Meandering past stunning coastal lookouts, through surprisingly rich bushland, and across secluded beaches from Spit Bridge to Manly, this scenic stroll in Sydney’s Northern Beaches is one of the best city walks, possibly ever. And, like many of Sydney’s other coastal walks, this is as much a hike as it is a tour of the world’s most amazing beaches, so come prepared to splash around in the impossibly blue water or at least do a bit of sunbaking on one of the many stretches of white sand. On a particularly sunny day last weekend (is winter even coming?!), I hit the trail with two of my lab-mates to see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t take long for me to completely fall in love with this walk, and I’m sure you’d struggle to find a single person who wasn’t blown away by the scenery, but don’t just take my word for it— go see for yourself.
Castle Rock Beach
Looking out over Crater Cove
Beautiful Shell Cove
All the details: Spit Bridge to Manly Walk
Several bus routes make stops at Spit Bridge Reserve, but it may be easiest to drive to the start of the walk and then either bus or Uber back to your car. Free parking is available along Avona Crescent, and there is a direct path down to the walk from the north end of the road. From Manly Wharf, it is only about $12 to Uber back to the starting point.
The north end of Spit Bridge, accessible from Avona Crescent
Manly Ferry Wharf
~ 3hrs, not including swimming stops
This is an easy walk, either on a well-marked dirt trail or a footpath, with only a few hills or stairs
Mobile reception throughout, passing intermittently through residential areas or nearby to roads, public toilets along the way, heaps of shops in Manly
Food & water
A few drinking stations throughout, plus plenty of food in Manly
The Spit Bridge to Manly walk is itself a variation of the longer Manly Scenic Walkway, which extends another 10km or so to the North Head
7/10, for the beautiful views and absolutely amazing beaches
Spit Bridge & Ellery’s Punt Reserve
If you’re lucky enough to find parking along Avona Crescent at the northern end of Spit Bridge, there is a very obvious sign pointing down into the trees that marks the start of the walk. Popping out at water level, you can see Spit Bridge to your right (although, let’s be honest, it’s not much to look at) and you’ll soon come to Ellery’s Punt Reserve. The path winds along the coastline for a few minutes, passing a couple of beaches, but mostly just showcasing some of our beautiful Australian foliage.
The start of the trail
Shell Cove, Sandy Bay & Clontarf Beach
From Sandy Bay, an enormously sandy (which I suppose goes without saying) but not overly beautiful spot that appears popular with dogs, the trail follows the footpath and then remains on the lower road closer to the coast rather than rising up a set of wooden stairs into the trees. Continuing across the sand of Shell Cove and up onto the slightly elevated path above Clontarf Beach, each view is better than the last, with both beaches boasting an almost painfully inviting shoreline. Even more incredible than the silicone sand and the distinct lack of people, though, is the colour of the water near Clontarf Beach, which is almost too beautiful to be real, but also too perfect to be made-up.. The views onto the beach from the trail are stunning, as is the beach itself, easily accessible should you fancy a quick dip before continuing along the route.
Clontarf Beach through the trees
Diana and Maddy walking around Sandy Bay
Castle Rock Beach
Rounding Clontarf Point and passing several more small beaches, the path continues for only a few more minutes to reach Castle Rock, a rocky outcropping that provides perfect views of the insanely blue water and the sunny beach below. There have been little lizards scampering around all morning, but finally we get a good look at one here, sunning himself and posing on the lookout for photos of his own. These Eastern Water Dragons are found along most of the east coast, but there seems to be a huge concentration along this walk; who knows, maybe they prefer to do their swimming in the picturesque Northern Beaches, as well. Leaving our dragon friend behind, the path leads down to Castle Rock Beach, which is no less breath-taking up close than it was from above.
Castle Rock Beach
Just being my weird self
The beautiful & secluded Castle Rock Beach
Castle Rock Beach from above
Eastern Water Dragon striking a pose
Crater Cove & Arabanoo Lookout
Climbing higher above sea level and into the bush, the walk onto Dobroyd Head takes you to a stunning lookout over Crater Cove, a section of jagged coastline dominated by orange rocks and crystal-clear water. In the distance, North Head is just visible, which is where the second half of the Manly Scenic Walkway continues (I’ll be back!). There are a few good spots to take in this view other than the official lookout— just keep eyes open for a clearing and a good rock to perch on. Passing more Eastern Water Dragons, the trail then wraps around to Arabanoo Lookout before returning to the coastline below.
View over Crater Cove
Diana & Maddy walking through the bush
North Head in the distance
Eastern Water Dragons are absolutely everywhere
Back on the waterfront, the path leads to Reef Beach, a beautiful stretch of sand in a little bay looking straight out onto Manly, the final destination. Although the wharf appears close, there are still more scenic spots to enjoy before finishing the walk, including Forty Baskets Beach, Wellings Reserve, North Harbour Reserve, and Federation Point, all of which afford uninterrupted coastal views. If you’ve been holding off for a swim, Reef Bay is probably the place to hop in, as the beaches will start to become more and more crowded as you approach Manly.
Jumping for joy at Reef Beach
Federation Point & Manly Wharf
On the final stretch of the walk, the path is paved and winds past the North Harbour Reserve before reaching particularly inviting pools at Kay-Ye-My Point. From here, it’s just a few minutes to the last great stop along the trail, Federation Point, which looks out to Smedley’s Point and North Head in the distance. Finally, after what I’m sure has been an exhilarating but tiring day in the sun, you spot the sandy Manly Cove on your right and the ferry wharf just ahead. The best beach in Manly is surely on the opposite side, which is worth a visit if you won’t be continuing along the Manly Scenic Walkway for the remaining 10km; otherwise, grab a well-deserved bite at one of the dozens of waterfront eateries. Some personal favourites include Braza (Brazilian BBQ) and Criniti’s (an Italian place with a menu so long it will take you 30 minutes just to decide).
North Harbour Reserve
Enjoying a well-deserved feed (and drink) at Criniti’s Manly
Overall impressions: Spit Bridge to Manly Walk
For countless reasons, this is one of the best walks in Sydney, featuring an impossible number of secluded beaches and a surprising amount of forest given that you’re within a stone’s throw of the CBD. Easily tackled in 3 hours, but best enjoyed over a full day with multiple stops, this walk is going straight to the top of my list in terms of recommended treks, as it showcases some of the region’s most scenic spots all on a single walk and you’ll hardly break a sweat (at least not from the exercise, no promises about the weather). For a further dose of perfectly blue water and even more extraordinary views, continue all the way around North Head— stay tuned for photos in the coming weeks!