It’s about the journey… not the destination.
Sure, you could take the ferry to Manly, a funky upscale surftown northeast of Sydney. Or, you could go at your own pace on the four-hour Manly Scenic Walkway (MSW). The first step for us was a bus ride about 30 minutes or so from city center, darting over the landmark Harbour Bridge with quick peeks at the tips of the famed Opera House and charming, hilly neighborhoods. At the second bridge, called the Spit, we hopped off (or, as they say here, “alighted” - new word for us) to let our feet do the rest of the job.
The MSW is a 9.5km path that winds along the varied coastline of the middle and north harbour between Spit Bridge and its namesake peninsular suburb (stay tuned for jokes about manliness), cutting right through the Sydney Harbour National Park. The walk showcases some of the city's best outdoorsy assets, including beaches, forests, rock formations, a waterfall, and even some wild animals.
Our walk began in lush tropical greenery, with large leaves encroaching on the path and small lizards eyeing us nervously as we brushed by. They seemed like a cross between iguanas and bearded dragons; we later found out they’re basically just that, called Eastern Water Dragons. With each sighting, the lizards got bigger and bigger. A sudden wave of fear washed over us. “Oh crap,” we thought, “We’re hiking in Australia, where everything can kill us.” But the anxiety soon subsided and we continued on, only slightly weary of impending doom from poisonous creatures.
Happy families played at the beaches and friendly locals passed us on the trail with warm smiles and waves. Weaving in and out of coves, climbing up and down wooden steps, and catching spectacular views was the standard. During the final stretch, we even stole glimpses of a few kookaburras (iconic Australian birds), who called attention to themselves with their monkey-like cackling.
Arriving in Manly brought on a change of scenery: hordes of tourists and locals (Manly men and women), most in swimsuits and flip-flops. Around town we saw a Manly Italian restaurant, Manly salon, and even a Manly pharmacy (their number-one seller is, I presume, testosterone). Wet-suited surfers were out catching waves and strutting their Manly-ness.
We were famished, so we bee-lined through the crowded esplanade and right into the first oceanside eatery serving fish and chips. The Fish Shack, with its chalkboard signage and hand-painted wall art, was proud to serve only sustainably-caught seafood, so we were immediately on-board. We opted for local Manly beers and the national specialty of barramundi - Kristen’s beer-battered and fried, mine grilled (perhaps not the Manly-est of choices). After a four-hour hike, it was exactly what we needed.
The return ferry back to Sydney took much less time than our exhausting walk, but it was a perfect way to end the day. We sat lazily and shuttled past the same cliffs and coves that we had laboriously trekked through hours earlier, catching a much different perspective of the beautiful bay. Further on, our new and improved view of the Sydney Opera House was a welcome reward for a long day of hard work.
Disclosure: I'm traveling on a #DTour in Australia on behalf of DoubleTree by Hilton, but it's totally cool because I still do and write about the things that interest me. Hope you enjoy it!