Northern Beaches of Sydney - Region Information
Manly is the accommodation centre for the Northern Beaches, though limited three-star motel-style and bed and breakfast accommodation is available at some of the northern beachside suburbs extending 28 kilometres north to Palm Beach.
Buses operate from Manly to almost all beaches and to sections of Pittwater.
The beaches, in order are South Steyne, North Steyne and Queenscliff (one stretch of beach), Harbord (Freshwater), South and North Curl Curl, Dee Why, Collaroy, Narrabeen, Mona Vale, Bungan, Newport, Bilgola, Avalon and Palm Beach.
Driving is easy as this area of Sydney is largely residential and traffic is light on weekdays. Experts regard Queenscliff, Harbord and Dee Why as the best northern surfing beaches. Visitors should avoid South Curl Curl as locals regard it as the most dangerous beach in Sydney because of its very tricky ocean currents.
While the bus trip to Palm Beach offers some spectacular beach and ocean views, some of the best vantage points are off the main road, weaving through headlands on the right. A street directory, of which there are three to choose from, is essential if you have a car. They cost about $20 from bookstores and large newsagents.
The main road north from Manly is Pittwater Road, which runs more than half way to Palm Beach and veers left at a small park in Mona Vale, where it suddenly narrows. Go straight ahead at the park, following the wide road with Newport/Palm Beach signs. From there it is Barrenjoey Road all the way to Palm Beach.
Manly is the entertainment centre for the Northern Beaches, but there are restaurants and cafes near the beach at Dee Why, Collaroy, Newport and Palm Beach.
The trip from Manly to Palm Beach is very pretty and the scenery quite spectacular in places. With lunch and a bit of exploring, it can take the best part of a day. If you leave the main road to take in some of the headland lookouts, the return drive from Manly can be done in a comfortable two hours.
Newport is about 20 kilometres north of Manly and offers visitors the choice of a good surf beach beside the main road to Palm Beach and access to the beautiful Pittwater, which is the southern arm of Broken Bay - the northern boundary of the Sydney metropolitan area. Pittwater is a haven for sailing and yachting enthusiasts as it is free of shipping apart from a couple of small local ferries.
Newport is home to the prestigious Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club and the Royal Motor Yacht Club as well as small sailing clubs. RPA and RMYC overlook their respective marinas and have bars and restaurants, which are open to visitors.
The Newport Arms Hotel is one of the best known pubs in Sydney. It is a popular meeting place on weekends and holidays with regular music, most often jazz. The hotel has a restaurant, bistro and a large outdoor area with views of Pittwater. Though Newport straddles a spit of land like Manly, its is a very long and steep walk between the beach and Pittwater.
Buses do run through both sections, but the service is infrequent. Newport is a place best visited by car unless you just want to spend an afternoon at the pub. The main street of Newport parallels the surf beach and has several cafes and restaurants.
Palm Beach is the northernmost of Sydney's beach suburbs, about 28 kilometres from Manly. It is considered a 'trendy' suburb and boasts some spectacular homes. It has a surf beach, which is a popular one to be seen on and generally crowded on weekends in spring and summer. Parking can be difficult. It has a few restaurants and cafes.
Palm Beach also marks the northern extremity of Pittwater at the entrance to Broken Bay from the sea. It ends in a long spit with the ocean on one side and Pittwater on the other, leading to a knob called Barrenjoey. A not-too-difficult uphill walk ends at the historic Barrenjoey lighthouse with spectacular 360 degree views including Lion Island, an uninhabited rocky island resembling a resting lion which guards the entrance to Broken Bay, its northern arm Brisbane Water, and Pittwater.
Built of sandstone in 1881, its light can be seen 19 nautical miles out to sea. Tours run every Sunday (weather permitting). Cost is $3 for adults and $2 for children – no bookings required. For more information, please contact Kalkari Discovery Centre on (02) 9472 9300.
Small ferries run across Broken Bay to Patonga on its northern shore, and also down Cowan Creek to Bobbin Head. Both fall within the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, a vast area of pristine bushland reaching down to the water with just a couple of tiny settlements. The ferry wharf is in Barrenjoey Road (on the left) just before you reach the park that covers the narrow strip of land which leads to the lighthouse.
Bayview, Church Point and West Head
Some 10 kilometres before you reach Palm Beach you will reach a suburb called Mona Vale, where Pittwater Road veers left and quickly narrows.
This follows the southern shore of Pittwater through Bayview to Church Point. This area has some beautiful homes with spectacular views, built high on steep wooded hills running down to the water. Take a side road off to the left and see how tough life is for some people. It is a different outlook than you get from the eastern suburbs of Sydney Harbour, but no less beautiful.
The main road continues to Church Point, which you will probably find packed with cars on a weekend belonging to the owners of hundreds of boats moored in the area. Just on the point you will find a wharf for the small ferry which services nearby communities which can only be reached by water. The largest is Scotland Island, just off the point. If you can find a place to park, take the ferry just for a ride.
At Church Point, the road turns left and becomes Mc Carrs Creek Road, which leads almost immediately into Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. About 4 kilometres down this road you will find a right turn marked West Head. This runs through bushland about 10 kilometres to West Head lookout, one of the most beautiful vantage points in Sydney, with panoramic views to the right down Pittwater, straight across to Palm beach and Barrenjoey Lighthouse, out to the open sea, left to Lion Island, and further left to the mouth of the Hawkesbury River.
Bring a simple lunch, buy a bottle of wine or a cold beer at the Church Point liquor store, and enjoy. If you have binoculars, take them. Visitors with quality cameras and telephoto lenses will get some great scenic shots. The view is too expansive for the point-and-shoot variety. Pittwater is a major sailing venue on weekends, so there will be plenty of yachts and motor cruisers to add to the spectacle.