In Sydney, everywhere you look is heart-achingly beautiful. You could walk to the local cafe and be seduced by some peek of ocean, trill of bird life or frangipani tree (yes, it’s my goal in life to own enough land to plant a frangipani tree).
But when it comes to Sydney walking trails these are the real heart breakers. Lace up the Converse, grab a back pack, and get ready to feel some lung burn and heart ache.
1. Hermitage Foreshore Walk
This walk has so many views that you’ll get whiplash from not knowing where to look first.
Start at Bayview Hill Road in Rose Bay, where you can access the Hermitage Foreshore Reserve, and then cling to the coast of Sydney Harbour for 1.8 kilometres. Completed in around an hour (depending on how often you stop to take pictures), this easy boardwalked stroll takes in hidden beaches, Sydney Harbour Bridge views (not to mention the Sydney Opera House and city skyline), lots of bobbing boats, Shark Island, the historic Strickland House and plenty of beautiful dense bushland.
The walk finishes at Shark Beach, which sounds more ominous than it is. With its shark net and lagoon-like waters, it’s about as non-threatening as Sydney beaches come, so best pack a bikini if you want a swim afterwards. Plus, Shark Beach has all my beach essentials covered (a good cafe, grassed areas and toilets) and it’s a relatively hidden secret, so there aren’t the crowds of Bondi or Bronte. Winning at life!
Distance: 2 kilometres
Duration: 1 hour
2. Circular Quay to Lavender Bay
There’s one big whopper of a reason why this Sydney walking trail is pretty special: you get to walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You get to feel your legs turn to red jelly, you get to marvel at how small the boats look below and you get to catch yourself turning around trying to spot the beautiful bridge – you’re on it fool. Maybe the last one is just me.
Starting at Circular Quay, you walk down Argyle Street in The Rocks. Right before Argyle Cut – the imposing tunnel that convicts cut through giant sandstone cliffs – you’ll see the Argyle Stairs (or Gloucester Walk) hidden on the right. Climb these, head left at the top, cross Cumberland Street and you’ll see the Bridge Stairs. Follow the signs until you’re very clearly on ‘The Coathanger’. If you want to get up even higher, without committing to a Bridge Climb, you can fork out $15 (adult) to climb another 200 steps to reach the top of the Pylon Lookout.
After 1.5 kilometres you’ll reach the other side of the bridge, which has no shortage of boats to look at while walking around Lavender Bay. Other possible distractions include stopping for a caffeinated beverage at one of Kirribilli’s cafes, riding The Wild Mouse roller coaster at Luna Park and doing some backstroke at North Sydney Olympic Pool (the pool right under the bridge).
Then, rather than walk back, you can catch the ferry from McMahons Point Wharf to Circular Quay.
Distance: 4 kilometres
Duration: 1.5 hours
3. Spit Bridge to Manly
The Godfather of Sydney walking trails, everyone has to do this trek once in their life.
For 10 kilometres the Spit Bridge to Manly walk hugs Middle Harbour capturing everything that’s great about Sydney. It weaves through rainforest and bushland, past secluded beaches and bays, and finishes up in the popular seaside suburb of Manly.
The walk consists of a series of smaller trails strung together, so the ‘path’ is at varying points made up of pebbles, compressed earth, concrete, sand, steps carved out of rock – it’s full cross country. At times it’s even a narrow goat track.
Starting at Spit Bridge, the trail kicks off from the east side of the bridge, wedged between Avona Crescent and Middle Harbour. Then when it’s all said and done there’s plenty of restaurants and ice cream joints in Manly to end the walk with a feed, plus you get to catch the Manly Ferry back to Circular Quay.
I’ve previously shared some tips for squeezing maximum juice out of the Manly to Spit Bridge lemon. Feel free to peruse here.
Distance: 10 kilometres
Duration: 3–4 hours
4. North Head Circuit Track
If you love walking as much as public holidays and your legs are made of titanium, you can turn the Spit Bridge to Manly walk into a half-marathon by adding on the North Head Circuit Track. Or if your legs are made of Aeroplane Jelly like mine, you can just do it on a different day, that’s totally fine too.
This one starts at Manly Wharf, taking you to Manly Beach, Shelly Beach, through coastal heathland, along cliff tops that offer spectacular city views and past an old quarantine station, before finishing back at Manly Wharf 9.5 kilometres later. Bush bashing through Sydney Harbour National Park for the majority of the time, this walk is incredibly peaceful with only a few birds and lizards disturbing your mindfulness.
A couple of highlights: Fairfax Lookout is worth pressing pause at, particularly during whale watching season (June to August); as is Collins Beach Waterfall, for the falling water of course
And if the above doesn’t sell it in at all, there’s fricken World War II lookout posts, bunkers and an ex-artillery battery.
Distance: 9.5 kilometres
Duration: 3–4 hours
5. Bondi to Coogee via Bronte and Tamarama
Along this six-kilometre coastal cliff top walk there’s plenty to distract. There’s ocean pools, a cemetery, surfers fighting over the beach breaks below, secret coves, picnic grounds and stunning views both of the Pacific Ocean and the million-dollar shanty town spilling down the hill.
Start at Bondi and two hours later you’ll finish up at Coogee, having trekked through Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly and Gordon’s Bay. Reward yourself with a Frose from Coogee Pavilion and a good ol’ people watch.
It’s best to avoid this track during the outdoor art installation festival Sculpture by the Sea, which runs throughout October and November each year. Unless, of course, you like art and then it’s a great time to do it – just be prepared for crowds.
Warning: if you’re not tanned, have an eight-pack or wear lululemon, you might feel out of place. I do every time I go for a jalk (when you half jog, half walk) along my local track.
Distance: 6 kilometres
Duration: 2 hours
6. Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach
It’s hard not to give this stunning lesser-known walk a standing ovation. Once again feast your eyes on a banquet of harbour views, while exploring quiet beaches and beautiful luscious bushland.
Catch the ferry to Taronga Wharf and set out east hugging the harbour, playing eye spy with the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge as you go. The walk takes roughly three hours to complete and in that time things are anything but boring. There’s Bradley’s Head with its old gun pits; heart-breakingly beautiful Clifton Gardens; and a menagerie of possums, blue-tongued lizards and kookaburras along the way. If you’re tempted, Burnt Orange in Mosman does a mean morning tea and is well worth the pit stop and slight detour.
Finally, you’ll stumble upon Balmoral Beach. You can’t miss it because it’s the size of the moon and has the very cute Balmoral Bathers Pavilion battling with the beach for which one’s more beautiful. Of course, any good Sydney walk ends with a frolic in the ocean and there’s no better place for frolicking than Balmoral Beach.
Distance: 6.5 kilometres
Duration: 3 hours
7. Woolloomooloo to Barangaroo via Circular Quay
A real tourist’s walk, this one is for any flag-flying sightseers or Sydneysiders that want a reminder of what a shockingly beautiful city we live in.
A heck of a lot of Sydney is packed into these 5.5 kilometres. Starting off from the Woolloomooloo Wharf (which also moonlights by the name of Finger Wharf), you’ve got the Royal Botanic Garden of Sydney, meandering along the foreshore past the Andrew Boy Charlton Pool and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair (a ‘chair’ that was cut out of the sandstone rock by these busy convicts in 1810 so the governor’s wife had somewhere to sit and watch for ships sailing into the harbour). This is all before stumbling upon who else, the Sydney Opera House and Circular Quay. I’d stop at Opera Bar for drinks before continuing onto the Museum of Contemporary Art and Overseas Passenger Terminal.
Finally, after rounding Dawes Point at the tip of the harbour and walking underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge, you reach Barangaroo Reserve, which is special in itself given the area’s been closed to the public for over 100 years, only making a full reveal in late 2015.
Distance: 5.5 kilometres
Duration: 1.5 hours