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The Seven Best Ferry Trips to Take in Sydney (and What to Do When You Get There)

Catching the ferry isn't just a means to an end — in Sydney, it's the basis of all-day adventures to beaches, bays and bushland.
By Katie Mayor
January 11, 2018

The Seven Best Ferry Trips to Take in Sydney (and What to Do When You Get There)

Catching the ferry isn't just a means to an end — in Sydney, it's the basis of all-day adventures to beaches, bays and bushland.
By Katie Mayor
January 11, 2018

Sunburnt settlers didn't build this city by the sea just so you could stay on land and pavement. If you always did that, you'd miss out on the joy of salt spray, the harbour wind in your hair. Whether setting sail (well, boarding a vessel) from Circular Quay, or hopping the plank at Palm Beach in the north or Cronulla in the south, there are plenty of adventures to be had in Sydney where — bar having your own boat — only a ferry can rightly take you.

Pack a picnic with your squad, strap your hikers on and explore the wide reaches of this bush-clad city and beyond. With any luck, you'll even score a ride on Ferry McFerryface.

Destination NSW


Shark Island is the 1.5-hectare picnic oasis of your dreams that sits in the Sydney Harbour National Park, close to Rose Bay and Point Piper.

Directions: Captain Cook Cruises steers the service, which on weekdays leaves from Circular Quay (Wharf Six) four times daily, with two more services from Darling Harbour (Pier 26). Ferries are even more frequent on weekends. It takes between 20–25 minutes, although with this sparkling route you'll be wishing it would slow the hell down.

Cost: $20 return.

What to do when you get there: There's grass, shade and 360-degree views of sexy seaside Sydney. Get that first ferry and bolt for the one 30-person gazebo if you're throwing a shindig (and book your ferry tickets in advance if you're bringing a squad of pals). Despite the name, few sharks swing their fangs by here these days, but you can spot tide pool critters in the grottos and inlets by the shore. There are toilets, water and picnic tables, but no shops — so bring all your kit in a good 'ol fashioned picnic basket.

Destination NSW


Bundeena is a nature-filled waterside suburb with rustic charm that hugs the Royal National Park. The 20-minute route leaves from Cronulla and crosses the Port Hacking River, where you'll go a little nuts with envy over the water-lapping properties. Don't worry though — the nature on the other side will calm you back down.

Directions: The ferry departs from Tonkin Wharf in Gunnamutta Bay, a five-minute walk from Cronulla Station.

Cost: $6.40 each way.

What to do when you get there: Strap on the old hikers and get thee to the Royal National Park. The 26-kilometre Coast Track begins at Jibbon Beach and weaves past small sandy inlets (Little Jibbon Beach is used as a nude beach if you really want to take your trip back to nature), cliffsides and bushland, not to mention a series of rock carvings from the Dharawal people who lived here for thousands of years. Walk as far as your nature-loving heart desires; Wottamolla, Burning Palms, Garie and Wedding Cake Rock are all doable in a day trip if you leave early. Back in Bundeena, grab a coffee and fish and chips on the deck of Passionfruit Cafe, or sink your toes in the sand as you wait for the return ferry to Cronulla.

Nick Rains/Destination NSW


This stunning half-hour journey takes in four waterways — Pittwater, Broken Bay, the Hawkesbury River and Box Head — and makes a brief pit-stop at Wagstaffe. You may even luck-out and see some wildlife like seals, turtles or even penguins along the way.

Directions: Catch the ferry from Palm Beach Wharf on Barrenjoey Road.

Cost: $11.60 each way.

What to do when you get there: Only 30 minutes from Palmy and you're suddenly in the Central Coast. At Ettalong Beach you can try your hand at fishing, hire a kayak from beachfront Anderson's kayaks, or lazily park your bum on the sand. Bush wanderers can jump on the Great North Walk path into the Brisbane Waters National Park from Patonga to Pearl Beach, ducking uphill to the Warrah Lookout for some spectacular views. Hungry daytrippers can soak up the sights at The Box on the Water, grab some gourmet grub from their kiosk, or head for the Cinema Paradiso complex where Bar Toto does pizza by the slice as well as charcuterie and cheese.

Ethan Rohloff/Destination NSW


Find Cockatoo Island at the junction of the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has a pretty hectic past, as an air raid shelter, convict colony, gaol and even graving dock.

Directions: From Circular Quay, the ferry swings past Balmain, Greenwich Point and Woolwich, which is why it takes a half hour despite being close to town. There are also services from Darling Harbour and Barangaroo.

Cost: $5.88 each way using your Opal card.

What to do when you get there: If you're here for the history, take an audio or guided tour, or veer past the vids in the Dog Leg Tunnel. Exercise fiends will be beside themselves over the harbour views of the basketball court ($10 per hour) and tennis court ($20 per hour). Hell, there's even giant chess. Cockatoo Island also has the right look for Hollywood, having been the setting of a Wolverine escape scene and a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken (of which you can see snippets in the screening room). They also run glamping, host the Biennale every two years, do spooky haunted tours (remember the graving dock?) and sometimes campfire sessions with music acts at sundown.

MickeyMoo via Wikimedia Commons


In the far northern reaches of Sydney, Scotland Island houses history and spotted gums galore, and is just the ticket for a rustic getaway on the western foreshore of the Pittwater, in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

Directions: The ferry sets off from Church Point wharf hourly on the half hour and makes multiple stops on Scotland Island, including Morning Bay, Lovett's Bay and Elvina Bay. It takes 20–25 minutes depending on where you hop off.

Cost: $8.30 one-way or $15 return.

What to do when you get there: Scotland Island was made famous by author Susan Duncan's Salvation Creek, in which she shacks up in Tarrangaua House built for poet Dorothea Mackellar in 1925. Author Di Morrissey also grew up here, and bad-arse femme fatale Tilly Devine had a retreat from her city shenanigans as well. Take a trek up Flagstaff Hill for some epic views of the Pittwater, or settle in for a BBQ at the picnic tables by Tennis Court Wharf. If you fancy doing an overnighter, there's a YHA with a big deck that presents tidy vistas over the island.

Destination NSW


If time is of the essence but you still want to bask in the sun-kissed beauty that is Sydney, this short jaunt to Cremorne Point is just the trick. Bring your swimmers.

Directions: From Circular Quay Wharf Four, this ten-minute trip across the harbour takes you past Kirribilli and Kurraba Point on to Cremorne Point Wharf. After a short walk, you can return from Mosman Bay Wharf, which will take 20 minutes.

Cost: $5.88 each way (whether you return from Cremorne Point Wharf or Mosman Bay Wharf).

What to do when you get there: Wander into Cremorne Reserve to gush over the sweetest darn lighthouse in Sydney at Robertson Point. Spin back past the ferry wharf and onto Maccallum Pool, a little picket-fence (free!) swimming oasis with million dollaroonie views. The walk between Cremorne Point to Mosman Bay wharves will take around 45 minutes (plus your dip), and takes in some grande ol' houses, pristine views, and the Lex and Ruby Graham Gardens, planted in the 1950s.

Destination NSW


Despite being a Sydney icon since 1855, few south of the bridge would dispute that the Manly ferry is transport of choice for reaching sunny Manly.

Directions: From Circular Quay (Wharf Three), the Manly Ferry turns east past Kirribilli, heads towards the headlands and through Middle and North harbours, and cruises on to Manly Cove in 30 minutes (or 18 if you get the fast service, but what's the rush?)

Cost: $7.35 each way with your Opal card

What to do when you get there: We hope you brought your towel and cossies, because you'll be beckoned by the beaches at every turn. Head straight on down the Corso for a spot of shopping and, when you reach the water, chuck a left along the esplanade until you hit Shelly Beach, a sheltered little oasis. Grab a lazy, seaside lunch at The Boathouse beside the sand, take a tipple on the balcony at Manly institution The Steyne, or dine with a daiquiri at Hemingway's. The more adventurous can take the stairs behind Shelly for a hike to Manly Heads or hire a surfboard and taste some salt water or maybe even catch a wave.

Published on January 11, 2018 by Katie Mayor

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