Spontaneous, last minute trips are always a great decision. Or, at the very least, you’ll be certain to get a great story out of them. Last night I was accepted to a Facebook Group for backpackers in Sydney and went to check out the comments. Well, the second comment on the page was for an event taking place the following morning. It was: Manly Beach to Spit Bridge walk plus free BBQ and swimming. I didn’t have any plans for Friday, so I decided, Yep, I’m doing this. The guy hosting the meet up had just returned home to Sydney after backpacking the world for a year, and wanted to pay it forward to other backpackers to have a chance to experience some friendly hospitality and meet some new people.
The ferry coming into the wharf
To get to the meeting spot outside of Manly Beach Wharf by 10am, I had to catch the 9:30 ferry out of Circular Quay (basically the wharf station outside the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House). I hadn’t been on the ferry through the harbor yet, so already my day was off to a fantastic start. Since I had no idea what to expect, or if I would even find the group, I decided right there on that ferry ride that no matter what happened, today was going to be an awesome day. I was taking a trip to an unknown area of the city, and I would explore the trail and the beaches, by myself if it came to it.
Of course, my worries were uncalled for (I need to write this saying down and keep it in my pocket), because within five seconds I found the group of about 20 other travelers waiting at the sea shell sculpture which was our meeting place. After a few quick introductions, our organizer and host for the event, James, lead the way to begin the 9km (6 mile) hike.
As the group staggered along the trail, I found myself in conversation with a German girl who was traveling in a convoy (campervan/motorhome) with 12 other Germans! They came to Australia separately, and met up through the backpacker Facebook Group (this FB group seems like a magical way to connect with people and I’m excited for what other opportunities come out of it!) They were in Sydney for three days before heading up along the coast to their next destination.
One of the many 'Shark Pools' constructed in the ocean
Along the walk were a multitude of hidden beaches frequented by the locals, parks where children were running around on the playground and a group of elderly locals enjoying a nice morning on a picnic bench sharing drinks out of a thermos. We also passed a petroglyph site carved by the aboriginal people of Australia. The carvings are said to belong to the Eora group, who were the earliest known inhabitants to Sydney before European settlers. It was amazing to come across this piece of Australian history preserved along the pathway. It also gave a weird feeling of familiarity, or something in which I could relate in the sense that the states have our own version of original peoples who carved petroglyphs before the European settlers arrived. It made me take a step back and consider how different yet how similar the histories were of two lands on separate hemispheres and separate sides of the world.
We made it to the Spit Bridge about three hours after we started and settled down in a picnic area with a BBQ pit. James made everyone sausages and hamburgers. (Oh yeah, I’m not a vegetarian anymore.) While waiting for the meat to cook, one of the German girls and I went swimming. Along the beaches are specified shark nets for people to safety swim in, but this shark net was very pitiful and it looked more like a place you would swim if you were being punished while all of your friends got to swim in the real ocean. So we went in the real ocean. I only went halfway in because my fear of sharks and that everything in Australia will kill you kept coming to the forefront of my mind. Well, we survived. No shark sightings (today).
James and his girlfriend and friend were going to Manly Beach after lunch, so a few of us parted ways, and a few of us tagged along to Manly Beach for some more swimming. The swells (yep, surfer lingo, I’m catching on) were super high and the beach was closed off for swimming. The only calm waters were a short walk down to Shelly Beach—which happens to be the only west-facing beach along the east coast. I believe it’s called Shelly Beach because of all the shells mixed in with the sand which makes it quite difficult to walk barefoot. Because of the high swells from Manly, the waters at Shelly Beach were dirty and offered no visibility. “Where are the famous clear waters of Australia?” I announced to the other girls. A local swimming nearby overheard me and said that normally this beach was beautiful and calm, and was a popular snorkeling spot, but because of the rough waters, all the sediment was brought to the surface.
The walk from Manly to Shelly
I didn’t stay in the water long after that. After drying off, I decided it was about time to catch the ferry back home. Timing worked out perfectly (as it usually does when you get your mind out of the way and go with the flow and cast your worries aside) and I caught the ferry that happened to pass through the harbour just as the sun was setting. 24 hours ago I didn’t have any plans for my Friday, and now, I had an amazing day full of adventure, history, sharing stories of cultures, swimming, and making new friends all from the spontaneity of seizing the opportunity that was presented. Don’t be afraid of the unknown or the unplanned. Life tends to work itself out when you get out of its way and listen to your instincts.