Sydney Coast and Harbour Walk: First Impressions (Manly, NSW, Australia)

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After a long two hour motorbike ride in the rain and a short bumpy one hour flight I look out the plane window to see that most famous coat hanger the Sydney Harbour Bridge straddling the water and the big white sails of the Sydney Opera House shimmering under an overcast sky. I feel excited about the week ahead. I have five days set aside to explore sections of the Sydney Coast and Harbour Walk, two nights to visit friends further up the coast in Newcastle, and then a couple of nights holidaying with my sister and her family who are holidaying in Sydney for the weekend (would you believe they bought return airfares for a family of 6 for a total of $120 from Brisbane … not $120 each but $20 each return).

When I arrive in Sydney I get a pleasant surprise, my other sister lives here part-time and calls to say that she’s picking me up from the airport. She’s on her way past the airport to have lunch as Sushi Train in Bondi Junction where you have to line up outside to get a seat. The wait is worth it because the sushi is fresh and delicious; not like the suburban stuff I’ve eaten in the past. And then I’m off on the train to Circular Quay and the famous Manly Ferry. This is a must do here in Sydney and I discover why as I’m on board. However, I forget to take photos as I find myself talking with a lovely elderly lady who insists I take the forward facing view because she has taken the ferry many times.
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Half an hour later I am in Manly. After checking into my hotel (do not stay at the Boardrider Hostel and Budget Hotel because it is more boarding house than hostel so is filthy and noisy) I head out for a short 5km run. The beach is beautiful and just a few hundred meters away. It reminds me a bit of Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast but with better waves for the surfers.
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The surf culture is thriving here. There are plenty of surfers in the water, both on the beach break and the points. I love watching surfers in action. There’s something amazing about the way they can stand on the water and move on the waves. I have taken lessons in the past and enjoyed it but found that the act of dropping down a wave freaked me out a bit. So I think I will just watch the wetsuit-clad crowd do their thing from the relative safety of the shore.
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The walking path here along the coast is well-signed and easy to follow.
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It takes me past quiet suburban beaches where homes proudly boast ocean views and rocky headlands are criss-crossed from decades of surfers and walkers taking short cuts to their favourite spots.
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A rough but well-trod bush trail takes me up onto the headland. It feels good to be running along trails again after such a long break. I am not a good runner but I enjoy it when I get into it. And today I am definitely getting into it.
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Some of the rough-hewn steps through the rocks remind me of The Great North Walk (which I walked in 2013) and I can’t help but wonder whether Sydney is the best city in Australia for bushwalking because there are so many kilometres of these paths within easy reach of public transport. It’s difficult to believe I am just a half hour ferry ride from the Australia’s busiest CBD and less than a kilometre from the nearest suburban maze.
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At the top of the climb I am rewarded by amazing views over that other fantastic Sydney icon: the coast’s sandstone cliffs. I am always drawn to headlands and mountains. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the views they promise or maybe it’s something more mystical than that. But I just have to get higher and closer to those big rocks and that’s exactly where the path takes me.
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There’s a huge sandstone wall at the top of the trail. It runs from the suburban houses to the edge of the cliffs. I’m not quite sure what it is but it sure does make an impression. A low hole has been broken in the wall to allow people to walk through and up to North Head. This is where I turn around on my afternoon jog. I will continue from here later in the week with Mum because I imagine North Head will be a fabulous walk.
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On my way back to Manly I stop to watch the surfers off the end of a point. It feels surreal that this is some people’s every day life: surfing and watching surfers. The surfers here are ending their rides on top of shallow rocks and I can’t help but wonder at how many broken bones and near drownings it took for them to get good at their craft. A part of me envies their courage and wants to be out there living that dream. Maybe I will find a quiet safe beach somewhere to take lessons and gain confidence.
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I stop to take a few photos before heading back into Manly to meet my cousin and his family for dinner. They are from Holland but have lived in Shanghai for over a decade and I haven’t seen them since I was in their city in 2009. It’s funny because I only learned this morning that they are in Australia and, by coincidence, they are also staying in Manly tonight. We while away the night catching up and eating at one of the many fantastic restaurants near the Manly Wharf. Later I return to my hotel and am glad I have to knock over a lot of work because the noise from someone playing shoot-em-up games on his big screen television doesn’t end until after 2am and the drinking noise coming from another room continues well into the morning. I can usually sleep well at any place but “backpacker hostels” that are actually boarding houses are not my cup of tea and should  be forced to register as boarding houses not hostels. But, I manage to pump out a heap of work meaning that I now have a couple of days to just relax and enjoy some time with Mum exploring all Sydney has to offer.

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