The Northern Beaches is one of Sydney’s most beloved regions, and perhaps its most iconic locale is the ever-popular Manly Beach. And while a bus, ferry or car is certainly a more than acceptable way to get there, the Manly Scenic Walkway presents an amazing opportunity to get your steps up, enjoy some of Sydney's natural majesty and end up in Manly, one of the state's most desirable destinations.
Read on to get the scoop on how to prepare for your walk on one of Sydney's most popular paths.
The walk is about 10km one way, and generally takes 3.5 to 4 hours to complete. If you hustle, you can probably make it in under 3. Alternatively, you can turn it into a full-day excursion by taking your time to enjoy some of the amazing lookouts, beaches and sites that we dig into below.
It's a Grade 3 track, which means it's suitable for most walkers. But the distance, some unfinished sections, ascents and descents (including stairs) might mean it's a bit tough for those of below average fitness. Terrain includes sand, stairs (some of which consist of large stones), your standard dirt bush track, some boardwalk and potentially some paved road depending on if the tide is in or out. It's not advisable for those in wheelchairs or using prams to attempt the walk. However, fit walkers could potentially wear a child in a carrier and complete the walk, as there's not really any scrambling required.
In general, the beginning and end of the route are going to be your best options for toilet access. There are free public toilets at Spit Reserve on the south side of the Spit Bridge, but if you're heading out from north of the bridge don't worry, as there are facilities in the early part of the walk at Clontarf Reserve. After that there's a bit of a gap, but if you feel the need come on during the hike, don't fret. You can make pit stops at Reef Beach, Forty Baskets Beach, North Harbour Reserve, Fairlight Beach and then you'll have plenty of options when you get to Manly.
As with any multi-hour trek, you'll want to make sure you come fully hydrated with some water in tow, especially in the steamier summer months. Make sure you're filled up and ready to roll before taking off from Clontarf Reserve, and replenish your stocks once you hit Fairlight Beach. At the end of the walk there are plenty of hydration stations along Manly Beach.
While there is some parking in the residential streets near the start, the easiest way to get there is to catch a bus to the Spit Bridge. You have a couple of options here depending on where you want your walk to start (more on that in a second).
If you do want to drive, there's paid parking at The Spit on both the east and west sides of the bridge, with the Spit West Car Park offering the most spots. However, it is quite expensive, as parking is priced per hour. Alternatively, you can try to find street parking up in the residential area on and around Battle Blvd. on the north side of the Spit Bridge, though that'll add some steps to your journey on both the front and back ends.
When it comes to kicking off your Spit to Manly trek you have a few options. The first decision you need to make is which side of the Spit Bridge you want to start on. Starting on the south side has a few benefits. One is that you can use the toilets at Spit West Reserve. Another is that you can grab a coffee and/or snack at Grumpy's Wharf Cafe or any of the other places brewing up takeaways. Then you'll walk across the footpath on the west side of the Spit Bridge. Once you reach the other side, follow the path that winds you under the bridge. There'll be signs so you know you're on the right track. Once you reach Ellery's Punt Reserve and you're on your way.
Following the Fisher Bay Walk portion of the Spit to Manly for about 1.5km will take you to Clontarf Reserve and Clontarf Beach. But make sure you don't speed past the Indigenous cave shelter on your left about 700m into your stroll.
Clontarf Beach and Clontarf Reserve are a lovely spot to spend an afternoon, and they can also give you plenty of space and comfort to get your bearings before tackling the rest of the walk. Use the toilets, grab a coffee and some food from Clonny's on the Beach and fill up your water before heading off.
If the tide is low and you don't mind the sandy stuff, stick along the coast to continue your trek. However, if the tide is high, you will eventually come to a section that is unmanageable on foot. If this is the case, just divert to Monash Crescent (you'll see a sign pointing you in the right direction). You'll rejoin the track at the end of the street.
As you follow the Clontarf Track, in about 700m you'll come to yet another beach – Castle Rock Beach. If it's super toasty and you want a little cooldown after your first few kms, feel free to jump in. It's quite secluded and also bare bones in terms of beach – just sand and water. However, you'll also be treated to an ancient Aboriginal rock carving and, if there's been enough rainfall, a mini waterfall.
This is for those who really want to maximise their time on the track, as it's not officially part of the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk. However, for those interested in a rewarding little detour, just make a quick right onto the Lighthouse Track and take it to the end to see the Grotto Point Lighthouse. After gazing out at the Harbour, you can turn and head back up the one-way track to rejoin the Spit to Manly walk.
Washaway Beach, a detour off the detour to the left, can be unsafe for swimming and occasionally (as the name suggests) is washed away completely. However, if you do venture down you’ll be treated to a great view of and through North and South Head.
For many, this is the best lookout on the whole walk. Before you take the stairs down toward sea level, make sure you enjoy this mesmerising vantage point, which serves up your first full look of Manly. It might just be the motivation you need to keep on walking.
As you continue on the walk, you'll have two more opportunities to stop and enjoy a spot of swimming before you finish off the Manly Scenic Walkway. The first of these is Reef Beach, located once you descend down the stairs at Dobroyd Head. Enjoy similar North Harbour views, but from closer to sea level. Another 5-10 minutes down the track you'll find Forty Baskets Beach, where you can swim and the kids can have a swing.
Soon after Forty Baskets Beach, you'll pick up the North Harbour Walk portion of the track. There are a couple of high tide spots here, so if required you'll head up onto some paved roads. If necessary, go left onto Gourlay Ave, a right onto Clarence St and then a right onto North Harbour street to get down to the reserve. Follow the signs as you hug the coast to Fairlight Beach, home of a popular rockpool that offers a little something different for trekkers looking to splash around a bit.
At this point, you've just about made it. The final kilometre is straightforward, hugging the coastline as you make your way toward storied Manly Wharf. At that point it's time to reward yourself for a job well done. Walk down the pedestrian-only Corso for a range of cafes and takeaway joints. Or grab an outdoor seat and a drink at Manly Wharf Hotel, 4 Pines Brewing Company or The New Brighton Hotel, one of the best rooftop bars in Sydney.
If you're staying in the city, don't pass up the chance to enjoy the Circular Quay to Manly ferry route to get back to your accommodation. Otherwise, if you need to return to where you started at the Spit Bridge, just hop on a bus at one of Manly Wharf bus stops. The official NSW Trip Planner can help you map out your journey.
The other direction: Manly to Spit Bridge
Of course, you can do this walk the other way as well. Check out the full route here.
Parking in Manly for such a duration can be tough. There's a few parking stations you can choose from, but they are quite expensive. You don't want a hit to your wallet to overshadow the beauty of the Manly to Spit Bridge Coastal Walk, so take a bus as suggested before. Charge up for the day at one of Manly’s cafes before heading off.
Finish up your reverse trek with some well-earned drinks and nibbles at Clontarf Beach. While it's a bit too early in the walk to really enjoy to the fullest if you're departing from the Spit Bridge, it makes for an excellent debriefing spot if you're coming from Manly. After all, it is one of the Northern Beaches' best picnic spots. Then you can walk the final little stretch to the buses near the Spit Bridge.
Explore more walks in Sydney
Ready for more great walks? Check out these beauties and get ready to lace your walking boots up and do it all over again.
The Spit to Manly walk is not dog friendly, as some sections of the Manly Scenic Walkway pass through Sydney Harbour National Park, which does not permit dogs. However, you can amend the walk to avoid the National Park by cutting up into the residential streets at Castle Rock Trail. You'll rejoin the track at Forty Basket Beach.
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