Beyond its landmark buildings, Sydney Harbour National Park shelters secluded beaches, picturesque islands and rare pockets of native bushland. Swim, picnic and bushwalk along the spectacular foreshore or visit harbour islands on a ferry. Go sailing or kayaking, get up close to wildlife and discover ancient rock art and convict-built buildings. The harbour’s bays, parks and headlands are also natural grandstands for some of Australia’s biggest events, from New Year’s Eve fireworks to the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
You can hike all around Sydney’s famous harbour, on short trails, day walks or sections of the 100km Great Coastal Walk. On the harbour’s northern edge, discover popular beach precincts such as Balmoral Beach, Manly and Chowder Bay. Visit Taronga Zoo, swim from pretty Chinamans Beach and do the walk between Manly and the Spit Bridge. Explore old forts and barracks and enjoy spectacular views across the water from Bradleys Head and Middle Head. On the harbour’s southern edge is Nielsen Park and Parsley Bay, where families gather in droves over summer. Feast on fish and chips at Watsons Bay at South Head, then follow a heritage trail past the gap and lighthouse.
Monuments to Sydney’s history are scattered all across its harbour. Learn about the lives of the city’s original inhabitants, the Cadigal people, on a cruise with an Aboriginal guide. Listen to Dreaming stories and learn the Aboriginal names and meanings of Sydney’s landmarks. Get up close to rock-carvings and stop for a traditional Aboriginal welcome and bush tucker lunch on Clark Island.
See the legacy of Australia convict settlers at convict-built Cadmans Cottage in The Rocks and the old Quarantine Station at Manly, where incoming migrants were once processed. Join a walking tour or camp overnight on Cockatoo Island, once a convict prison and ship dockyard. Today the workshops, prison barracks, underground tunnels and huge grain silos are the backdrop for events and cutting-edge exhibitions. Hop on a ferry to Fort Denison, where hardened prisoners were placed in solitary confinement during the early days of the colony. Shark Island is a picturesque spot for excursions.
Sydney Harbour National Park protects native vegetation where birds and animals thrive. Join a night tour to meet nocturnal animals, spot sea birds on the cliff ledges and hear a cacophony of birds in the trees around Middle Head and North Head.
There are regular ferry services to many destinations around the harbour. Join a cruise for commentary with your scenery, or get a water-taxi to drop you at a private beach. Alternatively, navigate your own way between the harbour’s bush-fringed bays and sandstone headlands on a sailboat or kayak.
Sydney Harbour National Park is also the hub for Sydney’s most popular events. See tall ships, small ferries, yachts and boats race across the harbour on Australia Day or the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race on Boxing Day. Everyone in Sydney jostles for a waterfront position on New Year’s Eve, when one of the world’s most spectacular fireworks explodes off Sydney Harbour Bridge.