There's a lot to love about Sydney, and our stunning coastline is at the top of the list. Head in most directions and you'll hit the water, where an expansive network of walking tracks are at the ready. These ten coastal walks have it all: sparkling harbourside views, wild bushland with native flora and fauna, hidden pathways and heaps of historic sites. And they range from easy one-hour treks to epic multi-day adventures. Grab your sneaks, your mates and your sunnies and get walking.
Sydney may be well-known for its sand and surf — from beachy, bleachy Bondi to the Harbour's numerous secluded coves — but its waterfalls don't often receive the same attention. Our shores are home to some of the best, whether that's within a national park or set right along the coast. Here are five waterfalls to tick off your swim list this summer. At each, you can cool off in crystal clear pools while marvelling at the rush of water above you. And, since many are lesser known, you might just have it all to yourself.
BEST HARBOUR VIEWS: BRADLEY'S HEAD TO CHOWDER BAY
You'll find some of the best Sydney Harbour vantage points tucked away on this lower north shore walking track. This leisurely four-kilometre walk begins at Taronga Zoo Wharf and extends to Mosman's charming Chowder Bay. The trail hugs the coast tightly and its proximity to the harbour allows for unobstructed views of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and city skyline. The trek also boasts military relics and an amphitheatre at Bradley's Head. Once you work up an appetite, have a well-deserved lunch at one of the Bay's many cafes and seafood restaurants — Ripples being a local favourite.
BEST MULTI-DAY ADVENTURE: BONDI TO MANLY
Launched in late 2019, the 80-kilometre Bondi to Manly walk stretches along the east coast and harbour shore, between the two titular beaches. The multi-day trek meanders past all of the expected highlights — think secluded coves, spectacular views, bushland, clifftops, and landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge — as well as significant Indigenous sites such as Aboriginal engravings at Grotto Point, and the ancestral reburial site and rock art at Reef Beach. Plus, while you're moseying, you'll follow 350 Aboriginal Whale Symbol signs along the mega trail's lengthy expanse — with an app also available to help you plan and track your walk. As the name makes plain, it starts and ends at Bondi and Manly beaches, but there's plenty to see in-between. And if you're wondering how long it takes, suggested itineraries split the walk into four, five and seven-day routes, although you can obviously make the journey however you see fit.
THE HIDDEN GEM: WYARGINE RESERVE TRACK
Only accessible during low tide, this hidden track runs from Chinamans Beach to Balmoral Beach and is an unexpected adventure. Start out a bit north at the historic Parriwi Lighthouse, then follow the trail along steep steps to sudden views of Middle Harbour. After arriving at Chinamans' tiny and peaceful shore, the (approximately) one-kilometre trek to Balmoral is quick but difficult, as it weaves directly along the rockshelf. Along the way, you'll spot gorgeous beachfront properties and impressive yachts aplenty. If you take the walk in the opposite direction, it'll eventually link up with Spit Bridge to the north.
MOST CHALLENGING TREK: ROYAL NATIONAL PARK COAST TRACK
If you're looking for more than a day trip, this 26-kilometre track around the Royal National Park boasts a combination of rugged bushwalks, sandy beaches and sandstone headlands with views across the Tasman Sea. This two-day hike starts at Bundeena and concludes at Otford, with an overnight stay at North Era campground — be sure not to miss sunrise that morning. Other highlights include the stunning Wattamolla Beach, the views at Eagle Rock lookout and the crystal-clear waters at Curracurrang Cove. Time your trip right (between May and October) and you might even spot a migrating humpback whale at some point across the 48 hours.
BEST COASTAL BUSHWALK: NORTH HEAD
While this historic walk does contain a driving path, the true beauty of this trail is seen through the dirt road bushwalk. Begin your trek at North Head Sanctuary, three kilometres south of Manly Beach. Walk through the former North Head Army Barracks before heading out to the bush, where echidnas and bandicoots lurk in the burnt orange and yellow brush. The wild path opens suddenly to a mix of coastal views, with the best located at the Third Quarantine Cemetery — which looks across to Middle Head and Manly — and the Fairfax Walk, which looks far out over the Tasman Sea. From here, it is easy to end your afternoon at Manly Beach, stopping at the petite Collins and Little Manly Beaches along the way.
BEST TREK TO THE CBD: ANZAC AND PYRMONT BRIDGES
If you're looking for a scenic way to head into the CBD from the city's inner west, the Anzac Bridge and Pyrmont Bridge walk is hard to beat. This three-kilometre bridge hike begins by crossing over the Anzac to Blackwattle Bay, where you should settle in for a bayside lunch at the Sydney Fish Market. Continue on through Pyrmont, eventually crossing over the bridge into the CBD — taking in the top-notch views of Darling Harbour and Cockle Bay on the way. If you want to extend your trek, add in the Glebe Foreshore walking track, which weaves through Blackwattle Bay and Jubilee Parks and offers the best views of Anzac Bridge prior to crossing it.
NOT JUST FOR TOURISTS: MANLY TO SPIT BRIDGE
This ten-kilometre coastal walk is often recommended to tourists for good reason. Begin at Mosman's Spit Bridge, where you'll follow the Middle and North Harbour shoreline paths along Fisher Bay to Clontarf Beach. From here, you'll enter the Sydney Harbour National Park at Castle Rock, and later hit Grotto Point, where you can view Aboriginal rock engravings. Gorgeous views at Arabanoo Lookout and plenty of beachside walks are also on the docket. Finish off with a dip at Manly Beach before taking that picturesque ferry ride back to Circular Quay. If ten kilometres isn't enough for you, the track continues down to Chowder Bay and can be linked up with the Bradley's Head track too.
BEST PANORAMIC VIEWS: MIDDLE HEAD
While the multiple WWII batteries located at Middle Head certainly set this walk apart, it is the expansive views of the eastern suburbs, Middle Harbour and Manly that really make this trek worthwhile. The two-kilometre circuit is bordered by North and South Heads and set along sheer cliffs. Climbing through underground tunnels and gun pits on the edge of the coast is a big part of the thrill here. You'll find these ruins throughout the Middle Head Fortification, and the surrounding cliffs give the remnants an eerie and significant impact. If you want to learn more about the history of the site, you can take a guided tour of the fort.
BEST HISTORIC SIGHTS: COCKATOO ISLAND
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cockatoo Island has an illustrious history — including housing a prison, a ship-building facility, a reform school and a wartime boat repair port. Haunted history tours are on regularly, as are other events, talks and art exhibitions related to the island's environmental and historical past. It's also one of the significant sites for Sydney's Biennale. Set off the shores of Balmain and Birchgrove, the island boasts 360-degree views of the Parramatta River and is perfect for picnics. We suggest making a weekend of your Cockatoo getaway, with a waterfront campground and heritage holiday houses available for hire.
BEST FOR PICNICS WITH A VIEW: BALLS HEAD RESERVE
Set on the foreshore of Sydney Harbour, Balls Head Reserve affords exceptional views of the Harbour Bridge from the north, along with unbeatable picnic views overlooking the CBD. The reserve offers several bushwalking tracks (including one with wheelchair access) and highlights include an Aboriginal waterhole and foreshore caves cut by squatters in the 30s. Once you're done exploring, head to the secluded park where public barbecues are at the ready. When you've finish grilling up your snags, head back over to the rocky area and enjoy your picnic while watching the harbour boats mosey by.
SYDNEY'S MOST ICONIC TRAIL: BONDI TO COOGEE
The Bondi to Coogee walk is easily Sydney's most iconic trail. This six-kilometre trek gives tourists and locals alike a true sense of Sydney's coastal beauty. The hike's steep gradients are well spaced and hit each of the city's most loved beaches along the way — making this trip part-workout, part-beach bum afternoon. Apart from the namesake beaches, the trail also hits Tamarama, Bronte and Clovelly. While the walk could be completed in as little as a two hours, it is best enjoyed with long breaks by the ocean. Keep an eye out for the announcement of the next installment of the trail's popular Sculpture by the Sea, which will return sometime in early 2021.
Top image: Bondi to Manly walk by Destination NSW
Published on August 27, 2020 by Marissa Ciampi