Prepare to be amazed at North Head
Sydney Harbour is stunning. It never fails to blow me away. And for one of the best panoramic views of the harbour anywhere in Sydney, you can’t go past a visit to North Head.
North Head not only offers picturesque views of Sydney Harbour, it provides easy nature trails through low-lying scrub and a snapshot of local (European) history.
When we are looking for a short bushwalk to finish a weekend, we head to Fairfax Lookout.
With sweeping views across Sydney Harbour, South Head and the eastern suburbs, its a visual feast.
Stop first at North Fort for photos. In fact, you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your car to get the view in the picutre above!
Then drive the short distance (or walk if on foot) to Fairfax Lookout and take a stroll. Level walking tracks make it perfect for strollers and wheelchairs, and offers plenty of nooks and crannies for kids to explore and enough variation in vegetation to keep them interested.
Interpretive signage is posted along the way with names of the wildflowers and animals in the area. Birds you will probably see include honeyeaters, wattle birds, scrub wrens and lorikeets. Ask your kids to try and identify the birds they hear and see with those on the signage posts. It is not only a fun way to keep them moving but educational, too.
Kids will also love stumbling upon the military relics dotted around the headland. Once used as part of Sydney’s defense, they are generally of great interest to kids and provide an opening to turn the conversation to Sydney history.
If you want to stretch your legs further, then I absolutely recommend you to take the self-guided tour from the former School of Artillery. Advantages of starting from here is that parking is free.
This section of North Head was only opened to the public in recent years. Purpose-built tracks and boardwalks meander through bushland, with short extensions to lookouts with more picturesqe views, as well as military relics and micro-climates. If you are on a bike, it’s worth parking up and walking to some of the attractions. (You could ride but there are some steps involved on part of the track.)
A glimpse of the headland’s previous uses can be seen from the military relics such as gun emplacemenets, observation posts, tunnel, as well as sandstone walls that separated the old Quarantine Station from land owned by the Catholic Church.
Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but one of my favourite historical attraction on this route is the 19th century quarantine cemetery. Headstones poke through the low-lying scrub and wildflowers providing a peek into Sydney’s darker past. Heart-felt inscriptions farewell family who fell vicitim to one of the epidemics that hit Sydney around the turn of the previous century, namely smallpox, the plague and influenza.
- For another easy and scenic cylce read my post on Narrabeen Lagoon.
- Further reading on North Head Sanctuary.
The Quarantine Station
Used from the 1830s up until the 1980s, North Head Quarantine Station isolated people arriving to Sydney suspected of carrying contagious disease. Today it offers a rich peek into the lives of the people who were contained and worked here – not all very pleasant. The Quarantine Hospital, one of the most significant buildings on site, was guttered by fire in 2002, however there are many other heritage buildings that date back to the 1850s.
It is free to wander around the Quarantine Station. Alternatively you can pay for guided tours including ghost tours of the Quarantine Station.
FERRY: If you are catching public transport, take the Manly Ferry from Circular Quay then the 135 bus from Manly Wharf to North Head.
CAR: If you have your own transport, drive up Darley Road past Manly Hospital. For paid parking and views from your car, turn right under the sandstone archway. There is parking at both North Fort and Fairfax Lookout. For free parking, drive straight ahead after the hospital and park at the former School of Artillery.