Discover 7 Extraordinary Places on the World's Best Harbour

Owing to their natural beauty, heritage buildings and layered histories, our protected sites on Sydney Harbour are a rich source of exploration and discovery.

Entrance to Sydney Harbour, showing North Head (f.4) (c. 1857 to 1861) by George Kilgour Ingelow (artist)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

Harbour Trust sites are located in Borogegal, Birrabirrigal, Cammeraygal, Gadigal, Gayamagal, Wallumedegal and Wangal country. We acknowledge and respect the Traditional Custodians and Owners, including their Elders past, present and emerging.

View of Sydney Harbour from Neutral Bay (f.15.) (c. 1857 to 1861) by George Kilgour Ingelow (artist)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

Journey with us as we introduce you to seven extraordinary places under our protection…  

1. Cockatoo Island (Wareamah)

Known in the Dharug language as Wareamah, meaning ‘women’s land’, Cockatoo Island is a former convict penal establishment and naval shipyard in the heart of Sydney Harbour.        

View of Cockatoo Island from ferry on Sydney Harbour (2020) by Harbour TrustSydney Harbour Federation Trust

Cockatoo Island intersects the homelands of the Wallumedegal, Wangal, Cammeraygal and Gadigal Peoples, who inhabited the area for thousands of years prior to European settlement. It is believed the area was used for women’s ceremonies as well as a base for fishing.    

1861 Plan of Cockatoo Island for Committee on Public Prisons (1861) by Gother Kerr MannSydney Harbour Federation Trust

During the early colonial period of Australia’s history, the island transformed into a convict penal establishment, which housed prisoners for 30 years (1839 to 1869). The island also served as a shipbuilding and dockyard facility for more than 130 years (1857 to 1991). 

Campfire Sessions (live music series) on the Eastern Apron of Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour (2017) by Geoff Magee (Photographer)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

Today, hundreds of thousands of people visit Cockatoo Island each year.

Waterfront campground at Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour (2018) by Harbour TrustSydney Harbour Federation Trust

Popular attractions include heritage and campground accommodation, waterfront cafés and picnic spots, guided history and paranormal tours and exciting seasonal events such as the Biennale of Sydney and New Year's Eve.

Turbine Hall, Industrial Precinct, Cockatoo Island (2020) by Geoff Magee (Photographer))Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

Cockatoo Island is an endless source of fascination for history buffs and other visitors owing to its heritage buildings and distinctive terrain.

Public demonstration of the No. 2 Travelling Steam Crane, Fitzroy Dock Cockatoo Island (2017) by Ian Evans, volunteer photographer, Harbour TrustSydney Harbour Federation Trust

The Industrial, Docks and Ship Design Precincts – together with Cockatoo Island’s towering heritage cranes – present visitors with a window into the island’s storied maritime era (1857 to 1991). 

Four men, various engineering jobs, standing with ship propeller at Cockatoo Island, circa 1940s (c. 1940s) by UnknownSydney Harbour Federation Trust

An iconic structure from Cockatoo Island's maritime era is the cathedral-like Turbine Shop. 

Look around and explore the Turbine Shop today.

Mess Hall, Convict Precinct, Cockatoo Island (2020) by Ian Evans, volunteer photographer, Harbour TrustSydney Harbour Federation Trust

Sandstone buildings and other remnant structures from Cockatoo Island’s convict era (1839 to 1869) provide insights into the conditions endured by people who were exiled to Australia and put to work on the colony’s ambitious building projects. 

Cockatoo Island Dock (aka Fitzroy Dock) circa 1870 (c. 1870) by UnknownSydney Harbour Federation Trust

A landmark from this era is Fitzroy Dock. Built between 1847 and 1857, it is Australia's only surviving example of a dock constructed by convicts. Its completion coincided with the start of the island's maritime activities. 

Look around and explore Fitzroy Dock today.

Visitors to the upper island are likely to be captivated by a series of First Nations artworks, including the striking mural on the timber shed, which overlooks Fitzroy Dock.   

Aboriginal Tent Embassy Murals, Timber Shed and search light tower, Cockatoo Island (2018) by Aboriginal Tent Embassy (artwork), Harbour Trust (photo)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

These works were created between 2000 and 2001 by a branch of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra – a First Nations rights group that had a land claim before the High Court.    

New Year's Eve 2017 at Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour (2017-12-31/2017-12-31) by Ian Evans, volunteer photographer, Harbour TrustSydney Harbour Federation Trust

Planning to visit Cockatoo Island?

Located at the junction of the Parramatta and Lane Cover Rivers, Cockatoo Island is just a ferry ride away. Services operate to Cockatoo Island daily, departing from Circular Quay and Barangaroo as well as from wharves along Parramatta River. 

Woolwich Dock and Parklands, Hunters Hill Penninsula (Aerial View) (2019) by NearmapSydney Harbour Federation Trust

2. Woolwich Dock and Parklands, Hunters Hill

Located in Wallumedegal Country on the Sydney Harbour foreshore, just north of Cockatoo Island, Woolwich Dock and Parklands is a maritime precinct steeped in history. This iconic dock is flanked by two waterfront parklands: Goat and Horse Paddock. 

Sonoma (c. 1901 to 1934) at Woolwich Dock (Early 20th Century) by UnknownSydney Harbour Federation Trust

Completed in 1901, Woolwich Dock is a rare example of a private graving dock. During both World Wars,  it was used to convert passenger vessels into troop carriers and repair damaged ships. Between 1963 and 1997,  it supported the Army’s water-based transport operations. 

Walking track, Woolwich Dock and Parklands, Hunters Hill Penninsula (2017) by Geoff Magee (Photographer)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

Today, Woolwich Dock and Parklands is a popular place for picnics and outdoor exercise owing to its sweeping views of Sydney Harbour. 

Horse Paddock, Woolwich Dock and Parklands, Hunters Hill Penninsula (2017) by Geoff Magee (Photographer)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

From Horse Paddock, picnickers and other visitors can even gaze across to nearby Cockatoo Island. 

Woolwich Dock and Parklands, Hunters Hill Penninsula (Panorama) (2017) by Geoff Magee (Photographer)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

Sailing enthusiasts can also walk the circumference of the dock and watch as supermaxi yachts, including Sydney to Hobart contenders, pull in and out of port.  

Planning a trip to Woolwich Dock and Parklands?

You can reach this scenic destination by ferry, car, bus or private boat. You might also consider combining your visit with a trip to nearby Cockatoo Island. 

Diramu Aboriginal Dance and Didgeridoo at Sub Base Platypus Community Open Day 2018 (2018) by Geoff MageeSydney Harbour Federation Trust

3. Sub Base Platypus, North Sydney

Formerly a gasworks, torpedo factory and submarine base, Sub Base Platypus is an emerging public domain on the foreshore of North Sydney, homeland of the Cammeraygal People.      

North Shore Gas Works, Neutral Bay (Today, the site of Sub Base Platypus) (1917) by UnknownSydney Harbour Federation Trust

From 1876 to 1932, the site was occupied by the Neutral Bay Gasworks, which provided gas to the North Shore.

Personnel of the RAN Torpedo Factory at Neutral Bay running final tests of a re-conditioned torpedo. (1945) by UnknownSydney Harbour Federation Trust

Later, during World War II, the former gasworks was converted into a torpedo factory that supplied the Allied navies.  

Royal Australian Navy (RAN), HMAS Platypus Submarine Base, North Sydney, Neutral Bay (1982) by UnknownSydney Harbour Federation Trust

Between 1967 and 1999, the site served as a base for the Royal Australian Navy's Oberon-class submarines and was known as HMAS Platypus. 

Over-water walkway (aka Kesterton Park Link), Sub Base Platypus, North Sydney at Neutral Bay (2020) by Ben Guthrie, The Guthrie Project (Photographer)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

In 2017, following extensive renewal work by the Harbour Trust, the site was renamed Sub Base Platypus. When the Harbour Trust officially opened Sub Base Platypus in May 2018, it was the first time the site had been opened to the public in 150 years. 

Oberon Park, Sub Base Platypus, North Sydney at Neutral Bay (2018) by Geoff Magee (Photographer)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

Since this time, the site's Oberon Park has become a popular picnic spot. It features shaded BBQ facilities and seating as well as a maritime-themed pocket playground.

Courtyard, Sub Base Platypus, North Sydney at Neutral Bay (2020) by Ben Guthrie, The Guthrie Project (Photographer)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

Sub Base Platypus is envisioned as community hub where historic spaces are revealed, reimagined and activated by a range of cultural, recreational and commercial uses. Works to revitalise and enhance the site are ongoing.

Planning to visit Sub Base Platypus?

Sub Base Platypus is open to visitors from 7am to 9pm daily. You can arrive at this emerging community hub by car, bus or ferry. It is a 3 minute walk from North Sydney Ferry Wharf, an 11 minute walk from Milsons Point Station, a 13 minute walk from North Sydney Station.

4. Headland Park, Mosman

Located on the Mosman peninsula, homeland of the Borogegal People, Headland Park features heritage buildings, scenic coastal bushwalks and remnant military structures dating back to the 1870s.       

Headland Park incl. Georges Heights, Middle Head and Chowder Bay at Mosman (Aerial View) (2019) by NearmapSydney Harbour Federation Trust

Three precincts

Headland Park is comprised of three neighbouring precincts and the heritage-listed Drill Hall, which are linked to nearby attractions including Balmoral Beach and Taronga Zoo by a network of scenic trails and roads. The three precincts are...

Precinct #1 – Georges Heights

Just a short distance from Mosman Village, Georges Heights is a popular destination owing to its café culture, thriving artist community, defence history, diverse wildlife and coastal bushland.

Precinct #2 – Chowder Bay

A stunning waterfront retreat on Mosman's shoreline, Chowder Bay offers restaurants and cafes, and is situated along the scenic coastal walk between Taronga Zoo and Balmoral. Hit the beach at nearby Clifton Gardens and look out for visiting penguins, seals and whales! 

Precinct #3 – Middle Head / Gubbuh Gubbuh

Featuring scenic walking tracks, boutique cafés, views across to North Head in Manly, and access to beaches for naturists, Middle Head is regarded as a place of tranquillity. Meanwhile, the decommissioned military infrastructure is a source of fascination for history buffs. 

Planning to visit Headland Park?

A major drawcard is Georges Head Lookout. Perched above Chowder Bay in Georges Heights, the lookout offers breathtaking views of Sydney Harbour, encompassing the cityscape and Vaucluse foreshore, making it an ideal picnic spot.       

Looking for inspiration? Head to the Headland Park Artist Precinct in Georges Heights to engage with local creatives and marvel at our collection of visually-arresting sculptures.

Planning to explore Headland Park?

Bus services operate to the precincts of Headland Park. Visitors can also arrive at Headland Park by car or catch a ferry to Taronga Zoo’s Athol Wharf and journey along the coastal walk to Chowder Bay. 

Bondi to Manly Walk at Chowder Bay, Mosman with view of Sydney Harbour (2019) by Harbour TrustSydney Harbour Federation Trust

Bondi to Manly Walk

Feeling ambitious? Visit all three precincts of Headland Park as part of the famous 80km Bondi to Manly Walk. Launched in 2019, it’s an opportunity to experience the best of Sydney Harbour as part of a one-of-a-kind coastal pilgrimage.

View of Sydney Harbour from the Third Quarantine Cemetery, North Head Sanctuary, Manly (Discovery Day 2018) (2018) by Geoff Magee (Photographer))Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

5. North Head Sanctuary, Manly

Traditionally known as Car-rang-gel, North Head Sanctuary, Manly is a nature refuge at the northern entrance to Sydney Harbour. 

North Head originated during the last Ice Age when erosional forces separated it from Hornsby Plateau, transforming it into a ‘tied island’, linked to the mainland by Manly’s sandspit.

View of Sydney Harbour from the Third Quarantine Cemetery, North Head Sanctuary, Manly (Discovery Day 2018) (2018) by Geoff Magee (Photographer)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

 It holds special significance for the Traditional Owners, the Gayamagal People, due to its use for spiritual and cultural ceremonies, and boasts a diversity of native flora and fauna across a range of habitats.  

Camoflauge -painted pathway, North Fort, North Head Sanctuary, Manly (2020 (2020) by Ian Evans, volunteer photographer, Harbour TrustSydney Harbour Federation Trust

A major visitor attraction is North Fort. Situated in coastal bushland, it is a former Army base established in 1936. 

Rear view of 9.2-inch gun at North Fort Battery being fired during a practice shoot. (1939) by UnknownSydney Harbour Federation Trust

Strategically placed at the northern entrance to Sydney Harbour, the fort once featured massive guns, capable of firing 26km, and was part of a defence system that spanned 300km of coastline during World War II.     

Tour of North Fort, North Head Sanctuary, Manly, 27 November 2017 (2017) by Ian Evans, volunteer photographer, Harbour TrustSydney Harbour Federation Trust

Today, knowledgeable Harbour Trust volunteers run guided tours of the remnant fort.

Tour of North Fort, North Head Sanctuary, Manly, 27 November 2019 (2017) by Ian Evans, volunteer photographer, Harbour TrustSydney Harbour Federation Trust

The Defence of Sydney Tour is a journey through North Fort, both above and below ground. 

Entrance to Plotting Room at North Fort (North Head Sanctuary, Manly), 25 October 2019 (2019) by Ian Evans, volunteer photographer, Harbour TrustSydney Harbour Federation Trust

The tour is an opportunity to descend an into an underground tunnel complex, discover the secrets of the Plotting Room and walk in the footsteps of the men and women who defended our shores. To learn more, read The Secret Military History of Manly’s North Fort Plotting Room

Another highlight of North Head Sanctuary is the Sanctuary Loop. A scenic nature trail, it encompasses Australia’s Memorial Walk, a paved pathway honouring the nation’s service people, as well as the Third Quarantine Cemetery.   

Established in 1881 for victims of a smallpox epidemic, the heritage-listed Third Quarantine Cemetery offers unspoiled views of Sydney Harbour, between sunrise to sunset. 

Parade Ground, Gunners Barracks Precinct, North Head Sanctuary, Manly, 29 August 2019 (2019) by Harbour TrustSydney Harbour Federation Trust

Planning a trip to North Head?

North Head Sanctuary is just a short drive from Manly Beach and is also linked to Shelly Beach by a walking track.  A bus service runs from Manly Wharf to North Head Sanctuary daily and there is a carpark at the North Fort Visitor Centre. 

Macquarie Lighthouse, Vaucluse (2018) by Harbour Trust PhotographerSydney Harbour Federation Trust

6. Macquarie Lightstation, Vaucluse

Macquarie Lightstation in Vaucluse is the home of Australia’s first lighthouse. Completed in 1818, Macquarie Lighthouse was designed by convict architect Francis Greenway and named for Lachlan Macquarie, the Governor of NSW.       

Macquarie Lighthouse, South Head (Architectural drawing) (c. 1879) by James Barnet (Architect)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

Due to crumbling sandstone foundations, a replacement lighthouse was commissioned in 1878. Completed in 1883, the new tower – also named Macquarie Lighthouse – was designed by James Barnet, the Colonial Architect for NSW. 

Macquarie Lighthouse (Vue du phare du Port Jackson, Nouvelle Galles du Sud) (c. 1829) by Jean Baptiste Arnout (Artist)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

Standing at 26 metres tall, the new lighthouse was – for a time – the most powerful navigational beacon in the world. Barnet's iteration of Macquarie Lighthouse survives to this day.

Today, visitors can explore the grounds of Macquarie Lightstation as part of the 80km Bondi to Manly Walk. 

The Harbour Trust also offers a guided tour of the iconic lighthouse on select dates.   

View to Sydney CBD from Macquarie Lighthouse, Vaucluse (2018) by Harbour Trust PhotographerSydney Harbour Federation Trust

The tour is an opportunity to ascend 100 steps to the lantern room and, from there, access the balcony for a breathtaking panoramic view of Sydney Harbour and the Pacific Ocean. 

Former Marine Biological Station at Camp Cove, Watsons Bay (Aerial View) (21st Century) by NearmapSydney Harbour Federation Trust

7. Former Marine Biological Station, Camp Cove

Designed by prominent colonial architect John Kirkpatrick, the former Marine Biological Station at Camp Cove, Watsons Bay, is recognised as the first biological research station in the Southern Hemisphere.       

The Former Marine Biological Station at Camp Cove, Watsons Bay. (c. 1881) by UnknownSydney Harbour Federation Trust

Built in 1881 as a place for Russian scientist Nikolai Nikoleavich de Miklouho-Maclay to study local marine life, this beautiful sandstone cottage was later acquired by the Australian Army to house officers. 

Former Marine Biological Station at Camp Cove, Watsons Bay, (2008) by Ashley Mackevicius (Photographer)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

The station received Commonwealth Heritage listing in 2004 and is one of the most historically significant buildings on the Sydney Harbour foreshore.    

Former Marine Biological Station at Camp Cove, Watsons Bay (2008) by Ashley Mackevicius (Photographer)Sydney Harbour Federation Trust

Although the station is closed to the public, it can be viewed from the beach at Camp Cove and by those undertaking Sydney’s Great Coastal Walk.

Looking to visit Camp Cove?

Camp Cove is open to the public daily and is accessible by car or bus. 

View of Sydney Harbour from the Third Quarantine Cemetery, North Head Sanctuary, Manly, 5 July 2018 (2018) by Harbour TrustSydney Harbour Federation Trust

Plan your trip

Now that you’ve experienced seven of our extraordinary places virtually, why not see them in person? Head to harbourtrust.gov.au/visit to plan your next trip. Unable to visit? You can delve further into the stories of our destinations online.

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