Cities are very different creatures by night and day. Evening illuminations and the shadows they cast accentuate history and mystery while flashing neon creates supersaturated Las Vegas-esque streetscapes that – according to Elvis Presley, anyway - can set your soul on fire. But while it’s hard to resist the lure of bright lights announcing, “Here I am, come party!” sun-lit cities are something else again.
There is no better way to experience a city’s daytime persona than on foot and Australia has some wonderful urban walks. Here are four top options.
Water has governed life in Australia’s largest city since the First Fleet sailed through the heads in 1788 and the Manly Scenic Walkway celebrates spectacular Sydney Harbour. Tracing an 11km curlicue from the Spit Bridge to Manly, this walk hugs the shores of tranquil coves, flirts with multi-million dollar flotillas of pleasure boats and wades through seas of coastal heath to scenic lookouts on precipitous cliffs. The best plan of attack is to bus to the Spit Bridge and ferry back to Circular Quay in the late afternoon, after a swim at Manly Beach, so you catch the Harbour Bridge and its strings of climbers silhouetted by the lowering sun.
Catch the 178, 179 or 180 bus to Spit Bridge from stand D in Carrington Street, Sydney, behind Wynyard Station, just 10-minutes’ walk from Sydney Harbour YHA.
Download a map at Manly Scenic Walkway.
Indisputably less impressive than Sydney’s expanse of blue water but undeserving of ridicule as the river that flows upside down, Melbourne’s Yarra is a gateway to the quieter side of Victoria’s capital. Chiming bellbirds perform the soundtrack for a lazy, looping 11km walk along the Yarra and Merry Creek from Studley Park Boat House (complete with scones, wooden boat hire and resident geese).
Visit an aboriginal crossing point and the ruins of a colonial-era flour mill, refuel at Fairfield Park Boathouse, an early 20th century weatherboard beauty saved from sliding into the river in 1985, and stroll through a massive colony of grey-headed flying foxes (fruit bats) that hang out in riverside red gums along Yarra Boulevard, a prestigious inner-city address.
Catch the 200 or 207 bus from Queen Street (near Little Collins St), CBD, to within a few hundred metres of Studley Park, and stay at Melbourne Central YHA.
Standing sentinel behind Tasmania’s waterfront capital, and sheltering it from the worst Southern Ocean weather, kunanyi/Mount Wellington demands to be summited. You can drive to the top and take in the sweeping view of mountains, river estuary and peninsula without leaving the bitumen but where’s the fun and reward in that? The summit view packs the most powerful punch when you walk there.
Kilometres of hiking trails from rainforest rambles to remote alpine treks can be linked into loop walks of different degrees of difficulty. For a moderate-to-hard all-day hike of about 14km, drive to Fern Tree and walk up the mountain via the Fern Glade, Sphinx Rock lookout and the Organ Pipes, a great wall of dolerite columns, and back down from the granite-strewn treeless summit via the steep ZigZag Track, Silver Falls and historic Pipeline Track.
Tasmap’s Wellington Park map is available at visitor information centres, on the Spirit of Tasmania and online.
Adelaide abounds with parks, manicured and mown, wilder and scruffier, some dating from the 1830s, when a River Torrens site was chosen for Australia’s first free colony and public open space shaded green on the town plan. And in the 1990s bushwalker George Driscoll plotted a linear walk through the suburban reserves, urban gorges and national parks between Kingston Park Beach, on Gulf St Vincent, and Mount Lofty, in the Adelaide Hills.
The George Driscoll Sea to Summit is promoted as a 32km day walk but, seriously, why slog uphill for a day, puffing like a steam train, when you can walk downhill over two and finish with sand, sea and ice cream? It’s a no-brainer! While you’ll need to taxi to Mt Lofty Summit, or ask a friend to drop you off, suburban trains service the mid-point of the walk, at Coromandel Station, and the sandy finish line.
Buy a brochure from the Friends of the Heysen Trail and be prepared to transcribe directions written for walking in the opposite direction.