The silent sentinels
The hypnotic attraction of the solitary lighthouse.
The quintessential ‘night time light’ – the solitary lighthouse – is a magnet for those in coastal regions with a desire to go exploring after dark.
13 November, 2020
For those looking for an altogether more romantic or poignant experience though, it is of course at night that these silent sentinels come alive
The Audi Q range is so irresistibly advanced you'll often find yourself driving well into the night. After all, some technology is just impossible to put down. That's why we've curated a series of our favourite nocturnal adventures around the country in 'Drives After Dark' featuring after-dark experiences from breathtaking natural nightscapes and up-late eateries to weekender getaways and more.
No list of iconic after-dark sights and experiences would be complete without lighthouses featuring somewhere. For our purposes though, the lighthouse as a nocturnal destination is something of a paradox in that they are essentially off limits once the sun goes down, and tours to see the workings of these fascinating facilities can only be carried out during daylight hours.
The reasons for this are obvious, given that night-time constitutes business hours for the solitary lighthouse, so having even small groups of visitors inside at night is less than ideal. In addition, the view from inside the lighthouse at night is, well, somewhat restricted to say the least, given that the light is there to warn shipping of treacherous coastlines, not light up spectacular views.
So, for those wanting to visit the inside of one of the country’s many working lighthouses and see how these lifesaving facilities operate, a daytime visit is a must. That will also afford you an extraordinary view of the surrounding area, given that by definition, lighthouses are built in areas with the most commanding view out to sea in order to be as effective in warning shipping as possible.
For those looking for an altogether more romantic or poignant experience though, it is of course at night that these silent sentinels come alive, and from a purely aesthetic perspective, a visit at night, if only to gaze on the exterior, is a perfect excuse for a late-night excursion.
There are around 350 active lighthouses scattered all around the country, which is hardly surprising, given the fact that Australia is ‘girt by sea’ and our often treacherous coastline has claimed more than its fair share of shipping over the years. Not all live up to the classic image of the stark white tower stoically facing the elements, with many little more than industrial light stations designed with function paramount and form not a consideration.
These days automation has essentially done away with the need for the traditional lighthouse keeper, with periodic maintenance the only need for human interaction with the facilities.
The country’s oldest lighthouse facility, Macquarie Lighthouse in the Sydney superb of Vaucluse, dates back to 1818, although the present, heritage-listed structure designed by James Barnet wasn’t completed until 1883.
Still operating to this day, the site which is just two kilometres from South Head was commandeered for its strategic position from the very earliest days of European settlement and there has been some form of lookout and navigational aid there since the late 1700s.
Today, the iconic structure is one of the most accessible in the country if you’re looking to just ‘stop by’.
A short run by car from the centre of Sydney out along Old South Head Road, it can also be easily accessed by foot via the walking track that runs from Bondi and will take you all the way to Manly (an 80km hike) for those who are feeling especially energetic.
There are around 350 active lighthouses scattered all around the country, which is hardly surprising, given the fact that Australia is ‘girt by sea’
On selected days throughout the year, it is possible to see inside the lighthouse as part of a short tour that affords you one of the most spectacular views in Sydney. After dark, although internal access is off limits, the lighthouse can be visited at any time, and its proximity to the road means long and (at night) often questionable walks along cliff tops, can be completely avoided.
There are any number of other reasons to visit this part of Sydney after dark, not the least of which is the iconic Doyles seafood restaurant at Watsons Bay, a Sydney dining institution that still occupies its original location, established in 1885, just two years after the current lighthouse began construction. Next to Doyles is the Watsons Bay Hotel which is likewise reason enough to head to this part of the city and drink in the incredible view of the harbour, and still be able to capture your lighthouse on the way back to the city.
Not far from Macquarie Lighthouse or Watsons Bay is the iconic, slightly quirky Hornby Lighthouse.
Perched at the edge of South Head and looking right over the formal entrance to Sydney’s iconic harbour, this red and white stripped structure resembles an old fashioned stick of candy and is certainly one of the more colourful lighthouses the country has to offer.
Dating back to 1858, this lighthouse is often seen in the aerial views of the Harbour especially as the yachts race out through the Heads at the start of the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race each Boxing Day. To get up close and personal though must be done on foot as the Hornby Lighthouse doesn’t offer the drive-up convenience of Macquarie.
After dark, although internal access is off limits, the lighthouse can be visited at any time
Barrenjoey Lighthouse is another historic Sydney Lighthouse that fits the classic mould, this time keeping watch for approaching vessels from Sydney’s most northern point at Palm Beach. Visitors can tour this lighthouse most weekends, but again this is a day excursion only. Access to the lighthouse and the lighthouse keeper’s cottage is on foot, and while you can stroll out and see it at night, you’ll need a torch and plenty of energy for the walk.
Sydney is home to other historic lighthouses and light beacons, but for more of the quintessential lighthouse architecture, spotters are better served heading north or south along the coast to find more photogenic examples. Wollongong’s Flagstaff Point is easily accessed by road with just a short stroll to the actually lighthouse, while further south, the stunning Kiama Lighthouse which dates back to 1887 is likewise easy to access by car and is a photographer’s dream.
Go north from Sydney and on the New South Wales Central coast you will find the Norah Head Lighthouse, the last to be built in what’s known as that classical James Barnet style. This facility too offers up superb photographic opportunities, and has car parking near enough for a short nighttime walk to take in the lighthouse and the stunning stretch of coast during the day.
Keep heading further up or down the coastline and the offerings multiply almost exponentially – so that no matter where you are on the Australian coastline, there is likely to be a lighthouse within driving distance.
Many lighthouse facilities also offer the opportunity for visitors to stay in the keeper’s cottage or one of the associated buildings, but alas, the lighthouses themselves remain timeless working buildings only to be gazed upon, photographed and admired.
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Keep heading further up or down the coastline and the offerings multiply almost exponentially
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