We walk everywhere. Usually it’s to less-than-glamourous places such as the grocery store or, for me, work. But when there’s a handful of spare consecutive hours to cash in on, we try to walk somewhere. Some destination we haven’t been before. A beach, a hiking track, a cafe (the latter soley on account of my persuasion). The beauty of our location in Manly is its close proximity to all the good stuff. It’s amazing how many cool places you can see using only your feet to get you there.

On this particular fair day, we stepped out the front door to walk north, destination: Curl Curl. We planned to explore the shoreline as it twisted around cliffs and arched along the beaches.

The Northern Beaches are a string of twenty-two beaches that stretch from Manly to Barrenjoey Head. By now, we’ve ventured to a handful of them. I must confess that both Mona Vale and Palm Beach we reached via bus. Unfortunately we can’t walk everywhere.  Oh, and Dee Why too.  Although in our defense, we didn’t know how close Dee Why was, it being our first destination beach trip, otherwise we definitely could have hoofed it.

From our apartment complex we walked out to the water, then pivoted north to follow the boardwalk. And the end of the beach we strolled over the bridge that spans the river inlet. During my first week in Manly in an effort to keep up with Kirk, I fell off my longboard and crashed it into the curb on this very same bridge. Up a set of steep steps, we past Café Splat. On a couple of occasions I had a coffee at this café out on the patio and relished the lovely views overlooking the ocean. Up more steps, then at the top of Queenscliff we stood.

The residential architecture demanded our scrutinization. As avid readers of Dwell magazine, we like to think of ourselves as amateur architecture critics. We ambled down a No Thru Traffic road, checking out solar panels and open-air garages. One house seemed to have the structure of an actual shipping container, although we couldn’t be certain. Another dwelling sported modern accordian sun shades on the outside. Nifty.

The descent through the cool vegetation down the backside of Queenscliff drops you at the south end of Freshwater beach. Pausing for a short break, we found some comfy boulders and sat down to take in the seascape and watch the surfers chase waves.

Every beach has its own personality. Its own individual fingerprint. You’d think, gosh, there’s only a certain number of combinations of water, sand and scrub before they all start looking the same.  Not so.  Just like people, every person – all 6 billion of us – are unique; as are the world’s beaches. Some are wide and sweeping, their dunes of sand whipped like the desert. Others, such as Freshwater, are sheltered by towering cliff heads on either side. Low grass fringes some beaches, while others like Manly boast giant pines. Sometimes the water is calm, a striking deep green-blue, like a giant bowl of Jell-O gelatin. Or it can be choppy, rising with aggravation and crashing onto its own shore.

We carried on. Just a hop, skip – not even a jump – and we stood at the north side of Freshwater. Looking south from whence we came, I shot a quick sequence of images to later stitch into a panorama. A couple of swimmers paddled laps in the seaside pool. Pools like this can be found at the end of nearly every beach, nestled into the rock cliffs and subject to the changing tide. Sometimes fierce waves crash up and over into the pool giving the focused breaststrokers a bit of a surprise.

Clambering up the rocks, Kirk and I stood at the edge, pondering the ocean. Giant waves hurled themselves into the cliffs, etching beautiful rippling patterns in the sandstone. A fisherman wrestled with his potential catch, every so often bending his pole into an “S” under the strain of the unknown sea monster.

We skirted the cliffs on towards Curl Curl. A thin, precarious looking sliver of rock jutted out over the frothy water and rocks below. “Wow, that looks a bit scary.”

“Yeah. I wouldn’t go near that,” said Kirk.

We both walked past it, and looked back at it from the other side. It looked even less supported from this new angle. An old couple had just stood up from their seat admiring the ocean and headed toward us. The man spotted the outcropping. “Don’t you dare!” squeaked the woman. In defiance, he stepped confidently out onto the rock, right out to the edge. The woman looked down at the ground, shook her head. I looked at Kirk. “Take a picture of me!?” I couldn’t have my audacity for a good dare outdone by an 80 year-old man.

“Oh no you don’t.”
“Come on!”
“Lauren, what if that rock breaks off? Are you going to be happy then with your picture and a pair of broken legs?”
“It’s not going to break. That old guy just went out there.”
“Yeah, like opening a jar of jam. He probably loosened it for you.”
“Whatever.”
“Ok, fine! Go out there. I’ll take your picture. Go. Go!”

With Kirk’s reverse psychological blessing, suddenly a mild cold sweat came over me. My head said no, but my feet turned me around, and I walked tentatively toward the precipice. I crouched down, then edged out spider-walk style, my feet in front and my hands behind me.

“Alright, alright! Far enough!” yelled Kirk. I dangled one foot over the edge, but kept the other one on the rock in preparation for a quick flight at the sound of any creaking or cracking. “OK, I got a million, come on, get back here!”

Clouds started to darken the sky. We walked down to Curl Curl. Between the frontage road and the sand stood a café. A couple sat outside on the terrace in the orange chairs and white tables. Kirk so considerately indulged my request to sit and have a coffee. We stared out at the ocean. Its bands of white waves had begun to thrash and rip themselves apart in the preview of the coming gale. “We should get going, aye?” suggested Kirk.

For a minute we pondered taking the bus back. Ah, but it was only a half hour walk taking the road through town. If it rained, we’d be wet. Oh well. Our two pairs of feet it would be.

The beach was getting emotional. As Sting sang, “she can be all four seasons in one day.”