In 2019 a bunch of Sydney councils and other government organisations managed to cooperate for long enough to set up the Bondi to Manly walk – an 80km walk between Sydney’s two most famous beaches.
We’ve done sections of this walk over the years, individually, together, and with others. How good is it really? And which bits are the best?
I’ll break it down into sections – the whole thing is 80km, each of these sections works as a day walk, some longer than others.
Coogee to Bondi
One of the best parts of this walk is not even part of it. Probably because Bondi is more famous than Coogee. We almost always start at Coogee Beach as the clifftop walk to Bondi (about 6km) is absolutely spectactular. And it even includes the famous Bondi to Bronte walk that becomes the Sculpture by the Sea three weeks of the year.
Bondi to Watsons Bay
There is no start/finish sign in Bondi. But the walk officially starts at the Bondi pavilion, in the middle of Bondi beach. Sadly the very first part is one of the worst parts of the walk – straight up the hill on the main road. Why? Because the land next to the coast has been nicked by the local golf course. But once you get to the top of the hill, the rest of the walk to Watson’s Bay Wharf is amazing – on top of the cliffs with views out to sea – whales if you are there at the right time of year.
The Gap and the section around South Head to Watsons Bay have sobering reminders that this is well known as the suicide capital of Sydney, but still spectacular views at every turn. And beautiful sandstone cliffs everywhere.
Watsons Bay to Circular Quay
From Watsons Bay to the city is a tour of Sydney’s most expensive real estate, with occasional breaks for beautiful bushwalks (Nielson Park to Rose Bay is particularly beautiful). Around Double Bay and Point Piper you walk past (the very closed gates of) some of the most expensive houses in Australia.
And this section has quite a few spectacular harbour beaches with beautiful people sunbathing at any time of the year.
The last few kilometres goes around Mrs Macquaries Chair, the Botanic Gardens and the Opera House – a pretty special tour of Sydney by the water.
Circular Quay to Balmoral Beach
This part starts with a walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge – despite being next to the road, this is a spectacular bridge to walk across. The next short section is fairly suburban, through some nice old parts of the North Shore, until you get to the Cremorne Point reserve, and the best part of the walk really starts. From here until Balmoral Beach, you are almost entirely walking along the harbour’s edge, often in National Park, and always with spectacular views.
We do this part of the walk (from Cremorne Point) often, and love to stop for a snack at Bradley’s Head (BYO), at Chowder Bay (a few cafes) and often a seal to spot, and pause for contemplation at a myriad of places along the way. Along the way there are several harbour beaches, with Chowder Bay and Balmoral being quite spectacular and well-known.
Balmoral also has a wide selection of cafes and restaurants, including one of the best fish and chip shops in Sydney.
There is one small annoying part – from Mosman Wharf to Sirius Cove beach goes very steeply up and over the headland.
Spit Bridge to Manly Wharf
The walk from the Spit Bridge to Manly is one of the best walks I’ve done anywhere in the world. It’s around 10km and it has everything – bushland, ferns, aboriginal rock carvings, amazing flowers and views out to sea and back to Sydney. There are yet more harbour beaches, rockpools, views of ferries, and a huge variety of cafes, restaurants, and icecream options once you get to Manly.
Manly Wharf to Manly
This could be about a 300m walk, but the walk is set up to take you all the way to North Head – past some more beautiful harbour beaches and to some more spectacular sandstone cliffs. The vegetation up here is quite stunted, as the winds are strong. And once again, at the right time of year, you will almost certainly spot some whales.
There are yet more beaches, this time a couple of harbour beaches and finally the surf beach of Manly.
Best 10km section – definitely the Spit to Manly – it has every kind of highlight you can imagine.
Best real estate section – Rose Bay to the Opera House – the most expensive real estate in Sydney, although parts of Mosman are starting to get up there.
Best bush section – from Clontarf to Fairlight is pretty amazing. But so are Cremorne Point to Mosman Wharf and Bradley’s Head to Chowder Bay, and even the quite short section between Nielson Park and Rose Bay.
Best views – I think the walk around Cremorne Point is fabulous. But Bradleys Head is also stunning. And of course if you are a fan of the deep ocean, almost all of the section from Bondi to Watsons Bay (and before Bondi from Coogee) has magnificent views out to sea from the clifftops.
Best beach – Chowder Bay is my favourite – not as busy as Balmoral, but some amazing snorkelling, with resident sea dragons. Every section has a place to swim, if it’s a hot day.
Best wildlife – on a quiet day, bush sections will have water dragons. And anywhere near a cafe is likely to have a kookaburra. But the highlight for me is the resident seal at Chowder Bay, which has taken ownership of the marine refuelling wharf.
Most skippable section – Balmoral to the Spit (I’ve never actually done this one!), but I would also skip past Bondi golf course, and parts of Potts Point unless you are a completionist.
Best add-on – Bondi to Clovelly is also spectactular, and makes a great addition after Bondi.
And finally thanks to all the people we’ve walked bits of this with over the years, especially Helen and Eilis who did the full tour in 2020.