31st August, 2022

The natural beauty of Sydney Harbour

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but Sydney Harbour is simply gorgeous, and it would be hard to find anyone who would disagree.

Sydney Harbour is one of the most recognisable harbours in the world and is on the ‘must see’ list of millions of people from around the world, attracting in excess of 4 million international tourists each year.

What’s more, Sydney Harbour is a natural Harbour, where landforms and beaches beguile the eye and it’s not unusual to see native birds and wildlife on the land or in the water.

The Harbour’s natural landscapes, and stunning icons of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge create the masterpiece that is the world’s most beautiful Harbour... Let’s explore.

Aerial of Shark Island national park attraction sightseeing HOHO ferry non-ccc dnsw

Sydney Harbour National Park

The coastline within Sydney Harbour abounds with natural beauty, and the Harbour is dotted with 13 islands. The foreshore and islands of Sydney Harbour are protected under the auspices of the Sydney Harbour National Park. Covering 392-hectare (970-acres) the national park protects the rugged landforms of the north and south Sydney Heads at the entrance to the Harbour on the Tasman Sea.

On the north head is the historic Quarantine Station and on the south head is The Gap bluff. Inside the Harbour, Bradleys Head, Fort Denison, Georges Head, Goat Island, Nielsen Park, Shark Island and Clark Island are all seen when you explore Sydney Harbour on one of the dining cruises offered by Captain Cook Cruises.

Couple picnic at the beach on Shark Island attraction HOHO sightseeing non-ccc dnsw

Harbour Beaches

Sydney is serious about life on the beach. Given the population of more than 6 million residents in the Greater Sydney area, water quality is essential and monitored closely.

A dip in the harbour before or after work is a lifestyle for local residents year-round with water temperature ranging from a swimmable 18 degrees Celsius (65.5 degrees F) at its coolest in September and 23 degrees Celsius (74.7 degrees F) during the height of the summer in February.

More than 20 sandy beaches are nestled among parks and rocky outcrops along the Harbour foreshore.

Best known are Camp Cove (named so because the First Fleet camped here on arrival into Sydney Harbour in 1788 before moving further into the Harbour where Circular Quay and the historic Rocks now stand) and Neilson Park in Vaucluse for their wide sandy bays.

Small coves such as historic Milk Beach, Lady Martin Beach and Seven Shillings Beach are hidden gems in the affluent Eastern suburbs. Obelisk Beach and Clifton Gardens are popular spots on the northern side of the beach.

Harbour Pools

Harbour pools are a Sydney thing. Swimming in the sea but protected by tidal and shark-proof enclosures, Harbour pools are the salty lap lanes of choice for Sydney locals.

Popular pools include:

and on the north side of the Harbour foreshore is:

  • The Greenwich Baths
  • the Maccallum Seawater Pool at Cremorne Point
  • Clifton Gardens sea pool at Chowder Bay

With free access, most offer a kiosk, café or even bars and restaurants and pleasant green surrounds with shaded areas for a picnic. Space is at a premium in the height of the summer. Sydney loves to swim and these scenic beaches are the beauty spots in Sydney Harbour.

Couple enjoying views from Royal Botanical Gardens during summer sightseeing non-ccc dnsw

Popular Walks on Sydney Harbour

With a climate that nurtures an outdoor lifestyle, Sydney Harbour is not just for swimming or sailing, it’s an incredible natural environment for walking. The Sydney Harbour National Park offers pathways through natural landscapes that detail the areas indigenous and settlement history and showcase the picture-perfect vantage points of Sydney Harbour.

On the city side of Sydney Harbour National Park, the easy Hermitage Foreshore Track is one of Sydney's most scenic city coastal walks. Walk beside coastal cliffs and pretty secluded beaches with stellar views to the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Milk Beach at historic Strickland House and then Neilson Park and Shark Beach.

The South Head Heritage trail starts at the northern end of Camp Cove beach to South Head. Here you can see the entrance to the Harbour and take a snap of Instagram icon Hornby Lighthouse.

On your Sydney Harbour lunch or dinner cruise you will witness people walking the 11-kilometre (6.8-mile) Sydney Harbour Foreshore Walk that traverses the beauty spots from the Woolloomooloo Wharves past Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Botanic Gardens, the Sydney Opera House and around to join the Wulgul Walk in the Barangaroo Reserve and Darling Harbour.

From Milsons Point, you can walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and explore Lavender Bay. Other walks on the north side of the city include the Cremorne Point Walk which explores the scenic Cremorne Point Headland.

Explore further from Mosman to Taronga Zoo, along which you will find Curlew Camp at Sirius Cove. Once an artist’s colony, it is here renowned Australian artists Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton honed their artistic impressionist talent.

Flora and Fauna

With so much natural landscape and native greenery around the city and the harbour, wildlife has an opportunity to survive and thrive. Seek out the shade of the Port Jackson fig tree that lines foreshore parks, and admire the smooth pink-hued trunks and branches of the tall Sydney red gums that grow up gracefully to 30 metres (98 feet) high.

Look out for the splendid grass trees and the pretty blueberry ash with its olive-shaped berries and white bell-shaped flowers, or the delicate flannel flowers that flourish in sandy soil and bloom all year with white and pink flowers.

Bird Watching Sydney Harbour

And for the twichers, look up to see at least one of the 150 bird species that make their habitat in the Sydney Harbour National Park, like a white-bellied sea eagle hovering over the Harbour or a New Holland honeyeater. Watch for webbed footprints on a beach or shoreline, they may well belong to a native water rat looking for seafood in shallow water close to the shoreline.

Whale Watching breaching jumping in front of Maggie Cat red rocket boat sightseeing wildlife

In the water

There is a colony of penguins at Manly and it is not unusual to see them swimming in the Harbour and playing on the sheltered Harbour beaches.

Likewise, it’s not unusual to see an occasional seal or dolphin frolicking in the Harbour, although it is not their natural habitat.

Over 20,000 Humpback whales make the 3,500km journey from sub-Antarctic waters to the Great Barrier Reef every year. Whale numbers peak off Sydney in June-July for the northern migration to give birth, and September-October for the return southern migration. In August, whale behaviour is often more spectacular with younger males showing off with amazing breaches.

We are so confident you will see a whale on our Sydney Harbour whale-watching cruise that if you don’t, you can cruise again for free till you see one.

In true Australian style - the skipper of your boat and the Sydney Ferries that carry commuters across the Harbour will slow down to make sure they are safe. Port Jackson sharks do live in the Harbour as well, they are harmless bottom dwellers and not likely to be seen.

This natural beauty weaves its way amongst the trappings of civilisation and buildings, while the Harbour waters create a stunning centrepiece to the city. You can witness the diversity of the landscapes with uninterrupted views as you enjoy Sydney Harbour from the water with Captain Cook Cruises.

Experiences mentioned in this article

We use cookies on this website so we can provide you with a better browsing experience and show you more relevant content and promotions. By continuing, you consent to our use of cookies. For more details, please check our Privacy Policy.