February 1, 2021
How to get to Reef Beach
Walking from Dobroyd Head, the track to Reef Beach is typical coastal sandstone heath, where banksia, grevillea and grass trees abound.
At Reef Beach, the boardwalk runs parallel to the sand, offering a resting spot halfway along with views over the harbour and Manly Cove.
If you want a close-up of the midden, head down the stairs onto the usually tranquil beach. Return to this sole access point to continue on the walking track.
Parking at Reef Beach
If you wish to drive and park nearby, then the closest free street parking to Reef Beach is at the end of Beatty Street, Balgowlah Heights (or try the end of Geddes Street as it joins up with Beatty Street).
If approaching from Beatty Street, soon after entering the bush, turn left on to another track heading towards the water, rather than continuing straight ahead. At the T-intersection, turn right and you'll come across Reef Beach in a few minutes.
Reef Beach Sydney
Rest here and join the spirits of people, past and present who have rested here also.
Yet time has played out uncomfortable truths of who is allowed here, undisturbed.
Evidence of millenia of use by Aboriginal people includes a midden stretching nearly the length of the beach, with oysters, cockles and shellfish sourced from the rock ledges. Today, the midden is mostly covered by grass. (Compare this midden to the one near Fisher Bay, or the Jibbon midden in Royal National Park).
A permanent freshwater stream (near the stairs), the sheltered surrounds and tools found in the midden, also provide evidence that Reef Beach was an Aboriginal campsite.
But as the system of Aboriginal land ownership was so different to western concepts, it was summarily dismissed. From 1788, the British Crown believed itself to have rightfully claimed “New South Wales”. It then granted the land around Reef Beach to the Hely family in 1834.
Reef Beach’s shack community, known as the Pirates Camp to locals, remained until 1975 when it became part of the newly formed Sydney Harbour National Park.
Repatriation of Aboriginal Remains
Meanwhile, Aboriginal people were unable to rest here, even in death. In shockingly common practice til the 1940s, remains of Aboriginal people were removed without permission from graves, hospitals, and prisons to be housed in local and international museums, anatomy collections and private ownership.
Reef Beach is now a declared Aboriginal Place of the Gai-mariagal people, protected by NSW law in recognition that Aboriginal sites and places are culturally significant.
Clothing No Longer Optional
Recent history positions Reef Beach as an approved nudist beach from 1976. Early walkers on the track, officially opened in 1988, recall being greeted by naked beachgoers as they passed by.
Locals protested and in 1996 it became illegal to swim nude.
Reef Beach Toilets
The toilets at Reef Beach are old (but perfectly adequate). If you're walking from The Spit to Manly, there are much nicer ones at Forty Baskets Beach, ten minutes along the track.
Where to go next on the Spit to Manly Walk
Continue ten minutes along the main track to reach Forty Baskets Beach.
Read more about the Spit to Manly Walk.
Jump to any stop by clicking on the name below.
Stop 1: Ellery’s Punt Reserve
Stop 2: Fisher Bay ‘Midden’
Stop 3: Fisher Bay Houseboat
Stop 4: Sandy Bay, Hawkesbury Sandstone
Stop 5: Clontarf Reserve
Stop 6: Clontarf Pumping Station
Stop 7: Castle Rock Beach
Stop 8: Grotto Point Lighthouse
Stop 9: Grotto Point Aboriginal Engraving Site
Stop 10: Crater Cove
Stop 11: Dobroyd Head
Stop 12: Reef Beach – you are currently on this page
Stop 13: Forty Baskets Beach
Stop 14: North Harbour Reserve
Stop 15: Fairlight House
Stop 16: Manly Wharf
Image courtesy of Hamilton Lund, Destination NSW