Crossing the Harbour, Manly pursuits raise the temperature – and something is going viral…
Tuesday 17th March 2020. St Patrick’s Day. But one like no other in history. Last night we heard the first nervous twitches about the growing threat of a coronavirus. Our airline (Emirates) sent an email, assuring customers of their vigilance and flexibility. Family members reported of a situation at home that was “changing by the hour”, and then news broke from Ireland: all their pubs and bars were now shut. Hey, this thing might just be getting serious…
But this was to be our last full day in Sydney, and after carefully considering her list, Elaine decided we should go to Manly. Several reasons for this: a) more than one person had recommended we go there, b) it would involve a ferry crossing of the harbour, thus providing a different perspective, and c) as it was some distance away, it would be best to have the maximum amount of time at our disposal to explore. So back to Circular Wharf we went.
We were lucky enough to be just in time to board a fast ferry, and find a sheltered spot at the rear of the boat. It gave me the opportunity to capture a view of the Opera House that we could only get from the seaward side, then the ferry speeded up on its twenty-minute voyage.
The approach into Manly Cove was picturesque to say the least. A mini headland flanked the bay with sundry pleasure craft anchored all around, and the ferry slowed its approach to a much smaller wharf than we had left a short while ago. The atmosphere was consciously laid-back – the Manly trademark, as we were to discover.
I’d studied a map before we arrived, so I knew Manly straddled a narrow neck of land leading to a higher point known as North Head. Our focus was the main beach on the opposite side from the wharf, and after the cool wind buffeting our ferry, we were experiencing genuine heat for the first time since arriving in Sydney. Once we’d reached the end of the pedestrianised shopping street, a place serving ice cream had already caught our eye, plus another serving iced coffees. As for the beach, well – yes. Bigger and better than Bondi!
Our energy already felt sapped by the unexpected higher temperature, so we sat for a while, taking in the hustle and bustle of a busy promenade. We were lucky to find a seat, and once there I set about the technical demands of trying to photograph the surfing community among others.
Elaine decided it was time for a change. Leaving me to play photographer, she went back into the shopping centre and reappeared wearing a new T-shirt. The clouds were thinning, the wind dropping, and the bikinis self-evident. What a contrast to Bondi Beach, where wet-suits were all the rage – and I don’t just mean the surfers…
We did take a gentle stroll along the sweep of the bay, followed by a leisurely amble back to the ferry wharf. The purpose of this was to find something to eat. Elaine had checked out some street food vendors when we’d alighted off the boat, and it looked perfect for a shared punnet of mixed salad that we could take away and enjoy at a bench in the sunshine.
Each of us found the fare on offer very tasty – but then Elaine spotted something even tastier: some topless hunky men…
Manly has a lot of water-based clubs – surfing, sailing, rowing, swimming etc – and it seems likely this lot were a club act. They soon put their man-boobs away and entered the water to swim out to a boat moored about a hundred metres offshore. Where they went after that, I have no idea. Was this some training with the Olympics in mind?
Our own interests were more leisurely, involving ice cream, another T-shirt (for me) and Happy Hour. This last spent at a bar near to where we’d spotted the hunky guys (in case they returned). They didn’t.
The nice thing about sipping cold beer in warm sunshine is that it gives you an opportunity to think. We worked out that, if we caught the fast ferry back again by around 5.30, we could get back to Darling Harbour in time for another leisurely drink at last night’s bar and enjoy their Happy Hour… (No, we’re not alcoholics. We just like people-watching. Honest!)
Regretfully, we left Manly behind with fond memories. The sunshine and the pace of life seemed to have seeped into our psyches, and this part of our adventure had indeed been about relaxing Aussie style. What a g’day.
Now here’s a coincidence: when you travel halfway across the world for a trip of a lifetime, you don’t expect to bump into one of your neighbours. That’s not exactly what happened here, but it’s pretty close. There we were, sitting at the bar in Darling Harbour as planned, when Elaine overheard what sounded like a Lancashire accent from a table behind her. Her inquisitive nature got the better of her, and she struck up a conversation.
We learned the couple came from Blackpool, around twenty miles away from where we lived. Even more unusual, the guy used to live in our home town of Longridge! It was by talking to them that we learned more about the growing threat of the coronavirus.
Their own holiday had taken in Perth and Melbourne, and they were shortly heading to Bali, but were concerned that new travel restrictions might curtail their plans. The latest news we heard was of five deaths in Australia from a disease originating in China. Five! How did that compare to deaths from crossing the road – or normal influenza? Surely this whole thing was being blown out of proportion. No need to lose sleep over rumours like that!
We were soon to re-consider…
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