Explore one of Sydney Harbour’s most beautiful walking routes, the Spit to Manly Walk. It celebrates the contrast of a modern city against protected bushland.
The track hugs the coastline, offering expansive harbour views while juxtaposing harbour-side homes with Aboriginal sites. Finishing at one of Sydney’s most loved beaches, this is the walk to insist on for visitors, yet still offers surprises for even the most familiar local.
The Spit Bridge to Manly walk is the most well-known section of the Manly Scenic Walkway, opened in 1988. It passes through Sydney Harbour National Park, Council-managed bushland reserves and local streets.
There are 16 places of interest along the walk, listed below, worth pausing for the view or to learn more about Sydney’s living history. Click through to read more information on every stop and see the Manly to Spit Walk Map for all 16 locations.
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
Stop 13: Forty Baskets Beach
Stop 14: North Harbour Reserve
Stop 15: Fairlight House
Stop 16: Manly Wharf
Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria, was guest of honour at a sailors picnic at Clontarf Beach. Henry O’Farrell, an Irishman who may have been anti-Royal but more probably a bit mad, jumped out of the crowd and shot Prince Alfred in the back. Luckily for the Prince, the rubber braces he was wearing to hold up his trousers deflected the bullet and he survived. Henry wasn’t so lucky and was hanged.
Governor Phillip wanted to learn as much as possible from the Aboriginal people of New South Wales and found a staunch ally in Bennelong. A young man of 24 years born around North Harbour, Bennelong had never seen a boat larger than a small canoe when the First Fleet arrived in 1788. Five years later he would accompany Phillip back to England and meet King George before returning home. A round trip of 16,000km (10,000 miles) taking 2 years and 10 months; 18 months of which were on ships.
Try and imagine what the Cammeraigal Aboriginal people were thinking as they carved these boomerang and animal shapes into the stone over one thousand years ago. Perched high atop this sublime waterway with views into the open ocean, is this ritualistic engraving of a fish really just about a fish? Is the kangaroo a depiction of a food source or a totem of a Dreaming Ancestor who created and then traveled the land during creation?
Manly Scenic Walkway is a one way track. It can be walked in either direction, although these track notes are written from The Spit to Manly, walking west to east. The track starts at the northern end of Spit Bridge, and can be approached from either side of the road. There is parking and bus stops on both sides; if you come from the city you will be on the western side. If approaching from Manly, the eastern side. The walk finishes at Manly Wharf.
We always recommend catching public transport – after all, we’re tree-huggers at heart – but for this walk, you’d be mad not to.
From the city, buses depart regularly from Wynyard Station (Carrington Street, Stand A). Look for bus numbers including 178, 180 that take less than 30 minutes for a direct service to The Spit. For comparison, if departing from Central Station, you could catch a mix of trains and buses to The Spit for an average trip time of 45 minutes.
A really cool idea is to catch a private water taxi from Circular Quay, requesting drop off at the eastern side of Spit Bridge, near Sydney Harbour Kayaks. It’s a private marina, but they have allowed previous landings. It’s significantly more expensive than a bus, or a standard ferry, but if you’re after something a little fancy, or you have a group of walkers to share the cost, then it’s an absolutely amazing way to start the walk.
Catch the ferry back from Manly. It’s a delightful 30 minute ferry ride across the harbour to Circular Quay. Or 20 minutes if you pay slightly more for the privately operated Manly Fast Ferry. Note that your Opal card is not valid on this service… but you can buy beer. Decisions, decisions. A ferry trip is the perfect way to end your walk. Sit on the starboard (right) side for views of the route you’ve just walked, Middle Head and Taronga Zoo, or port (left) for views of North and South Heads and the eastern suburbs. Again for comparison, if returning to Central Station from Manly, you could catch a mix of ferry or bus then train, for an average trip time of 45 minutes – 1 hour. Check Transport NSW for detailed trip itineraries and latest public transport information.
A private water taxi from Circular Quay to The Spit simultaneously whisks you past the Harbour Bridge on the glittering harbour, and avoids dealing with some of Sydney’s busiest roads.
Image: Tourism Australia
Let’s assume you’re driving from Central Station near the city’s central business district. In theory, it’ll take about 25 minutes heading north over the Harbour Bridge to drive to The Spit (13km), or 35 minutes to get to Manly (17km – go over Spit Bridge and keep going). Of course, Sydney traffic can be hell – Military Rd is a killer – so in peak times it may take much longer. Refer to Google Maps for exact details from your address.
While there is plenty of parking at The Spit – 206 spaces on the west side, 42 spaces on the east – it’s all pre-paid by the hour. Council inspectors enforce the ‘Pay and Display’ system where you purchase a ticket from machines at the carpark, displaying it on your dashboard. Keep a close watch on the time! A 25 minute bus ride will get you back to The Spit from Manly. Lots of bus routes go via Spit Bridge (including 143, 144 and more), leaving from Belgrave Street, Stand D (just up from the ferry wharf).
If you want to park at Manly then catch a bus to The Spit to start your walk, the tricky thing is finding free or even low-cost all-day parking. Private company, Secure Parking, operate the carpark right at Manly Wharf, underneath Aldi. It can be expensive – $59 for more than three hours (weekdays and weekends) – so take advantage of “Early Bird Parking” on weekdays only. This will cost $35 ($25 if you book ahead online), as long as you arrive between 7:00am – 9:30am and leave between 4:00pm – 7:00pm. There’s another Secure Parking at 25 Darley Road, maximum $30 weekdays and weekends. Find more here. The four council-run car parks are free for the first two hours but you’ll definitely be longer than that, so risk spending up to $41 for the full day. Those car parks are in Central Avenue, Whistler Street and Wentworth Street. Check Northern Beaches Council carpark information.
While Spit Bridge is less than 5km from Manly by road, heavy traffic could see the 9 minute drive becoming much longer – not great for a taxi fare but okay if you’re carpooling.
For more than 130,000 daily commuters, Spit Bridge is the essential link between Sydney’s northern beaches and the city. But due to its humble height, many boats simply can’t pass underneath unless the bridge is open. Whether you’re on foot or driving, expect a delay during opening times. Weekday openings are 10:15am, 11:15am, 1:15pm and 2:15pm. On weekends and public holidays, the bridge opens 8:30am, 10:00am, 11:30am, 2:30pm and 4:30pm, with more openings both weekday and weekend evenings. For the latest, check with Roads & Maritime.
SELF GUIDED WALK
Hear all the stories that make this walk so fascinating – at your leisure! Coming Soon.
MANLY TO SPIT WALK MAP
Easy-to-read PDF map
FULL DAY GUIDED WALK
Enjoy an exclusive guided experience with one of our passionate guides.