Activities and things to do in the water at Manly, Sydney

Kayakers explore the harbour.
Kayakers explore the harbour.
Yoga on board.

Yoga on board.

My 12-year-old son and I are on a rocky Sydney sandstone escarpment on a winter's afternoon looking out over Manly Cove, past both North and South Heads, and to what lies beyond.

All we see is the Pacific Ocean. Next stop Fiji or New Zealand's Bay of Islands.

"This is Arabanoo Lookout," Craig Moulds says. "It's named after Arabanoo, the first Aboriginal man to live among European settlers."

If Arabanoo Lookout on Dobroyd Head – several metres above sea level and requiring a reasonably aerobic uphill workout – seems an unusual spot to include on a four-hour kayak tour of Sydney Harbour, it's because this is a kayak trip with a difference.

Moulds has had more than 20 years to perfect this operation since he founded the Manly Kayak Centre in 1994.

But has anything changed? Surely, the aquatic conditions and magnificent headlands are much the same?

However, as we admire the 270-degree views of the harbour from Dobroyd Head, Moulds explains how much broader the leisure industry has become in just two decades.

When he started, he simply hired out kayaks to customers who wanted to spend a few hours exploring the harbour on their own.

Now he offers an aquatic smorgasbord of activities.

Of course, you can still hire a kayak for a few hours. Or you hire a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP), take SUP lessons, or join a SUP morning workout. There are even SUP yoga classes, for those bored with doing yoga on land.

Then again, you can hire a fishing boat, or join an open water whale watching tour (without the need to first travel to Circular Quay).

But my son and I have signed on for the guided kayak tour, which includes landing at several of Sydney's "secret beaches", a visit to the fascinating Q Station, and a light lunch.

The idea for the guided kayak tour came about because of the growing number of Asian tourists coming to Manly, Moulds says. Many haven't been in a kayak before, or are nervous about being on the water on their own.

There is also the slight complication of avoiding the ferries (it's amazing how you can fail to notice them approaching when you've hit your paddling groove!).

Our adventure begins   from Manly Cove, across North Harbour to Reef Beach. Here a sign warns  us not to strip off since nude bathing is banned (my son breathes a sigh of relief).

"We have Rex 'Moose' Mossop, the late rugby league player and commentator, to thank for that,"  Moulds says. "In 1976, he made a citizen's arrest of a nudist who he said had walked through his garden after visiting Reef Beach. He caught the man putting his trousers back on in his car."

As we're pulling the kayaks onto the sand, my son finds a piece of old glass on the beach.

"There used to be a glass factory on Manly Cove," Moulds says. "A few years ago, there was a big storm and I found hundreds of old glass bottles that had just been dumped into the cove."

From Dobroyd Head, we can clearly see the Q Station and the two beaches – Collins and Store – which will be our final ports of call.

As we reboard our kayaks and start paddling across to the other side of North Harbour, we're joined by one of  Moulds' employees in a motor boat. Each guided tour includes a powered escort – just in case anyone finds the paddling too exhausting.

"Do you ever see sharks?" my son asks when we reach halfway, where the water is perhaps 20 metres deep.

"I've only ever seen two in the 21 years I  have been doing this,"  Moulds says. "But, of course, they're here. It's the Pacific Ocean and this is their natural home."

However, it's much more common to see whales while you are kayaking during the migration season. Mothers and their calves often take the opportunity of a breather in Manly Cove, Moulds says.

"That is one of the big changes in two decades. Humpback whales were almost on the endangered list when I started. Now are there are 20,000 individual sightings of whales every year from North Head, and that's only in daylight hours. So you can double that."

Soon we pull up to the beach at Q station. During summer  Moulds' team provides a beautiful picnic at Store Beach, one of those harbour beaches that can be reached only by water.

But today – in winter – we are having lunch instead at Q Station's Luggage Store Visitor Centre, Cafe and Museum.

After healthy salads for the adults and a sausage roll for the son, we tour the fascinating museum which tells the 150-year history of what used to be the North Head Quarantine Station. Obviously, Q station offers its own range of history walks and ghost tours.

Now we get a choice.

Continue paddling, or get a tow back behind the motor boat.

Apparently we're not the first to accept the tow – so we don't feel so bad, especially since clouds are feathering the sky. But what a great adventure in our home city.



At $109 a person, they run every Saturday and Sunday, with departures between 10am-2pm. Minimum group size: three. Phone: 02 9976 5057.

Q STATION, SYDNEY HARBOUR NATIONAL PARK, MANLY  (Free admission). Phone 02 9466 1551.

Steve Meacham (and son) were guests of the Manly Kayak Centre. 

This story Activities and things to do in the water at Manly, Sydney first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.