Summary: This North Head Loop is an interesting bushwalking circuit around North Head in Manly, which uses some "secret tracks" as well as official trails. The loop passes some stunning viewpoints and World War II historical ruins.

I’m not sure what to expect from this North Head Loop bushwalk in Manly; limited parking and crowds have always put me off walking im this scenic part of the Sydney Harbour National Park. But Yvonne from Coff Trails has shared details of a loop that takes advantage of a “secret” track (shown on some maps as the Hole ni Wall Track) which avoids some of the crowds and provide access to some stunning sections of the North Head coastline.

Down the Secret North Head Track

Starting near North Fort (where there is plenty of parking), I soon find the first unmarked track, which descends along an old stone wall towards the coast.

Start of North Head Loop in Manly

Even though it’s an overcast day, there are some great views of the Sydney skyline and South Head.

The informal track generally follows the wall on the eastern side. While this is not an official track, remnants of steps and steel railings suggest this used to be a more well-trodden route.

The stone wall descends almost all of the way to the edge of the cliff; North Head includes abour seven kilometres of sandstone walls, built between 1901 and the mid 1930s.

The trail now follows the top of the cliff a short distance to the west.

Off-track section of North Head Loop in Manly

The next section of the North Head Loop is the most fun, as you climb down the cliff and cross a narrow gully before ascending the cliff on the other side. A couple of slightly dubious ladders help with the steep clamber down, although you can scamble down without using them. It’s more fun than dangerous, despite the fairly steep terrain.

The track up is not as obvious, although once I reach the top of the cliff on the opposite side of the gully I quickly pick up the trail again. It passes the remains of what may have been a stone hut as it heads towards Cottage Road.

A bit further along the North Head Loop is an obelisk erected to commemorate the passengers who died both during the voyage and after their arrival on the ship “Constitution”, which sailed from England on 15 February 1855.

Through the Qurantine Station

I’m now back on “official” trails, with the North Head loop following a bushwalking track through the old North Head Quarantine Station. There’s a mix of bush and restored Quarantine Station buildings – and still not too many people around.

The bushwalking track reaches Entrance Road, with the North Head Loop now following the road. Signs point out one of the two reservoirs and pumphouses built between 1881 and 1911, when the Quarantine Station was used to house residents of Sydney who had smallpox.

Down to Collins Flat Beach (optional side-trip)

There’s very limited parking at Collins Flat Beach, so I add on a side-trip down to the beach. An unmarked trail follows – you guessed it – another sandstone wall down towards the water. Its provides a much nicer and more direct route than following the road.

The track meets Collins Beach Road, opposite the signposted walking trail that provides access from the road to the beach.

Collins Flat Beach is the busiest place I’ve seen so far on my North Head Loop, with many people on the beach – and a few in the water.

It’s a sheltered beach, with almost no waves, and a picturesque waterfall that drops onto the sand.

AWAT9858 LR Stunning views from a (partly) secret North Head Loop in Manly

Out to Blue Fish Point

It’s the same way back from the beach (although you could also follow the road up), and then a bit further along North Head Scenic Drive. Cross The Barracks Precinct, passing a signposted walking track down to Shelley Beach – which woud make another nice side-trip, although not one I’m doing today! On the eastern side of North Head is Fishermans Way, a walking track out to the eastern cliff-line. The track skirts around the North Head Wastewater Treatment Plant, before reaching the top of the cliffs near a meteorological station and an old trig station.

The informal track continues along the top of the cliffs towards Blue Fish Point, with unobstructed views out over the ocean.

AWAT9880 LR Stunning views from a (partly) secret North Head Loop in Manly

As the track descends towards Blue Fish, an old World War Two surveillance post comes into view.

Just beyond the concrete fort is Blue Fish Point, a large sandstone ledge perched high above the ocean that’s been described as “one of the best-known landmarks on the eastern face of North Head”.

AWAT9883 LR Stunning views from a (partly) secret North Head Loop in Manly
AWAT9900 LR Stunning views from a (partly) secret North Head Loop in Manly

As well as offering some great views of Manly and Long Reef Point in the distance, Blue Fish Point is a fairly well-known fishing spot. You can climb down to some of the lower rock ledges – but take care as this is one of the most treacherous fishing spots in Sydney. Over twenty people have died here, since the first recorded casualty in September 1890, when rock fishermen Charles Lessing was swept to his death.

After returning the same way I continue further south along the top of the cliff, where there are more great views down the coast towards the end of North Head.

AWAT9915 LR Stunning views from a (partly) secret North Head Loop in Manly

This area also has an old World War II surveillance post and a Command Post – both concrete structures are covered in graffiti.

From the old forts, I cut across the open terrain to re-join the Fishermans Way track, back to Bluefish Drive.

Avenue of Honour

From Bluefish Drive I take the Avenue of Honour, established in 1933 to commemorate World War One. But… before I get too far along this trail I spot another faint trail that follows (another) sandstone wall towards the coast.

There’s not much of a track, but it’s easy walking as I follow the high sandstone wall.

AWAT9938 LR Stunning views from a (partly) secret North Head Loop in Manly

The wall stops right at the edge of the sheer cliff, from where there is another nice view of the rugged North Head coastline.

Returning the same way back to the main track, I continue down the Avenue of Honour. I’ve still only seen a handful of people, although this section is a bit busier.

AWAT9942 LR Stunning views from a (partly) secret North Head Loop in Manly

The next side-trip is up a steel boardwalk to the North Head Close Defence Observation Post.

The Close Defence Observation Post was used during World War II for spotting Japanese ships off the coast.

There’s sweeping views over the ocean as you descend the walkway, back to the Avenue of Honour.

AWAT9953 LR Stunning views from a (partly) secret North Head Loop in Manly

Next to the trail is the North Head No. 2 Gun Emplacement, which in World War II held two heavy 9.2 inch calibre guns with a range of 28km.

At the end of the Avenue of Honour is the Memorial Walk, which honours those who have served and supported the defence of Australia in peace or in war (with five monuments dedicated to the Colonial Wars, the First and Second World Wars and post-Second World War conflicts).

The very last leg of my North Head Loop follows an unnamed trail, which runs parallel to a sandstone wall and the North Head Scenic Drive, back to North Fort. Although there isn’t much of a view from the trail, if you peer over the high sandstone wall you get a great view of the city skyline.

AWAT9972 LR Stunning views from a (partly) secret North Head Loop in Manly

The entire North Head Loop as I’ved walked it has been just over 9 kilometres; without the various side-trips it would be more like 5km. But it’s been the various unmarked and un-signposted trails that have provided the most spectacular views and vantage points – so allow some time to discover the less-frequented spots around North Head!

Getting to the North Head Loop

North Head is located on North Head Scenic Drive, which is off Darley Road in Manly and about a five minute drive from Manly (or 30 minutes drive from the city). You can also get there by ferry (to Manly Wharf) and then the 135 bus to North Head Q Station. There are multiple places from which you can start the North Head Loop walk; North Fort has the biggest car park. But you could also park on Bluefish Drive (which may be less busy), at the Q Station or on Gunner Road.

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