Many say that Manly on the northern shore is a better beach than Bondi, but opinions are divided, and there is no right or wrong. Where Bondi is a beautiful curved beach in a bay setting with its village setting behind it, Manly is straighter and directly on the open ocean with tall Norfolk Island pine trees lining the beach. Both are stunning, with plenty of white sand, great surfing and swimming, and the beach esplanades offering everything from an ice cream to a glass of cold beer.
Manly stretches for some two kilometers, with beaches at either end, each offering a little walk and another scenic bay: Queenscliff Beach to the north just across the creek and little Shelly Beach to the south. If you are after a harder walk, a hike from Manly toward Sydney along the coastline of the harbor, the Manly to Spit Bridge Walk, offers one of the most beautiful walks in Sydney, but this is a three- to four-hour trek, which you can either take on in its entirety or split into smaller sections. Some of the section through the Sydney Harbour National Park can be quite steep and hard, whereas others are an easy saunter. Bus 143/144 follows roughly the same route, so you can catch that back at any time. For details of the various sections of the walk, have a look at www.wildwalks.com to plan ahead.
If jazz and beach are your perfect combination, then the annual Manly Jazz festival is for you. Having been a fixed occasion on the calendar since 1977, Manly Jazz has a rich history of dishing up some of the best live jazz performances from across Australia and around the world. Taking place usually over a long October weekend, this is an iconic event on the Australian music scene and is firmly positioned as Sydney’s biggest celebration of all things jazz. Check the dates before you go.
Manly does not only beach and music, but also beach and art. Since 1994, the Manly Arts Festival has brought together art as diverse as the ocean and sky over a long weekend in September. From photography competitions and fine art exhibitions to dance demonstrations and drawing workshops, there are events to cater to all tastes.
To have a look past the beach and under the waves, check out Manly Sea Life Sanctuary (West Esplanade, Manly, tel. 02/8251-7877, daily 10am-5:30pm, from adult $16.80, child $8.40, family $47). This is a lovely aquarium-cum-rescue center where the staff not only successfully breed animals in captivity, but also nurture sick wild animals back to health before releasing them again. There is a colony of little penguins (Eudyptula minor), an exhibit of everything that swims in Sydney Harbour (from sea horses to octopus to sharks), and an underwater shark tunnel. You can even jump into the aquarium and go for a shark dive (from $155 for a certified dive, $216 for an introductory dive, overall length 2.5 hours).
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef.