Watsons Bay Walk and the South Head Heritage Trail

Last updated: June 23, 2023

The Watsons Bay Walk is a scenic trail exploring South Head, with panoramic views of Sydney Harbour, the city skyline, the Tasman Sea, North Head and the historic Hornby Lighthouse.

Watsons Bay itself is also worth exploring, as it’s a family-friendly weekend destination, with various cafes, restaurants, beaches, and picnic spots.

Read on, and learn more about the highlights and landmarks of the Watsons Bay Walk and the South Head Heritage Trail.

Watsons Bay Walk
Distance: 4.5 km (circuit)
Duration: 1-2 hours
Grade: Easy
JOIN SYDNEY UNCOVERED
Subscribe to our newsletter and receive Sydney and NSW related tips and ideas straight to your mailbox!

How to Get There

While there is ample parking in and around Watsons Bay, it can be very challenging, if not impossible, to find a parking spot on the weekends.

Alternatively, you can park your car further out on Old South Head Rd, which is still within walking distance, albeit up the hill.

Perhaps the best way to get to Watsons Bay is by catching a ferry from Circular Quay. This is a scenic ferry trip that adds to the experience.

Travelling by bus is also an option, with lines 324 and 325 departing from the city to Watsons Bay. Check the Transport NSW website for more information and exact timetables.

About Watsons Bay

Once you arrive in Watsons Bay, either by car or at the Watsons Bay ferry wharf, it’s recommended to explore this picturesque and historic fisherman’s village before you start hiking.

Visit the Vaucluse Yacht Club, and enjoy the beautiful surroundings with panoramic city views. Nearby the yacht club, in Robertson Park, keep an eye out for a historic stone obelisk.

Sydney CBD views from Watsons Bay
Sydney CBD views from Watsons Bay

This obelisk marks the end of the construction of the first road from the city to South Head in 1811, and it reads: “VIII Miles from Sydney”. How interesting!

If you enjoy high tea or extended lunches, head to Dunbar House, a stunning historic building with a licensed cafe.

Alternatively, order some delicious fish and chips at Doyles on the wharf and have a picnic in nearby Robertson Park.

Robertson Park in Watsons Bay
Robertson Park in Watsons Bay

Robertson Park is one of the most popular picnic spots in Sydney, and for good reasons. It’s a family-friendly place with various picnic tables, public toilets, and playgrounds.

Watsons Bay Walk Track Notes

We’re going to describe the Watsons Bay Walk along the following highlights and landmarks:

  1. Green Point Reserve
  2. Camp Cove
  3. Lady Bay Beach
  4. South Head Heritage Trail
  5. Hornby Lighthouse
  6. The Gap

The below map has these highlights marked:

Map and route of the Watsons Bay walk

The best spot to start the Watsons Bay Walk is from the ferry wharf at the end of Military Road.

From there, follow Marine Parade along Watsons Bay Beach in front of the restaurants, heading north.

1. Green Point Reserve

At the northern end of this small beach, walk into Cove Street, turn left into Pacific Street, and continue all the way to Green Point Reserve.

Green Point Reserve in Watsons Bay
Green Point Reserve

Take a moment to enjoy the pretty views from this reserve before heading down to the secluded beach of Camp Cove.

2. Camp Cove

Camp Cove is where Governor Arthur Phillip first landed in Port Jackson (the old name for Sydney Harbour) in 1788.

It is now a sheltered bay with a beautiful, north-east facing beach.

Governor Phillip plaque at Camp Cove
Governor Phillip plaque at Camp Cove

It’s a great beach to spend some time swimming and snorkelling in pleasantly calm water against the backdrop of Sydney Harbour.

Camp Cove Beach
Camp Cove Beach

At the northern end of the beach are a toilet block and a little kiosk where you can buy coffee and refreshments. This is also where the Watsons Bay Walk continues further north, going up a wooden staircase.

This leads to a path where you can experience a bit of Sydney’s history, walking past a cannon and a gun emplacement.

Camp Cove Jetty
Camp Cove Jetty

That path is also a great spot to take in the great views of Camp Cove Beach, Sydney Harbour, and the city CBD skyline.

Cannon at Camp Cove
Cannon at Camp Cove

Use this opportunity to take a few good photos of the cannon with Sydney Harbour in the background because it’s a classic Sydney photography spot.

3. Lady Bay Beach

As you continue walking past the cannon, the track merges into an old road that evolves into a footpath.

You will then soon see a sign for Lady Bay Beach.

Access to Lady Bay Beach
Access to Lady Bay Beach

Lady Bay Beach is a very small, secluded beach that you can access by going down the stairs from the footpath.

If you spot a few naked people, don’t be too surprised because Lady Bay is one of the very few sanctioned nude beaches in Sydney Harbour.

Lady Bay Beach
Lady Bay Beach

If public nudity is not your thing, you can still enjoy the breathtaking views of Sydney Harbour from Lady Bay Lookout, situated right above the bay.

4. South Head Heritage Trail

The Watsons Bay Walk now evolves into the South Head Heritage Trail, a 500m loop track around the northern tip of South Head.

South Head Heritage Trail in Watsons Bay
Start of the South Head Heritage Trail

Highlights of this trail are the iconic Hornby Lighthouse, the Lightkeeper’s cottage, and the fantastic Sydney Harbour and ocean views.

5. Hornby Lighthouse

The lighthouse was built in 1858 and is now a characteristic red and white striped tower located in a prime spot with beautiful 360-degree views.

From the lighthouse, you can see the ocean in the east, Sydney Harbour in the west, and North Head in the north. You may even spot some whales while they migrate to warmer regions.

Hornby Lighthouse in Watsons Bay
Hornby Lighthouse

From Hornby Lighthouse, the circuit walk continues along the footpath past the concrete gun emplacement, towards the Lightkeeper’s Cottage.

To return to Watsons Bay, simply complete the loop and then follow the same trail back to where you started.

When you arrive back in Watsons Bay, it’s time to visit the cliffs of The Gap.

6. The Gap

Located on the opposite side of the Watsons Bay ferry wharf, The Gap is one of Sydney’s most famous ocean cliff lookouts with beautiful coastal views.

But as beautiful as The Gap may be, it’s also a spot where many people have lost their lives over the years.

The Gap in Watsons Bay
The Gap in Watsons Bay

Security cameras and emergency phones have been installed to help prevent people from jumping off the cliffs and to offer support.

A resident named Don Ritchie, who lived near The Gap, officially prevented 160 people from ending their lives over a 45-year period. However, that number is closer to 400, according to his family.

In 2006, Don was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his efforts, and in 2013 the Don Ritchie Grove was established along Old South Head Rd in his memory. The inscription reads:

“Always remember the power of the simple smile, a helping hand, a listening ear, and a kind word.”

Views from The Gap
Views from The Gap

The park around The Gap is a beautiful place to wander around and enjoy some of the best views Sydney has to offer.

Where to Eat in Watsons Bay

Watsons Bay is quite a small place, but there are plenty of options to choose from when it’s time to grab a bite and a drink.

Doyles on the Beach

Opened in 1885 and run by the Doyle family for over five generations, Doyles on the Beach is the original site of the very first seafood restaurant in Australia. It’s situated directly behind the main Wharf Beach, at 11 Marine Parade.

Doyles on the Wharf

This popular takeaway shop is owned and operated by the same family, conveniently located next to the ferry wharf. The food is excellent, although you may need to wait a little while, especially on the weekends.

Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel + Beach Club

One of the most popular food spots in the area is the Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel with a huge outdoor eating area facing the beach opposite the ferry wharf. The Beach Club serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and cocktails, and comes with great views and a friendly vibe.

Watsons Bay foreshore
Watsons Bay foreshore

Dunbar House

A popular venue for weddings and events, Dunbar House is an 1830’s heritage building located next to Robertson Park. Lunch at the cafe is served Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The Tea Garden

Located a bit further south from Dunbar House, facing the Watsons Bay Baths, the Tea Garden is a family-run cafe with outdoor tables and bay views, serving an Italian-influenced menu with breakfast and lunch options.

Watsons Bay Milk Bar

Located just around the corner of Robertson Park along Military Road, the Watsons Bay Milk Bar is a small, 1950s-inspired shop. Their affordable sandwiches are delicious, and they also make great coffee.

More Hiking

The Watsons Bay Walk offers the best city, Harbour and ocean views, combined with a healthy dose of Sydney history.

The walk is relatively easy, and with Robertson Park and fresh seafood for a picnic lunch, it’s the perfect day out.

If you’re up for a real challenge, you can follow the coastal trail heading south, which forms the official start of the Eastern Coastal Walk that goes all the way to Bondi, Coogee and Maroubra.

Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach

It starts with the Federation cliff walk (also known as the Watsons Bay to Bondi walk), followed by the Bondi to Bronte walk.

You can then continue further from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach, by far Sydney’s most popular coastal walk.

And once in Coogee, you can continue hiking along the very scenic Coogee to Maroubra walk, a beautiful 5 km coastal trail.

Want to find more great walks like the Watsons Bay walking trail? Read our guide to the best Sydney Harbour walks for some inspiration.

 

Watsons Bay Walk and the South Head Heritage Trail

 
2 Comments
  1. Never take your dog to Watson’s Bay. Least dog friendly part of Sydney. All the walking tracks are National Park and if you pay attention to the recreational park signs, they are mostly prohibited there too.

    Reply
  2. Whilst otherwise very informative, the south head and lighthouse walk is not dog friendly on or off a lead. Dogs are prohibited from the camp cove kiosk and on the beach.

    Reply
Leave a comment