We were eager to experience Australia’s beaches while we were in Sydney. One of my husband’s co-workers recommended Manly Beach over the more famous Bondi. “Fewer crowds,” he said. Finding Manly to be an odd name for a beach, I decided to do some research. Captain Arthur Phillip, the first governor of New South Wales and founder of the settlement that became Sydney, named the cove after the “confidence and manly behavior” of the indigenous people he observed living there. 
Ferries are the transportation of choice in Sydney Harbour. They are fast and easy – and a necessity for those traveling to and from the outer reaches of the Sydney area. The freeways in Houston and my security situation in Papua New Guinea made me yearn for this low maintenance and stress-free way to get around. Plus, it would just be cool to commute by water.
The ferry to Manly leaves from Wharf #3 in Circular Quay. We made an early start from our hotel with all our beach paraphernalia in tow. It was a beautiful Sunday morning with clear blue skies. The salt air, seagulls and ship’s horns in the bustling quay made for an inviting scene. The Manly Ferry was a popular ticket on a perfect day for a beach trip. It’s a 30 minute ride through the harbour and out to the coast. As we sat chatting and enjoying the views, a fellow passenger sitting next to us recognized our Texas twang. We quickly struck up a conversation with our new friend, a young exchange student from the University of Texas, in Sydney for the spring semester. She was a wealth of valuable information for things to do during our stay. Our world became pretty small that day in the Southern Hemisphere as we talked about mutual friends. Six degrees of separation? We were only three with our fellow Texas traveler. I still marvel at our meeting and connection to dear friends back home, all because she missed her boat to her soccer game, and ended up on ours.
The ferry terminal at Manly Cove empties passengers onto a picturesque pedestrian walk called the Corso, lined with quaint hotels, shops and cafes. The end of the Corso opens up onto the wide, half-moon shaped beach, bounded on both sides by rocky cliffs. This shape is characteristic of the beaches in this part of Australia. I think the wave conditions it creates is one of the reasons why surfing is so popular here. We rented chairs and umbrellas and claimed our spot in the sand. I was comfortable with my kindle but my husband and daughter were quick to take to the water after discovering the boogie board rental stand. The weathered, friendly Australian woman who was renting boards had the appearance and demeanor of one who’d lived at the beach all her life. I could see the attraction. Australian waters are a beautiful sapphire blue, and cold – providing welcome relief from the summer heat. For a brief moment I allowed myself to imagine, ‘Yeah, I could live here.’
It didn’t take me long to notice the prominent presence of the Manly Life Saving Club. They are the modern-day equivalent of “confident and manly”…(and womanly). These clubs are a big part of Australia’s beach culture and every beach community has one. I don’t think I’ve seen the equivalent in the states. Well coordinated and looking sharp in their UV protection gear, club members patrolled the beach in pairs, scanning the water for possible signs of distress. They also keep everybody in their proper place. Swimming and surfing areas are clearly marked with flags to prevent the unfortunate collision between surfboard, boogie board and unsuspecting swimmer. Manned boats constantly patrol the water and every kind of life saving equipment imaginable is clearly visible on the beach and at the life saving station. Surf safety is serious business. It was reassuring, but I’m a child of the 70’s – the movie Jaws defines my perception of the ocean. I just kept thinking, ‘Can you protect me from the great whites roaming around out there?’
Pretty soon the sand, sun and water took a toll on everyone’s energy and made us ravenously hungry. We headed up to the Corso for lunch. There we found a local burger joint called Moo Gourmet Burgers and well, it was awesome! Turns out, America is not the only place where you can get a major burger fix. The Moo Manly menu would be the envy of any burger lover in the U.S. Some of the items are distinctly Australian, most notably, the Kangaroo Burger. All the main burger fare is 100% Australian Pure Angus Beef so my husband and daughter went for the Big Moo, a basket of onion rings and homemade sweet potato chips (chips are fries… and for me, they will always be fries). I decided on the healthier Classic Chicken (although I was determined not to leave Australia without sampling Kangaroo and Crocodile, which I did…and I lived…and it was good). We chose a table on the upper deck in the two-story establishment, looking out towards the ocean and over the towering Norfolk Pines that line the beach perimeter next to the Corso. Our lunch, with a gorgeous view of the beach and ocean, made for a memorable food experience.
A Bit of Baz
Our new ferryboat friend drew our attention to a tall stone tower on the hill to our right as we entered Manly Cove that morning. She said, “That’s where The Great Gatsby was filmed”. This definitely piqued our interest. Certain members of my family are huge Baz Luhrmann fans (especially our media production spring breaker). It’s a love that began with Strictly Ballroom, one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. If you love dancing shows (and Australian accents) then I highly recommend it. You’ll be in stitches. The love continued with Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge, Australia and finally The Great Gatsby. So, we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see the place that was transformed into Gatsby’s expansive and fabulous Long Island estate. Formerly St. Patrick’s Seminary, it now houses the International School of Management. We hiked from the beach up Darley Road to find the seminary at the top of the hill overlooking Manly Beach to the east and Manly Cove to the west. It was fun imagining how they recreated Gatsby’s opulent jazz age parties that spilled out the entrance, onto the lawn and around those fabulous fountains. The seminary is a popular site for weddings and the immaculate grounds include a beautiful chapel. I later learned it was the wedding venue for Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban. All was well; we had our photos and our celebrity fix.
What a great day it was. As we pulled away from the Manly ferry terminal and headed back towards Sydney, I wondered what Captain Philip would think if he sailed into Manly Cove today. And, I wondered what became of those “manly men”.
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manly_beachGovernor Phillip to Lord Sydney, 15 May 1788, in the Historical Records of New South Wales ii:129, quoted by Robert Hughes in The Fatal Shore, 1987, paperback ISBN 1-86046-150-6-page 15