29 June 2015
Manly locals call their home “God’s Country” because it has an uplifting, magical beauty that’s just like a slice of heaven. Sydney’s very own resort town, Manly is a peninsular tricky to access by land (locals also call it the ‘insular peninsular’ as they rarely leave) but easily sailed to within half an hour or less, across the harbour on a peaceful voyage aboard the Manly ferry.
The other diamond-like thing about Manly is that it’s small, yet endlessly faceted in attractions. You could spend a thousand days in Manly and never fulfil all of the fun possibilities.
The culture is very much Aussie beach bohemian, however tourists have flocked to Manly and over the years many have stayed. There’s a huge South American population, as well as plenty of British and Kiwis, in the local mix.
As for a day in Manly, you can take a fast ferry but I’d recommend taking the big green and yellow, double decker “slow boat”, because it’s tradition. These wooden beauties leave on the half hour from Circular Quay. The view is great from either side – but on the starboard side – to the right – you’ll pass the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Woolloomooloo naval base, harbour islands, Rose Bay and Watson’s Bay, and then the two headlands which open the famous Sydney Harbour out onto the ocean. You’ll see yachts racing all year round, the occasional cruise or naval ship, kayaks and speedboats. You’ll also pass some of the world’s priciest real estate – those harbourfront properties with their own private beaches do not come cheap.
Arrive at Manly Wharf and join the throng heading across the road to the Corso – a walking mall which is home to the most surf shops in Australia. If you didn’t bring beach wear, this is your chance to pick up a nice pair of sunnies… or a whole wardrobe.
For morning tea, get yourself a coffee and profiterole or a gelato at Bacino café on the left – big red verandah you cannot miss.
Do a spot of shopping if you will – the Manly weekend markets on the laneways of Sydney Road and Market lane, are just around the corner. But don’t load up with too many bags, as you’re here to take a stroll.
Manly locals like to walk along the meandering coastline, so you’ll see them in their element enjoying their outdoor lifestyle as a family or group of friends. Don’t be surprised if you overhear more than one exclaiming “Isn’t it beautiful!”, or “How good is this?” about their gorgeous home.
Now, on a busy weekend do not hesitate- avoid the crowds and head west from the wharf, and begin the breathtaking paved walk around to Middle harbour. You’ll pass the shark-netted harbour pool, perfect for young families. Continue on past the SEA LIFE Sanctuary, which the kids will go nuts for. You can actually dive with sharks in here – a thrilling, once-in-a lifetime experience.
Walk around the pier and up the steps to the path. Now, looking down at the picturesque harbour, the criss-crossing ferries and through the heads, you’ll understand just how special Manly can be. You’ll stroll up and down gentle hills, between green lawns and under stunning trees, along a pretty little coastline of tiny white beaches within rocky coves. Stop at Reef Beach – the water below is so clear you can see for meters. This is a wonderful place to snorkel, but if you’re inexperienced continue walking around to stunning Fairlight Beach – safe, shallow and usually calm.
The walk will take you all the way around to a huge dog park, North Harbour Reserve, facing back towards Manly. Stay here for a picnic if you will, or if you’re an avid bushwalker, you can begin the Manly to Spit Bridge Walk around to the Spit Bridge in Mosman. This will take several hours but offers a glimpse into heritage Sydney landscape, still beautifully preserved.
When you’re ready, take a slow stroll back into Manly…
Or, if your visit is on a quiet week day, walk through the Corso and take a right along the Norfolk Pine tree-lined boulevard toward South Steyne (you’ll see the surf club and ramp down to the beach). From here you can begin the gentle 20 minute walking track around to Shelley Beach. From the very first bend your breath will be taken away as you gaze out over the Pacific Ocean and back across the golden expanse of Manly Beach, from the red and yellow flags of South Steyne to the distant outline of Queenscliff. You can watch surfers expertly employ the left hand break here and if you like, take a seat on the park bench to enjoy.
As you walk on you might believe you’re in the Greek Islands, seeing the rocky cove that stretches around to little Shelley, lined with whitewashed buildings that climb the headland, and palm trees waving in the breeze.
Fairy Bower is a dreamscape, and each morning at 6am hundreds of local swimmers take to water from the south end of Manly Beach and swim around over the rocks and coral below, to Shelley Beach and back. With them swim hundreds of yellowtail, sting rays, Wobbegong sharks laying on the sandy bottom, turtles, occasional dolphins and even the rare humpback whale with her newborn calf.
You can snorkel or scuba dive off the rocks, or bathe in the stunning elevated rock pool with its iron sculptures framing the horizon. At Shelley, lie on the shell encrusted sand (bring a towel) and swim at your leisure, or take the short and sweet hike up around the headland, from where you can see all the way up the Northern Beaches to Palm Beach.
After all this walking it’s time for a hearty pub lunch – a Manly institution.
There’s a fabulous watering hole at Shelley Beach, appropriately called the Beach House, or you can wander back to South Manly and head to Manly Wine for Mod Oz nibblies, or Havanas for Mexican fare. From here you can watch passersby and see cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets in the trees.
If you wish to enjoy the afternoon sun on the harbour, head back through the Corso to Manly Wharf. Choose from the Wharf Bar for a raucous pub meal, Bavarian Bier Cafe for a sophisticated schnitzel, Hugo’s for upmarket pizza or Papi Chulo for trendy tapas. If you’re short on time, you can get delicious food to go from Chat Thai.
When taking an early evening ferry back to the city, you might be lucky as I once was and see a few dolphins surfing off the bow wave as the sun goes down. But if you’re a night owl, Manly is also a town of cute little wine bars, big sports bars and nightclubs. Some are themed – you’ll come across dance parties and Cuban nights as well as live music. The last ferry goes at 10 minutes to 1am – set an alarm on your phone so you don’t miss it.
If you’re planning to spend a bit of time in Manly, you’ll find dozens of activities like drop in yoga schools, surf schools and surf rental stores, kayak rentals, bike rentals, volleyball tournaments, tennis courts, more and more hikes – the one around North Head is great – and of course you can join the Bold and The Beautiful swimming club for their morning 2km return swim to Shelley.
Before long you’ll agree – this is God’s Country, it’s true.
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