Federation Cliff Walk Dover Heights

The Federation Cliff Walk 5km coastal trail is my favourite walk in Sydney’s east. When I am looking for a walk that is less crowded than the Bondi to Coogee path this is where I head. The track winds from North of Bondi along sandstone cliffs all the way to the infamous Gap Lookout and South Head at Watson’s Bay where cold beverages and inviting harbour beaches await.

Offering a great contrast to the experience of hiking the Bondi to Coogee walkway, this Bondi to Watsons Bay walk is a fantastic year round hike with ocean breezes keeping you cool in summer and the chance of spotting whales off the shore from late June to late October.

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A stunning walk joining Watson’s Bay and North Bondi

With amazing sea views, this path on Gadigal and Bidjigal country shows off Sydney Harbour and its spectacular 80m high sandstone cliffs. It’s hard to believe that when Captain Cook sailed along this section of the coast after visiting Botany Bay, he missed the entry to Port Jackson and sailed straight past Sydney Heads and the entry to our wonderful harbour.

The Federation Cliff Walk, also known as the Waverley Cliff Walk or the Diamond Bay Cliff Walk, was built to mark Australia’s centenary of federation.

Where to begin the walk?

You can begin at Watson’s Bay or Dover Heights, I prefer to start at Dover Heights for two reasons; I like to finish the walk with some harbourside refreshments at Watsons Bay Hotel and a ferry ride home.

Federation Cliff to Watsons Bay walk wooden stairs
Federation Cliff Walk stairs

Second, I don’t enjoy walking up all the wooden stairs at the Dover Heights end of the walk and would much rather walk down them 😉

These instructions will assume you share my dislike for ending a walk by going upstairs 

While you can technically start the Federation Cliff walk anywhere you like north of Bondi Beach, the official starting point is Raleigh Reserve in Dover Heights.

If you are driving, try to find a parking spot in the streets surrounding Raleigh Reserve. Alternatively, take the bus (323 or 380) to the corner of Military Road and Raleigh St.

If you decide to do the walk in reverse, you will start from The Gap Lookout in Watsons Bay. Parking on weekends at Watsons Bay can be challenging to find, which is another reason we usually start at the southern end.

For a longer walk, you can combine it with the Watsons Bay Walk in the north of the Bondi to Coogee walk in the south.

How to get to the start of the walk

To begin the walk at Raleigh Reserve, you can take the 323 bus departs from Edgecliff Station and travel via the backstreets to Watsons Bay or the 380 bus from North Bondi or Watsons Bay.

While some of this trail follows clear footpaths and boardwalks, at times it seems to stop dead at a fence or someone’s garden. When this happens, just head up the nearest street, around the obstacle and then back down towards the cliff. It is impossible to get lost. Google maps can also direct you should you need reassurance.

We have given street names where this happens but they really are not necessary, it’s hard to get lost with the ocean at your side.

Dover Heights to Diamond Bay Reserve

The official beginning of the walk is at Lancaster Road however depending on where you find parking you can wander the cliffs at these two reserves as you make your way north.

Raleigh Reserve – A dog friendly park and the official start of the walk. The views are not very different to those at Rodney Reserve and beyond so we usually just start at the next reserve.

Rodney Reserve – The reserve is home to a plaque commemorating the first radio telescope installed in the 1950s and a little before the spot where we began our walk. If this is of interest, you can get off the bus here. There are two buses to choose from, the 323 from Edgecliff Station or the 380 from Bondi.

We stop to take in the view at Dudley Page Reserve before heading down Lancaster Road and the official start of the Federation Cliff walkwalk. The wooden boardwalk begins here.

Federation Cliff Walk Starting Point Dover Heights
The cute white fence marks our entry today.

You continue through a grassy reserve until you reach a dead end. Here you head back up onto the street for a bit and follow Ray Street until its end.

Don’t miss the white house at 6 Ray Street. It looks like it belongs in a modern art gallery. The track begins again to the right of a large apartment building in the picture below.

Harry Seidler Building (1963) Dover Heights
Designed and built in 1963 by architect Harry Seidler

A 2 bedroom apartment in this block will sell for over 1.5 million dollars. There are currently plans to add two more penthouse stories to this building and give it a spruce up.

From here, it’s a short walk around to Diamond Bay Reserve.

Diamond Bay Reserve

Until becoming Insta famous in recent years, Diamond Bay Reserve was a hidden local favourite that rarely attracted visitors. Even today you are lucky to find more than a dozen people walking here unless, of course, you hit a tour bus, but mostly you will have space for yourself mid-week.

You often see rock climbers and fishers here on weekends, and it’s an excellent spot for whale watching in season.

Diamond Bay Cliff and Stairs Vaucluse
An Instagram paradise at Diamond Bay Reserve with dramatic cliffs, an old ruined gate and crumbling staircases

A little pocket of rainforest, known as Rosa Gully, appears just before you leave Diamond Bay. This is a favourite rock climbing spot suitable for experienced climbers only.

Sielder apartment building Vaucluse
Looking back at the Harry Seidler designed apartment building 

Macquarie Lighthouse

This fully operational lighthouse stands 26-metre high and is the first and oldest still in use in Australia. The original building (1818) was designed by famous convict architect Francis Greenway and earned him his ticket of leave to begin life as a free man of NSW. Sadly, it was built with poor quality sandstone and while Greenway had warned the materials were substandard building went ahead, anyway.

Macquarie Lighthouse Federation Cliff Walk
Macquarie Lighthouse – the original Greenway building, was restored in the 1880s.

As Greenway predicted, the lighthouse suffered damaged rather quickly and was completely rebuilt in 1883.

The new building, a replica of the original, was designed by James Barnet, who made sure it was strong enough to pass the test of time. Barnet was responsible for many beautiful buildings in Sydney. The first lighthouse master was Robert Watson, for whom the area is now named.

Tours are offered a couple of times a year and include climbing 100 stairs to the top of the lighthouse.

The Gap Lookout

With a sad history of shipwrecks and misfortune, the Gap lookout is an infamous spot in Sydney. There is plenty of signage here to tell you the history of the area and some relics of times past like the anchor of The Dunbar, one of the first ships to come to grief here.

The Gap Lookout Watsons Bay
The Gap Lookout is the final stop on the Federation Cliff Walk.

Where to eat along the Federation cliff walk

If you need coffee early before you explore this Dover Heights walk drop into Archies Cafe Co. on Military Road at Dover Heights, it’s just a brief detour up Blake Street from Rodney Reserve.

A little further along the way, just before you enter Christianson Park it is a 200m detour to the Grumpy Baker for coffee and pastry treats.

If you can hold out to the end of the walk you might like to try the famous fish and chips on the beach from Doyles. Alternatively pop into the Watsons Bay Hotel for a few drinks and light meal before you make your way back to the city.

Lunch from the Watsons Bay Hote menu 2023
Our latest lunch at Watson’s Bay Hotel

Ferries depart from here to Circular Quay or Manly. You can also take a bus back to Bondi or to Edgecliff train station.

Before you visit, read our ideas for exploring the rest of the eastern suburbs, as you may like to combine another walk to make a day of it.

You will find lots more walking adventures on these pages

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4 thoughts on “Federation Cliff Walk Dover Heights”

  1. Just finished this walk and wow what a disappointment!!! It didn’t help that the prettiest part of the walks (some of the steps along the edge) were closed for works. Compared to the bond to Coogee walk it was a big let down and felt a lot harder!

    Oh well, not a walk I will ever repeat in my opinion.

  2. Hi Scott, I am sorry you didn’t enjoy this walk. I like it because its quieter and the area around Diamond Bay and the Gap is to me as beautiful as Bondi to Coogee. It’s a shame some of the path was under repair. I wonder if that would have made a difference. Regardless thanks for sharing your opinion for other readers to consider.

  3. We wouldn’t have bothered with this walk if we had known how much of it was closed. It was very frustrating with too many diversions up suburban streets. Our advice would be to wait until the repairs are completed. There seems to be no information on-line about the closures but the signs on the walk indicate it will be some months.

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