Enjoy stunning harbour and bridge views from sheltered beaches dotted among remnant bushland in Sydney Harbour National Park. Stop to admire grand 19th-century houses set in still-magnificent grounds.
Hermitage Foreshore Walk
3.5 kilometres | 1 hour 20 minutes
Walk south along the shoreline from the ferry wharf, passing Watsons Bay Baths, which evolved around the same time as Bronte Baths . Pass the blue former Pilot Station and turn left up the path leading away from Gibsons Beach, then right onto Hopetoun Avenue.
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After 100 metres, turn right again into The Crescent (the second street at the junction, keeping the small grassy reserve on your right). Just after 16 The Crescent, turn right into Parsley Bay Reserve. Swing to the right, following the path down to the water. Turn left and continue on the shoreline until a sharp hook left and up the stairs. (If you prefer to take a break in Parsley Bay itself, head right instead of taking the stairs.) Go up and across the suspension footbridge, built in 1910, for an elevated view of the bay.
There is lasting evidence of the Birrabirragal people’s connection to the entirety of the South Head peninsula: rock engravings, cave paintings, middens and more. But none of this was acknowledged when the new colony’s government gave the area’s first land grant to a military quartermaster in 1792. Eventually 208 hectares, including Parsley Bay, became part of the Vaucluse House estate.
The journalist and former explorer William Wentworth, known for his Blue Mountains expeditions with colleagues Blaxland and Lawson, owned the estate.
The estate’s grand house overlooked the adjacent inlet, so Parsley Bay, despite being under private ownership, was used by the public for swimming, fishing and picnics. This situation was unchanged for 80 years until the Wentworths moved on. The locals were then facing the increasingly familiar prospect of large, single-owner estates being subdivided into dense urban living. There was barely a public foreshore to land a boat at, much less swim or fish. Just like Aboriginal people who camped at Vaucluse House Beach Paddock, leisure-seekers would have to go somewhere else.
From the late 1890s, residents began campaigning for Parsley Bay to be restored to public ownership. A few years later, accountant and keen sailor William Notting formed the Harbour Foreshores Vigilance Committee. The Parsley Bay foreshore was the first win achieved by this movement, becoming a public reserve in 1906.
Parsley Bay Kiosk serves basic takeaway food.
Turn right into Fitzwilliam Road and swing around left into Wentworth Road. (To see William Wentworth’s mausoleum, duck 40 metres into Chapel Road. Number 5, the site of the mausoleum, was originally the rear of the extensive Vaucluse Estate.)
Just after 58 Wentworth Road, turn right into the reserve and follow the shoreline. Vaucluse Bay – also known as Vaucluse House Beach Paddock – is part of the 19th-century estate, and now house museum, of William Wentworth.
On leaving the park, turn right into Coolong Road. Where Coolong Road meets Greycliffe Avenue at a tiny roundabout, enter Sydney Harbour National Park on the second right via gated Bottle and Glass Road.
Go straight, following the road around the point. It’s worth going off-road (and three minutes off-route) to walk to the tip of Bottle and Glass Point. Turn right near the sign for Bottle and Glass Point and follow the slightly worn grass track through bushes 200 metres north-east out to the point. It was so named for its unusual rock outcrop, now drastically reduced in size after passing ships used it as target practice. Sydney’s ferries pass close by and there are views across to Georges Head.
Back on Bottle and Glass Road, pause at the open grassy area for views down onto Shark Beach; a great picnic spot. Then take the right fork down the stairs to the beach and Nielsen Park.
The same pressure that led to Parsley Bay being made public land also led to the state government-funded Foreshores Resumption Scheme in 1911. Various sites around the harbour were acquired for public use, including Nielsen Park (1911) and the Hermitage
Foreshore Reserve (1912). Nielsen Park was named after the Danish-born politician, Niels Nielsen, who was responsible for the scheme.
The first task was to remove the foreshore fencing. Ironically, “public” no longer included Birrabirragal or Gadigal people’s pre-colonial and early colonial use of the area as a fishing and camping ground. Residual midden deposits on Bottle and Glass Point and Shark Beach (and other sites and evidence) signify the ongoing connection to the place for local Aboriginal people.
Shark Beach is probably the right place to talk about the elephant in the room … in this case, sharks in the harbour. Bull sharks are the most common, as well as dusky whaler, wobbegong and Port Jackson sharks. That explains the netted ocean baths. (A net protects Shark Beach only in the warmer months because sharks prefer warmer water and won’t be found here in the winter.)
The shark threat, historically, was much greater than now because the city inadvertently fed them. Rubbish and sewage were discharged directly into the harbour and just outside the heads from the 1800s to the early 1900s. Whaling operations (1892–1938) chucked away [their] by-products and, most significantly, offal was dumped in the water from abattoir operations (1852–1988).
Take a moment to enjoy the avenue of Moreton Bay figs behind the kiosk, planted for the original approach to the Greycliffe estate.
The Nielsen overlooks Shark Beach. Open seven days, the kiosk offers a limited and fairly standard menu. The restaurant, with more pricey and tastier offerings, is open weekends only.
Walk along the beach promenade and up the stairs at the western end (the path left leads to Greycliffe House). Go past Steele Point Cottage and join the Hermitage Foreshore Walking Track. The first beach you come to is Milk Beach, overlooked by Strickland House.
The property now containing Strickland House was part of the Wentworth family’s Vaucluse Estate and was carved off for a daughter’s marriage. The house itself was named Carrara after a white Italian marble, and was designed to be seen from the water.
All deliveries came by boat including … the milk.
Like Nielsen Park, Carrara was purchased in 1914 by the government under the Foreshores Resumption Scheme. It became Strickland Women’s Convalescent Home during World War I and operated as a hospital until 1989. Dormitory blocks remain in the grounds.
Further on, try spotting The Hermitage (look for a green multi-pitched roof overlooking Hermit Bay) – the eponymous 1878 Gothic-style house of the Hermitage Foreshore Walk. It’s a private residence owned by Justin Hemmes, a name familiar to Sydneysiders for the more than 70 pubs, restaurants and hotels his company [Merivale] owns across the city.
Pass through the grounds of Strickland House. Follow the coastal track, continuing past Tingara Beach (tiny and difficult to access), Hermit Beach (a sandy bend), Hermit Point’s wharf and Queens Beach (go down the stairs near the beach; do not turn left).
The small cemetery just before Queens Beach is part of Catholic girls school Kincoppal-Rose Bay, School of the Sacred Heart. It was established in 1891.
At the end of the Hermitage Foreshore Walk, zigzag 120 metres along Bayview Hill Road then take the first right into Tivoli Avenue. At the traffic lights, turn right into New South Head Road. Spare a thought for the 85,000 City2Surf participants who annually run up this seemingly never-ending incline on their way to Bondi Beach. Heartbreak Hill, as it’s known, is actually a two-kilometre-long rise.
In 50 metres – just after 780 New South Head Road – take the stairs down to Dumaresq Road and turn left as a shortcut back on to New South Head Road. Another 50 metres – after number 762, “White Ripples” – go down the next long set of steps until emerging onto Rose Bay Beach. Turn left and continue on sand to the end. (There are two alternatives to exit the beach early for New South Head Road’s cafes, or to avoid wet feet. Turn left either before the stormwater outlet at the end of Caledonian Road and take the second right on to the main street. Or further up, turn left through Percival Park, cross Collins Avenue out to New South Head Road. Either way, turn right to continue past the shops to Tingira Memorial Park.)
Tingira Park is at the end of Rose Bay Beach. Turn right to follow the shoreline past the sailing club and seaplane depot until reaching the ferry terminal.
Between the two world wars, in the 1920s and 1930s, air travel was taking off before there were runways long enough. But a flying boat – where the plane’s hull sits in the water on landing and take-off – just needs a large, protected expanse of water. In 1937, Rose Bay became Sydney’s first international airport.
A new flying boat airmail service between Australia and England quickly evolved into a passenger service. The 10-day, 30-stop Rose Bay to Southampton “kangaroo route” included Calcutta (present-day Kolkata, India), Basra (Iraq) and Alexandria (Egypt). Services ceased temporarily during World War II. Two weeks after the war’s end in September 1945, nine Catalina flying boats landed at Rose Bay. Emaciated Australian survivors from Japanese prisoner-of-war camps disembarked, greeted by a 50,000-strong crowd.
Gradually airports and aircraft improved. The last Qantas flight from Rose Bay took place in 1955, marking the end of the short-lived era of flying boats for international travel. The final commercial flight – an Ansett flight to Lord Howe Island off the New South Wales coast – took off in 1974. Scenic flights departing from Rose Bay today use amphibious seaplanes rather than flying boats.
For grab’n’go picnics in the park, head to New South Head Road’s many offerings for Chargrill Charlie’s (charcoal chickens, burgers and salads), Sonoma Bakery for artisan sourdough (next door to each other at number 779), or Royal Bakery. For water views, Catalina Restaurant, trackside in Lyne Park, offers very fine seafood dining. Past the ferry wharf is Jezve Coffee; its seating is oriented towards the playing fields.
Walk one kilometre along the promenade beside New South Head Road past Rose Bay Marina. Veer right down the path into Rose Bay Park. At its end, go up the stairs and turn right on to Wunulla Road. Choose the upper fork of Wunulla Road for views over Rose Bay. It becomes Wyuna Road. Between numbers 3 and 5 Wyuna Road, go down a small pedestrian laneway to its end. Pop out onto one of Australia’s most expensive streets: turn left on Wolseley Road. Follow it past Duff Reserve (between 130 and 132 Wolseley Road), Point Piper’s only public waterfront reserve. At the bargain cost of 97 stairs down, then back up again, have it all to yourself.
It’s likely this council area’s name, Woollahra, originates from a local Aboriginal word. A First Fleet officer translated “Woo-la-ra” as meaning “The Lookout”, and 50 years later a non-Indigenous surveyor reported the Aboriginal name for Point Piper as “Willarra”. These days, the looking out is done from mansions and apartments with sweeping harbour views and private seaside docks. Point Piper’s handful of streets are home to real estate where house prices regularly top $60 million. It has been home to two Liberal Party prime ministers (Sir William McMahon and Malcolm Turnbull).
Tara Wells has spent the last decade writing about walking in Sydney for her blog Sydney Coast Walks. As a travel journalist she has written for Great Walks and international publications. This is her first book. Buy it now via Booktopia.
NSW is currently in lockdown due to Covid-19. Residents of Greater Sydney aren't permitted to travel more than five kilometres from their homes, or outside their local government areas, for exercise or recreation. Hospitality businesses are open for takeaway only.