Parks Around Sydney

This site covers the following topics Sydney cultural tourism, Australia, New South Wales, biology, botany, chemistry, physics, zoology, geology, scenery, culture, traditions, language, people, animals, plants, biota, arts, gallery, galleries, music, parks, gardens: I have provided this hidden list for search engines that ignore meta tags.
Ball's Head | Bicentennial Park | Centennial Park | Dawes Point | Hyde Park | Mount Annan Gardens | Mount Tomah Gardens | Observatory Park | Parramatta Park | Parsley Bay | Royal Botanic Gardens | The Domain | The Spit | Victoria Park | Wynyard Park |

Sydney is riddled with parks and playing fields, almost all of them open to the public, unlike sporting venues where major competitions are held. Those will be full of people, and unpleasant, but if that is your thing, see Australian sports for more.

City parks

Hyde Park

For historical background, see
these quotes.

Getting there

The easy way to Hyde Park is by City Circle train: there are two stations that drop you off there: St James station at the northern end, named for the nearby early colonial church (another Greenway product), and Museum station at the southern end, not too far from the Australian Museum. Any number of buses run along Elizabeth Street past the park. Hyde Park lies along the eastern side of the main city district, and you can reach it by heading up almost any east-west street in the middle of the city.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: There are no real times for Hyde Park, but it may not be the best of places to wander in the middle of the night. It is not, however, a muggers' paradise. Not yet, anyway . . .

What to do there

Once upon a time, it was just a race course and a cricket ground, sometimes referred to as "the exercising ground". By 1816, it was Hyde Park, but even in 1840 it was nothing grand: Mrs. Charles Meredith calls it " a park utterly destitute of trees . . . merely a large piece of brown ground fenced in, where is a well of good water, from which most of the houses are supplied by means of water-carts."

Here, that usually reliable observer was a little off beam. After the original water supply for Sydney, the Tank Stream, was completely polluted, Busby's Bore was established. This was a long sloping tunnel, running down from the Lachlan swamps in Centennial Park (in which entry there is more detail on the bore) to Hyde Park, at Liverpool and College Streets. From there, the water ran in wooden above-ground pipes to the corner of Elizabeth and Park Streets, so that carts loaded with barrels could drive beneath the outpour and be filled. The excess water drained off down into the Tank Stream. There is more about Busby's Bore under the Centennial Park entry.

The Archibald Fountain at the northern end is a delight when it is running, and the statue of James Cook is in the southern half of the park, near the corner of William Street and College Street. Once it was so placed that Cook could see every ship sailing into the harbour, and they could see him, but now the trees have grown up. The southern end of the park contains a large War Memorial and the Pool of Remembrance, which seems mainly to commemorate fallen leaves and ice cream wrappers.

What to watch out for

The park is largely a passive activity area, although the old men who play chess there are anything but passive, crowing with delight as they capture each other's pieces. This activity is well worth watching, but be warned: they can be scathing in their response to those who offer advice. There are odd mementos scattered all over the park, like a gun from the German cruiser Emden, sunk during the First World War, and the Frazer Fountain, and the Sandringham gardens. Seek, and ye shall find . . .

There are also resident possums, onychophorans (velvet worms) living in the leaf litter, and usually nesting tawny frogmouths and kookaburras. On a good morning, you can hear a dozen species of bird calling while walking across this park in the middle of the city. Not the ibis, though: these mudflat birds have learned to hunt in freshly-turned flower beds, and it is hard to sing while your face is in the mud.

What else is around

You are in the vicinity of The Australian Museum, Hyde Park Barracks, Macquarie Street, and not far from the Art Gallery of NSW.

Wynyard Park

Royal Botanic Gardens

For historical background, see
these quotes.

Farm Cove and the Royal Botanic Gardens.You can visit the Royal Botanic Gardens site to learn more about them, but they are one of the world's oldest gardens. Aside from the educational and botanical side, the gardens occupy a prime piece of scenic Sydney real estate. You will find a shop with books and all the mementoes you need to buy for your elderly uncle and aunt, a kiosk, a restaurant — and views to die for. There isn't a lot of shelter from rain, and you can be quite exposed to sun, so take an umbrella and sunscreen!

Getting there

The best way in is to walk around from Circular Quay, past the Sydney Opera House, along the forecourt of the Opera House, under the cliff, keeping the Opera House on your left and following the shore until you come to the gates of the gardens. On Sundays, you will even find a market operating there, as well as all sorts of public displays and performances along the way. From there, you can wander, though missing Mrs Macquarie's Chair would be a big mistake: just keep walking around the shore until you get to a point with major views.

You can also get there from any of several gates in Macquarie Street, or from near the Art Gallery of NSW. Go along past the Art Gallery, and look for entrances on your left, just past the bridge over the Cahill Expressway. This road leads on down to Mrs Macquarie's Chair, and there is metered parking in the road down to, with proceeds going to the gardens. You will find a number of gates into the Gardens on this road.

The Royal Botanic Gardens at the lower entry near the Opera House. The Royal Botanic Gardens has this naff little train at the lower entry near the Opera House. The Royal Botanic Gardens fern collection.
Pictures above, from left to right:

The Gardens

Botanic or Botanical? Most Sydneysiders call them the "Botanical Gardens", so I asked, and was told that "botanic" is the old-fashioned adjective which is part of their official name. The gardens are indeed "Botanical Gardens", but not in formal matters, it seems. Still, Sydney people aren't all that formal at the best of times. . . . Even so, to most people there is only the one "Botanical Gardens", and that is the one at Farm Cove, just to the east of the city. We actually have three official "Botanical Gardens", as well as Stoney Range and Ku-ring-Gai, both mentioned under Wildflowers. The other branches are the Mount Annan Gardens and the Mount Tomah Gardens.

Sydney's Gardens were founded in 1816. They aren't the oldest in the world: Padua, Paris, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Rio de Janeiro and Munich are older, but few even of those have such a fine setting. It was probably fitting that Australia should establish Botanic Gardens so early: so much of the history of white settlement was tied up with botanists.

Not only was there Sir Joseph Banks, who sailed with Cook to Botany Bay, but Robert Brown (known to physicists as the discoverer of "Brownian motion", and to biologists as the discoverer of the cell nucleus), Allan Cunningham, and any number of other botanists who spent time in the young colony: you can find traces of some of them in the gardens.

At first, the gardens were seen as little more than a "Government vegetable garden", but slowly the plant collection developed. The name of the bay near the gardens is a reminder of this earlier role: it is Farm Cove. Six months after the first settlement, there were "nine acres in corn". The soil there, though, was poor, and the crop was not a success, so agriculture moved elsewhere, and the area became a centre for acclimatising new plants from overseas.

People who wanted to grow oaks could obtain acorns, and those with damp patches on their farms could get bamboo plants. By 1816, it had become more of a plant collection, and by 1825, there were more than 3000 plant species in the collection. Even so, Allan Cunningham, whose tomb is to be found in the gardens, referred to it slightingly in early 1838 as the "Government cabbage-garden". The science of botany had come to take second place to horticulture, with convicts being trained in practical farming there.

The gardens declined until 1848, when Charles Moore, a trained botanist, started a 48-year reign as Director of the Gardens, and from then on, they were to be truly Botanic Gardens, as well as being the home of the National Herbarium. This is a research collection of dried plant specimens, used in the identification of unknown species. Moore's successor, Joseph Maiden, was also a botanist, and it showed: one of Maiden's daughters was actually named Acacia! Some Sydney botanists have a theory about the family sitting around, asking each other, "What'll we call her, what'll we call her?" Well, it's only a working theory . . .

The Royal Botanic Gardens lake is an excellent place to see waterbirds. The Royal Botanic Gardens lake is an excellent place to see waterbirds. The Royal Botanic Gardens.
Pictures above, from left to right:

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: The gardens are open from 6.30am to "sunset", every day (8 pm in summer, 5 pm in mid-winter). For further information, contact the Visitor Centre and shop, 9.30am to 4.30pm, every day.

Entry fees: Entry to the gardens is free. There is an entry fee for the "Pyramid" and the "Arc", but it is well worth paying to see the contents of these two glass-houses. Special prices for families, concessions for children, opening times a bit variable, Saturday mornings are excellent, because nobody else is there.

Closed: The shop and visitor centre are closed Christmas Day and Good Friday.

What to do there

The Visitor Centre has useful information about what is on in the Gardens, as well as maps, low-cost, high-quality pamphlets, and usually, an exhibition. The Gardens shop which is in the Centre is also worth a visit, as a source of unusual souvenirs and botanical books, well worth a visit. There are also guided tours on set days each week, starting from the Visitor Centre.

You can also get maps and information to help you find the First Farm exhibition, the rose garden and the succulent garden, and you will find an excellent restaurant and a good kiosk. If you will be in Sydney for any length of time, the Gardens have their own Friends organisation, like those at the other main museums and art galleries.

The Royal Botanic Gardens fern collection. The Royal Botanic Gardens café - don't leave your food unguarded, or an ibis may get it! The Royal Botanic Gardens lake is an excellent place to see waterbirds.
Pictures above, from left to right:

What to watch out for

Views, plants, birds (see the leaflets available in the Visitor Centre).
Contact details, Web links
Phone: 9231-8111
Web: http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/

What else is around

The Art Gallery of NSW, Mrs Macquarie's Chair, the Domain, and the Sydney Opera House are all in easy reach, and Hyde Park, Macquarie Street and the Australian Museum are just up the road. Lert's look at the Domain, right now!

The Domain

Sydney's Domain, seen from the harbour. Sydney's Domain, seen from the harbour. Pictures: (left) The Royal Botanic Gardens runs into the Domain, and the two are seen here, across the waters of Farm Cove.
(right) A closer look at the area known best as Mrs Macquarie's Chair (which is located on the eastern side).

For historical background, see these quotes. This is an area of land near the city of Sydney set aside as "the government domain" in the very first days of the new colony at Sydney Cove.

It is under the management of the neighbouring Royal Botanic Gardens but remains as open space. In summer, a series of concerts are offered to crowds of up to 100,000 people, using the part of the Domain that lies between the Art Gallery and the state Parliament.

Getting there

East of the city, linking the Royal Botanic Gardens and Hyde Park, the Domain is a relaxing sort of place. Brutish office louts play grunting sweaty football at lunch-time on the section between Parliament House and the Art Gallery of NSW, while the quieter finger of land running down to the east of the Gardens to Mrs Macquarie's chair, sounds with the thud of runners' feet in most lunch-hours, in a ground bass to accompany the munch of sandwiches. You can thus see most of life's rich tapestry in a small area, if such is your wish.

You can walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens, or walk past the front of the State Library of NSW, and veer right, or walk south past the Hyde Park Barracks in Macquarie Street, left around the corner, and keep going: the choice is yours. You can even ride the Sydney Explorer to the Domain.

What to do there

In 1827, Augustus Earle prepared a set of drawings of Sydney, which Robert Burford turned into a panorama to show in London. People paid a shilling a time to see the panorama, and another sixpence for a booklet featuring a miniature sketch of the panorama and notes.

Here we can read that the Domain comprises ". . . in its extent the governor's private grounds, the Botanic Garden, Paddocks, &c. It was greatly improved and beautified under the tasteful direction of Mrs. Macquarie; it is thickly interspersed with walks, winding amongst native and exotic trees, and plants of the finest and most varied foliage, and is much enlivened by many tame kangaroos and emues."

The Domain, we are told, was a favourite place for promenading on a Sunday afternoon, even as it is with some people today, even though the "kangaroos and emues" are no longer there. Each year, during the Festival of Sydney, there will be a number of "Things" in the Park. First come the carols by candlelight, just before Christmas. Then, during January, you will find Jazz in the Park, Symphony in the Park, Opera in the Park, and maybe a few others as well, although some of these have been taking place further west in recent years. Nonetheless, the Domain is where they all started, and where most of these will occur.

There was a time when the Domain was a free speech place, just like London's Hyde Park Corner, but this seems to be a dying tradition. Keep an eye out on a Sunday afternoon: you may still see and hear a few funny bits - a recent sculpture is intended to bring back the old tradition of soapbox oration.

What to watch out for

One of the best places to eat lunch is down at Mrs Macquarie's Chair. Many Sydneysiders call it Lady Macquarie's chair, but our best colonial governor was never knighted, though many later and lesser lights got that accolade. As a consequence, she must remain plain "Mrs.". A lady of good taste nonetheless, as you can prove to yourself, for she selected her "chair" as a pleasant spot to rest. Give it a try some time.

One thing that becomes apparent to the average visitor is the number of things named after Macquarie: the names "Macquarie", "Lachlan", "Elizabeth", even "Argyle" or "Argyll" and "Campbelltown" all have Macquarie links. But in his defence, many of them were not named by Macquarie, and while his first name was Lachlan, most of the "Lachlans" are actually named after his son, young Master Lachlan.

The Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens surround Farm Cove. Enter the area however you wish, and head down to the eastern side of Farm Cove to Mrs. Macquarie's chair at the end. There is parking there, so you can try driving, but parking spots can be hard to come by: walking is often easier. Then head back along the foreshore towards the Sydney Opera House on the next point, diverging when you feel like it. You can add in parts of the gardens, or the Opera House, and you can keep wandering.

What else is around

You could do a lot worse than the Art Gallery of NSW, or the Royal Botanic Gardens, Circular Quay, or Hyde Park Barracks.

Observatory Park

Getting there

As you walk down George Street, past Circular Quay, and heading for The Rocks, watch out for Argyle Street (which becomes Argyle Cut), and turn left into it. Walk up the right-hand side into the Argyle Cut itself, and then look out for the Argyle Stairs, just as a road bridge crosses over the Cut. Climb up the stairs, and turn left, so as to walk out over the road bridge, which is actually Cumberland Street. Cross diagonally, so that you cross both Cumberland Street and Argyle Street at the one time, and take the tunnel which leads to Fort Street.

You will find stairs that lead up to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, while the tunnel takes you under it, to the western side. As you come out of the tunnel, Observatory Park is in front of you. There is a more level approach from Lang Park, on the corner of Grosvenor Street and York Street. Cross York Street at the lights, and keep going in the same direction, and look for the pedestrian subway system. Use this to cross all of the major roads, and bob up on the other side. Then walk parallel to the major flow of bridge traffic, following the signs.

As an alternative, walk down along Kent Street, and go up the Agar Steps. You can also walk right up the left-hand side of Argyle Cut, until you come to some stairs on your left. Go up these, turn left, and follow Watson Street to the park.

Argyle Cut, looking west, to where Cumberland Street passes over it. The rotunda at Observatory Park, full of people who think science matters. Ball's Head and Goat Island from Observatory Park. Balmain, seen from Observatory Park. A Moreton Bay fig, Observatory Park. Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Pictures above, from left to right, top to bottom:

Access, times, entry costs

Open: The park is accessible at all times.

What to do there

The hill that you are now finally on was originally known as Windmill Hill, for obvious reasons. We can see another sign of this in the name Millers Point for the point of land where grain used to be unloaded for transport up to the mill. In 1804, with convicts rebelling around the place, and with a continuing risk of French attack (it was, you will recall, the time of the Napoleonic wars), Governor Hunter ordered the construction of
Fort Phillip, but this was never completed.

Then it became Flagstaff Hill, when the area was used as a signalling station for ships in the harbour, and to the signal station on South Head. For this reason, the top of the hill was kept cleared: the magnificent fig trees are comparatively recent additions.

In 1847, Sir Thomas Brisbane's observatory at Parramatta was closed, and Sydney had no observatory until 1855, when Sir William Denison pointed out the need for a time service for ships in the harbour, and for the city generally. Soon after, work was started on the present Sydney Observatory, and the park became Observatory Park at some time after that.

What to watch out for

First, there is the view to enjoy: the park is usually quiet (except on weekday lunch-times, when there are usually school-children around), and you can stand or sit, listening to the rumble of traffic. Walk around to the western side of the park for more views, sit back, and relax. Try supervising the work of the harbour.

Just down on the hill, towards the harbour, is the side of The Rocks that tourists seldom see. Wander down there, and have a look at the Garrison Church, the terrace houses, and other bits and pieces. The S. H. Ervin Gallery is there, and so is the Observatory itself. The "Lord Nelson" hotel and the "Hero of Waterloo" are both worth a visit, though not after work on a Friday night.

What else is around

You are in the vicinity of The Rocks, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Observatory, and you are within walking distance of both Darling Harbour and Dawes Point.

Victoria Park

This park is just to the east of the University of Sydney, and contains an
Olympic pool and an ornamental pond. Does the water look appetising? Here is an excerpt from Crouch's 'Epitome', issue 31, December 31, 1859:
"One member of this sub-committee hs on several occasions, seen milkmen increasing their stock, by the addition of water taken from that filthy pond, situated at the junction of Newtown and Parramatta Roads."
The report adds that the watering of milk samples ranged from 10 to 50%, often with cane sugar or milk added, to raise the specific gravity to the expected range. A little later, we learn that in November in 1859, there were 124 deaths in Sydney, 75 of them under the age of five.

Let us hope that times have changed . . .

The University of Sydney's gothic sandstone, from Victoria Park. Fig tree and pond, Victoria Park. The pool at Victoria Park.
Pictures above, from left to right:

The pond at Victoria Park. The pond at Victoria Park, complete with birds. The pond at Victoria Park.
Pictures above, from left to right:

Dawes Point

Dawes Point, Sydney, at the foot of the Harbour Bridge. Dawes Point, Sydney, at the foot of the Harbour Bridge.


Suburban parks

Centennial Park

For historical background, see
these quotes.

Getting there

There are 220 hectares of Centennial Park, a place where you can find water birds on ponds, flower beds, weddings, people doing tai chi, horse riders, bike riders, joggers, walkers, cross-country runners, picnics, and football, hockey, softball, baseball and cricket fields, all mixed together, along with a model yacht pond, and children's play equipment.

To drive there, go from Taylor Square into Anzac Parade, Cook Road, and in through the gates. There are other entry points as well: check any street directory for fuller details. There is parking inside at most times, but be wary of runners, cyclists and horses when you are driving around the park.

To get there by public transport, you can catch a wide range of buses running along Anzac Parade. If you prefer, the walk from Bondi Junction railway station is not too bad: walk west along Oxford Mall and Oxford Street, heading back towards the city. From Circular Quay, catch a 380 or 383 bus or a 394 bus or 396 bus, from Central Railway, catch a 378, or a 393 bus or 395 bus,from the city, catch a 339 or 340 bus, or from Bondi Junction, catch a 355, 357 or 359, and walk.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: The park is open sunrise to sunset if you are in a vehicle, with 24-hour access available to pedestrians.

Entry fees: There are no charges for using Centennial park, unless you are engaging in commercial photography.

Closed: On a few Sundays of the year, cars are completely banned from the Park, making parking more difficult. Football matches happen nearby, and there will usually be at least one cricket test match at the SCG each summer, as well as day-night matches: all of these bring traffic problems which affect Centennial Park.

What to do there

Centennial Park was opened in 1888, as a celebration of one hundred years of white settlement. It also has one important historical feature, the pavilion on the site where Australia's first Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, was sworn in and where the Federal Constitution was proclaimed on January 1, 1901. More than 60,000 people were present on that day to witness the proclamation of the Federal Constitution.

It was once the Second Sydney Common, and before it became a park, the area included the Lachlan swamp, a sandy area which provided the source of the water which ran through Busby's Bore to Hyde Park. This was a tunnel, started from Hyde Park, and carved through sandstone by convict labour. As it tapped into minor water sources in the sandstone, the bore delivered water very early, and according to legend, the overseers were unwilling to risk going below ground with the convicts for fear of "accidents" involving blunt instruments. This, says the legend, is the reason why some parts of the bore are much wider - the convicts, running into a section of soft stone would hew away at that, rather than pushing on into the hard rock beyond.

At least one guide-book to Sydney tells a sad tale of the convicts toiling away with windlass and bucket, hauling water to the surface, but the whole tunnel drained on gravity: the only thing to be hauled out by windlass was the rock spoil from the tunnel! There is now a fountain in Hyde Park to commemorate Busby's Bore, but at the wrong place. The actual outlet of Busby's Bore was near the corner of Park and Elizabeth Streets, at the head of the old swamp which once fed the Tank Stream, our first water supply.

In the end, though, the tunnel ran all the way up Oxford Street, and across to the swamps. The tunnel is still there, and most of it is accessible, though the part under Oxford Street was filled with sand in 1934 to stop subsidence under the tram-lines. The section under the old Showground (now the Fox Studios Australia complex) is still completely clear. With more than a dozen access shafts inside the Showground, no doubt some enterprising soul will one day offer tours of the tunnel (or a remake of The Third Man?). If they do, watch out, because the tunnel is only about a metre and a half high. Still, the convicts who made it were able to walk along it, so why not you? Just make sure you take a hard hat with you, as you have to if you can arrange a tour of the Tank Stream.

The water of the swamps is still there, so there are birds, carp and eels to feed in the lakes, if you have some bread for them. There are bicycles for hire, places to picnic, and lawns to walk on. This is one of the surprises we have for visitors from Europe: our sun is strong enough, even in winter, to produce lawns that will stand up to the wearing-away action of hordes of feet, so you are allowed on the grass in most parks.

What to watch out for

There is a horse track: look before you cross! While the roads are used by many cyclists, they are also used by cars: use common sense, whether you are on a bicycle or driving.

Contact details, Web links Phone: 9339-6699
Web: http://www.cp.nsw.gov.au/visitor_information (this site is laden with large images: this page will get you past the worst of them).

What else is around

You are close to Randwick race-course, but there are four race-courses in Sydney, so there may not be any races on when you are in the area. There is good suburban shopping to be had in Bondi Junction, and you are close to the art galleries of Paddington and Woollahra.

Bicentennial Park

Getting there

This is a more recent addition to Sydney's supply of parks, but a very good introduction to mangroves and to bird life. There are picnic areas, walking areas, and even quiet contemplative areas, but most of the park is fairly crowded, especially on Sundays. But even if it is recent, the scars have all gone, and now it is maturing and improving, at the centre of the site for the Sydney Olympic Games.

The park raises an interesting point: what is the proper behaviour to demonstrate when you find some wetlands? Once, developers had no problems here: you filled in the wetlands with rubbish and turned them into something nice and flat. Mangroves were buried and bulldozed, and everything was made nice for urban humanity. These days, we know that this is not such a good idea: wetlands are good for birds, and fish breed in among the mangroves when the tide comes in. So now we try to preserve mangroves, and to replace them where they have been destroyed. Bicentennial Park is an attempt to re-create the environment in this way.

You can get there from the Concord West railway station, from the Olympic Park railway station (slightly further away, but well within driving distance), or by the Olympic Explorer service being run (at the time of writing) by Sydney Ferries. The main entrance for cars is in Australia Avenue. Drive to Concord Road, turn off at Correys Avenue, and follow the blue and white signs from there. From the freeway, take the turnoff to the Olympic site, and get into Australia Avenue.

Access, times, entry costs
Opens: 0630
Closes: sunset
Entry fees: no charge

What to do there

Just 150 years ago, Homebush Bay was a wilderness where dingoes lived, but for about the last century, it has been a mixed residential and industrial area. The bay is part of Sydney Harbour, and it was originally mostly mangrove swamp and saltmarsh. We know now that these environments are important for wild birds and for fish breeding, but people saw the area as a great place to dump rubbish. "Land reclamation" they called it, though now we see it as environmental degradation.

Work started on reconstruction in 1983. This resulted in a 100-hectare wetland ecosystem, set in formal parklands, opened in 1988, Australia's bicentennial year, hence the name. Admire the reclamation, the 140 species of birds, the area. By now, it has matured, and lies on the edge of a magnificent site for the Olympic Games, also on reconstructed land. Work started well before Sydney got "the Games", and even if we had missed out on the Games, we would still have reclaimed and restored the land, for the benefit of all Sydneysiders. Now we know that we have done the whole world a favour.

The starting point was remediation. Some of the landfills are 25 metres deep, and nobody is sure what is in them. Analysis of the water leaching out in the early 1990s only showed ammonia as a waste product, but the landfill areas were being concentrated, drained and capped to stop too much water getting in, and to stop any "nasties" getting out. These artificial hills provide some interesting landscape features on the flat site, and they have been planted with trees. By 1999, the leachate in Bicentennial Park contained nothing worse than ammonia and dissolved iron, but they were treating even this on-site in an artificial wetland, even though they have approval to release the leachate into the bay.

It will take a while to see if the drainage will work perfectly, but the green and golden bell frog, an endangered species of frog, has been found in the park, along with four other frog species, and so they have been extending the habitat for the frogs. So far, everything seems to be going well.

What to watch out for Walk along the boardwalk over the mangroves, look out over the trees from the viewing towers, spot the bird life, see the displays in the visitor centre (if you can catch them open!!), cook barbecues, picnic, run, walk, watch model yachts sail on the lake, then start all over again. Above all, see the mangrove walk, and some of the quieter and more natural areas.

Contact details, Web links

Address: Just north of the Olympic complex, on Homebush Bay.
Phone: 9763-1844
Web: http://www.bicentpkhbay.nsw.gov.au

What else is around

You are in the vicinity of Sydney's Olympic site, and not that far from
Parramatta Park and the historic sites which surround it, like Elizabeth Farm, Experiment Farm Cottage, and Old Government House. The State Sports Centre is even closer, with a sporting Hall of Fame which features sports memorabilia.

Ball's Head

Ball's Head and Goat Island from Observatory Park. Ball's Head and Blue's Point, seen from the Manly ferry. Ball's Head and the Bridge, from the Parramatta Rivercat.
Pictures above, from left to right:

Getting there

Ball's Head is a pleasant spot to take a picnic lunch on a sunny day. High over the harbour, to the west of the
Harbour Bridge, there are places where you can sit and watch the harbour activities that are going on below you.

If that isn't enough, there are tracks leading around the headland, going all the way down to the shores, where you will often find anglers fishing for dinner. There is also a rock pool, but last I heard, the pool was closed for swimming. The cause(s) of the closure: a combination of suspected harbour pollution and problems in getting public risk insurance for the pool. At the top of the headland, there are coin-operated gas barbecues, just in case you want to cook your own meat, but there are no tongs or forks for turning the meat over, so take your own. If not, you're going to have raw meat, cooked fingers, or both.

From Waverton Station on the North Shore Line, walk or drive in a southerly direction along Bay Road, Balls Head Road, and Balls Head Drive. Watch out for the point where the road divides into a one-way loop. When you reach that, you are at Ball's Head. Drive slowly along until you come to a sharp right turn, and look for parking. If you are walking, go the wrong way, against the traffic along the one way road loop: it is much shorter that way, as well as being safer, because you are facing the oncoming traffic. Stay on the right!

What to do there

As indicated above, you can eat, walk along the bush tracks to the shores, admire the views, or just relax. The island right in front of you at Ball's Head is Goat Island. At the moment, tours of Goat Island are not available, but with luck, that will change again.

What to watch out for

Ball's Head is what the geographers call a "club cape". As the ancient Parramatta River wound down to the sea, it meandered back and forth, until the successive meanders almost met up. In the middle, mostly surrounded by river, was an "island" of sandstone. Later, when the river valley was "drowned" by a rising sea level, a number of these islands became real islands, like Berry Island, just west of Ball's Head.

Berry Island is now connected to the mainland by an artificial isthmus, but there was no need of that at Ball's Head, where the land connection is a natural one. The isthmus is, however, lower than Ball's Head, and so the whole thing looks rather like a club, hence the expression "club cape".

What else is around

Berry Island to the west, and Blue's Point to the east both have pleasant parks and walks if you are in that sort of mood. The small Donbank Museum (not reviewed here) is also in the area, near Victoria Cross, at 6 Napier Street, North Sydney.

The walk from Ball's Head to McMahon's Point ferry wharf is a pleasant one if the day is right for it. If you don't have a map, ask for directions to Blues Point Road, then walk down there. You can get to Blues Point Road along Woolcott and Union Streets, but there are many other pleasant ways of doing the trip: consult a street directory for ideas, and just wander.

Parramatta Park

Getting there

From the very earliest days of white settlement, Parramatta Park has been a cleared area, straddling the Parramatta River. In past times, it has been farm land, now it is a park full of history.

The best access point is reached by driving along O'Connell Street, turning into the one-way Hunter Street, then right into Pitt Street, moving rapidly to the left-hand lane, ready to turn left into the park at the next corner, where Pitt Street turns into Macquarie Street. Familiar street names, aren't they? As in Sydney, they tell us quite accurately when the area was first settled and surveyed.

Parramatta Park is in great demand at times: on Sunday mornings, touch football is popular, and traffic can be bad if there is a football match on at the nearby Parramatta Stadium, when parking in the park area is restricted to a two-hour limit. You may have to drive around for a bit before you find a suitable parking place.

So go during the week, or public transport may be a good idea: from Westmead railway station, cross Railway Parade, walk north along Central Avenue, and turn right into Queens Road. Then walk straight ahead until you enter the park. The RiverCat offers a 10 minute walk to the park, and so does Parramatta railway station.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: sunrise to sunset
Entry fees: Entry is free.

What to do there

Once you are in the park, watch out for bicycle riders. There is quite a lot to see and do, and it is probably best seen or done on foot or on a bike, so it is a good idea park your car - if you can. There is a visitors' centre, called Burramatta, open on week days from 1000 - 1500, and weekends from 1000 - 1600.

The land in this area is all Wianamatta Shale, so that the soil was quite rich, and Governor Phillip's personal servant, Henry Dodd, was farming there by 1789. The area has been settled ever since, with a vice-regal presence in the area for some seventy years at Old Government House. For some time, there was an observatory there, and a steam tram service ran through the park for many years: some remnants are still there to be seen. Ride bicycles, picnic, sit and look at the river or fish in it, visit Old Government House.

What to watch out for

Watch out for the Dairy Precinct, where two of Australia's oldest cottages are to be found. In the future, the Park management hope to operate guided tours, so enquire for these.

Contact details, Web links

Phone: 8833-5000
Web:
http://www.ppt.nsw.gov.au/

What else is around

You are in the vicinity of a large range of historic sites around Parramatta, like Elizabeth Farm, Experiment Farm Cottage, and Old Government House. Bicentennial Park is not too far down the road as well.

Parsley Bay

Parsley Bay. Parsley Bay.Caption: Parsley Bay.

Getting there

Parsley Bay is largely hidden from the rest of Sydney, but it is visible from Dobroyd Head with binoculars when you look across the harbour. It appears to be something strange and white, straddling the bay, but to find out what it is, you need to go there.

Parsley Bay lies between Vaucluse Bay (which is below Vaucluse House) and Watsons Bay. The 325 bus from Edgecliff railway station will take you to Hopetoun Avenue, close to the bay: look for the white-on-blue signs.

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: Accessible at all times

What to do there

There is a shark-proof net at the end of the bay, so you have here one of the largest harbour swimming pools available. There is also a large grassed area for picnics and the like, and a number of people seem to think it worth fishing off the rocks there.

What to watch out for

Perhaps the best part of the whole area is the suspension bridge that somebody has seen fit to build across the bay, letting you cross from one side to the other, and the walks along the water's edge. This, of course, was the white thing which can be seen from the other side of the harbour.

What else is around

You are in the vicinity of Vaucluse House, Watsons Bay, and
Nielsen Park in the Sydney Harbour National Park.

The Spit

Getting there

Drive across the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the Warringah Expressway, and take Route 14 towards Manly. The first really big hill that you go down after that runs down to the Spit and the Spit bridge. Look for glimpses of water on the right after you go round several tight curves and as you run down the hill, and be ready to turn into the parking area on the left.

By bus, you can catch any of a large variety of buses from Wynyard. Some buses may carry "First Set Down" restrictions at some times, so check before you get on the bus. As with driving, the long downhill run is your best landmark, together with good water views on your left.

The park and bridge are there at all times, but it will cost you a parking fee to get into the parking area, with "pay and display" tickets to be bought from a machine. The Spit Bridge is raised and lowered at regular intervals to let larger craft pass through. Most of the openings are on the hour, weekdays and weekend mornings, and on the half-hour on weekend afternoons.

Access, times, entry costs

Entry fees: As indicated above, there can be a parking charge for use of the parking area. That aside, the Spit is free. Buy a ticket by feeding coins into the machine, and leave it in your car where the ticket can be seen. Yes, the inspectors do come around checking from time to time.

Closed: Parking is very hard to get on summer weekends.

What to do there

In the very early days, the road from Manly to Sydney was some 70 miles (120 km) long. It wound from Balgowlah to Pittwater, to Gordon, through Ryde, and so to Sydney. As you might expect, most things came to Manly by boat. In 1850, a hand-operated punt was started up, crossing the water at the Spit, but it was twenty years or more before there was a decent road from the Spit to Manly. Later, a steam punt was put into operation, and this ran until 1924.

By 1900, trams ran from Mosman to the Spit, and by 1910, trams ran from the Spit to Manly. Passengers had to change trams and cross by punt, but there were a number of trams carried across by punt, as this was how Manly got its trams. If this is the sort of stuff you go for in a big way, try the Sydney Tramway Museum, close to the Audley entrance of the Royal National Park. The first Spit Bridge, built around 1924, was a timber structure put up by the Manly Council. The present bridge was built just to the east of the old one in the late fifties, by the Department of Main Roads.

What to watch out for

The park at the Spit makes a nice picnic place in the evening, but the traffic noise makes it less pleasant than the nearby Clontarf. There are several brilliant restaurants on each side, and even take-away fish and chips, to eat on the shoreline. Fishing is not permitted from the bridge (though many people fish from the bridge at night), but the retaining wall under the bridge is a popular daytime fishing spot. If you just like looking at boats, there are plenty to look at.

And if it gets really boring, the bridge usually goes up once an hour to let boats through: on the hour in the mornings, and half past the hour in the afternoons, not during peak hours. Fun for kids to watch, useful for yachts, annoying for car drivers.

Don't miss the sunset from the shore near the parking area, especially in winter on a calm day, early morning when there is a high tide, the Spit-Manly walk. You may prefer just to take a shorter walk along the same track, around to Clontarf Beach, some twenty minutes away, where there is a meshed tidal pool,(see Harbour Pools - best visited at high tide). Do not swim from the unmeshed beaches. Sharks were once common, and as the water quality improves, they may return to the harbour. The channel under the bridge is quite narrow, and carries all of the tidal ebb and flow of a very large part of the harbour. At times, the current can reach six knots under the bridge.

You can fish in the area, but it is illegal to fish from the bridge itself. You can also hire boats: small yachts, kayaks and powerboats, at the various marinas.

What else is around

If you have a car, Balmoral is close by, and so too are Taronga Zoo and the attractions of Manly. From the parking area, there is a pleasant walk to the south-west, around Pearl Bay towards Beauty Point.

Parks Beyond Sydney

Mt Annan Gardens

Getting there

To get there, take the South-Western Freeway just past Liverpool, and turn off at the Narellan turn-off, head towards Narellan, and be ready to turn left into the gardens. There are buses from Campbelltown railway station which get you close to the gardens, but they are very large, and you will need to do a lot of walking.

There is a small parking fee for each vehicle, as there is at Mt Tomah. Take a picnic lunch: there are gas barbecues and plenty of shady spots to cook, eat and relax. Don't miss the sundials!

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: 1000
Closes: 1600 in winter, 1800 in summer
Entry fees: Adults $4.40, children and pensioners $2.20. seniors $3.30, family $8.80
Closed: Christmas Day

What to do there

The Mount Annan gardens are an excellent place to visit. The plants are in and growing: anybody wanting to see Australian native plants should include this garden on their list. There are hundreds of species of wattles, most of the described 79 species of Banksias, nearly three hundred eucalypts, almost 100 species of bottlebrushes, and the list goes on and on. You can also see a prized Wollemi pine there, though other specimens can be seen at the other branches of the gardens.

What to watch out for

And then there are the birds. The garden's staff have counted something close to 160 species of bird so far. But be properly warned: in summer, the flies will outweigh the birds well and truly. Nasty little crawling buzzing beasts that won't go away. Wear a hat, and take some insect repellent.

Contact details, Web links

Address: Annan Drive, Mt Annan
Phone: 02 4648-2477
Web: http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/mount_annan_botanic_garden

What else is around

You are on your way to the Southern Highlands, or to the South Coast, or even Canberra.

Mount Tomah Gardens

Getting there

In summer, when Sydney is all hot and sweaty, the time has come to head west, into the mountains. Drive out through the heat beyond the reach of the sea breeze, along the Great Western Highway (Parramatta, Penrith, Katoomba) to Mount Victoria, a pleasant stopping point, then turn right and drive to Bell on Bell's Line of Road, turn right again, and follow the signs.

Alternatively, drive through Parramatta to Windsor, Richmond, Kurrajong and Bilpin along Bell's Line of Road to the gardens. This variety of routes means, of course, that you can go up one way, and return to the other way. From the north, use the M2 and a small piece of the M7 to access the Old Windsor Road, and watch out for road works!! (They were stil there and awful in September 2006.)

At Mount Tomah, looking down. Wollemi pine at Mount Tomah, a recently discovered 'living fossil'. Looking back up the slope at Mount Tomah. Mount Tomah. (left) Looking down into the gardens from the restaurannt verandah. (centre) Wollemi pine at Mount Tomah, a recently discovered 'living fossil'. (right) Looking back up the slope. The plants here are typically those which do best in cool conditions, making this an ideal summer spot.

 

Access, times, entry costs

Opens: 1000
Closes: 1600 in winter, 1700 in summer

Entry fees: Adults $4.40, children and pensioners $2.20. seniors $3.30, family $8.80
Closed: Christmas Day.

What to do there

In these gardens, you will find 20 hectares of cool climate plants including tree ferns ("tomah" to the aborigines), a driveway of Southern beeches, gentle walks, exhibitions, a restaurant, a well-stocked shop, even an outcrop of volcanic basalt, unusual in sedimentary Sydney. The rich soil at Mount Tomah is the result of a remnant basalt flow from Tertiary times.

What to watch out for

By the time you get there, you will be almost a kilometre above sea level: even in summer, take something warm, though it can still be hot in the Blue Mountains in summer. Rain is very common in January and February. In winter, take very warm clothes: you can count on snow for a few days each year. Carry some water with you because it is thirsty work.

Some of the quieter trails are well-worth wandering along, but their simulated bog is a delight, with carnivorous plants from Australia and overseas, and intelligent signage explaining how it is set up. The shop is good for souvenirs, and the restaurant service is excellent. Try to avoid the coach groups who come in.

Contact details, Web links

Address: Bell's Line of Road, Mt Tomah
Phone: (02) 4567-2154
Web:
http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/mount_tomah_botanic_garden

What else is around

If you have any time over from your visit, especially in autumn, try to get to Mount Wilson (go out the gates, turn left, drive about 10 km, turn right). (Note added September 2006: the spring flowers in late September at Mount Wilson are quite spectacular, and that is when you will find the waratahs out at Mount Tomah. We had a picnic lunch at one of the tables just past Church Lane, but if you drive on and turn right (not left to Mount Irvine, there is a pleasant picnic place down at the end of the NO THROUGH ROAD which had a name that I missed. We bought our picnic lunch supplies in Leura.)

The other main attractions in the area must include the Blue Mountains. On our last visit (April 21, 2006), we took friends to Mount Wilson to se the autumn colours, then drove to Bell and over to Mount Victoria, turning right to get to the lookout on the keft side of the road, running down the hill, overlooking Victoria Pass. It is a largely unsigned unsealed track on the left, with amazing views of the Megalong Valey and out to the west. Looking out from the restaurant verandah, Mount Tomah. The outside verandah, Mount Tomah restaurant. The interior, Mount Tomah restaurant.
Pictures above, from left to right:


See also the National Parks page. For some amazing pictures, see http://goinside.com/04/4/tomah.html and take the tour.

This file is http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/syd/parks.htm, first created on February 28, 2006. Last recorded revision (well I get lazy and forget sometimes!) was on October 21, 2006.


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