I’ve spent years snoozing alarms, chugging coffee and driving a little too aggressively exploring Sydney’s best spots before sunrise and after sunset. To me there’s nothing more beautiful than our earth during those moments. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly why it feels so special. The long shadows, the soft light, the golden hue that blankets the world – Sydney is a city full of hidden pockets of beauty. With an abundance of national parks within the greater Sydney area we really are spoilt for choice. Here I’ll share with you the best spots I’ve found on my adventures.
Located just to the east of Manly is North Head. Here you find the Fairfax walk, with several lookouts to sit and peer out over the sea cliffs as the sun rises over the ocean. You late sleepers can rejoice as it’s a short, easy walk with parking at the trailhead and wheelchair accessibility. From May to November you might even glimpse some breaching whales. If you fancy an earlier rise, a bit more of a walk and perhaps a cafe style coffee, take the ferry to Manly Wharf and walk to North Head. If you’re there at the right time of day you will be able to see the wharf’s resident penguins!
With views of the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Fort Denison, Bradleys Head is arguably the best spot to watch the sun set behind the city skyline. The Bradleys head amphitheatre is a green, grassy and easily accessible spot to sit, have a refreshing beverage and watch the world go by, or head down toward the fishing platform and get your feet sandy on the beach. Watching the fishermen and women pluck fish from the harbour as the sun sets is strangely mesmerising. I have found that while my sunset companions are distracted doing this, they really enjoy when I surprise them with a splash of seawater. The Bradleys Head car park is a very short walk away so if a sunset stroll is what you had in mind, head out along the Bradleys Head to Chowder Bay walk. Watch the boats glide upon the harbour as you walk and see Sydney’s most famous icons from a different perspective. The walk ends at Taronga Zoo and is 4km one-way, so once you’ve had your fill turn around and find a good spot at the amphitheatre.
You will find South Head near Watsons Bay in Sydney’s east. Like its northerly neighbour, South Head has sheer ocean cliffs and picture-perfect views. My favourite place to sit as the sun rises is the whimsical-looking Hornby Lighthouse. You can access it along the South Head Heritage Trail, a short walk that offers beach and harbour views, as well as a peek into history. The trail starts a short walk from the Watsons Bay ferry wharf or the Camp Cove car park and is a relaxed walk with gentle hills and some steps, so there is no risk of spilling your morning coffee(s). There are no fences at South Head and this makes for great uninterrupted views however care should be taken near cliff edges, obey all signs and closely supervise children, sleep deprived friends and the under caffeinated.
The Gap is a part of the South Head peninsula and I head there when I want the best ocean cliff views in Sydney. If you climb to the top you will not be disappointed; as you gaze out over the 360-degree views you will see the harbour to the west and the Tasman Sea to the east. If you manage to keep your eyes open, I promise watching the sun rise above the water and spill onto the Sydney skyline will be unforgettable. The Gap Bluff is a short and super easy easterly walk from Watsons Bay ferry wharf and has several basic paths that thread through native coastal vegetation. Even in your early morning daze it will be easy to pick your way through.
Nielsen Park, Shark Beach and Steele Point
Nielsen Park is located in Vaucluse in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and is quite possibly one of the best places in the city for a sunset picnic. Snap up a table in one of the sheltered picnic areas, pick a spot under one of the giant fig trees or spread your picnic rug out on the grass. There is plenty of room for you to grab a few mates, put on a spread and have a great afternoon but don’t forget to clean up afterwards. Access to Nielsen Park and Shark Beach promenade is easy and suitable for wheelchairs with parking at Nielson Park car park. For uninterrupted views of the sunset, head along the Hermitage Foreshore walk and out to Steele Point. If you have time and you’re feeling adventurous I cannot think of anything better than a pre-sunset kayak or SUP. Due to my lack of balance and coordination, I find a bit of SUP yoga to be good for a belly laugh or two. Just assure everyone is a strong swimmer and has a personal floatation device, you can laugh and you can swim but it is hard to do both. If you don’t have your own kayak or SUP you can hire one nearby from Rose Bay Aquatic Hire or Point Piper Kayak Centre.
Lane Cove National Park
Sunsets don’t always have to be sweeping views and lofty lookouts, enter Lane Cove National Park. This is a great one for the whole family with heaps of picnic areas dotted along the river to choose from boasting tables, barbeques, play equipment, flat grassy areas, easy access to walking tracks and places to ride your bike. Without a doubt my favourite part is the river; the soothing water, the late afternoon light and the warbles of the resident native birds are perfection. My advice? Find your own private piece of river-bank, kick back and close your eyes, then once your friends are suitably relaxed try out your best plover call and run for one of those nearby walking tracks. If you want something a bit more adventurous or you need an alternate escape route, on weekends you can hire a boat from the Lane Cove Boatshed for an afternoon paddle. If after all that you still haven’t had enough you can stay overnight at the Lane Cove River Tourist Park and book a campsite or cabin.
With so many beautiful places in Sydney to welcome and farewell each day what are you waiting for? Set five alarms, disable your snooze button and start exploring our national parks and don’t forget to share all your adventures using #NSWparks.