SummerBay VW Golf-17


Sydney to Summer Bay day trip: Driving the Volkswagen Golf

'You know we belong together. You and I, forever and ever.' The opening lyrics to the theme song of Home and Away are instantly recognisable, not only in Australia but around the world. The soap opera first hit the screen back in 1988 and it has been sold to around 80 countries over the years, making it one of Australia's most successful television exports.

The dramatic lives of the residents of Summer Bay play out on Channel 7 four nights a week, and for the past 28 years it's been filmed in the same location. Summer Bay is in fact Palm Beach, a beautiful spot just one hour north of Sydney.

Any day of the week you're sure to spot Home and Away fans checking out iconic locations from the show, like the Summer Bay Surf Club, the diner, bait shop, beach walkway and lighthouse. The best part being, the 45-kilometre journey is a fantastic drive that winds its way along the coastline.

For the trip, I'm in the Volkswagen Golf 92TSI Comfortline, one of Australia's top-selling small cars. You can read our full reviews on Volkswagen Golf variants here, but this one has a 92kW/200Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and a seven-speed direct-shift gearbox (DSG). Equipment includes satellite navigation, cruise control, reversing camera, app connectivity (including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink), Bluetooth connectivity and USB charging are all standard and it costs $27,990 before on-road costs.

But enough about that, we need to get to Summer Bay before another Hemsworth joins the show...

Wheels turning, I head out of the city and over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Alternatively, you could take the tunnel, depending on which way you’ve come from.

Head along the M1 and take the Willoughby road exit - you could also take the A8 and head over the Spit Bridge, both end up joining the Wakehurst Parkway at Frenchs Forest. The Parkway can also be quite slow if there’s a lot of traffic, it's one of the main roads through to Pittwater and the Northern Beaches beyond Narabeen.

Barrenjoey Road is the one you’ll enjoy. It’s twisty with ocean glimpses and tree-lined sections of bushland peppered by residential areas and places to stop for coffee as you make your way up past Newport and Avalon Beach, it then treks across to the other side of the headland, skirting around the back of Whale Beach and Pittwater.

The Golf handled the most challenging part of the drive relatively well. The ride is comfortable and smooth over imperfections on the road and changes in road surfaces. However, catch it off-boost and it can be a bit sluggish at low-speeds. I particularly noticed its reluctance to get up and going when I had to slow down for a corner heading up a hill.

As you approach Palm Beach, the road loops back around to the ocean side when you’re almost at Barrenjoey Head and links with Ocean Road. To check out the area and get my 'Summer Bay' bearings, I followed Ocean Road to its southern point near the rockpools (that have regularly featured on the television drama).

I stopped for a coffee and breakfast at one of the beachfront cafés. It was delightful to sit there on a weekday, not too busy and the sea breeze blowing through. I can see why Alf Stewart has stuck around so long.

At the top end of Beach Road lies Governor Phillip Park. The heartland for Home and Away fans. I spotted a place called The Boathouse – instantly recognisable as the Diner, Bait Shop and the Pier. When filming isn't happening, it's a bustling spot with quirky decor and great views.

Heading further along the water there are lots of places to park and have a wander around. The walkway to Barrenjoey Head is up the end, and if you feel energetic it's only a 25-minute walk up to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse. It's also featured in the soapie from time-to-time.

I was making my way through the area with only a vague idea where I was headed. I knew the main locations I was looking for but also wanted to poke around a bit in case I could spot some filming going on. The 2016 Golf has Apple CarPlay integrated in the infotainment system, which means you can set waypoints and locations on your phone and continue navigating after you leave the car - which was particularly handy here.

As you continue along the road that loops through Governor Phillip Park, you can't miss the North Palm Beach Surf Lifesaving Club, better known as the Summer Bay Surf Lifesaving Club. I parked the Golf and wandered around the building and was surprised to see a number of Home and Away fans busily snapping selfies in front of the signage.

The Surf Club is home to the beachside kiosk, the beach walk, the gym and of course the location for many of the show's beachside scenes. It was a hot day so definitely perfect conditions to enjoy an ice-cream. I had a chat to the lady in the kiosk, too, and was surprised to learn that star spotters, soapie fans and tourists have increased to the point that security is now necessary to ensure crowds don't impede filming.

She said film crews and the actors/actresses can come and go multiple times a day, and though they stop serving when filming is taking place right in front of the kiosk, it's generally business as usual. Interestingly, they don't often know what the schedule is and just work around the comings and goings.

I certainly felt like I was getting in on the fun by taking selfies in every spot that I thought I recognised from the show - and there were plenty of other people there doing the same thing! Though I wasn't lucky enough to be there on a filming day, it was still an exciting experience to be standing right where the magic happens. If you live in Sydney it's worth spending a morning exploring Summer Bay, or if you're visiting it's a great way to add a bit of small screen glamour to your trip.

If you are a particularly big fan of the show, there's plenty more to see. Nearby locations used for filming include bushland around Pittwater, the old caravan park was at Duffys Forest, the original Bayside Diner that burnt down 16 years ago is in Estival Street in Palm Beach, the Beachside Diner is in Collaroy at Fishermans Beach, Yabbie Creek CBD is actually Darley Street in Forestville while Martha's Farm is in Windsor. Most of the inside scenes are filmed at ATN-7 in Redfern.

If time permits, the route home can detour at Mona Vale to head up through the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park for some more 'driver oriented' tarmac. The scenery is a knockout and the return trip to West Head will offer a unique vantage point to view Palm Beach from across the water. A perfect place for future-Hemsworth spotting!

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