Ferrying around Manly
“Gee,” said an American tourist, “you have the best way to travel to work” to a short sleeved-shirted, sunglass wearing office worker in shorts as he took the ferry from Manly to Sydney in the morning rush hour. “Yeah,” was the reply, “no fumes, no traffic, no irate drivers and the greatest view in the world. Know what’s even better? It’s a fantastic way to chill out on the way home.”
Manly is a 30 minute ferry ride from Sydney’s Circular Quay – or an hour’s ride on the bus. But who would ever want to take a bus when in 30 minutes and a $6.60 ferry ride, you get to travel one of the finest harbours in the world. Alternatively pay a little more ($20) and enjoy as many ferry rides, bus, train and monorail journeys as you can squeeze into a day.
The journey passes by the Opera House, Pinchgut, (the proper name is Fort Denison, an old convict lock-up for some of the very worst that were sent here), the Sydney harbour side residence that Australia’s Prime Minister uses when in the city, bays and cliffs. Oh – and you get to see sailing craft out for an enjoyable day especially if you pick a Wednesday afternoon or the weekend. This is one time when the journey is part of the day out. Indeed lots of visitors just catch the ferry there and back just for the harbour views and it’s a lot cheaper than the guided tours.
The Manly ferry is one of Sydney’s icons so much so that, when you board there is a sign saying: “Welcome aboard Sydney’s famous Manly ferry.” There is also a catamaran service which almost cuts the time in half but isn’t nearly as much fun. It also costs about 25 per cent more.
When you reach the wharf at Manly you are greeted by a number of fast food takeaways and there’s actually a hotel on the right – even before you reach the roadside. The fish shop of my youth has long gone, but I still maintain that it sold the biggest prawns in Sydney. We used to buy a couple and a bag of chips and watch the surfers when we got to Manly Beach. It’s all redeveloped now. To the right is the tourist information kiosk, manned most of the time, which has a selection of brochures about the town, the accommodation and the tours. (Don’t forget to collect the free Manly map.)
On the left is a small beach which leads to Oceanworld, a small aquarium where you can see sharks feeding, stingrays, turtles and other creatures of the sea. If you follow the walk around you will see metal circles in the pavement recording all the Manly residents who have competed in the history of the Olympic Games. These include those who competed at the previous two in London, Tom Richards in rugby union in 1908 and Warren Boyd in swimming in 1948.
To the east is another beach and this is where boats are moored out of the way of the dominating green and cream ferries. Look out over the water and most of what you see makes up the North Harbour Aquatic Reserve.
If you’re feeling fit, an hour’s walk will talk you to North Head; the point at the end of the harbour from which Sydneysiders gather on Boxing Day to see the yachts competing in the Sydney – Hobart yacht race leave. This used to be where the old quarantine station was (now no longer used) and a lot of North Head is now part of Sydney Harbour National Park. This means that health and safety rules now apply, so you can’t lie on the edge of the cliff faces as I used to do. Now there are paths, fencing and viewing areas. It’s also a good spot in July, if you’re lucky enough to be there when the whales are heading north.
Manly Town Hall surrounded by gum trees
Most people head up The Corso, a linking largely pedestrianised road that will take you up to the ocean beach. But before you stroll up, look at the red brick building on the left, partly shielded by gum trees. This is the town hall, not that spectacular in itself, but typical of an older style of architecture that could be seen in every major town and suburb up until about 50 years ago. They are all solid, strong buildings – almost what we might call Victorian – that seem to fit the tough image of Australians perfectly. In fact Manly was named right at the beginning of the convict period in 1788 by Captain Arthur Philip because the local aborigines impressed him with their manliness. Just like the Manly Museum, which is one of the finest regional museums. They also organise the Manly Festival each September which combines art, literature and music.
The walk up The Corso is only about 600 yards long and, again, you’ll find a variety of restaurants, (today there are over 100 catering to just about every sort of cuisine) and souvenir shops. Years ago this was the main shopping area and although the shops have expanded into parallel roads and arcades off it, it remains the tourist heart of the town.
When you reach the end, Manly Beach stretches ahead of you. Crossing the road, South Steyne to the right and North Steyne to the left, the feature, apart from the sandy beach, that hits you is the line of Norfolk pines that follow the contours of the road. These famous, tall trees have ‘guarded’ the beach for decades. As one of the major beaches in Sydney, it attracts large numbers of Sydneysiders and surfers at weekends and holiday times. Like all beaches in Australia though, it is strongly advised to swim between the flags and not to go too far out otherwise hunky Australian lifesavers (both men and women) will soon warn you not to stray.
As you would expect in any seaside resort, motels, hotels, apartments, backpackers motels and B&B’s are all available, so you can spend as much or as little as you like. Most people will come to look at the beaches, swim and make their way back to the centre. Those that stay longer might also visit the suburbs all the way up to Palm Beach (Home & Away is filmed up on the peninsular) or take one of the 75 minute tours of the area. There are recreational reserves all over the place where you have barbecue facilities, seating and views to gaze at such as at Manly Dam or Narrabeen Lakes. Further afield in Ku-ring-gai Chase national Park, there are reasonable chances of seeing wallabies and kangaroos at dusk.
And when you have decided to return to Sydney sit on the other side of the ferry and watch the different sights as you sail back to Circular Quay.