For most, it’s just another day. As the sun rises, painting the sky with a blood-orange hue, the first trains start to rattle across the Harbour Bridge, carrying their cargos of commuters. They are oblivious to the people gliding through the glassy pink water below, with ear-to-ear grins in a big plastic bathtub.

Whether you want to go past the Opera House, float under the Harbour Bridge or prefer gliding through the quieter waters of the Lane Cove River, paddle power is the way to go. The biggest decisions of the day revolve around which hidden bays, secluded beaches or harbour pools to call in at next – your deadline? Sunset.

Using your own canoe, or after you’ve hired one, you must now launch it into the harbour. The technique of setting the canoe in the water and taking a step into it sounds simple, but you must first find a suitable location to launch from. There are plenty of public beaches, jetties and bays, however be sure to launch the canoe fairly close to your finishing location. Cremorne has an Amateur Sailing Club – a suitable location for first timers – on Green Street, just off Cremorne Road. The ramp into the water will have you on your way in no time. From there, Taraonga Zoo is a 15-minute leisurely glide through the water.

Bare in mind that Fort Denison and Garden and Goat Islands are out of bounds.

Little Sirius Cove, Mosman – five minutes from Cremorne
With two sheltered beaches at the northern end, and a 100-metre-long main beach with a netted tidal pool, this tranquil cove in the heart of Mosman can easily take up a whole day. Paddle around the bobbing boats and explore the shore. If you feel like a walk, take the foreshore path to Bradleys Head, enjoying city views along the way. Also look out for Curlew Camp, which was an artists’ retreat in the 19th century, on the eastern side.

MacCallum Seawater Pool, Cremorne Point – 25 minutes
This historic 30-metre pool perched on the western side of Cremorne Point is one of Sydney’s best-kept secrets, and an ideal spot for a morning swim. Stretch out on the pool’s timber deck and marvel at the views just beyond the picket fence. Before heading back to your canoe or kayak, you might like to visit Sophie’s Café at the ferry wharf, a few minutes’ walk from the pool. Grab an almond croissant and a coffee for the paddle back.

Get our pick of the best news, features and events delivered twice a week

Whiting Beach, Athol Bay – 25 minutes
This patch of sand may look a little tame from the harbour, but the picture-perfect beach has clear-blue water, so pack your snorkel. As you wade into the shallows and marvel at what’s swimming around you, listen out for a lion’s roar or a monkey’s screech coming from the zoo just over the hill.

Reef Beach, Dobroyd Head – one hour
This is a popular spot for canoeists and kayakers, and it’s not hard to see why. At the northern end of Dobroyd Head in Sydney Harbour National Park, the 80-metre beach facing Manly Cove is a peaceful haven. Midweek, chances are you’ll have the place to yourself – apart from the eastern water dragons, kookaburras and the odd echidna that live here. At weekends, when it’s busier, you may get a visit from the ice-cream man in his tinny. You’ll hear the sound of a two-stroke outboard and a bell ringing when he comes. Wading out from such a remote beach, chest-deep in the cool blue water and buying a Cornetto is an experience you’re unlikely to forget.

Collins Beach, Store Beach and Quarantine Beach, Spring Cove, Manly – one hour, 15 minutes
From Little Manly Cove, it’s an easy paddle around to Spring Cove, famous for its colony of penguins. Start off at Collins Beach – with luck on your side you might see, or at least hear, some of these shy penguins. The beach is a secret paradise, a wonderful place to enjoy a lazy picnic far from the crowds – find the waterfall and stand under it to cool off. A bit further along you come to Store Beach, a 200-metre strip of golden sand where ships used to unload provisions for the Quarantine Station. It’s a popular haunt for bigger boats on summer weekends, so a weekday visit is probably a good idea. Next is Quarantine Beach, which is not only a great place for a dip but also has the added interest of the old Quarantine Station with a cafe and exhibition centre.

Essential Information:

If you don’t have your own canoe or kayak, hire one or join a guided tour. Before launching, it is also essential to check out Roads & Maritime Services information about safety and rules for canoeing and kayaking.

Save or print off our map to help you make your way across the waters.

Hire locations: