The 10 Best Coastal Walks in Sydney
By Alex Willis
Whether you’re training for the 30 km or 60 km Wild Women On Top Coastrek or simply want to cleanse your lungs and stretch your legs, here is a guide to some spectacular micro-adventures.
We asked Australia's best women's hiking experts for their favourite coastal walks in Sydney.
Schedule a weekend date with a friend, pack some snacks and a camera, or plan a rewarding lunch stop in between. Lace up your walking shoes, rub in that sunscreen and let’s go!
1. Manly to North Head
This 8km, 3 hour walk is most perfect when timed with the sunset. It’s not too difficult, starting with a coastal stroll from Manly Wharf to Shelly Beach, offering fresh salty air and endless ocean views. The next part involves some uphill sweating but the reward makes it all worth it.
“I love the lookout at the end of North Head. It’s breathtaking. You’ll be stunned by the views of South, Middle and Dobroyd head as you peek down over the glistening emerald waters above the golden sandstone cliffs. It’s truly magnificent.” - Di Westaway (Coastrek & Wild Woman on Top CEO and Founder.)
2. Balmoral to Middle Head Forts
This short walk (30 minutes) is an explorative bush path. You will discover some heritage listed sites, absorb some fantastic headland views and if you’re game… check out some of Sydney’s most beautiful nude beaches. It’s the perfect walk to break up a lazy day at the beach!
“Start at Balmoral Oval and head up the metal stairs to the top, turn left and down past the Navy Base and enter Middle Head Reserve. Take a right and head long to the old bunkers, then find the bush track that winds to the end of the headland to another bunker and more trails. On the way back, pop down to the nudie beach if you dare... then find the rooty bush track back up to the oval and return via the path alongside the road. To extend your walk, follow the trail opposite the top of the metal staircase above Balmoral Oval to Clifton gardens and enjoy a coffee alongside the water at Bacchinos.” – Lisa Marshall (Lisa is a trek athlete and the former Director of Wild Women On Top and Coastrek.)
3. Sydney Harbour Bridge to South Head
This whopping 30km walk is one of the best urban walks in Sydney. The trail tightly hugs the iconic harbour while exploring Sydney’s top city suburbs and harbour beaches. Ending at South Head is truly a reward, showcasing Sydney Harbour and the Tasman Sea from sheer clifftops above.
“This walk treats you to magnificent views of Sydney Harbour at every turn. The Bridge, the Opera House... You also appreciate secret bush tracks throughout the Sydney Harbour National Park including its secluded beaches and iconic bays like Watson's Bay. Historic buildings like Strickland House, Vaucluse House and the pretty Parsley Bay Bridge keep your mind engaged on this section of the trail. It's a secret gem that I never knew about until I trained for Coastrek.” – Jo Vartanian (In 2014 Jo’s Coastrek team came in second on the Balmoral to Coogee route, she’s also a Wild Women On Top Coach.)
4. Hermitage Foreshore Walk
If you want a short burst of exercise but still want to soak in fantastic views from the Southside, this is the walk for you. This trail treats you to one hour of coastal goodness, with postcard views of Sydney Harbour and even Shark Island.
“Just before you head down the trail there is a stunning view of the Harbour Bridge, golden in the light of the dying sun. It’s a bushy track along the water's edge which at night is like a mystical forest with gnarled tree roots and low hanging branches. My top tips would be to bring a head torch and company at night!” – Erica Beaton (Erica has done the 50km Sydney Coastrek at night 3 times, and also completed the inaugural 30km Melbourne Coastrek this year.)
5. Diamond Bay to Coogee
This 8km walk boasts vast clifftops, beach, bays, forest, ocean…it honestly has EVERYTHING. The ocean views from the cliff tops stretch out wide. Gorgeous houses and parklands line the pathway and lead down to the cafe culture of Bondi and its iconic white sand beach. Looking down from the cliff top at Coogee at the emerald rock pool below is an absolute highlight.
“I particularly love Sunday mornings when I see all of Sydney at play: walkers and runners powering down the boadwalks, tourists sauntering, families playing in the parks, backpackers enjoying a cheap picnic and nippers, divers, swimmers, surfers, snorkelers and beginners jumping into the never ending deep blue sea.” – Christina Graham (Christina has completed Sydney Coastrek twice, and has also volunteered.)
6. North Sydney to Lavender Bay
This walk is most breathtaking in the late afternoon as a half an hour power walk. Just watch as the city lights up before your eyes! But don’t go too late, you need a bit of light to explore the secret garden!
“Start under the Harbour Bridge at the North Sydney Pool, head long the waterfront passing Luna Park and enjoy the views across the harbor. At Lavender Bay, don’t miss Wendy’s Secret Garden, a tropical oasis set above the railway line and below Watt Park. Continue along to the stairs up to Bayview Street, then cut up and over Milsons Point to Sawmillers Resverve below French’s Street. Return via Blue Point Reserve and make your way back to Bay Street, Lavender Bay and the Harbour Bridge. This walk takes in iconic views of the Harbour, the bridge, beautiful gardens, stately homes on the waterfront and some green parks.” – Lisa Marshall.
7. Observatory Park to the Botanical Gardens
8. Dee Why to Curl Curl
This headland and bush track truly epitomises the beauty of the Northern Beaches. A short 3.2km return, the walk offers sensational views of Long Reef and South Manly. Bring you swimmers and soak up the waves on your half way point!
“It’s one of my favourite walks, despite being short in length, it is stunning. The first time I did this for Coastrek training I was blown away – I had grown up in Narrabeen and never done it before!” - Katherine Rothwell (Katherine has done Coastrek three times, including supporting Susie O’Neill’s team.)
9. Mosman Bay to Clifton Gardens
A 30 minute walk through bushland, looking over bays and striking harbour views is most definitely what we call a micro-adventure. The amphitheatre at Bradley’s head is a major highlight.
“This fairly easy trail has so much offer! Magnificent groves of towering red gums, stunning city views, a couple of small, secluded beaches, historic Bradley's head, and a beautiful view of Clifton Gardens as you descend the path towards it. A dip in the clear waters to cool you off is your reward, or a great coffee stop if you need a recharge! - Jacq Conway (Jacq did the inaugural Coastrek 100km which actually turned out to be 120km. She had to retire at 60km due to bad blisters, despite this her team came first at 31 hours.)
10. Palm Beach to Barrenjoey Lighthouse
A walk with delicious scenery, rocky terrain and many swimming opportunities… this is as good as it gets! The walk takes about 4 hours there and back..if you do the walk according to trek athlete and Coastrek Guru Lisa Marshall.
“Start opposite Iluka Road, Palm Beach, at ‘The Stairway to Heaven.’ Climb up and follow the trail and signposts that say ‘Ocean Beach.’ When you reach the beach, turn left and walk along Palm Beach towards Barrenjoey Headland. If the tide is low or mid, do a two hour rock scramble all the way round the headland and finish on the Pittwater side of the Bay, returning along the beach and back up and over to the start. If you aren’t up to the rock scramble, take the trail up to the top of the Headland. At Barrenjoey Lighthouse, sit on the rocks up top, enjoy the views of Lion Island and beyond and return back down the same trail to the beach and back to the start.” – Lisa Marshall.