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Manly to The Spit

Manly to The Spit
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THE MORNING dawned overcast as once more I headed back to Circular Cay to catch the ferry across to Manly for the last time (on this trip anyway). Although the cloud hung low, the wind was largely absent as was the swell when crossing the mouth of the harbour.

Arriving at Manly Boat Harbour, there was no bus to catch this morning. I just needed to walk across the four hundred metres through the town centre to reach Manly Beach on the other side. The golden beach was quiet but there were a few people running along it. I started following the pathway to the end of the beach and around the headlands. This track quickly became quite crowded with all the locals doing their morning walks, several were walking to the next beach and swimming back to Manly. It was not long before I had arrived at the tiny Cabbage Tree Bay Beach.

From the beach the path quickly narrowed and began rising up to the next headland. It was a little overgrown but still easy to navigate through the forest to a fenced lookout back along Manly Beach and the northern beaches with Reef Point standing obvious and the headlands of the north coast a long way off in the distance.

From the point the track followed the top of the cliffs above the grey ocean, not as turbulent as in the previous two days though with large waves breaking on the rocks below. I stopped at several small lookouts with interesting sandstone formations as the track gained altitude. I reached a large rock wall with a gateway through it directing the track into an old military area. The stone fence now marks the start of the Manly Head section of Sydney Harbour National Park, protecting the wildlife enclosed in it.

The track through the heathland was of an excellent standard, mostly gravel, with a few long sections of elevated plastic boardwalk. Some of the bushes were in flower but otherwise it was a sea of green covering the extensive Manly Head. The bush thickened to about four metres high before reaching some old World War II defence structures set up to prevent invasions in Sydney Harbour. One of the structures looked like a huge gun emplacement, and the others were now exposed bunkers.

Shortly after the structures, the track crossed a narrow sealed road before re-entering the bush and following an elevated walkway though it for a good kilometre before reaching The Barracks, an old military group of sandstone coloured buildings around a gravel courtyard where soldiers would have no doubt marched over. Most of the buildings appeared to be accommodation buildings for the soldiers. The track crossed the courtyard before heading away from the buildings to an old gravel road which I followed a short distance.

A slightly elevated track turned off to cross over Hanging Swamp crossing over the heathland scrub and reeds concealing several permanent pools over this flat section of the headland. The track followed a circuit over about five hundred metres before returning to the gravel track, which I continued following a bit further until reaching a large landscaped war memorial. The first part of the memorial included several gun emplacements and bunkers all painted with large camouflage shapes. The buildings were all intact though the guns were missing. The guns had a range of about 28 kilometres, sufficient to be a serious threat to any ships trying to enter the harbour. The guns were only used once in 1943 when an unauthorised Polish ship approached the harbour.

After exploring the batteries, I continued following the gravel road passing an enormous gun barrel marking the entrance to a newly landscaped sandstone memorial walk. The walkway had little diversions to a memorial to each war Australia has been involved with. Each paver had the name of an Australian soldier who had been killed in action. Bronze plaques erected on cut sandstone blocks were covered in maps and text of the history of many battles Australian soldiers had fought over the years. The recent wars (such as Afghanistan) were covered first, and earlier wars would be represented as I continued along the path following a backward timeline. Eventually I reached the end of the memorial walk from where I had my first view into Sydney Harbour with the city centre towering in the distance.

From here I crossed a car park and passed a few more buildings (North Fort). Once past the buildings, I reached another road passing a good lookout over the harbour. The harbour entrance was a couple of kilometre wide with Hornby Head on the other side. I will be exploring this area in a few days' time. Beyond the head I could see further down the coast to another headland. The water below was ruffled but not turbulent as it had been when following the coast over the past couple of days. I was now officially entering the calm waters of Sydney Harbour, so I won't be seeing waves crashing into the cliffs until I reach the headlands on the other side.

From the lookout, I returned across North Fort following another track along a wide gravel path to the cemetery of the old quarantine station set up on this head in 1881. Most people dying here were killed by the bubonic plague in 1900 and the influenza epidemic of 1919. The cemetery closed in 1925. Shortly after the cemetery, the track turned off along an elevated plastic walk through the scrubby bush for a couple of kilometres before reaching a road at the entrance of the old quarantine station. I spent about half an hour exploring parts of the quarantine station with its historic buildings and cottages before returning to the track to continue around the headland loop.

Over the next two or three kilometres, the track followed a couple of roads before entering a narrow track dropping to Collins Beach, famous for its penguins. The track descended the dense bush before arriving on the pristine beach. All the penguins were out at sea, so I walked along the short track before climbing the stairway on the other side to enter the suburbia of Manly.

The track ran along a footpath beside a road crossing two low hills before descending to Manly Harbour, where I walked above the beach to the Manly Wharf where I had arrived by boat this morning. Having completed the eleven kilometre Manly Head circuit, I stopped here for lunch.

A wide path passed over the beach on the other side of the wharf. This was the start of the Manly To Bondi Walkway, an eighty kilometre track established in 2019 to form a continuous walking path all the way to Manly Beach. For me this means I won't need to do too much navigating. Little black and yellow fish signs were placed at regular intervals along the track minimising the need for me to use my navigation skills.

From the start the track was quite busy, certainly more popular than the Manly Head Trail, and the North Shore trail I've been following over the past two and a half days. The first section of this track was known as the Spit to Manly Walk, The Spit being as far as the trail goes up the harbour's Middle Channel. With having made good progress this morning, I decided to aim for The Spit this afternoon and catch a bus to the city from there.

The stone track followed above the calm golden beach with a large netted swimming enclosure to keep the sharks out. I passed a memorial marking the location where Governor Phillip was speared in 1790 but survived. Upon reaching the end of the beach the track rose to round a headland with high rise apartments on the other side of the road. Heading around the headland I could see the open sea start appearing through the entrance of the harbour. The path entered very nice parkland as it headed up towards the back of North Harbour.

The clouds began to clear colouring the water a nice turquoise colour. As I continued up the harbour the water became more calm and numerous boats sat anchored at their sheltered moorings. The parkland continued, rounding the back of North Harbour about two kilometres off from Manly, with another eight kilometres to go to Spit Bridge. A rock wall separated the water from a flat grassy park. The track ran just behind the rock wall to the other side where it headed through the dense bush back out towards the main harbour. A bridge crossed a high ravine before the track followed a narrow road through the bush about ten metres above the water.

Another kilometre passed before I reached Forty Baskets Beach, where I rested. By now most of the cloud had cleared to reveal a sunny day, though thankfully not hot. Passing another swimming enclosure, the track followed the exposed rocks just above the high tide line for a while before heading into a track going into another part of Sydney Harbour National Park. Bush enclosed the track for most of the time, but occasionally I would get a view through a gap between the trees to Manly. After passing another small beach, the track started rising along steps through the scrub to a point above the end of Dobroyd Head, from where I watched the Manly ferries cross between Manly and the City. These had been my transport in recent days. Now I had a different perspective of the harbour from this higher location, now clearly seeing across the exposed entrance to Sydney Harbour. Waves from the swells coming through the entrance were breaking on the rocks below me.

From the lookout the track followed a long stairway ascending the scrubby hill with fleeting glimpses of the city. Upon reaching the top of the hill I reached a junction with a side track heading two hundred metres to Arabanoo Lookout at the end of a car park, named after an Aboriginal man who was kidnapped by the first European settlers at the end of 1788 and died of smallpox a few months later. The lookout had good views over Manly, but the other directions were covered in bush.

After a brief rest at the lookout I returned to the main track and continued towards The Spit now I was half way from Manly. Elevated plastic boardwalk led the way over the flat top of the headlands with the occasional view to the rugged coves below. After another kilometre I reached the Grotto Point Aboriginal Site with several engraved carvings carved into the sandstone by the local Aboriginal people before any Europeans arrived. The carvings were quite faint now after several hundred years of erosion.

From Grotto Point, the track began descending with the scrubby heathland quickly giving way to a forest of gnarly bright orange gum trees which I was not familiar with. They were most fascinating sitting amongst enormous rounded boulders which the track navigated its way around. The track was initially easy going but became quite a slow obstacle course of stairs negotiating their way around the boulders and short cliffs with the overhangs of Castle Rock. The occasional lookout revealed spectacular views over Castle Rock Beach and along Middle Harbour. Large water dragon lizards scurried along the boulders and track as I slowly descended this magical forest above the harbour.

Rounding the next headland under towering overhangs, the terrain started easing off and the harbour appeared to be getting narrower as I eventually descended onto the small Clontarf Beach with retaining walls and houses above them lining the sandy beach. I followed the beach to near its end where a track led between two houses (one under construction) to a road which I followed to a park where I rested looking over the now narrow harbour. From here I spotted The Spit bridge a bit further up the channel, so it was great being able to finally see today's destination.

Following the park I headed past Clontarf Marina following a footpath passing another small beach before heading into the bush following stairs up and down passing more interesting sandstone formations and rounding a couple of headlands before disappearing into the inlets behind them. Just coming out of the second inlet the track passed under an enormous overhang before rising to a small park just under The Spit Bridge.

After resting at the park, I followed the track up to the bridge very busy with traffic being the main drag between the city and much of the northern beaches. Fortunately the footpath was fenced off from the road. The bridge descended before crossing an area where the bridge can open to let boats through. The bridge was opened in 1922 having been serviced by a rowing boat ferrying passengers across since 1834. Once across that section the bridge continued to descend to The Spit from where I caught a bus back into the city.

The bus ride over the hill of Mossman was very slow, but once at the end of the suburb it was a quick trip to North Sydney, then over the very busy Sydney Harbour Bridge into the city, where I got off at its terminus at Wynyard from where I walked the remaining kilometre back to the hostel.

The hike from Manly Beach to The Spit had been the longest day so far, having covered 23.4 kilometres. The route had not been direct like it had been the previous two days though, with my destination at The Spit only being 3.5 kilometres from Manly Wharf as far as the crow flies. In the three days of hiking, I had already covered just over 65 kilometres and doing quite well so was keen at this stage to get to at least Bondi.


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