Usually, I’m pretty savvy about geography, but for some reason I thought that Sydney, Australia was on the ocean. Whenever I looked at a map of Australia, Sydney appeared to be on the coast – this is such a large country that small maps of it don’t show much detail. Then there are the more than 70 beaches and the famous surfing spots like Bondi Beach that I have always read about. To my surprise I discovered that Sydney’s city center is located about a third of the way down a long inlet that forms the famous Sydney Harbour – only suburbs like Manly and Port Stephens are actually on the Pacific Ocean. I couldn’t come to Sydney and not visit its famous beaches, so today I climbed aboard a ferry for the 15-minute ride to the town of Manly.
The boat docked on the inlet side of the narrow strip of land that forms the northern entry to the inlet. A five-minute walk down “The Corso” (the main drag) took me from the inlet side to the ocean side of town, where a promenade ran the entire length of the long crescent of golden-pink sand that is Manly Beach. It was immediately apparent that surfing is taken seriously here – in fact, surfing is considered a national sport in Australia.
There were hotels that cater to surfers and oceanfront Surf Clubs where surfers can leave their backpacks when they are in the water. Everywhere, stores displayed surf clothing. And of course, there were the surfers and the waves – beautiful, glassy waves that roll in day after day without fail in this surfer’s paradise – my surfer friends will drool over these photos.
I walked to the end of Manly beach and climbed the steps of the Marine Parade, an elevated walkway leading around giant sandstone outcroppings, destined for Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve. Along the way I passed a saltwater pool that is filled by the ocean at high tide, its calm waters perfect for swimming laps regardless of how rough the ocean may be. At the end of the Parade was a lovely little crescent beach and just beyond the beach a rocky hill jutted into the ocean, forming a perfect left-hand point break where several surfers and two ocean kayaks waited for the next set. I followed a trail up the hill, mounting steps carved of weathered sandstone. Looking south from the top of the hill I could see for miles along the sheer rocky cliffs of the headland – waves crashed incessantly against rocky detritus at the base of the cliff as two whales swam by in the distance, betrayed by their white spouts.
Back down on the beach, divers disappeared under the calm waters of the bay, joggers and bikers were out in force along the beach promenade, and body boarders had arrived to claim their little slice of the beach. As the setting sun turned the water to gold, I snapped a few final photos of the waves, wishing that I could feel the thrill of catching that perfect wave just one more time. But my knees say no – I guess I’ll just have to live vicariously through my surfer friends.