The Place Beneath the Pines | The Manly Bubble

Waiting for the Manly ferry at Circular Quay in Sydney after a six hour flight from Bali. My bags are heavy, I'm drained and already sick of Australians thanks to enduring the worst representatives the country had to offer in Indonesia, I might be regretting my decision to move to Australia. I had left a perfectly good life in New Zealand, where I had everything I could need and still decided to change it all up once again.

Named by Captain Arthur Philip for the “confident and manly” indigenous people residing back in the late 18th century, Manly is a small coastal town on the east coast of Australia, just outside Sydney. Not exactly my thoughts of the locals when I first stepped into town. The only direct access from Sydney is by ferry and despite being only 11km away, makes it feel like a remote seaside town. That all changes during the summer where hundreds of tourists are dumped into the Wharf at a steady rate every thirty minutes to clog the streets up and litter the beach.

My two stints in Manly served as a bookend to my time in Australia, and despite both stays wildly different in nature, both served to show me what home actually feels like.

Stepping off the ferry I was greeted by a shining monument to dog shit, a sure sign of things to come. The locals affectionately named it the 'Steaming Turd'. Officially titled the 'Nautilus Shell', the silvery structure greets all those who disembark from the ferry. The sun was swiftly setting and the small beach to the left was being cordoned off for penguins, naturally. Clearly another 'drop bear' situation, I didn't pay much attention to it all and went to find the apartment. As it turned out there were penguins, and seeing the tiny critters waddle out from beneath the pier was a strange sight. Maybe drop bears were a genuine threat after all.

Heading straight from the ferry, you hit The Corso; the main strip for Manly. Once a haven for independent and thriving shops for the visiting tourist. Now, not so much; boarded up shops and countless closing down sales. But all is not lost, more real estate offices are popping up to take the strain from local businesses, and of course a Starbucks. Palm trees and water features lead you down The Corso to the ten flags, marking the end of The Corso and the start of Manly's finest attraction; the beach. Stretching from South Steyne to North Steyne and finally Queenscliff, the surf here is beautifully consistent.

Standing by the flags and looking out across the beach, something that I would ritually do before and after work every day, the countless good days when lines were rolling in, the wind gently blowing offshore. A handful of surfers occupied the peak closest to The Corso, looking north down the beach and surfers are seen dotting the lineup, tiny black blobs amongst the rolling waves. Casual swimmers in between the flags at the southern most part of the beach being closely watched by the lifeguards, the sand glowing a bright white in the afternoon sun. This scene combined with the penguins, it didn't take much to come around to the idea of living in Manly.

Having spent the past two and a half years away from the UK, this was the moment where I finally felt relaxed, it felt like home. Working at a surf shop 30 seconds from the water, living a five minute skate away, the town had everything I needed. It is so easy to get lost in the rat race, forever chasing something that we're told to chase, but what we're actually supposed to catch nobody really knows. After being fired from my first job at a surf shop in Cornwall, I vowed never to work in retail again, but here I was, somehow happier than I probably ever have been.

Lunch breaks at work were usually spent in the water, drip dry on the walk back, board on the racks and back to work. This was a lifestyle I can live with. A fifteen minute walk along the coast leads you to Shelly Beach; a sheltered bay with calm waters and wild turkeys. The snorkelling around here is incredible, any given day you will see an abundance of marine life, ranging from tropical fish, Blue Gropers, Dusky Whaler Sharks, oh and the odd Great White. Venturing away from the beach, and tucked around the bay is an incredible reef break, when it works. A right hander that peels off the point, sucking the reef dry and as long as you can navigate the several exposed rocks, gives a short but intense ride. Hidden from the crowds and beautifully unfriendly to beginners thanks to the long paddle out and shallow reef, when this wave is working, it's world class.

Stepping out at sunrise, navigating the masses of fitness obsessed locals, coffee in hand, I head to check the surf. To the left is South Steyne, then northward to the two self-named spots of Yellow House and then Pipes, for the stormwater pipes that jut out from the beach. To the right was Shelly Beach and the reef break. Manly becomes a bubble. A bubble that is so easy to get lost in, until it bursts. And burst it did.

Just when you start to get too comfortable, life has a tendency to shake things up. Before I knew it, my visa was almost up, I had just over three months remaining, and the only way to extend my stay is to embark on a relaxing work stay at a farm. One minute I was enjoying sunrise swims followed by coffee and croissants, and now I was saying goodbye to that, and somehow I knew things wouldn't be the same again if I did ever return.