A practical visitor’s guide to Watsons Bay, Sydney, Australia

A practical visitor’s guide to Watsons Bay, Sydney, Australia

Location: Watsons Bay municipal area

Last visited 30th December 2015, which is summer for Australia.

At a Glance:

Watsons Bay is a coastal suburb in Sydney, Australia. There is a small beach that is utilised my by locals and is smaller than Manly or Bondi. and a heritage walking trail.

An update on parking (November 2023): Watsons Bay is part of Woollahra Council. Woollahra Council has long been limiting free parking to residents only, making it very difficult for visitors to park. Recently (November 2023) Transport for NSW has deemed this restriction to be illegal, as the beaches are public property and should be enjoyed by all, and has required Woollahra Council to remove this restriction. Woollahra Council is fighting this order and as a compromise, has converted 70 resident-only road side parking spaces to a 15 minute parking limit to visitors in a 6 months trial. Although 15 minutes is definitely not enough for a day at the beach, it is possible drop off and pick up in your own vehicle, although the driver themselves would miss out on a beach trip. 

Camp Cove Carpark is a free public car park located just 80 meters from Camp Cove Beach and remains the best parking option for visitors.

Watsons Bay

Watsons Bay is a coastal suburb in Sydney, with its own small beach (Camp Cove Beach) that is mostly utilised by locals (as opposed to international tourists in Manly and Bondi).

Things to do in Watsons Bay:

Visit Macquarie Lighthouse

You cannot enter Macquarie Lighthouse unless you join one of their guided tours. The lighthouse is located near main road and public park with trash facilities, so is a good place for a picnic with views of the lighthouse.

The grounds are open daily. To find information about their guided tours, check out their official website here.

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Unfortunately we didn’t actually go to the light house the day of my visit. But the grassy field near it had a great view of the ocean with free roadside parking.

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 A good place to kick a ball around or a game of cricket.

The park also had nice exercise equipment, basket ball hoops portable toilets, but no playground equipment for children.IMG_1094

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On the plus side, there was no one else here. After a picnic lunch of cold noodle salad and chicken nuggets, we went to Camp Cove Beach, right near the Sydney Harbour National Park South Head Heritage Trail. You can follow the path down to the water and sand or climb the stairs to the toilets (right in the picture) or on wards to the trail.

Camp Cove Beach

Camp Cove Beach is a small beach almost squished between water front residential houses and as such has very little in the way of retail supplies. See “facilities” below. It is located near the tip of the northernmost part of the area (Lady Bay Beach is even further north).

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Camp Cove Beach, Watsons Bay. The hut in the top left corner is the one and only retail shop selling over priced snacks and beach supplies like hats if you forgot to pack them and are desperate for one. As a guide, in 2015, a tuna and egg sandwich cost $9.50.
 

The beach is located at the base of the south side of the Sydney Harbour National Park South Head heritage trail and is also the front yard of many homes along the shore.

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At the entrance to the beach is a set of stairs and a sign guiding you to the heritage trail. Continue onwards to the beach, take the stairs to the trail or follow the signs to the facilities.

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A view of the water at Camp Cove Beach

 

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Lady Bay Beach

Lady Bay Beach is a nudist beach that can be accessed from part way in the South Head Heritage trail.

 

Sydney Harbour National Park South Head heritage trail

Camp Cove Beach is very small. You can spend a morning Camp Cove Beach on the sand or water and then hike the South Head heritage trail. This is a very short trail of just 1km round trip. The path itself contains easy to negotiate wide stone and wooden steps, however, there are several flights of stairs, the first at the start of the trail so is not wheels friendly or accessible to prams, strollers and wheelchairs. There is car access and wheelchair accessible toilets in the trail itself to part way in the trail, but there are fees involved. Visit their official website here for details.

Heritage Trail

The trail starts at an unassuming path among the trees. Turn left and onto the trail you go.

There are a few flights of stairs and many places have no hand rails.

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Entry to the Heritage trail from the beach is via an inconspicuous gravel pathway.

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The cobblestone pathway is quite bumpy.

 

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There is a lookout at the top of the stairsIMG_1189.jpg

 

Views as you go up the trail:

IMG_1202 Views of Camp Cove beach from up the hill (taken near the canon)

IMG_1144 Views of Sydney

If you can find the car entry, this road is built for drivingIMG_1197

And there are wheelchair accessible wide toilets too.IMG_1196

Also some great grassy areas or stone platforms for picnicking away from the crowds on the beach, if you don’t mind full sun.

 

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There is another light house here, a pink and white striped one called the Hornby Lighthouse. This is the Light Keeper’s Cottage on the Sydney Harbour National Park South Head Heritage Trail.

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This is where timber ships have wrecked in the times of James Cook. On August 20th 1857 the ship Dunbar from England crashed here and only one out of 122 people survived. That one person, James Johnson, later became the lighthouse keeper. The lighthouse was built to guide future ships but it wasn’t completed soon enough and on October 23rd the same year, another ship, the Catherine Adamson also wrecked here and 21 people died.

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The lighthouse and the cottage was designed by Alexander Dawson who also designed the Nobby’s Lighthouse in Newcastle. This one was completed for a price of 3127 pounds.

This is the Hornby Lighthouse:

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The lighthouse itself is not open to visitors and not special enough to be worth a trip just for it, but is interesting enough of an attraction if you are already here.
 
 

IMG_1184 Fortifications at Sydney Harbour National Park

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Going back down to the beach:IMG_1191

There is a nude beach here, Lady Bay Beach, despite its name, men are allowed. There is an entry on the left hand side of the trail, going in. Access is via stairs down to the beach.IMG_1193

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The car gate is on the left hand side of this pathIMG_1200

Back to the beachIMG_1205

Watsons Bay Beach

Watsons Bay Beach is a slightly larger beach about 450m back towards the city away from the northern tip of the area. There is a seafood restaurant and a hotel and a ferry wharf here, “Watsons Bay” wharf. The southern end of the beach is located right near Roberston Park, the edge of which is along the road. Public buses 324, 325 and 380 stop here and is also the closest bus stop to Camp Cove Beach, some 500m walk away.

Facilities and Accessibility:

There are free parking very closeby, There is no longer free parking for visitors, as the responsible council, Woollhara Council, has decided to make the beach an exclusive destination for its residents. Transport for NSW has declared this restriction to be illegal and requested they remove the restriction. As a compromise, Woollhara council is trialling 70 15-minute free parking spots on a first come first served basis.  The road is quite narrow and gets narrower as you go closer to the shore.

Travelling with wheels and babies

The entry is fairly flat but wheels won’t do well on the sand. There are toilets, but both are upstairs on a wooden deck and not accessible by wheelchairs. There are no baby change facilities and there are no bins in the toilets.

The Heritage trail is accessible by car but there is a fee of $8 per car. Check out their website for directions. We accessed the trail on foot, which required climbing stairs first. There are more toilets and bins up on the trail, and there are wide access toilets along the train, but no baby change.

Food and retail

There is one and only one retail shop, on Google maps is called “Camp Cove Kiosk“. The shop is located right on the entry to the beach by the side of the road and is a stone’s throw from Camp Cove Carpark. Holding the monopoly, prices here are exorbitant. The shop sells beverages (coffee, tea, smoothies) and food (sandwiches, premade baked goods like croissants and toast) and beach supplies like hats and towels. In 2015 a tuna and egg sandwich cost $9.50, today (2022) a comparable sandwich costs $17. I personally strongly recommend bringing your own.

Showers

There is a shower head for rinsing off sand at ground level (ie you can only use it for your feet/shoes and not to stand under), there is also a tap on the side of the shop for sandy feet.

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 Watsons Bay beach

 

Getting here:

Find out exactly how to get here using public transport, below.

By car:

For a full description see this site:

http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/Sydney-Harbour-National-Park/Visitor-Info#Getting-there-and-parking

Camp Cove Carpark is a free public car park with a few spaces on  first come first served basis and is conveniently located just 80 metres from the beach. If you can, come on a weekday so there is a better chance of finding a spot.

As you drive closer to the shore, the neighbourhood roads get narrower and narrower. There are limited free parking in a nearby parking lot, then you have to walk to the beach. You will know which direction the beach is in, just ask one of the many people around wearing and carrying beach gear, follow the crowd. The beach is at the end of a dead end road/driveway, right next to the little beach kiosk:

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Unfortunately this trip was unplanned so no one brought swimmers, so I wasn’t able to go for a swim, only waded in the water. But there is small fish in the water, right up to the sand bank. This is a great spot for some sun and relatively calm water compared to the large beaches. Not a surfing beach, but a good spot for people with young kids.

By public transport:

Note, you will need an opal card or a contactless payment enabled bank card to use public transport.

Check out the timetables on the official Transport NSW website or the Tripview app for up to date schedules and return trip times.

Bus:

Take Buses 324 or 345 from the city center/train stations (Wynyard Station, York St (Stand G); QVB (Stand A); Town Hall Station, Park St (Stand G); William St opp Australian Museum (this stop is near Museum train station); Kings Cross Station, Bayswater Rd (stand C); Edgecliff station (Stand D)) or 380 from Bondi Junction Station (Stand B) and get off at bus stop “Robertson Park, Military Rd”. Then it is about a 700m walk to Camp Cove Beach, or a 450m walk to Watsons Bay Beach.

Train:

The best train stations from which to change for bus 324 and 325 is either Town Hall station or Wynyard Station as these are in the city center and close to other attractions. However the buses also stop outside Edgecliff and Kings Cross station and Bondi Junction Station (Stand B) to change for Bus 380.

Ferry:

You can get a public transport ferry from Circular Quay to Watsons Bay wharf from wharf 9 (or a Captain Cruise ferry which is not public transport). The ferry departs Circular Quay once every 30 minutes between 7:45am (first ferry) to 6:40pm (last service) on weekdays and 7:45am (first service) to 11:45pm (last service) on weekends.

For more things to do in Sydney, check out my other posts here.

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