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The Manly ferry rates at the top of most lists for ferry rides in Sydney Harbour, and the wharves at Circular Quay show it is by far the most used route, with both a regular ferry and a fast ferry. The regular one takes 30 minutes to travel the 12, while the fast ferry does it in 20, includes a bar on board and the fare is the same as the regular ferry. Presumably if you are a commuter, especially if you enjoy an after-work tipple, the fast ferry is the obvious choice. But for us, we just wanted to enjoy the trip and even the regular ferry ride was over too soon.
First off after departing we turned to the right out of Circular Quay and got great views of the Opera House as we swung past. Next up and very obvious on the starboard was the Australian Navy’s HMAS Canberra (L02) helicopter landing dock, moored at Port Jackson and looking very prominent with its high-sided, boxy profile and ski-jump bow.
We then turned to the port as we passed Bradleys Head and three other headlands. At that point we could look out to the open Pacific through the gap between Quarantine and North Heads on the left and Hornby Lighthouse on South Head on the rightthe entrance to Sydney Harbour.
Manly Cove is a lovely sandy beach, spoilt by the substantial ferry terminal built right in the middle. We had no real plan when we arrived other than to explore, so we walked straight ahead from the ferry terminal and followed the main pedestrian precinct, The Corso, lined with palm trees and plenty of places to eat and spend money. After only 500 we were already at the beach on the other side of the isthmus, the open Pacific. This beach had all the action; the surfers, the family picnics, and the school groups doing their phys. ed.
Not being beach or bar folk, we walked along the shoreline trail, around Cabbage Tree Bay, and fairly soon were leaving the bulk of civilisation behind and climbing up the cliff path. This gave a great view north along the Pacific coast and led into the trails of the Sydney Harbour National Park, where we enjoyed our first wild Australian land with the oh-so-different plants. This rocky headland is several kilometres across and there are coastal paths and inland nature paths to be enjoyed. But check your maps, because there is also a sewage treatment plant and military base to get in your way.
Manly town developed as a seaside tourist town on a sandy isthmus that still shows its origins, with a laid back style in the housing and shops. North of the town there is now a lot of residential development and that’s what keeps the ferry so busy. Make the visit to enjoy the beaches, the town or the walks around the headlandor just to enjoy the trip on the ferry.
For our return trip the sun was shining behind the skyline of downtown Sydney, and the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House were straight ahead, making us feel we had now arrived in the Australia we’d been expecting to see.

The crossing
12 in 30 (20 in the Fast Ferry)
Operating from early morning to late at night, year-round
The boats
The Sydney Ferries fleet consists of 34 passenger ferries, divided into eight classes of boat
AUD $8.49 (2024). Tap on and off with a credit card or Opus card. Tap on and off with a credit card or Opus card.
Sydney Ferries (Transport for NSW)

Includes maps, fares, schedules
When I visited
November 2023

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