Shark Beach, Nielsen Park, Sydney, New South Wales © Andrew Gregory / Destination NSW
Sydney's secret beaches
Don’t want to fight for towel space on Sydney's beaches? Thankfully, the city is home to more than 100 coastal and harbour beaches.
By Katrina Lobley
Need help tracking down Sydney's less obvious beaches? Here’s a guide to the waterside spots that offer everything from glamorous lounging to incredible snorkelling and even a peek into the nation’s colonial history – all without the hassle of big crowds.
Everyone has heard of Bondi Beach (Australia’s most famous strip of sand) but, if you walk around Bondi’s southern headland, you will find an equally fabulous beach - Tamarama. Locals call it “Glamarama”, thanks to its small but perfectly formed semi-circle of pure, bright sand bank and surrounding grasslands. There are surf lifesavers on duty to keep watch over swimmers but many people come to simply sun themselves on the sand – and to be seen by the rest of Sydney, of course.
Gordons Bay, south of Clovelly Beach in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, is a hidden coastal gem featuring an underwater nature trail. Concrete-filled drums, linked by a chain, form the 600-metre (0.4-mile) trail built for scuba divers. If the water’s crystal-clear, snorkellers can also read the information plaques below the surface. Look for vividly coloured crustaceans and molluscs as well as striking fish such as the blue groper.
Vaucluse, one of Sydney’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, is home to the hidden beach patch of Parsley Bay. The tiny slice of sand can feel like your own private beach in the heart of Sydney Harbour. The narrow inlet’s defining feature is the century-old cable suspension bridge that allows pedestrians to cross from one side of the bay to the other.
Clifton Gardens Beach
With glittering white sand and clear turquoise waters, Clifton Gardens Beach, on the harbour’s northern side, attracts beach-goers as well as divers who come looking for the tiny seahorses that inhabit this picture-postcard enclave. Coffee fiends are also in luck: it’s just a few steps to a kiosk operating out of a former ammunition store at the beach’s eastern end.
Balmoral Beach, a popular harbour spot on Sydney's north shore, can be super busy on warm days, but not nearly as many people know that to its north lies the lesser-known Chinamans Beach. Loll on a beach towel and watch the passing yachts cruise in and out of Middle Harbour, or cool down by sinking into the calm blue waters up to your chin.
The stretch of sand fronting fig tree-shaded Nielsen Park is officially known as Shark Beach but marine nets ensure this family-friendly spot is one of the harbour’s safest places to swim. Bob in the water without a care in the world while soaking up views of the city skyline and Harbour Bridge.
Watch yachts bob on their moorings and check out the view of Clark Island from Redleaf Beach in ritzy Double Bay in Sydney's eastern suburbs. The Murray Rose Pool (the name honours one of Australia’s most revered Olympic swimmers) is protected and defined by a walkable wraparound pontoon that lets anyone, literally, walk on water.
If things get too hectic at high-wattage Watsons Bay, zip up the street to neighbouring Camp Cove. This strip of golden sand fronting calm waters boasts million-dollar views across the harbour. The beach also features a kiosk that sells cold drinks and ice-creams.
Tucked behind North Head at the entrance to Sydney Harbour is a former quarantine station that’s been transformed into the quirky Q Station hotel. The sandstone cliffs near Quarantine Beach feature carvings made by passengers confined here during the 19th and 20th centuries. Paddle or snorkel the calm waters and, if you dare, linger until dark for a ghost tour in the preserved buildings. Reach the beach by kayaking over from Manly’s harbour beaches or stroll down to the beach after parking at the hotel’s reception (no driving is allowed on the historic site).