Summer or winter, use any fine day for one of the many Sydney harbour walks. Today I’ll show you one of my favourites, the Hermitage foreshore walk.
What’ll I See?
- Views straight down the harbour to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge
- Hidden beaches where you can swim, sunbathe or just sit and look around you
- Trees and shrubs native to Sydney’s foreshores
- Animals and birds that nest, feed or forage there
- Close up views of harbourside houses and mansions, and
- Ordinary Sydneysiders enjoying their harbour – on the water or around the shore
Where do I Start?
Glad you asked! Sydney harbour walks do often mean getting to the outer harbour first.
For this one, pick up a 386 bus from Bondi Junction or, if you’re in the city, look for a 324 or 325 bus, both of which leave from the Town Hall Station (Park St, Stand G).
Ask the driver to let you off in New South Head Road near Kincoppal Rose Bay school.
Walk a few metres back down the hill the bus has just gone up and you will see Bayview Hill Road on your right. That’s the one you want. The Sydney Harbour National Park Hermitage Foreshore walk starts at the end of the road. You’ll see the sign.
Don’t speed through this part of the walk though. Have a look at Kincoppal – built by the Catholic Sacred Heart order as a convent and girls school in the 1880’s and still today the school with the best view of Sydney.
Check out the houses along the street – and their views.
That’s the harbour bridge straight down the harbour. The city is to the left. Oh to be rich.
Well, today you are. For the next hour or so it’s all yours to enjoy. From here it’s an easy stroll of about 2 km to the café in Nielsen Park. The café used to be tea rooms and it’s still in the same old sandstone building serving light meals, good coffee and snacks.
An Old Graveyard
The walking track is boarded all the way, which makes it easy to negotiate. However, there are still a few series of stone steps to climb down so it’s not suitable for wheelchairs or prams.
Once you’re in the national park, soon after the start of the walk, you’ll see on your right the original cemetery of the sisters of the Sacred Heart convent at the top of the hill.
Most of the graves have simple metal crosses, but you’ll see a stone Celtic cross over the grave of Reverend Mother Febronie Vercruysse (d.1895), founder of the Convent.
I’m not sure whether the graveyard is still used. In any event it’s not accessible from the walking track. You can only peer from a distance.
Sydney Harbour Walks Surprise
You don’t often get to see herons up close in Sydney. But the last time I walked this track that was exactly what I got.
This heron, which I think was an Australian white-faced heron, seemed totally unconcerned by my presence. Just kept on shaking its neck and elegantly stepping around.
This was round about Hermit Bay. This bay has a tiny little beach that is quite sheltered – clearly enough for the heron, anyway.
It had a reddish colour underneath, indicating an immature bird – perhaps it hadn’t yet learned to fear humans. It was pretty extraordinary getting this close. Truly, a couple of feet, no more.
You too, may be lucky. If not the heron then some other friendly fellow traveller may show itself to you.
Living the Sydney Life
If Sydney harbour walks are a little too energetic, there’s always fish to catch for dinner.
You’ll find eager fishermen and women, many of them very young, on any Sydney jetty on a fine day.
Just behind these youngsters, a row of brightly coloured tinnies (rowboats) stands ready for their next outing and families picnic on the green grass surrounding the bay.
Boats come and go at a leisurely pace and the day’s activities are overseen by the semi-circle of houses perched on higher ground with a birds-eye view.
At this stage you’re probably half way. Stop and enjoy the scene for a bit.
Sydney Harbour Walks Fora and Fauna
This is not a track on which you’ll discover an unknown plant or species. But you will come across good examples of much of the coastal native vegetation of the area.
Along the track a few of Sydney’s classic Moreton Bay figs (Ficus macrophylla) hug the rocky foreshore tightly. Also known as the Australian banyan, you will have passed a very impressive example of this tree with its air roots going down from the branches into the ground before you arrived at the jetty and little park.
This little green plant with its tough narrow leaves and pretty white flowers that bloom almost all year is coastal rosemary, Westringia fruticosa. It has nothing at all to do with culinary rosemary, other than looking a bit like it, so the name can be confusing.
It’s a fabulous plant – salt and draught tolerant, a favourite with butterflies and bees and attracting no pests or diseases. And pretty, too.
The track carries on past a couple of large old houses, more little beaches, picnic areas and so into Nielsen Park.
The beach here is one of the safest and most pleasant for swimming in. Shark nets fan out around the bay, there are no waves to speak of, it’s a very good beach for children.
Last time I was there we watched dolphins cavorting and putting on a display just outside the swimming area. I can’t guarantee you those, but they’re a not uncommon sight.
Just off the beach is a large grassed area, and another decent area with established trees, both good for picnics. If you go up the steps behind the ablutions blocks you come to another lovely picnic spot, high with different views.
Indeed, there is no shortage of walking, sitting and playing opportunities here. Even at the busiest of times it’s possible to find adequate space for a group. It’s a favourite with families, friends, lovers and walkers.
Food and drink is available from the café and restaurant and, when you’re ready to leave, walk 300 m up Greycliffe Avenue to Vaucluse Road. The 325 bus will pick you up there and take you back to the city. Check the bus timetables before you go so that you don’t have to wait too long. It’s usually a half hourly service.
A couple of bays along from Nielsen Park is Parsley Bay, a total charmer of a beach with a swing bridge, children’s play area and bush walks where you can see the Eastern water dragon, provided you don’t make too much noise. So, if you’re feeling like more Sydney harbour walks, carry on. Highly recommended.
More Coastal Sydney
If you enjoyed this walk, or you’re interested in Sydney coastal walks generally, then go to this website for maps or an app for some of Sydney’s most popular coastal walks.
And if walking’s not really your thing, or if you’d like to see coastal Sydney from the water, don’t forget Sydney ferries as a great way of exploring Sydney harbour. Get a day pass and just go.