Watsons Bay Walk – A Great Day out in Sydney
This Watsons Bay walk is not to be missed. It combines panoramic clifftop views over the Pacific Ocean to the right and Sydney Harbour vistas to the left. It’s also home to some of the best Fish and chips in town and a very pretty lighthouse.
Exploring Watsons Bay on Foot – The Gap Park and South Head Heritage Loop.
Today we want to show you one of our favourite parts of Sydney, and one that we think makes for a fabulous day out; a ferry ride to Watsons Bay and a stroll on the easy but rewarding South Head Heritage loop out to Hornby Lighthouse on South Head.
You could easily spend a couple of hours here between the walk, a paddle at Camp Cove Beach and a coffee or lunch in the area.
If you only had one day to explore Sydney, a day at Watson’s Bay would not be a bad choice.
The walk is relatively easy and suitable for most people. There are some steps and mild inclines, but it’s not a challenging walk.
If this will be your first time using Sydney’s public transport, you might like to read our Opal travel guide to understand the cheapest way to make this trip.
So what are you waiting for, let’s begin!
The Cadigal, the First Nations people of the Sydney Harbour area, referred to the area around Watson’s Bay as Kutti. It was a favourite spot for fishing and gathering food and very important to them. They remained here after the arrival of the colonials until a smallpox epidemic hit, and the population was severely affected.
Robertson Park and the wharf
The extensive park surrounding the waterfront is Robertson Park; there are several Canary Islands Palms here that grew from seeds the first fleet bought from a stopover in Tenerife, along with some gorgeous fig trees.
With lots of shade, a playground and lovely views of the waterfront, it’s a great picnic spot.
If you have some time, take a stroll south along the beach to the swimming enclosure and the Vaucluse Yacht Club.
Gap Bluff and The Gap Lookout
The Gap Bluff and Gap lookout are directly opposite the wharf at Watsons Bay. If you climb to the high point, you are rewarded with views from Mosman to Manly.
Two lighthouses in Watsons Bay highlight the danger the sea here posed to early visitors. In 1857, the Dunbar was wrecked off the cliffs below the Gap, killing 121 and leaving a sole survivor, James Johnson, a crewman rescued from the rocks 36 hours later. Divers finally located the wreck in 1955, and you will find the anchor of the ship sitting attached to the cliff near the main lookout.
The ship’s bible was washed up on Forty Baskets Beach on the other side of the harbour and can be found in St Stephen’s Church in Camperdown.
A few months after this terrible accident, a second ship, The Catherine Adamson, was wrecked nearby, resulting in another 21 deaths. This was enough to get fast action on the lighthouse building.
From the 1930s, The Gap became known as a place of misadventure, the rocky cliffs drawing the foolhardy and the depressed. As early as 1942, a police cliff rescue unit was established, saving over 70 people a year.
From the 1960s, Don Ritchie, a local who lived next to the lookout, watched out for people who appeared to need help. He saved over 160 people, which earned him the nickname “the angel of the gap.” Ritchie was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2006 and passed away in 2012. These days the area is under camera surveillance, and help phones operated by Lifeline staff are in a couple of spots along the cliff.
So what is”the Gap”? The Gap itself is the wavecut shelf formed between two sandstone cliffs here.
Return to the wharf and make your way along the footpath that follows the beach. Continue past the upturned rowboats and Doyles restaurant until you reach the stairs at the end of the beach. Take these up to the street.
You will need to walk along the street and head to Cove Street, Pacific Street, and Green Point Reserve. Once you reach Green Point Reserve, you will find Camp Cove Beach to the right.
When the First Fleet first landed in Sydney, they arrived in Botany Bay but quickly discovered that with no fresh water source, this was not an ideal place to build their settlement. Captain Phillip and a small party headed off exploring new locations and sailed through the heads into Sydney Harbour.
They camped the night here on the beach at Camp Cove before sailing into Sydney Cove the following day. This was the first place that the English set foot on Australian soil.
You can read more about the area’s history, including its importance to the Cadigal people, on the Dictionary of Sydney listing for Camp Cove.
At the southern end of the beach is a marble monument reading, “On this beach, Governor Phillip first landed in Port Jackson Jan 21 1788”. It’s easy to walk right by this rather unassuming structure, but you will find it to the right of the toilet block.
Sydney Harbour National Park
At the northern end of Camp Cove Beach is a set of wooden stairs that will lead you to the entry of Sydney Harbour National Park and the South Head Heritage Trail Loop. The first highlight is the historic canon.
Watson’s Bay Canon
A favourite photo spot is this cannon that points back towards the city skyline and a splendid view over Camp Cove Beach, previously near Hornby Lighthouse. It was bought to the colony from England in 1872 and placed at South Head in the 1890s.
The path along the road was made of cobblestone and was built during the late 1870s. It’s a gentle reminder of the history of the area.
Lady Bay Beach
This beach, also known as Lady Jane, was granted legal nude status way back in 1976 during Premier Wran’s government. A few things to note, nudity is only permitted on the beach and water, and while you can don swimwear here, it is sometimes frowned upon by the locals.
It’s also good to note that walkers tend to stand at the top and take photos of the beach and its visitors. If you decide to go off climbing around the rocky point, you may discover some frisky beachgoers.
South Head Heritage Walk
This easy 30-minute loop walk is a leisurely stroll with 5-star views. If the long walk from Vaucluse is a bit much for you, this is a great alternative. It is a mix of boardwalk, concrete, and cobblestone with a few stairs.
You will come across the lighthouse keeper’s cottage as you reach the head, the sole survivor of the Dunbar; crewman James Johnson and his brother went on to become lighthouse keepers here and then later in Newcastle.
Just around the tip of South Head is the candy stripe lighthouse that marks the entry to Port Jackson. It was the third lighthouse built in NSW; you can learn more about it here.
Once you have finished your visit, you need to retrace your steps back to Camp Cove. Take the street to the side of the Kiosk and wander past some of the lovely homes, old and new, on the roads back to the hotel and the wharf.
Itinerary tip: Combine this walk in Watsons Bay with the nearby Federation Cliff walk or the Bondi to Coogee walk for a full day exploring the eastern suburbs.
Watsons Bay Walking Map and Guide
We have partnered with FreeGuides so that you can take this walk with your on your phone
Where to eat in Watsons Bay
Ok, so after you have completed the walk, you have most certainly earned a break. There are several places to eat nearby or if you are travelling on a budget, then bring a picnic lunch to enjoy in Robertson Park.
With this superb harbourside location, it’s hardly surprising that seafood is one of the most popular things to eat in Watsons Bay. The iconic Doyle’s on the Beach restaurant is listed in almost every guidebook. Opening in 1885, this was the first seafood restaurant in the country.
Doyles / Doyles on the Wharf
The Doyle family has been selling seafood from this location since 1845. They have two restaurants, a takeaway and a cafe on the pier. I have not dined in the restaurant; $ 45 -$55 mains are a little out of my budget, but the takeaway from the wharf is pretty good. Takeaway lunch will set you back $20 or less.
Beach Club Watsons Bay Hotel
Beach Club is one of the most popular spots here. The pub offers bbq food, salads and burgers and has a fantastic beer garden overlooking the harbour. Even if you are not hungry, this is an excellent spot for a beer or coffee.
This 1830s heritage home is my top pick for a weekend breakfast or lunch. Once a zoo, the house is a wedding reception venue and weekend cafe. The menu features all the usual breakfast items done very well. Lunch includes salads, burgers and sandwiches and a variety of main meals. The desserts are also very tempting. Check the menus here.
The Tea Garden
This cafe is my top pick for family-friendly venues in the area. It has a fenced grass area perfect for kids to play on while you eat. The Italian-inspired menu features pasta, salads and burgers. They do not have a website, but you will find more information on Zomato.
How to get to Watson’s Bay
You have a few options for travelling between Watson’s Bay, Bondi and the City.
- The 324 bus departs from Edgecliff Station and travels via the backstreets to Watsons Bay. The 323 will drop you near the start of the Federation Cliff Walk to Watsons Bay if you would like to walk that.
- Take a 380 bus from Bondi Junction train station to Robertson Park,Watson’s Bay
- Take the F4 ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay, and either do the walk in reverse or take one of these two buses above to the start of the walk.
- Take the private Captain Cook ferry service – it’s a little more expensive, but there are direct ferries to Manly, Barangaroo and Circular Quay.
Where to Stay in Watson’s Bay
Why not stay a little longer? Watson’s Bay is a beautiful spot to spend a few days away from the rush of the city, whether you are a local or a visitor. There are a couple of options.
Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel
With 31 boutique rooms and suites, many overlooking the harbour, this 4-star property offers beautifully decorated rooms with plenty of food and action right on the doorstep. This is a lovely property, but this is necessarily the best option for a quiet getaway.
If you like the idea of heading right upstairs after you finish your dinner and drinks, I love the room decor and could happily move in tomorrow.
Insider tips for visiting Watsons Bay
- Dogs are not allowed in the National Park
- The last public ferry on weekdays leaves very early, around 4 pm, weekends. It is much later nearer to 11 pm. You can take a private ferry and use your Opal card on this, but it will cost more. Alternatively, take the bus to Edgecliff station and travel three stops back to the city.
- It is tough to get parking here, particularly at weekends, so public transport is the best option.
Want to do more ideas for exploring Sydney? Check out these:
- Hermitage Foreshore Trail in Rose Bay
- The Bondi to Coogee Walk
- The Best Sydney Ferry Rides
- Cremorne Point – A lovely walk on the other side of the harbour
- The best Harbour Walks in Sydney
Read more about Watsons Bay
My good friend Joanne writes extensively about Sydney Suburbs and has covered Watsons Bay here.