What do we talk about when we talk about the beach? Blue water? Fancy eateries filled with barefoot people with sand in their hair? Surfboards, wet hair, the smell of coconut and sunscreen? No. What we really talk about is freedom, relaxation, privacy. The world needs its megawatt, perma-tanned beaches, sure, but it also needs its smaller, more intimate spreads of golden sand. For every Bondi and Manly there must also be a Parsley Bay.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Parsley Bay has emerged straight from the silver screen. With rocks and caves encircling the small inlet beach tucked away at the tip of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, and a century-old wooden walkway bridging the two sides, the bay has a cinematic sense of the spectacular. It belongs in a turn of the century movie, where picnics, parasols and white lace were a package deal. This all makes sense, of course, when you consider that Parsley Bay was once part of William Wentworth’s vast Vaucluse Estate, along with the area’s other, more well known beach, Nielsen Park. By 1906 the bay was open to the public, with mesh netting installed in the 1930s as a protective measure against sharks.

But despite its beauty and history, Parsley Bay remains something of a locals-only secret. And that is part of its charm. On any given day you might find the small sandy beach, its much larger surrounding parkland – and the handy on-site car park – peppered with toddlers and their parents, or teenagers in their school uniforms, dipping their toes in the water, or a solitary couple on their daily walk through the bushland circuit that leads towards the bay’s gushing waterfall.

Or, you might find it completely empty. Parsley Bay – hemmed in by rocks and lush, swollen green – has all the pleasure of a private beach without the price tag, the pressure or the politics. Perhaps that is what we really talk about when we talk about beaches. It’s certainly what we talk about when we talk about Parsley Bay.

Parsley Bay Reserve
Parsley Road, Vaucluse