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Excuse the Manly-splaining: why Sydney's Northern Beaches have become a wellness mecca

Surfers off Manly Beach (Manly Pacific)
Surfers off Manly Beach (Manly Pacific)

It takes less than 48 hours for me to understand what Sydneysiders mean by the 6am club. I’ve never been one to rise early on holiday — aren’t long, slow lie-ins under crisp linen sheets pretty much the sole purpose of turning on that OOO? — but there’s something about the Northern Beaches suburb of Manly and its weirdly addictive pre-breakfast wellness routine that quickly turns me into That Person Who Sets An Alarm On Holiday.

Mercifully, the sight of the number five on my home screen takes surprisingly little time to adjust to, since the reward — sunrise, Sydney’s glittering skyline in the distance, depending on which of Manly’s eight world-beating beaches you decide to view it from (TripAdvisor has just listed Manly Beach at number seven in the world) — is worth every single lost second of shut-eye. “You can send all the extras home now,” I joke to a friend during a Thursday morning snorkel safari, convinced that the 6am crowd of runners, surfers, sea swimmers and impossibly chiselled volleyball players could only be here on some kind of commission.

Fairy Bower Ocean Pool in Manly, Sydney (Katie Strick)
Fairy Bower Ocean Pool in Manly, Sydney (Katie Strick)

If the reward is good coffee, I suppose you could see it that way. Even nine-’til-fivers with jobs here like to joke that every day is a Neilson or Body Holiday, if you want it to be — though last time I checked, Neilson didn’t have infrared saunas or order-to-room Peloton bikes like they do at the Manly Pacific, the go-to hotel for visitors looking for a luxe wellness break a short ferry-ride from Sydney’s CBD.

The five-star, beach chic coastal hangout overlooks the pine tree-lined promenade behind Manly Beach (think Cali vibes, with fewer skateboarders and more spikeball) and has become a mecca for spa and sports-lovers since its $30m facelift last year. Health shots and Goji berries at breakfast, surfing and yoga lessons, and a rooftop pool spiced with magnesium instead of chlorine (it boosts your skin and muscle health, apparently) are among the menu here, with snorkels, flippers and yoga mats delivered to your suite and a Mercedes on hand to take you for your red light therapy session further along the bay.

The view from the rooftop pool at the Manly Pacific (Manly Pacific)
The view from the rooftop pool at the Manly Pacific (Manly Pacific)

As a well-to-do suburb of a city known for its wellness scene, Manly is naturally swimming with medispas and fitness studios, from ice baths at cold water hotspot Recoverie to sound healing sessions at Power Living, one of several yoga studios that boast an LA aesthetic without any of the Goop-loving pretentiousness or clichéd influencer types of suburbs like Bondi.

Manly Pacific’s guests are a glam yet understated crowd and the A-listers who do stop by are low-key and just as keen to get stuck in as the locals. Aussie rugby legend Michael Hooper is a regular on Manly beachfront and former Spice Girl queen Mel C recently swung by for a cryotherapy session, staff tell me when I check into the hotel’s wellness partner, Cryo Northern Beaches, run by husband and wife duo and Londoners-turned Manly-converts Dimple and Ash Naik (and Waffle, their Toy Cavoodlewho likes to sit in on glow facials if you don’t mind him seeing you in your fetching cryo attire).

Speaking of fetching attire, pack your goggles. The waters off Shelley Beach are an aquatic reserve and boast some of the most breathtaking swimming and snorkelling spots in Sydney, with members of the 7am Bold and Beautiful Swim Squad — a 1.5k paddle between Manly to Shelley Beach — regularly reporting dolphin and turtle-sightings (Fairy Bower Ocean Pool offers similar views without the waves, if you’re more of a lengths person).

Ecotreasures is your go-to for guided snorkel tours, and Manly Surf School is the go-to for getting on the board (the area is a world surfing reserve, too). Manly Sailing, Manly Kayak Centre and Sydney by Kayak all run daily kayaking sessions, while She SUPs (@shesups_) is a favourite for its women’s-only paddleboarding sessions, including an Eras Tour-themed paddle to celebrate Taylor Swift’s Sydney fly-by on March 2. Hidden Cabin Studio, one of Manly’s most luxury and popular Airbnbs (others include Pelican House, Chic Living and South Steyne Wonder), looks like something straight out of a high-end travel mag, with an exterior plant wall, chic white interiors and an al fresco seawater pool.

By the end of the week, I feel well-exercised but in an invigorating kind of way, like I’ve done something good for the soul, as opposed to that worked-my-body-into-the-ground way I’ve often experienced after structured sport-cations of summers past (sea temperatures are at their max in March, a perfect time to visit for an Indian summer on the Pacific). I’ve eaten well and drunk my bodyweight in good coffee — pick Rollers Bakehouse for your morning pastry; The Boathouse Shelly Beach for your post-swim lunch; and 4Pines for a pint — but not in that heavy, gluttonous way it’s easy to fall into on a luxury holiday.

There’s something about Manly that feels real, like you’re doing what the locals do because they all seem happy and, well, well (and because it’s hard to sit down when there are waves to be surfed and dolphins to be swum with before breakfast). If this is what the 6am club looks like, I’ve drunk the Kool(ala?)-aid. The question now is how long I can keep this up for back at home.