North Head Loop walk (Manly, Australia)

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Over the past year, I have developed a particular love of waterfront places. I don’t know whether its because I started my journeys by camping on Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island) for six weeks or whether it’s because I’ve come to live across the road from the sea. Whatever it is, waking up and seeing the water makes me feel relaxed. So it was only natural that I would start today by wandering down to the water to eat my breakfast. A glorious sight awaited me as I walked past the Manly Ferry Terminal: crystal clear water, white sand and moored yachts.
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Mum arrived from Brisbane just in time for an early lunch. My sister had picked her up from the airport too and made arrangements with our cousin to meet up. We ate at a delightful gourmet cafĂ© on Pittwater Road where I indulged in some home made baked beans served with fresh pressed juice. As I took a photo of my food my sister joked that I am on a “food tour of the world” and I guess she’s probably correct.
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Lunch eaten, farewells to cousin said and it was time to hit the trail. For our first foray onto the Sydney Coast and Harbour Walk we decided to do a loop of North Head starting and finishing in Manly. The walk is well-signed and the trail well-maintained. The trail winds through some amazing natural landscapes but is accessible even to the novice because it is clearly marked and close to civilisation.
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We started up the trail that I took yesterday but continued after the big rock wall. It didn’t take long to come to this hanging waterhole. A man was sitting on the rocky shores painting the scene in the hot afternoon sun. He was friendly and chatted a bit with us, lamenting his decision not to bring any shade with him.
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The trail moved easily through a range of different vegetation types. In places National Parks have built protected grates to allow walkers into an area with minimal disturbance to the delicate soil and plant life. This allows the path to be used by hundreds of people a day without eroding a depression into the soil. It also means we get to keep our feet dry when walking through here in wet weather.
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We walked through an old barracks complex that was used as a training ground by the artillery unit of the Australian army. Beyond that, the trail took us to another hanging swamp where someone had started a cairn over on the other side of some water.
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The nearby soldier’s memorial walk was quite a contrast to the hanging swamp. A great big cannon stood pride of place at the entrance and interpretive signs told of the role that the artillery units played in Australia’s military history. It was moving because a family friend was in the artillery unit during the Vietnam War and I realised he might have known some of the men standing in the photos in the display.
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There are a range of bunkers and gun posts on the headland due to the military training camp. It is something unfamiliar here in Australia where war has not touched our shores in the way it has in so many other countries of the world. It made me think of the artillery posts on South Korea’s north-east coastline.
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Before long the trail took us back to the coastline and some spectacular cliff-top views.
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This is something I love about Sydney: all the seaside cliffs. There are just so many spectacular lookouts to stand at.
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And then you see the city skyline and realise that you are still in Australia’s most populous city but yet this view has been preserved.
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We also found some dinosaur eggs. Well, not really. But these boulders sure did look interesting.
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The walk was incredibly diverse. Between the swamps, military history and views we also came to an old quarantine cemetery. Most of the graves dated to the small pox epidemic of the 1880s and the bubonic plague outbreak of 1900. This was just one of a series of cemeteries established around Sydney at the time and the interpretive sign told of the stench that they created. The grave stones are slowly being over run by the local flora so I wonder whether this site will one day cease to be visible at all. The overrun flora did give an interesting atmosphere to the site though … It made it kind of creepy.
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Pretty Collins Bay appeared at just the right moment. We’d been walking for a few hours and it was hot in the sun so cooling off in the water was delightful. The beach was set in a sandstone bay with great gum trees rising from the cliffs. It was so Australiana.
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From here the trail hopped from one pretty beach to the next, providing plenty of opportunity to stop for a swim or just to watch the water. At Little Manly Beach we swam a bit before watching a big school of fish in a frenzy further out in the sea. The fish would have been a good 50m from the shore, maybe more but we could see them thrashing about. Seagulls hovered above and dove to grab a feed. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the fish were being hunted by that large aquatic animal with the big teeth and ominous fin.
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The sun started to set as we walked back towards the Manly Ferry Terminal. They have daylight savings here in New South Wales so it was already after 7pm.
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Near the ferry terminal we watched a group of guys playing stand up paddleboard water polo. It looked like a fun game. Few were actually standing on their SUPs but all were using their paddles to great effect to grab at the ball. A guy jumped off his board to tackle another guy off his and a few goals were scored. There was even a referee on a SUP governing the game complete with umpire’s whistle.
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We’re staying in a much nicer hotel for the next few days. We have the front two rooms of a gorgeous Sydney cottage on a quiet street near the beach. The front veranda is the perfect place to eat cheese and crackers after a long day walking. There’s something enjoyable about coming home to a good space when you travel. Sometimes it’s the comfort of your own tent in a picturesque campground while other times its rented apartments or homestays. I think it proves that sometimes accommodation needs to be more than just any old bed if you want to get the most out of your travel experience because you don’t just go there to sleep; you go there to relax, reflect and recharge so you are good to go and explore some more.
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The only trouble with our place being so nice was that we didn’t go out to look for a meal until about 9pm so many kitchens were already closed. But we did find this spectacular table overlooking the harbour and the Manly Ferry. The ferry looks beautiful as it cruises in and out of the terminal all aglow. It would be amazing to have a slow shutter speed on a camera and to take a photo of it moving across the water so gracefully.
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Of course a magnificent day requires a delicious ending. We end ours by sharing a Greek-style lamb pizza and a fig & prosciutto salad. Have I mentioned yet that Manly has some amazing food options?

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