Landmarks Around Sydney

This site covers the following topics Sydney cultural tourism, Australia, New South Wales, biology, botany, chemistry, physics, zoology, geology, scenery, culture, traditions: I have provided this hidden list for search engines that ignore meta tags.

Sydney Harbour Bridge | Climbing the bridge | Broken Bay | Sydney Harbour | North Head | The Opera House | Pinchgut | South Head | National Parks

Sydney Harbour

Small channel marker lighthouse, Sydney Harbour. Yachts near Manly at dusk. Properly, Sydney Harbour is called Port Jackson, but locals rarely use that name in ordinary speech. Instead, they will talk happily to you of "the Harbour", "theeyarba", or "owrarba", as in the phrase "Howdjer like owrarba?". The harbour is a drowned river valley, formed when the sea level rose in comparatively recent times.

The harbour is both a playground and a nuisance, since the city is built right around it. It provides a perfect backdrop for all sorts of events, but the harbour explains why people who like bridges like Sydney: there are so many bridges, in all shapes and sizes.

The most obvious ones are the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Gladesville Bridge, but there are plenty of others to gloat over, if you are that way inclined, down to the timber suspension bridge at Parsley Bay. We are happy to note that our local RTA engineers are world-famous for their bridge work in pre-stressed concrete.

People have perceived the harbour differently over the years, as we can see in a comment made by Charles Sturt. These days, people are grateful that the "improvement" stopped short of entirely destroying the harbourside bush, leaving us some of the "dense and gloomy wood", even though the sailing directions issued some years before Sturt's arrival had advised ships' captains to gather firewood on the northern shore.

Yet what humans have left untouched, they have not left unsullied. The harbourside bush that you see is full of weeds, "garden escape" plants, rats, cats, foxes, rabbits and introduced birds. And on the principle "out of sight is out of mind", the bush is well-strewn with old garbage. Slowly, in some areas, dedicated hands are turning back the clock, at least where the plants are concerned, as you can see around Bradley's Head, if you visit it. Almost every patch of suburban bush has its committed band of "bush regenerators".

If you are going to enjoy the harbour, there are quite a few ways of doing it. Some of the city walks will show you the harbour, as will the ferries, of course. You may wish to visit Fort Denison, and a number of the picnic spots are located on the harbour. And if that still doesn't satisfy you, you can always go boating.

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Sydney Harbour Bridge

Getting there

Sydney Harbour Bridge. Sydney Harbour Bridge, seen from Circular Quay. Pictures: (left) The bridge from
Observatory Park on a sunny day.
(right) The bridge from Circular Quay on a less sunny day (we do have them, you know!).

From most points near the city, you will find signs, usually saying "SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE": simply follow these, and you will end up on the bridge. In some places, the frugal sign makers have simply announced "Harbour Br."

Commonly referred to as "the Bridge", our steel link from north to south has been there since 1932. The bridge toll of $3 (or whatever it is now) that you pay to cross the bridge is used to pay for the harbour tunnel these days - once it was just to pay for the bridge. Be aware that you need to be equipped to pay a toll if you are driving over the bridge and into the city, but there is no toll when you are going north,

The stone pylons of the bridge have never served a useful purpose, although the south-east pylon was a look-out point and tourist attraction. The north-eastern carries the exhaust fumes from the tunnel.

Legend has it that during World War II, the Australian army filled the pylons with explosives, so that they could collapse the bridge if the Japanese army invaded. This would have had no effect on the bridge at all, and it is probably untrue, but who cares? It's a nice story, anyhow, especially for the many Japanese tourists who wander along the bridge these peaceful days.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: all the time, except when there is road work or a special event (open day, bicycle race, marathon, that sort of thing).
Entry fees: vehicles pay a toll going towards the city. Many locals have an "e-tag", which debits their credit card, so if you are driving, avoid the e lanes. Automatic lanes require you to drop the right money into a basket. Other lanes offer change: these have humans who take your money, and give you change.

What to do there

You can also go Climbing the Bridge.

What to watch out for

That delightful source of information on dates and historical trivia, the Macquarie Book of Events says the first harbour bridge was proposed in 1815, the year of Waterloo, by the architect Francis Greenway. From 1842, there was a regular ferry service from Dawes Point, under the southern end of the bridge, to Blues Point, one point west of the northern end of the bridge.

Work started on the bridge in 1923, and it was eventually opened in March 1932, first by an oddball named de Groot, mounted on a horse and armed with a sabre, and then by the Jack Lang, the state's Premier, whom de Groot disagreed with (to put it mildly). To finish the trivia, the main span is 503 metres long, and the top of the arch is 134 metres above sea level.

There used to be two lanes reserved for trams, but when the trams were short-sightedly disposed of, these lanes became the Cahill Expressway lanes. There used to be two pedestrian lanes, one on each side: now only the eastern lane is for walkers: the western lane is for bike riders. There is no charge for using these lanes.

Argyle Cut, looking west, to where Cumberland Street passes over it.Argyle Cut, looking west from George Street, to where Cumberland Street passes over it.

You can walk over the bridge at road level if you wish: take a train or a ferry to Milson's Point, then follow the signs and climb the steps near the railway station and follow your nose, stopping for views along the way. The western side is reserved for bicycles, so you need to cross on the eastern side. At the other end of the bridge, you will come to ground near The Rocks and Observatory Park.

To get on to the bridge from the city side, go along George Street to Argyle Street, walk up the northern (right-hand) side of Argyle Street until you are almost under the first overhead bridge. Then walk up the Argyle stairs, and turn so as to walk over the top of Argyle Street into Cumberland Street.

As you cross Cumberland Street, you will see a tunnel and some stairs. Take the stairs, and you can't go wrong. If you do go wrong, you'll probably be in Observatory Park, which will be nice for you anyhow.

You are in the vicinity of Observatory Park, Dawes Point, The Rocks and Circular Quay, or you can think about a BridgeClimb (use that external link, or see below).

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Climbing the bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge. BridgeClimb climbers.BridgeClimb climbers can just be seen, walking up the arch, in three groups.

I have done the BridgeClimb once, with somebody who was scared of heights, and it was highly enjoyable for both of us. It is extremely safe, and the views are truly amazing. You do have to go up and down some ladders, but these are enclosed, and you have a safety harness. The only "scarey" bit as when you walk across a bridge section under the roadway, and even that is mild.

Climbers are kitted out in neutral grey suits, fitted with a harness and clipped to a safety line, so you can neither jump not fall. You are not allowed to take anything with you, but you can purchase pictures taken by the guides (no, not a rip-off: it was considered dangerous to let climbers take their own cameras, and either drop them or take flash shots of traffic).

The BridgeClimb experience is expensive but highly recommended!

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Fort Denison. Fort Denison. Fort Denison.
Let's get one thing straight: Pinchgut does not, despite what most Sydneysiders assert, and most tourist books and guides say, get its name from the habit of starving prisoners there in the early days of the colony. Rather, it is an island situated at a pinch point in the channel, or gut.

Fort Denison is hard to miss if you ride on any of Sydney's ferries, as most of them, those going east of the bridge, pass fairly close to it. What was once a fairly rocky island is now a stone fort, constructed in the 19th century, but never used to defend or attack anything.

Popular legend has it that "Pinchgut" got its name because convicts were placed there to starve on bread and water, or nothing at all: these tales do tend to get embroidered! The origin of that yarn could lie with "Bony" Anderson, a convict who was kept in solitary on Goat Island for two years, chained to a rock on the southern side of that island. The "pinched guts" yarn goes as far back as the 1830s, but nobody seems to have identified any convict who was actually starved there, although at least one unfortunate was hung in chains on Pinchgut. Lieutenant Collins speaks of convicts being confined to a small rocky island at the mouth of the Cove, but this could equally well be Goat Island as Pinchgut, so the question is still open to debate.

"Pinchgut" is actually a naval term, referring to the narrowing of the harbour, a term which can be found in use in other parts of the world, I'm told. So there is no need for any yarns about starving convicts. The fort on Pinchgut is properly called Fort Denison, but most Sydneysiders (other than those who are fraffly refeened) prefer the name "Pinchgut". Technically, it is a Martello tower, like the one where Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan lived in James Joyce's Ulysses (which is celebrated each June). The fort had enough guns to control the whole harbour, yet it never fired a shot in anger.

There was a shot fired at Fort Denison in 1942, when there were Japanese midget submarines raiding the harbour, but even that wasn't enemy action: it was the US Navy blazing away in the dark. It was indeed fortunate they had left the US Cavalry at home, or the harbour would have been full of drowned horses, claim unkind Sydneysiders. The shell, by the way, just bounced off the tower.

One blank shot used to be fired from the fort each day, to announce the passing of one o'clock, and the ball on top of the Sydney Observatory drops at the same time. The guns, by the way, were "built-in", so they are unlikely ever to be removed, not that Sydneysiders would want to see it or them removed, but it was not always so highly esteemed, as you can see by looking at these historical quotes.

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North Head

Inner North Head at the entrance to Sydney Harbour, seen from the Manly ferry. The entrance arch as you approach North Head, just past Manly Hospital: about 2.5 kilometres to go, but it is all level from here. Path on the walkway, North Head: easy for wheelchairs, great place to see wildflowers in spring! Surf below North Head, looking north. Sandstone in the cliff, North Head. Wind-sculpted sandstone, North Head.


  1. Inner North Head at the entrance to Sydney Harbour, seen from the Manly ferry.
  2. The entrance arch as you approach North Head, at the top of Darley Road, just past Manly Hospital: about 2.5 kilometres to go, but it is all level from here.
  3. Path on the walkway, North Head: easy for wheelchairs, great place to see wildflowers in spring!
  4. Surf below North Head, looking north.
  5. Sandstone in the cliff, North Head.
  6. Wind-sculpted sandstone, North Head.
North Head is located near Manly, and is the headland with high cliffs. You will find some more detail about walking there on the
walks page. You can get there by driving through Manly, or by catching the 135 bus.

South Head

South Head at the entrance to Sydney Harbour. The cliffs south of South Head and Macquarie Light, seen from North Head. South Head and Hornby Light, seen from North Head. Pictures:
  1. South Head at the entrance to Sydney Harbour.
  2. The cliffs south of South Head and Macquarie Light, seen from North Head.
  3. South Head and Hornby Light, seen from North Head.

The Opera House

The Sydney Opera House, seen from the Manly ferry, looking south-east. The Sydney Opera House, seen from the Manly ferry.  The low area on the right is the forecourt, and part of the Royal Botanic Gardens is on the far right. The Sydney Opera House, seen from the Manly ferry, looking east.
Pictures above, from left to right: More information can be found on the
Arts page entry on the Opera House.

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Broken Bay

Broken Bay is hard to miss: keep heading north from Sydney, and you will run into either Broken Bay itself, or its extension, the Hawkesbury River - with its tributaries, the Hawkesbury almost entirely surrounds Sydney, with some of the streams beginning barely a stone's throw from the coast to Sydney's south.

Like Sydney Harbour, Broken Bay is a "drowned" river valley, with the same fern-leaf pattern, but, Broken Bay is by no means as settled. Many parts of it are now National Parks, including Kuring-gai Chase National Park, Brisbane Water National Park, and Dharug National Park (which almost reaches the river).

And just outside of Broken Bay, we find the Bouddi National Park, while in the west, the Blue Mountains National Park almost reaches to the Hawkesbury as well. Hawkesbury, by the way, was a minor English politician of the late eighteenth century, who rarely rates a mention, even in the most detailed of histories.

The early settlers arrived in Australia by ship, and the people in charge were naval men. There was nothing more natural to them than exploring by sea, and it wasn't long before Governor Phillip was exploring the bay. In point of fact, he planned to get there sooner, for he left Botany Bay, planning to investigate Broken Bay as a place to settle, and only entered Sydney Harbour on impulse. Even so, less than six weeks after the colony was established, Phillip was exploring the mouth of the Broken Bay, and as far up as Dangar Island, near where the rail bridge now crosses the water.

Within a few years, the fertile flood-plain soil of the Hawkesbury was recognised, and small settlements and farms were dotted along much of the river's length. Soon after, they learned that flood plains get flooded. There are ferries (Riverboat Postman, Broken Bay Ferries) which will take you on rides up and down the waterways, and there are many possibilities for boat hire on the Hawkesbury River. If you simply want to view the bay, try West Head in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, or drive north, and explore the Woy Woy, Pearl Beach and Patonga area.

For the adventurous, the trip to Wisemans Ferry can lead to an unusual experience, driving along the Hawkesbury valley to Spencer and beyond. This can be excessively adventurous in flood time, when the road is under some metres of water in places, or when there are bushfires in the area, so you may find the roads closed at certain times.

Apart from the national parks already listed, there are plenty of beaches around and about. On the Gosford side, there is the Australian Reptile Park to be visited.

Islands in the Harbour

Clark Island. Ball's Head and part of Goat Island from Observatory Park. Goat Island, Sydney Harbour. Cockatoo Island. Fort Denison. Shark Island.
Pictures above, from left to right: There are quite a few islands in Sydney Harbour. Garden Island, the Australian Naval base, has long been tied to the mainland, Glebe Island is connected to the mainland, and so is Berry Island near Waverton. Fort Denison was built over in the 1850s, Goat Island and Cockatoo Island are mostly developed, Rodd Island is small and not very interesting, leaving two interesting islands: Clark and Shark, which have some of their natural features remaining.

To visit these islands, you need to make a booking first, on 9247 5033, and then you need to organize a form of transport, as swimming is not a good idea, as you probably have to cross several ferry lanes to get there.

Clark Island is in the middle of Sydney Harbour, between Darling Point and Bradley's Head. It is part of the Sydney Harbour National Park, and a pleasant spot for quiet relaxation. There is a water supply, there are toilets, and lots of things to see on the harbour. You can also fish there, so take your lines (or rods) and tackle and bait.

The only access is by boat: a permit is needed, and you must restrict the size of your group to thirty people or less. If you don't own a boat, think about catching a water taxi to get there. For any queries, ring Cadman's Cottage on the enquiry number given. There is a charge of $3 for using the island, and you can book twelve months ahead.

Fish, look at the plants, picnic (cook with gas, but no fires!), don't swim, relax, mooch around the shore looking at the shellfish, watch the harbour fill with boats. Don't forget binoculars, sun cream and camera. For a small historical insight, see Sydney Harbour - Clark Island

Shark Island is in the middle of Rose Bay, between Rose Bay and Bradley's Head. There is no public transport: you either need a boat or you need to hire a water taxi. You need to book in advance by ringing the number listed above. Bookings are taken up to twelve months in advance, and it is wise to get in early. People are allowed on the island from 9 am to 6 pm.

There is a range of restrictions that suggest quiet picnics would be the best idea. No dogs or pets, no wood fires, no rough games, no tents, no fishing from wharves, no loud music, no kegs or excessive alcohol. So quiet picnics, quiet fishing from the rocks, quiet enjoyment of the views, which are excellent. There are toilets, water and picnic shelters on the island.

Rodd Island can also be booked for functions, through the same telephone number, and Goat Island is open for various tours, which can be booked on the same telephone number.

Back to the top This file is, first created on March 24, 2006. Last recorded revision (well I get lazy and forget sometimes!) was on October 11, 2006.

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