Sydney is rightly regarded as one of the world’s most charming cities, and it appears on many a traveller’s bucket list. What is often overlooked on that bucket list is a visit to the stunning northern beaches.
I first discovered them when I lived in Sydney thirty years ago. I have never been able to decide, not then, not now, even after a recent visit, which beach is my favourite, between Manly in the south and Palm Beach in the north. Frankly this is not a problem for someone stuck in the northern hemisphere as winter takes us through the cold dark nights. I know where I would rather be – toes in sand, staring out at the surf on any one of the sixteen northern beaches.
Sun-kissed and swell-bashed as they are, the beaches, coastal locations and impressive panoramic views will amaze you at every turn. Whatever your sport, activity or idea of downtime you will find it amidst this Northern Beach region of Sydney. From cricket in Manly, golf at Collaroy, surfing at Narrabeen, windsurfing off Mona Vale, fishing from Palm Beach, open-water swimming around Freshwater or paragliding above them all, the variations are endless.
I do urge you, whatever your itinerary, to make time to explore the area. And while I have previously blogged on some of the city’s more iconic locations (ref. Harbour Bridge celebrations & Opera House), I would rate a road trip along the northern beaches as highly as travelling to the often more reported on coastal regions of Australia (ref. my blog ‘Great Ocean Road’).
For a start, they are more accessible to visitors on a short itinerary. Manly’s beaches, home of the world’s first surfing championship (1964), is accessible by ferry, which runs from Circular Quay in downtown Sydney. It is also home to one of the most social and friendly open water swimming meet-ups (ref. my blog ‘Bold & Beautiful’).
Beachside cafes, bars and restaurants are scattered northwards as you drive along the coastal road from Freshwater, Dee Why, Collaroy and Narrabeen. Passing across the Warriewood and Mona Vale the smaller local beaches of Bungan, Newport, Bilgola, Avalon and Whale are less visited and have a more local ambiance.
Palm Beach, 41kms from Sydney, is a kite surfer’s paradise, with strong Tasman Sea surf, powerful winds and sweeping long golden sands. Behind this long beach, which stretches from village-styled Palm Beach to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse, the calmer protected Pittwater inlet appears like plate glass in comparison.
Standing high up at the lighthouse, with sprawling beaches towards Sydney in one direction, and an open water channel across to Broken Bay in the other, it is easy to forget that you are still close to Australia’s largest city, home to 20% of Australians.
The truth is these beaches still command as strong a ‘wow factor’ as they must have done on James Cook’s first arrival in 1788.