I love that there is still so much to explore and be amazed by in Sydney. And Manly Dam is definitely now high on my list of hidden gems and beautiful places to take my family to. With calm waters to swim in, fenced playground (soon to be upgraded), picnic areas, lots of shade, bushwalks, dam to walk across and stunning scenery, Manly Dam ticks a LOT of boxes for a fun family day out. Plus it is under an hour north-east of Parramatta.
Manly Dam is located in Manly-Warringah War Memorial Park. It is a large bush reserve tucked in the middle of suburbia, with 377 hectares of bushland and an abundance of native plants and animals. Manly Dam is the largest freshwater lake in Sydney and was formed by the damming of Curl Curl Creek in 1892. Since then the wall has been raised three times, initially in 1909 and then finally to its current height of 35 metres in 1922. Originally Manly Dam was called Manly Reservoir.
Manly Dam has been on my to do list for a while, thanks to Hello Sydney Kids. With a great mix of recreational activities for all ages, beautiful bushland and significant heritage, it is very easy to see why Manly Dam is popular with locals. And also why it is one of Sydney’s best kept secrets!
The only downside for us is the cost of parking. At $8 per hour to a maximum of $28 (from October to May), it is expensive! And means we won’t be visiting as often as we would like. We did notice a fair few people parking just outside the entrance to Manly-Warringah War Memorial Park, where parking appears unrestricted and free. It is then a few hundred metres walk into the swimming area and playground. If coming with two adults or older kids, you could drive in drop them off with your gear and then go back out to park. But it is inconvenient with one adults and little ones and makes it difficult if you also want to go bushwalking.
And for coffee lovers, it is missing a cafe or coffee cart at the dam. But you could always grab one on the way.
The dam is just as you enter Manly-Warringah War Memorial Park, on your right hand side. After parking the car just inside the entrance, we ended straight to the dam to check it out. You can walk across it and it is about 100m in length. There is fencing on both sides and a mesh walkway, which means to can see through to the dam wall and ground below. This freaked by Mr 5 out a bit but the rest of us thought it was pretty cool.
At the end of the dam wall, is the end/ start of the park circuit bushwalk. The kids were more interested in swimming so we didn’t explore much beyond the dam wall this time around.
Just passed the Manly Dam wall is the swimming area, with a beach to enter from. It is a large area, with shallow water along the shore, and buoys marking it so boats know to stay out.
Just set back from the shoreline are lots of large trees great to sit under, as well as some picnic tables.
As an added highlight for the kids, you share the beach with ducks, geese and swans….so remember to keep your food packed away. The ground in the water is mostly sandy but in parts there is a far amount of wood debris and rocks. And we recommend wearing water shoes if you plan to go exploring in the water.
Right behind the swimming area, in front of a toilet block, is a fenced, shaded playground.
It is best suited for kids 2-6yrs and has a climbing play gym and swings, with a toddler seat. The ground is softfall and there are two child-proof gate entrances.
From the signage around the park, the playground is in the process of being upgraded to become an inclusive playplace. And community feedback is being sought until 17th February 2018.
There are lots of picnic tables and bbqs, both electric and wood, near the water. Plus a three toilet blocks.
Northern Beaches Council, who manages the park, divide the picnic areas up into four sections and you can book tables in each. All the picnic areas are along the south western side of Manly Reservoir.
There are a number of bushwalks around Manly Dam, ranging in length. The main one is the Park Circuit, also known as Manly Dam Heritage Walk, which is 7.3km in length and goes around the lake. For little ones, there is the Wildflower Walk (350m) and Nature Trail (1.5km).
We just had a little wander along a small part of the Park Circuit (which was pram friendly). And look forward to checking out the walks more properly next time. More information on the walks can be found on the Northern Beaches Council website.
Other Things to do at Manly Dam
You can also go fishing, mountain biking and enjoy motor or non-motor water sports here.
There is a designated section in Manly Reservoir for motor boats, with a water ski ramp for some extra fun. As well as a designated non-motor boats section and we saw lots of people kayaking on the water.
You can fish at Manly Dam, with a NSW fishing license. And Bass seems to be the main fish to catch.
Manly Dam also has a popular mountain bike track and we saw a few people riding through the park. More information here.
Finding Manly Dam
Manly Dam or Manly Reservoir is located in Manly-Warringah War Memorial Park. Vehicle entrance to the Park is via King Street in Manly Vale. It took us about 50mins each way to get there from Rydalmere on a Sunday. There are three main car parks within the park as well as a boat ramp. Remember parking is expensive.
A bus also stops near Manly Dam but if coming from Parramatta, think this a driving adventure.
Places of Interest Nearby
- Mermaid Pool
- Clontarf Beach
- Manly and Other Northern Beaches/ Town Centres
- Wannabees Frenchs Forest