I’’ve been looking forward to discovering the Hidden Beaches of Sydney Harbour with Jenny Soicher of Exclusive East Tours for some time now. Today is the day.
Getting to Rose Bay
My morning begins in the best way possible, on the ferry to Rose Bay. Sitting outside, the fresh wind whips my hair across my face. As the ferry speeds across the smooth water, we leave sparkling clear blue skies behind us and motor towards low grey cloud which threatens rain. At least I’ve come prepared with my umbrella.
Approaching Rose Bay Ferry Wharf, I look across to the mass of multi-storey homes hugging the shoreline. They’re like a series of matchboxes piled one on top of the other, their glass frontages making the best of their harbour view.
Meeting Jenny from Exclusive East Tours
Jenny meets me at the wharf and after introductions, she orientates me. She explains that Bondi is only five minutes by car to the east, and that we’ll be exploring the area to the north of us. “Mansionville” (or Point Piper), where Malcolm Turnbull lives is “just over there” she says, pointing across the bay.
We’ll walk and drive
The tour is part walk part drive and will take me through Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. While I’ve explored this area myself, I’m looking forward to seeing and learning a whole lot more from Jenny. A local who is passionate about where she lives, Jenny loves showing people the secrets of her backyard.
We start by walking a few metres past the Catalina Restaurant to the site of the first International Airport in Sydney. In those days, passengers left Sydney on a flying boat. The journey to London took nine days and included multiple stops along the way.
Today Sydney Seaplanes operates from here. A yellow and white seaplane awaits passengers alongside a pontoon.
We get into the car for a short drive to the start of our walk. Jenny hands me a laminated map and outlines the route we’ll be taking. As we drive through the local streets, she points out various landmarks including one of the first apartment buildings in the area. Soon we climb steeply up “heartbreak hill”. Many of you will know this hill and some may even have run, walked or struggled up it when you participated in the ‘City to Surf’ fun run.
We turn into a side street and I smile at the scene that opens up before me. There at the end of the street is Sydney Harbour with the famous “coathanger” in the distance. How lucky am I to live in Sydney with her iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House?
Walking in the Bush
While Jenny parks the car, I wait on a bench at the start of the walking track. It’s quiet. We’re less than ten kilometres from the CBD and yet the hustle and bustle of the city feels a million miles away.
It begins to rain
As we start walking along a bushtrack, a light rain begins to fall. Jenny is concerned that I don’t slip. It’s the first time she’s taken a guest on her tour in the wet. She needn’t worry. I’m enjoying this outing too much to spoil it by slipping.
Native bush lines the path. There’s banksia, lomandra, and the occasional fig tree. The wattle is starting to bloom. The patter of soft rain and an occasional swishing sound as overhanging branches brush across my open umbrella accompanies our chatter as we walk .
Jenny shares information about Aboriginal culture along the route. The rock overhangs were used as shelter from the weather. Leaves from a particular wattle, when rubbed with water froth up to create a ‘soapy’ mixture for washing. Another plant was used to make ‘bread’.
At one point on the walk, guests are offered a choice: to continue walking or to drive to the next stop. Concerned for my comfort, Jenny suggests I join her in the car. But like most of her guests, I opt to continue walking. It’s only a light shower and I’m enjoying this tranquil bushwalk accompanied by birds tweeting in the trees and water lapping the shore. Jenny leaves me with instructions on where to meet.
Waterfalls and Hidden Beaches
Water rushes down the side of a steep gully ahead of me. There’s been lots of rain and this is the first of three ‘waterfalls’ pouring into the harbour that I come across. At one little beach, a row of colourful plastic kayaks contrast with the green bush and grey cloudy day.
Narrow paths lead me down to small secluded beaches. Little crescents of sand, they are empty of people. Even on a sunny day, I expect they are quiet. Mostly known only to locals, these beaches have no facilities and access is difficult.
A woman passes me, walking in the other direction, her wet hair plastered to her face. She smiles, happy to be out in the rain.
I meet up with Jenny at Strickland House. The Victorian Italianate 19th Century House has broad views of Sydney Harbour. While the house is closed to the public except for the occasional open day, the extensive gardens provide a popular picnic spot.
We’re surrounded by homes belonging to Sydney’s rich and famous. Jenny points across the bay to a green roofed home with multiple gables. Justin Hemmes owns this heritage home.
Further along, on another quiet beach, a man collects rubbish with a pick-up stick. Jenny does the same on her walks. She “Takes 3 for the sea” to reduce plastic pollution and encourages her guests to do the same.
To my left, I hear the whip of fishing line being cast. Looking over a fence towards the harbour, I’m pleased to see that the fisherman standing on the wet rocks is wearing a life jacket. The rocks are slippery.
I look around. In the distance, ahead and to the left, is the city. To my right I can see all the way to Manly. The Manly ferry speeds past.
Driving Past Mansions
Reconstruction of the Nielson Park sea wall means we can’t access Shark Beach. The beach closure and effects of COVID mean that the cafe is closed. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying the heritage detail of the building.
The walking part of the tour ends with a stroll through an avenue of fig trees.
As we drive, Jenny describes the local real estate. Houses are expensive here. As she says, the large multimillion dollar mansions with their manicured gardens and clipped hedges wouldn’t look out of place in Hollywood.
Jenny points to a side street saying “Leonardo DiCaprio stayed in a house down there when he was filming Great Gatsby” and “Julia Roberts stayed around here too.” A tired looking former shopfront and residence on a long narrow block with water frontage sold recently.
Jenny’s dreams of buying and renovated it were just that … dreams. Described in Domain as a “ramshackle residence” the starting price was $13M. It sold in May 2022 for just over $17M.
Another Hidden Beach
There’s one more beach to discover. This one really is hidden. It’s out of sight behind a white picket gate and down a narrow flight of stairs. I suspect that the people who live here would prefer the narrow crescent of sand remain a local secret.
In Watson’s Bay, we drive through narrow streets past cute fisherman’s cottages and more multimillion dollar homes. We pass Dunbar House, an 1830’s heritage home, now restaurant, where you can enjoy breakfast, lunch or high tea. There’s also Watson’s Bay Café which provides an alternative to fish and chips at the wharf.
Robertson Park, near Watson’s Bay Wharf, is a narrow stretch of green which separates Sydney Harbour from the Pacific Ocean. We walk through the park, cross the road and climb the stairs to The Gap. I lean on the fence and look out to the horizon and then look down to the rocks below.
It’s surprisingly calming watching the waves crash onto the cliffs.
There is a tinge of sadness here. A little way along the path a large anchor serves as a memorial to those who lost their lives when their ship, the Dunbar was wrecked near here. And there are many signs encouraging people who are in a dark place to call Lifeline.
Three hours have passed in a flash. I’ve had fun and enjoyed a special morning exploring hidden beaches of Sydney Harbour with Jenny. Her passion for her tour is infectious.
I return to the city by the same means I arrived. As I step on the ferry, at Watson’s Bay this time, Jenny has one more tip. She suggests that I “sit on left” so that I can see all the hidden beaches that I discovered this morning.
- The three-hour Exclusive East Tours Top Ten Hidden Harbour Beaches Tour costs $145 pp
- The Sunset Tour which takes a similar route and includes a bottle of Australian wine also costs $145 pp
- Jenny will drop her guests off at Bondi Beach after the tour if they wish.
Note: I was a guest of Exclusive East Tours on this Hidden Harbour Beaches tour.