Picnics Around Sydney

Sydney's weather is just made for picnics. At the height of summer, find a place in the shade near water, in winter, find a sunny spot away from the wind, and the rest of the year, move about until you are comfortable. There are drawbacks, of course, like the risk of sunburn, and ants will come to your picnic just as they do anywhere else, but that aside, there is no better way to spend a sunny Sydney day than at a picnic. Small patches of parkland can often be found where streets reach the water. The shores of Sydney harbour are dotted with paths and walking tracks. The shores of Sydney harbour are dotted with paths and walking tracks.
Pictures above, from left to right:

A magpie joins the picnic.

Picture: A magpie joins the picnic.

Be aware that magpies and kookaburras may well join you -- and in urban areas, pigeons and seagulls will be hanging around, looking for a handout.

On weekends, of course, the best-known picnic spots are in demand, and there will be relative crowding, but there are so many picnic spots that you can get away from the crowds if you want to. In the middle of the week, solitude is easy to find.

There are many parks and gardens around Sydney, as you will be able to see from any street directory. At the front of the directory, there will usually be a list of main parks, and parks are usually shown as green blobs on the map pages. Most of these green blobs are free and open for you to use.

Centennial Park is a large and pleasant place to visit, but it can be quite crowded on weekends, as can Bicentennial Park. Some people would prefer something a little quieter, like the Royal Botanic Gardens, or the Domain - but the Domain can be very crowded at times! While you are in the city, Wynyard Park may be a little too urban and cramped, but don't miss the chance to try Observatory Park, or some of the harbour foreshores on some of the city walks.

Hyde Park can also be comparatively crowded, though there are quieter parts to be found if you try. Swimming is not available there: the Archibald Fountain is too shallow, and the Pool of Remembrance is a no-go area. If you have your mind set on swimming, think about either Balmoral or Nielsen Park, whidh I will come to later. Many of the other National Parks offer pleasant picnic spots, and some offer swimming as well. Parsley Bay and Shelly Beach near Manly have a lot to be said for them, and Garigal National Park offers you a cross between wilderness and manicured civilisation, and everything in between.

Balmoral (see Harbour Pools) is popular as a summer evening picnic spot, although the flies can be a nuisance if there is a calm night after several rainy days. If the flies stay away, fish and chips on the grass or the sand can be quite pleasant, but over the water at Clontarf is nicer, and you get a sunset there as well.

You can see the same sunset at The Spit which is easier to find, and which has food sales places nearby, on the eastern side. Cross either at the pedestrian crossing, or go under the bridge -- this is a dangerous road!

As a general rule, you can picnic in any of Sydney's parks, and the same goes for Sydney beaches, But sometimes there will be restrictions on alcohol, or glass, or both. Quiet parties are not usually pestered, but if there are louts nearby who need to be moved on, you will probably be moved on as well. Most beaches offer fixed tables and seats on the built-up area behind the beach, and there will always be rocks to sit on.

The same rule of thumb about using anywhere for a picnic applies to most of the walks. Just saunter along until you find a nice seat, a nice piece of grass, a rock, a jetty or a beach, and tuck in. As an example, see the notes on Shelly Beach.

The trick is to check for signs indicating an alcohol-free zone, and assume that a formal Olympic pool will have a glass ban, and so will motel and hotel pools.

Where to buy the makings

If you are are after top-grade stuff, see the gourmet section of the foods page, though the other sections will probably also help.

Meat: Butcher's shops are becoming less common, but you will find that supermarkets usually offer pre-cut pre-packed meat. You can also buy sausages at some delicatessens (usually referred to as 'delis').

Bread: Supermarkets have stuff that is labelled bread, but there are generally small specialist bakery shops that offer a better choice of oven-fresh bread.

Cheese: Head for a deli (pay attention, I just told you what that is), although you can sometimes pick up some passable cheeses in a supermarket. King Island cheeses are generally excellent.

Fruit: Most suburbs still have greengrocers, though the supermarkets are slowly choking them out. In the city, you will find barrows, where the fruit is over-priced in the morning, and usually cheaper in the afternoon. You pay for convebience, remember?

Liquor:

Liquor has been part of the white Australian culture from the very start, as these comments will show.

Hotels (the sort that are mainly for drinking in) normally offer some sort of bottle department or at least bottle sales in the public bar -- ask! There are also liquor stores, and these will usually offer all sorts of liquor. Beer is cheaper in a 'slab', a carton of 24 bottles, but you can also buy six-packs for convenience. Most beers have twist-tops, but you will need to check -- if they are not twist tops, you will need an opener! Several brewers offer light beer, which has about half the alcohol content of full-strength beer, and it is a bit cheaper.

Wine can be bought in bottles of 750 millilitres, a bit much for one person in one sitting, and there are a few 500 mL bottles and 1 litre bottles, also wine casks. These are cardboard boxes with a plastic bag inside, fitted with a tap. These usually contain 4 litres, though some of the better brands come in smaller casks. Banrock Station is an excellent choice, and they produce 2-litre casks that are more convenient for travellers.

Extras such as salt, pepper and salads — you need to look around, or ask.

What to Take on an Australian Picnic

If you are cooking meat, you will need barbecue tools: at the very least, tongs and a fork, although there are those who prefer a flat "egg-lifter". If you aren't cooking meat, you will need your food cooked in advance: there are no rules, so you can feast on the Colonel's chicken and cheap champagne, or bread and cheese, or whatever, and nobody will look sideways at you. Hardware stores will sell expensive tools, most supermarkets will have cheap ones.

If you are a stranger to Australia, it may help to know that any delicatessen will sell you small amounts of (say) four or five cheeses, some sliced cold meat, and some rolls or bread. Most supermarkets will sell similar foods more cheaply, but only in fixed amounts. Most shopping centres and industrial areas will include at least one shop selling hot food and sandwiches to the people working nearby.

The traditional drink is tea, made in a billy, but you don't have to do that. I happen to follow this tradition myself, but these days, people (even bushwalkers!) seem to stare at me as a rare bird indeed. More commonly, folk drink tea or coffee out of a vacuum flask. Or else they drink something cool. Cold drinks won't stay cool for long in our climate, so you need a cooler box. Some years ago, a cooler called an "Esky" came on the market, and this brand name seems now to have become the generic term.

These coolers are often made of foam plastic, although metal and tough plastic ones can also be bought. They range in size from one that will take six small cans and some ice to monsters that will just about fit grandma. You can also buy various "cooler bags" which fold flat when they aren't in use.

If you are in a hotel or motel, try freezing one can of drink to supply a source of cold for your cooler (I recommend getting ONE of a different brand, so you know which is which!). Otherwise, most larger petrol stations carry ice, and so do many bottle shops and hotels. You can usually buy bags of ice in two sizes. When the bag is hit or dropped a few times, the ice cubes inside the bag break apart, and you can then pour them into your cooler.

The usual warnings about sunburn apply when you are on a picnic: hats and sunburn cream are essential, even in winter. And if you are planning to light a fire, take some water with you in a bottle, so you can put the fire out when you are finished with it.

While gazetted "No Alcohol" signs mean what they say in suburban streets, in parks, the enforcement in picnic places is fairly laid-back - the signs are really there to give law enforcement officers a lever to use on rowdy people, so if you see others around you consuming alcohol, do so quietly, and there should usually be no problems.

Organised picnic places

Picnic tables and free barbecue at North Harbour Reserve on the Spit-Manly walk. An electric barbecue on the grass behind Maroubra Beach. Pictures: (left) Picnic table with a free barbecue beyond it at North Harbour Reserve on the Spit-Manly walk.
(right) An electric barbecue on the grass behind Maroubra Beach.

If you prefer it, there are places with lawns, tables, fire-places, and sawmill off-cuts supplied, or with gas barbecues built in. The places listed here don't all have all of these things, but they are sedate places: read the main entries as indicated for more details. If your taste runs more to a warm rock in the wilderness, turn to the next section.

Alphabetically, you can try the Australian Reptile Park, Balls Head, Balmoral Beach, Bicentennial Park, Bronte Beach, Carss Park, Centennial Park, Clifton Gardens, Clontarf, Davidson picnic area in the Garigal National Park, parts of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Lane Cove River National Park, Manly Dam, Nielsen Park in the Sydney Harbour National Park, Parramatta Park, Parsley Bay, Audley in the Royal National Park, the park on the west side of The Spit, the grounds around Vaucluse House, the picnic areas at Warragamba Dam, and the nearby Bent's Basin, and almost any beach around the harbour, or any surf beach.

Out of Sydney, some of the best areas are in our National Parks, although the Mount Annan Gardens and Mount Tomah Gardens are hard to beat. Mount Anna can be a bit oppressive on a hot summer's day.

Less organised picnic places

Almost any suburban park will be used from time to time as a place for picnics. As a minimum, you will usually find toilets somewhere round about, a water tap, and rubbish bins, except in North Sydney, where the Council doesn't believe in them. You will need to bring cooked food, since these venues do not normally feature fireplaces. You will find gas and electric barbecues in some places, but you will need to check for yourself.

Try the Domain, Hyde Park, the waterfront at Lavender Bay, or Blue's Point or Sawmiller's Reserve (all three in North Sydney), Pyrmont Point, Observatory Park, or the rocks at the end of any Sydney beach. There is, however, one truly excellent place to go, and that is the lookout at the end of West Head Road in Kuring-gai Chase National Park.

Wild picnic areas

Even though many of these have organised picnic areas, you can still wander away from the madding crowd at these sites. Sunning yourself on a warm rock can be very pleasant, and a hot rock is even better: it keeps the ants away. Of course, if you stray into the bushes, you need to watch where you are going, so you can find your way back again, and you won't be able to light a fire: the restrictions on fires and fireplaces are designed to reduce the risk of bushfires, and should be carefully observed. Bushfires can kill.

At Balls Head, most of the best viewpoints are away from the fireplaces, so cook your food and then walk to an eating spot. The Davidson picnic area at Garigal National Park has a number of walking trails that will lead you to pleasant spots, away from the cars, reeking fires and the (officially disapproved) football games of the main picnic area.

In Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, the many walking trails will lead you to a variety of quiet places with distant views, and the same is true of the Lane Cove River National Park (where the views are less distant), Manly Dam, Narrabeen Lake, and the Royal National Park.

The Sydney Harbour National Park is a case where almost the only picnic spots are odd ones that you find for yourself, especially on the northern side of the harbour. No fires allowed, and these have the drawback that there is generally no rubbish bin, and any rubbish left behind is unsightly. So you know what to do, don't you?

Barbecues

Be aware that total fire bans mean just that. Most picnic places are near bush, so if there is a fire ban, you won't be able to cook anything out-of-doors. Strictly speaking, it is illegal to even light a cigarette in the middle of Sydney, but the law is usually applied with sense.

Places to go

(a) picnic places without cooking

The Royal Botanic Gardens make an excellent choice on a sunny day.

It is hard to beat Observatory Park, but be aware that the fig leaves which cover the grass are very sticky and may stain your clothes. The rotunda is often booked out for Japanese and Korean weddings on weekends, and there is not a lot of shelter if it rains, but the views are excellent. This is one of my favourites. Don't miss the Observatory while you are there: entry is free, and the staff know what they are talking about.

Hyde Park can be crowded at times, especially if there is a special event on. The northern end offers better choices, and there is good grass along the city side. I note that the David Jones Food Hall is nice and close! Note that plans are under way to remove many of the trees as they are in poor condition. This is because the underground railway was installed by digging a huge trench and covering it over.

An under-used area at many times is the harbour foreshore near Manly Wharf, to either the east or the west. There is more to be found on the western side, with tables and seats in shade, and further along, grassy knolls, beaches and more. Pack your food, and just keep walking. Incidentally, if you go west, this is the start of the Manly-Spit walk.

The first 15 minutes of the walk, as far as, and just beyond, Fairlight Beach, offer as range of grassy, rocky and sandy places to sit and dawdle. Then you go through a section with fewer chances until North Harbour, then there are more opportunitities at Forty Baskets, Reef Beach, and at assorted places all the way along, and also near Grotto Point lighthouse.

I have just dealt with a single walk nearest to where I live, but every walk offers places. Just carry some portable no-fuss food, and when you find a good spot, syop and feed — and when you go, take your rubbish with you!

(b) picnic places with cooking

I will have to get back to you on this, as it will take a bit of research. Don't forget barbecue tools (tongs and a fork are the minimum — or even just a longish fork, but many of the barbecues are either gas or electric, and they are free. Some of them used to have a charge, which is why I need to check first.

Manly Dam

You really need a car for this one. and it is crowded on weekends. From Sydney, drive towards Manly, cross the Spit Bridge, keep going straight ahead through the bypass, and then you enter the Manly Vale shops: watch for the left turn into King Street, at traffic lights. Take the turn, and follow King Street to the end.

The distance along King Street is about 1 km, with the same distance again to the farthest and nicest picnic spots. Bicycles and walkers are free, but understand that bikes are not allowed on most tracks. There are also one or two other places that you could walk in from, after catching a bus. There is one steep down-and-up part in King Street.

At least during busy times on weekends, there is a charge of $7 per car, unless you live in Manly or Warringah. The road speed on the narrow road is 20 km/hr, and you need to observe it. There are more formal picnic grounds with grass, tables and barbecues, near the entrance, and wilder spots further up, where there are still made barbecues with hotplates, and a wood supply of offcuts from the lumber yard.

Before World War II, the dam was the main water supply for the Manly area, and it was used again during th war, when Australia was hit by an El Niño drought. The catchment was kept empty, and it is now largely preserved as a bush reserve, with a few walking tracks passing through it. These are not heavily used. There are also several designated cycle tracks, mainly along fire trails and these are popular.

You can also get in from Wakehurst Parkway, after catching the 169 bus, and a few other buses, but you need to know what you are doing. This will be expanded later, but if you are a tourist, go in the middle of the week, take food and water with you, and enjoy a quiet time.

Little Manly

Little Manly Point. Little Manly. Little Manly.
Pictures above, from left to right:

You can manage this one by public transport or walking. See the notes on the 135 bus route, if you want to visit North Head first. On foot, take off from Manly Wharf, turn right, and walk around the path along the water's edge, as far as it goes, then move up to the road. Walk ahead for a bit, then turn left into Stuart Street and follow this until you see the beach and the pool. There is a civilised picnic area on the point, just beyond the beach. It is on your left as you face the water.

There is also a parking area: drive though Manly, up Darley Road, right into Addison, left into Stuart.


This file is http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/syd/picnics.htm, first created on March 15, 2006. Last recorded revision (well I get lazy and forget sometimes!) was on October 23, 2006.

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