The skies are grey and threatening as we set off from Manly to walk as far north as our legs will take us in a day. A few spits of rain fall from the sky and there’s a bit of wind blowing. We carry raincoats in our packs just in case we are going to spend the day wet but hope we don’t need to use them.
We make our way along Manly Beach and up onto Queenscliffe Headland. Mum observes that Sydney is all layers; the houses don’t stop on one level but are stacked behind each other all the way up the hillsides with streets and lanes running along every level. The headland provides fantastic views and my first insight into the type of living the Northern Beaches are famous for: expansive ocean views and big old houses, some of which have sandstone facades. Rounding Queenscliffe Head we come to our first northern view of the walk. Freshwater Beach lies below. It’s still overcast but that isn’t stopping the surfing culture from going full steam ahead below.
Down across at the northern end of Freshwater Beach I take a look back and admire the almost foreign looking scene. Crystal clear water is backed by tall sandstone cliffs that are iced with apartments and houses.
We hike up the next headland. The views are amazing, as is the boardwalk that leads in to Curl Curl Beach. Waves crash against the cliffs and then the backwash crashes into the next waves that are hurtling towards the cliffs. It’s an explosion of sights and sounds.
The path to Curl Curl Beach is lined with gorgeous yellow flowers that contrast sharply with the violence of the waves below.
Curl Curl Beach is pretty but we don’t want to walk in the soft sand, preferring the path that runs through a park behind the dunes. This also gives me an opportunity to indulge in some geocaching. I’ve been out of the geocaching game for a little while but put the app on my new phone last week and decided to get back into it. Geocaching is a game where you use a GPS to locate containers (lunch boxes, Eclipse mint tins and old Gatorade jars) that have been hidden all over the world. Once you find the container you sign the log book, hide it again and set off on your merry way. You also log your find online so that you can keep track of how many caches you have found. The game is free to play (though the official app costs about $12 – I used to have a free version on my old phone but could only find the official version on the iTunes app store). It’s still cheap family fun if you are into the outdoors. I am fortunate that my mum is patient enough to wait for me to find caches along the way.
After Curl Curl Beach the path climbs up Dee Why Headland. This massive headland makes for spectacular walking. The southern end is open and covered in low shrubs in which birds sing. You can watch the surfers in the sea below as they catch almost see-through waves to the shore.
As we round the head we find ourselves standing atop steep cliffs that plummet a long way into the sea. Caves have formed in places where the rock has eroded away, leaving precarious overhangs. It looks amazing!
Native plants and flowers surround the narrow walking path. These banksia flowers felt like plastic but are actually real.
These delicate yellow petals smiled up at us as we walked, announcing that the grey skies had gone.
I love this sort of walking where the views are expansive and the spaces wide. Sure, there are houses all along the coast, some close to the trail. But the landscape is so wild that it dominates.
We reach Dee Why Beach around lunchtime and the seawater pool is too inviting to resist. Mum dives in quickly while I faff about complaining that it is cold. That’s my style though – I am more a stand in the water or paddle on it kinda guy than a swimmer. But eventually I get in too and it’s refreshing after the long hot walk. We munch on a picnic lunch as we watch the surfers who are surfing just outside the rock pool. They are close to rocks but don’t seem too bothered. Maybe this is their lunchtime ritual.
We now have a choice: to walk along the beach or to follow a path past the Dee Why Lagoon. It’s hot in the now shining sun so we opt for the Lagoon. Whip birds call out to each other from the trees as we walk past and the ocean roars on the other side of the dunes. I am fascinated by the array of landscapes we’ve walked through today. It’s magnificent.
At the end of the lagoon we have to walk a short distance along the beach to get to Long Reef Point. That’s our arbitrary goal for the day. A class of school kids are being taught to surf. I feel a twinge of jealousy that my school didn’t offer surfing classes (mind you, my school was about two hours from the nearest surf beach). The kids are clearly not locals because they have little idea about the sea or surfing. But they look to be having fun and which teenager wouldn’t love a day at the beach instead of sitting in class.
Long Reef Point headland is a magnificent final lookout. The headland has been landscaped by the local paragliding and hang gliding club. And boy is it a lovely place to sit and contemplate life.
The views looking north (above) and south were pretty amazing. There were headlands and beaches for miles in either direction. Each headland separating the next surf beach like a barrier separating different worlds.
And then we were done. We reached Fisherman’s Beach just north of Long Reef Point Headland and decided it was time to catch a bus back to Manly. All up we walked about 16km (10 miles) of spectacular coastal trails. To end on a quiet beach protected from the waves by a headland and reef seemed fitting after enjoying the sight of surf waves crashing into sand and rock all day. It just added one final landscape to an already diverse experience.
We did work up quite an appetite though, with all that walking and geocaching. Fortunately, Manly has some fantastic modern restaurants with spectacular harbour views. We shared a meal of snapper, curly fries and a fresh light take on coleslaw while recounting our day and discussing that how we are likely to come back to Sydney more often now that we have realised just how fantastic it is for outdoor adventures.