Deep Dive: Discovering the East's harbourside secrets

Vaucluse - Hermitage foreshore to South Head-3.jpg

Play tourist in our own backyard on the Hermitage Foreshore Walk … and discover parklands, harbour swims, picnic spots and even a nudist beach. By Caroline Clements. Pictures by Dillon Seitchik-Reardon.

We often discuss with friends the concept of being a visitor in your home city. Sydney is an undisputed pleasure for that. No other place in which we’ve lived is so naturally punctuated with open spaces, green parks, coastal walks and beaches close to the heart of the city. Only last week we discovered some swampy lowlands that felt like a section of national park in the middle of Paddington. 

Lately we’ve been exploring Sydney on foot, not just treading water. Walking to your swim is particularly rewarding, especially if the route is dotted with a selection of beaches and inlets, such as the Hermitage Foreshore Walk. This trail officially runs from Bayview Hill Road in Vaucluse to Neilsen Park, but we’ve extended our version all the way to Watsons Bay and beyond to South Head. 

The full walk is about seven kilometres one way, although it can be done in parts. We suggest that you start early and allow a few hours for swims, a rock jump and (hopefully) a cheese-laden picnic. 

Parsley Bay

Parsley Bay

We’ve broken it up into sections for you.

Bayview Hill Road to Milk Beach (0.7 kilometres)

If you’re driving, leave your car parked close to New South Head Road and weave down through Vaucluse to the end of Bayview Hill Road, where the track officially starts. This stretch of coast will impress even the most jaded Sydneysider and is filled with cracking views over to Shark Island, Fort Denison and all of Sydney Harbour’s famous landmarks. Milk Beach is an ideal stop for your first swim; scramble over the reef to the north for a little more privacy. 

Milk Beach to Neilsen Park (1.2 kilometres)

Don’t put your clothes back on just yet: if you keep your eyes open, you may find a jumping rock between Milk Beach and Neilsen Park from which you can plunge about six metres down. Although we cannot condone the jump, we can confirm its existence. As always, be safe. Watch someone else jump first and swim around the landing beforehand to make sure that the tide is high enough. Around the corner is Neilsen Park and Shark Beach. It’s one of the bigger bays along this walk, and has facilities — a cafe and restaurant, toilets, and an enclosed swimming area. Once you reach the north end of the park, be sure to take the path that hugs the coast, rather than continuing along the road. 

Neilson Park to Parsley Bay (1.9 kilometres)

This section of the walk is mostly through residential Vaucluse, providing a lovely opportunity to snoop around these mansion-lined streets. The signage to Parlsey Bay is rather discreet, so keep an eye out for a narrow laneway on the left-hand side of the road. The path drops down between houses to the landmark white footbridge that hangs over the bay. It’s an idyllic spot for a picnic and swim; there’s also a kiosk here for drinks and ice-creams. 

Parsley Bay Suspension Bridge

Parsley Bay Suspension Bridge

Parsley Bay to Watsons Bay (1.5 kilometres)

Exit Parlsey Bay up the stairs near the small jetty and walk along The Crescent, to Hopetoun Avenue and then Palmerston Street to get to Gibsons Beach Reserve (the south end of Watsons Bay). Continue north along the foreshore, stopping in for a coffee and cake at the Bake House cafe (formerly Tea Gardens Cafe), next to Sydney’s best waterfront library (aka Watsons Bay Library). Or grab an outdoor table on the deck at Watsons Bay Hotel for a refreshing ale in the sun. You deserve it.

BONUS SECTION: Watsons Bay to South Head (1.7 kilometres) 

Watsons Bay may be the end of the walk for some, but if you’re wanting more you will be rewarded. Continue along the beach on Marine Parade towards Camp Cove Beach. There’s a cute kiosk serving coffees, orange juice and ice-cream at the far end, which is also where you’ll get on the South Head Heritage Trail to connect to Lady Bay Road. Follow signs to Hornby Lighthouse, past Lady Bay Beach (for naturists) to South Head, where the harbour meets the ocean, and enjoy the vistas back across to Mosman, Balgowlah, Manly and North Head. 

The view from Vaucluse

The view from Vaucluse

NOTE: If you’re taking a public transport home or to your car, jump on a bus back at the Military Road Terminus in Watsons Bay. The 325 and 380 leave from here regularly.

Dillon Seitchik-Reardon and Caroline Clements are the authors of Places We Swim. Follow them @placesweswim /buy the book placesweswim.com