On 2 March 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip sailed north to the inlet described by Captain James Cook in 1770 as a "broken land" .Phillip explored the southe arm of Broken Bay and declared it "the finest piece of Water I ever saw". He "honoured [it] with the name of Pitt Water", after William Pitt, the Younger, who was Prime Minister of England.
Initially, the area was beyond the law, harbouring escaped convicts and smuggled rum. These convicts lived in caves or rough shacks and attempted to survive as best they could in the bushland. In 1819, a constable was appointed to bring the rule of law to Pittwater. In 1843 a customs house was built at Barrenjoey in an attempt to limit rum smuggling.
Pittwater was isolated and access was mainly by ship to Barrenjoey and by 1880 to Newport. Since the 1950s Pittwater has become predominantly residential in character and a suburban region of Sydney. It has however largely retained the beauty for which it was renowned in the early days of European settlement. The region integrates suburban development into a natural setting of bushland and waterways, which include nine coastal beaches, the magnificent Pittwater estuary and Narrabeen Lagoon.