Saturday, September 22, 2012

Manly Scenic Walkway - aka The Spit to Manly

We are about to tackle what claims to be one of the most beautiful walks in any city in the world: Manly Scenic Walkway (MSW).  It is one of many walking routes around this beautiful harbour city, some of which we've done previously and blogged. We plan to choose a few more from the Walking Coastal Sydney website over coming months and years.
We have chosen today (Saturday) as the weather forecaste was early 20s and some cloud cover. Sunday is forecaste warmer up around 26 and sunny. Too hot for serious walking - in our book anyway.
There's choices to be made about the logistics of doing the MSW. It's commonly recommended that people get a bus from Wynyard to The Spit and then walk towards Manly. As we're starting very early and the transport connections work better for us this way, we've decided to get the ferry across to Manly then walk westward with the sun behind us, then we can bus it back at the end. We were very happy with this decision. It worked like clockwork for us and I think it would also be easier to find your way if you're not familiar with the area.
We alight from the train at Circular Quay at just after 7.30 and head for wharf 3 where the 7.40 Manly ferry is boarding. There's not many people on the ferry and we have no difficulty with seating outside up the forward end of the vessel or moving around as we please for the photos we want.
It's an absolutely GLORIOUS spring morning. Cool clear. The harbour is like a mill pond. It is thrilling and energising to be about in the early morning around the harbour on such a day.  There is a pattern to Sydney weather. The early morning is most likely to be calm and settled with a breeze blowing up as the sun reaches its zenith. We couldn't have asked for better conditions for our adventure.
We've brought our awesome, super light and easy tripod, and with the small numbers on the ferry I set up and get some photos of us together heading out with the bridge behind us. Then I suggest a move down to the rear of the ferry where the views will be better looking back away from the sun. We have the rear of the boat to ourselves.  I duck downstairs to get an unobstructed shot of the view and am snaffled by a tourist asking me to take photos of him against the view. No worries.  A small speed boat passes by and the family onboard give the ferry a friendly wave. Our spirits could not be higher.
We round HMAS Sydney and head into the northern reaches of the harbour. 
Pass the entrance to Middle Harbour where our walk today will end.  Balmoral Beach and the Bather's Pavillion make notable landmarks.
I point out our walking route across Dobroyd Head in Sydney Harbour National Park as the Collaroy passes on her return to the city. There's no shortage of kayakers out and about over beyond the ferry lanes and I envy them. That looks like brilliant fun. What a fabulous way to explore the more difficult to access areas of the harbour.  The kayaking company does tours where you paddle over and they have a picnic complete with table and umbrella all set up for you on one of the isolated little beaches. Their website says they get quite a lot of bookings for marriage proposals. I can understand why. That would be totally awesome!
We note North Harbour as we pass. Well be walking around there too.
Manly is looking gorgeous as we pull into the wharf. Hardly anyone is about as we trickle off the ferry. 
It is such a beautiful morning its tempting to just head up the Corso to South Steyne and the ocean beach. Norfolk Island pines are so evocative of seaside towns and promenades in NSW, though I guess those at Manly are the most famous and give the place a holiday feel.  We shrug off the temptation of a lazy Manly morning lounging under the pines and decide to just get on with it.  It's about 8.15 am. The route is well signposted and I snap a photo to mark our start time.
It's difficult to leave though. Manly is a beautiful spot this early in the morning on a SUCH beautiful day. 

Along the west esplanade there are a number of signs to stop and read about the area and the little penguins which, almost unbelievably, are just managing to hang on here.

More temptation to resist as we pass the cafes serving breakfast near the Art Gallery. We decide it would be prudent to take a comfort stop before we leave and note that there are cold showers and changing cubicles provided alongside the toilets.
As we head past memorials to Edmund Barton (Our first Prime Minister) and Henry Parkes (father of Federation) the first of many opportunities to sit and soak up the views presents itself. I like the touch of an empty beer bottle relaxing in the shade!
We stop regularly to admire the scenes and are making very slow progress so far.
The houses along this stretch of prime real estate are beautifully maintained and the echium is making a lovely show. As we pass I notice that the design of these places is just what I would want. The kitchen of one property has been placed to look out to the harbour.  Now that is a view to have when you're busy cooking the dinner or cleaning up!

There are heaps of nicely maintained park benches provided where you can sit in the shade and enjoy the views. Fisherman perch on the rocks, much safer here than on the headlands facing the ocean swell. 

A cormorant hangs his wings out to dry as the breeze wafts the sweet scent of a fragrant wattle tree in full bloom.
We round a curve in the path and look out across Fairlight rock pool and beach.  The tide is low this morning and hubby is sceptical about how well the tide flushes out the water in the rock pool. He recalls the story about how the tide of the River Thames was supposed to flush out the effluent from the moat at the Tower of London, but was spectacularly unsuccessful with the result of a rather effective deterrent to trying to breach the castle that way.  I doubt the same applies here. 
I'm glad we've taken this walk in spring as we admire a beautiful wisteria in the peak of flowering.

We pass around the water's edge at the North Harbour reserve which is a large flat grassed area with children's playground. My Manly Scenic Walkway leaflet tells us that this area was reclaimed in 1938.  It's OK. These furthest reaches of North Harbour are a little bit on the manky side by Sydney Harbour's (admittedly very high) standards.  I imagine the area as perhaps it once was. I imagine mangroves and mud flats!

We've left the manicured lawns and wide concrete pathway behind and have entered a wilder area where the bitumen of the road simple fades away to rough verges and the natural bushland dominates. I comment to hubby that this walk feels distinctly "northern beaches" as opposed to the more "lower north shore" vibe of the walk from Milson's Point to Clifton Gardens.  So what on earth do I mean by that.. how can I explain it? I guess the bottom line is that the lower north shore is generally more "neat and tidy". Not quite so laid back. Not that the northern beaches vibe is particularly ill kempt. There's just an atmosphere of .. hm... "the  weeding can wait... let's go down the beach..  Nah.. don't worry about kerbing there. It's nice, natural like that anyway." Maybe a touch of additional appreciation for natural disorder, or a deep seated desire to preserve the feel of a holiday house memory cherished from childhood.
A zephir brings me my own memories of childhood. "I smell putty" I say to hubby. "That smell always reminds me of Pop".  We round a curve and sure enough there's a boat up on the slips.
Off to our right there's a public toilet nestled in amongst the trees.  Entrigued, we take a detour. This is special. It's an Exeloo.  We peer curiously as we investigate the Exeloo. Hubby presses a button and the sliding metal door whooshes open. A robotic attendant voice is roused from slumber. "Welcome to Exeloo. Your maximum usage time is 10 mins." and with that our robot attendant turns his attention to some mood music.  What better for a public toilet than Burt Bacharach? The Hal David and Dionne Warwick is my own contribution.  "... what the world needs now.. is love .. sweet love..."  As I wait outside there's the sound of the air drier then our robot friend pipes up with "Door is unlocked. Thank you for using Exeloo." Bizarre! If Exeloo is just altogether too creepy, there's normal toilets provided in the block as well.

Five minutes along the track we come to Forty Baskets beach and reserve, with it's tidal pool for safe shark free swimming. Our forbears were more cautious of sharks than we are these days and there used to be more of these shark proof swimming enclosures around Sydney, sometimes referred to as "tidal pools" as opposed to the "rock pools" such as we saw at Fairlight.  

We follow the curve of the beach around past the rocky headland where the track curves to the right and enters the Sydney Harbour National Park - Dobroyd Head . The signage estimates that we have come 3.6 kms from Manly and that this is graded medium with an estimated completion time of 1.5 hrs. We've taken 1 hr without hurrying at all and have found it pretty easy going, so that is encouraging.  Our time to The Spit is estimated at 2.5 hours and 5.9 kms. Grade Hard. I can now say with the benefit of experience that the grading for the journey from this point to The Spit is correct. It's hard work and has a LOT of stairs.  
Immediately on entering the national park we pass through a burnt area. Hopefully this is a result of some back burning in preparation for fire season, and not some sick arsonist at large.  
Hubby has spied a rough little track to a rock outcrop with views. By coincidence this is currently a bird hot spot. Bush birds very commonly travel in mixed foraging flocks and as you wander along bush tracks you go through quiet areas and then these spots where there is twittering and flitting of all sorts of small birds amongst the vegetation. I can hear and see fairy wrens and scrub wrens. I pause in the hope of getting a photo of a fairy wren, but they're too busy moving around.  We take in the harbour views and take another tripod shot of the two of us sitting on the rocks with Q-station behind us in the distance. I'm keen to get out of the sun, so deed done I head into the shade while hubby gets himself organised.
There's a loud scratching, scuffling noise coming from the scrub behind me. A goana? It's a LOT of noise. Whatever it is must be pretty big.  Ah. A brush turkey. These guys are the raking professionals of the bird world. They accumulate huge piles of leaf litter into big compost mounds. It's all for a purpose because they lay their eggs in the mound and then tend the mound to keep the temperature just right to incubate the eggs. If memory serves the temperature of the mound determines the sex... oh, hang on, I think that's actually crocodiles .... or is it sea turtles... hmm...  At any rate, they are pretty cool birds and we've been seeing them around a fair bit lately, but you sure as heck don't want one in your backyard. Brush turkeys are credited with having the ability to drive otherwise sane adults to a point of mental distraction that could lead to hospitalisation. They are the sort of birds that motivate the production of "hints for living with them". And yes. They are protected. Don't throw your shoes at them as one fellow on a documentary I saw did. He totally lost it and threw.. connected...dead brush turkey..Oops. Well... at least he ate it. 
We pass yet another lovely sandy cove fringed with rocks at the water's edge. Ho hum.  ;o)  

Then we come to a long curved seat with panels depicting local fauna and such like. The seat doesn't appear to facilitate your viewing of the nearby harbour vistas though. Nice spot just the same.
Our next wildlife viewing opportunity is a blue tongued lizard basking on the path. It's not too fussed but shuffles off into the undergrowth at the last minute. Blue tongues are not speedy like the dragons (of which there's no shortage in the bush along this walk), but they can put on a (comparative) burst of speed when needed. I'm tempted to do a Steve Irwin and pick him up in an attempt to photograph his blue tongue... but I love blue tongues so I don't do it.
From here our walking takes a turn to the hot and tedious. There's a scattering of wildflowers here and there. Some red flowering grevillea as well as the grevillea buxifolia otherwise known as grey spider flower; there's also dogrose (bauera ruboides), and beautiful fuchsia heath (epacris longiflora), flannel flowers and other heathland wildflowers. However they're not in large quantity. Pleasant highlights rather than a great display.
The path is never level for long. Even in comparatively level areas there are many small steps.  We walk through the heathland. The path is bordered by banksia plants just tall enough and thick enough to form a sun trap and stop whatever breeze is around. Not a breath of breeze reaches us. Even on this cool spring day it's hot here trudging through the heath and the vegetation is not terribly awe inspiring. Scrubby really. An important vegetation community absolutely, and I'm glad it's been preserved, for a whole host of reasons, but all in all, I can understand generations past figuring that a house with gorgeous views was a good idea in places like this. I have to say, I'm not enjoying this bit much, though the exercise is good. This is the sort of bushwalking that makes people hate bushwalking. I wish I'd worn shorts. Sigh.
Our trudging is eventually rewarded by expansive views across Manly and the heads. It's a pretty spectacular view here, but my enthusiasm is tempered by the knowledge that you can just drive here to see this. I really don't think it's worth the trudging up from the beaches to be honest. And you know, spectacular views like this aren't something Sydney is short of. We really are spoilt for drop dead gorgeous coastal scenery.

We are delighted with the professionalism of a beautiful dragon that poses for our shot here. It even shuffled along a bit to a more advantageous position. I might christen this lizard Miranda, which is intended as a compliment in both directions.
The path at this section is simply constructed by clearing the shallow soil and vegetation off the underlying rock. It's uneven but beautifully natural.
A patch of scrubby heathland with abundant yellow wildflowers presents with a tall spear of the xanthorrhoea or grass tree.  This is a youngish one and hasn't yet developed a blackened trunk. Xanthorrhoea is an insanely useful bush plant to indigenous people. It provides resin, a compass, a source of moisture when you're thirsty, the straight spear of course, and a sweet drink from the nectar.  Awesome plant.
By manoeuvring a bit I am able to capture the views across towards the city. Sydney Tower visible in the distance and we can now see Balmoral beach. 
The view is lovely... but I've seen more impressive flowering heathland to be honest. 
Our next entertainment is a small cluster of Aboriginal rock carvings.  There's a group here milling about. Some sort of club or guided tour.  We don't hang around long. Just long enough for a mutually enthusiastic rant on the part of hubby and myself about the outrageous situation re care and management of these places. Grrrr. Don't get me started.
Oh good. Now we're coming into some she-oak country. Did I ever mention I really don't like she-oaks?
Evidently there are plans to improve the track. We've passed quite a lot of large "sling" bags containing dressed rock. These would have been air lifted in here by helicopter. This time I stop for a photograph. A little further along we obey the signs and take care as we pick our way through a construction zone.
More signage. This time we've come 5.9 kms from Manly. Castle Rock Beach is 700 metres away and The Spit is now 3.5 kms. I completely overlook the opportunity to walk the 500 m to Grotto Point Lighthouse. I am very much looking forward to visiting Castle Rock beach for sentimental reasons and that consumes my attention.
As we reach the edges of the National Park the terrain becomes very steep and the bush more to my taste. Sydney red gums. We all know how much I LOVE Sydney red gums. My mood is improving along with the scenery and it's delightfully cool here in the shade of the trees.
A bridge takes us across a cool gully dripping with water trickling. Not in the best condition now. These harbourside areas are under enormous pressure and it does show here. It must have been lovely in the 1940s when dad used to hang out around here.
I am haunted by the laughter of generations as we climb carefully down the the stairs to Castle Rock beach. The throb of motor boat engines followed by the random slapping of training shoes on the rough sandstone steps. Tinny rhythm of wrap music as a group of fit young women dash past us with a cheery "good morning".  An intermittent string of walkers pass to greet us as we lean in the cool shadow of sculpted sandstone. 
A glimpse of brightest pink as a young woman sunbathes on the huge rock down by the beach. Is that castle rock? Its another long steep flight of stairs down to the beach. As I watch a boat pulls into the shallows and a couple of men, strip to their swimming togs leap into the water to and hang onto the boat.
 I'd like to come back here some time. Bring the family. It's a lovely spot. Lovely views along the coastline protected by the national park. I can just imagine the Norces (that's pronounced nor-sess) anchored here laden with happy teenagers. Castle Rock was a favourite spot to come as the water was always clear. Dad loved snorkelling and spear-fishing. Even made his own mask. You had to back then. You couldn't buy them.

I can't get the picture of the young woman hanging over the back of Norces out of my mind here.
Or the sunbathing photos from Harrington either... ghosts. Middle Harbour is pleasantly quiet today too. It gives a hint of what it must once have been like. I bid farewell to my ghosts and head back up the stairs to find hubby waiting at our progress sign. Well, we're gettin' there.
Its up and down stairs from here for quite a while. Along the way we stop at a little rocky shore where we sit and have a drink and a piece of fruit from the back pack.  This walk is best dressed in swimming togs and shorts with a towel draped over your shoulder and all day to stop and swim and  then move on.
We're on the home stretch now and at least the walking is level for a while, though we kind of wish we'd taken the route along Monash Ave that is necessary at high tide. I'm looking like the westie I now am with my shoes and socks on the beach. None-the-less sand quilches between my toes when I wriggle them. Not really the effect I was aiming for.
Most of the houses along the beach are pretty average, though we both rather like the smaller home of venerable age with a sleek glass fence, that doesn't quite match but well.. if you've got a house on the beach overlooking the harbour.. I guess we can forgive the stylistic inconsistency.. looks like it might date from the 1930s or round about. 
The tide is low enough that we can just make it around the point. There's been a steady stream of walkers heading in the opposite direction to us. Lots of different languages spoken among them. 
I haven't stopped in Clontarf for years and years. Best thing about Clontarf reserve was the fact that I managed to snap a reasonable photo of a noisy miner that landed in a nearby tree. 
 And the water bottle filling station. Handy at the end of our walk.
 There's another tidal pool here at Clontarf Reserve.
Though it comes with a fairly significant disincentive.....
The reserve is very crowded. Quite scrappy looking. .. yeah... it's just not very nice. Probably was once... a long time ago. Clearly under pressure now though. In fact the area around The Spit is ruined. My opinion. It was not too good when I was a teenager. Even then Dad used to comment occasionally about how nice it was when he was very young, but development had gotten out of hand. Lord. He should see it now. Ruined. Once long ago the homes on the hillsides were not so obtrusive. Just the one architectural icon that is now dwarfed by a gaggle of pushy vehicles for panoramic windows.  Later as we drive up the hill in the bus we are treated to a sample of what those panoramic windows look out over, and I fully confess, it is spectacular and it would be a rare person who wouldn't build up to take maximum advantage of it.. but still.. it's a shame for the landscape.  I dare say you either won't agree, or don't believe me about Clontarf. Turns out the least attractive spot on our walk is possibly the most photogenic. Go figure. 
We walk along the road past a car parking area and around a fairly ugly hotch potch bay. .. well the bay itself .. as in the water. (pollution warning sign aside)  isn't the problem it's the buildings and the land.  Not good. Though perhaps I'm being a bit harsh because I'm contemplating whether or not I would recommend this walk to international tourists, so in my mind it's getting placed in the scales with the other walks you can do around Sydney.
Beyond Clontarf Reserve we have to traverse another "bushland" stretch. Hmm. This one even comes with information boards about all the noxious weeds that seem to be winning the battle here. More stairs. Lord. This is aweful. Though I suppose an international visitor might not be able to tell that this area is so degraded.  For us it's just depressing. How much harbourside do these communities have? Council rates are low over here. Lower than we pay out in the boonies. Sheesh. Get onto it guys! I guess the signage says it all. The council has given up on this bit. It's a demonstration site for how our bushland and harbour copes, or rather doesn't cope, with the pressure of introduced weeds, and urban run off. 
 And so we arrive to the major choke point for transport across to the northern beaches. The Spit Bridge. The bridge was built to lift up to allow boats through. Recently I've read that one of the suggestions being considered to ease the traffic problems is to permanently close the bridge to water traffic.  Another idea is a tunnel. They've been mulling this problem over all my life time. Trouble is, this is blue ribbon conservative country. The conservative governments don't tend to build infrastructure.. and the Labor Governments don't really care that much about the blue ribbon conservative seats... so I can't see the tunnel idea getting the nod.  Who knows.. maybe one day I'll be proved wrong.
We finish our walk with a sign that pretty much epitomises the sorrow I often feel when contemplating Sydney Harbour. There's a shell midden in this area. Used by the Cammeraygal, part of the Ku-ring-gai mob.  The sign says "Shellfish and a wonderful view, the basis for a perfect meal."  This place must have been absolutely achingly beautiful before European settlement. It's just a crying shame that a huge city ended up on this glorious natural masterpiece.  

 And there you have it. We walk across the grass and under the bridge. Climb yet another long steep flight of stairs and then it's just a walk 50 metres or so to the bus stop. We've barely sat down before a 144 bus comes along to carry us back to Manly for lunch. We enjoy the ride back down to Manly. I haven't done this trip by bus in many years. It's just what we need after the exertions this morning and we both really enjoy it.
 We meander up the Corso and into back around into Sydney Road. We peruse the market stalls and admire some rather expensive but impressive photos on sale there. Finally we make our lunch choice, resisting the tempting smells from a gourmet burger outlet to settle for some passable fish and chips shared at South Steyne over looking a very busy stretch of sand.  The wind has picked up now as it generally does in Sydney by the early afternoon, bringing to mind a lifelong habit - beach (or whatever) in the morning then home to relax or whatever in comfort out of the sun and wind.
 We're tempted by a trip on the bus out to Palm Beach, but it would be 10 past three before we got there so we'd get home pretty late. We decide that less is more today. We'll save Palm Beach for another day and head back to town. Once again we make a perfect connection with the ferry. It's very busy in Manly now.  Hordes of people are arriving and leaving as well.
With the breeze come the sailing boats on the harbour. We take a seat outside on the shady side of the boat, digging out our jumpers and wind proof jackets. Most people dressed for the mild day are driven away by the cold and we have this side of the ferry to ourselves.
Back at circular quay we've got another decision. We're spot on time for a movie at Dendy Opera Quays, but we can't make up our mind whether to indulge for the third time this week! We walk over and grab a Dendy choc top. mmmm.. they have my favourite flavour.. maple walnut..mmmm hubby goes for double cream and meringue flavour.... but we skip the movie this time.   We walk back, past the street performers and their audiences, for yet another excellent connection and we're home by 4pm. 
A very enjoyable day. 
... now we just need to plan for our next walks. I've already blogged Otford to Garie half the Coast Track in the Royal National Park and the walk from Coogie to Bondi... and a couple of walks in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. I think the next one to do might be Garie to Bundeena in the Royal National Park, though it does present some logistical challenges and given that the weather will soon be hotting up, we might not get another big walk in until Autumn.
And that, as they say, is that. I hope you have enjoyed exploring the Manly Scenic Walkway with us. 
I said I was contemplating whether I thought this is a walk internationals should do... the verdict: If you're local I'd say why not. You can't do too many harbour walks and really get to know our city. However if you're an international with a couple of weeks to get round three or four Australian destinations... then I think your time could be better spent... I reckon you get more bang for your buck on some of our other walking options. Eg Coogie to Bondi, Cremorne to Mosman or Athol Bay / Bradley's head.. or if you're prepared to take a tour then tackle the Coastal Track  in the Royal... now that is a superb walk - easier going than the Manly Scenic Walkway... and quite a lot better.