Enjoying the picture postcard perfect views of Sydney Harbour is one of the must see attractions in Australia. Sticking to the city side of the harbour though only gives you half the story, and quite frankly it is the crowded, noisy and slightly grotty half. Mosey on over to the north side of the harbour and take a stroll through the postcard with this easy walk. There's plenty to see, there are no crowds and the views are spectacular. Best of all, you get to avoid Circular Quay completely.
Doing just the walk without any stops will take between 30-45 minutes. If you wish to stop along the way and enjoy the attractions allow several hours.
McMahons Point to Milsons Point Start the walk at the bottom of King George Street in Lavender Bay. King George Street is easily accessible on foot from North Sydney station and you can stop off in gorgeous McMahons Point for lunch and last minute supplies before setting out.
Follow the steps down through the trees, turn left at the bottom and you will come out in Quibaree Park, named after the indigenous clan who inhabited the area before European settlement. There are superb views across Lavender Bay to the Harbour Bridge with glimpses of the Opera House. Now home to some of Australia's most expensive real estate, the area was once known by the less romantic name of Hulk Bay, named after the convict hulk the Phoenix which was moored here for 11 years from 1826. A common way to alleviate prison overcrowding in the UK, the Phoenix remains the only prison hulk ever to operate on the Australian mainland.
Like neighbouring McMahons Point this area was once a very important boat building hub and the remains of Neptune Engineering Company's slipway has been preserved as a reminder of the site's industrial past. Interpretative panels tell the story of the boatyard which once stood here.
Cut across the park to the right, past the slipway remains, and head in the general direction of the Harbour Bridge.
Keep an eye out for the steps though the railway arches – if you have time, nip up and see Wendy Whitley's Secret Garden. Once a weed infested wasteland it has been transformed into a much loved park by Whitely, the widow of famed artist Brett Whitley. Sculptures are dotted around the park and there are fine views over the Harbour.
At the top of the steps is Christ Church; just married couples can often be seen descending the steps to have photos taken with the Harbour as the stunning backdrop.
Back on the walk, past the steps, you will soon reach the timber boardwalk, which runs adjacent to the railway siding. The rail tracks are no longer used for regular services but once serviced the Lavender Bay train station, which operated for the grand total of seven weeks in the 1930s. It closed after passengers refused to alight, instead demanding the driver stop at nearby Milsons Point instead. Perhaps a trick worth trying next time you are ticked off with CityRail?
The boardwalk is a fabulous place for kids as hidden in the bushes on the left are sculptures of famous characters from Australian children's literature. Blinky Bill, Snugglepot & Cuddlepie, the Magic Pudding and Ginger Meggs all appear, as well as some more obscure characters you can scratch your head over. This section of the walk is dedicated to Arthur 'Art' Barton who worked as an artist at Luna Park for 33 years.
Once you pass the Art Barton Park, Luna Park itself appears in all its brash, screaming, sparkling glory. A staple in Sydney life since it opened in 1935, Luna Park has had a long an often troubled history. The rot set in after the tragic Ghost Train fire in 1979 and from then until 2004 the park has open and shut more times than your garage door. The latest incarnation opened in 2004 and has been a roaring success. Now protected by national heritage laws (only one of two amusement parks in the world to have this distinction) the Park is once again a firm fixture on Sydney's social and tourist map.
Whilst you have to pay to enjoy the rides, Luna Park itself is free to enter and wander around. There are a number of restaurants and cafes and the Deck Bar has stunning views over the Harbour, although be warned prices are somewhat inflated, to put it politely. The restaurants open all week, however the rides only operate Friday to Monday (seven days a week during school holidays).
Copyright Adam.J.W.C., used under Creative Commons licence
Next to Luna Park is the North Sydney Olympic Pool. Sitting almost under the Harbour Bridge, the view as you freestyle down Lane 8 must be one of the best of any pool in the world. Contemporary to neighbouring Luna Park, the pool was one of the most advanced in the world when it was built and has seen 86 world records set in its water. Whilst the ageing complex is often the source of much local criticism, its art deco charms are still a joy to behold. Keep a look out for the quirky plaster work on the exterior and if you have time a small fee will allow you to wander around inside.
Milsons Point to Kirribilli
Once you have reached North Sydney Olympic Pool the full vista of the Harbour will have opened up for you. Continue along Olympic Drive under the Harbour Bridge and into Bradfield Park. As well as being close enough to the Harbour Bridge to touch it there are also unobstructed point-blank views of the city and Opera House. Set in the railing along the shoreline you will find the original bow from the HMAS Sydney, which commemorates the battle between the Sydney and the German raiding cruiser Emden in 1914. Further along in the middle of the park is the Australian Angel sculpture. Constructed of discarded steel objects, it was gifted to Sydney as the Swiss cultural contribution to the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
Follow the path along the shoreline and through the stone shelters. Look out for panels set in the ground telling the history of the area, including the story of the convict ship Surry which was quarantined here in 1814 after a deadly outbreak of typhus. Some of the victims were buried nearby.
To your left Bradfield Park stretches on for over 500 metres and it is worth exploring for the intimate views of the underside of the Harbour Bridge. Seeing just what this iconic structure is constructed from is more interesting than you might think.
Back on the path you will now cross over into Kirribilli, named after the Aboriginal word for 'good fishing spot'. One of the first settlements in Australia, the area contains the second highest concentration of heritage-listed buildings in the country (after The Rocks). The foreshore here is one of the most popular places to watch the New Years Eve fireworks, and when you get here you will see why. The views are magical and even if you are a Sydney local lulled into familiarity you may still find yourself catching your breath. Outside of New Year's Eve the area is remarkably quiet and if you're lucky you will have it all to yourself.
Pass Jeffrey Street Wharf on your right and cross over a wooden bridge. The path then winds its way along the foreshore with plenty of places to stop for a picnic or to just enjoy the view. Parents should be aware that there are no protective fences between the path and the water along this strip of the foreshore so keep an eye on any energetic kids.
Follow the path through the Dr Mary Booth reserve, up the steel steps, and at the end of the park veer left up the stone steps. You will come out in Waruda Street; turn right and wander down through this quiet Kirribilli street with some stately (and not so stately) real estate. Keep an eye out on the right for Beulah Street ferry wharf, which will give you majestic views of the Opera House directly opposite.
Continue along Waruda Street until you can go no further. On the left is Mirradong Place, a rather fanciful name for a rather steep set of steps. At the top turn right.
You are now in the most prestigious and heavily secured areas of Sydney. Admiralty House, dating from 1842, is the Sydney home of the Governor-General, whilst next door is Kirribilli House, the Sydney residence of the Prime Minister. The properties open to the public once a year, usually in Spring. Outside of that, unless you are someone Very Important, all you will be able to see of Admiralty House are the stately gates. You can get a quite decent glimpse of Kirribilli House from the road however, although it is probably not a good idea to loiter at the gates for any length of time – that Australian Federal Police car isn't permanently parked out the front to enjoy the views.
Just past Kirribilli House is the secluded Lady Gowrie Lookout, where this walk ends. Named after Lady Zara Gowrie, wife of the Governor-General of Australia from 1936-1944, the narrow park is laid out over several levels. Steps lead right down to the water's edge (again, parents beware) giving fine views across to Kurraba Point, Cremorne Point and Fort Denison.
And here your journey is over. You can make your way back along the walk to public transport at Milsons Point train station and ferry wharf or buses in Kirribilli and Milsons Point.
Getting here: This walk starts in King George Street in Lavender Bay, a seven minute walk from North Sydney train station. Turn left out of the station and then left again into Blues Point Road. Follow this road down into McMahons Point. King George Street is signposted and is the second street on your left. Walk to the end of the street where the walk begins. Trains run regularly to North Sydney station on the North Shore & Western and the Northern line.
Alternatively you can join the walk at Milsons Point train station or ferry wharf. See CityRail for timetables.