Throw it back to two years ago and I was an excitable nineteen year old packing my bags and researching everything I possibly could about Australia. I had a list as long as my arm of all the places I wanted to go, things I wanted to do and places I wanted to see; the prospect for adventure was exhilarating. I was going travelling.
From the eight months I spent in Australia (not nearly long enough), two months were spent with family living in Freshwater. Haven’t heard of it? Neither have most travellers. Freshwater is one of Sydney’s Northern Beaches, and I think they often go a miss.
Everyone has heard of Bondi Beach. You’ll probably have seen it plastered over postcards and watched surfers be rescued from rip tides or worse by the famous Bondi rescue team on your televisions. It’s idyllic blue waters and long stretch of golden sand, not to mention the Bondi pools found nestled against the cliff edge, really does make this beach a pretty sight to see.
But what about all the other beaches? Sydney is after all surrounded by water! And having lived basically as a local in Freshie the beaches became home to me. So take a minute to step away from the typical tourist destinations and crowded beaches and feast your eyes on my guide to Sydney’s (often overlooked) Northern Beaches.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, Manly beach seems a good place to start. It is the gateway to and first of Sydney’s Northern Beaches and therefore the most well known. You can reach Manly easily by getting a thirty minute ferry from Circular Quay. Honesty, even if you aren’t interested in visiting the beach itself, the ferry ride is well worth the trip and gives gorgeous views of the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. Seriously, take a look:
Manly, as with all the Northern Beaches, has an incredibly laid back vibe which I fell for instantly. While Manly is still a popular beach it’s well worth the stop and renowned for it’s surfing. You can take lessons at Manly and I was also lucky enough to be there at the same time as the Australian Open of Surfing – definitely worth a visit if you’re around. You can check out their website here.
Things to do at Manly? There are two walking routes I would definitely recommend. The first is the Manly to Spit Bridge walk which winds along the coast passing some secluded beach spots, bays and lush bushland, finishing near Mosman where you can get a bus ride back to Manly. The second is from Manly to North Head. This route takes you first to Shelly Beach, a lovely little protected marine reserve which is perfect for a spot of snorkelling. The trail then winds up to North Head whose best time for a trip is June to July or August to October: whale watching season! So grab your binoculars and climb your way up to the top. The views of the city from across the ocean are equally as breathtaking.
Freshwater (or Freshie to the locals) was the beach on my doorstep. It’s next up the coast from Manly and though much smaller it is, in my opinion, more beautiful.
Freshie is much less touristy and the ideal location to sit back and relax. Laying on the shore and watching the waves crash over and over is memorising, though don’t be fooled; they are much larger than they look! The first day I landed in Australia I headed down to this beach for a sunbathe and a swim. Though I started the day with a nose piercing several large waves over my head later I was nose piercing-less. They are fierce. Though of course this also makes Freshie another ideal surfing spot so grab your boards and catch a wave.
To the left of the beach walking across the rocks leads you past the seawater pool, packed at the weekends but a great place for a swim guaranteed to not vanish your piercings. Continue clambering around the rocks and you’ll come to Sydney’s next Northern Beach: Curl Curl.
Curl Curl Beach
Is anyone noticing that these beach names are becoming more and more fairy tale like? The beaches follow perfect sync, each one as dreamy as the next. I spent quite a lot of time at Curl Curl as I enjoyed the walk from Freshie and, it being closer and much quieter than Manly, was ideal for a change of scenery.
Curl Curl is also one of Sydney’s best surfing beaches (are you noticing a trend?!) and is around 1.2km long. Down the south end of the beach is a gorgeous little beachfront cafe called ‘Gusto on the Beach’ which is definitely worth a stop. I went there with my Aunt for breakfast on my last day in Australia and the food was almost almost as good as the view.
Skipping a few of the Northern Beaches (come on, we’d be here all day otherwise) takes us up to Narrabeen. I came here one day with my two little cousins and this beach was perfect for them. There is a lagoon by the bridge which is the ideal spot for a swim; it has still, clear waters and little shiny fishies swimming around by your toes.
The other side of the lagoon and you’ll be at the beach, again idyllic for surfing, so whether you’re after a relaxing, gentle swim or another crazy day surfing this beach has got something for everyone.
Last, but certainly not least, is Palm Beach. This is the most northern beach on the peninsular and is where my Aunt and Uncle got married (aww). I headed up to Palm Beach on Australia Day 2015, which unfortunately was rainy and horrible and grey and unlike any other day I spent in Aus. However, the views of the beach were still priceless and you could only imagine how gorgeous it would look on a sunny day.
There is a walk up to Barrenjoey Head Lighthouse (you may even recognise it from Home And Away) which is an iconic attraction and a must see. Walking up to the lighthouse is a bit of a climb, but the panoramic views from the top looking back down over all of the Northern Beaches and the surrounding Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park are worth it.
All in all? The Northern Beaches are definitely worth a stop. You will find a lot of the same people everywhere along the Northern Beaches; there’s an 80% chance you’ll have bleach blonde hair (even I did at the time) and you’ll probably will be wearing something nautical as you stroll back along the beach front from your morning yoga class, latte in one hand, daydreaming of your afternoon surfing plans. There’s definitely a Northern Beach type.
But regardless of which beach you choose (though of course I’d recommend all), I guarantee you’ll fall for the natural beauty, laid back vibe and surf culture that I fell for. Australia really did steal my heart.