Sharon Stephenson gives her credit card a rest and hits one of the city's scenic walks.

Key Points:

Some people count sheep to help them get to sleep. I prefer to spend my insomniac hours cataloguing the clothing, shoe and handbag bargains I've scored on regular jaunts to Sydney.

So, on my latest trip, when a Sydneysider friend suggested we give the credit cards a miss, I was astounded. What else was there to do in Australia's biggest city apart from shopping or abusing our bodies at one of the many restaurants and cafes?

Plenty, as it happens. There is, for example, the 10km walk that runs from Spit Bridge to the seaside suburb of Manly. Praised as one of the most stunning trails available in a metropolitan area, the Manly Scenic Walk, as it's formally known, hugs Sydney Harbour's diverse northern foreshore.

Along the way you'll encounter historic Aboriginal sites, cliffs the colour of burnt toffee, and pockets of tropical rainforest. For punters who can't resist a sticky beak at how others live, the route also sweeps past some of Sydney's most high-octane real estate.

The walk takes three to four hours and is suitable for most fitness levels. Even those with the sporting instincts of a snail will be so gobsmacked by the natural beauty they won't mind the occasional gentle incline.

Of course, there's no law that says you can't start at Manly and work your way back to the Spit, but those in the know reckon the views are better if you begin at the bridge. And there's always the reward of a cold beer and lunch at one of Manly's many eateries if you do.

The golden orb was high in the sky by the time we parked up near the Spit. If you're lucky, your walk may coincide with the bridge being lifted to let through passing boats. We descended the path and followed it east around the foreshore. And that, in a nutshell, is all that's required for the next few hours - to meander along the generally well signposted path and drink in the quintessential Sydney sights.

The first leg of the walk - 1.5km to Clontarf Beach - is supposed to take about 40 minutes but we were distracted by a noisy kookaburra who obliged us our Kodak moment.

In summer, there's great swimming here so bring your togs - although the general caveat is to be mindful of sharks. Apparently the last fatal shark attack in Sydney harbour happened more than 35 years ago - but you never know.

At Clontarf Point we left the obscenely large homes behind and headed up into a stand of red gum trees. As much of the trail runs through Sydney Harbour National Park, there are numerous species of native flora including banksia, wildflowers and grevillea, and they're all protected, so don't be tempted to pick them.

Sadly you won't eyeball any of Australia's marsupials, but there seemed to be plenty of reptiles the size of bricks darting about the undergrowth. Yes, I know they're more afraid of me, but that doesn't stop me having irrational nightmares about them.

There's a bit of a climb to get to Grotto Point where both the signposts and our internal GPS systems failed us and we ended up hopelessly lost. But while retracing our steps we stumbled across the Grotto Point Lighthouse, a whitewashed structure that would look more at home on a Greek island. You can't enter the lighthouse, but from its vantage point you get postcard-quality views of the harbour and city.

A local returning from fishing the beaches far below directed us back to the track and reminded us not to miss the Aboriginal sites which also aren't signposted. Some of the approximately 2000 Aboriginal sights in the greater Sydney area, the engravings are protected by large railway sleepers and depict early elements of Aboriginal life including kangaroos, fish and boomerangs. There's also an Aboriginal shell midden tucked in between Fisher and Sandy Bays where apparently the good folk of the Cammeraygal clan used to dispose of their empty shellfish. Over time, they piled up and as the walk now tracks directly through the midden, you can spot bright white fragments of shells.

By now, I was prepared to sell blood for beer so we picked up the pace through Crater Cove, Dobroyd Point and Reef Beech, a popular nudist beach. The quaintly named Forty Baskets Beach signals the end of the "bush" part of the walk; from here it's a mild half-hour stroll though suburban Fairlight and another chance to perve at exclusive seaside residences.

Then you're in Manly, so named because when Governor Arthur Phillip of the First Fleet met the Aboriginal locals in 1788 they impressed him with their "manly" presence. Legend holds that they, in turn, returned the favour by spearing him in the shoulder.

Whatever its origins there's no denying Manly's attractions. However, all we were interested in was refuelling and thankfully there are plenty of places that will liquify your hard-earned dosh.

A jandal's throw from Manly's main drag is the bus terminal where we caught a bus back to our car at the Spit Bridge (ask the driver if you're not sure, they're used to dazed travellers).

So next time you find yourself across the ditch with half a day to spare, grab your sneakers and some water, slap on the sunscreen and check out the Manly Scenic Walk.

While it'll never replace shopping in my affections, it's certainly kinder on the plastic. And it ticks the other boxes - experiencing something new, burning calories, and speed dating with the natural beauty of Australia.

- Detours, HoS