Three brothers, 70km, and 40 degree heat. Dan, Pat and John take on the Bondi to Manly hike along Sydney’s iconic coastline, with an ambition to play a few innings of cricket and brew a few cuppas along the way.
On a hot weekend last November, while Sydney cooled off in the ocean or under the air conditioner, many turned their heads in surprise at the sight of three hikers, trekking along the coastline between Bondi and Manly, loaded up with Osprey backpacks and a bright yellow cricket bat.
That was us – Dan, Pat and John – and with the help of Osprey and We Are Explorers, we walked from Bondi to Manly across two 40 degree days, and survived.
Growing up in a small country town, we spent countless hours outdoors playing backyard cricket, bonding over the crash of a cover drive hitting the back fence, or the thrash of a pull shot disappearing into the dense branches of a tree. Basically, backyard cricket was a big thing for us.
Over time, the three of us moved out of home and the runs dried up. Now all living separately within Sydney, with limited access to shared time and backyards, we spend most of our time together over a cup of coffee.
With a few regular cafes centred around home suburbs, we’ve become shameless coffee aficionados and can confidently say a new craze has been found.
From these two passions – cricket and coffee – alongside an odd attraction to gruelling adventure, The Cricketer’s Coffee Club was born.
On this particular adventure, we sported a pair of Osprey Stratos 34 packs, an Osprey DayLite Travel pack, a 3L Hydraulics Reservoir each and a few handy Ultralight Dry Sacks to keep all our kit safe and secure.
Day 1 – Bondi Beach to Anderson Park
The prospect of walking 70+km over two days didn’t seem daunting as we travelled to Bondi in the dark.
We stuffed our food supplies into our Osprey dry sacks, filled up our 3L Hydraulics Reservoirs, and took some happy snaps on the promenade at Bondi before setting off as the first rays of sun appeared over the watery horizon.
We were overflowing with energy and eager to start. Filled with a blissful naivety about the challenge ahead, we marched along the beachfront while Bondi locals bathed in the ocean beside us. There was not a hint of anxiety about the distance or the weather.
First Session – Bondi sunrise, cliffs, and the first cricket match
Within minutes of starting our walk, we were treated to a magnificent view from the Bondi Golf Club, looking north across the cliffs toward Manly and North Head.
It was clear that the ambitious schedule we’d set for the weekend would reduce the time available to stop and enjoy the serenity.
As we slowly wound our way up the coastline, it became apparent that Pat was the fastest walker in the group. Nothing to do with fitness, Dan and John concluded, Pat had simply selected a smaller 18L Osprey DayLite pack, naturally allowing him to carry a lesser share of the food and coffee supplies!
Meanwhile Dan and John carried 24L Osprey Stratos backpacks for the superior waist harness, but unfortunately the extra volume meant extra supplies. Whether it was cunning on Pat’s part or sheer dumb luck, future hikers take note: if you’re sharing supplies, bring the smallest bag if you want the easiest walk.
We quickly arrived at Dudley Page Reserve, stopping to enjoy awesome city views and refuel with a cup of coffee.
In our first game of cricket for the day, John’s shots needed no introduction, playing a flurry of flawless cover-drives, much to the detriment of the ball fetchers.
There are no boundary fences in the reserve like at home, so the rules were soon changed and there was a call for a reduction in the power behind these shots.
Back on the track, we followed the tops of the cliffs we’d seen in the distance earlier, stairs and boardwalk rising and falling with the terrain, with small sections connected by grassy parks and the odd quiet street.
We enjoyed a stop by Hornby Lighthouse at South Head, snapped a few photos before starting off again.
The next section of the walk was the highlight of the first day. The trail wound along the waterfront, bagging beach after beach between Watsons and Rose Bay. Any of these stretches of sand alone would be cause enough for a day trip, and we passed at least ten in a couple of hours.
‘We’ll come back here again’ we agreed, losing count of the number of times we’d said that already.
Second Session – Refuelling and doubt sets in
We were lucky enough to have family join us in Rose Bay for lunch, a nice way to end the first session. Our other brother Matt provided more energy than the three of us combined. We supplied the coffee and devoured fresh chicken sandwiches and muffins. More importantly, we restocked on water.
Having walked 22km in rising temperatures, and each having drained our Osprey 3L Hydraulics Reservoirs nearly two times over, the realisation of what was to come set in. We’d chosen to walk on the hottest November weekend on record.
The now blistering sun blasted the city, temperatures climbing ever upward as we weaved our way around to Finger Wharf, walking zig-zags to ensure our path passed under every and any form of shade available.
We took a drinks break in Double Bay, bowled a few overs in the shade at Rushcutters Bay, and cooled off at a convenience store in Elizabeth Bay. The scorecard of ‘bays’ was filling up quickly.
Both at the beginning and end of the short walk through the Botanical Gardens we stopped, defeated, and fell down in the shade.
Covered in sweat we lay in silence, our coffee supplies long gone, our water warm, the heat inescapable. The existential doubts crept in as we realised we had to back up tomorrow.
Third Session – Beer and a bit of positivity
In hindsight, we’re genuinely unsure where the energy to stand and shoulder our packs came from. Yet there was an odd sense of satisfaction as the Harbour Bridge appeared in full view.
Our barometer for distance, the national icon which slowly edged closer and closer throughout the day, now rose proud, signifying our achievement.
Our spirits lifted as we ticked over the 40km mark and the mercury dropped below 40 degrees.
Much to the amusement of the locals, we stumbled into a pub in The Rocks for a well deserved beer. ‘Nice day for a hike’, they laughed in jest, happy with their decision to Uber to the pub instead of walking (the long way) from Bondi.
All throughout the day, we’d been amusing locals on beaches and streets as three sweaty young men trudged on with packs, a yellow plastic cricket bat sticking out from Pat’s Osprey pack.
Post-pub, we crossed the Harbour Bridge and made our way to Anderson Park in Neutral Bay where we stopped for the last game of cricket. Any remaining energy we had now resurfaced as the competitive edge within us arose.
‘Well bowled, well batted, well fielded,’ we cheered, enjoying the miracle that our spirit was not yet broken. After 20 minutes our lift arrived and we upped stumps, eager to enjoy some R&R before day two.
A cold shower and dinner with the rest of our family was the ideal finish to the day, and a perk of choosing to do this hike so close to home.
We ‘camped’ overnight in Dan’s North Sydney apartment, hoping to recover any strength we could before day two.
Day 2 – Anderson Park to Manly Beach
Anderson Park was the opening destination for day two. Fatigue pushed the starting time back, giving us ample time to prepare food and coffee for another long day.
We were joined by a close friend, James, whose perception of pace immediately needed readjusting. The rest of us all had stiff muscles from the previous day and could not compete with fresh legs.
First Session – Local birds and tree-lined bush tracks
After a picturesque stroll along the Cremorne Point foreshore, the first game of cricket was scheduled at Reid Park, where we’d also be joined by Dan’s wife, Sarah.
With the help of Sarah and James, we were able to get in some successful overs before Pat had a humorous interaction with a persistent and hungry brush turkey, one of the North Shore’s most notorious inhabitants.
The next section was the highlight of the whole walk – the trails in and around Taronga and Middle Head.
Except for a glimpse of the city every now and then, this could’ve been a remote coastal walk anywhere in Australia.
The winding trail was lined on either side with gum trees and native shrubs, while birdsongs filled the air. Bondi to Manly had served up a pretty good wicket.
Second Session – Hitting rock bottom
By the time we reached Balmoral the sun was high and belting down. The beach was littered with locals swimming and sunbathing, a weekend we were envious of.
We paused for lunch at a beachside cafe and to plan out the next section of the walk.
Leaving Balmoral the humidity and hot sun set in as we marched on, climbing to the Parriwi Lighthouse and descending back down to the Spit.
By the time we arrived at Clontarf we had empty tanks. Hot and tired, we sought shelter behind a kiosk as the wind blew sand and dust from the beach into our eyes and exposed skin. We discussed retiring hurt and calling off the end of the hike, but we chose to push on.
Battling the weather as we climbed the hills toward Manly, the precious shade disappeared and we found ourselves isolated, in desperate need of a rest but unable to find a place to stop.
Fortunately, when all hope seemed lost, we crested a small rise to find a single, leafy tree offering shady respite from our treacherous quest.
Third Session – Classic catches and the home stretch
Revived from the long stop in our shady oasis, we took off with a new purpose as the track started downhill. ‘We’re swimming at the first beach we find’, we agreed.
After a couple of hours of hell, we were enjoying ourselves again. Forty Baskets Beach was small and surprisingly quiet despite Sydney putting on a textbook beach day.
We broke out the cricket gear again and commenced a classic catch competition. Pat took the award for leaping fully out of the water to take a screamer.
The cool ocean was seriously refreshing. By choosing such a short timeline, we hadn’t had time to swim at the beaches we’d passed earlier on. But after stopping at Forty Baskets, we realised a beach stop would’ve been just what we needed to cool off and keep us going the full distance.
From here we didn’t have long to Manly, but it was slow. The pain in Dan’s feet was excruciating. John had a headache. Pat had a lighter pack and no problems.
Eventually, after over 70km and two days of consistent walking with more than 1,600m of elevation gain, we arrived in Manly.
It’d be amazing to say this was a joyous arrival with much energy and excitement, but in reality we’d been knocked for six and had nothing left.
We dropped our weary Osprey packs and just lay on the grass. We‘d finished the walk, but the walk had defeated us. This match was a draw.
Looking back on this experience it was a positive one. We spent more continuous time together than we had in years, and had some fabulous exposure to the distinctly different landscapes Sydney has to offer.
It exceeded our expectations of a city coastal walk, but reaffirmed the idea of exploring your own backyard. Even for the less adventurous, there are so many beautiful and accessible places in Sydney – smaller trails, beaches, parks and lookouts.
Would we do it again? Yes and no. This was a gruelling walk for one weekend and was made possible by Osprey. Without quality packs and hydration systems, we do question if we would have finished.
Up against the distance and the heat, good equipment played a major part in our success and we thank Osprey for their place in our team. The 24L Stratos packs were the winner for a walk of this length and difficulty. Their padded hip belts and ventilated backs a huge relief.
While we’d never do the whole thing in such a short time again, over three or four shorter walks we’d go back and spend more time relaxing at the beaches, parks, and cafes we passed on the way, with a bat and ball in hand.
Sydney is a truely majestic city, with both man-made and natural beauty, and Bondi to Manly is a great way to gain exposure to a lot of it.
Should you do it? We’ll leave that up to you to decide…