Two weeks ago, on the 380 bus from Watson’s Bay to Bondi, there was an old Swedish man who told me that the best beach in Sydney is on the north side. He asked, “Have you ever done the Manly to Spit Bridge walk?” I’ve never even heard of it.
At the time, the hidden beach he talked about didn’t really stick with me. Everyone’s got their perfect beach. It’s always (supposedly) hidden, and (apparently) the most beautiful, but I’m up for an adventure. So I packed cheese and biscuits, two apricots, peanut butter sandwiches, and chocolates. Murray brought the smoked mussels, apples, and a nice bottle of bubbly. We were pretty amused with ourselves.
If you look up Washaway Beach on a suburban Sydney map, you’ll find it. It’s right off the coast of Grotto Point on the southwest end between two inlets that are far apart. You can spot it on the ferry ride from Circular Quay to Manly Wharf and you’ll even see a number of small boats surrounding it, where fisherman try their luck. Although, if you pick up a map from the Manly Information Kiosk, you won’t find it. They removed it – possibly to discourage people from walking down the steep (and pretty dangerous) path to the bottom. We must’ve asked six people on the way to Grotto Point if they’ve heard of the beach. No one really knew where it was.
The bushwalk off the Manly coastline is long and winding. It’s a well-defined path so you can’t get lost and you’ll see some pretty interesting things on the way… lots of big lizards (that look like gray iguanas), orb spiders (that mildly freaked me out), and freaky trees that looked like they were bleeding… whoah.
There’s a ton of lookout points so you can always catch your bearing on the way. And you’ll find yourself surrounded by all sorts of pretty flora… one particular bush that you’ll find everywhere had these tough seeds that require bushfire to crack them open. I tried to crack one. -sighs- fail. I could barely pull it off the branch.
Otherwise, it’s just one long trail after another. Some are dirt paths (muddy for us because of the rain) – other paths have wooden planks laid down, a few large stone paths, and then there are the massive boulders that just seem to pop up every once in a while.
During our walk, we met one woman who said she knew of Washaway and promptly gave us directions. For where we were, her husband said, “If you walk really fast, straight down the path, you’ll find it in 10 minutes.” It’s just never that easy. We must’ve walked for another hour…
Then we met Paul, a German guy, midway into the hike. He’s new to Manly, just moved here two weeks ago, so he was eager to talk. Besides, we were the only company he had for the next twenty minutes. We told him about the beach and he hadn’t heard of it either. We also passed a runner, a woman who’s lived in the area for thirty years, and she had no clue.
The weird thing was that the older maps on the original trail had Washaway Beach listed. There were no directions, but it’s there. There were probably two or three more sets of hikers that we asked, all of whom probably thought that we were just a little crazy. We eventually found it after backtracking twice and almost missing it a third time. Tough little fucker.
You get to a fork on the trail about 300 meters from this sign, and shortly after passing an aboriginal site.
It’s hard to notice if you’re not really paying attention to it, or if you’re not sure of what you’re looking for. But it’s definitely a trail. There are sticks and a few loose branches thrown onto the path to make you think twice before crossing it – hang a left and keep going.
Go to the bottom of the path and you’ll get to another fork. If you go straight, you’ll miss it completely (by several hundred meters) and end up at Grotto Point Lighthouse. If you make another left at the second fork, you’ll see a couple of large boulders, one with graffiti on it that says, “No Dicks” -laughs-
Take the path to the bottom. You’ll hear the surf. When you get to the clearing, you’ll see the beach, but no path to get down.
There’s two ways to do this: the first is a little iffy. Walk to your left along the ledge (be very careful when it’s wet – this walk scared the crap out of me and it can be really slippery -it’s much higher than it looks). If you take it to the end, it sort of winds around like a very large staircase since you can jump from one rock to another; I’d avoid the route if there’s algae (like after a storm) – you wouldn’t want to risk it. It’s pretty challenging.
The second way is to take the rock ladder. I swear, you wouldn’t know it was there unless someone told you. The two guys we met have been going here since they were kids so they knew of it. There are basically three slots carved into a massive rectangular boulder that allow you to come down to a secondary ridge. Once you’re down there, you just wind your way through the makeshift path until you touch sand.
Ironically, the very first thing we encountered at the bottom of the beach was a very friendly gay man who, of course, was showing off a recent Brazilian. Oh my god.
We took ourselves to the other side of the beach to give him his privacy. It was quite a stretch of sand and it’s probably incredible when it’s a warm and sunny day. Sadly, the water wasn’t at its best… there was a lot of seaweed washing up to shore because of the storm from the previous night. No swimming accomplished at this particular beach… but I figured, I’d build a sandcastle instead =)
We popped open a bottle of champagne, had tuna and crackers, apricots, and chilled out for about an hour. We watched the sailboats in the distance and the parasailing couple that kept rounding the Grotto Point inlet. It was pretty peaceful.
The walk back was also pretty easy. It was humid so we were dying of thirst by the time we got back to the wharf. We took a seat outside of the Bavarian Bier Café, ordered a 500mL Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier Hell, a bowl of fries, and called it a day. It certainly wasn’t a bad way to spend a cloudy and occasionally rainy Saturday.