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Sydney’s great coastal walk

Traverse Sydney's spectacular coastline – from Barrenjoey in the north to Cronulla in the south – on this eight day adventure.

By Ellie Schneider

What to expect

  • Take in jaw-dropping views across the Pacific Ocean
  • Swim in secluded beaches and ocean rock pools
  • Delve into Sydney's history

Fast facts

  • Time: 8 days
  • Distance: 100 kilometres (62 miles)
  • Transport: walking
  • Nearest major city: Sydney
  • Price: $$

Walk along Sydney's magnificent coastline, which stretches from Barrenjoey in the north to Cronulla in the south. You can follow the trail in either direction. Complete one or more sections as day walks, or tackle the whole thing from end to end.

Day 1: Barrenjoey to Avalon

The Boathouse, Palm Beach, New South Wales

Starting at the entrance of the Palm Beach Golf Club on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, this 13 kilometre (eight mile) trail winds past craggy headlands and sheltered beaches. Climb the Barrenjoey Headland to the 1881 lighthouse, stopping to take in views over Pittwater and the Pacific Ocean. Behind you lie Broken Bay and the dense green forest of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, and ahead of you, the glistening Northern Beaches. Follow the Smugglers Track back to Palm Beach, dropping in to the Summer Bay Surf Club made famous by the hit TV series Home and Away. Take a dip in the ocean rock pool at the southern end of the beach, then walk over the headland and through McKay Reserve, to Whale Beach. Continue past Bangalley Head, the highest point on Sydney’s northern coast, to Avalon Beach. Spend the night here in a luxury beachside apartment or catch the one hour bus ride back to the city.

Day 2: Avalon to Narrabeen Lakes

Mona Vale Beach, Sydney, New South Wales

On this 13 kilometre (eight mile) trail enjoy secluded beaches and dramatic ocean panoramas. Start from Avalon Beach Surf Lifesaving Club and walk over Bilgola Head to tiny Bilgola Beach, which you may have entirely to yourself. The breaks are great for swimming and body surfing and you can surf at the beach's northern end. Walk around the southern headland to Newport Beach, where the medieval-style Bungan Castle towers over the ocean. The lesser-known Bungan Beach lies beneath rugged cliffs, and is only accessible by walking track from Myola Road. Wander over Mona Vale Headland, another breathtaking vantage spot, and past Bongin Bongin, Mona Vale and Warriewood beaches. From Turimetta Head you can see all the way to the Central Coast. The track winds over Narrabeen Head and alongside the Narrabeen Lagoon to Narrabeen's centre, where you'll find restaurants, transport and accommodation.

Day 3: Narrabeen Lakes to Manly

Fika Swedish Kitchen, Manly, New South Wales

This 12 kilometre (7.5 mile) hike goes over headlands, past seemingly endless beaches and four lagoons. Wind north past Narrabeen and Collaroy beaches, which together form the longest stretch of sand on this side of the harbour. From Long Reef headland, take the coastal route alongside Long Reef and Dee Why beaches or travel through the dunes near Dee Why Lagoon. On Dee Why Beach you can linger with local surfers or swim in the Olympic-sized saltwater pool. Follow the spectacular clifftop walk along Dee Why Head, before dropping down to Curl Curl and Freshwater beaches. The walk leads over the headland to North Steyne and Manly. From here you can hop on a ferry to Circular Quay or stay and enjoy the beachside atmosphere. Manly is home to trendy cafes (try Fika Swedish Kitchen or Barefoot Coffee Traders), waterfront bars and plenty of seaside accommodation.

Day 4: Manly and North Head

Fairy Bower, Sydney, New South Wales

This spectacular 12 kilometre (7.5 mile) trail travels past Manly’s beaches to North Head at the dramatic sandstone entrance to Sydney Harbour. Stroll down the Corso to Manly beach, Fairy Bower and Shelly Beach then head upwards through Sydney Harbour National Park. Pass North Head Sanctuary, which once housed the School of Artillery, and the heritage-listed former Quarantine Station. The track leads on to North Head, the unspoiled peninsula once occupied by the Gayamaygal Aboriginal people. Search for their middens and engravings and take in stunning views over the harbour and Northern Beaches. Drop down to Manly Cove and walk past Collins Beach to Manly Wharf, where ferries depart for Circular Quay. If you're still feeling energetic, the bush-fringed track winds another 10 kilometres (six miles) past Clontarf Beach and Fisher Bay to the Spit Bridge.

Day 5: Circular Quay to South Head

Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, New South Wales

See some of Sydney's most famous attractions on this 17 kilometre (10.5 mile) trail along the harbour's south-east shoreline. Walk from Circular Quay to the Sydney Opera House, before looping around the water's edge through the lush Royal Botanic Garden to Mrs Macquaries Point. Stroll along picturesque Woolloomooloo Wharf, stopping for lunch at lauded Otto or China Doll. Pass Garden Island naval base and walk upwards into Potts Point. Visit Colonial-style Elizabeth Bay House, spot mega-yachts in Rushcutters Bay and wander past Darling Point’s harbourside mansions. Travel through Double Bay and Rose Bay and up into Vaucluse with its stunning harbour views. Walk through Watsons Bay, where you can stop for afternoon tea at the Tea Gardens or a cold drink at Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel, then wander along to Camp Cove and South Head. You can shorten this walk by detouring to Bondi Beach. Express buses run from Bondi Beach to the city centre, and take about 30 minutes.

Day 6: South Head to Clovelly

South Head, Sydney, New South Wales

Navigate towering, sea-lashed sandstone cliffs, historic naval buildings and Sydney's popular eastern bays and beaches on this 14 kilometre (nine mile) section of the Great Coastal Walk. Start at South Head, where you can see the red and white striped Hornby Lighthouse, and wind past the HMAS Watson Naval reserve and The Gap. The views stretch all the way down Sydney's jagged southern cliffs. Spot ships coasting in and out of the harbour, and migrating whales between May and November. Pass weatherboard fishermen's cottages, peer through the obsolete canons dotted along the headland and take the timber walkway through dramatic Diamond Bay. The path leaves the coast at Dover Heights and reconnects in North Bondi. Stroll along the promenade at Bondi Beach then follow the winding clifftop trail past Tamarama and Bronte to Clovelly Beach. Take a dip in the secluded oasis of Gordons Bay, which is also an excellent diving spot.

Day 7: Clovelly to La Perouse

Bare Island, La Perouse, Sydney, New South Wales

You can do this 17 kilometre (10.5 mile) trail in six or seven hours, but to really enjoy the sights, link shorter sections with public transport. From Clovelly head into the seaside haven of Coogee, where you can take a dip in the historic Wylies Baths or enjoy lunch with a view at Coogee Pavilion. Saunter past the secluded seafront pocket of Lurline Bay to Mistral Point, a good spot for whale watching between May and November. Wind past Maroubra Beach, where the surf is always up, before walking through Little Bay. Head past Henry Head to La Perouse, which is layered with the stories of Aboriginal inhabitants as well as French and English settlers. Learn more in the La Perouse Museum or explore the historic fort of Bare Island, which you may recognise from the film Mission: Impossible II. You’ll need to take a taxi from here to Kurnell to begin the walk's next section.

Day 8: Kurnell to Cronulla

Cronulla Beach, Sydney, New South Wales

Walk back through Sydney's history before European settlement on this stunning 13 kilometre (eight mile) walk. Start at Cook’s Landing Place, the birthplace of colonial Australia, and travel through Kamay Botany Bay National Park, which is dotted with more than 30 Aboriginal sites. See the rock engravings, burial sites and axe grinding grooves left by the Gweagal and Goorawal people alone or on an Aboriginal tour. Follow one of the different walking loops around Inscription Point, a popular diving spot, or continue around the majestic Kurnell Peninsula to Cape Baily Lighthouse, a scenic picnic stop. Walk over wild sand dunes, perched lagoons and regenerated bushland to the golden sweep of Cronulla Beach. From Cronulla, trains take about an hour to get to Sydney city centre.

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