Finding Nature in Your City: Sydney

WildArk’s Finding Nature in Your City series explores ways to connect with nature in and around the world’s largest cities. 

As Australia’s largest city with some of the country’s most well-known man-made landmarks such as the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, Sydney also offers a wide and unique range of opportunities to escape into nature.

Home to over four million people, Sydney is positioned around the 55 square kilometre area of Port Jackson, or more commonly known Sydney Harbour. It is a city blessed with stunning beaches, harbourside parks and gardens along the east coast, dramatic escarpments of the Blue Mountains to the west and National Parks to the north and south.

City dwellers are fortunate to have parklands close to the CBD to escape to during lunch breaks, and there is a wide range of natural areas in proximity.

View from North Head Courtesy of @jim_dons

Sydney Harbour National Park

The Sydney Harbour National Park is comprised of a series of protected areas along the harbour’s edge that offer visitors the unique opportunity to explore on foot, some relatively untouched natural areas within close proximity to the city. From sandstone cliffs to bushland tracks and secluded beaches, the park provides a glimpse of the dramatic landscape of Sydney Harbour. Walks along Bradley’s Head, North Head and Dobroyd Head (also known as the Manly to Spit walk) provide visitors with the opportunity to see up to 150 different species of birds, learn about the Aboriginal heritage and see many species of wildlife.

Hornby Lighthouse, South Head Courtesy of @christopher__burns

Shark Island

Situated in the middle of the harbour about a km offshore from Rose Bay, Shark Island offers 360-degree views of Sydney Harbour. Access is via water taxi, ferry, private boat or kayak and the island is part of the Sydney Harbour National Park. With a unique history of shipwrecks, lighthouses and Aboriginal significance, Shark Island provides visitors with the opportunity to soak up the tranquility of nature, despite being surrounded by the bustle of the busy Sydney Harbour.

Wendy’s Secret Garden

In 1992, following the death of her renowned artist husband Brett Whiteley, Wendy Whiteley needed a way to cope with the grief and set to work clearing the disused railway land in front of her house in Lavender Bay in North Sydney. Over more than 20 years, Wendy has created a magnificent public space on the shores of Lavender Bay, complete with winding paths, colourful flowers, and many visiting birds. At the centre of the garden is a magnificent fig tree that makes the area both captivating and magical. Visitors are welcome to sit in the garden, explore the many paths and reflect on Brett’s many works that were inspired by the Sydney landscape.

Royal National Park

Located less than an hour south of greater Sydney, the Royal National Park meanders along the spectacular east coast with dramatic cliffs, unique rock platforms, and secluded beaches. As the second National Park in the world after Yellowstone, the 150 square kilometre park provides ample opportunity for visitors to experience the Australian coastal heath including tree species such as banksia, she-oaks, grass trees and much more. Highlights include the 26km Coastal Walk, Wattamolla lagoon, the insta-famous Figure Eight Rock Pools and walks along the valley floor beside a tributary of the Hacking River.

Remote beach in the Royal National Park.

Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

Situated approximately 25km north of Sydney, the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park encompasses the waterway areas of Pittwater, Cowan Creek and the southern side of the Hawkesbury River. Accessibility is primarily by walking trails or boat along the Hawkesbury River. Camping is permitted only at The Basin which is accessible via ferry from Palm Beach Wharf. The park is known for housing more than 800 aboriginal sites from the original Garigal people including rock carvings and cave drawings. Barrenjoey Lighthouse is also park of the park, however is not connected to the balance of the park, but is fully accessible from the northern end of Palm Beach, perfect for day trippers on the northern beaches of Sydney.

Barrenjoey Headland Courtesy of @jim_dons

Lane Cove National Park

Situated only 15km from the Sydney CBD, Lane Cove National Park is a sanctuary for those wishing to escape the bustle without having to travel too far. Offering bush-walking and camping, visitors can expect to see abundant Eucalypt forests, Casuarina woodland, and saltwater wetlands, as well as a wide array of animals including exceptional birdlife and nocturnal echidnas and river-loving Eastern water dragons. The park can be easily accessed by car or public transport and comes alive in Spring with beautiful wildflowers.

The Great North Walk

For those looking to explore a bit further, the Great North Walk is a 250km walk from the CBD of Sydney to the centre of Newcastle traversing through several national parks and state forests. The walk can be completed in 8–14 days, visiting well-equipped campsites along the way. The track was constructed in 1987 and covers a diverse range of landscapes including crossing the Hawkesbury River.

Northern end of the Great North Walk at Glenrock Lagoon.

Blue Mountains

A well-trodden place to visit, the Blue Mountains are a nature lovers paradise. Due to the vast number of eucalyptus trees, the air in the Blue Mountains fills with droplets of eucalyptus oil which when combined with dust particles, refracts light and gives the impression that the mountains are blue. While most travellers visit the well-loved Three Sisters rock formation and experience the natural beauty of the majestic vista, one of the off the beaten track locations is the Six Foot Track. This three-day 45km hike from Katoomba to the Jenolan Caves winds along the banks of the Cox River visiting waterfalls and dramatic escarpments. For a shorter option, the 5.4km return walk on the National Pass is sure to get the blood rushing as you hike along a track built into the cliff side. Not for the faint-hearted, this walk provides spectacular views of the Jamison Valley.

Blue Mountains vista.