The supermodel of Sydney’s walking trails. There’s a reason why the Spit Bridge to Manly walk doesn’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.
This 10-kilometre walking trail that hugs the harbour captures everything that’s great about Sydney. It weaves through rainforest and bushland, past secluded beaches and bays, and finishes up in the popular seaside suburb of Manly.
This is one that’s been on my bucket list for many years and only recently was it scratched off. I wish I’d done it sooner. Yes, it’s a complete tourist thing to do. Yet, I still encourage every Australian, or citizen of the world, to lace up their sneakers and walk this incredibly diverse trail because it’s something special.
This is what you can expect and some tips for squeezing maximum juice out of the Manly to Spit Bridge lemon:
Which way is best? Spit Bridge to Manly OR Manly to Spit Bridge
Exactly the question I asked before setting off. All my desk research told me that it was better to go Spit Bridge to Manly, which is what we did. Yet, I think there’s pros and cons with both. If you finish in Manly there’s lots of great places to eat and re-fuel. Whereas if you finish at Spit Bridge the scenery is arguably better and therefore you’re leaving the best to last. Long story short, it doesn’t really matter.
Where exactly does it start?
If you’re starting at Spit Bridge, the trail kicks off from the east side of the bridge, wedged between Avona Crescent and Middle Harbour. If you’re starting at Manly, head west from the Manly Wharf and just hug the water. There’s a pedestrian path for a good kilometre.
Getting there and back
To get to Spit Bridge (or home from Spit Bridge), you’ll need to catch a bus. There’s a couple of different bus routes, so best let Transport NSW’s Public Transport Trip Planner do the heavy lifting and map out the best route from where you’re coming from/going to.
At the other end, there’s ferries regularly running between Manly Wharf and Circular Quay, which makes things easy and simple.
The path is at times questionable
The Spit Bridge to Manly walk is made up of a series of smaller trails. There’s no big expressway-type walking path for the full 10 kilometres. The ‘path’ is at varying points made up of pebbles, compressed earth, concrete, sand, steps carved out of rock – it’s full cross country. At times it’s even a narrow goat track that makes you question whether you’ve made a wrong turn. But it’s all well signposted, so you know you’re going in the right direction, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Allocate a good three to four hours
Stupidly we set off at 4pm (it took a lot longer to get to Spit Bridge by bus than what I thought), so we were always racing against the sun. Then, of course, I was stopping to take photos every, single second. Then I wanted to have a quick swim at Clontarf Beach. By the time we got to Manly the sun had well and truly set and we were seriously starving.
It should take three hours, but allocate four to be safe and unhurried, and if you’re an Olympic marathon walker I’m sure you could do it in 2.5 hours but where’s the fun in that.
Speaking of photos. Be warned that in that first hour you’ll be enthusiastically snapping everything. Holy shit, there’s a beach! A tree! Ocean the colour of emeralds! Then you realise that you’re going to be here all night at this pace. Not to mention photos do not do the scene justice. By the fifth-kilometre, it’s official, you’re over it. Your photo-snapping rate plummets. Maybe the odd cliff-top view, the odd beach gets a guernsey. But, for the most part, you’re now focused on the job at hand: walking.
The spiders are real
Like really fucking big and real. I’d spotted my first golden orb spider within 30 steps, which was when I realised it was going to be a long, hairy 10 kilometres. You get to a point where you accept that they’re everywhere. I stopped looking at the trees too closely. I could just feel their presence.
Then at one point Jude stopped mid-stride, eyes fixed above him and instructed me to walk really fast past him and not look up. I didn’t argue or investigate why.
Be prepared to get your shoes wet
Some of the beach crossings are prone to flooding at high tide, particularly Castle Rock Beach. At Forty Baskets Beach I was dawdling taking photos – see it never pays – when we noticed the tide was coming in hot. Sprinting to the other side of the inlet, we didn’t quite out run the ocean and finished the remaining two kilometres with wet shoes.
If it’s high tide and you don’t like getting your feet wet, you can detour up to the suburban roads.
Grotto Point – only if you’re serious
We’re suckers for a good adventure, so chose to do the bush-bashing detour to Grotto Point Lighthouse. Originally built to assist ships entering the harbour, the very white Grotto Point Lighthouse now stands behind an equally white picket fence. You can’t go into the lighthouse so there’s really not a lot to see. Personally, I didn’t feel the one-kilometre return detour was worth the leg wear.
As compensation, on the way to the tip of Grotto Point there’s some great viewpoints to see North and South Head facing off against one another. Mind you, there are lookouts further along the trail to see the same thing that doesn’t require a detour. Your call.
Historical points of interest
Aside from Grotto Point Lighthouse, there are a few other historical nuggets along the trail. Like the original Aboriginal rock engravings of fish, boomerang and kangaroos.
Knowing that there were few toilets along the walking trail definitely triggered some pre-walk anxiety. Although seeing how many spiders there were I made the decision early on to limit fluid intake and hold on. Your only real chance of finding a bathroom is at the beaches – Clontarf Beach, Reef Beach, Forty Baskets Beach, North Harbour Reserve and Fairlight Beach – and pray there’s no golden orbs at home.
Finish up with a big, cheesy pizza in Manly
By the end of the 10 kilometres, it was 8pm, I had aches in odd places, was grumpy and seriously starving. I literally staggered into Criniti’s – the first place I saw that served food that wasn’t McDonald’s – and ordered the first pizza my finger pointed to. It was gone within 3.5 minutes.
If you’re not crazungry there’s plenty of restaurants and ice cream joints in Manly to finish the walk with a feed and give you the opportunity to sift through the 1000+ photos you took, reminiscing about how magical the Manly to Spit Bridge walk is.