A Morning Trip on the Manly Ferry

Or:  Slowly waking up to the best view in the world

The horn reverberates in my ears and drowns out the seagulls, as some of my fellow commuters and I scramble to get onto our daily mode of transportation on time—take-away coffee in one hand, ticket in the other.

The best commute in the world on the Manly Ferry.

The best commute in the world on the Manly Ferry.

I cast a grateful glance at the operator who shuts the gate behind me with a clank. Made it.

Still panting from my sneaker-sprint (with my heels tucked firmly into my handbag), I walk past the line-up at the kiosk in search of a nice spot, but inside every single seat has been taken. Freshly showered and neatly pressed business men and women, many of whom have been up since the crack of dawn to do their daily workouts on the beach, fill row after row of seats. That familiar smell—of ocean and fish and people’s sweat soaked into the upholstery, mixed with a hint of coffee and whiffs of expensive cologne and perfume—fills my nostrils.

As the ferry pulls away from the quay, I manage to score a seat outside. It’s a beautiful morning of what promises to be another hot day. A light ocean breeze caresses my face and the sun turns the water into a bedazzled, undulating blanket. I put my sunglasses on and take in the view.

I can’t think of a better way to start the day—sipping my coffee, slowly allowing my body to wake up, and preparing my head for another busy day in the office; all whilst the most beautiful view in the world passes before me. In the distance, past the anchored boats bobbing in the harbour, I see the yacht club and the beautiful waterfront properties that surround it. A long string of dwellings, topped off by the round apartment building that must have the most amazing views, then makes way for the unadulterated beauty of the Coves, where invisible little Fairy Penguins scurry around by the water’s edge and a few early birds canoe their way through the bliss.

North & South Head Sydney Harbour

North & South Head, with the endless Pacific Ocean in between.

North Head majestically dips its feet into the Pacific Ocean and keeps tabs on South Head across the water. Together they guard the swell that flows through, like giant watchmen, granting passage to an array of delightful creatures. It won’t be the first time that the captain will have to cut the engine because a whale and its calf are frolicking in the waves close by, or a pod of dolphins teasingly decides to accompany us for a while.

The swell picks up and I gaze into the distance, past the Heads, at the point where the water meets the sky and they hazily blur into one. I inhale deeply and focus on the soothing movement of the boat, the rushing sound of the hull cutting through the waves, and suddenly I’m meditating without even trying. Everything falls away and only the moment remains.

Then the man beside me flips another page of his Sydney Morning Herald, sending a whiff of newspaper smell my way, and breaks the spell. I decide to keep the current affairs at bay for a little while longer and try to make out the faraway wealth that’s on display in Watsons Bay, Vaucluse, Rose Bay and Point Piper.

The ferry slowly follows the bend in the harbour, and as it heads towards Garden Island and Fort Denison I prepare myself for the favourite moment of my daily trip. I don’t have to move, I don’t have to do anything—I just have to sit and wait until the ferry takes a left, just before the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The Sydney Opera House from the Manly Ferry

The Sydney Opera House as seen from the Manly Ferry

And there it is, with its cascading, shell-like rooftops that shine brightly in the morning sun: The Sydney Opera House. My heart jumps a little as I watch it glide by, its halls dark and quiet, resting up after another night of auditory bliss. Designed by a Dane, treasured by the Australians, and admired by people from all over the world, this landmark is the cherry on the cake that is my morning commute.

I take a deep breath and gear up to blend in with the crowd and the Circular Quay morning madness, but before I am swallowed up by the anonymity of the City, I look over my shoulder and take a mental picture of what I see. The Sydney Harbour Bridge to my left, and the Sydney Opera House to my right.
What a lucky girl I am.

I wrote this post as part of the Writing 101 blogging challenge. The assignment was to “write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.”

I am lucky enough to count this experience as one of the most treasured from my twenties, when I lived in Sydney, worked hard and played hard, and marriage and kids weren’t even a speck on the horizon yet.

I now live on the other side of the world, as a happily married woman and a mother of three who’s quickly approaching forty, and I wouldn’t trade my current life for anything. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to sit on that same ferry now as carefree as I was back then. But I can draw on that memory for the rest of my life, and that makes me a lucky girl.

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