The sun is fighting through the clouds and soon clearing the sky from any suspicious rain that may ruin the day. I pack a light picnic along with my swimmers and head out to the harbour. Nothing was going to stop me from having the perfect day.
It is mid-morning and Wharf 3 is already crowded with day tripper taking advantage of the warm weather of a Sydney autumn. Families with children, teenagers with their beach towels are all heading over to Manly and I am no different, however the beach is not my destination today. Instead, I am going hiking.
Manly is one of Sydney's iconic and prime beach side suburbs. It is a favorite for swimmers and surfers as well as anyone who loves the great outdoors, with activities ranging from kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving off the shores or rollerblading and cycling along the pine tree lined beach side pathway. As I walk out of the ferry terminal, flocks of surf boards and beach towels race past me toward the main beach. I follow the path away from the main town centre, past and behind the Manly Ocean World where a queue of visitors are waiting for their turn to dive with the sharks, and onto the Manly Scenic Walkway.
Although there are many other inner city trails I could have followed, I have always preferred the Manly Scenic Walkway. Not only is it in the prime location of the inner harbor and easily accessible, the track leads to some of the secret hideaways for romantic picnics and secluded beach swims. This part of Manly is quiet and tranquil, as I stroll along the cliff-side walkway towards Fairlight. The walkway is the beginning of the well-known Spit to Manly walk. The first few kilometres are usually crowded with locals walking their dogs or heading to the smaller yet more family friendly Fairlight beach for a dip, but as I slowly enter the terrains of the Sydney Harbor National Park, I find myself all alone and surrounded by bushlands overlooking the harbor and the many prime waterfront real estates in town.
Passing the old and abandoned Fishermen’s Cottages at Crater Cove and due to my shyness I purposely avoid the nearby Washaway Beach, which is known to be a nudist spot, I follow the tracks that wraps around the headlands along the cliffs. The walk heightens my senses as the soft salty sea breathes mixes with the soothing scent of the nearby eucalyptus tree. Closing my eyes I can hear the call of robins among the shrubs and the shuffling of ground leaves as small bush rat bounce along the paths. Just off the edges of the park sparkles the green blue water, carrying with it the green public ferries, black dotted yellow water taxies and various boats and yachts slicing through its crisp surface. I find a patch of clear dirt ground and sit facing this glorious scene, while trying to keep an eye out for the kookaburra sitting on a branch nearby, ready to attack my ham sandwich.
Continuing on the walk passing through the Grotto Point lighthouse, the faint rock carvings are visible along the heart of the parkland, these art works are a reminder of the Aboriginal people who used to call this land home before the white colonization, forming part of Sydney Harbor's historical heritage. The track takes me along more secluded beaches before I arrive in Clontarf.
I read somewhere that Clontarf Beach is where Prince Alfred, second son of Queen Victoria, was shot at by Irishman Henry James O'Farrell in 1868, where a hospital was founded in the name of the prince in relation to his quick recovery. This interesting, yet trivial historical event seems now insignificant among the natural beauty of the location. The sun is now hanging high in the sky and locals are pouring onto the streets for lunch. Wishing to cool my tired feet I jump into the waters for a quick swim before taking a seat at the beachside cafÃ©. I choose not to continue onto The Spit where this walk eventually ends, and end my journey here. A few surfers float about on their boards waiting for the instant that the waves might pick up, as I watch and allow myself to indulge in the art of passing time quietly, feeling reluctant to return to the hustle and bustle of the Sydney city.