Spit Bridge to Manly Walk

Summary of the Spit to Manly Walk

  • Walk Time: 3 – 5 hours, depending on how fast you walk and how many stops you take.
  • Walk Distance: 10km or 6.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Grade 3 moderate track. A well-formed track, suitable for most ages and fitness levels. Short steep hill sections with some steep, uneven sets of stairs, particularly leading up to Dobroyd Head.
  • Water stations: Spit West Reserve by bus stop, Clontarf Reserve and Forty Baskets Beach. No water stations within the bush areas. Also drinking fountains at Fairlight Beach and Manly Cove Beach.
  • Toilets: These are found regularly along the walk and can be found at Spit West Reserve, Clontarf Reserve, near Reef Beach, Forty Baskets Beach, North Harbour Reserve, Fairlight Beach, West Esplanade near Manly Pavilion, and Manly Wharf.
  • Snacks: I recommend bringing snacks and water with you. However, you can always purchase takeaway coffee from Plonk! Beach Cafe by Spit Bridge, as well as treat yourself to ice cream at Clontarf Beach.
  • Dogs: No dogs allowed on beaches and within the National Park areas. There is an alternate route for dogs on the map.
  • What you’ll see: Native flora and fauna, stunning ocean views, Aboriginal rock engravings, lighthouses, golden, sandy beaches, sub-tropical rainforest.

Getting to Spit Bridge

The Spit Bridge spans the Middle Harbour and is located at The Spit, Mosman and Seaforth suburbs. Spit Bridge is easily accessible by bus and car, but I recommend coming by public transport to avoid doubling back and the expensive car parking.

By Bus

If coming from the city, buses 178 and 180 frequently leave from Wynyard Station, Carrington Street (Stand A). It takes approximately 30 minutes by bus to the Spit West Reserve, Spit Road bus stop. You will know your stop is coming up when the bus starts to slow down and drives down a steep hill. Your stop will be at the bottom by the Spit West Reserve, just before crossing the Spit Bridge. Note: lots of people tend to get off here and the driver can let you know if you ask.

By Car

You can also drive to the Spit Bridge. Keep in mind that during peak periods, traffic can be very busy and parking can be difficult. There is paid parking at the Spit West Reserve, but this is limited and is pay and display by the hour.

Starting the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk at Spit West Reserve

Spit West Reserve Public Toilets

Getting back from Manly

By Ferry

One of the best ways to return to the city after your Spit Bridge to Manly walk is by Manly ferry. This ferry ride from Manly to Circular Quay takes just 30 minutes and is a pleasant way to take in the views of Middle Head, Dobroyd Head, North and South Heads and of course the iconic Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a pod of dolphins or even whales during whale watching season (May to November). Keep in mind, the ferry can get pretty choppy on windy days, and you could get wet when sitting outside. If you do take the ferry, remember that the gates close 3 minutes before departure, so it’s worth arriving in good time to get a seat, especially during peak season of summer when queues can be long. Ferries run every 30 minutes. View the latest ferry timetables at Transport NSW.

For a faster ferry service, you can also consider the 18 minute Manly Fast Ferry

By Bus

If you prefer to travel by bus, then there are a number of bus routes and services from Manly servicing the Northern suburbs and back towards the city. Many of these bus routes run along Belgrave Street and Pittwater Road.

By Car

If you want to start your walk at Spit Bridge, you can opt to leave your car at Manly and get the bus to Spit Bridge to start your walk. However, Manly can also be difficult to park, with limited free parking available and expensive pay and display parking. If you want to park at Manly, I recommend arriving early to find a free parking spot along a residential side road off Pittwater Road.

Spit Bridge Opening Times

The Spit Bridge regularly opens at various times every day to let boat traffic through which are otherwise too tall to sail underneath. This means you need to time your visit to ensure you don’t get stuck waiting for the bridge to open and close.

Spit Bridge weekday opening times include: 10:15am, 11:15am, 1:15pm, 2:15pm, 8:15pm and 9:15pm (During daylight savings only).

Spit Bridge weekend and Public Holiday opening times include: 8:30am, 10:00am, 11:30am, 2:30pm, 4:30pm, 6:30pm, 8:30pm and 9:30pm.

You can check these times for yourself at Roads and Maritime.

Spit Bridge Opening Times

Is the Manly to Spit Bridge walk direction better?

I personally prefer walking from Spit Bridge to Manly as you finish with a scenic ferry ride back to Circular Quay. You can also explore Manly’s boutique shops, fabulous beaches, vast array of restaurants and weekend markets to make a full day of it. However, this walk can be easily done in both directions if you prefer to walk from Manly to Spit Bridge instead.

What to wear when walking the Spit to Manly

It’s all about the layers on this walk and comfortable walking shoes or trainers. As you are climbing up and down steps, passing sandy beaches and going through rainforest areas, you’re likely to warm up and cool down. It can also get windy when you reach Dobroyd Head so having layers makes it easy to adjust to the weather conditions. Long loose layers can also keep you cool, whilst protect you from sunburn, particularly in summer. You should also wear a hat, sunglasses and factor 30+ sunscreen.

What to bring?

As well as your hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, be sure to bring the following essentials with you:

  • Phone or camera for all those selfies and stunning photographs
  • Swimwear and towel if you want to go swimming
  • First aid kit with essentials (plasters, antiseptic cream, bandage and paracetamol)
  • Opal card for public transport
  • 1 litre reusable water bottle
  • Energising snacks and lunch

You might also consider bringing

  • Binoculars
  • Guidebook
  • Notebook and pen
  • Pedometer/iWatch, Fitbit, Garmin Smartwatch etc to record your steps

Who is the Spit to Manly walk for?

This picturesque walk is not just popular with tourists. Locals love it too. It’s a great walk for the whole family young and old, as well as joggers and runners. However, keep in mind that parts of the walk are steep and there are lots of steps so if you have any back problems or trouble negotiating steps then this walk might not be for you.

Where to start?

If coming by bus from the city, then your walk will start from Spit West Reserve. You can find toilets here as well as a water fountain. Follow the footpath to walk along the Spit Bridge and admire the views of Middle Harbour as you go. As soon as you’ve crossed the bridge, you will find a staircase on your left-hand side which leads down to the start of the Spit Bridge to Manly walk (also known as Manly Scenic Walkway). At the bottom of the steps, turn left to arrive at Ellery’s Punt Reserve.

Spit Bridge pedestrian walkway

Stairs down from Spit Bridge to Ellerys Punt Reserve

Highlights along the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk

Ellery’s Punt Reserve

This was the site of a punt connecting Manly to the Spit for foot, horse, tram and vehicular traffic from the 1850s. In 1939, the tram ceased operations. Today, this walkway follows the old tram route for 200 metres towards Fisher Bay. In 1924, a bridge across Middle Harbour was opened by Premier Sir George Fuller, but with increased settlement the Spit Bridge was unable to cope with the high volume of traffic. The Spit Bridge that we can see today was constructed in 1958 with an opening span to let taller boats through at specific times of the day.

Ellerys Punt Reserve

Ellerys Punt Reserve to Fisher Bay

Fisher Bay

Continuing on, you will reach a sub-tropical rainforest with a small creek flowing into the bay. You will walk underneath towering boulders, passing a mini trickling waterfall before walking along the wooden boardwalk. This mini oasis makes for some creative photos so keep your camera or phone handy.

Fisher Bay overhanging rock

Fisher Bay boardwalk

Aboriginal Shell Midden

A few minutes later, you will arrive at the site of an Aboriginal Midden, where the Cammeraygal clan, part of the Kuring-gai tribe cooked and ate shellfish. If you look carefully you can still see broken shells and layers of shells in this area, most likely the remains from their feasts.

Subtropical rainforest area

Aboriginal Shell Midden

Sandy Bay

Next, you will arrive at Sandy Bay, a large sand flat which is exposed at low tide, backed by expensive waterfront homes. If you walk along the sand, keep your ears and eyes open for crabs scuttling and digging along the sandy shores.

View of Sandy Bay

Sandy Bay to Clontarf Beach

Clontarf Beach

Following the shoreline, you will reach Clontarf Beach, a popular spot for families with children, due to its sheltered harbour swimming, no surf and a gentle sloping beach. You can also find the Clontarf Baths, a netted public swimming pool to protect swimmers against sharks, as well as the shady Clontarf Beach Playground. This is also the site of an early Sydney picnic ground and dance hall and the place where Prince Alfred survived an assassination attempt in 1868 by Henry O’FarrellClontarf Reserve makes the perfect place for a leisurely picnic, with electric BBQ areas and toilets. You can also refill on water, or grab an ice cream from the kiosk.

Walking along Clontarf Beach

Clontarf Beach

Duke of Edinburgh Reserve

After walking along Clontarf Beach, which can get narrow depending on the level of the tides, you will walk up the steps to reach the Duke of Edinburgh Reserve, named after Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh. This area has dense heath and woodland vegetation on its damp hillside. You can also view sandstone formations, one of which looks like a wave shaped rock.

Stairway from Clontarf Beach to Duke of Edinburgh Reserve

Ocean views

Castle Rock Beach

Just at the end of the reserve is Castle Rock Beach, a popular small harbour beach named after a distinctive rock. This beach sits on the boundary of the National Park and can be accessed by going down the steps from Ogilvy Road.

View over Castle Rock Beach

Castle Rock Beach

Grotto Point Lighthouse

After Castle Rock Beach, you start to enter the picturesque Sydney National Park so keep your eyes open for fauna and flora. It might be difficult to spot any wildlife due to the popularity of the track, but you will still likely hear birds chirping merrily from the trees. You will soon come across a short detour (500m) which leads to Grotto Point Lighthouse. Built in 1911, it still guides ships entering Sydney Harbour when aligned with the Parriwi light at Mosman. It’s often referred as the ‘Disney Castle’ and offers fantastic views of the Tasman Sea. Birdwatchers also find this a great place to spot sea eagles and cormorants so don’t forget your binoculars.

Steps up towards Dobroyd Head

Sydney Red Gums Spit Bridge to Manly Walk

Grotto Point Aboriginal Engraving Site

Once back on the main track, you will soon reach another side track off to the right to view the Aboriginal engravings (only 20 metres away). The engravings are understood to depict a Kangaroo, a Sun Fish and several smaller fishes. People of the Eora group would hunt on the land and fish in the sea for food as well as use the teeth and bones for tools. Engravings include fish, a kangaroo and boomerangs. To remain respectful of the site, make sure you remain outside the log barriers.

Aboriginal Engraving Site

Aboriginal Engraving Fish

Crater Cove Look-Out

Follow the raised boardwalk and you will soon arrive at the Crater Cove Lookout, offering some of the best views of the harbour, Manly and the Heads. Keep in mind, it does get busy here due to its popularity. If you look directly below, you can also view the Crater Cove huts, close to the shore line. There are seven huts made from wood and iron, constructed between 1923 and 1963, however they were abandoned in 1984. Today, these huts are looked after by caretakers on behalf of the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Bushland view

Crater Cove Look Out huts

Dobroyd Head Lookout

Another opportunity to admire the ocean views, North Head, South Head and Middle Head is at Dobroyd Head Lookout. If you’re lucky, you will also see the two Manly ferries cross here which makes a fantastic photo opportunity. There is also a bench if you want a quick break away from the crowds. On the way here, you will still be passing through bushland and this is a good place to view Sunshine Wattle and listen out for birdlife such as Fairy Wrens or New Holland Honeyeater.

Manly Ferries crossing

Boardwalk after Dobroyd Head

Reef Beach

Next you will arrive at Reef Beach, also known as “Pirates Camp” due to once being a camping area during the 1930s Depression. This is a quiet, secluded beach for those looking for peaceful surroundings with harbour views.

Forty Baskets Beach

Following the coastal path, Manly will come into sight with spectacular views across Manly Cove and the Manly Ferry Wharf. However, don’t get too excited, as there’s still some way to go yet! Continuing down the steps, you will arrive at Forty Baskets Beach, with rock pools and swimming nets, making it a safe place to swim. This is a popular place to come in the mornings and its name is believed to be used as early as 1859, but no one really knows its true origin. One theory is the name is based on a catch of 40 baskets of fish sent to a contingent of NSW detained at the North Head Quarantine Station after returning from Sudan in 1885.

Views over Manly Wharf

Forty Baskets Beach

Views over Manly

Forty Baskets Beach rocks

Wellings Reserve

Cars and houses start to emerge again as you arrive at Wellings Reserve, named after Mr Leslie Wellings, a noted local historian and Town Clerk or Manly, who was an awarded an M.B.E. for his services to Local Government. You will walk through a native flora reserve with open forest with Hawkesbury sandstone vegetation. However, as you are following a quieter road, watch out for cars as they search for parking spots.

Wellings Reserve

Bridge over North Harbour Reserve

North Harbour Reserve

Soon, you will arrive at North Harbour Reserve, a popular place for picnics with a large open playing space, perfect for kicking a ball around. There is also a public toilet here if required.

View over North Harbour Reserve

North Harbour Reserve walkway

Fairlight Beach

Another opportunity to swim, Fairlight Beach is an 80-metre-long beach, with a small rock pool. There is a narrow grassy foreshore reserve with park benches to sit and admire the view. This is also a popular place for snorkelling, scuba diving and SUP Yoga and makes a great place for a picnic or quick snack and drink.

Fairlight Beach views

Grassy bank near Fairlight Beach

Manly Wharf

Finally, Manly is in sight. After Fairlight Beach you will pass Kay-Ye-My Point and Delwood Beach, a secluded beach perfect for those looking to escape the Manly beach crowds. Keep an eye out for Little Penguins, particularly around dusk as you continue on to reach historic Manly Pavilion and Manly Art Gallery & Museum. There are public toilets here and you can go for another swim or soak up the sun at Manly Cove Beach. Alternatively, walk along the Manly Pathway of Olympians which celebrates more than 100 years of Manly residents who represented Australia in the Olympic Games. Continue on to reach Manly Ferry Wharf to either get the ferry back to Circular Quay, or reward yourself with a delicious seafood lunch or an ice cream at the many cafes and restaurants.

Walkway by Manly Pavilion

Manly Cove Beach

What wildlife will I see?

Along the Manly Scenic Walkway, you may encounter a variety of wildlife with plenty of opportunities for bird watching. You could spot an Eastern Water dragon sunning itself on a rock, a brush turkey (busk turkey) digging in the dirt as well as potentially seeing the Little Penguin along the shoreline. During May to November, you might also see whales from Dobroyd Head as they migrate.

    Other wildlife includes:

    • Cunninghams Skink
    • Eastern Water Dragon
    • Blue Tongue Lizard
    • Rainbow Lorikeet  
    • Variegated Fairy Wrens
    • White Browed Scrubwren
    • Sulphur Crested Cockatoos
    • Crimson Rosella
    • Red Browed Firetail
    • Laughing Kookaburra
    • Black Faced Monarch Flycatcher
    • Little Wattle Bird
    • King Parrot
    • New Holland Honeyeater
    • Whip Bird

    Laughing Kookaburra

    What type of plants will I see?

    There are plenty of types of native flora that can be viewed along this popular walkway. Keep an eye out for the following:

    • Epacris longiflora (Fuscia Heath)
    • Epacris microphylla (Coral Heath)
    • Actinotis helianthi (Flannel Flower)
    • Acacia terminalis subsp. Terminalis (Sunshine Wattle)
    • Crowea saligna (Crowea or Waxflower)
    • Dillwynia retorta (Eggs and Bacon)
    • Damperia stricta (Blue Damperia)
    • Banksia integrifolia (Coastal Banksia)
    • Banksia ericifolia (Heath Banksia)
    • Banksia spinulosa (Hairpin Banksia)
    • Pimlea linifolia (Slender Rice Flower)
    • Grevillea buxifolia (Grey Spider Flower)
    • Epacris purpurascens (Port Jackson Heath) Threatened
    • Bauera rubioides (Dog Rose)
    • Actinotus minor (Lesser Flannel Flower)
    • Melaleuca hypericifolia (Red Flowered Paperbark)
    • Angophora hispida (Dwarf Apple)
    • Patersonia sericea (Silky Purple Flag)
    • Pultenaea stipularis (Fine Leaf Bush Pea)
    • Isopogon antethifolius (Narrow Leaf Drumsticks)
    • Angophora costata canopy (Sydney Red Gum)
    • Xanthorrhoea (Grass Trees)

    Fuscia Heath

    Sunshine Wattle

    What else will I see?

    Besides the beautiful flora and fauna along this track, you will also be treated to stunning ocean views, Aboriginal engravings, sandy, golden beaches, rock pools, the Manly ferry, yachts and pleasure boats; lighthouses and million-dollar homes. There really is something to appeal to everyone on this popular walking track.

    How to extend the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk?

    Prefer a longer walk? Here are some additional options below:

    Manly to North Head: 9.5km

    10km not quite long enough? Fortunately, the Manly Scenic Walkway continues on to North Head. Once you arrive at Manly Ferry Wharf you can continue on to North Head through the Sydney Harbour National Park. The Manly to North Head section is another 9.5km which can be achieved in a circular route, passing through Shelley Beach, Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve and Manly Beach before walking along The Corso back to Manly Ferry Wharf. Allow yourself at least three to four hours to explore North Head Sanctuary and soak up the panoramic views from the top which are absolutely breathtaking on a clear, sunny day.

    80km Bondi to Manly Walk

    You can always link in another part of the 80km Bondi to Manly Walk for an extended coastal walk. The whole 80km Bondi to Manly walk can be achieved over two, three or four days or longer. Spit Bridge to North Head via Manly is a popular section, however you can also walk from Taronga Zoo to Spit Bridge (9.13km), which passes through Sydney Harbour National Park, includes some bushwalking, spectacular harbour views and historic military sites.

    Grotto Point Lighthouse

    Just before the Aboriginal Rock Engravings during the Spit Bridge to Manly walk, rather than continuing on, you can walk to see the historic Grotto Point Lighthouse. This active beacon, sometimes referred to as the ‘Disney Castle’ is situated on a rocky headland near Dobroyd Head and lights the northern waters of Sydney Harbour National Park, near Manly. Keep your eyes open for white-breasted sea eagles and cormorants.

    Go kayaking at Spit Bridge

    If you want to give your arms a workout too, why not consider an eco kayak tour at Spit Bridge before or after your walk? Sydney Harbour Kayaks run a 4 hour tour every Saturday and Sunday morning from 8:30am until 12:30pm allowing you to explore beautiful parts of Middle Harbour only accessible with a sea kayak. Rather explore on your own? You can also rent kayaks, double canoes, ocean skis and Stand Up Paddle Boards by the hour. 

    What is the best time to do the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk?

    You can do the Spit Bridge to Manly walk throughout the year, but I recommend the cooler winter months and also early mornings. Not only does starting earlier give you more time to complete your walk at your own pace, but you can always extend your walk to North Head if you want to complete the whole Manly Scenic Walkway in one go. Between May and November there’s also the chance that you might spot whales as they embark on their migration. Note: If you walk during the hot summer months, make sure to walk as early as possible to avoid the heat of the sun and bring plenty of water with you.

    Views shoreline

    Bushland Spit Brdige to Manly Walk

    Best swimming spots along the Spit to Manly Walk

    What better way to break up the walk with a few opportunities to refresh with an ocean swim? Along the Manly scenic walkway there are six swimming beaches including Clontarf, Castle Rock, Reef Beach, Forty Baskets, Fairlight and Manly Cove. Please note, none of these beaches have a lifeguard service so avoid these beaches if you’re not a strong swimmer. However, you can swim at Manly Beach which is lifeguard patrolled.

    Best places to eat along the Spit Bridge to Manly walkway

    To fuel up for your big walk, why not grab a coffee or breakfast at Plonk! Beach Café by The Spit Bridge. Breakfast is served between 8:00am until 11:00am at weekends with menu items including Plonk brekky roll, pancake stack and eggs benedict.

    En route, you can also stop at The Sandy Bear at Clontarf for breakfast and lunch options and enjoy the picturesque water views.

    Alternatively, arrive at Manly which is teeming with cafes and restaurants. Just by Manly Cove is Manly Pavilion, offering waterfront dining within a white heritage listed building. The Bistro offers a traditional Italian style menu ranging from Antipasti share plates to house made pasta and sophisticated mains.

    Just by Manly Ferry Wharf you can also find The Bavarian – a lively German pub serving classics like Schweineschnitzel, Famous Crispy Pork Knuckle and Trio of German Sausages alongside German beers. For finer dining, try Hugo’s positioned on the iconic Manly Wharf, serving a selection of gourmet pizzas, pastas and beautiful fish dishes. However, for a well-deserved beer make sure you visit 4 Pines Brewing Company for a refreshing local craft beer.

    You can of course find a greater selection of restaurants by Manly Beach along The Corso and North Steyne.

    Want more Sydney walking inspiration?

    Looking for other North Shore walks? Why not consider a guided walking tour from Taronga to Georges Head with EcoWalk Tours? Read my full Guided Walking Tour Review and save 10% off all tours.