It’s quarter past seven in the morning in Bundeena, a small village bordering the Royal National Park in Sydney’s south. Airbnb host Dianne Wheeler knows this because she’s spied the M.V Curranulla, a small wooden boat painted yellow and green, heading out from the wharf but not yet at the headland.
“You can tell the time in Bundeena by where the ferry is,” she says, pointing out in the distance to the oldest commuter ferry in Australia still in regular service. The hourly service sails from Cronulla through Gunnamatta Bay and across Port Hacking Bundeena, connecting this remote bushland suburb with the rest of Sydney. It makes a spectacular arrival for many of her guests, who then walk along the beach to her home. The only other way to get here is through the National Park, an hour’s return drive from the highway.
“It means you have to come to Bundeena, you never just pass through it,” says Dianne.
Most of her guests come to Bundeena – and the neighbouring village of Maianbar – for its quiet, Australian beauty. Meaning ‘noise like thunder’ for the waves that crash into the sand, the area has a rich Aboriginal history and has always been considered a beautiful place. This was the first national park in Australia and the second oldest in the world, a 150 square kilometre expanse that ranges from dense bushland to secluded beaches.
Dianne and her husband Ian have lived beside it for 33 years and share their family home with guests on Airbnb now that their three children have moved out. “I tell my guests ‘I know you didn’t come to Bundeena to see me, but I’m here if you need me,’” she says.
A keen bushwalker, Dianne offers to take guests on one of many nearby walks, or to drop them off at a starting point. She knows, as only a local can, how a particular trail will be at any time of the day. She can tell you the exact bend at which hermit crabs will appear on her morning walk, or to pack a picnic if you take the loop walk in the late afternoon. She knows to look out for whales migrating along the coast during the winter months, and for snakes in the summertime.
There’s a strong sense of community here, the kind of place where the cafes coordinate to close on different days of the week. Dianne likes to send her guests to support these local businesses, recommending they follow the easy trail from Bundeena into Maianbar, stopping at Bonnie Vale to kayak with locals Marnie and Bruce, and then finishing the walk with a hamburger at Maianbar Beach Cafe.
Following this trail with Dianne, we stop to chat with the locals that we pass. She asks them: what’s the best thing about living here? For Bill, it’s morning walks and evening swims. “Everyday we get to do the things that other people have to wait to do once a year on holidays,” he says. For her friend Amanda, it’s a particular angophora tree that she passes each morning with its smooth orange bark and branches that seem to be coming out of a vase, “the most beautiful tree in the world”.
Rather than Amanda’s angophora, it’s the nearby Figure Eight Pools and Wedding Cake Rock that have people flocking from across the world, after these sites recently found Instagram fame. Dianne once had a guest fly all the way from China for a three day trip to Australia, just to see Wedding Cake Rock. “It’s not even the prettiest feature in the park,” says Dianne.
Her tip? “Keep walking past it, just 800 meters further, and you get to Marley Headland which is much more beautiful.”
DIANNE’S GUIDE TO BUNDEENA
Find local homes to stay at in Bundeena and Maianbar on Airbnb.
Kayaking in Port Hacking: Marine scientist Marnie and her husband Bruce run Bundeena Kayaks, and offer tours on Airbnb Experiences across Simpsons Bay.
Bushwalk in the Royal National Park: Some of Dianne’s favourite walks include the coastal loop walk at Jibbon Beach, or the easy Bundeena-Maianbar Heritage Walk through a changing terrain of rainforest, mangroves and gums.
Swimming: Dianne suggests that her guests go for a swim at Jibbon Beach, which also has a good snorkelling cove near the rocks at the eastern end, or to join local kids riding the rapids in Cabbage Tree Basin on the walk to Maianbar.
Bundeena Art Trail: “There are a lot of artists living in Bundeena. It’s a place of natural beauty and it attracts people to it,” says Dianne. Visit on the first Sunday of the month to follow the Bundeena Art Trail. You can also take a pottery class on Airbnb Experiences at local ceramicist Marion Stehouwer’s studio.
Discover local Aboriginal history: see carvings near Jibbon Beach and a 3000-year-old midden, centuries of shells piled at an ancient eating spot.
Catch the ferry: arrive in Bundeena on the oldest commuter ferry in Australia, or take a daytrip over to Cronulla.
Maianbar Beach Cafe Dianne suggests her guests visit this cafe run by locals Shirley and Nick Colella for a reward at the end of a walk. Shirley makes all the food by hand, including the patties for their very popular burgers. It also operates as a general store for the community.
Words Rachel Bartholomeusz
Photography Jiwon Kim
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