The Stunning Cliffs of The North Head Manly Walk

The Stunning Cliffs of The North Head Manly Walk

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There is no shortage of gorgeous views in Sydney, you could almost become blase about it. In order not to forget that I live in one of the world’s most spectacular harbours, I love going back to Sydney’s spectacular viewpoints. Every time, I get a reminder of how fortunate I am to live here and how much Sydney has to give to the explorer. North Head is one of Sydney’s seven headlands and an imposing presence at the entrance of Port Jackson. Take a walk with me and be inspired by the stunning cliffs of the North Head Manly Walk.

View over Port Jackson from the North Head Manly Walk

The Stunning Cliffs of the North Head Manly Walk

There are many walks in Sydney and the North Head walk is pretty spectacular. As a former army outpost, North Head is a wild headland with stunning views of the harbour. Most people start the walk at Manly and you can find parking at Shelly Beach but it can get busy. Personally, I like to start the walk at North Fort where there is plenty of parking and backtrack on a few trails. If you are keen on secret Sydney walks, this one is likely to become a favourite!

Accommodation in Manly

If you want to stay around the Manly area to enjoy the beach vibe, I recommend looking for options on AirBnb. This is a great way to enjoy some local hospitality!

North Fort

North Fort is part of the North Head Sanctuary and like Middle Head, bears witness to the military defence of Sydney. There is a 45-minute tour of the tunnels and gun emplacements available.

North Fort is a short drive beyond the beach suburb of Manly, turn left to North Fort just before the Bella Vista Cafe.

Memorial Walk

Memorial Walk is an outdoor educational journey into Australia’s presence in various international conflicts and peacekeeping missions. Before you start the walk, take a moment to admire the breathtaking views over Sydney Harbour and the CBD. This is a nice thing when you take walks in Sydney Harbour, there is no shortage of amazing views…

When you do the North Head Manly Walk, don't miss Memorial Park

The walk around North Head Sanctuary starts here and will take you all the way to Manly.

The War Memorial is on the North Head Manly Walk

Fairfax Lookouts

The Fairfax Lookouts are a short loop walk at the southernmost tip of the North Head Sanctuary. You can reach it in ten minutes on foot from the Memorial Walk or drive there. The path loops around the headland amidst tea trees and offers stunning views over the ocean and South Head.

The Fairfax Lookout is on the North Head Manly Walk

At the time of my first visit, some of the lookouts were partially closed off due to the cliff becoming unstable. It’s all secured now with safety barriers. Still, the views are amazing. When I stand there watching the view, I can’t help but think of the First Fleet sailing through the heads and being presented with the most beautiful harbour… No wonder this location seemed perfect for colonial settlement. Of course, the presence of water was instrumental in this but I love the romantic notion that beauty attracted the first fleet! Of all the Sydney coast walks, this one has incredible views of the city and Sydney Heads.

You may spot some whales on the North Head Manly Walk

North Head, Sydney is a great spot for whale watching, you can see the tourist boats from the cliff tops. If you equip yourself with a good pair of binoculars and a great deal of patience, you might just see a pod of whales on their migration. While the view over the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney is incredible and gives a good idea of how dramatic that part of the coast is, don’t forget to look down. Some of the colours in the waters below will leave you breathless.

You will see some beautiful colours on the North Head Manly Walk

Once you are done with the Fairfax Lookouts, you can take the loop back to Memorial Walk to continue the walk.

The Avenue of Honour bears the names of those who served in various wars. Once you pass the gun emplacements, the fire trail continues all the way to Manly. Keep the wall to your left and it’s an easy walk at this point, just make sure you have a hat and sunscreen… Hiking Sydney is not difficult but you do want protection from the sun!

Hanging Swamp

A little further on, there is sign directing you to Hanging Swamp. The grid boardwalk takes a short loop through a swamp area, seemingly completely out of place on top of a cliff. But you get surprises on hikes around Sydney, this place is peaceful and full of wildlife. I don’t think there are too many hiking places in Sydney Harbour where you come across a swamp…

Don't miss the hanging swamp when you walk from North Head to Manly
Hanging Swamp

Once you are back on the trail, you continue the walk to Manly. There are a few closed off places along the way, where the cliff is probably unstable and dangerous. The views over Manly and the Northern Beaches are absolutely beautiful, which is why it’s actually a good idea to start the walk at North Fort, as opposed to Manly.

Hanging Swamp is full of wildlife
Hanging Swamp

Once I came across the protection wall, I was a little puzzled but you actually have to open the little gate and go through the hole in the wall!

Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach is one of Sydney’s prettiest and most secluded beaches. You can also start the Manly North Head walk there. In the bushland above Shelly Beach, there is a fantastic viewpoint over the succession of beaches towards the north. You can access the rock on the picture below, however, take great caution, you have to get very close to the edge of the cliff.

View over the Northern Beaches from the North Head Manly Walk

Alternatively, you can enjoy the view safely from a park bench located under a rock ledge, and if you have time, indulge in whale watching.

The best whale watching spot on the North Head Manly Walk

At the end of the North Head Manly Walk, Shelly Beach is a lovely spot for a relaxing afternoon. Enjoy a casual drink or lunch at the Boathouse Cafe and Kiosk. I find Shelly Beach a wonderful reminder of how extraordinary the Sydney lifestyle is. This is suburban Australia, certainly wealthy, but nevertheless unique.

The North Head Manly Walk ends at Shelly Beach

Manly Beach

You can reach Manly Beach easily from Shelly Beach on the boardwalk. Manly is a little like Bondi, quintessentially Sydney, only a little quieter. While you’re there, you can enjoy a Manly Beach walk. Further on, there are other Northern Beaches walks.

Take a break at Manly Beach at the end of the North Head Manly Walk

I find Manly a lovely suburb, bustling from tourists and shoppers alike. I often hear newcomers to Australian wondering if office workers go for a surf at lunchtime… Or if that’s an urban myth? Well, it’s true! I did see a guy change from his suit into his board shorts and go for a quick surf at Manly! My favourite thing to do there is to enjoy some fish and chips on the beach… However, you have to watch out for the seagulls! There is a plethora of cafes and restaurants along the beachfront and the Corso is well-known for its shopping experience.

Barracks Precinct

Once at Manly, I backtracked to Blue Fish Drive and took the trail to the Barracks Precinct in order to loop back to North Fort. After more bushland, I arrived at the Barracks Precinct, which used to house the School of Artillery. The buildings are still in perfect condition but I don’t think they are still being used by the army.

On North Head, the Barracks Precinct housed the School of Artillery for a time
Barracks Precinct – North Head

City Lookouts

The best walks around Sydney should offer you plenty of good viewpoints. The city lookouts don’t disappoint.

The views from the City Lookouts on North Head is so beautiful
City Lookouts – North Head

Third Quarantine Cemetery

My final discovery of the North Head to Manly walk turned out to be a cemetery. The Quarantine Station is also on North Head but I didn’t know about this cemetery. There are 241 graves, most of them have disappeared but there is an archeological project under way in order to identify them.

The Third Quarantine Cemetery has some stunning views of South Head
Third Quarantine Cemetery

The cemetery was created in the 1880 to cope with a outbreak of smallpox. Sadly, some of the graves are those of nurses who died whilst working with infected people. And there are graves of people who died of the plague.

At the end of the Manly to North Head walk, I found this small and ancient cemetery.

The cemetery feels quite overgrown and you have to be careful of snakes walking around but it is worth spending a bit of time there. The views of South Head are probably the best I’ve seen…

How to get there

If you start the walk at North Fort, take the 135 bus from Manly Wharf. It runs every half hour approximately. Ferries run from Manly back to Circular Quay, as well as buses.

Views over Manly Beach from the North Head Manly Walk

There is no doubt North Head is one of the best walks in Sydney. The coastal views are amazing and overall, the walk is not too difficult. The only hard part is the climb from Shelly Beach but once that’s done, everything is pretty flat and the terrain is not too difficult.

What to pack for a Sydney Day Walk

On this walk, the terrain is uneven at times but it’s still a fairly easy walk. Nevertheless, I recommend to be properly equipped with a few basics.

If you are looking for more ideas on nice walks in Sydney, other headlands include West Head and Barrenjoey Lighthouse.

In Sydney’s North, there are more great day trips to The Basin and Bouddi National Park. If you are looking to spend some time on the beach, I have a list of the best ones in Sydney.

If you want to spend more time around Sydney Harbour, which I highly recommend, you can focus on things to do for free or outdoors. Of course, there are many other places where to take some great photos of Sydney Harbour. And if you get back to Circular Quay, don’t forget to explore The Rocks and to take the views from the Pylon Lookout.

Another fantastic coastal walk in NSW is the Kiama Coast Walk.

Have you visited North Head? Do you have any tips for my next visit? Please share your experience in the comments below.

Save these tips about North Head on Pinterest!

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There are some beautiful cliffs at North Head in Sydney
North Head has a beautiful coastal walk
North Head in Sydney has some beautiful coastal views
The North Head to Manly Walk is a fantastic coastal walk in Sydney
Take a coastal walk from North Head to Manly in Sydney

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32 Comments

  1. Natalie @ Obsessive Cooking Disorder

    August 3, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    My goodness this is so pretty! I love the lookout photos especially. My bucket list one day!

    1. Delphine

      August 3, 2017 at 3:13 pm

      Hi Natalie, thank you for stopping by, I hope you get to visit Sydney sometime!

  2. Dominique

    August 3, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    I love your photos! The water looks so bright and peaceful. I would love to travel here one day, but until then, these photos will do!

    1. Delphine

      August 3, 2017 at 3:12 pm

      HI Dominique, thank you for dropping by. Sydney should definitely be on your travel bucket list. I’m really pleased my photos inspire you, I have plenty more to come!

  3. Samantha

    August 3, 2017 at 11:50 pm

    You are right – the colors in the water totally took my breath away! I’ve always wanted to travel to Sydney, and now I want to even more!!! Your photos are absolutely gorgeous!!!

    1. Delphine

      August 4, 2017 at 8:56 am

      Hi Samantha, I’m very pleased that you like my photos. Winter gives us some very nice colours over here, very crisp and clear!

  4. Anshula Varma

    August 4, 2017 at 1:00 am

    The colour of the water is so, so pretty! I can’t believe it’s real! I’ve never heard of Manly Beach but it seems so pretty (and I like the fact that it is a lot quieter than Bondi Beach).

    1. Delphine

      August 4, 2017 at 8:54 am

      Anshula, I agree that the colour of the water is absolutely stunning. Manly is a great beach, it’s busy but not as much as Bondi. I am preparing a post of the beaches in Sydney, and there are many!

  5. Ada Karolina

    August 4, 2017 at 1:41 am

    It looks so beautiful over there! I cant wait to visit Sydney one day! The beaches there are so gorgeous ! Looks like a lovely gateway from the city !

    1. Delphine

      August 4, 2017 at 8:53 am

      There is plenty to see and do in Sydney, I am busy writing lots of posts, you’ll have plenty to choose from. The great thing is that North Head is actually in the metropolitan area, we are very lucky to have lots of nature around!

  6. Kristal

    August 4, 2017 at 1:59 am

    Travel bucket has just grew. The look out point is so great.

    1. Delphine

      August 4, 2017 at 8:52 am

      Hi Kristal, thank you for dropping by. Sydney is so beautiful, it should be on every bucket list!

  7. TeeShares

    August 4, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    oh, I loove Sydney! But I’ve never been to any of these places you have. Have saved and shared your post.

    1. Delphine

      August 4, 2017 at 1:56 pm

      Hi Tendai, thank you for dropping by. Hopefully Sydney is on your travel bucket list now. And I’m glad my posts are inspiring you!

  8. Mica

    August 4, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    It’s so beautiful! 🙂 I’m heading to Sydney with the kids in a couple months so I wouldn’t be able to do all of this but I think a stop at Manly beach after a little ferry ride would be achievable! 😀

    1. Delphine

      August 4, 2017 at 4:52 pm

      Hi Mica, you’ll have a great time in Sydney, there is plenty to do. Taking the ferry to Manly is a great idea. If it’s not too cold, having an ice-cream by the beach is the perfect getaway, enjoy the trip!

  9. anniesnomsblog

    August 4, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    Wow, these photos are all breathtaking!! North Fort is spectacular and the sea looks so blue. Here, the ocean looks kind of blue/grey/green – not that nice to look at! I really need to visit Australia one day!

    1. Delphine

      August 4, 2017 at 9:00 pm

      Hi Annie, I’m really pleased you like my photos! The colour of the ocean is real, it’s a great thing about Australia, I hope you get to visit someday.

  10. Danielle Isom (@ImMakingTime)

    August 4, 2017 at 11:47 pm

    Visiting Sydney is on my bucket list for sure, and has been for years. Hopefully I’ll make it there sooner than later. These views are absolutely stunning and I’d love to do a little whale watching.

    1. Delphine

      August 5, 2017 at 8:57 am

      Hi Danielle, thank you for dropping by. Sydney is a great place to visit, there is so much to see and do… I am working on more blog posts, stay tuned!

  11. Bailey

    August 5, 2017 at 9:16 am

    This is so beautiful! I really hope to make it to Australia someday to explore all of these beautiful sights.

    1. Delphine

      August 6, 2017 at 3:34 pm

      Hi Bailey, Australia has so many beautiful sights, I’ve been here for 20 years and I still have so much to see! I hope you get a chance to visit some day!

  12. Emma Riggs

    September 28, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    I didn’t know about this whole walk along North Head in Manly. It looks like there are plenty of interesting things to discover, which always makes a scenic walk even more intriguing. The colour of the water down below is just gorgeous!

    1. Delphine Mignon

      September 28, 2020 at 3:11 pm

      Indeed the colour of the water is amazing. That’s winter light in Sydney for you! Winter is actually a great time to visit because the light is so beautiful!

  13. Jane Frith

    September 30, 2020 at 4:58 am

    You do indeed live in a remarkable city! What fabulous walks right on your doorstep and with such spectacular views, not to mention fascinating historical landmarks. Just don’t fall in the swamp! Quarantine Cemetery is also a poignant reminder of our current situation and the toll it has taken on our medical professionals.

    1. Delphine Mignon

      September 30, 2020 at 12:22 pm

      Hi Jane, it was interesting to visit the Third Quarantine Cemetery in these pandemic times. Some of the people buried there are nurses… There are actually a fair few cemeteries like this around Sydney so this reminder is always there…

  14. Jordan

    September 30, 2020 at 8:24 am

    Beautiful pictures! If I ever make it to Sydney, I will be adding Shelly Beach and this walk to the list of things to do!

    1. Delphine Mignon

      September 30, 2020 at 12:21 pm

      Shelly Beach is pretty special, I hear the snorkelling is very good!

  15. Linda (LD Holland)

    September 30, 2020 at 9:24 am

    We visited the Manly Beach for a quick stop when we were last in Sydney. I wish we had found the secluded Shelly Beach. But we never did the walk along the cliffs for those great viewpoints. Nor did we ever see whales! I do love walks where you can learn a little at the stops along the way. So many reasons we are sad we did not get back to Sydney this year.

    1. Delphine Mignon

      September 30, 2020 at 12:21 pm

      I hadn’t done the full walk before and I’m so glad I did. It’s really nice and diverse, and the views of the coast are really stunning. I wish I had seen whales but I’m really not trained for it and they usually cruise along quietly so it’s hard to spot them…

  16. Maggie

    October 2, 2020 at 10:11 pm

    What a gorgeous area!!! I love how many different things there are to see, like the Hanging Swamp (I never would expect a swamp on a cliff top!) and the many beaches. There’s certainly no shortage of stunning viewpoints.

    1. Delphine Mignon

      October 3, 2020 at 10:31 pm

      The swamp on a cliff top was a real surprise, it’s so different to everything else around that area, quite a unique place with lots of wildlife.

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