Whilst everyone in Sydney knows the Manly to Spit Walk, it seems The North Head Walk – a continuation of the Manly to Spit Walk is a lot less well known. Also called the North Head Sanctuary Loop, the Manly to North Head Walk is roughly 10km, starting from Manly Beach and going around around the headland at North Head. Along the walk you’ll come across incredible panoramic Sydney Harbour views, dramatic cliffs and secluded beaches. You’ll also see remnants of fortifications spread out around the headland which will give you an insight into the local military history.
Other nearby coastal walks in Sydney:
Need to know information before you do the North Head Walk:
- it is an extension of the Spit to Manly walk – the two walks together are known as the Manly Scenic Walkway.
- the North Head Walk is around 10km
- it will take roughly 3 hours
- easy-moderate walk. Some sections not suitable for wheelchair access.
- much quieter than the nearby Spit to Manly Walk but still offers fantastic views and beaches.
- you can take the 135 bus to/from Barracks Precinct on North Head to/from Manly if you don’t want to do the whole walk.
North Head Walk
The North Head is the northernmost and outermost part of Sydney Harbour, marking the entrance to the harbour. For this reason it was a very important place for defending the harbour from attacks from foreign ships, and so you will see lots of remains of military sites here.
There are a couple of ways you can do the walk: the popular one is from Shelly Beach up to Fairfax Lookout and back, or alternatively the route I prefer is to start at Shelly Beach and go all the way around the headland until you reach the beaches of Quarantine Beach, Collins Beach and Little Manly Cove on the other side of the headland. This route is a little longer at around 13km but it is definitely worth it!
How to get to Manly
The most convenient way to get to Manly is to take the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly Wharf. The ferry takes 30 minutes and costs $9.90 for a single trip.
If you are coming from the Northern Beaches there are several buses that go down to Manly, plus the 143/144 goes to Manly from Chatswood via Spit Junction. Remember you will need an Opal card to travel on the buses in Sydney.
Start the North Head Walk at the famous Manly Beach. This long east-facing beach is famous for it’s great surf and is a very popular place for people to sunbathe. Stroll along the promenade, watch the surfers and people playing beach volleyball, working out on the grass or walking their dogs. Stroll down towards the southern end of Manly Beach: here you will come to the start of the walking track for the North Head Walk. Look out for the Manly Life Saving Club at the end of the beach, then just to the left you’ll see the coastal walkway called Marine Parade that will take you the 700 metres to Shelly Beach via Fairy Bower. This walk is incredibly stunning.
Fairy Bower Sea Pool
The Fairy Bower ocean sea pool is triangular in shape and whilst it is the smallest of Sydney’s rock pools at only 20 metres long it is actually one of it’s most beautiful! If you’ve brought your swimming costume be sure to hop in for a quick dip!
Shelly Beach is a beautiful inlet beach that is visible from Manly Beach but a lot less busy. It is one of the most beautiful parts on the trail and there is an abundance of sealife in this aquatic reserve. If you want to stop for a quick snack or drink, you’ll find The Boat House here. There are several Boat House venues in Sydney, including at Palm Beach and Balmoral Beach.
Shelly Head Lookout
At Shelly Beach walk up the steps by the picnic area, turn left and you will come to several lookouts, including Shelly Head Lookout. From these lookouts you will be able to see out across the coast to the Northern Beaches. The walk makes a little loop, so after going round and enjoying the views from the lookouts walk past the car park and you will see the bush path where you start ascending up towards North Head. The path is well marked and isn’t too steep.
Shelly Beach to Barracks Precinct Walk
As the path (called the Blue Fish Track) goes more uphill it starts to go inland through the bush and heath, although you’ll still be able to see out towards the sea at a couple of viewpoints. The path will then take you to a big wall – just go through the tiny gate in the wall (see below left) that will take you through to the other side!
During WWII, North Head was a major defence base so along the path you’ll see signs that will lead you to some gun pits (see below right) as well as Command Stations and underground tunnels.
Shortly after the military sights you will come to a road called Bluefish Drive. You can either continue straight across the road and along the footpath, or you can turn left on Bluefish Drive to go down to Blue Fish Point and the North Head Military Lookout. You’ll bear right and then turn left after the North Head Wastewater Treatment Plant. Just before the gates of the plant on the right you’ll see a tiny footpath at the side of the gate surrounding the plant (called ‘Fisherman’s Way’ on maps.me). It almost looks like you shouldn’t go down there but this is the official walkway to get to the North Head Military Lookout. Keep following the path – it goes parallel to the fence, and then you’ll find a turning on your right that will lead you to the North Head Military Lookout.
North Head Military Lookout
At the North Head Military Lookout you’ll find several old military buildings, command posts and radar posts spread out. Most of the buildings are covered in wall murals and graffiti and from them you’ll be able to see stunning ocean views. To continue the walk you will need to go back on yourself on the path to get back to the road and the Blue Fish Track. Turn left on the Blue Fish Track footpath and then you’ll find yourself in The Barracks Precinct.
The Barracks Precinct
The Barracks Precinct is an impressive building and is the former School of Artillery. There is also a Visitor Centre here and several military sites including the Parade Ground and gun emplacement tunnels.
The Memorial Walk is also here: a walk dedicated to all those Australians who served in the war. You’ll see lots of plaques and memorial stones with names carved in on the walk, as well as an Army coloured path where you can do a guided tour of the tunnels. The tunnel tours are held on Sundays at 10.30am, 11.30am, 1pm and 2pm and can be booked online here or at the nearby Visitor Centre. After walking through the Memorial Walk you’ll come to the road called ‘North Head Scenic Drive’. Follow it around to your left.
At the end of North Head Scenic Drive by the car park is the path that leads to Fairfax Lookout. At Fairfax Lookout there are incredible views across Sydney Harbour to Sydney’s skyline, as well as Middle Head and Hornby Lighthouse on the South Head. This is the best viewpoint on the whole of the North Head Walk and definitely can not be missed!
The sunset is so beautiful here and it is a popular place for people to come and watch the sun go down. You can walk the loop path around the top of North Head – it is probably an 800 metre long loop and offers stunning views. From June to October you can spot humpback whales here on their annual migration – you’ll see lots of people with their binoculars looking out to sea during this time.
Fairfax Lookout also makes a great place to watch the Sydney New Years Eve Fireworks – it is much less crowded that other popular spots nearer to town.
Here at Fairfax Lookout you are halfway through the walk. You can either walk back the way you came, or carry on with the route below which is the way I definitely recommend. In which case, carry on down North Head Scenic Drive until you reach North Head Quarantine Station. At the roundabout take the first exit onto Entrance Road that will take you to Quarantine Station, or Q Station as it is now known.
You can always get the 135 bus from the Barracks Precinct back to Manly Wharf from here if you don’t want to walk any more. However, the next part of the walk is really beautiful, full of lots of secluded beaches so I really encourage you to continue all the way!
North Head Quarantine Station
In the 1830’s to 1880’s, Quarantine Station was where migrant ships that arrived in Sydney with suspected contagious diseases would arrive. The crew and passengers would be offloaded and put in to quarantine in order to protect the local residents from the disease. Many of the migrants died suffering unfortunate deaths and as a result there are several cemeteries at Quarantine Station. In fact Quarantine Station is actually one of the most haunted sites in Australia!
If you want to experience Quarantine Station to it’s fullest you can go on one of the ghost tours that operate from Quarantine Station. The ghost tours are hugely successful and have been running for well over 100 years. You’ll hear about all the paranormal occurrences and ghost stories that have occurred throughout the years. Click here to see the selection of ghost tours available. Alternatively you can stay overnight at the luxurious Q Station Hotel onsite and enjoy a complimentary ghost tour – click here for details and to book! The original buildings of the quarantine station can still be visited: they have all been preserved and kept in their original condition, although the hotel is located in a new building.
From Q Station you can access the beautiful Quarantine Beach. This is the only way it can be accessed – you can’t reach it from walking along the shore.
About a half an hour walk from Quarantine Beach will take you to Collins Beach. You can’t walk along the coast so you have to go back on the road, continue straight then turn left on Collins Beach Road. The walk goes downhill towards the beach. When you get to the end of the road turn right down Collins Beach Track. Look out for endangered bandicoots along the way!
Collins Beach is a really beautiful secluded beach with stunning views and you’ll even find a waterfall here. Collins Beach is an area that is a critical habitat to the endangered Little Penguins. They usually will come onto the beach at dusk and dawn after a long day at sea, when the beach is closed. If you do however see any little penguins when you are on the beach do not touch them. It is also imperative to not bring your dogs onto the beach as they could attack the little penguins.
You can go for a swim at Collins Beach if you wish, but bear in mind none of the beaches on North Head are patrolled. Therefore please exercise caution here – often there can be strong and unexpected currents and rips.
Little Manly Beach
Walk along the path from Collins Flat Beach past Jump Rock (named so because people jump from here into the sea) until you get to Little Manly Point. You’ll see lots of people fishing here. Carry on through Little Manly Point Park and along the coastal footpath until you get to Little Manly Beach – another quiet and secluded beautiful beach. Then head onto Craig Avenue at the other end of the beach and turn left onto Stuart Street. From here follow the road all the way down until it bends round to the right onto East Esplanade. You’ll then come to East Manly Cove Beach.
East Manly Cove Beach
East Manly Cove Beach is just the other side of Manly Wharf and is a nice beach to relax at, although it definitely isn’t as idyllic as the other beaches along the route. Relax here for a bit and then make your way to Manly Wharf where the walk finishes!
Finish the walk at Manly Wharf. From here you can get the ferry back to Circular Quay in 30 minutes. Alternatively you can also continue to do the 10km Manly to Spit walk from here if you have the energy, as Manly Wharf is the starting point for the walk. For more information about the Manly to Spit walk click here.
What do I need to bring on the North Head Walk?
- appropriate footwear
- camera. Note drones are prohibited on North Head.
- swimming costume if you would like to take a dip in the ocean/ocean pool
- reusable water bottle
- binoculars if you are here during whale watching season and want to see humpback whales migrating.
Where are there toilets on the North Head Walk?
- Marine Parade (just after Fairy Bower Sea Pool).
- Next to The Boathouse on Shelly Beach
- Next to The North Head Sanctuary Visitor Centre
- East Manly Cove
Where can I get food/drink on North Head Walk?
There are plenty of restaurants and cafes in Manly (by Manly Beach, on The Corso and by Manly Wharf) where you can have food before or after the walk. However it is also wise to bring some snacks and fluids with you as options are limited once you get on the walk (there is a cafe on North Head and a restaurant at Quarantine Station only). There are several supermarkets in Manly (Coles, Aldi and Woolworths) where you can buy some snacks to bring with you.
There are water fountains where you can refill your water at: Marine Parade (between Manly Beach and Shelly Beach) and at North Head.
Where can I park my car on the North Head Walk?
Along Manly beachfront you will find free parking for up to 4 hours however coming across a free parking space here is very difficult as they get filled very quickly. Also to find free street parking is difficult as the streets are always full of cars parked. All the residents have parking permits so if you do find a free spot make sure you are allowed to park there without a permit. Always obey the signs when in any part of NSW as they are very hot on fining people parked incorrectly! If you want to park on the street, I advise to go further from the wharf or beach where it will be easier to find parking as the streets will be less crowded.
There are several car parks in Manly (Wilson Parking by Manly Wharf, Whistler Car Park & Manly National Car Park). Often the first couple of hours of parking are free in these car parks and then you will have to pay, however please check before.
There are also car parks up on North Head if you don’t want to walk back down to Manly afterwards but you have to pay $5 to park here.
Can I bring my dog on the North Head Walk?
Unfortunately pets are not allowed on North Head as it is part of Sydney Harbour National Park. Dogs are not allowed in National Parks in Australia in a bid to preserve the natural wildlife (plants and animals – endangered bandicoots are common here), but also because fox poison is regularly used in National Parks, which is lethal to dogs if ingested.
Dogs are especially not allowed in the area from Collins Beach down to Quarantine Beach due to the endangered little penguins that often frequent the beach. If you bring your dog you could be fined up to $5,500.
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