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The Watsons Bay walk on the South Head Heritage Trail is the southern gateway to Sydney Harbour.

Rich in early settler and forgotten military history, the Watsons Bay walk is home to the historic Hornby Lighthouse, one of Australia’s first lighthouses.

It’s the easiest way to escape the city and yet still enjoy city and harbour vistas.

Highlights of the Watsons Bay Walk

  • Stroll along Sydney’s famous Watsons Bay
  • Experience Camp Cove where the Birrabirragal mob met the First Fleet
  • Look into a sandstone chasm and enjoy endless harbour and ocean views from Gap Bluff
  • Discover Sydney’s wartime history
  • See two of Australia’s first lighthouses, including red and white striped Hornby Lighthouse
  • Spot whales during migration season

South Head Heritage Trail

Distance

4.5km (3 miles)

Time

2 hours

Track Conditions

Mainly paved walkway. Some soft sand walking across Camp Cove beach. A couple of sections with stairs.

Relatively flat. Slight incline to 20m elevation at South Head itself. Steep climb up to 40m up stairs at Gap Bluff (optional).

Water

Regular refill places

Toilets

Regular intervals

Mobile phone reception

Yes

Swimming

Camp Cove beach is a calm, family-friendly beach but is not patrolled by lifesavers.

Route Map

We're working on a Watsons Bay Walk map as fancy as our other walking maps, but this will have to do for now.

South Head and Watsons Bay walk map

Watsons Bay Walk


The Birrabirragal mob had fished, hunted and harvested shellfish at Kutti-kutti (Watsons Bay) for at least ten thousand years before European arrival.

Camp Cove, Watsons Bay walk

Camp Cove on the Watsons Bay Walk. Image: Sydney Coast Walks.

On Camp Cove, now a sheltered harbour beach popular with families, Europeans first set foot inside Sydney Harbour.

Watsons Bay walk

Setting out from Watsons Bay, the start of the South Head Heritage Trail. Image: Sydney Coast Walks.

Today, Watsons Bay is home to some of Sydney’s oldest remaining houses… and a median house price of $7 million.

Watsons Bay walk

You'll soon leave behind the village atmosphere of Watsons Bay before heading into Sydney Harbour National Park on South Head. Image: Sydney Coast Walks.

Sydney at War

On the night of 31 May 1942, Japan brought World War II to Sydney’s doorstep. Three miniature submarines, launched from larger mother ships offshore, secretly entered Sydney Harbour.

The subs torpedoed navy ships at Garden Island as the Manly ferry transported passengers to and from Circular Quay.

South Head Heritage Trail, Watsons Bay walk

Overlooking calm waters and the cobblestone pathway first built by Governor Macquarie to transport horse-drawn cannons to South Head in case of invasion. Image: Sydney Coast Walks

One of the three Japanese submarines struck the anti-submarine defences and sank just offshore between Watsons Bay and Camp Cove. You can still see the concrete remains of the pump house that operated the boom gate.

Hornby Lighthouse

With its northern sister, South Head is the gateway to Port Jackson (better known as Sydney Harbour).

With shipping, comes shipwrecks. If you were to walk from Watsons Bay to Bondi, you'd see Macquarie Lighthouse built in 1817

But two tragedies at Sydney Heads 40 years later showed Macquarie was insufficient, and Hornby Lighthouse was built. It's a distinctive red and white striped lighthouse, still in operation.

Hornby Lighthouse is not open to the public but walkers on the South Head Heritage Trail can go right up to its door.

Hornby Light, Watsons Bay walk

Hornby Lighthouse on Sydney's South Head. Image: Sydney Coast Walks

South Head, Watsons Bay walk

Hornby Lighthouse, with views across to North Head. Image: Sydney Coast Walks

Gap Bluff

The 360 city and harbour views from Gap Bluff is worth the steep stair and boardwalk path to the top of the cliffs… if your knees agree.

This is an optional add-on to the South Head Heritage Trail.

Gap Bluff, Watsons Bay walk

Views from the cliffs of Gap Bluff, Watsons Bay. Image: Sydney Coast Walks.

How to Get to the Watsons Bay Walk

Watsons Bay is such a great day’s outing that it can get busy on weekends, making parking difficult to find. The short ferry trip is a highlight, so well worth considering.

Public Transport

Hands-down, the best way to get to Watsons Bay is by ferry across Sydney’s glistening harbour.

Public ferries are clean and offer just as scenic views as the private sightseeing ferries (Captain Cook Cruises and Sydney Harbour EcoHopper). The differences are validity of an Opal Card (although you can now use OpalPay on the private ferries), commentary and bar service.

The ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay takes 15-25 minutes (depending on stops) and runs regularly.

There’s also a ferry from Rose Bay.

It’s a 700m walk from Watsons Bay ferry wharf to Gap Bluff, crossing the road and heading across Robertson Park.

If you’re coming from Bondi Junction or the eastern suburbs, then the not-very-scenic bus is best: a half hour trip on bus # 380, 387 and more. The bus stops at Military Road, right at Gap Bluff.

Check Transport NSW for timetables and trip routes from your departure point.

Driving and Parking at Watsons Bay

It’s about a half hour drive from the city centre to Watsons Bay, or about 20 minutes from Bondi Junction.

Watsons Bay could be described as a village, with the equivalent-sized parking. There’s time-limited street parking wherever you can find it, and two small car parks.

Park either in the carpark opposite Watsons Bay Hotel at 1 Cliff Street – close to Robertson Park and Gap Bluff, or at Camp Cove carpark at the far end of Cliff Street, near Camp Cove and South Head.

Best Places to Eat Near the Watsons Bay Walk

There are plenty of options in Watsons Bay at the start or the end of your walk. There are no cafes or eateries out on South Head.

Try the outdoor beer garden at the Watsons Bay Hotel, historic Dunbar House for high tea, or gelato on Military Road.

The iconic Watsons Bay experience is fish and chips from Doyles on the Beach.

Both Watsons Bay Hotel and Doyles have kiosks for takeaway catering to picnickers in Robertson Park.

About

Tara Wells is a journalist and former TV and radio producer/presenter who’s delighted to combine her love of hiking with story-telling.



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