Spectre, aka MySydneyBoat, reverses into Store Beach near Sydney Harbour's North Head

Sydney by boat | Harbour secrets | bushland, bays and beaches

Sexy and glamorous. Red carpet ready. Did someone say 'rescue fantasy'?

Tapping into this year’s staycation imperative is a new way to explore Sydney Harbour

Excess All Areas played hooky this week, exploring the bays, beaches and bushland of the playground that is Sydney Harbour on Spectre, a sleek 12-metre Scandinavian Axopar37 sports cruiser, aka MySydneyBoat.

Company director Mark Dalgleish and his skipper daughter, Elodie Dalgleish, who has plied the waters of Marseilles, the Amalfi Coast and the Greek Islands, are giving Sydneysiders and interstate visitors the rather Mediterranean experience of weighing anchor in places even locals don’t know about.

When bushfires and Covid-19 played havoc with 2020 – Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson were their last guests in March, before the Hollywood couple tested positive to the coronavirus – Dalgleish decided to refocus on the local market and private boat charters.

Enjoying Store Beach, known for its little penguin colony, near the Quarantine Station at North Head

“Very few Sydneysiders have actually explored the harbour by boat and are unaware of its sheer size and diversity,” he says. “We’re now giving locals the opportunity to re-discover the world’s largest and most beautiful natural harbour, its abundant marine-life and the natural bushland around its shores, along with some incredible properties and architecture along its perimeter.”

Local knowledge

Setting out from Rose Bay Marina, in front of Regatta restaurant, on a sunny spring day, in a 20-knot nor-nor-easter, we’re on a speed date with Sydney Harbour. We pass restaurant tsar Justin Hemme’s green-roofed Hermitage castle at Vaucluse, and Zane Kamat, our guide and skipper for the day, points out prime bushwalks and mansions that have been used as film sets before zipping across to North Head and its heritage Quarantine Station buildings.

Sydney boasts around 70 surf beaches; there are at least 20 swimmable beaches in the harbour. Some are little more than slivers of sand, others, like Washaway Beach near Grotto Point, are all but underwater, whatever the tide. And there are  dozens of harbour coves. Reclamation and infilling has reduced the original 322 kilometres of coastline by nearly 25%.

A special kind of ballet on week-day Sydney Harbour

We reverse into the sliver that is Store Beach for bellinis and oysters. The beach, accessible to private boats and kayaks only, is famous for its little penguin colony, currently 60-70 breeding pairs. They breed between May and February and require constant vigilance from predators such as foxes and dogs.

We do a “drive-by” of Collins Beach between North Head and Little Manly Cove, and the controversial Jump Rock, a holy grail for daredevil kids and the young at heart.

We head on over to the Spit past Clontarf and a marina of dazzling yachts, and under the Spit Bridge into Middle Harbour, where grand high-density mansions try to look nonchalant at the prospect of landsliding into the water.

The ones that got away

Upstream, surrounded by the Garigal National Park and natural wonders like the Magazine Track waterfall, you feel as if you’ve gone bush. Sometimes, says Zane, you’ll see wallabies. But not today. Ditto whales and dolphins, which are often to be seen frolicking in the harbour. If only we’d been here last week! We do see a lone seagull, contentedly riding the ripples, and a lone cabin cruiser also bobbing happily.

But what is in evidence is an abundance of fresh seafood – oysters, prawns, sashimi and sushi, together with chilled Champagne – when we stop for lunch off Flat Rock Beach. So, so Sydney.

Oysters, sashimi and sushi seal the deal. Photo Michelle Hespe

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Back on the high seas, the harbour is doing its thing: there’s a statuesque Manly ferry dipping into the swell, the odd racing yacht unfurling sails, and sailing dinghies in sherbet colours looking like a synchronised swimming team.

Spectre will pick up from most wharves or private homes. It has seating for a maximum of 10 guests and includes a sun-lounger, swim platform, walk-around deck with shaded cabin and cleverly designed dining table. There’s an ensuite with queen bed, toilet, fridge, sink, wifi and Bluetooth music. They claim to be the only charter operator with a boat that can land right on the beach.

Prices range from $880 for a 1.5-hour Champagne Cruise, to $1980 for a four-hour Hidden Beaches Cruise, or a six-hour Best Day Ever Cruise for $2780. Information: www.mysydneyboat.com.au; phone, 1300 183 365.


Mark Dalgleish, founder of MySydneyBoat

Harbour Heaven

Mark Dalgleish has been living and boating on Sydney Harbour for more than 20 years. In that time, he’s curated his own personal list of favourite harbour hotspots. Which looks like this…

Best beach

“Store Beach, in Sydney Harbour National Park on North Head, is accessible only by water, so it’s usually deserted. It’s like Sydney thousands of years ago. There’s a rainforest and creek, edible wild rock oysters, great snorkelling & swimming. It’s totally protected and the area is full of inscriptions carved into rock and other surfaces by patients and staff of the Quarantine Station [which operated from 1828 to 1984].”

Best wildlife

“A colony of fur seals lives at the base of the cliffs below the Macquarie Lighthouse, near The Gap.  They often come into the harbour and hang out on the floating channel markers or the naval jetty at Chowder Bay.”

Best Bridge view

“The views from Shark Island in the middle of the harbour are exceptional and it’s a great place for a picnic. There are some beautiful trees, a gazebo and a small beach (a few boat services go there or you can catch a water taxi).”

One of the best places to see the Sydney Harbour Bridge is from Shark Island

Best restaurant dining

“A restaurant few know about is Echo on the Marina, near Roseville.  You can moor the boat, and walk right in. It’s unpretentious and good value.”

Best cuppa 

“The Quarantine Station Café at North Head do great coffee and chai lattes – and the best lamingtons I’ve ever tasted.  It’s also a fascinating historical place to wander around, with a quirky free museum and a great swimming beach.”

North Head’s historic Quarantine Station

Best walks

“There’s more than 1000 acres of national park bushland on the fringe of the harbour, so expect sensational harbourside walks.  My local favourite is the Hermitage Trail in Vaucluse, ending with a drink or swim at Nielsen Park beach. The track from Taronga Zoo to Chowder Bay is beautiful for its flora and flora. If you’re up for a 10 kilometre trek, then the Spit to Manly walk is breath-taking and there’s plenty of refreshments waiting for you at Manly wharf!”

Photos: Susan Skelly and Supplied




Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab. susan@excessallareas.com.au

'Sydney by boat | Harbour secrets | bushland, bays and beaches' has 1 comment

  1. November 23, 2020 @ 5:39 pm peter moore

    i remember my boating times at those lovely areas. Should have showm Neutral Bay, Dad .xx


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