The side of Sydney you NEED to see

Sydney is a special city to me. It’s where I realised I could travel the world.

I was 16 and had spent the summer living with my grandfather in Port Macquarie, a few hours north of Sydney. At the beginning of the summer I’d flown into Sydney and found my way to the bus station for the trip to Port. It wasn’t hard – the bus station is at Central Station, one of the main stops for the airport train. Almost three months later I headed back to Sydney, but instead of going straight to the airport, I had to find my way through the city to meet another relative.  For people who grew up in a big city, this wouldn’t have been a significant achievement. But I was from rural Tasmania where the only bus was the school bus, which stopped at the bottom of my driveway at 7.15 every morning. My bus driver knew my parents and my grandparents. Getting lost was impossible.

Navigating the streets and public transport routes of Sydney at a relatively innocent age (and pre-smartphone!) set the tone for the rest of my solo travels. If I, a naive, country-born-and-raised teenager, could get myself around Australia’s biggest city alone, then I could probably manage quite well anywhere else, especially once I was a grown up.

I’ve returned to Sydney countless times, usually to visit friends. But for a long time I never enjoyed the city. I walked through the markets at The Rocks, visited Taronga Zoo, went to concerts, rode the ferries, went sightseeing around Darling Harbour, ate brunch in Glebe, visited Bondi Beach and stood on the steps of the Opera House. I did everything Sydney is famous for and just couldn’t see the appeal. I found the city centre sterile and boring and the landmarks overrated. What was the big deal?

Then my friend Lauren moved to Sydney – specifically, the Northern Beaches. Since then, it’s been where I’ve spent most of my time whenever I’m here. I’d been over to Manly before, but still found it pretty crowded so I was excited to get to know the lesser-known suburbs and beaches. There is a much more relaxed atmosphere here than what exists on the other side of the bridge. 

I usually visit Sydney for a weekend, but this time I allowed a week to catch up with friends and meet the most adorable baby ever! That’s meant lots of beaches, lots of great coffee and lots and lots of photos.

Woman on rocks at Curl Curl

Curl Curl

The Northern Beaches area is made up of lots of little suburbs and neighbourhoods. Manly is my least favourite, but it’s a good starting point. If you are staying in the city, catch the ferry over and just get walking. I’ve been creating some routes for my friend’s running app, RunGo, and mapped out a great path from Manly to Dee Why. There isn’t a set trail but it’s pretty easy to find your way from beach to beach and will take you about 2 hours to walk.

Manly walkway

Manly Promenade

The big stretch of sand at Manly is actually three separate beaches, which I didn’t know until this visit: South Steyne, which is where you’ll find yourself if you walk up The Corso from the Manly Ferry Terminal,  North Steyne, and Queenscliff. Don’t ask me where the each start and end – I have no idea! There are a few trails through the headland, but I didn’t get a chance to explore them this visit.

View over Freshwater

Freshwater

The next beach over is Freshwater and my favourite view of this is on the walk over from Manly. Just go up over the bridge when you reach the end of the promenade and keep walking up any staircase or path in your way. You can see the beach as you come down Bridge Road and onto the path and it feels like you are a million miles from the buzz at Manly. There aren’t many buildings on the beach and most of the houses are up on the cliffs so it feels a bit secluded. I took this photo at the rockpool at the north end of the beach.

Freshy from the Rockpool

Freshwater village is about a 5-minute from the beach itself. There’s a great cafe called Bent Fork, which is worth the walk in. Each of the beach suburbs have their own little shopping streets with cafes, restaurants, boutiques, homewares stores, galleries, banks, bakeries, local grocery stores etc. It means that once you’re here, there’s not a lot of need to leave if you don’t want to. The more time I spend in the Northern Beaches, the less I can comprehend anyone wanting to live in Sydney city itself. Most people commute to the city for work, but living in place like this has got to be worth the extra travel time.

Cookie at Bent Fork

A muesli cookie at Bent Fork.

Walking around the headland  at the north end of Freshy depends on the tide and weather. I got part of the way around before walking up a path to join the road. If you’re in doubt, take the path off Ocean View Rd at the north end of the beach, and turn right onto Evans St, which you can follow until you spot the boardwalk down to Curl Curl – my favourite beach!

Curl Curl Boardwalk

Curl Curl SLC

Curl Curl comes out on top probably because it’s the beach I’ve spent the most time at. I like the boardwalk at the south end, the trail up into the headland at the north, the running path around the lagoon and the fact that there’s hardly any cafes or commercial buildings in sight.

I even ran out of the beach to watch the sunrise. Every time I’m up for sunrise I always promise myself I will do it more often. It just never disappoints!

Wales at Curl Curl

Surfer on Curl Curl

Sunrise at Curl Curl

Rockpool at Curl Curl

Curl Curl at Sunrise

Beside the Curl Curl Surf Life Saving Club is Cobber’s Walk – a trail that will take you all the way to Dee Why. I ran the path and couldn’t believe I was so close to the centre of Sydney (about 20km) and staring out at the ocean with nothing but trees and plants around me. It’s a relatively easy walk although the path probably gets slippery in bad weather.

Curl Curl from Cobbers Walk

Path over Dee Why Cliffs

Dee Why

Dee Why

On Monday Lauren took me on a drive to see more beaches along the coast. I’m reluctant to recommend doing this on a weekend because by geez this route must get busy.

Sign at Armchair Collective

The Armchair Collective

Armchair Collective 1

Burger at Armchair Collective

Surfers at Mona Vale

Mona Vale

We stopped for coffee (and returned for lunch) at The Armchair Collective at Mona Vale, checked out the boutiques at Avalon, where I also kicked off my shoes for a walk along the beach, drove to Palm Beach where that horrible, horrible TV show Home & Away is filmed (I’m not a fan. There are no photos.), and checked out the surfers enjoying their lunch break on the water at Whale Beach. You’ll spot surfers in the water at any time of day, but between 12 and 1 you’ll also see them changing out of their work clothes into their wetsuits and back again after their surf. It’s what you call a pretty good work/life balance I think.

Surfers at Avalon

Avalon

Smiley Face on Avalon Beach

Surfer at Avalon

Avalon Rock Pool

Sand on Avalon

Looking south on Avalon Beach

There are bus routes the whole way so it would be possible to do the same trip by public transport if you don’t have access to a car. The L90 bus from Railway Square in Sydney can take you all the way to Palm Beach. It’s the longest commuter bus route in Sydney. I’d recommend buying a day ticket, catch the bus up to Palm Beach,  ride back down to Avalon, Mona Vale and Dee Why, then walk back to Manly. If you don’t take the headland route between DeeWhy and Curl Curl you’ll be on footpath the whole way and it’s only about 7km.

Houses at Whale Beach

Houses at Whale Beach – wouldn’t it be nice?

Foam at Avalon

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