on Ocean View Road. And I have to say, it was a winning choice for breakfast – and I may have had my best ever hollandaise here (or it may have just been exactly what I was craving at the time – it was special either way)! Ever the one with a sweet tooth at breakfast, Phil ordered the lemon french toast. Don’t tell him I’m ever the one who’s glad he orders sweet breakfasts, because this is one of those examples of when I get to share in the berries and sweet bread of a yummy dish.
The coffee here was great, the interiors were fresh (I loved the yellow striped awnings) and it had a little fruit market in the front (or pineapples in the window – also a nice touch). So get thee to Ocean 175 when you’re in Ettalong. If there’s a better brekky spot I want to hear of it.
To walk off our full bellies, we went to the ‘weekend market’ in the same complex as the cinema, just over the road. It’s really a collection of permanent art, craft and clothes shops (definitely most of them weresn’t to my taste, but I managed to buy a cute scarf at one store for $5). After a quick spin it was back down to the beach to while away some time before our ferry back to Palm Beach. The sand at the wharf end of Ettalong beach is partly shaded and better for swimming than the middle, where the sand just below the water is covered in thick vegetation. We lay down in the shelter of a tree and read our books. A little flock of ducks paid us and every other beachgoer a visit, searching for food quite confidently, until they were intimidated by little kids who ran too close.
When the ferry came I was left wishing we had a few more days to chillax in Ettalong or surrounds. Across the bay at Wagstaff looked beautiful as well, so that may be the next Central Coast adventure. But Ettalong was a lovely birthday weekend. The ferry trip back to Palm Beach made me wide-eyed about they beauty of Sydney and surrounds. After all these years of exploring there are still outrageously beautiful spots to discover. The wider central coast, I’m coming to get you…