Sydney Harbour National Park
Sydney Harbour National Park protects various islands and foreshore areas around one of the world's most famous harbours. It contains rare pockets of the bushland which was once common around Sydney, and in these remnants you'll find a surprising range of native animals living in the park.
But beyond the scenery, there's a lot of history, mystery and cultural heritage waiting to be discovered. You'll find buildings constructed with convict labour; historic maritime and military installations; and the Quarantine Station which used to protect Sydneysiders from infectious diseases. You'll also find many Aboriginal sites - signposts of an ancient cultural heritage that still lives on, despite the devastating impact of colonisation.
Best access routes
>>Bradleys Head, with its superb views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, is along Bradleys Head Road (off Military Road). Taronga Zoo is also found here.
>>Nielsen Park, where you'll find great swimming, picnicking and Greycliffe House, is along Vaucluse Road (off New South Head Road).
>>North Head, home to the Quarantine Station and some fantastic clifftop views, is down North Head Scenic Drive (off Darley Road in Manly).
>>South Head, known for its sandstone cliffs, historic fortifications and scenic walks, is reached via New South Head Road. Turn into Hopetoun Avenue, then go past Watsons Bay shops into Cliff Street.
>>Middle Head, with its historic gun emplacements, is along Middle Head Road (off Bradleys Head Road). To get to Georges Head, just around the shoreline, take Chowder Bay Road.
>>Dobroyd Head, which protects important coastal heathland remnants, is along Dobroyd Drive in the suburb of Balgowlah Heights. You can also get here along the Manly Scenic Walkway.
Facilities & things to do
>>Picnics & barbecues
>>Ferry tours around Sydney Harbour
>>Weddings and other events
Native plant communities
>>Reptiles and amphibians
Culture & history
History in the park
Rock engravings, Quarantine Station
Aboriginal associations with the park area
Before Australia became a British colony, the area around Sydney Harbour was occupied by the Eora, Guringai and Daruk Aboriginal nations. This soon changed after the arrival of settlers and convicts.
Land was cleared to make way for the developing colony, and Aboriginal people were forced further and further away from their traditional camping and hunting grounds. Many died from exotic diseases like smallpox, and others were shot and poisoned by the colonists. By the mid-19th century, the dispossession of Sydney's Aboriginal people was virtually complete.
As the colony spread, more evidence of Aboriginal life and culture was destroyed. Shell middens, which lined the harbour foreshores and estuaries, were dug up and burned for lime. Scarred trees were chopped down. Rock art, shelters under rock overhangs, and sandstone platforms where weapons were sharpened, were all destroyed by the growth of houses and industry.
Today, there are many Aboriginal people living in and around Sydney - and, despite the great spread of the city, Aboriginal sites have survived in certain undeveloped locations. They're part of Sydney's strong, ongoing Aboriginal heritage, which includes art, literature, history and immense knowledge of the natural world. The Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, which is responsible for the land around Sydney Harbour, works with the National Parks and Wildlife Service to protect the Aboriginal sites in the park.
Sydney Harbour since colonisation
Although British authorities first planned to set up their penal colony in Botany Bay, the First Fleet of convicts only stayed in Botany Bay for a few days. The ships then sailed around the coast to Sydney Harbour, where the colony was established.
Since then, Sydney Harbour has continued to play an important part in the development of the nation.
It was here that white Australia's convict heritage began, and here that fortifications were developed to defend the colony. Maritime navigation and trade, the backbone of the Australian economy, spread out from Sydney Harbour - and incoming migrants were welcomed (and quarantined) inside Sydney Heads.
You can trace this rich history in the harbour's many historic sites - including buildings constructed by convicts, old military fortifications, lighthouses and other maritime monuments, and the Quarantine Station.
Miltary relics at Bradleys Head
Sydney Harbour National Park became a national park in 1975. At first, it protected parts of North Head, Dobroyd Head, Bradleys Head, Shark Island and Clark Island. Unused military land was added in 1979. The park continued to grow from this point and Fort Denison and Goat Island were the latest additions, in 1995.
But the protection of Sydney Harbour's foreshores and islands from development is not new. Long before the creation of Sydney Harbour National Park, Sydneysiders were visiting these public places to relax beside the bush and the water.
For example, Rodd, Clark and Shark islands were set aside as recreation reserves as early as 1879, and most of their grottos, pavillions and paths were constructed in the early years of the 20th century. Bradleys Head, including Athol Gardens, became a protected reserve in 1908. Land at Vaucluse and Dobroyd Head followed soon after, in 1911. The Nielsen Park kiosk was built in 1914, and stone dressing sheds and paths were installed in the early 1920s.
Constructed in 1816, Cadmans Cottage in The Rocks is one of Sydney's oldest surviving buildings. It's now a historic site and the home of the park information centre.