The luxurious sights of the insular Peninsula

A veritable sea of masts on a parking lot in Pittwater.
A veritable sea of masts on a parking lot in Pittwater.

They’re only joking, of course, when they say you need to carry a passport to cross the isthmus to Sydney’s “insular Peninsula” and reach northern suburbs such as Newport, Avalon and Palm Beach.

But you don’t need to scratch much below the surface to find a bit of supportive evidence. Yes, indeed, the Peninsula is different.

Paul Keogh … a fine sailor who obviously knows the area well.

Paul Keogh … a fine sailor who obviously knows the area well.

Take, for instance, Paul Keogh, skipper of the catamaran that’s giving us a run around Pittwater. Sure, he’s a fine sailor and he obviously knows the area well, but he doesn’t look like the owner of a fleet of some nine boats that constitute Skipper-a-Clipper.

Some readers will say that’s just part of the Australian character — and I guess it is. That’s why the English don’t know where to place us socially, but you can easily double that impression when you broach the Peninsula.

It’s easy to imagine that you’ve come to another land when you cruise Pittwater, past squillions of dollars worth of moored craft and eagerly sought real estate, not that you’d know it when you meet some of the owners wearing boardies in the flashest of local restaurants.

Waterfront homes line Pittwater … many are accessible only by boat.

Waterfront homes line Pittwater … many are accessible only by boat.

The three or four hours with Paul is time well spent, as we cruise past the elegant homes of the rich and famous — people such as the Oatley family, which own that speediest of yachts Wild Oats, and Jennifer Hawkins, TV host and a former Miss Universe.

Then it’s off around the Peninsula by road — in one of Rob Frizza’s immaculately reconditioned Kombis, this one a nine-seater from the mid-1960s, and complete opening safari-style from windows. Anything it lacks in mod-cons it more than makes up for in character.

Rob Frizza … offering tours of the Peninsula in a vintage Kombi.

Rob Frizza … offering tours of the Peninsula in a vintage Kombi.

Rob has a handy spiel delivered with great enthusiasm and surefootedness, and the tour is a real eye-opener, even for a local resident who’s accompanying me.

Highlights include Bushrangers Hill, the Bangalley Head Lookout, the Bible Gardens, on land purchased by Hercules Robinson and now a park featuring many of the plants mentioned in The Bible, and houses made famous, or infamous, by colourful residents such as Abe Saffron and Madame Lash.

Bungan Castle … built in the 1920s, largely from locally quarried sandstone.

Bungan Castle … built in the 1920s, largely from locally quarried sandstone.

A memorable moment comes outside the Bungan Castle, built in the 1920s, largely from locally quarried sandstone, by a German art dealer. By chance we meet his nephew, the current owner, outside and we’re given a guided tour of renovations that are slowly and painstakingly being carried out.

The Metro Mirage Hotel, where I am staying, started life in the 1950s as a suburban motel in a beautiful Newport location — one of the first of these “new fangled” holiday accommodations in Australia, and no doubt featuring gimmicks that brought “oohs” and “ahs” from its early guests.

It’s certainly well outlived that era and these days boasts facilities that wouldn’t be out of place in a four-star resort — classy restaurant with magic water views and thoroughly modern menu, conference facilities that have them queuing up during the week, extremely comfortable, largish rooms, 24-hour service, Foxtel entertainment, free in-room wi-fi, and the rest.

Here’s cheers … Stuart Crossman, general manager at Newport’s Metro Mirage Hotel.

Here’s cheers … Stuart Crossman, general manager at Newport’s Metro Mirage Hotel.

The general manager, Stuart Crossman, might wear a tie to work but underneath he’s as laid back as anyone on the Peninsula and as quite happy chatting about music as he is extolling the virtues of the Mirage.

And it has location to burn.

The view from one of the rooms at Newport’s Metro Mirage Hotel.

The view from one of the rooms at Newport’s Metro Mirage Hotel.

Sitting back, revelling in stunning views, dining at superb restaurants such as the innovative Sotto Sopra just up the road, it’s all there and it’s available to most Sydneysiders and visitors.

Just remember to pack your passport, your boardies and an attitude embracing laid-back fun. It’s pretty difficult to go wrong.

IF YOU GO

Metro Mirage Hotel, 2 Queens Parade West, Newport. Phone 02 9777 7011. Visit www.metrohotels.com.au/hotels/metro-mirage-hotel-newport 

Skipper a Clipper, Pittwater. Phone 02 9979 6188. Visit www.skipperaclipper.com.au 

The Kombi Experience, Newport. Phone 0400 668 900. Visit www.kombiexperience.com.au