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Winter Walking

Updated: Jan 29

Sydneysiders are so lucky to have mild winters
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Winter in Sydney be like
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Calm day on Middle Harbour
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Looking at how the other half live

When its winter, you think of cold temperatures, rainy days, dark afternoons, and even snow… but not in Sydney! Winter doesn’t mean that you can’t go out and do anything; in fact, the weather had been even better than the summer in January and February (La Niña ruined that for us), so that meant it was time to do some walking. For this trip, we thought a day walking in July on the North side of the harbour would be good, starting at the Spit Bridge in Mosman and ending up in Manly. We caught a bus from Wynyard in Sydney’s CBD, crossed over the iconic Harbour Bridge and headed North into some of Sydney’s more exclusive neighbourhoods. Once of the suburbs, Mosman, is well known for its luxury homes, wealthy residents and sea views that the rest of us can only imagine having every day. The good thing is, you can have it every day in Sydney, and with only the price of a bus ticket! The Spit Bridge, named not after that disgusting habit but instead the ‘spit’ of land that sticks out in Middle Harbour, was built in 1958 and crosses over a beautiful part of Sydney Harbour from Mosman to Seaforth. The bridge doesn’t look like much, just plain old concrete and steel, and nothing compared so some of the other bridges in this city. While it is every driver’s bane during peak hour, it also has a curious secret – it lifts up in the middle. It’s rare to see a bridge like this, where one ‘arm’ lifts up to a really steep angle, completely stopping traffic both directions, allowing tall boats to go through at scheduled times of the day. The reason why drivers hate it is because of the opening, which causes traffic to bank up for more than 15 minutes before returning to a normal flow. There are also speed cameras placed on either side of the bridge, getting you when you go down. It was built to replace a punt (first hand pulled and later steam) that crossed the waterway, listed on the heritage and conservation list for NSW 2003, and was planned to be superseded by a $3b tunnel in 2014, which has since fallen through. This is where we would start our 10km walk to Manly. We hopped off the bus, crossed the bridge (without seeing it open unfortunately), and joined the path along Middle Harbour. Starting was hard, not because of the difficulty of the walk, but because it’s such a beautiful spot! Houses holding on to very steep land for the best view, which is the sparkling water of the harbour, edged by lush parklands on either side, and boats bobbing gently on its surface. There were people out and about, playing with dogs, having picnics, and just enjoy a beautiful Sydney weekend.

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The Spit to Manly walk is picturesque

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Castle Rock Beach

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Hornby Lighthouse at Watson's Bay

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Walking from The Spit to Manly
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Had to get one in with that view

We walked past Clontarf beach and then through Clontarf Reserve, which is a wonderful place for a gathering on a sunny weekend, and today it was packed. It may have been winter, but everyone was in summer clothes, having BBQs, taking a dip in the water even, so don’t bother telling anyone it what season it was! If you’re worried about sharks and other nasties, Clontarf beach is netted, like some other harbour beaches, so you can swim worry-free. We followed the path around towards Castle Rock Beach, which is a stunning little cove with a beach. There wouldn’t be room for a large family even, but it makes a great little spot, half hidden away from the path and just about everything else. It also has amazing views across the harbour, to huge houses made of glass, while boats cruise past you on the calm Middle Harbour waters. You could honestly believe you were somewhere on the Mediterranean. Now, I know I have mentioned Middle Harbour a few times, so I think I need to explain what it actually is. Everyone knows Sydney Harbour, iconic, beautiful, traversed by The Bridge and watched by The House. What makes the harbour a harbour are the heads, North and South respectively, which open it up to the Pacific Ocean. Just after this opening, a headland (Middle Harbour) splits the harbour into two, one heading towards the CBD, the other curving up North West towards Mosman, Castlecrag and Castle Cove, and eventually feeding into the Garigal National Park. Basically though, anything on Middle Harbour is expensive and exclusive, somewhere I could never afford to live, and only come to when doing walks like this. That said, it is a lovely part of the city… hence why there is the demand to live here. We didn’t stop for a swim at the beach, as we came for walking not dipping, and walked on to see the Aboriginal Carvings at Grotto Point, passing through what looked like and felt like a rainforest – ferns covered the ground while eucalypts soared high into the sky. Back up the top of the hill at the carvings, you can see rock carvings of fish, kangaroos, and people, all chiselled into the stone by the First Nations people. I’m not sure how old they are, or whether they have even been dated, but they would be at least 200 years old and most likely into the 1,000s, as people have been living in the Sydney basin for a very, very long time.

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View of the city over Middle Head

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What a view!

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Just a lizard on a rock waiting for food

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A bit of a jungle on Sydney harbour
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Some of the locals watching us go by

Back on the path after seeing the carvings and taking a few pictures, we stopped at Dobroyd Head for a look at Manly. This was out first glimpse of Manly from our walk, and it is always exciting to see the finishing point, even if we were only half way there. Not only could you see the harbour suburb peeking from around the corner, but you got the most stunning view of the Heads, ferries going back and forth from the city, as well as the CBD itself poking out over the big outcropping of Middle Harbour. From this high vantage point, you can also see Hornby Lighthouse and Watson’s Bay way off on South Head. We figured this was the best view of the whole walk and so stopped for some snacks and water. The view was more than 180 degrees and it was hard to choose what to look at; left was Manly, both harbour beach and on the ocean beach on the other side of the peninsula, ferries and boats in the middle, and Watson's bay to the right. The picnic was promptly interrupted by a large orange lizard who had snuck up to us and appeared to be staring at our food (we weren’t looking at the ground obviously!). I decided to offer some apple, as I didn’t have any insects handy (and assumed fruit was a safe bet), and he ate it right out of my hands! Although he had quite the Velociraptor look about him, with very intense eyes and ridges going down the back of his head and neck, he was calm, quiet, and almost friendly (for a lizard). I left another piece for him, took a few pics, and then continued on. We walked past another beautiful and secluded beach with netting called Forty Baskets Beach, making mental notes to make sure we come back for a swim. From here, not only do you have a place to swim, but also a sweeping view of the harbour. We weren’t far away from Manly, and so we rushed on, eager for lunch and beer. A little patch of green that’s always busy is the North Harbour Reserve, but it also has a dangerous little secret. The tide waters rush up into the little inlet, coming in so quickly and unbelievably that it catches many walkers out, making them scramble for the rocks, run backwards to the safety of the sand, or get wet feet and a picture taken of them by onlookers. I made it across, but some of the people we were walking with weren’t so lucky (including my wife). I tried to warn her, but the water comes in so quickly and the path is pretty much rocks and sand. Luckily, she didn’t get too wet and joined me soon enough. Our marriage will survive.

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Fisherman in Manly

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Just one of the many coves in Sydneyt Harbour

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Looking out from Dobroyd Head

We walked the last kilometre towards Manly, admiring the strip of harbour beach and the towering Norfolk Island Pines that line it. It is a beautiful spot here, with a harbour beach on one side and the sweeping ocean beach on another. The downside to Manly to is that it’s very popular. This may not be a negative for some people, but not being able to walk in a straight line, queues for every food outlet or tables at a pub, is a little annoying for me. Anyway, it had been a good walk and it was time to eat and relax. Unsure of what to eat and where to go, we grabbed a beer at the Hotel Steyne, a grand old pub right on the esplanade and opposite the beach, before getting some takeaway fish and chips to eat on the grass (as the pub was super busy). The only thing left to do was get a ferry back to the city, which I always enjoy doing. While on the ferry, we planned another walk along the coast, so long as this wonderful winter weather held out.

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Coogee Surf Life Saving Club

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Coogee Beach from the South

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Rock fisherman playing a dangerous game

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Danger danger
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Swim, it's safe, don't worry

As it turned out, July and August were very mild, and very sunny too, and we were taking full advantage of it - time to do another Winter walk in the city! We had already walked Rose Bay to Watson’s Bay, the Spit the Manly walk, as well as Bondi to Coogee on a number of occasions, so we this time it was the next leg of that coastal walk – Coogee to Little Bay. As it was a sunny Saturday, and also that our finishing point was way past our starting point, we decided to use public transport – parking in Sydney, especially anywhere near the popular beaches is a nightmare (and rarely free). The 370 bus took us straight from our front doorstep and dropped us off across the road from Coogee Beach. Even though it was August, the beach was busy - people were swimming and surfing, as well as having picnics and BBQs on the grassy area. A great thing about so many of these public spaces, like beaches and campsites, is that you get free electric barbecues to use – they are cleaned regularly by the council, with most people leaving them clean after use as well. The cafes were busy, so were the fast-food joints and the pubs, but we headed straight for the boulevard on the beach and the start of the walk. The starting point is the Coogee Surf Life Saving Club that sits out on a little rocky outcropping, and has a great view back over the beach. Right underneath the club is the Ross Jones Rockpool, which was built in the 1940s, and is one of many ocean pools in the city. This pool has low walls separating the pool from the surf, but it does have small castle-like concrete battlements to break up the waves before they hit the pool. Small but cute, this is popular spot for swimmers of all ages. If you like rock pools where you can either swim in the sheltered pool, or have free access to the ocean to jump in, there are so many around Sydney – Bronte is another (yet extremely popular and often very crowded) option, but others include Freshwater (a real favourite of mine), Cronulla, as well as Clovelly.

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The cliffs at Malabar Headland National Park

Malabar Headland National Park
Rock formations made by wind and rain

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Rugged up and enjoying the day

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Little Bay beach
Malabar Headland National Park rock pool swimming
Another great rock pool in Sydney

We started the walk in earnest after a few photos and time admiring the view from the Surf Life Saving Club, heading up the hill and along the set path. Within minutes you could easily forget you were in the city – wide blue ocean to your left, green shrubbery all around, and an occasional large house peeking out above the tree line to your right. All of the coastline has huge rocky cliffs, sometimes so high you could feel a little vertigo, and at other times with easy access to the water. There are numerous signs around here along the path, warning rock fisherman of the dangers of their sport, as well as warning people in general not to go too close to the edge of the cliff. I even saw a sign which had totalled up deaths in the area, written in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean (as well as in English). Yet, people continue to not read the signs, get ever closer to the cliffs (for fishing or selfies), and then fall and die or get seriously injured. We continued on and walked past more rock pools, and then to the headland just before Maroubra Beach. These cliffs are quite high, and although most people don’t realise, have submerged caves underneath them. You would only really know this if you had been scuba diving, which I have. It’s a great location, as it’s so close to the beach, not far from Sydney Harbour, and the best part of it is that there is a colony of Grey Nurse Sharks here. I know what you’re thinking, scuba diving with sharks, isn’t that dangerous? Well, not these ones – Grey Nurse sharks are the ones you see in aquariums, slowly circling around and looking bored, and are pretty much harmless to humans as they are so unbothered. Sharks are sorely understood, which causes fear and hunting, rather than education and appreciation; over a third of shark species are under threat of extinction around the world because of this. Anyway, back to the beach and the walk! Maroubra beach starts from a high cliff on the North side, and comes down into a large crescent-shaped flat of sand, spotted with rocky outcrops which break up some of the surf for swimmers. It’s a known surfers beach because its so open and has plenty of waves. The South side of the beach turns a little wilder, with the buildings ending and wild grasses and the more natural beach takes over. There is so much space here, as it’s not as popular as Bondi or Coogee, and is a lovely spot for swimming, surfing, picnicking and just enjoying the weather. An interesting thing about Maroubra is the Rubik’s Cube artwork. It appeared mysteriously overnight in 2009, when someone came in and painted over a concrete stormwater drain, making it the largest Rubik’s Cube in the world (fact check if you want… I just made that up). It was there until 2023, when someone came and repainted the cube and solved the puzzle, adding more mystery to it. The thing that is making people think is that the original cube was not actually solvable!

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Maroubra Beach looking South
Malabar Maroubra beach sunny sand sun australia sydney
So many beaches...

Malabar Maroubra beach sunny sand sun australia sydney
Maroubra and the now solved Rubik's Cube
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Still in the city... can you believe it?
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A spot of golf (with an ocean view)

We continued walking past South Maroubra and another rockpool, and up into the Malabar Headland National Park, a big rocky outcropping between Maroubra and Malabar beaches. On the way, there were a couple of interesting signs: South Maroubra had one that warned against ‘strong currents, unexpected large waves, shallow water, drop off, and… snakes!’ Still want to swim in Sydney? This part of walk had walkways built just above the rock, protecting and environment while making it nice and easy to walk. There were rock fisherman everywhere down below, ignoring the rough waves pounding the coast, hoping to catch dinner (and not get washed off). Walking right onto Boora Point, the rick stood high over the water and reminded of part of the Royal National Park in Sydney. The coast of Australia is a beautiful and unique sight, and the sandstone cliffs are unique. With wind and water erosion, from both rain and the ocean, the soft cliffs are carved and sculpted into the most interesting shapes. The cliffs tend to look like they have a big bite taken out of them, with the parts closest to the waterline being protected from the bigger waves, and the top turning into an overhang that will eventually fall into the sea below. One rock formation that we passed had the most interesting pattern carved into it, caused naturally by the wind and rain, and looked like a beehive, or even a sandstone-garden maze. Sitting on top of one of these outcroppings, overlooking the deep blue sea is amazing – fresh salty air in your face, the waves crashing below, and the noise of the city far behind you. Continuing on down and past little Malabar beach (and another rockpool), we walked up and through Randwick golf course and down to our last beach, Little Bay. This small, cute beach is beautiful, calm and inviting. Despite the freak shark attack here in February 2022, I would still come here for a swim. We didn’t swim today though, and feeling a little tired from the walk, decided to go and have some brunch instead. With a coffee and some fish and chips, we felt so much better and refreshed, nearly ready to head back the other way and walk to Coogee! We got the bus home instead, but had enjoyed the walk thoroughly. Sydney is so lucky to have mild winters, it just makes life more liveable and more enjoyable. I sometime miss the colder, European winters, and as much as I like snow, I don’t think I could handle it for 6 months of the year before seeing grass or being able to go to the beach. What a wonderful Winter - sun, sand and sea!

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Stunning Sydney!

Remember to also follow me on Instagram at:

MyUncleTravellingMatt. February 2022.


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