Manly Ferry - public transport and Sydney Harbour cruise.
When the first Manly ferry was commissioned in the mid-1800s, little consideration was given to installing WIFI, an oversight which has since been redressed. Nowadays passengers can login at WIFI hotspots on board. For regular commuters, keen to fire off a few urgent emails, this must be a godsend, but for rubberneck tourists like me it would be sheer lunacy to spend even a moment peering at a laptop when Sydney Harbour is just outside.
From every angle this famous waterway is stunning. From the air it signals a return home to weary travellers, and for visitors it’s a breathtaking introduction to Australia. The Harbour is the centrepiece of Sydney. A world renowned bridge crosses it, an iconic opera house sits on its shore and home buyers spend a fortune for its views.
Leaving Circular Quay, the Manly ferry passes the Opera House on the right (I mean starboard), then the Harbour Bridge on the portside before continuing its journey past a host of famous landmarks. The tiny rocky island that became Fort Denison once served as a place of isolation to punish convicts. Complete with a Martello Tower (a circular armed bunker), the fort was built in the mid-1800s to defend against the perceived threat of foreign invasion.
These days Fort Denison is less about preparing for an invading Russian armada and more about enjoying a macchiato and a light snack at the Island’s popular restaurant. Captain Cook Tours has a regular ferry service to Fort Denison and the National Parks and Wildlife Service runs tours of the fortifications.
Further along are Clark Island, named after first fleeter Lieutenant Ralph Clark, and Shark Island. Both islands are popular picnic spots and wedding venues. In 1789 Lieutenant Clark set about establishing a vegetable garden on the island bearing his name, but the fruits of his labours were repeatedly stolen. Not what you’d expect in a penal settlement.
When the ferry turns north it passes The Heads; two headlands marking the entrance to Sydney Harbour from the open sea. It’s then on to Manly, once a seaside resort and now a busy coastal suburb and weekend retreat.
When I left Circular Quay for Manly it had been raining all morning and the weather remained grubby for the rest of the day. But this simply proved that Sydney Harbour doesn’t need the sun’s flashy glare to show off its beauty. It may not have been beach weather but I enjoyed a relaxing time sitting on the Manly foreshore watching the ferries come and go through the mist. Night had fallen by the time my ferry returned to the city and to top off a great day, a fog had settled over the Harbour Bridge creating an eerie halo.
Nuts and Bolts
- The Freshwater class ferries travelling between Circular Quay and Manly are 70 metres long and have an 1100 person capacity.
- A return fare to Manly is $14 for adults and $7 for kids under fifteen, making this the cheapest Harbour cruise in town. Weekly and day passes for use on all public transport are available if you’re planning a longer stay in Sydney. NSW Transport also has a Sunday Funday deal where parents with at least one child, 15 years or under, can travel all day on the City’s ferries, buses, trains and light rail for $2.50 per person.
- In good weather the trip takes about 30mins.
- This service is very busy on weekends, particularly during summer, so it might pay to arrive early.
- WIFI usage is free for the first 45min/30MB and charges apply thereafter.
- Manly ferry also has bike racks, toilets, a filtered water fountain, a well stocked tuck shop and TV.
- With a supermarket, cafes, bars and speciality stores, Manly Wharf is not unlike a shopping centre.
- Manly was so named because Captain Arthur Phillip, head of the First Fleet, was impressed by the "confidence and manly behaviour" of the north shore Aborigines.
Manly Ferry Timetable
Captain Cook Tours (Fort Denison Ferry)
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Fort Denison Tour
If you have memories, fond or otherwise, of ferry trips to Manly we’d like to hear from you.