Sydney Nature & Outdoors

What makes Sydney so… Sydney? Boundless nature and outdoor activities

“A beautiful day, lots of family, love and laughter and a picnic with the best view in the world. That’s Sydnicity.” Sarah-Jane Clark and Heidi Middleton, designers, sass & bide.

Sydney’s beautiful natural surroundings and glorious harbour make the city renowned around the world. National parks virtually surround the city. To the west lies the magnificent Blue Mountains National Park and World Heritage Area. Royal National Park (the world’s second oldest national park) lies to the south and Ku-ring-gai Chase on the Hawkesbury River to the north.

At Sydney’s heart, Sydney Harbour National Park includes bushland remnants of Sydney’s original eco system, more than 70 Aboriginal sites, 200 historic buildings, beaches galore and the towering cliffs of North and South Head at the harbour entrance. Visitors can enjoy these wonderful accessible National Parks and green spaces year round.

Adventures in store

Sydney BushwalksNational parks offer adventurous aspects that many Sydneysiders don’t know about. One of Sydney’s best bushwalks, for instance, is considered by many to be the Coast Track in the Royal National Park. It’s part of the famous coastal walk, which starts with a scenic 20-minute ferry ride across the Port Hacking River from Cronulla to Bundeena. Ancient Aboriginal carvings and unusual sandstone formations lead to an overnight campsite by a secluded beach and lagoon. Royal Coast Walks conducts overnight trips, dining on sumptuous food and camping under the stars before an equally amazing walk the next day.

Rangers lead discovery programs in the Royal National Park including early morning birdwatching tours, the Bungoona Moonlight Experience (listen for owls, possums, frogs and other night creatureson a two-hour walk), an Aboriginal Cultural Morning and a Twilight Adventure. 

Apart from the large national parks, numerous lesser-known national parks, aquatic reserves, nature reserves andstate conservation areas – 51 in all – lie within easy reach of Sydney. Barrenjoey Head Aquatic Reserve includes the entire rocky platform around the area and much sea; Dalrymple-Hay Nature Reserve, in the north-shore Sydney suburb of St Ives, protects one of the last remaining stands of blue gum highforest in the city.

Sydney Harbour Islands

Overnight Camping on one of Sydney's IslandsSydney Harbour islands are the jewels in Sydney Harbour National Park, which was established in 1975. They are Fort Denison, Goat Island, Shark Island, Clark Island, Rodd Island and Cockatoo Island, all of which are easily accessed from the city.

The islands also make unique settings for cultural events.  Cockatoo Island is a major exhibition venue for the 17th Biennale of Sydney which will run fromMay 12 to August 1 and it will be the World’s Funniest Island in October with comedy performances during the Crave Sydney festival.

Groups of 25 or more people can now explore Goat Island; Sydney Harbour National Park’s largest. Three tour options offer visitors the opportunity to learn about the Aboriginal, convict, colonial and maritime history of the island. Participants can opt for extra time and picnic on the island. Group tours can be organised any weekday between 10am and 3pm and the cost includes return ferry transfers from Circular Quay. 

Serviced by Sydney Ferries, Cockatoo Island offers overnight camping.  Visitors awake to million-dollar harbour views; sip billy tea in the shade of ancient Port Jackson fig trees, wave at ferries heading past and look at old industrial heritage, including prison buildings nominated for World Heritage listing.

Matilda Cruises and Captain Cook operate ferry services to Fort Denison, where you can dine in the Fort Denison Marquee café in the middle of Sydney Harbour. Captain Cook Cruises also runs a Shark Island Express Ferry departing about every 45 minutes from Darling Harbour and Circular Quay.  Other islands canbe visited by private or hired craft – or by yacht, a superb way to get there.

Walk, eat or stay

Sydney DiningSydney’s National Parks and open spaces are readily accessible. Mrs Macquarie’s Chair (also called Lady Macquarie’s Chair and hewn by convicts in 1810 for Governor Macquarie’s wife Elizabeth) makes a stunning picnic spot – and plenty of other, lesser-known spots of greenery are open to the public.  They include Wendy Whiteley’s ‘Secret Garden’ in Lavender Bay, a lovely little park created by artist Brett Whiteley’s widow; Strickland House, an 1850s harbourside villa and grounds in Vaucluse; McKell Park with its historic centrepiece Canonbury Cottage on Darling Point; Waterhouse National Camellia Gardens and Blackwattle Bay Park by the shore in Annandale.

Nielsen Park is a delightful place to relax, picnic under spreading Moreton Bay figs, relax on honey-coloured sand and swim. Visitors can stay there a couple of nights in historic Steele Point Cottage, nestled on the edge of a sandstone cliff. Built in 1880 as a gunnery barracks, this intimate hideaway has just one bedroom. Staying there costs from $330 per night (two-night minimum) for most of the year.

Or stay overnight at Q Station, North Head, established in the 1800s as a quarantine station. Q Station offers 72 restoredheritage accommodation rooms. Its Boiler house Restaurant serves main courses like grilled mulloway fish, royal blue mash, tomato and Pernod fondue, Spring Bay ocean mussels and native olives. The wine list is impressive. There’s even a lantern-lit ghost tour.

Other places to stay in Sydney Harbour National Park include Constables Cottage at Watsons Bay on Camp Cove beach(three bedrooms sleep up to eight people). The sea is just metres away.

Sydney offers at least 16 walks along the harbour foreshore, including the easy 1.5-km Heritage Walk from Rose Bay to Vaucluse and the walk from Cremorne Point to Mosman Bay. Bondi to Bronte is a magnificent 4.5km coastal walk. Two exceptionally scenic options are The Northern Beaches Walk from Barrenjoey to North Head - which takes four days -and Southern Coastal Walk starting at Cronulla - which takes three days. These two walks combine to form Sydney’s Great Coastal Walk, a sublime seven day adventure that can be broken into distances and times of your choosing covering about 100km.

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