Despite being one of the most popular coastal trails in Australia, the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk was closed over concerns for the safety of its users due to significant erosion from a storm surge which slammed Sydney in June 2016. This granted an opportunity to rethink, redevelop and restore the famous track, also home to the heritage-listed Waverley Cemetery, and allowed ASPECT Studios to design and document the new extension, building on the successful clifftop walk completed just over 10 years ago.
Prior to the redevelopment, the cultural and heritage items impacted included a section of the cemetery terrace and severely rundown sandstone retaining walls that were partially collapsed or imminently in danger of collapsing due to weather conditions and use by the public.
Stage one of the project involved constructing an elevated boardwalk that resolves complex geotechnical, structural and heritage conditions. The 515m long walkway is part of the nationally significant 9km coastal walk from South head to Maroubra, located above Sydney’s Eastern cliff tops. It is in equal parts a ribbon of movement though the sublime eastern cliff top landscape and a place to stop and embrace the experience of this unique cultural, environmental and heritage landscape asset.
A large section of the gully at the Waverley Cemetery was reclaimed by the ocean due to a landslip apart of the 2016 storm event. This, alongside the path’s previous condition having traversed the cemetery, undermined the structural integrity of the track. Damage to the monuments, erosion, and a loss of sanctity was severely degrading the cultural heritage value of the cemetery and contributed to management and operational problems.
A 3000m² area of the gully has been redeveloped in conjunction with necessary remediation works including extensive native endemic planting, erosion control, capturing and filtering stormwater through tiered biofiltration swales and a hanging swamp which also helps naturally irrigate these areas.
Given the magnitude of the damage and land slippage, the works primarily focussed on addressing safety issues, allowing the reopening of the coastal walk and securing the gully from further land slippage. A reinforced concrete seawall with wave deflector and rock armouring has been constructed to help stabilise and provide long term engineered reinforcement to protect the embankment. This has been designed to withstand the forecasted sea level change for the next 100 years. The section of steeply sloping land above this seawall is stabilised with a combination of sandstone revetment walling and dense coastal planting.
A series of planting pockets along the new section of the walkway are punctuated by sandstone bench seating, shaded by native Costal Banksia trees (Banksia integrifolia) which are underplanted with a selection of coastal native plants such as White Correa (Correa alba), Coastal Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa) and Pig Face (Carpobrotus glaucescens).
Biodiversity has been protected and in time will be improved through the decisions to site the walkway away from protected endemic undergrowth and by providing permeable decking in proximity to significant vegetation.
As the final resting place of more than 100,000 people, considered placement allows walkers to be positioned lower than the adjacent cemetery grounds to respect the sacredness of the place, eliminating any visual impact of the walk from the cemetery. Lookout points provide pedestrians a point to stop and contemplate, where they can absorb the stunning surrounds and spectacular views all the way to North Bondi while still allowing space for joggers to pass by.
The walk has been designed with an underlying emphasis on sensitivity of place. The sandstone geology which has cranks and fissures is framed and expressed in the form of the lookouts and segmental track.
The project has a clear design language, using simple materials. It shifts and slides along the movement path to reveal the story of the cliff top landscape – including the hanging swamps, exposed rock outcrops and habitat rich ecology. The walk has improved safety, accessibility, and amenity and has also created places of prospect, which create a richness in the journey.
The walkway achieves the ambition of heightening the beautiful experience of moving along the edge of Sydney’s coastal landscape – whilst creating a publicly accessible walk with panoramic views that attract over 800,000 visitors annually and at the same time, removes the pressure on the heritage-listed Waverley Cemetery.
Client name (organisation): Waverley Council
Project location: Calga Reserve and Waverley Cemetery, Sydney NSW, AUSTRALIA
Design year: Stage 1: 2005 – 2008, Stage 2: 2016 – 2017
Year Built: Stage 1: 2009, Stage 2: 2018
Photography: Florian Groehn