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.
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 near the beach. This is a great way to enjoy some local hospitality!
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 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…
The walk around North Head Sanctuary starts here and will take you all the way to Manly.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The best walks around Sydney should offer you plenty of good viewpoints. The city lookouts don’t disappoint.
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 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.
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.
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.
|Tempest 20 Women's Hiking Backpack||Lightweight hiking backpack||Osprey||Buy on Amazon|
|Precip Women rain Jacket||Lightweight waterproof jacket||Marmot||Buy on Amazon|
|Women's X Ultra 3 GTX Hiking Shoes||Women's hiking shoes||Salomon||Buy on Amazon|
|Water Bottle||BPA free, leak proof||CamelBak||Buy on Amazon|
|Aluminium Trekking Poles||Mountain Tech||Cascade||Buy on Amazon|
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.
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