When summer arrives, Sydneysiders flock to their beaches to escape the city heat and enjoy the warm waters. If the crowds on Bondi are a bit daunting then try one of the secluded, lesserknown beaches to be found along the coastline. At the bottom of a steep, grassy hill in the South Head suburb of Vaucluse is tiny Milk Beach. A rocky outcrop protects the beach from most currents and provides great snorkeling.
Its spectacular and uninterrupted views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge make it ideal for New Year’s Eve fireworks views. If the lack of shark netting is a concern, take the short Heritage Foreshore Walk to nearby Nielson Park Beach.
To the north, the surf beaches still have Bondistyle golden-white sands and rugged headlands, but without the crowds. A short way past charming Manly is the wide sweep of Dee Why Beach. Patrolled by lifeguards during summer, it is quite protected, has a tidal pool for the kids and a great selection of cafés nearby. From here, enjoy a leisurely stroll north along the deserted sands to Long Reef Beach and then out to the tip of the peninsula, from where there are gorgeous views.
A fair way farther north (about 45 mins by car from Sydney), but well worth the trip, is Bungan Beach. Accessible only down a 1,300-ft (400-m) steep series of paths and steps, this wild and unspoiled beach is backed by a natural bushland reserve where bandicoots and owls may be seen.
The Aboriginal-owned Tribal Warrior Association runs cruises that give a unique perspective of the harbor and its history, including the traditional names of, and stories about, major landmarks. They demonstrate the fishing methods, food gathering techniques, and coastal lifestyle of the tribes that lived in the area prior to colonization, before giving a cultural performance on Shark Island.
Farther west, Cockatoo Island is the largest island in the harbor. Over the last 200 years it has been used as a prison, school, reformatory, and shipyard. Take a self-guided audio tour around the convict sites, workshops, and slipways, or camp overnight to experience it by moonlight.
For an eerie insight into the hardships of life in the early days of the colony, take an evening ghost tour of the Quarantine Station. Located on isolated North Head, it housed migrants from arriving ships who were suspected of having contagious diseases. Most passengers were free to leave after 40 days but over 500 died in harrowing circumstances and are now said to haunt the old buildings. Further along North Head are the World War II remnants of North Fort.
Bays & Harbors
Port Jackson, more commonly known as Sydney Harbour, may be the jewel in the crown but there are other fine bays on the doorstep of the city. Most visitors to Sydney fly over Botany Bay as they descend towards Kingsford Smith Airport. Captain Cook originally landed here in 1770, just inside its southern headland, now a part of Botany Bay National Park. Close by is the Towra Point Nature Reserve, a significant wetland conservation area, while at Brighton-le-Sands you can mingle with Sydney’s European community, picnicking in the sunshine on the Mediterranean-style beaches. Port Hacking is situated between Sydney’s outer suburbs to the north, and the Royal National Park to the south. Explore Cronulla Beach and take a ferry along Gunnamatta Bay and across the waterway to Bundeena, gateway to the park itself. Spend a day exploring to find Aboriginal rock carvings and lovely coastal walks, as well as a lively arts scene and buzzy cafés.
To the north of the city are Pittwater Harbour and Broken Bay. Surrounded by beautiful national parks and dotted with islands, these waters have all the beauty of Sydney Harbour but without the crowds or the urban landscape. On Pittwater’s southerly headland is the popular and exclusive Palm Beach, with its chic restaurants and millionaires’ mansions. From here you can rent a boat for the day and explore the bay’s isolated beaches, islands, and long inlets, landing occasionally to bushwalk to ancient Aboriginal carvings.
Heavy artillery was built into tunnels in the sandstone cliff to protect the city from potential invasion. Tours take you through the fortifications and tunnels, the Defence of Sydney Memorial Park and the Memorial Walk.