Sydney by ferry

Watson's Bay, Camp Cove, South Head and The Gap

Mention Watson's Bay to most Sydney people and they think of Doyle's, the seafood restaurant that seems to have been here for ever (it's actually been there since 1885, run by 5 generations of the Doyle family).

But there is much more to Watson's Bay.  More places to eat, and more places that are well worth taking a walk to.  You can swim at the free Watsons Bay Baths alongside the wharf, one of the few 19th century harbour pools that we still have, and recently refurbished. And there is a nice village feel to the place.

The ferry is by far the best way to get there, because car parking is always difficult, and the challenging traffic of the eastern suburbs main roads makes the ferry both faster and more reliable than the bus.  Some private ferries also call in, but most people catch the cheaper "government" ferry, normally one of the four SuperCat ferries.  Unfortunately, on weekdays, the ferry doesn't run in the peak hours or evenings, although the hours were extended in October 2013.  Last weekday ferry back is 4:45pm (although there are buses until late) but it does run until 9:30pm on weekends.

Within the Watson's Bay village itself, there are various alternatives to Doyle's for lunch or dinner, including their own cheaper counter service on the wharf itself, the pub, the more upmarket Dunbar House, and the Tea Gardens.  Or you can get takeaway and sit under the trees in the park.

The Gap is a short walk away, at the top of the park behind the wharf, and well worth exploring for the sea cliff views.  Here is the preserved anchor of the Dunbar, our worst ever shipwreck, which occurred on the rocks below in 1857.  From The Gap, there is another short climb to the top of the cliffs, or a much longer walk south to Macquarie Lighthouse, and onwards to Bondi.

It's all rather in-your-face that there are lots of safety fences, very obvious CCTV installed all over the place, suicide prevention posters and helpline phones at The Gap.  Once, the place was infamous for tabloid newspaper reports of suicide attempts.  And yet nobody much seems to know of the local hero Don Ritchie, who talked more than 160 people out of it during his lifetime.  He achieved this remarkable feat by offering them a cup of tea and a chat.

Perhaps less well known than The Gap is the walk to South Head, mostly around the edges of the Navy's training base HMAS Watson.  From Watson's Bay wharf, go northwards along the shore past Doyle's until you have to take the ramp away from the beach.  You're stuck with some street walking here, along Camp Street. At the end go right & then take the short dead-end left, which brings you out at the snack bar at Camp Cove Beach, so called because this was where white people first camped on shore in 1788.  This beach is usually busy, and has nice harbour views, particularly from the grassed areas behind the beach.

If you've brought kids with you, they may need to be warned about what comes next along the walk.  Lady Jane Beach (signposted here as Lady Bay) is Sydney's original and best known legal nudist beach, with a reputation of being primarily gay oriented, and it's thoroughly visible from the walking track.  And you may find that most of the people that you can see down there are middle aged men.

If you're counting, it's 83 steps from Camp Cove to the end of the track at South Head.  Here there is Hornby Light (built as a result of the Dunbar wreck), views out the heads and across to Manly, old gun emplacements, and the old staff cottages.  Sadly, the restored stone cottages are locked and empty today, although the government is trying to get a cafe opened here.  So, buy your drinks at Camp Cove on the way out.  There are plenty of signs around the area to explain its history.

The walks from Watson's Bay to The Gap, South Head and Macquarie Lighthouse are Woollahra Council's contribution to the Great Coastal Walk.  The council has a downloadable brochure (pdf) which has a map and more details of the walks.

This page was last modified on Fri Jul 1, 2016
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