Baywatch babes not welcome here

Despite tempting offers from TV producers, Avalon remains in the hands of serious surfers, writes Simon Richmond

Bill Bryson is missing. The famous author has, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, gone AWOL in Australia while researching his latest travel book. There's been an unconfirmed sighting of Bill in central Sydney, but I have a hunch that on such a gloriously sunny, late summer's day he'll be at the beach. And I've a pretty good idea which beach, too. Avalon.

Until last October, the 9,200-strong community of Avalon, some 18 miles north of the city centre near the tip of the Pittwater peninsula, was best known as a surfing hot spot and the first place in Australia where inflatable rescue boats - or "rubber duckies" as they're known down under - were used by a surf life-saving club. Then the Baywatch juggernaut rumbled into Sydney for three weeks of filming, three days of which were at Avalon, and things haven't been the same since.

So taken with Avalon were the producers of Baywatch - seen by an estimated billion people each week in 141 countries - that they decided they'd like to move there permanently. An application to film during the winter months of April to October was lodged with the local council. It had the support of the surf club, which got a fresh paint-job out of last year's filming and is in line for substantial structural improvements if the deal goes ahead.

Not everyone was happy, though, as posters around town and a recently covered-over graffiti ("Baywatch f--- off") across the orange and sea- green surf club walls testified. An Anti-Baywatch Action Group was set up, drumming up a storm of protest before a public meeting held on 24 February, at which two thirds of those present (more than a fifth of the town's population) voted against Baywatch setting up there. Bill Bryson, if he is around, could not have asked for better material.

It now looks almost certain that Baywatch is destined to be filmed up the coast in Queensland, but it is easy to see why the show's producers were so keen on Avalon - even though the sand at Bondi and several other better known Sydney beaches is finer and more golden. Avalon's beach sweeps in a graceful curve from the rock baths at the southern end, where mums and toddlers splash, to the lofty, rocky outcrop, the Hole in the Wall, at the north. Norfolk Pines, sand dunes and the surf club, its Venice- Beach colour scheme now making it appear, as one resident so charmingly put it, "like an ice lolly on a stick", complete the picture. The crashing surf is also legendary. Adrian, blond and bronzed, is a real-life Baywatch lifeguard, keeping an eye out for surfers and swimmers in possible danger. "This is no place for inexperienced surfers," he warns, which counts me, and I suspect Bill, out. If you're handy with a board, Adrian recommends hitting the waves in the morning, when the wind is offshore, and preferably mid-week when there are fewer people on the beach.

A minute's walk from the beach, where Avalon Parade crosses Old Barrenjoey Road, a cluster of shops is the nucleus of the community. This is a seriously foodie place, where you can buy organic bananas or luscious mangos, freshly made pasta and award-winning breads and cakes. The petits fours from the patisserie La Banette are reckoned to be the best outside Paris, and there are more cafes than you can shake a surfboard at. There's a middle-aged bloke with a beard in one cafe, but it's not Bill.

In Searls health-food store, a family business for 33 years, Geoff Searls fills me in on local history. The community was given its name by Mr A J Small, who bought the bushland in 1918 for development. "He saw it as a retreat from the busy city, like Arthur saw Avalon as a retreat from battle," explains Searls. Avalon has been attracting city escapees and artists ever since.

Media attention is nothing new for Avalon, though. Hollywood dropped by with a giant squid for the B-movie The Beast several years ago, and as any self-respecting soap addict knows, Avalon is just down the road from the Palm Beach location of Home and Away. At the Avalon Beach Hostel, owner Craig used to run Home and Away tours, but not any more. "Let's face it, it's only popular in the UK," he says, giving me directions to the house used for exterior shots only, in the neighbouring community of Clareville.

Instead, I cross the road to another Aussie institution, the RSL. Returning Services League clubs started off like the British Legion bars in the UK, but these days make their money from gambling on the "pokkies" or fruit machines. Avalon's RSL has 67 of them, a mini-Las Vegas. "I've lived here all my life and I want to see it happen," says the girl pulling the numbers for the meat raffle. For her, Baywatch is Avalon's big chance for the jackpot.

Even if the Baywatch battalions descend, solitude in the bush and quiet beaches are never far away in Avalon. The Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, one of Sydney's favourite nature escapes, is across Pittwater. I hop on a bus up to Palm Beach and get off at the public wharf, from where hourly ferries make the rounds of three idyllic spots in the park. The first stop, The Basin (where there's a campsite), is the bay where the SS Lucinda anchored Easter weekend 1891, and negotiations began that would result in the Australian Constitution a decade later.

Returning to Avalon for a late- afternoon cuppa, I'm just disappointed not to have spotted Bill.

AVALON

GETTING THERE

Express buses leave for Avalon from Wynard bus station (tel: 131 500). Sydney Harbour Seaplanes (tel: 1800 803 558) fly from Rose Bay to Pittwater.

WHERE TO STAY

Avalon Beach Hostel (tel: 0061-2-9918 9709) offers bunks in dormitories from A$18 (pounds 7) per night. Johah's (tel: 0061-2-9974 5599) offers double rooms from A$210 per night.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Product Development

    £26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Day In a Page

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory