There’s a little known spot where you can get the most stunning Sydney view – all 360 degrees of it. It’s totally worth taking your camera and tripod. Even better, it’s a historic monument with a great story. Of course there’s a catch …
The catch is that it’s not open every day. Indeed, not even every week. It’s open once a month for tours, and that’s the only way you’ll get up to the top balcony. So, once you have your Sydney dates organised, I strongly recommend you go to the website to see if there’s a tour on during your stay. If there is, then don’t hesitate to sign yourself up for it.
Stunning Sydney View
The lighthouse we’re visiting is the Macquarie Lighthouse, in Vaucluse. Let’s go straight to the views from the lighthouse balcony. I’ll tell you more about the lighthouse and museum later on.
The lighthouse is situated on one of the highest spots around the Sydney coast. It overlooks both Sydney harbour and the sea. Here we’re looking back from the lighthouse to the city.
Vaucluse is about half an hour, maybe a little more, from the city on public transport. It’s well serviced and two bus routes stop directly outside the lighthouse.
You can take the 380 bus which will give you a tour through Bondi beach on the way, or the 324 bus which takes the scenic harbourside route through Double Bay and Rose Bay. Do one going out and the other going back. You’ll need your Opal Card for this.
Macquarie Lighthouse tours are around 20 minutes. Access to the balcony (for all those stunning Sydney view photos) is about 5 minutes. That doesn’t sound much, but it’s quite a lot when you’re snapping away.
Tours are limited to 10 people, so it doesn’t get too crowded. On my tour there were only 5, which made for very comfortable movement around the rather small interior.
Access to the balcony is weather dependent as the wind can be ferocious with no shelter or windbreaks.
One other thing to bear in mind is that there are 100 steps to get to the balcony. You need to be able to walk these, it’s the only way up and down.
From Macquarie Lighthouse I encourage you to take the very well maintained clifftop walk down to Watsons Bay. The South Head Signal Station is a five minute stroll from the lighthouse. After that you go down the hill, always with stunning views, and in less than ten minutes you’ll be in Watsons Bay.
As well as some very nice places to sit around the waterside – park, coffee bar, restaurant or beer garden, take your pick – a few steps will take you to the Gap.
In the past this has been a notorious suicide spot, with quite a few jumping to their deaths. And more than one or two who were pushed. It’s been made more secure these past few years, so we hope that these tragedies have become a thing of the past.
As a walk it’s spectacular. Even without the lighthouse this walk gives you a stunning Sydney view. There are lots of native coastal plants to see and there are remnants of old shipwrecks, old army posts and so on, all with stories attached.
If you stroll into Watsons Bay after the tour you have the further option of catching a harbour ferry back to the city. It’s a lovely ride and highly recommended.
Back to Macquarie Lighthouse. It includes an informative museum, with plenty of information alongside exhibits of different lights. And, even better, the volunteer guides who take the tours are a fount of information and happy to answer questions.
The lighthouse was Australia’s first marine light. It started, in 1793, as a wood fired beacon, kept burning by convicts. Later coal took over from wood.
For 25 years this lighthouse was the only guiding light for ships coming into Sydney harbour.
Oil lamps were introduced in 1818 and remained in use until gas generated electricity was installed in 1883. For cost reasons the lighthouse reverted to kerosene in 1912 before finally moving to onto city power when electric power lines were laid to Vaucluse.
You’ll hear the whole story, plus plenty of anecdotes, from the volunteers both on the tour and before and after, if you’re interested.
If you’re not in Sydney when the tours are on, don’t let that stop you from visiting Macquarie Lighthouse anyway. It’s stunning from ground level as well, and combining it with a stroll to Watsons Bay is something I’m sure you’ll enjoy.