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Australia Day 18

Manly Beach

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It's Saturday and the heat-wave continues. We're going to do what all the sensible locals are doing and head for the beach. Manly Beach can be reached easily by ferry from Circular Quay. Our Travel Passes, courtesy of our Canadian friends, cover the journey. This trip through the bay is recommended as one of the 'must-dos' of a visit to Sydney. We travel in one of the iconic, old, double-fronted, green and yellow ferries. The skipper is impatient with any motor boats or yachts that cut too closely across his bows and expresses this by sounding an enormous horn designed to get the attention of the miscreants. Once again we photograph the Bridge and Opera House, this time from a seaborne perspective. You can't have too much of a good thing. The Harbour Bay is an enormous playground filled with all sorts of craft: sailing boats and dinghies, motor cruisers, kayaks, even people paddling surfboards. This is in an area criss-crossed by ferries and cruise ships.

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We reach the Manly Wharf and walk through The Corso to get to the beach. This pedestrianised thoroughfare, like everywhere today, is populated with covered stalls, selling Christmas crafts and trinkets - here, supporting good causes like Amnesty International, Green Peace, and Fair Trade. En route, there are small pavement fountains for the toddlers to play in. These spurt water unexpectedly and can catch the unwary by suprise. I speak as one.

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We eat in a Hemingway-themed restaurant opposite the beach (he visited Sydney once). We've spent a lot of time lately eating Thai, Japanese and Italian. This is an uncompromising Australian eating place serving good 'Aussie tucker'. We choose a local version of Tapas. The recommendation is two dishes each. We elect for one each: the spicy chicken nuggets and thick hand-cut chips in onion gravy. This is wrong on so many levels but delicious - just the kind of heavy meal you need before a swim. Hemingway would have approved; another fat bearded guy in a big hat who liked his food. A tall thin blond passes by. "I'll bet she doesn't eat hand-cut chips", says Monica, "But then she probably doesn't go bushwalking in the Blue Mountains either", recalling the exploits of the last couple of days.

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Manly is a surfers' beach.The main part of the beach is reserved for them. At either end there are small stretches marked by flags and policed by "Surf Guards" which are set aside for swimmers. Anyone straying out of these into the domain of the surfers is whistled at by the guards and ushered back into the safe area. There appear to be life guards everywhere, dressed in their yellow and red outfits.

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At the North end of the beach there is a Surf Boat competition. This has been going on since eight this morning, I'm told. There are different heats for men and women, under 23's, and under 19's. Five or six boats race at a time, steered into the surf, then rowed to a bouy and back again. It's a colourful spectacle. Each team wears matching swimsuits and caps.

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After a digestive interval, I take to the surf with the host of other swimmers compressed into a small area. The surf is breath-taking. It doesn't look too strong from the shore but once you're in, you are swept along by the sheer force of the Pacific Ocean. It's great fun. Nearby, a group of children is being coached in competitive surf boarding. In the Alps children aspire to be skiers, in Canada, ice hockey players, in India, cricketers; here, they all want to be surfers. I'm amazed at how far out the small ones will go (watched closely by their coaches, also on boards). Maybe it's not too late for me to learn.

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We catch the ferry back to Circular Quay and immediately get on another one. This is headed to Neutral Bay fifteen minutes across the Harbour Bay. The idea is to walk from this landing to the wharf at Cremorne Point. Diane recommended this, though she went in the opposite direction. It's now after five o'clock and still very hot. The route is not marked and the first challange is to navigate a path through the suburb, until we find the shoreside path on the other side of the Kurraba peninsula. This involves a heated hill climb and navigating (by instinct) through a few streets of expensive mansions. In the heat Monica loses faith in my instinct and asks directions of a solitary local - everyone else is in watching "Neighbours". The main part of our subsequent journey takes us through a pleasant waterside park peopled with dog walkers and picknickers, with excellent views of Sydney in the distance.

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The ferries from Cremorne Point run every hour but we've timed our arrival beautifully and have only a five-minute wait, time spent looking across the harbour to the Opera House and Bridge. We're back in Circular Quay by 18:30. After our evening meal, we revisit a piece of street sculpture commemorating the early inhabitants of The Rocks. It comprises a triangular set of sandstone blocks, carved into which are respectiverly the shapes of a soldier, a convict, and a family of settlers. It's a work designed to viewed at night, the shadows creating the illusion of form.

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Posted by mikemonica 18:31

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