Ferry Trips Around Sydney

Most ferries can be found at
Circular Quay. They are cheaper than tourist cruises, and can be much cheaper if you plan ahead!

Broken Bay Ferries | Inner Harbour ferries | Manly ferry | cancelled Jetcat | Riverboat Postman | Rivercats and Supercats | Watson's Bay ferry

The Manly ferry

A Manly ferry crossing the heads Manly ferry.
This is the queen of all the rides. The Manly ferry goes from
Circular Quay to Manly Wharf, leaving at half-hourly intervals from No. 3 wharf during the day (every 20 minutes on summer weekends) and every 45 minutes at night.

The services are crammed in summer as people travel to or from Manly for the beaches, and they are crowded as peak hour workers head to or from work. Especially in summer, it is a good idea to get a weekly or combined ticket of some sort: the ticket staff at the Quay are lazy and incompetent, and the queues can be very long. Return tickets are available, and the queues are always shorter at Manly Wharf, though the ticket seller is likely to finish the page of the book she is reading before she serves you. Customer service is not their main priority, though the people at the turnstiles seem always to be helful to tourists.

The ride is worth it: I recommend a trip to the city, starting just before sunset, to get the Harbour Bridge and Opera House at their most scenic. The Manly ferries are double ended, so the bow is the end pointing away from the land when you board, and on windy days, it is more pleasant at the stern (back) on the upper deck.

The Manly ferry takes about 31 minutes, so a return trip will take about an hour and a half, but you may care to consider the other attractions at Manly Wharf.

For people who visited many years ago: fares have to be paid before you board the ferry at each end. If you are used to the old-style Manly ferries, watch this and allow time to buy a ticket! As the service will be slow, and the staff generally unhelpful: allow plenty of time to buy your ticket, especially on weekends. If you have an STA all-day ticket, a TravelPass or a FerryTen, you can avoid the queues.

There have been Manly ferries since the 1850s, when the first ferries were paddle steamers. Some of the later ferries were built in Scotland and steamed to Australia, but the most recent ferries were built in Newcastle, and sailed down the coast.

A Manly ferry at the wharf at Manly. Manly ferry. Manly ferry.
Manly ferries serve as a major tourist attraction, but they also transport large numbers of local residents to and from work each day. The ferries from Manly before 8.15, and the 4.30, 5.00 and 5.20 ferries from town in the afternoon are best avoided unless you enjoy large crowds. The same goes for weekends.

Seagulls often fly with the Manly ferries, riding the pressure wave that builds up. Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and Fort Denison, seen after a Manly ferry rounds Bradley's Head. Pictures: (left) Seagulls often fly with the Manly ferries, riding the pressure wave that builds up.

(right) Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and Fort Denison, seen after a Manly ferry rounds Bradley's Head.

Before you board the ferry at Circular Quay, enjoy the superb view down Sydney Cove from the end of the wharf. Of course, there is no romance in any of the new ferries, such as there was in the old ferries that steamed, and smelt of hot oil and even hotter brass, but they are no more, alas. South Steyne, the ferry of choice in my youth still exists, but in Melbourne.

If you can be first on board, the upstairs seats at the front and back are ideal. There is a bank facing out through picture windows at each end on some ferries. Note that the ferries are double-ended, so what is the "front" for one trip becomes the "back" on the next. If you miss out on those seats, there is limited standing room at the bows and stern, which you get to from the lower deck. Go outside and walk along until you reach an end. You can also get good views from outside on the lower deck, which is now a non-smoking area.

Almost any upper deck seat will give you good views on a Manly ferry, but on a summer's day, the sun can be quite hot, early and late. Try to avoid the eastern side in the morning and the western side in the middle of the day and through the afternoon. The ferries usually have shops operating, so you can buy food and instant coffee at higher than usual (but not unreasonable) prices. The tea is OK, the coffee is poor. Watch out for the spectacular colours of the spinnakers as yachts race on the weekends, the sandstone cliffs and bush of the harbour foreshores, the busy life of the port.

In order, as you leave Circular Quay, the main sights are the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. Then the ferry turns east for the run down the harbour to Bradley's Head. The Domain is on your right, followed by Garden Island naval base and Fort Denison (Pinchgut) on the left. Shipping in the harbour keeps to the starboard side, to the right side of the shipping channel, as it does in the rest of the world.

Rounding Bradley's Head after about fifteen minutes, the ferry passes the Heads on the right, and Middle Harbour on the left, lying between Middle Head and Dobroyd Head. Passing the Heads, where the ferry will rock several times to the ocean swell, the ferry glides into Manly Cove, with North Harbour on the left, and the Quarantine Station on the right. Like the Quarantine Station, much of the remaining bushland that you have seen along the way is part of the Sydney Harbour National Park.

Eight million people a year ride on the Manly ferry: during the day, most of them are day trippers like yourself. Don't be too surprised if much of the information you get from other passengers is just a little bit conflicting! Don't miss the chance to take a ride on a stormy day, a ride on a sunny day, and the view from the stern deck as the ferry pulls out of Circular Quay. This is the best place to get sunset shots of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

Be careful! On a stormy day, sit down when the ferry begins to turn in the middle of the Heads. There can be one or two truly spectacular lurches! And when the ferry is sailing into a southerly gale, quite a lot of spray can come after you, when you least expect it, so stay off the upper deck at the front, unless you have rain gear.

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The Manly jetcat

A jetcat approaching Circular Quay. Jetcat arriving at Manly Wharf. Caption: A jetcat approaching Circular Quay (left) and Manly Wharf (right).

This service may be in your guidebook, but it doesn't run any more. There's an equivalent private service in peak hours, but it's pricey, fast and no fun. I can't recommend it.

This entry is retained only to save people wasting time looking for the jetcats.

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Inner Harbour ferries

Inner harbour ferry. The ferry wharf at Neutral Bay.  Note the bus in the background. High Street wharf, North Sydney, with the North Sydney branch of the CBD in the background.
Pictures above, from left to right: The Mosman ferry stops at three wharves: Cremorne Point is the first, with spectacular sandstone right on the shore line, while the Musgrave Street wharf has a bus meeting the ferry which takes you up into the heart of the good shopping to be had near Spit Junction. From there, you can get buses to the city or to the Northern Beaches, though long-haul buses do not stop there. If you are heading north, grab any bus to
Warringah Mall and change there. The services are variable and complex, so it would be a good idea to check the timetable.

The Neutral Bay ferry calls at Kirribilli, North Sydney, Neutral Bay, Kurraba Point and Kirribilli again. It takes just on half an hour to return to Circular Quay.

The STA RiverCat runs services to and from Parramatta each day. It leaves from Wharf 2 or 5 at Circular Quay (check the wharf!), and it takes a little over an hour, one-way. The RiverCats are designed to produce a minimal wash in the sensitive areas at the upper end of the river.

The Taronga ferry leaves from Circular Quay. You can catch a bus to the top gate of the zoo and walk down, or there is a cable-car ride that carries you to the top after you enter through the bottom gate. Or you can take a bus over the ridge to Balmoral Beach, with another bus taking you back up to the main road, and so back to the city. Either way, a great way to spend a sunny day!

There are pleasant walks in both directions along the foreshores from the zoo ferry wharf, around Ashton Park.

The 225 bus links the two inner habour ferries on the north side.

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Riverboat Postman

Getting there

You can drive to Brooklyn, or you can catch a train there, as Brooklyn is on the main Sydney-Newcastle line. Trains also run to and from Gosford on the same line.

Times, costs

Opens: 0930 Monday to Friday, 1100 and 1330 on Sundays
Closes: about 1430 Mon to Fri, not stated for Sunday
Entry fees: It isn't cheap, and there is only a minimal concession for kids, but it's lots of fun.
Closed: Saturday

What to do there

What do you do when people live along a river and need to have their mail delivered? You send the mail and other supplies out on a ferry. Then to defray the costs, why not take passengers as well? So that is why you can get to ride on the "Riverboat Postman", leaving Brooklyn at 0930 Monday to Friday, getting "almost to Spencer", and they offer two trips on a Sunday at. They serve food "some days", so it might be a good idea to plan ahead, and take food and drink with you.

What to watch out for

Views, fish, birds

Contact details, Web links

Address: Dangar Rroad, Brooklyn
Phone: 9985-7566
Web: none as yet

What else is around

You are in the vicinity of
Broken Bay, there is a not-bad antique shop opposite the hotel.

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Broken Bay Ferries

Aside from the Riverboat Postman, Broken Bay also offers a series of services provided by a company called Palm Beach Ferries.

One of the best of all the ferry trips is the ferry across Pittwater in Broken Bay. Starting at the Pittwater Park wharf near Palm Beach, on the hour, from 0900 to 1700 (or 1800 on weekends) the ferry runs to a number of spots on the opposite shore, including The Basin in Kuring-gai Chase National Park. To catch the ferry, take a Route 190 bus from Wynyard, or a Manly ferry, followed by a bus to Narrabeen, and join the 190 bus there, to travel to Pittwater Park.

You can make a round trip on the Pittwater ferry, or you can get off at one or more stops: The Basin is the best choice of the available places to call in at, but take your food and drink with you: there are several shops close to the ferry wharf at Palm Beach, including a very good "fish and chips", and a liquor shop, just down the road.

Palm Beach Ferries are on 9974 2411, and they have a Web site, where you can learn about their Cottage Point luncheon cruises from either Patonga or Palm Beach. They are on the Web at http://www.palmbeachferry.com.au

They also run trips to Patonga, Ettalong and Bobbin Head and carry passengers across to the Gosford races when these are on. This is one of Sydney's hidden delights.

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The Rivercats and Supercats

Circular Quay.  A Rivercat in the foreground, the raised railway behind. Modern Rivercat. Old style Rivercat.
The Rivercats are sleek catamarans that generate almost no wash, making them suitable for use on the Parramatta River, which is tidal and navigable all the way to Parramatta.

They are named after famous Australian women runners -- I noticed just the other day that one of the Supercats (these do other harbour runs, but not the Parramatta River) is named after a champion woman wheelchair racer, Louise Sauvage.

The trip to Parramatta and back takes just on two hours, and you can get off along the way at Rydalmere (45 minutes from Circular Quay) or at Parramatta. The upper parts of the river were a devastated wasteland in the early 1970s, now they are coming good again. Look for bird life in the mangroves, or spot places to come back and go walking.

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The Watson's Bay ferry

The round trip to Watson's Bay by Supercat takes about an hour, stopping at Garden Island on the way, and at Rose Bay, Double Bay and Garden Island on the way back. This is a must for tourists wanting to see a bit of the harbour. Watson's Bay.  Watson's Bay.  Watson's Bay.

The ferry

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