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Coastal walkway offers a snapshot of Sydney life

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A coastal walkway links the Sydney beaches of Bondi and Bronte. Photo / Jill Worrall
A coastal walkway links the Sydney beaches of Bondi and Bronte. Photo / Jill Worrall

It might be one of the world's most famous beaches, but in early spring, it would need a lot more than an illustrious name to get me into the waters at Bondi Beach.

Not that a chilly breeze was putting off the wet-suit clad surfies who bobbed among the breakers the length of the golden crescent of coastline. However, there is another way to enjoy the surf and the views - take the coastal walkway that links Bondi with Bronte Beach to the south.

The 2.5km (3.5km if you walk the length of Bondi first) coastal walk starts at the southern end of Bondi. As you climb up the path that leads around the cliffs, stop to read the plaque commemorating the heroic efforts of local surf-lifesavers on what came to be known as Black Sunday.

Surf lifesaving was invented in Australia and Bondi and Bronte vie for the title of having the oldest lifesaving clubs in the country. Both were established in 1906, as the craze for surf bathing took hold - the ban on daylight swimming had been lifted three years earlier.

The fledgling service and sport had its most major test (even up until today) on February 6, 1938, when 35,000 people were on the beach.

Three freak waves swept hundreds of people out to sea but fortuitously there were extra lifeguards on the beach that day, preparing for a race. Three hundred people were rescued and only five drowned.

Just above this plaque is the Bondi Icebergs Club which perches on the cliff just above the open-air seawater Bondi Baths.

If you want to become a full member of this club, brace yourself - you will need to swim in the baths three Sundays out of four between May and September for five years.

There's a great view of Bondi from the start of the walk but equally fascinating is the coastal cliffs themselves.

They are formed from sandstone laid down between 190 and 255 millions ago and have been sculpted and smoothed by the sea into undulating waves, sinuous ridges and smooth sea caves.

Beware of stopping in your tracks to admire either the geology or the sea; this is serious jogger territory and almost all runners are plugged into their iPods in earnest training mode. Collisions with sweaty lycra-clad bodies are possible (though the enthusiasm with which you avoid a crash might depend on the bodies in question of course).

The first bay on the walk is Tamarama, it's more like a cove than a beach, with a small park just behind the tiny curve of sand. It's apparently also known as Glamarama. There were no beautiful people in view when we walked past but maybe they only emergence in warm weather.

From here, the walk hugs the cliffs again and over the winter months - if you are very lucky - it is possible to spot migrating whales. Dolphins can be seen throughout the year.

It's a tranquil spot after the glitz of Bondi but this was not always so. In the early 1900s Tamarama boasted Wonderland City, which apparently included a miniature railway and even an airship.

Bronte has its own sea baths and a park with barbecue and picnic facilities but it also has an enticing cafe row on the southern side.

There are menus (and prices) to suit all tastes and wallets and - when the buses are not at the stop - a panoramic view across the bay to the cliffs beyond.

If the traffic's too heavy, simply watch out for the local ladies who lunch and try not to feel guilty tucking in as the latest fleet of runners sweeps past.

From Bronte it's possible to walk further south, with one of the first stops being the Waverley Cemetery where, among others, poet and journalist Henry Lawson lies.

However, if lunch has left you too relaxed for any more strenuous activity, simply catch a bus back into the city.

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