Cover image: Manly, Australia. All images: Belinda James
Sydney is Australia’s most populated city, and finding trails away from the crowds can be a challenge. But it’s completely possible. Since Sydney has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, I like to keep things coastal. Here are three of my favorite hikes in a town that was settled by a crew of English sailors more than 200 years ago.
This is perhaps Sydney’s best kept outdoor secret, and at 10km/6miles if can comfortably be done in half a day, allowing the other half to enjoy time in Manly, one of the beaches on the northern side of the city. To start at The Spit, catch a bus from the city, asking the driver to let you know where to get off. The walk traverses through national park, past million dollar homes and across sandy spots that are perfectly placed for a swim or a picnic along the way. Check the tides, or be prepared to take your shoes off for a short (but safe) stretch of beach near Clontarf.
The track offers panoramic vistas of the entrance to Sydney Harbour, and plenty of stretches of typical Australia coastal bushland. Once you arrive in Manly, there are plenty of places to eat and drink. There’s also Shelly Beach, offering some sweet snorkeling opportunities if the weather is calm. And when you’re ready to return to the city there’s a ferry service from Manly that takes 30 minutes to drop you off at Circular Quay, next to Sydney’s Opera House. Or if you haven’t got your sea legs, simply catch one of the buses back into town.
It’s only 6km/4 miles long, but don’t underestimate the time it should take you to complete this stunning snapshot of Sydney’s Eastern suburbs. You can catch a bus to and from the start and finish, beginning with a visit to one of the many chic cafes in Coogee (pronounced “Cood-gee”).
The track leads north, and is especially busy with morning and weekend warrior traffic. Be sure to wear your swimmers are there are plenty of places along the way to duck down into the ocean and cool off.
You’ll pass many villages along the way, finishing in cosmopolitan Bondi Beach. My favorite time to walk the Coogee to Bondi track is in October/November when it’s not too hot and the “Sculptures by the Sea” exhibit is on.
The Coast Track
If you are prepared for an overnight adventure, this 26km/16 mile rack is truly off the beaten path in the Royal National Park, about an hour south of central Sydney.
I have heard of people hiking it in a day, but you’d need to be up early. There’s a basic campground you stumble across about two-thirds of the way down. I hiked the coastal track in June, which was great for whale watching. If you hike in the warmer months, there are several beaches along the way that are safe for swimming.
To access the trail, I caught a train from Sydney to Cronulla, and then walked to the ferry to travel the short distance to Bundeena, where the trail starts. There’s a small village store to buy last minute supplies, and then there’s nothing but sea, surf and bush until Otford, where you can catch the train back to Sydney.