This is Stop 12 on the Spit to Manly Walk as marked on the Manly to Spit Walk Map.

Reef Beach is a Guringai (Kur-ring-gai) Resting Place and is a declared Aboriginal Place by the NSW Govt. Aboriginal remains, originally taken from here and Forty Baskets Beach for display in museums, were reburied here in a Return to Country ceremony in 2005. The location of the burial site and neighbouring rock art has not been made public.

Reef Beach is the perfect campsite, and has been since sea levels rose to their current position around 10,000 years ago. It has fresh water trickling down behind it, it is shallow and the rock ledges at either end were home to oysters, cockles and other shellfish. The remains of thousands of years of Aboriginal meals can be seen in the midden that stretches the length of the beach. Mostly covered in sand and overgrown with grass, it lies at the back of the beach, underneath and just to the right of the walking track.

There’s a plaque in the form of a fish, commemorating the midden that stretches the length of this beach. It reads: “You are standing on the edge of a midden, the remains of many meals of shellfish, left by the indigenous people who lived here before white settlement. Some fragments are the remains of species no longer found in these waters. Men and women dived for shellfish or collected them at low tide. Fish were caught from the shore or from canoes, using a spear or a shell hook and line.”

The first Europeans to own the land were the Hely family, who were granted the land in 1834 but made no changes to it. The first non Aboriginal people to camp here were fisherman in the 1880’s, who, like at Crater Cove, built their shacks from driftwood and salvaged iron sheets. Reef Beach remained a shack community, referred to as the Pirates Camp by many locals, through to 1975 when it became part of the newly formed Sydney Harbour National Park. By 1976 it was officially recognised as a nudist beach, as it had been popular for nude swimmers for nearly 50 years by some accounts. Locals protested and in 1996 it was declared illegal to bathe or swim naked at Reef Beach.

Well-known rugby league player, commentator and local resident, Rex Mossop, famously said “”I don't think the male genitals or the female genitals should be rammed down people's throats … to use a colloquialism…”

Early walkers on this track, officially opened in 1988, recall being greeted with a cheery wave and a warm “hello” by stark naked beachgoers as they passed by.

Read more about the Spit to Manly Walk and download the Manly to Spit Walk Map. 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


Ian Wells grew up in Sydney surrounded by Cronulla surf beaches, Port Hacking and Royal National Park, developing a love of the outdoors from an early age.

After nearly a decade travelling the world, he returned home to realise his own backyard was as extraordinary as the places he‘d seen.

With the advantage of local knowledge and a belief that the best natural beauty can only be experienced by foot, he founded Sydney Coast Walks in 2009.

Sydney Coast Walks also provides supervised hikes for the Duke of Ed Award. Coming soon, Ian will co-host new podcast This Hiking Life with his wife Tara Wells.

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