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Published November 7th 2018
Watsons Bay: an attraction wonderland for all interests
Sitting on the end of the South Head peninsula and taking its name from the sheltered bay and anchorage on its western side in Port Jackson, Watsons Bay is home to a coastal and harbourside wonderland of attractions including spectacular beaches, breathtaking lookouts and views, scrumptious seafood and more.
By Car: If you are driving to Watsons Bay there are a number of street parking available. Do note that during weekends and school holiday times parking might be difficult to find. By Ferry: 20-minute ride departing from Circular Quay.
History in a nutshell: The original inhabitants of the region were the Cadigal people. The Cadigal referred to the area as Kutti. The regions name changed during the European settlement, Kutti was called Watsons Bay after Robert Watson (1756-1819), formerly of HMS Sirius, when he had to beach his three vessels at Camp Cove for many years due to them being potentially sold by the Provost Marshall.
In 1811 Watson was appointed harbour pilot and harbourmaster of the port of Sydney and the first superintendent of Macquarie Lighthouse in 1816.
Watsons Bay was an isolated fishing village until development began in the 1860s.
On the 20 August 1857 Dunbar, a sailing ship, became shipwrecked against the cliffs below The Gap, with 121 lives lost. In 1910, at Jacob's Ladder, the anchor from the ship was recovered along with other relics and placed in a museum behind the old Town Hall in Military Road. The anchor was transferred to the cliffs of Gap Park and remains there to date.
The Gap is sadly known as a notorious suicide spot with records dating back to April 1936.
In 1909 Tramlines reached Watsons Bay- Gap Park and in 1949, the line from Rose Bay Watsons Bay closed but reopened in 1950 due to public protest. In 1964 the tracks were removed and the Council re-vegetated the area around the former tramway.
In 1942, during WWII, the Sydney Harbour anti-marine boom net was constructed on Georges Head and was designed to prevent enemy submarines from entering into Sydney Harbour.
- On the night of 31 May 1942, three Japanese midget submarines attempted to enter Sydney Harbour in what became known as the Attack on Sydney Harbour. During this period, Nielsen Park was used as an anti-aircraft base. The base had its own interim wooden barracks, searchlights and anti-aircraft guns.
Remains of the foundations of anti-sub boom net winch house can be found today, along with other military remains. This can be spotted out on the walks.
- The novelist Christina Stead lived in a house in Pacific Street from 1911 to 1928, after which she went abroad. The house was marked with a plaque mounted in the footpath. It was built in the 1870s and owned by the Stead family from 1918 to 1980 and it is sometimes known as Stead House.
- Watsons Bay is home to eleven Heritage-listed sites including: Dunbar (ship), Old South Head Road, Hornby Lighthouse, buildings 28-31, HMAS Watson, St Peter's Church (1864), Our Lady Star of the Sea Church (1909), Scout Hall (1876), a former school residence located on Old South Head Road (1876), former marine station (1885), sandstone obelisk, Robertson Park (1811) and Boongarre.
The list below features Top Attractions in Watsons Bay:
1. Macquarie Lightstation
Originally built in 1818, Macquarie Lighthouse is Australia's first and longest operating navigational light source. On 30 November 1818, the lantern was lit for the first time. In 1883, the Lighthouse was rebuilt due to the crumbling foundations. And today, it is recognised as the oldest lighthouse in Australia. Click here for the website.
2. Macquarie Lightstation Tour
Guided Tours of Macquarie Lightstation are available. The 20-minute tour features 100 steps to the balcony where you will be welcomed to panoramic views of Sydney. Click here for the website.
Learn about the history of Macquarie Lighthouse on the Macquarie Lightstation Tour
3. Watsons Bay Coastal Cliff Walk
The track takes you through some of the best views of coastal and Sydney City as well as passing through historical sites. Most of the Walk is sealed and suitable for all ages and fitness levels, as well as being dog-friendly. Click here for the website.
Awe-inspiring views can be admired on the spectacular Coastal Cliff Walk...
4. Camp Cove
Within a stone's throw away from Watsons Bay Ferry Wharf, Camp Cove can be found and with offerings of million-dollar views, swimming and snorkelling opportunities, and adventure water sports activities including kayaking and paddle. Camp Cove is the perfect family-friendly beach and attraction not to miss out on in Watsons Bay. Click here for the website.
Doyles on the Beach is the original restaurant site which was Australia's first seafood restaurant in 1885. This family-owned business has been operating for over five generations and has become an iconic attraction in Watsons Bay. The restaurant offers a range of fresh seafood for lunch and dinner. Doyles on the Wharf also offers takeaway and sit-down restaurant. Click here for the website.
6. Robertson Park
Located opposite Watsons Bay Wharf, Robertson Park offers scenic views of Sydney. The Park features open lawns, spectacular scenic marina views, picnic opportunities, and kid's playground. Click here for the website.
7. Watsons Bay Walk
This walk takes you through some of the best coastal and city views, passing through many attractions, beaches, open spaces, incredible rock formations, cliff rock views and more. Click here for the website.
8. Gap Park
Gap Park is home to a series of walking trial paths amidst windswept native coastal vegetations that traverse the cliff tops, whale watching opportunities (migration season), harbour and ocean views, shipwreck relics, historic sites and more. Click here for the website.
9. Watsons Bay Baths
This attraction features a generous ocean pool along the scenic Watsons Bay foreshore nestled among the boathouses and harbourside beaches. This family-friendly attraction is the perfect way to cool off during the warmer months. Click here for the website.
10. Gibsons Beach
This small beach is backed by a quiet reserve with offerings of solace from the bustling bay precinct. Swimming and snorkelling opportunities can also be enjoyed here. Click here for the website.
11. Federation Cliff Walk
This Walk can be commenced from Gap Park or in Dover Heights at Rodney Reserve or Raleigh Reserve. The Walk wanders through Sydney's most famous ocean cliff lookouts that are breathtaking, parks, historic sites, harbour views, and more. Click here for the website.
12. Hornby Lighthouse
Built-in 1858 following the wrecking of the Dunbar at the foot of South Head, this iconic red and white striped lighthouse is surrounded with spectacular views: Sydney Harbour, Middle Head and North Head as well as the expansive Pacific Ocean to the east. Click here for the website.
13. South Head Heritage Trail
This short trail offers something for everyone including beaches and harbour views, historic sites, whale watching opportunities (during migration season) and relics. Click here
14. Lady Bay Beach
This beach offers the perfect nature escape. It might be tiny but it certainly packs a mighty punch with spectacular views. This nudist (cossies optional) beach is perfect for a quiet swim or snorkel. The beach is also a gateway to the South Head Heritage Trail. Click here for the website.